Dribs and drabs

Things have a way of accelerating out of hand, like a job that’s unexpectedly replaced with another, dropping a whole encyclopedia’s worth of information to master on my desk and leaving very little time for snooping. Or like summer, when it’s suddenly August and the tupelo trees are turning traitor with their unseasonably orange leaves, and the birds start molting and moving, and fledging and leaving. Or like an Instagram feed that’s spontaneously 90% bugs, and you scratch your head trying to find out where all the purty sunsets went.


These are all phone photos, all poached from my Instagram. When I told folks this would be my Year of Insects, I had no idea what I got myself into. I am, to borrow an overused phrase, A Little Obsessed.

Usually when I share photos, I have an intention in mind: a story to tell, some beauty that inspires me, an amazing natural something to help us all fall a little more in love with the world around us. With the insects, I’ve at least been trying to identify them before I post, trying to tie on a tiny scrap of natural history, if I have one. But mostly, I’m just absolutely gobsmacked by the crazy species diversity I’m finding every time I go out, and I can’t help but throw the best photos wherever I can share them. Can you believe this one? And this one? Holy cow! Who knew?!

The insect life changes week to week, microhabitat to microhabitat. I can barely keep up with the rest of life, and I’m not even close to keeping up with the insects as they whirl away from me too fast for a photo. But when they pause, light on a flower for a heartbeat, spread their wings to gather the sun, I do too.


from the top: Common Buckeye Butterfly; a pair of American Copper Butterflies; Lesser Grapevine Looper Moth; Halloween Pennant Dragonfly; Giant Leopard Moth; a pair of mating meadowhawk dragonflies

checking in on my patch

mountainlaurelglow caterpillars moth babyazaleasThe mountain laurel is in full bloom, floating between the pitch pines like tethered clouds catching the sunlight. And if the moths that bob up as I pass aren’t enough evidence, these newly hatched caterpillars devouring a greenbriar leaf prove summer’s arrived with her full appetite. The blueberry clusters weigh heavy on the bushes, and they’re starting to blue up in the most tempting way. And best of all, these swamp azalea buds will open in a matter of days, when I’ll return and cram my nose right into their velvety petals.

Oh summer. Mosquitoes and ticks be damned, you have my heart like no other season.

wearing o’ the green

Yesterday I visited a local radio station to help promote a St. Patrick’s Day fundraiser for our community garden. Between the Irish references and reminiscing about last summer’s veggie bed, I left the studio seriously craving some green. But I have at least five months until this comes back around:

So I dashed away into the woods in search of green — any green at all. Alas, it’s mostly the same old brown.

I did find little dabs that lifted my spirits a little.

Yes, the evidence shows I’ve resorted to lichens and mosses to satisfy my quest for chlorophyll. I’ll substitute blue-green algae in a pinch. But, as I was reminded earlier this week, the end of winter is for keeping faith, no matter how much snow is left, or how many shades of brown I can count on a balmy March day. So imagine my surprise when I stumbled on this fellow in the path:

This big fuzzy caterpillar seemed a little shocked to be on the ground, perhaps stunned after a ride on a bark sled down out of the tree he’d started in. I was shocked to see a caterpillar this size in March, when very few plants have any leaves at all. Later, a little research explained this is the larvae of a giant leopard moth, which hibernates through the whole winter as a caterpillar, instead of an egg or a chrysalis. It wakes hungry in the early spring to finish growing, turns into a pupa or chrysalis, and then metamorphoses into a really beautiful white polka dot moth.

This fat black caterpillar has been keeping faith for spring since last fall. If it has waited all these months, I can wait a little longer too.