Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Let It Be

Ruby still life... a different angle.
(Click picture to enlarge)
Posted by Picasa

"It is through realism that I try to call forth universal feelings... I look for subjects bathed in and sculpted by light." ~ Linda Kooluris Dobbs
During the summer between fifth and sixth grade my eyes went bad. Back in the stone age when I was in elementary school, they did rudimentary eye exams at the beginning of each year. Some of you might remember this... those big eye charts with the letters or the big "E's" and you were to motion the direction of the arms. In fifth grade I passed... in sixth grade, I couldn't see the big "E" at the top and it was off to the eye doctor and the beginning of a lifetime of glasses and contacts. I remember getting that first pair of glasses and the drive back home. It was amazing! The things I saw outside the car window that I had never noticed before! Then at home, details of the house that had simply escaped me.

Growing up we always had a piano AND a small organ in our house, not like the electronic keyboards young people would know today, but a REAL organ. Usually we kept these together, back to back in the living room. My mom is an accomplished pianist and organist. I took piano and violin for several years but they just didn't take me. Still, at the time I spent a lot of time at that piano.

What on earth does this have to do with the picture? Hold on. I'll eventually get there.

There was always the question of what to put between that piano and organ. Finally, my dad came up with the idea to build a large planter and set it between them. In that planter, Mom decided to put some plants. You must remember that this was in the 60's; in general there was a significant lack of good taste in the 60's. Come on, admit it. It was the height of the "plastic" era... plastic plates, plastic utensils and plastic plants. How anyone ever thought those plastic foliage plants looked even remotely real, escapes me; but that is what was put in the top of the planter, plastic plants embedded in a large green styrofoam block. They were all green.... green leaves, green flowers, green stems, and green grapes.

Yes, when I walked in that house and looked at the planter for the first time after getting my glasses, I saw the green grapes. I had NEVER seen the green grapes nestled down in the green foliage between the green flowers before. The planter contents had just been a green blur. This must have been a shocking revelation to a little girl; that her eyes had been so bad she could not see the details of life around her and that the planter contents were so... well, so... ugly!

Fortunately, that planter and the plastic arrangements are long gone. In fact, all the plastic flower arrangements, even the one that made up the base of my favorite bedside lamp, are gone. Hopefully, all the plastic flower arrangements everywhere are gone. With the advent of silk flowers... we've moved on. Right.

Anyway, today we have the advantage of very realistic, fake arrangements. Take my "fruit" bowl. It has bananas, apples, oranges, pomegranates and grapes; not green and not plastic, more of waxy and light weight rubbery... but not real either. Were I a little girl just finding out that her eyesight required glasses, I would not likely confuse these grapes with the apple or pomegranate would I? Not likely. But then again, I might have thought they were real.

Looking back at this post, I have no idea why these grapes brought that memory back. This was just going to be my "still life" picture for Carmi's theme and my "red" picture for Ruby Tuesday. So, let it be.

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Monday, September 27, 2010

Sulfur Without The Smell

Cloudless Sulfur (Phoebis sennae)
(Click pictures to enlarge)

"Butterflies are self propelled flowers." ~ R.H. Heinlein
These are the "Butterflies of August", the Cloudless Sulfurs. Yes, they flitter around earlier in July and a few in June, but August is their month to flourish. Most often you see them in pairs or even groups as they compete for the lantana or blue-mist flowers or the joe-pye weed. These are the mid-sized models, with wingspans from 2¼ to 3⅛ inches and soft bright yellow wings. The male usually has unmarked wings and the female has two rounded spots on the hindwing and one on the forewing. Of all the butterflies, these are the most infuriating to photograph. They are skiddish and only light for a fraction of a second on any plant, as if to say "I want to taste everything in the yard before making my final selection." And when they do finally come to a moment of stillness, you have to be quick and use a long lens or all you see in the shot is a blur of wings at the edge of the viewfinder. This group rarely sits and flexes the wings open in display, so you get what you get.

Sitting out on the deck you watch their mid-air dance... two dancing flowers whirling round and round as they float upwards into the sky and back again. Add four more couples and you have a full airborne ballet. I remember the first August in this house. The fence was not in and the yard was simply weeds, struggling to survive; the invasive cane in the preserve encroached on the property line and we had one stand of joe-pye weed packed between the cane stalks. Early in the morning as the sun came up over the rooftop of the house, the Sulfurs would gather at the joe-pye weed and have breakfast. They came in droves, sometimes as many as ten or twelve drinking the nectar at once and it seemed to make them almost drunk; never since have I seen so many together and so still and quiet.

Gathering at the Joe-Pye Weed. August 2007

In June and July of this year, the Candy Lily pictured below, became the high end dining experience for the Sulfurs as well as other butterflies and the hummingbirds. In August and early September, as the numbers increased they branched out to the lantana and the blue-mist bush (caryopteris). These are reported to be permanent residents from Argentina to the Deep South here but I have found nothing about any migrating behavior.

Cloudless Sulfur blending in with the Candy Lily Posted by Picasa

Next season I would like to again have joe-pye weed growing as well as the Cloudless Sulfur caterpillar host plant, Cassia alata. We'll see what happens.

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Saturday, September 25, 2010

Lovely "Little" Butterflies

Pearl Crescent Butterfly, Phyciodes tharos
(Click pictures to enlarge)

"Beautiful and graceful, varied and enchanting, small but approachable, butterflies lead you to the sunny side of life. And everyone deserves a little sunshine." ~ Jeffrey Glassberg
I know you must be getting tired of seeing my butterflies, but we are trying to hang on to a little summer sunshine here in the early days of fall. I have shown you many of our large visitors and thought we might look at some of the smaller varieties today. These are the butterflies that sometimes seem to show up in swarms but are small enough to be overlooked; and yet, they have the most intricate patterns and coloring that rivals that of the largest Eastern Tiger Swallowtail.

First we have the Pearl Crescent, a diminutive creature with a wingspan between 1¼ and 1¾ inches. Small in size but with quite the punch of color in shades of orange, pale yellow and striking black. All along the upper side edge of the wings are small scalloped pale yellow crescents... hence the name Pearl Crescent. The underside of the wings has a lacy pattern that reminds me of the cloud tops, looking down on them from an airplane or teeny scoops of lemon custard layered one after the other. These tiny titans produce several broods between April and November in the north and may live year 'round in the deep south and Mexico. The caterpillar host plants are asters and they sip nectar from a wide variety of plants. Here we see them on the black-eyed susan, butterfly bush, heliotrope, lantana, coneflowers, milkweed, and on a really unusual but gorgeous plant... the candy lily.

Lace-winged Roadside-Skipper, Amblyscirtes aesculapius Posted by Picasa

The Lace-winged Roadside-Skipper is slightly smaller than the Pearl Crescent and in a different family. They have a wing-span of 1⅛ to 1½ inches. The dusty fringe on the wingtips is checkered black and white. These butterflies typically sit with their wings held together and rarely flex them open while feeding. The underwing is dark brown with a cobweb pattern in white or yellow with just a hint of mint green and the eyes are big and dark brown to black. I planted an annual heliotrope this year which had clusters of dark purple to blue flowers that give off a heavenly fragrance of cherry vanilla and these little ones loved it along with the agastache and the lantana. These Skippers are more common in North Carolina than Virginia, but we are so close to the state line that they show up here as well. I think they love the preserve with the humid air, dense wood and that horrid wild cane stuff that drives me crazy each summer. In fact, the cane is probably their caterpillar host plant, although I have never seen the caterpillars. They fly from March to September and have disappeared for the fall and winter already.

We still haven't reviewed all the butterfly species that graced our yard this summer. I would imagine that there are many of the tiny varieties that I missed entirely. As for the final report on the Monarchs. We took 80 Monarch caterpillars to the botanical gardens when I ran out of milkweed for them. I also took another 35 early instar Monarch caterpillars so they could be raised for the release that took place this morning. The botanical gardens released 300 tagged Monarchs for their migration to Mexico... may they all find wonderful nectar along the way. As for those we raised here... a total of 105 were raised and released. This is in addition to the 40 Black Swallowtail butterflies also raised and released. We had quite the nursery going this summer and on the days when ten Monarchs emerged and dried and then fluttered up around my head to flitter off to the forest... well, that was a heavenly feeling.

Saturday Photo Hunt.... "Natural"
Nature Notes

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Monday, September 20, 2010

Birthday Bouquet

A birthday bouquet from her loving son..
(Click pictures to enlarge)

"A flower's appeal is in its contradictions--so delicate in form yet strong in fragrance, so small in size yet big in beauty, so short in life yet long on effect." --Adabella Radici
Mom's birthday was Tuesday and we took her out to eat grilled scallops and shrimp at one of our favorite restaurants. When we returned, these gorgeous flowers were sitting at the door.... a beautiful bouquet from her son. Roses, lily, daisy, carnation, Queen Anne's lace, a large mum and alstroemeria; shades of peachy orange, lilac, gold, burgundy, white and deep purple bring a feeling of fall into the house. She is so thrilled!

Wednesday, it was a visit to the botanical gardens. The roses are still blooming and will be hitting another high point in October. Mom had not seen the butterfly garden there. She always thought we had so many butterflies, especially this summer, but compared to the botanical garden we have none. Hundreds of "flutterbyes" flitting everywhere. Inside the house even more. One poor tulip poplar was host to many eastern tiger swallowtail caterpillars and looked like it was quite ready for a break. Today, the 20th, is the start of the monarch migration to Mexico.

Anyway, this was the birthday week for MOM.... Happy 82nd and many more!

PS to my brother: You did a really good job on the flowers, Stephen!

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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

This Is A Test

The same or different? What do you think?
(Click pictures to enlarge and study)

"Every man is a borrower and a mimic, life is theatrical and literature a quotation" ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
Today was a perfect day for butterflies... pleasantly warm with a small breeze and low humidity... at least low for here.. under 50%. At one point during the afternoon there were four different varieties of butterflies on my blue caryopteris... all at the same time. I spotted a new variety in our garden... common to the area but not seen here, or at least I don't think so.... well... maybe it is a new variety... hmm. This is where the test comes in. Are these the same butterflies? Male versus female perhaps? The adults find nectar on the same plants... a lot of different butterflies do too.

Which one is which? Posted by Picasa

So, are they the same... are they different and if so.. what makes them different? Look closely and decide... before clicking on the "read more" below... the answer is there.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

What's Black And White And Red All Over?

Zebra Swallowtail (Eurytides marcellus)
(Click pictures to enlarge)

"May the wings of the butterfly kiss the sun
And find your shoulder to light on,
To bring you luck, happiness and riches
Today, tomorrow and beyond."
~ Irish Blessing
This is the Zebra Swallowtail butterfly. We saw only a couple of these this summer as they paused to drink from the lantana and the butterfly bush. Flying horses... or zebra.. the black and white stripes are very distinctive even when they only land on a flower for mere seconds. I noticed that the hind wings were not as open and on display as those of their cousins, the black swallowtail or the eastern tiger swallowtail; this made them a bit triangular and by keeping the hind wings together, they reveal only a splash of red. Our area is prime for these, being near the Great Dismal Swamp and with woodlands. The caterpillars eat primarily leaves of the paw-paw and I haven't seen one around here... so, the paw-paw is on my list of plantings adjacent to the preserve. Hopefully, these will become more frequent visitors. By the way... the flowers in the first picture are Asclepias tuberosa, orange butterfly weed.

Sharp long tail... similar in appearance to the swallows. Hence the name, swallowtail. Posted by Picasa

Today is my mother's birthday! She is 82 years young and if the weather holds as nice as it is, I hope to take her to the botanical garden tomorrow morning. She has been watching our Monarchs emerge from their chrysalides for the last week... everyday asking.. "How many have you birthed today?" Watching the process is amazing for any age.

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Ruby Tuesday

Monday, September 13, 2010

A Reflective Railing For An Admiring Admiral

One or two "admirals"?
(Click pictures to enlarge)

“The world is a looking-glass, and gives back to every man the reflection of his own face. Frown at it, and it will in turn look sourly upon you; laugh at it and with it, and it is a jolly kind companion.” ~ William Makepeace Thackeray
I have been trying to write this post for three days... in between small odd chores. It hasn't happened. Sometimes the thoughts just dry up and the brain goes into hibernation and everything else simply switches to automatic pilot mode. It didn't matter the time of day or the day of the week or whether I was rested or tired.. there just wasn't anything there. Almost everything is revolving around these butterflies right now.. well, not THIS butterfly, as it is a Red Admiral.. but around the Monarchs. I had 91 chrysalides and they have been emerging for the last week.. between 6 - 10 a day. Twenty or so of them should emerge just at the right time to begin migration on the 20th. As they emerge, I put them in a makeshift drying area where they can flit off up to the trees whenever they feel like it. I think that several have felt the way I do... they really cannot get their act together in the usual two hour slot of time that is average for wing pumping and drying. In fact, a few would hang around forever if not pushed just a little bit.

I saw this Red Admiral butterfly out on the flowers of the butterfly bush (buddleia) and when I tried to take his picture, he flittered up to the railing of the deck. Our railing is a powder coated aluminum and has a shiny top coat. Surely, the butterfly did not see this other critter at his feet... but I did. How interesting to see the butterfly prance its delicate feet with a perfect dance partner. He sat and stretched his wings, giving a great perspective... the camera could see both sides of the wing at once. Perhaps he could see his reflection in the white fencing... making me wonder... did he admire those bright stripes?

An "admiring admiral" indeed. Posted by Picasa

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Carmi's Theme "Reflective"

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Into Each Life A Little Fragrant Cloud Must Fall

I believe this rose is called "Fragrant Cloud".
(Click picture to enlarge)
Posted by Picasa

"You love the roses - so do I. I wish
The sky would rain down roses, as they rain
From off the shaken bush. Why will it not?
Then all the valley would be pink and white
And soft to tread on. They would fall as light
As feathers, smelling sweet; and it would be
Like sleeping and like waking, all at once!"
~ George Eliot, Roses
The rose garden has been spectacular this summer, especially since this is the first year and most of the roses were bare roots when planted in the early spring and even early summer. Yes, we had our share of aphids and brought in the ladybugs to eat them to their hearts content. But the ladybugs left and haven't found their way back in any significant numbers, even though the milkweed aphids are running amuck in another part of the garden. Fickle those ladybugs.

And yes, this was a horrible year for the Japanese beetle... pesky thing that I wish would have stayed in Japan. At first I tried the beetle trap and had it all hung in a tree near the roses; but then I read how this would simply draw all the Japanese beetles from the neighborhood straight into our yard. In fact, the articles said that the best thing to do if you had a beef with a neighbor and really didn't like them would be to give them a beetle trap as a gift or even hang one in THEIR yard. So, I ran down the stairs and out into the yard to the tree; sure enough, in the span of 15 minutes there were 12 beetles in the bag. Plan B.... capture them and drown them in soapy water. I got a huge gallon glass pickle jar...(Mom loves dill pickles and buys these in huge industrial size jars at Sam's)... filled it with dishwashing soap and carried it around the outside, flicking beetles into the soup. The best time to do it is either in the evening or very early morning as they are the least likely to fly at those times. I don't know how many I gathered between the end of May and the first of July, but it was quite a lot and the soapy soupy stuff was quite nasty to look at, particularly since I left the jar outside and we had a lot of sun and a lot of high temperatures during June. Even though it was suggested that you grind up and blend the beetle remains with the soap and spray it on the flowers to repell them... it was just too nasty to deal with. So I left it... and left it... and finally, my brother Stephen couldn't stand it anymore and he disposed of them for me. I was just thinking that if he spread it a little at the edge of the property, perhaps they wouldn't come back. Not likely.

But the roses survived this... looking a bit disheveled but survived. And they survived black spot and me plucking and spraying... new leaves and new buds still emerged. Of all the flowers in the garden and all the gardeners in our garden (Stephen and I)... the roses seemed to enjoy the 98℉ temperatures the most... even with the 85% humidity at times. And they bloomed and bloomed; not all of them at the same time, but there was never a day when we did not have at least three different varieties blooming. And now they continue as it starts, ever so slowly, to cool down.... blooms are expected well into October. One of the plants will bloom until November...

And I will start looking at the new roses for the spring... so many lovely blooms and so little space.

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Nature's Notes

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Lovely Lily After The Rain

Dwarf Asiatic lily, after the rain.
(Click picture to enlarge)
Posted by Picasa

"Everywhere water is a thing of beauty gleaming in the dewdrop, singing in the summer rain." ~ John Ballantine Gough
All the lovely blooms on our dwarf asiatic lilies are gone now. I've left the foliage intact and now there are multiple seed pods at the tips and the leaves are turning yellow. They were lovely in pastel shades of pink, hot orange and deep red this year; but even in this monochrome sepia shot, the beauty comes through. I think the lily looks best just after a spring or early summer rain with the small droplets beading up on the thick petals. They seem to lift their heads as if to catch the rain and hold it close.

Even though it is still hot and humid here, the change in the seasons is real and is coming. It is not quite as hot... lower 90's to upper 80's rather than flirting with 100. And it is now quite as humid... there are days where the humidity hovers around 50% rather than 80%. And the nights dip into the 60's rather than remaining in the upper 70's. The plants know. The butterflies know. Even the birds and bees know. There is a major increase in bee activity after a small lull in August. The caryopteris with their clusters of bright blue blooms are open and a few of the re-blooming daylily are still in shape; but the lily is spent and waiting for winter.

This year I will attempt to collect the seed and see what we can come up with. Perhaps more beautiful lily to grace the garden and entice the butterfly to return even earlier next year.

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Sepia Scenes
Watery Wednesday

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Enchanted Forest: This Shoe Was Made For Fun

How many children did she have?
(Click pictures to enlarge)

"You can learn many things from children. How much patience you have, for instance." ~ Franklin P. Jones
The collection of children's playhouses at our botanical gardens has been up and welcoming kids of all sizes since Father's Day. Today, Labor Day, was the last chance to see these creative and fun play areas. We have visited Jack and the Beanstalk, The Crooked Man, Red Riding Hood's Grandmother, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Old MacDonald's Farm, Alice in Wonderland and The Three Little Pigs. Now we visit the eighth and last playhouse, as well as my personal favorite, The Old Lady Who Lived In A Shoe.

I count twenty... on the mailbox.

This was a wonderful playhouse... or rather, a shoe. The kids have a ladder to get to the loft and the "inside" sliding board and on the other side of the house, a fireman's pole. When we were there the kids were lining up to slide down... I just didn't catch one with the camera. The shingles are perfectly placed and look at those shoe laces... large ropes for the children to climb. I think that this was one of the most ingenious designs and so must everyone else as this was voted "Most Creative".

Ringing the dinner bell

Out front, in full view was an item that all farmhouses in the past had. How else could the farmer's wife call him and all the kids in from the fields? My dad talks about Grandma ringing that big bell outside the old house. With all these kids and a little shoe... I wonder if she had to feed them in shifts?

Now, this is a nice looking house shoe.... rather, a shoe house. Posted by Picasa

The tour of our playhouses is complete. I visited again this past week and they have held up well over the summer, considering the remarkable number of children who have played in them. A few decals on one are peeling and some of the accessories are a bit ragged, but they still have a charm that any child of any age would love. So now, they will be auctioned off and this shoe will end up in a lucky child's back yard.

The large corrugated roof and the bright red window frame are my entry in this week's Ruby Tuesday. And since shoes are made for walking and walking is a legitimate form of transportation... it will be an off the wall entry for Carmi's weekly theme this week.

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Carmi's Theme
Ruby Tuesday

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Enchanted Forest: This Little Piggy

Do you really remember the story of the Three Little Pigs?
(Click pictures to enlarge)

"By the hair on your chinny-chin-chin, I'll huff and I'll puff and I'll blow your house in!" ~ Wolf

The gorgeous playhouse exhibition at Norfolk Botanical Gardens closes this coming Tuesday and we have just two more houses to explore. We have visited Jack and the Beanstalk, The Crooked Man, Red Riding Hood's Grandmother, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Old MacDonald's Farm and Alice in Wonderland. Today we revisit the well-known story of The Three Little Pigs.

Lazy piggies build houses of straw and sticks.

This grouping won the "Best Representation of Story" award. After three months of rain and weather, the straw house is now looking a bit ragged, but the sticks have held up quite well. These photos were taken on our visit the first weekend in July. Do you really remember the story? I read the original and it was quite different than the sanitized Disney version I knew. The momma sow could not take care of the three piglets and sent them out into the world with the wise advice to "always work hard before you play". The first little pig was very lazy and when he found a pile of straw, he quickly built a small staw hut. His brother warned him that this would not keep out the wolf, but he was not concerned. When the big, bad wolf showed up... he huffed and puffed and easily blew his house in... then the wolf ate the little pig up. (That last part I had forgotten... in my version, the little pig managed to escape to his brother's house)

The second little pig found a pile of sticks and built a small lean-to that doesn't look as if it would keep out anything at all. Then he danced and sang... until the wolf showed up. I am not sure the wolf even had to huff or puff for this one... he could simply kick the house down... And again he had the little pig for supper.

The third little pig did a really good job!

The third little pig was wise and industrious. He found a man with a pile of brick and carefully built a framed house and built the outside with sturdy brick and mortar. It looks like he added a nice slide to play on... or to escape by. He planted cute flowers in the yard and had lovely framed windows to see who is coming up the lane. Pictures of he and his brothers are painted on the side of the house. When the wolf showed up... he huffed and puffed and huffed and puffed and could not blow the house in. The wolf tried several ploys to get the pig out of the house, but the little pig was very smart and outwitted the wolf at every turn. Finally, in desperation, he climbed to the roof of the house and tried to go down the chimney. The little pig quickly put a large pot of water on the roaring fire, the wolf fell in and the little pig had HIM for supper.

Different versions of the story can be read here and here.

What a fun and safe house... even binoculars to see that wolf long before he gets there. Posted by Picasa

I thought this was appropriate for our brush with Earl. Although we could have used a bit more of the rain, I was happy to see the wind did not materialize. We are about 18 miles inland and the outer banks of North Carolina seem to buffer the effects of hurricanes as they come up the coast.... most of the time. I think our wind gusts got up to 20 mph in the early morning hours on Friday, but this is no more than an everyday occurrence in Oklahoma. So, Earl huffed and puffed and tried to blow us away... but was unsuccessful. And now the skies are clear and the sun is shining and I have to end this post and go out to put back all of the items I secured before the storm. Have a great weekend!

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Thursday, September 02, 2010

Just A Little Too Far From The Ocean

Would you want this mailbox next door to you?Posted by Picasa

"I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living, it's a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope. Which is what I do, and that enables you to laugh at life's realities." ~ Theodore Geisel
Ginny at Let Your Light Shine had a post today of beautiful and unusual mailboxes. It reminded me of this mailbox I ran across several years ago while looking at houses for my brother. This was a high end neighborhood with gorgeous homes, most being out of our league at the time.... and then we stumbled across this fellow. He is a perfectly formed dolphin and cute as dolphins tend to be; but a mailbox? What sort of house has a dolphin mailbox? A large white brick two story house. I just wonder what the neighbors think.

About Earl: We have been under a tropical storm warning for two days. I have spent the time taking down all the birdfeeders so we don't have broken poles and scattered seed everywhere. I moved the container patio plants to places of shelter and tied down the hot tub lid. I emptied the birdbaths and moved them and Stephen took the umbrella off the patio set before he left. Even the wind chimes came down.

I also took 35 more tiny Monarch caterpillars to the botanical gardens. The butterfly garden supervisor wanted them to raise for release on September 25th. They will be tagged and released and sent on their way to Mexico. I still have 70 in their chrysalides and another ten to fifteen that are big but still feeding on the last two milkweed plants I have. Both groups are safe and out of the weather.

Of course, the hurricane will bypass us. If we get an inch of rain out of it, I will be glad. So far our highest wind gust was 8 mph.... Nor'Ida last November caused us more trouble than Earl. As of last night, however, I was getting a bit nervous.... those winds were getting closer and closer to shore. I think we are going to dodge another bullet.

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