On Wednesday, September 23rd, the sun’s rays began to shine directly over the Earth’s equator marking the beginning of the Autumnal Equinox in the northern hemisphere. Fall’s arrival reminded us here in the U.S. that the days are growing cooler, that it’s time to dig out sweaters, find the forgotten rakes, and to pick fresh apples and start baking them in pies. It’s the season of leaf peeping, pumpkin carving and cheering through hours of football. It is a time for counting blessings and gathering our families to celebrate all that is good in life, for cherishing our friends and remembering those who passed. This year, remarkably, the sun’s rays also guided a humble man of the cloth to our country, a Pope named Francis, who taught us that kindness and humility, acceptance, and caring for those less fortunate than us remains our daily priority. This year, when the sun crossed the equator, it delivered hope.
I’m sure many of you heard about the small winter storm that practically crippled the city of Atlanta last week. I’ve lived here for over 20 years and have never seen a bigger winter mess, but in defense of my adopted hometown, we simply don’t get snow very often, and sometimes there are several years in a row of snowlessness. A flip-flopping weather forecast, unusually cold temperatures and more snow than this southern city has seen in a long time joined to create what I’m calling the imperfect storm. The icing on the cake (the snow on the ice?) was when the entire metro area chose the exact moment in time to hop into their cars and try to beat the storm, their caution unwittingly creating the traffic nightmare that was broadcast around the world over, and over, and over. Okay national news….it’s over! Thankfully, there were more than a few stations who not only broadcasted our snow storm ineptness, but also the great kindness displayed by our local residents to those trapped by the chaos. Through the snow and slush the media recorded Atlantans hand delivering bottled waters, cups of coffee and granola bars to the thousands of cars strained on the interstate, residents invited total strangers into their homes, and teachers spent the night in schools entertaining and feeding their stranded students. It’s the acts of kindness and sense of community that I will remember the most from this extreme winter event, that, and to always re-check weather.com at 3 o’clock in the morning for a final flip from the flop in a potentially snowstormy forecast.
Atlanta, Ga. Reports are coming in that the color green has been missing from the Atlanta area since late November of 2013. Green, known as the symbol of nature, fertility, and life, is a popular color in the Southern U.S. for farmers, gardeners and more importantly, fans of the Masters Golf Tournament. Clues left at the scene of the crime include, but are not limited to, leaves scattered on the ground under stunned trees, a landscape drained of all color, and hundreds of small animals furiously digging tiny holes in the ground for no apparent reason. The primary suspect, Winter, seen in the area during the first hard frost in December, is said to have “dug in deep.” After the recent capture of warm weather antagonist Jack Frost at the recent Green Bay, 49ers playoff game in Wisconsin, Winter went into cahoots with a more dangerous accomplice who goes by the name of Polar Vortex, wreaking icy havoc on a good part of the North American Continent. Spring, who has a vested interest in the safe return of Green, is offering a reward in the form of lush grass, tender new growth and an addictive fragrance in the air that has been known to melt even the most hardened of hearts, and inducing random outbursts of singing in many people. To assist authorities in locating the missing popular color, please visit your local garden center. And fertilize.
The ice plant is a drought tolerant, bunny resistant plant whose flowers close at night, open in the morning and slowly follow the path of the sun until nightfall. Its name is a curiosity and I can’t walk by this low-growing patch of bright pink flowers without thinking of the one hit wonder by Vanilla Ice, Ice Ice Baby. It’s funny how the mind works…..everything in my world is reminiscent of a song. The ice plant is native to South Africa and is naturalized to many warm climate regions across the globe. It is a succulent, meaning it’s a plant that stores water in its leaves and stems so that they can tolerate dry conditions. It’s known by a variety of descriptive names, including “highway ice plant,” “pigface” (I don’t get that one) and “sour pig plant,” because of its edible fruit. The fact it has small, clear engorged hairs on the surface of the leaves that look like frozen droplets of water makes the most sense to me for the name. The ice plant is what I call, a keeper.
Even though Rolling Stone Magazine listed it as the fourth worst song of the 90’s in a reader’s poll, I still crank up the volume when this hip hop song comes on the radio.
My favorite perennial, Geranium Roxanne, did not disappoint this spring. Prolific and drought tolerant, Roxy endured an unexpectedly harsh winter for the southern U.S. and graced our garden with style. She is one of the few plants in the yard that the resident wild rabbits find unappealing to the palate. Roxanne is a fighter, and I love her for taking a stand.
Title quote from the lyrics “Rain” by the Beatles, released in 1966
I’m sure I annoyed this little grasshopper to no end one evening last summer as I tried to make his tiny inch long body more visible to the human eye. I was happy that he posed for me for so long without freaking out and jumping on my head…or worse. I found a fun read about grasshoppers from an Illinois Nature Bulletin which I included below. It’s really very interesting, a little quirky – but worth checking out.
The grasshopper is the clown of the insect world. He does not “chew tobacco,” as most boys think, but ejects a dark brown digestive juice from his crop when captured and held. He is quite an athlete. If a man could leap as big and far, in proportion to his size, a man could jump over an eight story building. Once in the air, the grasshopper can soar like an airplane with his stiff upper pair of wings, or fly considerable distances by rapidly vibrating his delicate lower pair.
He has five eyes. The two big ones are each compounded of thousands of little eyes for seeing distant objects from any angle. The three small eyes, one of them in the middle of his forehead, are for seeing tiny details at close range. his “ears” are on the sides of his stomach just behind the thorax or chest. He has two short “horns” or antennae.
His cousin, the katydid, with long horns and soft green body, has its ears on the front legs just below the first joint. Grasshoppers, katydids, crickets, cockroaches and termites are all cousins. The locust spoken of in the Bible as one of the seven plagues of Egypt was a grasshopper. Billions of billions of grasshoppers descending in clouds upon the grain fields of Nebraska and Kansas have periodically devastated huge areas.
But if the grasshopper is sometimes a pest, it is always in important item of food for wild creatures. Foxes, skunks ground squirrels, moles, shrews and mice are all mammals which eat grasshoppers. Pheasants, quail, crows, herons and many song birds feed on them. So do humans. Grasshoppers are ground up into “locust meal” by many of the desert tribes in Africa and Asia. The Japanese believe them to be more nourishing than fish and cook them in soy bean oil. The American Indians dried them in the sun for winter use, mixed them with acorn meal and made patties which were roasted on hot stones.
Nature Bulletin copyright information:
“Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Illinois” as the copyright owner
It’s been said the garden spider brings luck to the inhabitants of the home where she chooses to weave her delicate web. I’ve been waiting for my luck to turn ever since I snapped the photograph, but maybe my good fortune was being able to experience the joy in capturing the moment itself. Happy weekend!
A showy sunflower is doing exactly as nature intended, advertising brightly to entice pollinators. The more vivid the color and the taller the flower, the more likely it will attract many bees and other pollinators. The reward is sweet nectar! As it is gathered, the pollen of the flower sticks to the bee and is carried to other flowers, inducing pollination.
This picture was taken in a local field where row upon row of sunflowers are planted every year. The owners use the good old-fashioned honor system, pick what you like and leave a donation in the can. Not only a busy place for bees and flower customers, it’s a popular destination every season for photographers, many taking pictures of high school students for their senior year portraits. It’s a festive summer scene and always fun to wander around and take it all in.