Thursday, June 26, 2014

Monday, June 23, 2014

Name that Thing

June 21st's summer solstice came and went. It would seem, as a naturalist of sorts, I should feel some sense of reverence or spirituality toward this event. However, I don't. To me it's just another day, the longest day of the year, but just another day none the less.

The manner in which some treat the summer solstice compels me to feel as though I have a duty to be outside to commune with nature during this time. However life unfolded in such a fashion that I was instead left to feel guilty because most of the day I was indoors working. For me the solstice passed by unremarkably since I had little energy left at the end of the day to seize the extended daylight.

But I did find some time the following day to stop at Scuppernong Prairie State Natural Area and bask in a little Vitamin D sunshine. I was looking for White Prairie-fringed Orchids, but found none. It could be early or I could be looking in the wrong area.

Calligrapha philadelphica Leaf Beetle
I went against a directive I had for myself and snapped a few photos of insects and plants. At every turn I seem to find insects I've not seen before. I pondered the names of these critters and remembered conversations I had with a fellow naturalist years ago about the silliness of needing to compartmentalize everything in nature into neat little categories via nomenclature. I came back to the questions, "what's in a name?" and "what is the purpose?" I suppose in terms of communicating about experiences and observations, it's useful to have some agreed upon names of things so we can all understand each other. However sometimes I don't really want to know. I photograph these living things for their beauty which exists outside of any given name. What's in a name? Does knowing affect perception? If so does it expand or confine it?

These are the ridiculous musings which enter my head when I become overwhelmed thinking about trying to identify everything I encounter...

I suppose the benefit in knowing a name can lead to a more expeditious acquisition of greater knowledge about the habits and natural history of living things...

...or perhaps implosion from information overload.

St. John's Wort
Take for instance, St. John's Wort. It is now blooming in southern Wisconsin. I found a few specimens at Scuppernong. Knowing this flower's name provides me the knowledge that it is used in herbal medicine to treat depression. So nearly every time I encounter St. John's Wort, this little fact comes to mind. Occasionally this leads to my brain tangentially ruminating about depression...I find this distracting to my appreciation of the exquisite beauty of this plant. The manner in which its anthers leap from its petals and casts shadows back on itself is quite fanciful. And although yellow is my least favorite color, I find St. John's Wort to render itself beautifully in photographs, something it does without a name.

Now that I have exhausted my brain of any profound intellectual musings to portray some narrative of my time in the prairie, I simply present these photos. They are a small sampling of some of my favorite observations from my brief outing in the sun. I think I may have names for most of them!

Downy Woodmint
Nursery Web Spider

Hydaticus aruspex, diving beetle

Hydaticus aruspex, diving beetle
Jumping Spider species

Land snail species found on the underside of a dandelion leaf

And here's a few more peculiar insects I found in my garden that same evening. I was able to categorize these to various levels of specificity. Cool to behold regardless of their names.

Xysticus auctificus Crab Spider (I think)
Xysticus auctificus Crab Spider (I think)
Lauxaniidae family fly species
Strauzia longipennis fruit fly (Sunflower Maggot)

Thursday, June 19, 2014

White Pine Dying

too close to the fire
has left you with growing empty spaces
a crumbling of your enormity
where little by little
the core and limbs of you perish
but a hollow skeleton of your presence
until you collapse
under the weight
of your diminishing self

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

June Crushes: Bugs and Such

Today and yesterday I visited a couple of State Natural Areas in Dane County: Black Earth Rettenmund SNA and Pleasant Valley Conservancy SNA. I wasn't planning a second visit to Pleasant Valley. However, I was pretty confident my missing flash diffuser was dropped somewhere along the path the day before. I was correct.

Pleasant Valley Conservancy, Dane Co, WI

As seems to be the case with many of the prairies this year, little was flowering at Rettenmund. The Prairie Phlox was nearing its end. Wood Lily, Harebell and Virginia Ground Cherry were scattered sparsely and just starting to bloom. A few dense clusters of False Solomon's Seal were hanging on. I expect the Wood Lily and Harebell to peak in a week or so, but have little hope it will be as spectacular as it was when I first visited this place last year. While I would like to see  the Death Camas blooming here in the next week or two, I doubt I will be returning.

Virginia Ground Cherry

Wood Lily

This was my first visit to Pleasant Valley. It seems aptly named. A nice variety of habitat including prairie, oak savanna and oak woods occur along the rolling hills and paths. Bird highlights included active and quite common Red-headed Woodpeckers and a close encounter with a Pileated Woodpecker. Blue-winged Warbler, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Field Sparrows and Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are some of the resident breeders I heard during my two visits.

As for wildflowers, I was hoping to find some Yellow Lady Slipper, but was not fortunate in that regard. The Lupine and Baptista were prominent and nice to behold.

Taracticus octopunctatus Robberfly, Pleasant Valley Conservancy

It's turning out to be quite the season for insects. In addition to the pervasively annoying biting gnats and mosquitoes, a unique and diverse population of flies and spiders seems never-ending. Robber Flies, Treehoppers, Jumping Spiders and various beetles were among the abounding insects lurking in, among and under the foliage at Pleasant Valley. I even dared to come within millimeters of the plethora of Poison Ivy to photograph some of these buggers. Here are some the highlights:

Dimorphic Jumping Spider (male)

Dimorphic Jumping Spider (male)

Dimorphic Jumping Spider (female)

Unknown fly

Machimus sp. Robber Fly

Treehopper species

Treehopper species
Golden-backed Snipe Fly

At some point in between photographing insects today, I had a bit of an epiphany, a resolution of give the cameras a rest. No more photography for the time being...

...not until I create something with my mind, hands and eyes in three dimensions.

Because my spirit feels crushed like a bug under the machines, electronics and everything which occurs via the conduit of my computer...

Digital photography simply propels me much too far into the land of machines and vacuous spaces and worlds, where I feel the oxygen being sucked out of my lungs.

While there has been a sense of small achievements and excitement in capturing nature and transforming it into permanent two-dimensional snippets, I am left to wonder the purpose. I question my legacy of a hard drive full of electronic images that most will never see or care to.

Fucking Flies (literally), Machimus sp. Robberfly

So perhaps this is the lesson June wishes to teach me, to resist the machines and change course or simply stick a fork in it...

Thursday, June 5, 2014

June's Solitude

June is settling into to the familiar lonely month it's come to represent in recent years.  The furvor of May migration has passed and with some recurrence my relationships with people seem exhausted. It is somewhat unsettling to look back at what I blogged about last June, recollect the circumstances and realize I am virtually in the same place one year later. Life can be stagnant sometimes.

Marl Plant Ruins, Scuppernong Springs Nature Trail (Waukesha Co.)

However if June is to continue to offer me solitude and isolation, I shall have to accept and simply hope I can grow from the lessons it's trying to teach me.

When I enter a natural area, I find at times it takes my mind some time to disengage from the din of thoughts involving people and regrets...This is especially the case when my surroundings strike me as redundant which they have as of late. I realize this is a matter of my impaired perception simply clouded by a garbage of thoughts...

...Because virtually anywhere in nature, when you fully engage, suddenly worlds of minute insects and hidden blooms or interesting bird song reveal themselves. Like this radical looking Glow Worm Beetle and friends I stumbled upon in a prairie to top all prairies I visited in Jefferson County this week...

Glow Worm Beetle, Young Prairie State Natural Area
It is discoveries such as the Glow Worm and the reward of seeing any orchid or other interesting native plant in the wild which elevate my spirit and carry me forward despite life's trials.

Nature is an escape for me, a lonely one at times, but mostly elevating and exhilarating.

So to that end this past week I set forth in hopes of finding lingering blooms of the Small White Lady Slipper Orchid in some of the wet prairies in Jefferson, Walworth, Waukesha counties. I also visited the desert prairie at Spring Green Nature Preserve.

Path through chest high Stinging Nettle to destination frustration
Young Prairie SNA
I endured one hot afternoon slogging around in rubber boots from Young Prairie State Natural Area to Scuppernong Prairie State Natural Area to Scuppernong Springs Nature Trail area which yielded little reward. Of course it's all a matter of attitude. And perhaps goal-minded nature excursions simply expose oneself to inevitable disappointment.

Columbine, Scuppernong Springs Nature Trail (Waukesha Co.)

I did find a few Columbine in the woods; Yellow Star Grass, Blue-eyed Grass, Spiderwort and Iris specimens in the prairies along with one Small White Lady Slipper that was brown and well past its glory. However the density of anything  blooming struck me as lackluster. Fortunately a few species of butterflies kept me entertained.

Hobomok Skipper, Young Prairie SNA
(Walworth Co)
Pearl Crescent, Young Prairie SNA
(Jefferson Co)

Same was my experience at the east parcel of Spring Green Preserve. Compared to one year ago, the prairie was mostly a desert of of green and yellow grasses and foliage versus a lively scene bursting with florets of various colors. Few Hoary Puccoon, Penstemon Grandiflorus, Harebell and lingering Birdsfoot Violets were blooming. I visited on a temperate evening and was grateful for the pleasant temperature, but the mosquitoes and biting gnats were utterly horrid.

Penstemon grandiflorus
Spring Green Preserve
Harebell, Spring Green Preserve
However, good things come to those with persistence and perhaps some sense of adventure (or access to the appropriate intel). I heard of this mystical "paintbrush prairie" in Jefferson County which held an array of alluring flowering plants including the Small White Lady Slipper Orchid. I only mention this location by name since I know an internet search should not yield much of anything in terms of figuring out where I saw this state threatened species of orchid.

"Paintbrush Prairie" (Jefferson Co)
Access to the paintbrush prairie required a 1.7 mile hike through some overgrown oak savanna and other marginal prairie habitats to reach destination AMAZING. I arrived upon a field of yellows, whites, pinks, red wisps of densely growing Prairie Smoke, Prairie Phlox, Yellow Star-grass, Blue-eye Grass, Two-flowered Cynthia, Shooting Star,Yellow Indian Paintbrush and more!

Blue-eyed Grass
Prairie Smoke

Two-eyed Cynthia! ;)

Shooting Star (before inversion)

Dwarf Prairie Rose

Lobelia kalmii

And yes with patience I discovered some blooming Small White Lady Slipper. Initially it was just a single specimen I eye-balled among the grass when I just happened to glance back from where I had walked. Then further along I found cluster after cluster of spent brown blooms with a few lingering fresh flowers to indulge my eyes.

Small White Lady Slipper Orchid (Jefferson Co)
I could have lingered in this wonderland rich with life, diversity and color, but the day was wearing on and the mosquitoes were increasing.

Pelegrina proterra Jumping Spider, Young Prairie SNA (Jefferson Co)

... and just like that, with the full coup on my senses, I knew I would survive another June.  I suddenly felt in the company of all I really needed: orchids, prairie flowers, birds and a little coffee by my side.

So for now I'll keep running, looking and discovering. Some may surmise I'm hiding, but I know differently. You can't be hiding when no one is looking for you.