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Posts Tagged ‘wildlife’

We had our roof replaced and the house sided last month.  Looks pretty good now, like a brand new house outside.   Too bad the inside does not match…  I definitely need new floor treatments.

However, during the course of the work, the siding guys simply had to walk next to the house, which involved walking in the garden on the north side.  This garden mostly consists of hostas, with a few hellebores and bleeding hearts thrown in.   It started out as a real shade garden with several varieties of shade lovers in it, but over the years the less hardy plants died out.

Truth to tell, some of the original plantings, which I established with great forethought, turned out to be unwise choices.   One of those, notably, was the lily of the valley, which was summarily evicted after I discovered it busily strangling the hostas nearest to it.   The violets that I was so sure would look very nice along the house turned out to be a noxious weed and empire builders.   I have been trying to eradicate them for some time, and if I live long enough I may eventually succeed.

But I digress.   I decided that the north border needed to be revamped.  To that end, I removed all the rocks I had placed next to the house, leveled out the area and edged it with some pound-in edging.   The rocks got thrown into a pile over near the pergola.   After the edging was in place, I lined the rock border right next to the house with black plastic.   The idea is to have a strip of decorative rock between the house and the garden so that I do not have plants right up against the house, in the interest of proper air circulation.

It has taken me about a week to get ready to put my rocks back.   These are mostly very cool rocks that I have brought home from various gravel bars.   While I was doing the prep work, though, behind my back the rock pile became habitat.  I was not particularly surprised to find pill bugs and centipedes living there when I started moving the pile.   The big wolf spider also did not seem very out of place.

But this fellow surprised me!

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He (or she — I’m not good at sexing amphibians), had taken up residence under the pile of rocks and wished sincerely that I had not moved them.

I did pick the little fellow up, because I certainly did not wish to hurt him during my job.

As you can see with the scale of my glove added, this is a very small being indeed.  I think this may be the eft stage of the red spotted newt.  This is very interesting, because for a long time I have been aware of having what I referred to as salamanders living in the pond.  It turns out that the red spotted newt has an aquatic stage, and the guys in the pond are more than likely the red spotted newt in that aquatic stage.  This little fellow has found its way out of the pond to transform to its terrestrial stage.

I took it over to the rain garden, which seemed like a good place to relocate it out of harms way.

Indeed, it found the location satisfactory, and crawled back in and under the rocks there.

I am happy to find yet another individual creature that appreciates the habitat we have created here at the Havens.  It is really very exciting!

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I have never made any pretence of particularly loving rabbits.   They can be a nuisance, one which we went to quite a bit of trouble to fence out of the vegetable garden.  They serve their place in the world, though.   The fact that we have a healthy population of them at The Havens accounts for the presence of Barred Owls and Great Horned Owls.   I’m sure the black snakes are happy to find a tiny tender tidbit upon occasion.

I was out watering my potted plants this morning during the break I had between a couple of clients.   As is my custom, I was gazing about the place, admiring the view while I was waiting for the right amount of water to flow into the whiskey barrels full of beans and morning glories.  I am very pleased with them.

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The Petite Prairie is looking pretty good right now, despite the dry weather we have been having.

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The silky dogwood was looking a little peaked, so when I was done with the pots I made my way over there to give it a drink.    Of course, the hose had to kink during the trip across the lawn, so when I turned the spray nozzle on, nothing happened.   I laid it down and attended to the kink.    The water began to gush out of the nozzle, and very soon afterwards I heard a vociferous complaint from the bed just below the dogwood.    It was a very loud complaint indeed, and obviously was coming from an infant.

I investigated, and this is what I found to be the source of the racket.

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Honestly, this little baby bunny seems way too small to be able to make such a very loud noise.

After I photographed the Small One, I placed him carefully back in the nest with his siblings.    Of course, I had to document it all.

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My client had arrived, so I carefully put the grassy cover back over the babies, and went in to do her massage.    She admired the baby pictures.   Although we both  agreed about rabbits in general, we also both agreed that when they are so very small they are very cute.  No way could I exterminate them, even if they will probably be chewing through my iris stems when they get older.   I just found a Naked Lady stem that was full of buds that some rabbit decided looked edible.    I guess it wasn’t that edible, because it only chewed through the stem, it didn’t bother to actually eat the buds.   I have to admit I was perturbed.

So anyway, a little while ago, having finished the massage and my lunch, I thought I’d go back out there and see if I couldn’t get a better shot of them in their nest.

I was interested to discover that in the intervening three hours, Mama Rabbit had been around to tend to her youngsters.   The grass and twig cap on the nest had been seriously beefed up.   And if you take a close look at this next picture you will notice that there has been a further change.

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Apparently she had not quite finished furnishing the nest when I took the first picture.   Now there is a beautiful soft layer of rabbit fur encasing the babies.

I covered them up again.

They really are very cute.

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For as far back as I can remember, and by some reports farther back than that, I have been a sucker for growing things.

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That picture was taken when I was three.   We were planting peas and what I was doing was pulling the soil into the furrow.

The story goes that one fine day when I was closing in on my third birthday, it came nigh on to meal time and my mother put out the dinner call.   Needless to say, my one year old brother was johnny on the spot, having been put into his high chair willy nilly.   My older sister showed up fairly promptly, as did my father.   But there was an unoccupied chair at the table, and the question arose:   “Where is Ellie?”

Another call made from the back porch, and again, no response.   A posse was formed and the search for the miscreant began.   It wasn’t long before the forces of the law discovered the fugitive’s whereabouts.   I was crouched at the edge of the bean patch, delightedly engrossed in the show that was going on there.   Urged by the warm Southern California sun, the bean seeds were emerging from the soil, literally popping from the u-shaped form to erect with their little dicotyledons deployed to catch the rays and begin their job of growing.

My mother reports that I was laughing and cheering each victorious seedling, heedless of hunger or parental calls.  After a suitable celebration, we all went inside to eat.

My fascination has not abated.   I still like to watch the beans unfold.   I like to see the plants in my garden thrive.   Today I went out on a safari through my urban jungle to see what was going on.

The poppies are blooming in the stroll garden.

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Personally, I think they bear a closer look.

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I proceeded out to the pond to see if I could spy a dragon fly.   They were still asleep, it being quite early in cloudy and cool morning.   The water lilies were not open yet either, but there was a pond denizen in evidence.

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Out there is where the pipe vine grows.   I planted it as a food supply for  the pipevine swallowtail, in the fond hope that one would happen upon it and start a colony, but so far they have not shown up.  I may be located too far from their usual habitat.   But I love the vine anyway.   Right now it is covered with little “dutchmen’s pipes”.

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You might wonder why I entitled this post “Hosta love” since I haven’t mentioned them yet.   Well, I’m getting there.   Just be patient.

I have quite the collection of hostas.   They are actually fairly trouble free plants, and the huge variety of color and form make them a wonderful thing to fill dark corners.  I started out with just a few varieties in a garden on the north side of the house.  In addition to hostas, this garden contains hellebores, a couple of bleeding hearts and sundry filler plants.

This beauty is located there, and she is the perfect exemplar of what I love about the genus.

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Here is a broad shot of the area I call the Hosta Dell, that gives you an idea of what a beautiful garden you can create using hostas as the main focus.

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That is where you can find this variety.

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And this one too.   It may be the star of the show, but the two Heucheras behind it make a pretty fine back up section.

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I am very sorry to report that I have neglected to mark and remember all the varietal names of the hostas I own.   I started out with good intentions, but I was derailed by certain events that I had no control over, namely the blue jays’ penchant for stealing plant tags for nest material.  I always have good intentions of making maps with labeled plant locations, but then I move a plant or one dies and gets replaced (or not), and the mapping falls by the wayside, so to speak.  So I really couldn’t tell you these particular lovlies actual names.   Sorry.

Of course, all is not perfection in the gardens of The Havens.   I have a rose I need to move off the root cellar so that we can cover the area with more dirt in preparation for the solar panel installation.   The garden I wish to transplant the rose into was choked with weeds yesterday.   I have it 80% cleaned out, but the north end of the Hosta Dell is sadly in need of attention too.

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I guess I’d better stop procrastinating and get out there and get to work!

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In the past I have mentioned that The Havens is a Certified Backyard Wildlife Habitat.  If you search the blog for “Habitat” you will find several posts on the subject.

I made a pretty comprehensive post about the vegetable garden a while back. Things have not changed a lot back there since that post, although we are in the process of removing the perimeter of grass that surrounds the beds. Right now this involves covering the area with carpet in an attempt to smother the grass. This is varyingly successful depending on the quality of the carpet used. But at least it is being discouraged. Eventually we will remove some dirt and put in weed barrier and something to walk on. Bark seems to work pretty well, as does pea gravel.  This is still to be decided.

I am excited to report that we have a screech owl hunting here. I have not figured out where it sleeps yet, but there are lots of trees with holes on the place so I’m sure it has a nice bedroom. However, it likes to sit on top of the frame that holds the swing out by the pond. I found one of its pellets the other day, all full of mouse fur and beautiful green beetle wing covers. The latter surprised me a bit, as I was not aware the screech owls eat beetles. But I did a little research and found out that not only do they eat baby rabbits (Yay!), they also eat other mammals, crayfish, insects, earth worms, small birds, and a whole lot of other stuff that you wouldn’t necessarily think that an owl eats.

In other news, we have been blessed (and I use that term advisedly) with another new addition to the habitat.   Apparently The Havens has been certified habitable by the local groundhogs (Marmota monax).  This species has  colonized the yard more than once.   The last time there was a ground hog living here the garden fence got another layer of security added, so I’m not too upset that we have a new colonist in residence.   So far she has stayed out of the vegetable garden.   Honestly, there is PLENTY for her and her family to eat around here without decimating the garden.  I noticed that she seems to like sweet cicely pretty well.

Anyway, I mentioned the extra level of security for the vegetable garden fence.  The previous ground hog had discovered that it could tunnel under the fence and access all that succulent produce within.   We acquired a live trap, and placed it strategically in front of the hole.

“Fools!” the groundhog muttered, as it dug a new hole a few feet down the fence.

We got another live trap and stationed it by the second hole.    It was just as easy to dig a third access hole…

We cogitated about the situation for a while, did a little on-line research, and then Jim went off to the farm supply emporium and acquired some chicken wire.  Attaching it securely to the outside of the fence about 18 inches up, at ground level he bent it outward and allowed it to extend out along the ground so that there was a strip of chicken wire about 18″ out onto the grass.   He got some landscape “staples” and secured the wire to the ground.

The groundhog thought about the situation for about 30 seconds and found a spot where the wire wasn’t really tight to the ground and wiggled its way under the chicken wire to its favorite hole under the fence.   This is where it made its strategic error.

Apparently beguiled and distracted by the crunching of  my fine lettuce, it did not notice us approaching the garden until the gate opened.

“Yaaaaaah!” is a pretty good approximation of its reaction to our sudden advent, especially since we happened to have Ruby with us.   Ruby chased the groundhog to its hole and then sped around through the gate to behind the fence to continue the pursuit.   The panicked rodent did not leave the same way it entered and found that the chicken wire was a lot more secure than it had seemed at first blush.  Tangled up in the chicken wire, it was having a huge groundhog heart attack since Ruby was bouncing around as it flailed its way out from under the wire.    Off it went to its tunnel, with Ruby in hot pursuit.

Jim addressed the loose wire situation, tightening it up and adding several more anchors.   The groundhog crouched in its burrow, apparently a victim of PTSD.  During the night, it moved away, never to return.  I guess the neighborhood was just too stressful for it.

Anyway, the new groundhog doesn’t care about the garden (so far).   It has lovely accommodations on the root cellar mound, and one of its progeny or its mate is busy digging an extensive burrow inside the barn.   We are not really too happy about the barn situation, as it is tunneling under the slab of concrete that makes Jim’s shop floor, and making a hell of a mess inside the rest of the barn with its dirt pile.   I have visions of the barn falling into the hole it is digging down there.

Anyway, neither of our tenants is going to be all that happy about their living situations, because we have plans for both areas.  We are planning to improve the barn substantially.   When that happens I sincerely hope that no groundhogs get entombed beneath the new concrete slab floor that is going to be poured.   But if they are, I’m not going to lose any sleep over it.

Also, we have acquired solar panels, and we are going to install them this summer.   This is a long involved project that begins with the moving of the dirt pile that we have established back near the root cellar.   That root cellar never had enough dirt on it, and because of that it has never been stable in temperature, being too cold in the winter and too warm in the summer.   So we intend to have a dirt worker come along with equipment and move our dirt pile onto the root cellar.   Unfortunately, this is going to seriously discommode the groundhogs living there but they are not an endangered species and I can live with that.

Pretty enterprising mammal, though.   I was investigating the burrow the other day, and I discovered that the ground had found a piece of reflectix insulation that was in the barn and had hauled it all the way out to the root cellar and was attempting to drag the whole sheet down into its burrow.   I guess even groundhogs know the value of insulating their home!

So, there you are.   The Havens wildlife habitat is still a destination.

 

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Do you remember that we have a row of espaliered fruit trees?  There’s a pretty good picture of the row in this post taken in spring three years ago while the apples were in full bloom.

We started out with two pears and six varieties of apples.   Very shortly after we planted them, one of the pears succumbed to fire blight.   Unfortunately, I did not know what was wrong with it before the fungus had been transferred to the apple just to its north on the row.   After several years of severe pruning and a lot of praying over that apple, it also died.

Last year, the apple I planted because it was Thomas Jefferson’s favorite, the Spitzbergen, also died.  Frankly, I didn’t mourn its passing much because for the life of me I could not figure out what was so great about that apple.  It was mealy, and not very flavorful.   However, perhaps it made wonderful applejack, as that appears to be the reason most of the Colonials were growing apples in the first place.

Last year was also the year I discovered that the rubber tree rings we had placed around the young apples in hopes that they would keep the weed eating job around the trunks to a minimum had turned into tree girdling apparatus.   The lesson here is, those rings do not work.   They don’t slow the weeds down much, so you wind up doing the weed eating anyway.   Once the weeds have gotten thick it is very easy to forget that those mats are there, and as the years pass the trees grow larger and larger.   Eventually they run into the mats and begin to girdle themselves.

Last year, all my apples were looking SO unhappy, and I attributed it to the drought and heat until one day I happened to be clipping the weeds around the trunks while I was watering them deeply and realized what was really going on.   I spent a couple of hours creatively and productively releasing negative emotions as I ripped the mats away from around the trees.   Fortunately, I noticed this problem before the girdling was complete, and once the restriction was removed the little trees recovered well.

I am so grateful, because this year they bloomed beautifully in spite of the cool spring, and were pollinated well despite the rain that fell on the blossoms.   I managed to get the fruit thinned in a timely fashion in between my peripatetic spring wanderings.    Then we installed a squirrel/bird barrier when the fruit started looking really good.

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This is one of the children of Jim’s fertile brain and is designed to be easily moved and installed.   Each panel has chicken wire as the fence, and they are independent of each other.   The whole thing can be connected panel to panel using wire ties.   Over the top we put a flexible black plastic bird net and clip it to the chicken wire with clothespins.   Apparently it is far enough off the ground that the squirrels have not discovered they can chew through it.   I think they get stymied by the chicken wire at ground level and don’t even bother to climb up to the top.

Whatever the reasons, the barrier serves its function well and keeps the squirrels and the birds out quite nicely.   If only it would do the same for bugs and fungus.   Despite that, I picked the crop this morning.    The results were I got 46.8 lbs. of apples that are essentially perfect:  no fungus, rot, or insect damage.  Some of them I will put in the refrigerator for future reference to eat out of hand.   The rest of them will be peeled, treated with citrus acid, and frozen for pies and crisps.

There are also 38.4 pounds of apples that have active rot going on.   Those I will cut up and start cooking for apple sauce as soon as I am done with this post and the client who is due to arrive within moments.

At the prices we have to pay for organic apples, this amounts to about $150 worth of apples.   The squirrel barrier cost us the same amount, so we break even this year.   The barrier is re-usable, a one time cost that as far as I am concerned, more than paid for itself considering that a couple of years ago I had a nice apple crop and the squirrels got ALL of it.

For the record, the Moonglow pear tree, which is supposed to need another pear tree to cross pollinate itself, produced two dozen beautiful and tasty pears despite the fact that the Bartlett pear that was designated as its pollination partner is long dead.   I think the ornamental Bradford pears planted in the savanna may be standing in for the Bartlett.

The apple crop consists of Granny Smith, Fuji, Gala and Golden Delicious:

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I sat down and ate one of the apples as I was picking this morning.  It was wonderful.

I took a little time to express my gratitude to the trees, the weather, my husband for the ideal squirrel barrier, and to the Universal Deity for the conditions which provided us with this very nice crop of apples.   Next year there will be more!

And this, dear readers, is why we go to all the trouble to grow our own food.

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After nearly killing ourselves last week getting the weeds out of the pond, I sort of let the next phase of the job stay on hold for a while.   Let me refresh your memory:

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As you can see, I have the pavement area partially clear of grass and weeds.   When I originally laid it, all I did was put in a bed of sand.   Needless to say, this was an open invitation to the ants, bermuda grass, dock, clover, etc. etc. etc. to move in and take over, which they did most thoroughly.

It was a slow process scraping the vegetative cover off of the pavers.  This was not made any easier by the fact that that the ants living there did their little earthmoving activities undisturbed for 17 years, which led to the paving blocks heaving and shifting in a most amazing manner.   I decided that filling the wheelbarrow with grass mats once a day was plenty of work of that sort.    There were plenty of other things to occupy me too, like pruning the espalier, the rugosa rose in front of the barn and I don’t know what all.    Needless to say, I also had to walk Ruby.

Anyway, when the grass was finally cleaned away, a job I finished yesterday morning, the paving looked like this:

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There were plenty of grass roots left sticking up, and after a few seconds I decided I really needed to move the paving and do some restoration to the pad.   So I did.

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I was so careful when I moved the blocks, having the insane idea that I would be able to replace them the same way they came out.   What I neglected to take into consideration was the fact that the far edge had had some blocks break, and so the tiles were not fitted together properly over there.  Also, some of my tiles had broken while the shifting sands were under them.

While I was working, the first house wren returned, flying in from the south in a flurry of announcements.  “This is my house.”   “This is my garden.” “This area is mine, mine, mine, what are you doing here?”   “Where are the girls anyway, slowpokes, don’t they know there are plenty of bugs to eat we need to get busy and start a family post haste.”   I was glad to see him back, nosy bossy busybody that he is.

After I had the pavers moved, I grubbed out the grass roots and rhizomes that had invaded.   Then I “leveled” the mud and spread sand over it to make a nice base for the pavers.   No one can say that I do not learn from my mistakes, so it was off to the Big Box store to  purchase a pond liner to go under the tiles.   That item was not cheap, but I was armored with Jim’s statement “It is a one time expense” so I plopped down several twenty dollar bills, managed to avoid the temptation of half price perennial plants, and came on home.

There I spread the new liner, tucking it neatly under the pond’s pond liner at the edge, and trimming it to fit my tile area.   Then it was jig saw puzzle time as I fit the tile blocks back into their space.   This required a lot of running back and forth to the pile of tile behind the barn in the search for blocks that were “just right” for holes that needed filling.   By the end I was reduced to taking a piece of rock and smacking it with my hammer in the hopes that one of the resulting pieces would be right for the hole that needed filling.   This actually worked quite well several times, much to my amazement.

Jim mixed me up a small batch of mortar, and I got into the waterfall area and mended the cracks so that when we finally get the new pond pump the water will fall rather than dribble.   That was just a short little episode in the long slog of work I was involved in.

Finally, I hauled a couple of three gallon buckets of sand over to fill in the cracks, and swept it clear.   I was finishing that up when I was called to dinner.   I left the area changed:

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After dinner, I took Ruby for her walk, and for some reason it was a very slow pace around the mile and half path I generally take her on.   Frequently I make it 3.5 miles, but it simply wasn’t in the cards last night.   I came home and took a nice long, badly needed epsom salt soak.

Elsewhere in the yard, spring is progressing nicely.   Here are a couple of images of the species tulips and one of my very fancy daffodils as they bloomed beautifully and largely un-noticed on the other side of the yard from where my attention was focused.

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In front, I did manage a clean up during the week, which revealed the peony sprouting very optimistically.   There are plenty of daffodils and tulips keeping it company.   One of the irises already has a flower stalk coming up.

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Now that the pond is finished, I can rest easy in the knowledge that it will never be that hard to maintain again.   Hopefully, anyway.   And that is a good thing, as I am not getting any younger.   In another ten years I’m not sure I would have been able to do the herculean job that I accomplished this past week and a half.  And I do not wish to minimize Jim’s help during it, although most of the work was done by me while he was busy mowing and mowing and cooking and working at the Commissary.

Now all I have to do is help Jim replace all the carpet in the house with flooring, paint all the walls that have cracks from the beam replacement job, remove the cannas from the areas that I don’t want them, get the henbit out of the day lilies, finish planting the vegetable garden, and …..

Did I mention I am going on a cruise vacation to Alaska in about a month?

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A while ago I was walking a client out to her car and as I returned to the house I noticed a big fat caterpillar hanging about on my rue plant.

“I must get a picture of that caterpillar, it is so interesting,” I said to myself.  “I wonder what kind it is?”   So I went to Google to figure it out, and found out it was the caterpillar of the Giant Swallowtail butterfly.

Then my client came for her massage, so no image was acquired, and when she left I went to get a picture and the caterpillar was GONE.   Disappeared.   I accused the grackles in the area of eating it.

This is what it looked like.   I found this image using Google and borrowed it from Bugfolks.

A while later, one of my observant clients pointed to something hanging right by the front door and wondered what it was.

“Oh!”  I replied, quite pleased.    “That is the chrysalis of a giant swallowtail butterfly.”   Mentally I apologized to the grackles for the murder accusation I had leveled their way previously.   I also congratulated my client on spotting the thing, as it really was quite well camouflaged.

I had no trouble identifying it, since it looked exactly like the caterpillar only it was all folded up.   It even shared the “bird dropping” coloration the caterpillar was notable for.   I was very impressed by how much the caterpillar shrank itself in order to form the chrysalis.

Really, I have a lot to thank my clients for, because this morning when my client arrived her first words were,  “There’s a butterfly out here.   I think it might be hurt.”

I looked out the door, and there on the wall right under the chrysalis was a giant swallowtail butterfly in the process of pumping fluid into its wings, having just freshly emerged from the now empty chrysalis.   I quickly let my client know exactly what she was seeing, called my mother from the living room (she had stopped by to visit me) to come admire, and left her explaining to my client about how butterflies have to move fluid into their new wings, which is why she was pumping them back and forth in the manner which made my client think perhaps she was wounded while I went and grabbed my camera.

One minute later:   Notice how the left tail has already gotten bigger in this image, and how much the lower wings have expanded.

“Would you care to step up onto my finger?”    “Yes, I believe I would.”

Meanwhile, I had sent my client into the room to prepare for the massage and my mother had bid me adieu and gone off to finish her errands in town.

The butterfly liked being on my hand.   It walked all over it, flexing its brand new wings all the while, and proceeded to promenade up my arm almost to my shoulder.    I had to do a massage, my client (bless her heart) was patiently waiting in the massage room while I disported myself in the garden with the butterfly.  It didn’t want to leave my hand, but I finally convinced it to dismount onto my aster plant.

Here is another little magic.   This is her ventral side.   How such a black butterfly can have such a pale “other” side is just magical to me.

After the massage was over, I went out to see how she was doing.   She was still resting on the aster, and I thought maybe I’d get another shot.   But as soon as she saw me moving down the steps, she flew away.   Our transitory connection was over, but I shall treasure the feeling of her feet clinging to my fingers as she walked all over my hand.

Hope there is something magical going on in your life today, too.

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