This Week in Sunflowers

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This week in sunflowers… and other yellow things. Diverse native bees, including the sunflower bee (Svastra, I think: the males have unusually long antennae) are buzzing and feeding in the sunflowers, and a few goldfinches have come for seeds but fly too fast from me when I come out with the camera. Grasshoppers continue to maraud every living plant, including the gladioli, giving me a window into a bud.Pollinator-9001

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Dahlias are suffering worse than glads from grasshopper predation, though these later blooms are in better shape than those in early summer; enough flower left to provide for this bumblebee. Bumblebees are so complicated, with any one species having so much variety in parts and patterns, queens and workers and males all different sizes with different color sternites, tergites, and corbicular fringes, variable leg part sizes and cheek ratios… It would take more time and focus than I have now to even try to learn them. We have about 13 species in this part of Colorado. But I can’t even remember that many. One, two, or possibly three more species below, on Prince’s Plume, mullein, and Rocky Mountain beeplant respectively.

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Meanwhile, the fernbush, Chamaebateria, has also been blooming, attracting more flies than bees, and a few butterflies as well, including this Painted Lady.

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But who will this adorable, soft creature turn into one day? I rescued it from porch sweepings, and dropped it into some leaf litter, but not before examining it on my breakfast plate. Its antennae surprised me, popping out when I scared it, then sucking back into the top of its round face. Here, they’re halfway back in, after shooting straight out in alarm.

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Dragonfly perched on a radish seedpod.

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Those horrible thunks against the window… I heard one on the west kitchen window last week and saw the body drop. Dashed outside, around the Foresteria loosing masses of purple berries to the ground, beyond the woodpile, and tiptoed through the mess of palettes, hoses, wire cages, and empty pots to find this young yellow warbler out cold on the ground. I carried him around to the south side of the house looking for a good shady perch, and set him in a sturdy crook in the apricot tree. Brought the cats inside and left him there for awhile. When I went back he had flown, so that was one good deed for that day.

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Then, just this afternoon, another smack into the east window. Outside, a tiny hummingbird facedown in a geranium pot. Its beak was a little askew. In my hand it was weightless, but its minuscule heart pounded. Cats secured inside, I set the hummingbird in a shoebox in the shade, putting a twig under its barely perceptible toes, and set a small bowl of water in front of it as it wobbled on its perch. I shut the lid for awhile, then checked, and tipped the water bowl so it could reach without moving. It flicked its threadlike tongue into the water. I dumped the water and filled the bowl with nectar, and it drank again from the tipped bowl.

I shut the lid for another ten minutes; checked again, tipped again, left again. The fact that it was still alive encouraged me, though I was distressed it didn’t fly right off. Half an hour later I returned and opened the lid, tipped the bowl for another drink. I left the lid open and checked again in another half hour, dismayed to see the bird still there. But as I moved toward the bowl, the little bird cocked its little pea-head then zipped out of the box, up and out of sight! Sometimes all they need is a safe space for long enough to get their head on straight.

Not long after that, I caught a goldfinch in the sunflowers.

 

This Week in the Garden

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This week in the garden has been an antidote. The tightness and pounding in my chest belies the calm I bring to each day hearing this mad rhetoric of nuclear threats in the news. Apparently the Korean War never actually ended; our country once had an opportunity to negotiate the conclusion of that conflict, along with some other diplomatic options, to deescalate rather than fan the flames of this shitgibbon standoff.

My uncle, who just turned 92 and retired from the army a 2-star general, was a strong Trump supporter. “He’s a loose cannon,” John said, “But it’s all campaign rhetoric. He’ll settle down and tow the line when he’s elected.” Well, Uncle John, I wish we could talk again. I’d love to hear your take on that position now. He assured me in that conversation that failsafes exist between the President and “pushing the button.” That’s not what the talking heads on media are saying. They are saying that military officials are obliged to follow the orders of their commander-in-chief.

John said the same thing when I asked him, “What would you not do if ordered to? I mean, what would it take to make a conscientious Army officer, a good Christian, a person with integrity, refuse to follow an order?”

“It would never happen,” he said. “An officer will quit before he’ll refuse to carry out an order.” Leaving in his (or her) place someone who presumably, eventually, would  carry out the order, no matter how heinous. Like initiating nuclear war with North Korea. I also asked him about the possibility of martial law, or a military coup. He brushed me off. “Never happen,” he said. Well, this is a career Army officer who served for decades after his retirement as a military consultant. For my peace of mind I had to trust him.

So now there are these pansy white guys in Washington who’ve never seen war first-hand, ignoring all the urgent counsel from men (and women) who have been to war, the officers and retired officers of our military branches urging them to hold their horses, to not be rash, to not be stupid.

Where people lose track of reality is when they call military trainings “war games.” They’re not games. This diluting of the meanings of words (and the word WAS God), this diluting of raw content into an idea of it saps comprehension.

Have you ever seen a wild animal attack? An alligator, for example? A badger? Until you have, you can’t comprehend the instantaneity of it, nor the savagery. Or a raging wildfire exploding trees? I imagine war is like that. Unless you’ve seen its horrors yourself, you can’t comprehend the magnitude of it, or its unpredictability: how far and fast it can spread, and in what unforeseen directions.

Well, enough about that. It has been an exquisite journey on this planet. Through it all I’ve worshiped only one thing, Life itself, in all its glorious diversity. I live where there are lions; hummingbirds and bees, dogs and cats, ravens, fawns, flowers, rain, clouds and trees bring to my day what joy it contains. If it all ends tomorrow in nuclear annihilation, it’s been a brilliant ride. My heart breaks with gratitude.

This week in the garden is like every other week, in some ways; and like no other week, no other moment, in other ways.

This Week in Food Alone:

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The first BLT of the season, with the first Stupice tomatoes ripening the last week in July, with Bad Dog lettuce and the best ethicarian bacon available in that necessary moment. Plenty of mayonnaise, yay mayonnaise! On light bread, Rudi’s organic oat. Some things you can only compromise so far. Remind me to plant at least one Stupice plant next summer; they give early and tasty.

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Glacé garni, with lemon twist and two dried Marciano cherries, one great ice cube in a Manhattan.

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The Colonel’s prized Vichyssoise recipe, which I sleuthed and found in his Fanny Farmer Boston Cookbook. He was so proud of this soup. I used homegrown leeks, a hefty Farmers’ Market Yukon gold potato, and extremely local cream.

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Stuffed Costata Romanesco squash, yum. They doubled in size overnight. I’m trying to catch them in the act.

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Organic white peaches from the Crawford Farmers’ Market, drenched in fresh whole milk from the cows next door, with a sprinkle of organic brown sugar-cinnamon.

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Collecting tomatoes for two weeks, finally enough San Marzano and Stupice ripe to make sauce. Slow-cooked strained tomatoes, with onions in olive oil, plus a splash of red wine. Such gratification to use tomatoes, peppers, carrots, garlic, herbs from my own garden…

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Steaming from the oven sourdough from the starter Ruth gave me last winter, still going strong, a staple now in my weekly meal plan, finally getting the hang of the perfect loaf.

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Mary’s ultimate ginger cookie recipe with a substitution and an omission, almost Lebkuchen in flavor, a grounding sweet even in summer.

These quotidian moments:

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Lola came to like dogs a little bit more after meeting Stellar, Rocky, and Raven. But especially Rocky. And Stellar.

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What is this? I don’t remember seeing this bright red growth in the pinyon tips, and I’ve seen it in a couple of different woods up here on the mesa.

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Black Canyon morning.

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Finding solace, finding beauty everywhere I can. This week in sunflowers, this week in hummingbirds, this week in shooting stars.

Wild Summer

 

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When guests come we always enjoy cocktails at the Black Canyon.

I’ve had company almost full-time for six weeks. It’s been wonderful to see so many beloved friends from across the divide and across the continent, and there have been lots of wild adventures.

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A picnic at Lost Lake with Kathy and Jean.

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She hid her baby behind the sagebrush before we got our cameras on them. Beyond her, the Grand Valley and the Bookcliffs obscured by a raging dust storm.

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The successful redtail nest along the road to town, which fledges two or three hawklets each summer. Below, a pair of golden eaglets in their cliff nest just days before their first flight.

Eagles-7792.jpgBear-5592.jpgTwo weeks ago when Cindy was visiting, she spotted it first: There’s a critter down there, she said. When I first saw the long black tail I thought A black panther! A melanistic cougar… I grabbed the binoculars out of the ammo can beside the bench to identify what that dark blob was: a black bear napping in the canyon, head down, eyes closed, right arm stretched out. We must have been upwind because none of the three dogs noticed. It was uncanny, because she had just brought me a belated birthday present, the long-awaited bear puzzle: 

 

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But the grand prize of wildlife sightings, the one everyone who comes here hopes to see, eluded them all and came only to me.

I was behind the house, I can’t remember exactly where or what I was doing, when I heard Stellar make an ungodly strange noise, as though he were terribly hurt, or had his head stuck in something. It wasn’t a bark or a howl, or even something between the two; it was an all over the place moaning wail, up down and around. I dropped whatever I was doing and ran toward the sound, calling “Stellar, what’s happened?!”

He was outside the dog pen, as was Raven, with no apparent harm to either, but he was dancing in a weird way and looking inside the pen, and I followed his eyes just in time to see something brown jump over the fence at the back corner. Was it a deer? But it didn’t bound over, and besides they can’t get over that fence like they can the yard fence; we had a tragic episode a few years ago proving that.

It flowed over. Deep inside I knew. This all took about ten seconds as I continued moving toward the dogs. I stepped on past their shed to look over the back fence and saw it trot about fifteen feet beyond the pen, then stop, turn, and look back to where, by now, Raven stood in the corner of the pen barking at it. A beautiful mountain lion stood broadside to us, looking full-face at Raven, for all the world as if it were considering whether to go back and get her.

I slowly stepped closer to the fence, Stellar quiet by my side, my heart pounding, my mouth hanging open. Don’t go back! I thought to the lion. Good girl! I thought to Raven. Time did stand still. I did not know what to do, but my head did not fill with that horrible static it does when I’m in a panic about some human unknown. It emptied of all but wonder.

I processed the fact that I couldn’t get a good picture of it with my phone, even if I could get the phone out fast enough, and so I stayed still, goggling at the scene, which was kind of a standoff: I looked from the lion to the barking dog, back and forth, flickering attention between the two, evaluating possibilities, considering whether to intervene with a yell, wondering where the cats were, and why it had jumped into the dog pen, and was everyone alright? Then I focused on the lion, breathing in my good fortune at seeing it, and then at realizing there was nothing in its mouth: The little cats were safe somewhere else.

It wasn’t a huge lion, but it wasn’t a yearling; maybe a two-or three-year old male, or a female of any age, and not the classic blond cougar we expect. It was redder at the back, with a dark shadow of black-tipped fur along its tail and haunches, lighter at the shoulders and head, with its face russet around the cheeks. It looked back and forth at us. As the energy among us calmed, I slowly reached in my pocket for the camera, and the lion turned and trotted off through the trees.

That whole thing took another ten seconds.

Stellar and I walked into the pen down to the corner where Raven still barked, Stellar as alert as could be, walking just under my fingertips. As he began barking I searched the sagebrush and junipers but there was no lingering hint of the lion. I checked the time: 5:08. I was expecting a call at 5:30 for virtual cocktails. Still catching my breath, I called the cats and brought dogs and cats in for their dinner, shaking just a little as I prepped their bowls, and then I made a good stiff drink.

This makes the sixth mountain lion I’ve seen since I moved to this land. I know there are plenty of them out there, and it’s one reason I love it here. But I’ve never seen one nearly this close to my house. Nor to me!

All kinds of thoughts, of course, ran through my head. I grabbed drink, chips, binoculars, phone and dogs, and went out to sit on the patio, where I simply looked around, feeling very much alive. I wondered if it was still nearby thinking about whyever it had gone into that pen and about the dogs who had chased it out.

I played back the images to lock them in: the glimpse of brown slithering over the tall fence, the long tail and then the lion stopping to look back at us, the rounded reddish cheeks, eye contact. Already it was fading. That kind of sight, we say it gets etched into our memory, but really it starts to fade the second it’s gone, and now I’m left with tissue paper stills of an extraordinary few seconds that pulsated with vitality.

The next evening, around the same time, I walked to the canyon as usual, armed only with walking sticks and two bouncing hounds. When I choose to put my life at risk, it is in this manner: to carry an iced martini in a blue-stemmed glass through a woods where lions prowl, to a canyon where bears and lions dwell, to sit still on a bench overlooking the edge. I count my blessings every day that I am able to live where the chance of being harmed by a wild animal is greater than the chance of being harmed by a feral human.

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My two best dogs ever in the whole history of the planet: Raven after a dust roll, and Stellar in a field of wildflowers up Leroux Creek just the other day.

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Summer After Snow

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Essentially the same shot, same angle and distance, 24 hours apart, of an Icelandic poppy in a patio pot. 

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After the snow, everything rebounded remarkably. The pink honeysuckle whose limbs had been bent to the ground stood tall and fleshed out with plenty more blossoms, and was full of bees for weeks. A few iris flowers froze but no one stalk completely died, and they continue to bud and bloom their last few, three weeks later.

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The Siberian honeysuckle vine began to open as the pink honeysuckle tree slowed, and bumblebees of all kinds are all over it.

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For a week or two the chives were where it’s at.

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Columbine blooms madly in various warm shades, attractive to this digger bee and many others.

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Western tiger swallowtails are coming to the potted salvias, as well as many other blooms.

It’s interesting to notice how tense my life becomes without reliable water. For a week the switch on the pressure tank has been failing, and the plumber has been swamped with the more urgent task of repairing a broken water main that supplies a whole neighborhood. I could have found someone else, but I just found him, and I like him, and he’s good. So we waited. When the tank drained and the pump didn’t kick on, I went out and jiggled the switch. As each day passed, the switch failed more frequently, until each time the tank drained I had to jiggle the switch.

It’s a good thing I meditate. We cut back our use of water to necessity, and all the garden got thirsty, but the seedlings and transplants remained a priority, as well as drinking water for people and pets, water for face and hand washing, and of course ice cubes, for cocktails. We were never in dire straits. We were in anxious straits. And that anxiety, despite being modulated by daily meditation, strained my equanimity. I felt tight, and less than whole, simply because the water could at any moment quit altogether. And I realized how thoroughly the structure of my day depends on reliable, constant water. How lucky we are!

He came this morning and replaced the switch. I feel I can breathe freely again. And so I am back to spending hours a day moving hoses and sprinklers, hearing that darn pump grind comfortingly at regular intervals. Within two weeks of having a four-inch snow with one-inch water content, we are enjoying 90 degree days and the garden is in full bloom. We are all thirsty all the time. And now, for awhile, we have peace of mind. And showers.

 

 

Raging Spring

Dramatic weather on the national news: record heat in the Northeast. Katie reports it was 91 in New Hampshire, Julie said 86 in New Brunswick. This afternoon I sawed a large limb off the wild plum, once the snow had dropped off it. Last night late, when I let the dogs out for midnight whiz, I was staggered by the weight of snow on all the trees and shrubs in the yard. With all their spring leaves on, their fading blossoms and baby fruits, they’ve so much more surface to hold the snow.

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A twelve-foot tall New Mexico foresteria outside the front door, flattened by snow. Behind it, that white mound between two junipers is the Amur Maple, easily a fifteen-foot tall sapling, limbs bent to the ground.

This was an especially dense wet snow. Limbs were down all over town.

I’ve felt particularly useless all day. Some national and some extremely local politics have drained me. I woke up anxious, felt like a fish out of water all day. My head is full of spaghetti. I am uncharacteristically dark; or perhaps I am cyclically dark. I gather this is the kind of matrix that causes spring’s swelling suicide rates. Winter has gone and things remain the same; snow returns with vigor. This too will change.

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The wild plum tree, broken under melting snow. Below, the same tree forty days ago…

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The massive pink honeysuckle, its fragrant blooms just opened days ago and covered in bees, bent this morning under a thick blanket.

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The flowers were resilient. Irises so recently in bloom I’ve haven’t begun to photograph them, bowed but not broken, standing nearly straight by afternoon, after everything melted. Before it started snowing again.

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Everything all gorgeous last weekend when I started planting annuals in pots, bringing out herbs and dahlias, potting up tomatoes, sprouting peppers.

Tonight I find surprising relief in watching the Weather Channel. Powerful storms rage across the central plains. Twelve tornadoes so far today, again. The winds this spring and last have been planetary. The atmosphere whips itself into a frenzy. We see only a small segment of the world’s weather on our television, maybe it’s different in other countries. We only see, for the most part, the weather over the continental US.

I might have been driving across the continental US this very day. If so, I’d have been glued to the Weather Channel, on TV if I could get it, or on my laptop, if I could get internet wherever I was hunkered down for the night, at whatever state park or back road hotel. Many’s the night I’ve fallen asleep to the weather, having memorized my place on the map, what county I was in so I’d know the name if I heard it under a tornado watch or warning, knowing the nearest towns in each direction, my exact location on the weather map as it flashed on the screen so I could track the radar at night.

There was a thrilling sense of aliveness on those treks across the country; knowing how near I was camped to a train track, so I would know if I heard a freight-train that it might actually be a train and not a tornado; knowing whether I was above or below a nearby dam, in case it blew; taking my chances having weighed all factors I could conceive of, always having an exit plan. I let myself escape the frustrations of today, my own harsh judgments, in the shiver of excitement watching weather. Feet of snow in the Rockies. Trailer park flattened in Kansas, tornado vortex signature in Missouri, spectacular lightning in Oklahoma. I might have been any one of those places today, but I’m not.

I inhale deeply, and exhale, my first relaxed breath of the day: I could have been there, driving my dogs and camper across the country to be with my dear auntie next week for her ninetieth birthday. I had planned to be on the way. But I decided a couple of months ago not to go, and I could not be more grateful. I did something right today, anyway: I stayed home.

Love and Heartache

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Just a couple more jars of apricot jam left from last summer… savoring every single morsel since the harvest looks bleak this year. Neighbor Fred taught me how to tell if the fruit has frozen, and it sure looks like I won’t have many, if any, apricots this year. 

But the good news is, so far, as the radio DJ said a couple of weeks ago, Looks like we’ll have fruit this year, folks. Our valley’s abundant fruit crops, cherries peaches pears apples nectarines, apparently survive, a boon to all the fruit farmers, thus far. Who knows what the next day will bring? We’ll know more later!

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Keeping up with the tulips: The gorgeous red tulips I thought were toast after the first spring snow rebounded dramatically and lasted another week or two.

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It’s been warm sun interspersed with rain, hail and snow the past few weeks, and the four varieties of naturalizing tulips in the south border keep going strong, opening sequentially, including Tulipa tarda, Tulipa batalinii, Tulipa linifolia above, and one I can’t decipher on my map.

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I found the old map from when I first planted this border years ago, naming all the varieties of tulip, iris, grape hyacinth, and groundcovers. Too bad I abbreviated some, and can’t read others. Special jonquils and red species tulips, above; More tulips, and Biko the leopard tortoise keeping down weeds, below.

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And talk about tulips! The tulips at Deb’s house on Easter were glorious.

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The tattooed girl brought violet syrup and fresh violet blossoms for our Easter Dinner cocktail, violet martinis, and an hors d’oeuvre featuring the complicated green endive that she grew, below.

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A true friend comprehends the importance of an uncontaminated cheese knife.

The flowering trees are almost done, and may or may not produce fruit. Blossoms on both apples look dingy today after three inches of snow last night and a low of 28. Whatever survived that could drop tomorrow if it reaches the predicted low of 21. All spring it has been like this. The trees started weeks earlier than usual, so we all knew it was an iffy season. I’ve been making the most of their beauty, hanging out with each tree as it began to bloom, following it through its fullness ~ full of blossoms, full of bees ~ and into its flower-fading leafing out.

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The wild plum buzzed with clouds of bees punctuated by a couple of red admiral butterflies alighting here and there, now and then, in the manner of butterflies. The plum tree grew from the root stock of the almond, a huge sucker that came up in the first or second spring, too vital to destroy. I dug it up, transplanted it, watered it. It thrives. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t start something wonderful from root stock.

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Mourning Cloaks also migrated through for a few days.

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Bee flies have been buzzing the trees and especially the Nepeta (catmint), as have bumblebees.

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I don’t profess to know flies, but these cute ones were all over the wild plum, too, everybody doing their spring thing.

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This female sweat bee fought off swarms of males while mating with one on the wild plum.

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The peach tree flowered next, tiny pink blossoms that didn’t attract too many bees…

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… but there were some!

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Next came the crabapple, growing more dazzling every day.

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Just not as many bees as I expected on the crabapple, though there were some sweat bees, honeybees, a few bumblebees, and some digger bees like this Centris. Note the distinctive giant eyes of this genus.

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The heirloom apple just a few days ago, as this round of storms began to materialize.

Meanwhile in the woods this month, wallflowers and paintbrush, cactus and mustards, Astragalus and TownsendiaPhasaria and more all seemed to bloom earlier than usual.

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Indian paintbrush blossomed a couple of weeks early, and hummingbirds arrived shortly after. But not very many…

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Puccoon is like that old friend that you see once a year if you’re lucky, for just a few days over spring break, and you’re so delighted and you pick up right where you left off laughing and talking and catching up; only when you see puccoon, you’re just happy and you both laugh and there’s no need for conversation.

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We haven’t spent much time on the canyon rim this spring, once we figured out that the growing nest in the cottonwood just off from the bench belonged to a skittish pair of redtail hawks. Here she’s sitting, but not setting. Once her eggs were laid she hasn’t spooked off the nest; she lies flat on top, just the round of her head and her beak giving away her presence as she incubates her precious eggs. Philip says they haven’t seen near the usual number of redtails on their side of the valley, but there’s been a pair of harriers over the fields.

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Six kinds of carrots, last year’s seeds, sowed early. Maybe they’ll make it, maybe not. More seeds on order just in case, or for a second crop.

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These people I live among, we celebrate tulips, bee trees, planting seeds, and redtail hawks, the rites of spring. We celebrate the wild life, the fruits and fields and feasts of our valleys, the stars in the sky. We honor the land and cherish our relationships with it. What else can we do?

We write our Representatives, march with millions, endeavor to make change. It’s an uphill battle, that’s for sure, against greed and corruption, against entropy. It’s a sense not just of personal mortality, but of planetary mortality, the sweetness to this spring.

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While friends march in cities for the Peoples Climate March, I stay home and repair myself. Though I made a sign, my back has been too tender to take to the streets.

It’s been a brutal month for a sensitive person. It’s so hard to keep up with the dreadful actions coming from the government, the crimes against nature and humanity. The pronouncements, executive orders, earth-killing life-stealing human-rights-smashing bills and deregulations, the assault on American public lands that belong to us the people and not to multi-national corporations bent on extraction. Not just once or twice a week, but a pile of them every single day, day after day. Mutterings of war, deep worries for the future. It’s sickening, is what it is, more and more often literally.

I worry far less now for my own life than I do for the lives of all the other living things I share this place with: first of course the bees, honeys and bumbles, diggers and long-horned and sweat; also the trees and flowers and shrubs, the deer and bears, and the mountain lions here; and lions far away, all the magnificent wild felines of the world: snow leopard, clouded leopard, the jaguar sentenced to be fenced out of expanding her range northward as she needs to with climate change… Any single thought leads in a dozen different desperate directions.

Every living creature on the planet is at risk with this Kleptocracy, in the hands of a madman dedicated to further eroding the planet herself and the lives of all beings. It’s encouraging today to see thousands of people on the streets, and listen to legislators and activists around the country. Fighting the sense of overwhelm, I write letters, make calls, support friends; cherishing the life and beauty around me, I prune trees, plant seeds, pull weeds, and let my love for Nature grow along with my heartache. What else can I do?

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