I fabricated the need to go to the grocery story, on my bicycle, with my camera and art materials. It meant I didn’t have time for a day on the trail, but I had a real need to ride my bike and do some art and just kind of poke around and find what was interesting in my town. I did take a roundabout way to the store and waded in the creek and did a few paintings and followed a great blue heron and photographed wildflowers and saw both lovely neighborhoods and well-used alleys. Here’s a slideshow of the events in order.
I typically like to photograph light-colored flowers against a dark background, like the shadows in the woods, but the breeze was moving the shadows and sunlight around and a very light patch ended up behind these cranesbill geranium flowers. I love the shade of green, and I like the effect. They are in my back yard, and have naturalized in a nice row at the edge of my “woodland garden”. The are a native wild plant, and I brought home bits and pieces of plants from old homesteads about to be bulldozed for development. They are a geranium, and if you look at the shape of the flower you’ll see a similarity with the flowers that grow in clusters in the geraniums we find more familiar. The name “cranesbill” is derived from the shape of the seeds, which grow in clusters like the buds you see on the left, a small oblong shape but with a long pointed protuberance that is reminiscent of the beak of a crane.
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The forget-me-nots begin their first tentative blooms at the beginning of April, and continue through most of May. I permit—no, I encourage—the forget-me-nots, a native wildlflower, to naturalize all over my backyard, across the grass and into the flower beds, and each spring eagerly await their abundance. Every year I look for the first few rosettes of soft green leaves and check daily for the first flowers, then watch the green of my grass turn to a field of blue stars and carefully walk among them, watch the sun play across them as if on a cloud and reflect from the dewdrops in the morning or spring raindrops in the afternoon, humming with hungry insects, renewal, from one packet of seeds I tossed out there in the autumn of 1990, right after I moved in.
I don’t cut my grass until they are done blooming but let them finish their cycle, welcoming the bees to come and pollinate the flowers, offering migrating butterflies a meal of nectar, and the returning and nesting birds a hunting ground to feed themselves and their young. My back yard feels like a woodland meadow to look at from all angles and enjoy, a quiet and contemplative place to sit within, to listen to the insects and feel the life surging forth at the beginning of spring. It’s a place of renewal for me.
Life gives us, literally and figuratively, both light and darkness each day, each season, each era of our lives, from our own losses and joy to those of our family, friends, community and the world around us. Having this refuge for myself has been integral for me to weather these storms, of course a place to grieve the losses of my feline family and losses of friends and family, a place to wave my arms and spread my joy at good news or just a happy moment, as well as a place to let my sadness drop away to the soil, there to be worked into the fabric of life as only nature can do, to slowly break it down, use the best of what it has to offer, then discard the rest.
This has been a difficult week in particular, in what seems to be an increasing number of difficult years. It’s hard not to fall into despair at seeing innocent people killed and mutilated by an act of intentional violence and even grievous accidents, and harder, as we feel helpless at not being able to act, not to follow every fact and every image of the events, trying to resolve our own feelings, help resolve the sorrow and pain of the immediate victims, and still feel safe in our own homes and our own hearts. We are changed by each event in the world as the ripples of impact reach us from near or far, just as we are changed by personal events, but this is when I look at the broader example of nature and the earth itself, existent much longer than we individuals or even the human race, for the slow and careful process of healing. Even though the light may be dimmed, signs of life always appear even in the places of greatest devastation, and the earth folds herself around what is left and makes something fruitful and productive.
I don’t follow any individual religious belief but find wisdom in all I’ve read and learned. As a young girl in Catholic school trying to make my way through the King James version of the Holy Bible, one verse was remarkably clear to me then as it is today: One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever. (Ecclesiastes 1:4)
I have taken hundreds of photos of my forget-me-nots through the years to find one that is, for me, the essence of that space that heals me. The photo of the forget-me-nots below is the closest I have managed to come to that feeling of life and peace I feel at being within them. I allowed the play of light and shadow intentionally, and if you look closely you’ll even see a small sulphur butterfly on the left and a honeybee on the right, but you’ll have to supply the humming and buzzing, the chickadees and goldfinches, blue jays and cardinals and sparrows who are singing, the smell of the earth and the soft spring breeze—and please, spend some time in your imaginings. You can download this image and use it as a wallpaper on your electronic device or keep it to look at whenever you need to. Click on the image above to bring up the full 2000px version, then right-click and download as you please.
The dried flowers of this many-flowered aster have gone to seed, each tiny seed bearing a little frizz of down that will carry it away on the wind come spring. Here, lit by the sun of a late winter afternoon, they glow like sparklers.
The sun shines through a dense clump of many-flowered aster, whose dried flowers and leaves create a rich random pattern of warm winter umbers.
That’s actually the name of this particular autumn aster; I guess they ran out of creative ideas in naming the dozens of little white composite flowers with their raised warm yellow centers. I’m a pushover for little white flowers, especially when they are gently touched by morning sun against a backdrop of weathered wood.
Most asters have flowers only at the end of the stem, or they bloom in succession along the stem, but this particular aster also has many branches, each with their own sets of flowers, and when they bloom all at once the plant looks very snowy; this is probably the origin of the term “many-flowered”. Here is last year’s photo entitled “Many Flowered Aster”.
These tiny white flowers are barely 1/4″ across, some smaller, and cling to the stems branching out at all angles; I’ve used them in place of baby’s breath in flower arrangements the flowers are so small. The yellow centers turning orange then sienna resemble the tiny flowers so popular in calico fabrics from the 19th-century.
Seeds from butterfly weed emerge from newly-opened pods, ready to have the wind carry their seeds all over this field.
The orange beetles are Milkweed Beetles of some sort, I just couldn’t ignore them.
I love the yellow of goldenrod, and when it blooms in a big field in September the color and scent is heavenly.
From summer to autumn in just one day, purple morning glories to red berries and orange leaves. Each year I wait for the shiny red berries to appear just as the leaves begin to color with rich red and orange. The berries don’t last long since they are a big favorite of migrating birds.
I love finding an unassuming but lovely wildflower that managed to sneak into a little unkempt patch along the sidewalk.
Actually, it is a false sunflower, but of all the woodland sunflowers I saw this weekend on the Panhandle Trail, I liked this one the best. Those five petals are so deliberate that they are difficult to ignore, and remind me of a wind turbine. Most sunflowers have petals, or rays, all the way around the central disk, but this one has apparently chosen, by genetics, to have only five. this variety, Heliopsis helianthoides, can have anywhere between five and eight. All the plants in this area with similar leaves and stems had five rays, yet in other areas along the trail, I know I’ve seen others with six rays and more. I guess they each have their own territory.
And the photo below is interesting in its own right. I use several different lenses when I photograph wildflowers, and I also manually change the settings, shooting “dark” so that I get all the highlights in the petals where the sun highlights them, for instance, while the background detail fades to focus interest on the flower. I usually have to adjust the levels when I get into PhotoShop, to lighten it up a bit. Often, I’ll simply choose “auto levels” and see what happens. I rarely like what it does—it’s usually too contrasty for me—but it often shows me elements of the image I wouldn’t see otherwise, like this! This photo began with the same color ranges as the one above, but who would think there would be blue and purple in the background and no green? And that zappy yellow! I love the effect.
This rough little bluebird house looks sweet during the day when I visit the Kane’s Woods trailhead in Scott Township. But when the evening light washed it with gold with the yellow wingstem in front, there was something piquant about the scene; the birds are gone for the season, autumn is coming, night is falling, but home is still here when they return.
I was originally caught by all the textures in this one small area—the locust tree bark, the craggy grapevines shedding their own bark, the birdhouse surface a little frazzled from birds getting a claw-hold on the wood, the leaves in the background, the wingstem in the foreground—and both the direct sunlight from the setting sun and the reflected light from the sky above. It was really a feast for the eyes and the camera lens.
I enjoy watching Daddy Long Legs spiders—they have so much personality. They appear so fragile but are absolutely fearless, standing atop flowers and hanging on leaves and twigs, waving one or more legs at you and warning not to mess with them, going about their business of stepping from one thing to another, just because they can. You might walk through the woods and see no other spiders at all, but you’ll see plenty of Daddy Long Legs everywhere you go—technically they are not arachnids but “harvestmen“, a separate but related species. Here is a National Geographic article I recently read about how they evolved: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2011/08/110825-daddy-longlegs-spider-fossils-harvestmen-3d-animals-science/
I couldn’t figure out the orange dots on this one, but I discovered they are actually mites parasitizing the big guy.
The flower they are standing on is a woodland sunflower, abundant in wooded areas along the edges and in clearings. I’ve enjoyed photographing wildflowers in my explorations of the area right around me in Western Pennsylvania. Enjoy a few slideshows of wildflowers from my local travels.
Autumn wildflowers aren’t nearly as showy as spring wildflowers, but their lacy forms create clouds of shape and texture and delicate color, especially along a water’s edge.
These wildflowers are growing right along Chartiers Creek in Carnegie, and that’s the neat thing about wildflowers—they’ll spring up anywhere they can find a bit of soil for roots.
Starting from the left…
The yellow flowers are evening primrose, a native biennial that opens as its name predicts, in the evening. The flowers are just opening here.
The deep violet flowers are purple loosestrife, an non-native invasive perennial that was popular in gardens but which has escaped and is very successful growing along the edge of any body of water. It’s not too abundant here, but in areas where it becomes established it crowds out native plants that feed local songbirds and attract native insects for pollination.
Near the center, at about 11:00, there is one stem visible from blue vervain, another native with tiny seeds that finches love.
The fuzzy pink flowers are joe-pye weed, a native annual, and can grow anywhere from one to six feet tall with curved umbels of soft pink flowers. To the left of the joe-pye you’ll see some white flowers as if the joe-pye is fading to white—this is actually boneset, another native annual.
On the right you can see a spray of pink flowers. I first saw this several years ago and simply could not identify it with any of my guide books. Then two years ago I saw a specimen in a conservation garden and thought I’d marked it in my book when I got home, but no. I’ll have to go out and find it again.
Purple and gold, those classic autumn colors in this blended of deep purple ironweed, amber grasses, olive green goldenrod and the last leaves of tall yellow coneflower, captured in the haze of a late summer evening.
They are just beginning to bloom after the drought, but the autumn colors are showing in purples and yellows. Here the spikes of purple loosestrife (an invasive annual best cut for presentation in a vase so the seeds don’t spread), and Queen Anne’s Lace, flower heads diminished after the heat with aromatic wormwood mix with everyday hybrids geraniums, impatiens and lobelia and my vintage phlox.
My black-eyed susans never bloom in a clump, my yard is too shady for that, but I do like how they are well-spaced so I can enjoy each one.
And the little ant that’s walking on the one petal. That petal must seem as big as a boat to this little ant.
Think burdock isn’t good for anything but getting caught stuck in your clothes or your pet’s fur and making a mess? Ask this honeybee! I’m always glad to see honeybees coming to the plants in my back yard wildlife habitat.
This burdock is actually growing in my yard, though some might consider it a weed. It’s not a native plant, coming over from Europe, probably stuck on someone’s britches, but our native wildlife readily accepted its flowers and leaves being much like our native thistles, a close relative.
Later, when the seeds mature, the songbirds will be starting out on their long migrations and will fill up on the high energy content of the fresh seeds before they go; migrating birds will stop by and have a snack as well, and the final settlers who will winter over in my yard will get the final seeds. I’ve heard a few stories of small birds being trapped in the burrs when they are dry, but I’ve never seen this in my yard or along any trail, and I’ve seen plenty a happy bird eating seeds and perching on it, since the plant tries to grow taller than anything around it.
Beneficial insects such as spiders will build nests and lay eggs on the plants, and these will hatch in the warm spring sun early next spring as the cycle begins again.
Burdock has a long history as a medicinal plant as well, with the juice from crushed leaves and stems an effective emollient for burns and rashes including sunburn and poison ivy.
But its greatest claim to fame is to be the inspiration for Velcro. You can find that anywhere.
Who needs a cultured garden when hardy wildflowers and self-seeding annuals are happy to climb a wire fence in a parking lot?
The yellow is wingstem, the other flowers naturalized morning glories; while you see four different flowers right next to each other, they are actually on separate vines.
Near sunset the bees and butterflies were getting their last meal of the day; the burdock was apparently a hot spot to be.
I used my favorite old lens, the 50mm with a 1.5X converter so I have a very short focal length, focusing on one thing in the image and variously softening all the others.
I love a field of Queen Anne’s Lace, so common yet beautiful this time of year, but somehow it’s much more mysterious in black and white, especially the dappled sun highlighting a flower umbel here and there making it look like an iced cookie.
And then I went back to that photo and did a few more variations on it–back to the color version, and then another filter to create an abstract pattern. Really, I often see all these things when I look at the scene, before I even photograph it.
More Queen Anne’s Lace. I have more photos of it than I know what to do with, but the pattern of tiny flowers in wheels and clusters that creates the umbels has always fascinated me with its intricacy. Taken to an abstract it does look like a lacy pattern. Below is a modified, filtered version of the same photo, reminding me of a set of draperies printed in that particular three- or four-color flower style from the late 1950s.
Another rainy morning with just a little bit of sun creates a beautiful combination on the faces of two of the “day’s eyes”. Oh, the patterns in this simple little scene!