Archive | April 2018

Mourning Cloak

IMG_2690The first butterfly I see in spring is the mourning cloak, Nymphalis antiopa. The species ranges throughout the northern hemisphere, and is called mourning cloak in many other languages, though in Britain it’s called Camberwell beauty, white petticoat, or grand surprise. It gets a jump on other species because it doesn’t migrate long distances, instead overwintering in suitable habitat tucked into tree cavities or under loose bark, emerging in early spring to begin its reproductive cycle. After mating, females lay their eggs around twigs of host trees upon which their caterpillars feed, including various species of willow, cottonwood and birch, and in American elm, hackberries, wild rose, and poplars among others.

The slightly worn wings of the mourning cloak above attest to his long life, having metamorphosed mid-summer last year and overwintered nearby (maybe in my birch tree, or wild rose). This week he is out searching for females, and after breeding he will live only another month or two. Sources say mourning cloak adults prefer to feed on tree sap and decaying fruit and rarely flower nectar, though I always see them in the flowering fruit trees. Not in the compost pile!

In my quest for bumblebees, I’ve been grudgingly rewarded this week. I caught one a few times in the mystery tree, saw one last night on the Nepeta in the south border, and this morning one in the peach tree. Frequency of sightings is increasing, though I still think there should be many more by now than I’m seeing. IMG_2626IMG_3042IMG_3046.jpg

Frozen

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Ojo loses his footing in the apricot tree, full of frozen blooms. We had a few nights around 20 degrees just at its peak bloom. Then it snowed three inches a couple of nights in a row last week, which brought much-needed moisture and melted beautifully by afternoon each day.

 

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So while the early tulips on the southwest corner pull back their energy from flowers to foliage and bulbs, these later tulips on the southeast corner are just coming into their glory.

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Meanwhile in Bees: I finally caught one bumblebee on the almond tree before its flowers also froze, and another in the mystery tree who has just come into full bloom. The best guess is this is a wild plum, but nobody knows for certain. I dug up a sucker from the roots of the almond tree some years ago and planted it, and this magnificent being came to pass. When it flowers it is a crazy bee magnet, and draws more fast little native bees than any other plant in the garden. When you think you’ve got spots before your eyes watching this video, those are bees.

 

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The one elusive bumblebee (Bombus huntii I think) on the last gasp of the almond tree.

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Also making the most of the flowering trees, this glossy black creature which resembles a wasp more than a bee. There are a couple of native bee genera that are black and largely hairless, but as far as I can tell, they are all smaller than half an inch, and this one is about an inch long.

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Anthophora, I think. I’m open to expert ID on any of these.

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And a little mason bee, all on the peach tree last week before it froze so hard.

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Another Andrena in the Tulipa tarda, along with a very tiny native bee. Notice her mouthparts in the photo below, and her companion below that.

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Those were last week’s bees. Below are this weeks picks so far. But I’m not going to try to ID them because frankly I am fried. First world problems all, but the past five days have been pretty challenging. On the phone with Apple support today I almost had a panic attack. It all started Friday morning, when the plumber came to replace a faucet that he had installed last week but it was defective, so I spent a week turning off the hot water between using the sink. He got the new faucet in but it required non-standard fittings which he didn’t have, so I spent the weekend washing dishes in the bathroom sink and eating take-out pizza.

That afternoon I discovered all the contacts on my laptop had disappeared, which turned out would have been a simple fix if I’d known how, but instead I tried to restart the computer. After that, 24 hours with Apple support and the conclusion was a fatal software corruption: the computer has to be wiped clean to even think about making it work again. ACK! I kept my cool. I’ve got backups for most of the photos and all but the last three months of everything else. Oh well, meditation seems to be helping as I really didn’t wig out, though I may if it turns out nothing can be salvaged. And really, Apple support could not have been more pleasant nor tried any harder to help, all nine people I’ve spoken with since Friday.

Overnight Friday a log smoldered in the woodstove, filling the house with smoke, but I’d been to such a good party the night before that I slept right through it until morning and the house reeked like a stale campfire all day while I kept the fire roaring and doors and windows open. Everything was still ok, and this morning the plumber came and fixed the faucet, and then… the Mail app on my desktop quit functioning. Another four hours on the phone with tech support, and it’s still not back. This is the universe telling me to stay away from machines for awhile and spend even more time out in the yard!

And still I’m not nearly as freaked out as I might have been if I hadn’t started taking an anti-depressant last Tuesday. I had so much to write: about the garden, and meditation, and the forest coming back to spring life, and about why I’m finally taking a drug for my state of mind, before all this computer nonsense started, and now my brain is just numb. Time to try again another day, and go out in the garden with a gin gimlet, and watch the sunset light up the peach tree.

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What IS this gorgeous moth?

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At least four creatures feeding on they mystery tree in this image.

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Another species of Anthophora, on the peach tree. Unlike honeybees which have a pollen basket on their back legs, most native bees are equipped with a scopa, a brush of specialized hairs in which they collect pollen. Her exceptionally long tongue makes her adept at gathering nectar from long tubular flowers, though none of them are open yet so she’s working the trees.

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Fine Dining for a Good Cause

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An amuse-bouche started the meal…

We don’t have a lot of fine dining options around here, not like you find in a city. There are some good neighborhood restaurants, but they don’t change their menus for years at a time, and you can’t count on wanting the special. We fill this lack of gustatory variety by eating excellent and often exotic meals at each others’ houses, and we are a bunch of gourmet cooks.

Once in a blue moon, or more rarely really, because we have a couple of blue moons a year, an opportunity comes along for an extraordinary treat. Last weekend about 40 people attended a benefit for the Paonia Experiential Leadership Academy, and enjoyed a six-course meal created by Swiss-trained chef Lucas Wentzel. It was a 5 star meal. A lot of us from Crawford went because Lucas is the son of our dear friends Ruth and Jeff, and his sister Emily runs the school with her husband Phil. So it was the best of both family dining and haute cuisine!

Amuse-bouche translates more or less literally from the French as “Fun for your mouth!” and is an intensely flavored bite-sized appetizer selected by the chef and offered free to each guest. Lucas chose to delight our taste buds with Rosé Valentina (from the menu): “Béchamel & Black Forest Ham in homemade pasta served over a creamy tomato sauce, drizzled with a succulent sage butter. A popular dish from the Italian part of Switzerland, Chef Lucas learned from Chef Valentina herself. Available as a vegetarian option with spinach in place of the ham.”

This dish, I’ll tell you straight off, was my favorite of the night, and they were all delicious. Lucas went all-out with edible flowers for the meal, topping this teaser with a sprig of basil flowers, and adding several other blossoms to the remaining dishes.

VCEP1123The second course featured a creamy roasted carrot soup seasoned with ginger. Now I know the secret to the most full-flavored carrot soup is to roast the carrots first.

FQTQ0910This was followed by a ravioli filled with with sun dried tomato, toasted pine nuts and goat cheese in a pesto cream sauce. I am not a goat cheese fan. I try now and again to taste it, because my damn friends all love it, and it keeps showing up. But invariably, a musty goat smell comes out my armpits within ten minutes of eating it and I can’t stand to be around myself. So I typically avoid it. However, that night, I’d have had to miss a course, so I did try it, and it was so mild I barely noticed eating it, and there were, luckily for my neighbors, no after effects.

DUVK5980A kiwi-lime sorbet came before the main course, two tiny delicious scoops of tart sweetness with a slight bitter crunch from the kiwi seeds, which was a perfect palate cleanser.

TCCV6472The main course featured seared salmon with a creamy Béarnaise sauce (or stuffed roasted red pepper for vegetarians), parmesan encrusted asparagus, and a simple jasmine rice topped with another edible orchid blossom which tasted startlingly like watermelon. HGWE1291

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PELA Director Dr. Emily Wassell discussing the school with fine diners.

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Chef Lucas preps dessert plates with students, while head teacher Phil Wassell washes dishes.

GYBI0584 - Version 2For dessert, an exquisite chocolate mousse with a hint of orange, drizzled with a chocolate merlot sauce from local winery Azura Cellars, came atop a plate of sweet white sauce with a pansy flower and strawberry garnish. None of us could eat another bite, and we drove home through a steady rain feeling deliriously satiated.

Considering the quality of the food, the value of supporting this wonderful educational endeavor, and the company, the meal was a great deal. The pastas were homemade, pesto, eggs, goat cheese, and other ingredients came from local farms, and even the chocolate for the mousse came from a Colorado family starting an organic cacao farm in Costa Rica. Students from PELA helped chef Lucas prepare the meal, and their siblings, friends and parents served, bussed, and cleaned up. All this community action occurred at Edesia Community Kitchen in Paonia, a certified commercial kitchen available for events, preparation of value added agricultural products, and weekend wood-fired pizza. PELA’s chef-Lucas dinner is just one more reason I’m so grateful for where I live.

 

Fresh Snow on Mendicant Ridge

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The perfect apricot tree with junipers, and Mendicant Ridge in the background with fresh snow. We’ll see about fruit this year: We’ve already had two nights at 23 when the apricot buds first started to open, and Friday’s low is predicted to be 20.

It’s been a busy week. The past couple of days in particular, maybe because I ran out of decaf and drank full strength. The biggest news of the week was the storm that blew through here on Saturday night. It felt and sounded like a cloud unleashed itself fifteen feet over my metal roof, which jolted me from a sound sleep, and sent the black cat flying. Raven and Stellar just raised their heads. Wow! It only lasted a couple minutes, but it was the loudest rain I’ve ever heard (including a Florida thunderstorm over a quonset hut).IMG_0586Though the storm dumped a good amount of snow in the mountains, that won’t by itself protect us from extreme drought by midsummer, but it will help replenish the reservoirs. Still, a day after the storm, even the mud is dry.BQAV6086.JPGThe other big news is, at last a bumblebee on the almond tree! I’ve been most anxious, because usually there are bumblebees all over the almond tree, and I’ve not seen one until today. When I saw a bumblebee, so still not that reassuring, but better than nothing. Though by the time I got back outside with the camera, she was gone.

Meanwhile, the tree continues to buzz with all manner of bees and other insects.IMG_2178IMG_2273

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The adorable beefly, Bombylius, looks like a pussywillow with wings and legs.

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The first mason bees appeared today.

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Not sure whether this is murder or mating! But my money’s on mating.

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Clouds of these fast orange bees swarmed the tree a couple of days ago, and it took some extra patience to catch one still enough to try to ID…

 

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My best guess for this one is Andrena auricoma, another mining bee. Below, the same kind of bee faces off with a big black fly.

IMG_2168IMG_1958IMG_1960IMG_1962It’s charming to me that sometimes the honeybees open a bud, rather than land on an open flower. I’m sure there’s something special inside. She starts with her tongue, then pushes her face deep into the bud.

And elsewhere in the garden…IMG_2207QSQJ4155WIDM9031

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Those leeks I mentioned last week, being inspected by Ojo. The shorter tops are the refrigerator leeks, while the taller overwintered in the raised bed.

 

 

 

Resurrection

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The very first European pasqueflower attracted a few bees a month ago.

 

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One day in early March there were about a dozen honeybees exploring the little irises. This shot clearly shows the concave pollen basket on her back leg.

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A bleak beginning to bee season had me worried most of this month. After a few honeybees dipped into the first spring crocuses in February, and a few more came for Iris reticulata earlier this month, there were no bees in my yard for weeks. Meaning, more accurately, that I didn’t see any, and I was looking. I checked the irises, the pasqueflower, and the silver buffaloberry daily; I glanced at the first few almond blossoms as they’ve opened this week, and nary a bee, native or otherwise.

But at last the silver buffaloberry is in such bloom that even I can smell it, and I stood under it this morning feeling my first real sense of joy all month. The tree is full of bees: all the honeybees have nearly identical oval packs of pollen on their back legs, incidentally the exact same size as the unpopped buffaloberry buds, and they won’t sit still on a flower. If they’re not just skimming they’re crawling, even ambling across the clusters of tiny yellow blooms, gathering while they may their ample pollen. Plus there are clouds of sweat bees, a few mining bees, and a large black fly or two.

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After an anxious month observing a paucity of bees, I was thrilled to stand beside the thorny buffaloberry in a fertile buzz of native and honeybees.

IMG_1325Andrena, or mining bees, are known as a spring bee, and are valuable spring crop pollinators, including fruit blossoms, apples and almonds in particular. However at Mirador this week, there are way more Andrena on the buffaloberry, above, than on the almond tree, which is happily buzzing with honeybees.

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The almond tree is getting tall enough that I can capture bees from the deck above.

IMG_1541I never thought I got all that depressed here in the winter. I think of it as my hibernation, but I’m usually pretty content. This year, late winter, after we’d had barely any winter at all, I found myself getting testy, snappish, and feeling downright dead inside. There were a lot of reasons I could suppose, but the return of the bees has so lifted my spirits that I know part of it was anxiety about their whereabouts. As the garden is coming rapidly back to life, so too is my soul resurrecting.

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The native bee house filled up beautifully last fall, and I can’t wait to see the bees emerge. 

Sandhill cranes have been flying over most of March, sometimes in the hundreds, definitively trumpeting spring. The flicker in my eaves drills most mornings on the cornice, alarming out insects for her breakfast. Songbirds returned gradually over the past month and now serenade each sunrise.

The redtail hawks are finally sitting on their nest by the road, but nobody returned to the canyon cottonwood this spring. Concerned last summer when the nest appeared abandoned, I watched through the seasons, the weathers, the winds, as my hypothesis proved true: Over time the far side of the nest sloughed off, and by last fall there remained only a small cluster of twigs around the southwest anchor. I surmised it was a young pair of birds who simply hadn’t constructed the nest securely enough, and that a big storm blew out the back of it, dropping the eggs down the canyon side before or just after they hatched.

The leeks I left in the ground over winter are four inches tall and bright green. The leeks I left in the refrigerator all winter are just an inch behind! The last leek harvest was mostly small doubles, and I cut their tops off and stuck them in a bag in the fridge, intending to use them. But they slipped to the back and by the time I found them they were a little shriveled, and I put off using them. I looked at them a few more times through winter, and couldn’t bring myself to either cook with or compost them. Late February I pulled them out to dump in the compost, and found green sprouts emerging, so I split them up and planted them. And they’re coming along fine!

Meanwhile, I’ve still got a beautiful fifty-acre field for sale. I had hoped I could sell it this week to a lovely retired couple, dreaming of doing the very thing with it that I had intended to do when I bought it, before my health and strength fell short of what is needed to nurture that land into a thriving subsistence homestead. When I think about that field’s short history in my life, and its significance to me, and the fact that it is my 401K, I just can’t part with it for 20% under asking price. The domestic water tap alone is worth between $15,000 and $20,000, and water is of course the essence of life everywhere, but especially here in the high desert. At some point, the fact that it’s in conservation easement and borders a 105-acre protected wildlife sanctuary, will be an asset rather than an encumbrance. The perfect buyer will come along, I’m sure of it.

In the meantime, the Dutchman next door intends to fatten up the field with fresh fencing and cows to fertilize and plow the ground. Not selling it this week isn’t the worst thing. And the sense of rejuvenation I have this Easter season, with the advent of the bees, allows me to breathe easy despite my disappointment. Anyone out there “looking to move farther up the watershed” as one new farmer here from California said, call Bob at westerncoloradorealty.com and check out this gorgeous, peaceful piece of paradise.

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The field in spring, and below, after a successful haying season.

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