I know I’ve said it before, but white heath is my favorite late-season native wildflower. When all the other flowers have spent themselves, white heath is just getting started. White heath keeps going till the last minute, when the themometer hits 32 on some early morning in October. White heath is always the last flower to leave the party of the tallgrass prairie summer.
Everybody hates white heath, except me. I have finally convinced the people who wield the weed whackers around here not to whack it, but I keep a few in out-of-the-way places, just in case. There’s a big patch this year by the compost, and it turns out I’m not the only one who loves it, after all. The honey bees appreciate it. There aren’t a lot of flowers left, and most of the others peaked a week ago, or more. It’s a glorious, sunny, warm day today, but there won’t be many more of these, and the bees know to make the most of every bit of pollen they can gather before the cold sets in.
I am not so industrious. I struggle to match my energy to the time available. I have gotten some good work done on my studio renovation this week, but it’s far from ready, and I didn’t really get anything done today.
Tomorrow I’ll take a lesson from the bees, I promise. The bees know.
It was a wonky day, the kind when I do all kinds of stupid and most of it pointless. Like, going to the bank without one of the checks. (Did I mention the bank is fifteen miles away?) Like, going to the Girl Scout council to buy materials for the meeting tonight, and finding out the council shop was closed. (Also fifteen miles away. More, really, because it’s on the far side of town.) Like, fretting about getting dinner started before the meeting with one kid while the other goes to a soccer game and Dad works late; putting on some soup and immediately remembering that said Dad planned to bring home Chinese food.
One of the Girl Scout moms called to ask if we had a meeting tonight. I said, yes, I’d already texted her, but maybe I sent it to the wrong number?
She said, “I’ll get organized one of these days, I really will.”
I said, “I know you will. I will too.”
What I didn’t say: “Because I have complete faith that everything is going right for us, and we cannot fail. It’s all coming together for us, both of us, we’ll be so organized, people will be scared of us. They’ll say, that Paula and Rachel, watch out for them! They really get things done!”
It’s all true, every word.
Driving on KS highway 177 this afternoon, I saw twenty-two monarch butterflies heading south, as well as half a dozen or more little flyers that passed too fast for me to be sure they were monarchs. There’s only one time I see that many flying south: fall migration.
Anecdotally, I’ve seen more monarchs this year than last. While their numbers are plummeting throughout North America, here in Chase County, native milkweeds are still abundant, so we know monarchs who hatch and live here can find plenty of their host flower.
I’ve never gotten a good shot of a monarch, so here’s a cat picture.
It would seem that I’m not to be trusted to pump my own gas, and nobody can remember the last time I showed up anywhere on time. My house is a shambles, an insult to civilized humanity. In 47 years, I’ve yet to get through a single year without financial assistance from one or another relative. I’m pretty useless.
But I’m also a person you could call on if you wanted to know where and when to go to see dozens of turkey vultures circling down to roost for the night, or where you might have a chance of spotting an indigo bunting or a blue heron. I could tell you just when to step outside in the rain because there might be a rainbow, when the white heath blooms (some just started today in my back yard, as a matter of fact), and when a flock of migrating Franklin’s gulls are passing right over your head.
None of this information is of any particular use to anyone, and not really interesting to anyone other than myself, or occasionally one of my daughters.
So you see, there are trade-offs -pretty substantial ones -to being me, or being around me. Some days I don’t think it’s a good trade. I’d give anything to be someone else, someone capable and effective. Someone who gets things done, who carries her own weight. I wish desperately that I could be someone who doesn’t have to spend half her life apologizing for her failures and the other half scrambling to catch up to the starting line, someone who gets to the end of a day and doesn’t wonder what she did with it.
But when you see the turkey vultures in the slanting light, circling low over the trees, it’s really something. One of these days they’ll rise up in the mid-morning sun, head out over the hills, and keep going, until they reach some distant southerly perch. But for tonight they’re coming back to that stand of trees in Strong City, near the Cottonwood River, and it feels like a privilege to witness them. It feels like being in on a secret, but a secret that’s right out in the open where anyone can see.
I point them out to whoever is around. Sometimes they look at me blankly, as one would a child who isn’t yet able to speak intelligibly. More often, they don’t notice I’m talking at all.
Maybe it was because the heat had lifted, making way for a cool front and just enough water coming down to call it rain.
Maybe it was the quality of the light filtering through the clouds, so the hot colors settled down for a nap, while the cool greens and grays woke up vividly.
It was a kind of day when you step outside and say, “Oh, what a beautiful morning,” before you realize you’re living a show tune.
The girls have been biking to school this year, but I drove them today due to the rain. The doves in the street were so at peace, it was hard to rouse them out of the path of the car. “Car, doves!” I told them, and the girls behind me joined in, “Car! Car!” Then, “Caw, caw!” which would possibly alarm doves more effectively.
Humming a pretty tune, I waved at other parents coming back from the school in their vehicles. A white-haired man sat on his stoop watching the traffic. It was an ordinary moment, perfect and beautiful.
It occurred to me that maybe for old people, watching kids go to school in the morning isn’t just something they do when they don’t have anything else to do. Maybe it’s meaningful in itself to watch these rituals of coming together and parting, the hurrying and dawdling, the putting on and removing of outerwear as the seasons revolve, children growing day by day and year by year.
It used to be that when I came upon these moments of heightened awareness, I’d wish desperately and wistfully that they could last forever. Now I know that the secret is to be that present in every moment, to be in perfection and beauty, even through everything changing.
How do we get there? I suppose they say meditation and mindfulness practices can help, though it seems to me largely a function of grace, which is to say, the Divine bleeding through our consciousness, unasked, undeserved, unwarranted.
Or maybe it was simply that the heat had lifted.
It doesn’t necessarily take a lot of time to notice nature. Admittedly, sometimes it involves sitting for a while, seemingly doing nothing. Type A people can’t do it. But other times, you see things just because you’re willing to.
I spent about an hour today clearing some weeds, cutting tree shoots, watering the few cultivars I have this year. The weeds have become so overgrown that I’ve learned new things about them. One vine I’d always thought was some kind of bindweed turned out to have a flower completely different from the morning-glory trumpet shape of Convulvulus arvensis. It really doesn’t look that much like bindweed, so I’m not sure why I thought it was related, now that I think of it. Today I discovered it is honeyvine milkweed, Cynanchum laeve. This one is truly a vining milkweed, and, as such, it is a food for monarch butterflies. So it turns out I do have at least one monarch food on the property.
Watering Rowan’s pot of zinnias, I saw a little moth I didn’t know, and it was kind enough to let me get a good shot. Then, while ripping up some weeds to expose a beleaguered rose, I inadvertently destroyed the web of a striking black and yellow garden spider, Argiope aurantia. Sorry, ma’am.
By that time, it was too hot to work outside, and I was hungry, so Wildfire the kitten and I came back in for lunch.
When you go outside, even if it’s just from your door to the car, look to see what’s out there. What lives in your neighborhood?