Friday, June 27, 2014
School Is Out
We found this land when I still had seven more years of teaching school ahead of me. A quick trip home from work was followed by throwing wheelbarrows and tools in the bed of the pickup truck. The drive to our rural retreat brought me here with several hours of daylight left. No road existed to the meadow that was to become our home site but the spot where tools were unloaded was surrounded by milkweed. The scent of these flowers is unusual but incredibly sweet. That smell came to signal to me that summer vacation was underway.
I am not alone in being drawn in by this sweet smell. Soon every bee in the area will spend days working these flowers. One year past, I started squash seeds early. Squash plants came into bloom at the same time as the milkweed. Dreams of early squash vanished when they received no pollinators. It was not until the milkweed flowers were past that we saw young squash begin to grow.
Located in a north south river valley, we are on the migration route. In years past Monarch butterflies stopped here in great numbers. Last year they were few in number in our fields. We have been watching for a glimpse of fluttering orange and black wings. Two orange butterflies zipped past me today and I wished that a Monarch was here. Today's butterflies flew fast with frequent sharp changes of direction. They were also smaller than a Monarch. Likely, they were Checkers.
Our fields are home to many milkweed plants. Some have dark colored flowers while others are light pink. We have no plausible explanation for the difference in color.
Elderberry is common here but the native deer usually eat enough of the bush to limit flowering. This plant is growing near to the pond where the deer drink. Somehow it escaped pruning this winter and is now covered with blossoms. The structure of the flowers is unusual but after my recent confusion about male and female flower parts this picture will have to speak for itself.
As a child growing up in the 1950's, I have a memory centered around elderberries. Most of the mothers of my classmates were stay at home moms. Many were farm wives. My mother had a job in the city. How she took care of her three sons and her husband while working five days a week escapes me. On one corner of our land, two small streams came together. Between the two streams elderberries grew in abundance. I would fill a paper grocery bag with clusters bearing ripe elderberries and proudly present this bounty to my mother. Her time was already overbooked but she did what had to be done to transform my berries into a pie. I do not remember the pie as being particularly tasty but I do remember my feeling like I had provided food for the family. Health issues have removed pie from our table now so these berries will be left for the critters. The flowers did however provide a connection for me with a pleasant childhood memory.