This old school house home isnít much to look at for eight months out of the year. After 146 years of weathering in the sun, it is very interesting and has a unique character all its ownóbut itís not really what youíd call pretty. The old house begins to cover itself with make-up in May as the green vines of the red runner beans begin their ascent up the south and east sides of the old gray walls. Slowly this old sowís ear of a building turns into a beautiful green silk purse covered in colored jewels. Over the years, the morning glories have re-seeded themselves and are mixed in with the runner beans, helping transform the tired old school into a lovely country cottage. The bright red flowers of the runner beansóvery pretty all by themselvesóbecome busy with beautiful colors when mixed with the morning glories.
This old school hasnít attracted students for many decades but now attracts many others in the forms of birds, bees and butterflies. Each morning I wake to the sounds of humming hummingbirds and buzzing bees. The old house has become a special form of wildlife habitat in itís own right.
This past week I saw more butterflies than Iíve seen in one week in ten years, making this summer one to remember. So many butterflies means I get a chance to brush up on my identificationóthe field guides are getting a work out. The Wild Indigo is a spread-winged skipper about 1 1/8" wide. It isnít really colorful but it is subtly beautiful. It kind of made sense that I would see this little guy because his kind feed on crown vetch, which is abundant along the roadsides. Other small "blue" butterflies, called Greenish Blues, likes to gather together in the gravel driveway. They like to feed on the clover, which is also very plentiful here.
There are many varieties of much smaller butterflies known as skippers. A folded-winged skipper with pretty yellow patches on his wings is called a Yellow Patch skipper. They are small enough to go unnoticed, but a good camera can help you see their quaint beauty up close.
The Viceroy is the smaller mimic of the Monarch butterfly. What with all the Monarchs this year I would expect to see a few more Viceroys. Since birds learn to avoid the Monarchs because they taste bad, the look-alike Viceroy also may not be eaten.
A single Meadow Fritillary joins with several smaller Silvery Checkerspots. They huddle close together and I wonder what they are talking about. Whatever it is itís something that only they can hear.
Butterflies are not only beautiful but their names often fit their lovely personalities. The wet meadow morning is still and a thin fog rises from the cool water stream. Soon the sun will warm the sleepy butterflies and again they will dance over the tops of the tall grasses and prairie flowers. Another summer day with the butterflies, and I spend a lot of time just watching them, knowing that soon they will all be gone until next year. Thatís just part of what it is to live in the North, where winter limits the precious time we spend with these flying flowers.
A thud at the window means a bird has flown into itóhard. Sure enough, a little White-breasted nuthatch is belly-up in the short grass. It was a cool damp morning and I didnít want the small bird to go into shock. I placed him gently under my shirt where itís warm and dark, then went on about my morning chores. It was only about ten minutes before he started stirring around under my shirt. I held him out in front of me in the palm of my hand, where he lay on his back perfectly still for about twenty seconds before he burst into the air and with a chirp. He flew to a nearby tree branch, roused his feathers, and flew to another branch. Ah, sweet freedom.
There are several kinds of flowers that are late bloomers in the flower gardens. Iím happy to have a dozen tall red Canna lilies in beautiful bloom. In the past ten years, Iíve tried planting Canna bulbs here in the valley. They usually grow tall but the frost gets them before they can flower. This year I planted them a month late and they grew like crazy and have been in bloom for over a week. The bonus is the extra Canna bulbs I will have for next year. After the flower stems freeze and turn brown, I dig the tubers and store them a cool dry place for the winter.
I like a particular tall sedum because of its lovely purple-green stems and leaves, but itís the dazzling cluster of white and pink flowers that are the real treat. You have to look closely to appreciate the true beauty, but isnít that the way it is with all that we see?
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