Friday, April 15, 2016

Living with nature

butterfly flower (Asclepias tuberosa)
butterfly flower (Asclepias tuberosa)
Photo by J. Harrington

There's a handful of butterfly flower seeds (Asclepias tuberosa) in potting soil in plantable containers in a tray in the yard.  I hope they are contemplating germination some day soon. (Remember that Judy Collins classic?) Let's be optimistic and assume we end up with half a dozen or more plants to be planted in "well-drained soil in full sun." We have plenty of spots around the yard area that meet those requirements, especially the well drained soils part, since we're on the Anoka Sand Plain. That also means we're home to more than a handful of pocket gophers, moles, and other subsurface critters that have consistently displayed a dismaying fondness for plant and tree roots. So, the question is: do we emphasize keeping our butterfly / pollinator garden more natural, and then, to keep some of it alive, devote time and energy to trapping gophers and moles, or do we go a more formal route, transplant the flowers into large planters (with no convenient Winter home for them) but anticipate less need for reducing our resident population of root eaters? Frankly, I'm puzzled that we haven't attracted more predators, such as hog-nosed snakes or occasional raptors that may happen upon a rodent while it's out of its tunnel on an excursion to eat a stem or flower, to attend to this matter on our behalf.

monarch butterflies on northern blazing star
monarch butterflies on northern blazing star
Photo by J. Harrington

Anyhow, it would seem that to successfully attract butterflies and other pollinators (no signs of even dandelions yet this Spring), one or more ways to protect the plantings and deter subsurface plant-eaters will be required. Rodent control then becomes part of gardening as we begin to see the outlines of a much broader self-organizing, emergent system. The next theng you know, we're studying permaculture. Whether we're undertake rodent trapping or not (pun intended), once again this year we'll also plant some blazing star and maybe some more swamp milkweed. For reasons that are unclear, unless it's simple competition from already established grasses and forbs or more predation by instead of of rodents, plantings over the past two years haven't been successful.

In the vein of survival, I remain really curious to see if the apple trees made it through the past Winter and any pocket gophers looking for a snack. The value of the Zen observation that "if nothing is done, nothing is left undone," is becoming more and more clear to me by the year. On the other hand, if you share with me the perspective that the anticipation of Christmas is much of the fun, then growing and planting and hoping are about as good as having a Christmas in Summer. If we didn't try, there'd be nothing to anticipate.

The Butterfly’s Dream

By Hannah F. Gould

A tulip, just opened, had offered to hold
   A butterfly, gaudy and gay;
And, rocked in a cradle of crimson and gold,
   The careless young slumberer lay.

For the butterfly slept, as such thoughtless ones will,
   At ease, and reclining on flowers,
If ever they study, ’t is how they may kill
   The best of their mid-summer hours.

And the butterfly dreamed, as is often the case
   With indolent lovers of change,
Who, keeping the body at ease in its place,
   Give fancy permission to range.

He dreamed that he saw, what he could but despise,
   The swarm from a neighbouring hive;
Which, having come out for their winter supplies,
   Had made the whole garden alive.

He looked with disgust, as the proud often do,
   On the diligent movements of those,
Who, keeping both present and future in view,
   Improve every hour as it goes.

As the brisk little alchymists passed to and fro,
   With anger the butterfly swelled;
And called them mechanics – a rabble too low
   To come near the station he held.

‘Away from my presence!’ said he, in his sleep,
   ‘Ye humbled plebeians! nor dare
Come here with your colorless winglets to sweep
   The king of this brilliant parterre!’

He thought, at these words, that together they flew,
   And, facing about, made a stand;
And then, to a terrible army they grew,
   And fenced him on every hand.

Like hosts of huge giants, his numberless foes
   Seemed spreading to measureless size:
Their wings with a mighty expansion arose,
   And stretched like a veil o’er the skies.

Their eyes seemed like little volcanoes, for fire,—  
   Their hum, to a cannon-peal grown,—
Farina to bullets was rolled in their ire,
   And, he thought, hurled at him and his throne.

He tried to cry quarter! his voice would not sound,
   His head ached – his throne reeled and fell;
His enemy cheered, as he came to the ground,
   And cried, ‘King Papilio, farewell!’

His fall chased the vision – the sleeper awoke,
   The wonderful dream to expound;
The lightning’s bright flash from the thunder-cloud broke,
   And hail-stones were rattling around.

He’d slumbered so long, that now, over his head,
   The tempest’s artillery rolled;
The tulip was shattered – the whirl-blast had fled,
   And borne off its crimson and gold.

’T is said, for the fall and the pelting, combined
   With suppressed ebullitions of pride,
This vain son of summer no balsam could find,
   But he crept under covert and died.

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