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This Week in Pollinators

I’ve been grateful this week for lots of rain to nourish the earth, replenish the aquifer, water the garden. And I’ve been grateful for plenty of sunshine and busy pollinators stocking up before they slow down, perish, or leave for winter.

Flowers

A possibly better shot of the sleeping sunflower bees taken by the husband camera rather than the iPhone. I’m grateful for a computer upgrade that has allowed me to process the husband’s photos again after a software drought all summer.

I’m grateful for some time with my husband camera over the past weekend, and for the flowers blooming in the yarden. Not so many nor so profusely as in past years, but still plenty for the birds and bees that are here. It is alarming that I haven’t seen several species of native bees that were common a couple of years ago. But I’m grateful for the few bumblebees and honeybees I see, and for the sunflower bees. And for this red-bellied wasp. Too tired tonight to look her up, and can’t remember if I know her name. We all know how that is.

Grateful for the wild cleome (Rocky Mountain beeplant, an old favorite) that seeds itself. I pluck the easily identifiable seedlings early in the season where I don’t want them, and let them grow where I do. I always let plenty of them grow for the bees and hummingbirds, all of whom love it.
Grateful for a thriving snapdragon crop for the bumblebees and sphinx moths.
And grateful for the red salvia the hummingbirds love, and the hummingbirds who love it.

Sleeping Bees

I was grateful this morning to wander the woods without incident with my intrepid little companions. I knew there was a recent lion kill not far from the house. I smelled death after we left the gate, and last night I had seen turkey vultures perched in the trees just beyond. This morning there was another one airing its wings due east of the house.

We finally went in search of it this evening. Just before dusk I realized I hadn’t seen Biko at all yesterday or today, so we had to hunt for him. He was tucked into one of his usual spots under a large rabbitbrush down by the pond, which was a relief. We couldn’t find him last night before lightning and thunder drove us inside. I decided we’d brave the wilds too, just so I’d know if the kill was my old doe, who I haven’t seen for a few days either. It was not, but I’ll spare you the photo. It was a large fawn, maybe one of her twins, maybe someone else’s. But the proximity of death and the lion’s habit of returning to a kill for several days afterward might be deterring the old doe from her daily visits.

I was grateful again today for Marc at Montrose Sewing Machine Repair. He’s been my rock through this Pfaff pedal puzzle for the past few weeks. This guy doesn’t even know me, and he’s gone way out of his way to make sure I’m able to work on my tropical drapes. First, he located what he thought was the right part at an online store. Turns out it wasn’t exactly the right part, and for the past week we’ve been trying to troubleshoot how to solve this dilemma. Hours back and forth texting pictures, videos, part numbers, and suggestions. He has extended himself above and beyond what I can imagine anyone else doing, with patience and good cheer.

Today, after concluding that the correct part is apparently no longer being manufactured, we considered some other options. One of them involved me taking apart the old pedal to see if he could maybe fix that. His reply to the above photo was “Aww man, they hardwired it!” Another option he came up with was to buy an old one on eBay. I’ll muddle along with the wrong plug wedged in until he can get and vet the eBay buy, and then see if I can return the bad part to the online store. If not, I’ll make it work, and Marc will have the right part when the next hapless Pfaff maiden needs one. I’m grateful for the kindness of strangers.

I’m grateful today to see the first paprika pepper turning red; and for another harvest of string beans; and for the tiny purple jigsaw peppers.

I diced one this evening and cooked it in an impromptu eggplant casserole. I roasted thinly sliced eggplants and some garlic cloves in the oven, while sautéing onions, a Blot pepper, and a jigsaw pepper in bacon grease. When the onions were caramelized I added some plain tomato sauce from last year’s pantry stash, and cooked it down until it was a thick, deep red. Then I layered eggplant rounds, sauce, and cheese three times, and topped with cheese and buttery breadcrumbs before baking for 25 minutes. Grateful for this Amy-inspired creation. It was delicious!

I was grateful at twilight to spy this adorable bed of sleeping bees. There’s a native species specific to sunflowers, genus Svastra. I’ve photographed one or two at a time in daylight foraging on the native sunflowers, but this surprised me as I returned from the compost bin and noticed a strange texture at the bottom of the center disk. Closer inspection revealed this delightful “bee snuggle.” And now I’m going to take my own little busy bee up to bed and go to sleep, for which I’m also very grateful.

Virtuous Lunch

I’m grateful for zoodles, those spiralized zucchini ‘noodles’ that take just a few minutes to cook and can be paired with anything you’d use with wheat noodles. That first zucchini went away for lunch today. I browned some of the leftover sausage from Boyz Lunch pizzas, added a little red onion, the rest of the marinara from pizza day, and the zucchini, along with a splash of spices, cooked for about five minutes, and ate the whole panful with a sprinkling of grated parmesan. I am grateful for making myself a virtuous lunch of mostly vegetables.

I’m grateful for a gorgeous cool, cloudy day that topped out at 82℉, such a relief; and I hope the heatwave is breaking across the Northern Hemisphere for the sake of so many who are less equipped to withstand it. A few drops of rain freshened the garden, and a couple of ripe young eggplants. Below, the first ‘blot’ peppers are beginning to ripen, and what a stunning bounty on this thriving plant.

I’m grateful for the delicious snapdragons I started from seed now in full bloom, and nourishing bumblebees. I love to watch the bumblebees as they pop open the blooms, crawl inside to feed, and then back out and fly away.

Today’s harvest: lots of basil so pesto is coming tomorrow; two eggplants, one cucumber, one zucchini, and another handful of small potatoes. Most of the potato plants have succumbed from either insufficient sunlight, too much water, or both, I think, though three seem to be doing well. Those that withered and brown each had a couple of young potatoes on them, and pulling them up over the past few days has yielded a small bowl of new potatoes.
I am always grateful to see a snake, anywhere, and especially in my yarden. This little garter snake spooked as we returned from our evening walk.

Resurrection

Male and female evening grosbeaks and house finches flocking together rested in the top of the birch tree the other morning.

It’s been a long, cold, lonely winter, did I mention that before? I had a lot of recovering to do from the drawn-out demise of Stellar, which was physically and emotionally grueling; and actually quite a bit of settling into a new normal without some of my closest friends who also died over the past two summers, from Ojo to Auntie to Michael and more. This spring does feel a bit like a resurrection for me, and what better day to acknowledge that than Easter Sunday?

Looming larger these days in the back of my mind is how will Topaz receive a new addition to the household? I am pretty much ready for a dog!

I pulled out the new husband-camera which has also lain dormant all winter, and realized I had no idea how to use it, so I also pulled out the manual and spent some hours today figuring out all the knobs and buttons — most of the bells and whistles will have to wait for another day. I haven’t even attached the ‘good’ lens yet but still got some pretty pictures. The two nights of deep freeze last week did not destroy all chance of apricots this year, at least up on this mesa. The tree was loaded with buds, and while most of them had just opened before the freeze and are now toast, it seems that many unopened buds survived and are blooming in this next round of balmy weather. I hope that the valley orchards fared as well.

It was this Mourning Cloak who arrived yesterday that inspired me to bring out the big camera and get ready to wallow in my favorite pastime again. Last year, the ‘good’ lens lost its auto-focus and would have cost a lot to repair. So I dove in headfirst and sprung for a camera upgrade and two new lenses. It helped a lot that I could trade in the old husband and all his lenses at B&H Photo, my go-to AV store in NYC. They offer great help over the phone, and reliable goods and shipping.
While I waited for the butterfly to come in range of my seat on the bench, I missed a bumblebee but got a mediocre snap of a honeybee. There were just a few other small native bees buzzing around; maybe because it was windy, and is still kind of cold at night… or maybe because there are fewer bees even than last year. The loss of the almond tree last year has cut their spring smorgasbord sadly in half.
Not many native pollinators seem to care for forsythia, but this western yellow-jacket was enjoying having it all to itself.

“At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.”

Albert Schweitzer

The Mindful Life Community daily guidance this morning brought suddenly and vividly to mind the journalism teacher in high school, Dottie Olin, who became a lifelong friend. She inspired me then, and I became editor of the paper. For three decades we stayed in touch, visited when I was in town, and her joie de vivre and boundless joy in life grounded me in unstable times. I was grateful to visit her often during the months I lived in Virginia while my mother was dying, and we became even closer. She continued to inspire and support me well into her 80s. Shortly after my mom died and I moved back home to Colorado, I got a note that she was dying of lung cancer. She said, “It’s nobody’s fault but my own,” as she had smoked all her life. She was at peace because she had lived fully and with so much love. I was devastated to lose her as well as my mom in the same year, 2004. I hadn’t thought about her recently, and love that she came to mind so vibrantly as someone who lighted a fire in me and rekindled it through the years. Just the thought of her this morning lifted my energy and got me outside and moving around in the garden, motivated to make the most of this beautiful spring day, this precious day that will never come again.

Outside

I’m grateful that Stellar hasn’t fallen off the cliff! He gives me more and more thrills at the edge these days.

I hate to admit that I’ve been taking ‘outside’ for granted recently. Or at least, I haven’t been spending as much time in it as I ‘should.’ There is this sense of clinging to the natural world on this refuge, of imminent loss, exacerbated by smoky skies; a sense of foreboding. My spatial consciousness contracts and expands according to my capacity to hold all things in awareness: moments of tenderness and beauty, of brief connection with other souls human and non-human, of empathy and compassion, of color and life, and at the same time this clutching void of mortal uncertainty. I am perpetually aghast, with a thick sugar coating of delight. Holding it all together in desperate equanimity. Growing pains.

I’m grateful as always for these two faithful walking companions.
A carder bee on the mini zinnias. Grateful for color and light. Grateful to have been able to order a new bee lens, after receiving a generous credit at B&H for all my old photographic equipment. More better bee pics coming, if the lens arrives before the bees are gone.
There is so much in this simple image that I’m grateful for, including the camera that took it, and the implications for future photography. I’m grateful for the dark sky, for the moon that tethers us, for gravity. I’m grateful that the clouds parted and smoke cleared enough to see into space tonight, as the Perseids peak. I’m grateful I’m still awake at 1 am, and I’m heading outside now to see what I can see. I’m grateful to be able to go outside any time I want to, day or night, and participate instantly in the world of nature.

Pollinators

Not a pollinator, but I’m grateful for this roly-poly little kitty. I may have a new kitty: I came home from a lovely dinner tonight and saw a small black cat crying out beyond the compost bins. I put some food out. It will depend on Topaz, among other things. We’ll know more later.

I’m grateful for all the pollinators. I haven’t even cracked the manual for the new camera, and the current lens won’t give me the crystal clarity of the macro lens on the old camera, but I’ll get there eventually. Meanwhile, playing around with it this morning I caught a few pollinators doing their thing. Imagine where we’d be without them! So grateful for pollinators, and the fruits of their labors.

Honeybee pollinating tomatillos
Leafcutter bee on marigold
Sunflower bee on some floral surprise I thought was going to be a zinnia…

I’m grateful for the 4000 species of native bees in North America, and the dozens that forage and nest in my yarden. They’re responsible for pollinating about three-quarters of all our food plants, but their very existence is not well known to the general public. I didn’t know about them until I started raising and photographing honeybees, and paying attention to all the other pollinators I discovered through my camera lens. There aren’t nearly as many individual bees or bee species in the garden this summer, making me cherish them all the more. You can learn to identify and plant for native bees with the Wild Bee ID app put out by the Center for Food Safety, and enjoy some of my better photos while you’re at it.

I’m grateful for these rattlesnake pole beans, the first green beans that have thrived in my garden ever.
Grateful for today’s harvest of green foods, and for the pollinators that made them possible.
Garden to table…
Grateful for a healthy lunch partly from the garden (green beans, basil, fennel, parsley) and partly from the pantry (garbanzos, cannellini beans, olive oil, rice vinegar, and poison fish croutons).
Grateful for the first ripening tomato, and the pollinators, mostly bumblebees, that made it possible.

Birds and Bees

Say’s phoebe perched on the candlestick in front of the living room window reflecting the bluebird sky.

I was sitting at the patio table watching the phoebes take turns bringng food to their newly hatched chicks when one of them paused to watch me. I’m so grateful for these intrepid little birds! They commonly nest in human structures and don’t seem bothered at all by our activity. Below, papa brings a delicious grub to chicks still too small to be seen above the nest rim; mama feeds a hungry little mouth (my first glimpse of this brood); and then she carries away a poop pellet. I remember this from last year: she’ll feed a baby, wait a moment until it upends itself, then grab the pellet as it pops out. How efficient!

Meanwhile, in the vegetable garden, the perennial onions are in bloom and full of bees of all stripes. This digger bee made its way around a whole blossom (with a mineral tub planter in the background), sharing the bounty with a tiny sweat bee.

Resting at the patio table again after planting out the first tomato and the scarlet runner bean, this Bullock’s oriole caught my eye on a hummingbird feeder. I immediately went inside and sliced an orange in half to supplement the sugar water, which is hard for them to get from the small hummingbird-tongue sized holes. They are infrequent enough visitors during migration to make buying an oriole feeder impractical, so I try to keep oranges on hand for the few weeks in spring that I sometimes see them. Each sighting is a real treat.

On another break, I took the camera over to the single pale iris by the tortoise pen, where I’d seen a bumblebee earlier. No bees, but this lovely beetle which I remember from last summer was the main feeder on the white irises. Then the juniper titmouse caught my attention, bringing food to its babies in the hollow juniper in the center of the pen. Noticing me with the camera trained on its hole, it took awhile to approach, before darting into the hole with a flick of its tail feathers, and remaining there til I left. So cute! I’m grateful for the winged residents of the yarden, and for the luxury of time in my day to observe and connect with them.

Garden Buddy

At this new nursery, you can take a picture of the tag and it automatically opens a site that will tell you all you need to know about the plant to decide whether it will be a good fit for the zone and microclimate of your yarden. Or, it would if one had service, which is still grievously lacking for Boost Mobile customers in the valley, but there’s no room for that story on a gratitude blog.

I’m grateful for my Garden Buddy, who went on an adventure with me today. The word ebullient came to mind as I observed my sensations driving to pick her up. She was the first passenger in my car in well over a year, and that inspired me to clean it up a bit, which I was too lazy to do for myself, so I’m grateful for that. I was motivated to explore some local farms in search of strawberry starts, some culinary herbs, and a few flowers for my patio pots to feed the bees. We stopped by Zephros Farm, which had a good selection, as well as some unexpected succulents for the new drought rock garden I’m finally realizing into existence after a decade of dreaming. Then we tried a couple of stores that were closed on Sundays, an interestingly retro thing to be, hearkening back to the Blue Laws days of my childhood. But we struck gold at Oasis, a new nursery on the highway next to Big B’s.

But even before the big outing, I was grateful for a lovely morning walk among ancient trees with Stellar and Topaz.
Stellar at the edge of a patch of Laughing Yellow Flowers, aka Thrift-leaf Perky Sue, a lovely native wildflower. They bloom in profusion for a short season, and always make me smile.

After our delightful walk, Stellar didn’t want breakfast, which is unusual but not unheard of this time of year. It was all I could do to get some pills into him disguised in a turkey slice and some cream cheese. He’s been turning up his nose at his multiple daily cheese balls, which has caused me to get creative about pill delivery, trying out some pill pockets, pill paste, peanut butter, and sandwich meats. This finicky turn, and his refusal to eat again this evening, have set some distant alarm bells ringing in my head: But there’s not much I can do about it at this point, at his age and with his back end, and there’s no point in clinging. Either he’ll eat tomorrow when I offer rice and broth, or he won’t, and I’ll decide the next step then. Living with a beloved old dog, there’s less suffering for me in letting him do what he prefers than insisting on diagnosis and mitigation, and I think less suffering for him than in stuffing him with supplements he’s not eager to ingest. We’ll know more later. These unsettling ups and downs, which could be nerve-wracking if I let them.

I did want breakfast, however, and was grateful for yesterday’s cinnamon buns (I only ate two) and my weekly latté, which gave me strength and courage to leave home for the first pleasure outing since Covid. It felt mighty strange to drive somewhere I didn’t have to go, with someone else in the car, windows down despite the chill; it felt even stranger to meet and mingle with unmasked people everywhere we went, and encounter a downright crowd at Big B’s and Oasis. We may have been the only people wearing masks, but one thing I appreciate about my Garden Buddy is that we’re on the exact same page regarding risk and precautions. We were our own little travel bubble, and were both a little giddy in it. At the same time that it appeared as though many people have gone back to the usual-before, there seemed to be an aura of extra gentleness in the people we spoke with, some of whom mentioned the suffering of the past year. I’m grateful for at least one thing about suffering, and that is it’s potential to deepen even the slightest connection among people. It’s brought me and my Garden Buddy closer, and I also felt like hugging everyone I interacted with today. Maybe next outing.

At Oasis I was so grateful to find Mock Orange, a deliciously scented native shrub I’ve been trying to get for a decade, and I grabbed a couple more succulents for the rock garden.

This Precious Day

I’m grateful today again for the wild plum tree, full of bees and other pollinators. How fast things are changing in the garden day to day now that it’s starting to warm up! I’m grateful for this precious day that will never come again.
I’m grateful for the brilliant colors of tulips, and green growing garlic.
I’m grateful for this airy cardamom cake I whipped together this evening.