pipevine swallowtail butterfly

Butterfly Love

About 18 years ago I learned about the rare pipevine swallowtail butterfly from a local treasure, Louise Hallberg of Hallberg Butterfly Gardens. Louise was a butterfly whisperer, and I wanted to be like her. I found the host plant living in a hilly ravine in my neighborhood, and planted some under an apple tree.

Each year I eagerly anticipated the arrival of the butterflies in February and watched as the vine extended its reach. In those early days I was busy and it was not til a few years ago that I started noticing the orchid-like Dutchman’s pipe flowers hiding under the leaves on the vine, and a couple more years til I noticed the starfruit-like fruit on the vine and the tiny clusters of eggs.

Yet I always wondered where the caterpillars went to to metamorphose into the pupa or chrysalis stage. . .until this year.

pipevinelifecycle

Maybe it’s because I’m home all the time and walking back and forth to my studio from the house, but this year I watched a butterfly drying it’s wings, newly emerged from its dormancy. And this week I have been watching caterpillars as they migrate, looking for a place to form their chrysalids. I fear for their safety from predators. (Louise used to bring them into her house and keep them safe while they went dormant.)

And then I got to watch a caterpillar do it’s “transition” on the gutter above the door to my studio!  In 24 hours it became a jewel-like chrysalid with its “coat” dangling on the end of a string! The next day it was a different jewel-like color. I must say I’m enchanted.

handful

Something is definitely going on in our ecosystem this year. In addition to the caterpillar/butterfly action this week we were visited by a bobcat in our backyard one day and a great blue heron the next. And the birdsong. . .well I’ve written about that. It’s operatic! Have you noticed nature reaching out to us humans more this year as we quiet down?

 

Hungry Caterpillars and more

My recipe for sanity during these simultaneously turbulent and boring times relies heavily on variety. You may have noticed that I go from detailed portraits to mixed media madness and writing to nature journaling to everyday sketching, and then I throw it all into the pot of the blog and hope for the best.

Today I assemble here pieces of the last few days that are all local to my shelter-in-place sphere.

Jameshouse

Like the view up a steep hill across the road from my house, where my neighbors the James live. Out here in the country you have to wait a bit to catch any humans to sketch, and then there’s trees in the way.

martinray2

Mostly I just see my friends on Zoom these days to chat and sometimes to sketch. But I realized this week that out here on the countryside two people at least can get together to walk and sketch, keeping just enough distance to follow the Covid protocol, but still share the same scene. It felt almost like a forbidden pleasure to spend a couple hours with Bettina in this way!

hungrycaterpillar

My friends know that I’m a bit overboard about my pipevine plants, the caterpillars and butterflies that do their metamorphosis thing in my studio garden every year. Well, here’s what they’re up to right now. The butterflies are laying piles of eggs on the leaves. And there’s the fruit, this one 4 inches long and clearly a favorite meal for the hungry caterpillars.

pipevine_matilija

Last year at this time I sketched them, along with the poppies that are now beginning to bloom again.

hungrycaterpillarhidden

Here’s a Where’s Waldo picture for you! How many caterpillars do you see? Look down into the leaves.

Back Yard Nature Journaling

It’s raining hard now of course, but earlier this week I treated myself to an hour in my studio garden without feeling compelled to pull any weeds! But I’m not one for idleness, so I found the largest Pipevine Swallowtail caterpillar munching away on a vine, and brought him and the vine to the garden bench where I had my sketch stuff.

He/she hardly paused in the munch munching while I held the vine in one hand and sketched/painted with the other, observing up close the wonder of that marvelous insect body with all it’s colored spikes and feelers and legs it employed in the balancing act of moving the fat body sections along the stem. I have a hard enough time coordinating the movement of my four limbs. It’s hard to imagine all those parts moving in concert!

pipevine_matilija

The leaf was almost gone by the time I finished the painting and moved to the Matilija Poppies which were fluttering their ballerina tutus in the wind. And then I added the “adult”, parent? of the caterpillar. They were fluttering around the garden too quickly so I’ll admit I pulled out my phone and got a picture to source the image of that beautiful midnight blue and black butterfly.

There was no idleness anywhere around on this spring afternoon. The air was filled with bird song, that monotonous cooing of the doves and loud buzzing of scores, hundreds? of bumblebees.

Well actually there was the idleness of Phil the cat, who dozed while I sketched and later woke up to get his picture taken and claim some credit for the art.

philhelps

Nests and Eggs and Musings

The eggs that are hatching in my garden now are the Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly larva. But for many years I had chickens behind the studio. And I’ve always been a bit enthralled, especially in spring with the way nature reproduces itself with the wonder of eggs and nests. My own wonder has led to incompetent to efforts to make nest-like constructions in my art. I suppose this one is the spring 2019 version, “hatched” in my Muse Group last month.

suspension

Suspension

hanging on by tendrils

threads woven of plant fiber

married with that animal matter of fertility

eggs colored pastel in dyes for the season

warming under feathered bodies before their big break.

mine are remembered each year in flat painted form

they have no smell, no thickness even,

but they will never crack

frozen in memory, always perfectly as they were/are

reminders of tadpole hunting in ponds

with little boys two decades ago

Ah, over two decades ago I haunted ponds in Tilden Park with two little boys who loaned me their wide open eyes each new day. Pollywogs and chrysalids came home with us from those expeditions, and frogs sang to us at night from our small backyard pond on Albany hill.

Ellen’s Centennial

My Mom’s centennial was a couple of days ago. That is, she was born 100 years ago. I don’t get to celebrate her birthday with her in person any more, since she’s been gone seven years now, but it is always an auspicious blossomy day full of memories and the sweet sadness of loss. Sweet because I wouldn’t trade that memory of my loss for anything, even though I sure wish she were still around.

The year she died her birthday fell on Easter. This year it fell on the same day I spotted the first pipevine swallowtail butterfly of the season feeding on the blossoms of the weeping cherry where we planted her ashes. The first spotting of that butterfly is an occasion I always nervously await, because I’ve become quite attached to the subsequent explosion of orange polk-dotted caterpillars that hatch from the butterflies’ eggs.

My Muse Group met the day after the birthday,  and we were doing fabric collage. I used Mom’s favorite colors and embedded her jolly face beneath her tree.

Ellenat100

Listen in the wind to the sighing of the bush

This is the ancestors breathing

(excerpted from Earth Song, traditional Senegalese poem)

This is. . .the mother who now turns 100 in her realm within the cherry tree

that blossoms in its fullness now and leads us with all our senses

into the territory of ancestors,

the heart realm that she never left.

Shower me with blossoms now

as I feel the depth of love

and loss that never grows old.

I wonder, will I still be smiling when I am 92, the age she was in the picture?

Busy Season

Is your garden growing an inch a day now? or at least the weeds? Mine is. And spring projects, long promised are begging for attention. In Muse Group this week we made monoprints with our acrylic paints, using stone paper for a plate. (More about Stone Paper here. )My first “pull” was a vibrant one that turned into a story for this time of year.

dreamingofapples

the earth is busy sprouting

so here I dream of apples

of birds darting and swooping

on spring’s many errands

 

yet still

there are only buds

plumping up to make pink popcorn

and seduce butterflies

The plum tree has bloomed and leafed out. The weeping cherry, beneath which my mother’s ashes lie, has just bloomed. And I wait expectantly for the apple blossoms whose sweet nectar is an invitation to the Pipevine Swallowtail butterflies, that lay their eggs on the vine, so that I may daily visit the hungry munching caterpillars with the orange polka dots. Simple pleasures of spring I must make time for.

Garden magic

It’s raining again now, but Buddha and I were reveling in the sunshine this week, I with my pen and watercolors while he basked in meditative bliss right outside my studio.

buddhabasking

Pigma Sensei pen (fine) and Lamy Joy fountain, w/c in hand.book sketchbook, 8 X 8″

daffodils

Years ago I planted daffodil bulbs all in a row along the driveway only to find that by bloom-time they had mysteriously migrated to other places. Every year now a big clump of daffodils emerges on the steep hillside above my studio. I had a few more moments to catch the last light of day standing downhill from the blooms on rain softened ground for a shaky scribble of a bloom capture on paper. And then the miraculous baby Pipevine pipes appeared just by my feet so I leaned over to sketch them as well.

pipevine

These Dutchmen’s pipes will soon open, then be quickly replaced with green leaves and eggs and then my favorite black and orange polka dotted caterpillars. Now if that isn’t garden magic, I don’t know what is.

Through the Screen of May

throughthescreenofMay

gesso texture, ink, acrylic, screen and brads on w/c paper, 10 X 10″

Through the screen of May fly the striped moths and metallic blue butterflies as crickets make their way into the house unseen.  Phil the cat lies along the pathway, ready to flop, belly up in a sudden frenzy of love seeking.  The poppies and grasses tower over me. I watch my step to avoid smashing a pipevine swallowtail caterpillar in its orange polka dotted frock en route to a resting spot . There, inside its chrysalid, it will liquify and begin to create wings and antennae. All of us creatures are a bit dizzy in this onslaught of May.