Saturday, October 9, 2010

From start to finish

NOTE: I fixed the broken photo links, but if they're still not showing up, please let me know!!

I don't really know how to describe today. It started off simply, like the soft opening notes of a beautiful piece of music. Strong coffee, blue sky, easy weather, wonderful friendship. I puttered around the garden as a friend took pictures, our conversation comfortable. We chatted, she photographed, I dug and transplanted. All was well and we marveled at the monarch caterpillar I had discovered Friday hanging so sturdily from the underside of a leaf of white gooseneck loosestrife.






It's thick body curled into a J, I watched and waited for something to happen but nothing did. It just hung there, its schedule oblivious to my desire. I sighed and wandered back toward my shovel, hours of work ahead. I found the caterpillar comforting, its new body soon to form the wings that would carry it aloft, and replace in the migration the bodyless monarch had I found near the dogwood on Friday.



As the afternoon drifted by, I stayed close to the bed of loosestrife. I had too much, it's eager roots shooting through the soil like jets poised for flight. They raced between the milkweed and suffocated the phlox. I dug, and stopped, dug and stopped, afraid of disturbing the caterpillar but too fascinated to leave. The caterpillar ignored me and I returned to wandering, the dogwood garden waiting patiently as I puttered between pots of plants and bags of plump bare roots. I grabbed a armful of plants and wandered back toward the loosestrife. And then I stopped completely. Hanging from a stem of phlox that had been bare twenty minutes before was a monarch butterfly, fresh from its chrysalis.


If you look to the very far left in the middle of this photo, you can see the caterpillar.


Its wings bright like stained glass, it was motionless. I gasped and ran to find my camera. I ran back quietly, hopping through the grass like a rabbit. The butterfly slowly made its way to the top of the stem and began to open and close its wings.


 



















This picture shows the butterfly right before it flew to the crepe myrtle while the caterpillar contiues to hang from the loosestrife leaf.


I had never been so close to a monarch before. The garden was quiet, the dogs asleep in the sun. I continued to take pictures and the butterfly continued to ignore me. I backed up into the grass and it slowly climbed to the top of the stem, opened its wings and took flight to the nearest branch. 
 






I was so close to the monarch I could have touched it. It continued to open and close its wings to warm itself and dry its wings.




Suddenly the garden erupted in sound, like the crashing symbals and thundering drums of a crescendo. I spun around as my dogs raced along the garden bed by the trumpet creeper and through the dog run, barking in fury. Fat and grey, the squirrel escaped through the fence and across the neighbors yard. Lucy, the most bumbling of my beasties, continued running towards the deutzia and I turned back to the butterfly. It was gone. As I headed across the yard, Lucy came trotting by, her mouth full, her head low. Too small to be a squirrel and too big to be a mouse, I stared at her in confusion as she slowly edged towards the dog run. "Lucy!" I called, my tone strong and demanding. She stopped and her mouth popped open. A small sparrow fell to the grass, it's eyes blinking, its body shaking from the frantic beating of its heart, its head hanging at an odd angle. I stopped and picked up the small bird. I couldn't move. It lay in my glove looking at me, blinking, quivering, silent. Softly laying the sparrow in a patch of anemones outside the gate, safe from the dogs, I stood and watched it shake in rhythm to its heart. It was painful to watch and I turned away. Death came slowly to the sparrow, the shaking giving way to twitching and then stillness.

From a butterflies first flight to a sparrows last, I had seen so much. I carried the dead bird to the woods near my house and covered it in brush. The garden was quiet, the music subdued. My garden is a concerto, an opera, a symphony but I am not the conductor. I am an usher, privy to the performance but not a part of it. I seat plants where they'll be happy, I keep everything organized, and then sit back and enjoy, even during the sad parts.

15 comments:

  1. You made me cry... You're such a wonderful storyteller. Have a wonderful Sunday.

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  2. I liked reading your story. It kept me interested and involved to the end. So sad for the sparrow, but having had big dogs myself, I have gone through this many times. Each time is as bad as the last.

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  3. KJ - I've never considered myself a story teller so your compliment is a wonderful surprise!

    GWGT - I can't fault my dog for being a dog but dealing with the occasional dead animal still bothers me. She was so proud of herself. If she had been a cat she would have dropped it at my feet.

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  4. I enjoyed reading your well written post!

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  5. I can't seem to view the photos. Will try again another time.

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  6. You described the day perfectly. Aw, such a high to such a low but it is surely life in the garden. How beautiful are the monarchs!

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  7. TS, you write beautifully especially that last part. It's touching. I guess I should be glad my Clifford swallowed a sparrow. We wanted him to spit it out, which he did, but when he knew we were about to grab it from him, he swallowed it. We felt sick watching him, but to the bird, there is less suffering. To Clifford, it tasted just like chicken wing.

    The photos are up already. Thanks.

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  8. This is such a beautiful post! The drama in our gardens is amazing sometimes. I like how you refer to yourself as the usher . . . your dogs add a dimension I do not know but I did have cats once who would kill birds. I envy your first excitement at being so close to a Monarch. They are wondrous creatures and though a part of my life too for many years now I never stop being amazed. Great shots of the chrysalis! Your photos of the butterfly and cater too are wonderful. A treasure you found in your own eden! So glad I happened upon your blog at blotanical! ;>)

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  9. Tina - Sunday was definitely a rollercoaster gardening day, but ya gotta take the bitter with the sweet. When I forget that, my garden reminds me!

    One - Swallowing the bird was surely the fastest way to go. I loved your last line! Perfect ending!!

    Carol - Hi and welcome back! I was lucky with the photographs. I take a bunch and hope a few will turn out. It was amazing how fearless the butterfly seemed. Maybe it thought I was just another tree - a special hopping around the yard tree! :0)

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  10. Tina - Sunday was definitely a rollercoaster gardening day, but ya gotta take the bitter with the sweet. When I forget that, my garden reminds me!

    One - Swallowing the bird was surely the fastest way to go. I loved your last line! Perfect ending!!

    Carol - Hi and welcome back! I was lucky with the photographs. I take a bunch and hope a few will turn out. It was amazing how fearless the butterfly seemed. Maybe it thought I was just another tree - a special hopping around the yard tree! :0)

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  11. Thank you for stopping by my own blog and leaving such a nice comment. I appreciate it! And thanks mostly for leading me to your own wonderful blog. I truly enjoyed this post. Your writing had me feeling the emotions of your day. I have experienced times like that, too, so full of wonder at the breaking of nature and so honored to be a witness.

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  12. Hi TS ~ I'm so glad you left a comment on my blog because I don't know when I might have found you otherwise. I so enjoyed your post. You are a gifted writer and you are so right about us being ushers in our gardens. I just planted butterfly weed this summer and had monarch caterpillars but have yet to see a chrysalis. I hunt and hunt but have yet to find one! Lucky you. You might like my post The Very Hungry Caterpillar. So glad to have found you! I'll be back :-)

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  13. Beautiful story and photographs as well.

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  14. Thanks for visiting my blog and leaving your kind comments!! So glad I found your blog, too :-) Love your writing style. I love the butterflies and the lizards in my yard, but one day a lizard had a big fat swallowtail caterpillar in its mouth. Made me sad, but what could I do. And I saw a snake go into a bird nest one time and come out with a full belly of eggs. Just nature doing what it does. Do we dare step in? I was at a nursery today and there were TONS of monarch butterflies all over the Gregg's Mistflower (Eupatorium greggii). It was just beautiful. I have monarchs come to my yard, but I have yet to see one form a chrysalis. At my last master gardener meeting we had a butterfly program. The speaker said that only 1 to 2 percent of caterpillars make it to adult butterflies. So what you have witnessed is RARE indeed!

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  15. Hi! Thanks for commenting on my blog! I love your photography! I have a lot to learn there. Great to read about your butterfly fascination. I am about to plant a wildflower embankment, and hope to attract lots of hummingbirds and butterflies and have just joined the NABA! Central Texas is a big gardening challenge but there are always suprises in store. will check back with you regularly!
    xAmy

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