Sunday, September 16, 2012

All This Nature

That is the front of my house where I live. It's a relatively old house for North America- built in 1859- and it has sheltered so many families and I feel incredibly lucky to live in it. My house is surrounded by many, many trees, a few of which I have planted but most of them have been here for decades and some for centuries. We have some of the hugest live oaks in this yard I've ever seen in my life. Nothing, of course, compared to the giant trees of the Pacific Northwest but for our region, they are tremendously large.

I also have water oaks, magnolia trees, pecan trees, Bradford pears, a chinaberry, two figs, some palms, dogwoods and redbud. No pines. I'd love to plant a few but there's nowhere to plant them. We are shaded and we are blessed with green.

It is not just, however, the trees which flourish here. It is nature of all sorts. We have had foxes in our yard and there are deer everywhere in the surrounding area as well as way too many squirrels and hawks and eagles and the Mississippi Kite and cardinals and blue jays and the mockingbirds, of course. Sparrows and finches, hummingbirds and birds I can't identify. I have seen bear track on my walks and of course there are snakes galore, some poisonous, some not. I have discovered oak snakes in my hen house trying to eat not only eggs but also baby chicks.

We also have bats (some years in our house when the mothers have sheltered their babies in our chimneys) and we have bugs.
Bugs and bugs and more bugs.
This has been one of the buggiest of the buggy summers I've ever experienced in over fifty years of living in Florida. We have had a rainy summer- a true and glorious gift- and the trees and the shrubs and all of the plants have thrived but so have the bugs. I have spoken of the mosquitoes and I can't even really describe their ferocity this year.

I was crouched down over by my office this morning taking that picture of one of the pinecone lilies and was attacked by an entire battalion of mosquitoes. I took one fairly blurry shot and had to race back inside. They are truly horrific.

But it's not just the mosquitoes. I've never seen quite so many spiders as I've seen this year and the dogs have been tormented by the fleas. I've removed at least a dozen ticks from my own body this summer. Yesterday, working in the garden, I got ant bites on my arms which were the only exposed parts of me the ants could get to. All of the ants which live here will bite and do, even the tiniest of sugar ants. I went to take a picture of one of the last remaining zinnias this morning

and noticed this action on a neighboring stem:

If you click on that picture, you'll be able to see the swarms of what we call red ants or, the more accurately descriptive fire ants. They are called this because a moment's carelessness can find you covered in them and if there is a more angry, viciously biting, stinging insect I do not care to meet it. Bees, I suppose, and wasps and yes, we have those too. I cannot say that the ants are worse than wasps. They are not. But they are far more abundant. 

I have heard it said that if man disappeared from the planet the planet would pretty much go on just fine and actually, be the better off. But if ANTS disappeared from the planet, life as we know it would cease. They are amazing creatures and are the undertakers of the dead and without them, things would not get broken down and returned to the soil and it would be very, very bad. So I can't really hate them, those ants. I respect them and their place in the whole scheme of it all but I cannot bring myself to love them on a personal level. 

I talked the other day about the tiny caterpillar or inchworm I found crawling on my leg in the car. This morning, when I went out to feed the cat and get the paper, I found all of its siblings and cousins. Or, at least some of them and they are no longer tiny and Seussian but huge, dramatic and as whimsical as Pippi Longstocking's stockings and destroying the host plant they were on (which doesn't bother me in the least, it never blooms because it doesn't get enough sun) and pooping up a storm.


I think I have identified them as the larvae of the Tetrio Sphinx moth which is a very plain brown moth and not as big as the caterpillar from which it springs. I could be wrong. Supposedly this moth lives in South Florida and we are in North Florida but as global weather changes take effect, the range of insects, as we know, is spreading rapidly. 
Syd- what do you think? 
I could be completely wrong but I've spent all the time I care to spend on the internet looking it up. Whatever it is, it's a prolific beast and a hungry one. 

I just caught and released a katydid and when I opened the screen door to let it go, a blue-tailed skink scuttled under the steps. I can see, right this second, at least three different types of butterflies jutter-flying around the back yard from phlox to phlox. Fifteen feet away from me, a male and a female cardinal are both bathing in the bird bath. A blue jay just flew down from a Bradford pear to the feeder. Sometimes, when I am lucky, I see one of our pileated woodpeckers which is so big and so finely colored that it is sometimes mistaken for the possibly (probably) extinct Ivory Billed woodpecker. 

I don't really feel much need to do anything productive today. I have already taken the trash and the recycle and quite frankly, that may be enough. This might be one of those days when I let the other critters be active for me. They are certainly doing a fine job of it. To sit here and be still and watch seems appropriate. Life is going on all around me and the boys are coming at six-thirty tomorrow morning and I will get plenty of activity then. I had vowed to get the garden ready for tilling this weekend but I think I am going to let that dream go. The thought of sweating and fighting off the ants doesn't appeal to me in the least and as long as I am sitting here on the porch I am relatively cool and free of insects if you don't count the spiders which are everywhere, spinning and hoping for Sunday dinner to fly in and be caught. I try to clear the webs daily but it does no good. Not this summer.

And of course, there are always the chickens to watch as they make their stations of the cross pilgrimages around the yard, taking them back and forth in my field of vision. They are, as I write this, back in front of the hen house, having their second course of the day of the corn I scattered for them this morning.

The squirrels chatter, I can hear the splash of the birds in the bath as they ruffle their feathers, I can hear their songs from the trees. The rooster next door is crowing. 

This is where I live. I suppose if I could, I would pick the nature I enjoy sharing my life with and eliminate that which I do not but I don't have that ability and quite frankly, I doubt that it would be a good idea. I am sure there are so many layers of interdependence which I know nothing about and I have no illusions of being the boss of any of it. Mostly, I am at the mercy of it all, some of it a tender mercy, and some of it a more violent and painful sort.

The chickens are heading off now towards the bamboo, Baby racing after them, part of the flock but not really. I wonder if she'll lay me another egg today. I suppose eventually, I'll go check the nest and see. 

It is Sunday. I am resting. Which is almost holy, right? 

Whatever. Thanks for coming over and resting with me. If you'd like, tell me what you see from where you are, whether city sight or rural, whether desert or forest, whether by sea or by lake or by pool or by puddle. It would be a nice day to read about that and would make me feel connected on a day in which I am for now, quite happily alone with all this nature. 


  1. In my house, we don't really have a view - since my neighbour cut down the big pine (that you're apparently meant to get planning permission to plant as it grows so big so fast), you can just see the sea from my bedroom. We have a hedge full of finches and lots of song birds, doves and magpies. We have hedgehogs in the garden, which has meant this year's giant slug population isn't terrorising us as it is other places.

    I can't remember if I posted or not about the reintroduction of native red squirrels to a wood near us where there was just one left - apparently American greys are now on the hitlist in Europe and are going to be eradicated. They're so destructive here I can't really argue with that decision.

    Our foxes do even better in cities than the countryside, they're urban now. My neighbour a few miles away by the sea has lots of interesting birds, fish, lizards in the garden. There were BLUE WHALES sighted off our south coast this week, for only the second time! We have a small dolphin pod living up and down the coast here, but I've only seen them once. Not so much, but good things. And so many fewer bugs, thankfully. Because I don't know how you stand it. Love to read your posts without actually ever getting bit.

  2. I've welcomed back the birds that say, "You're sweet, you're sweet, you're sweet." I always tell them they're sweet, too. I don't know what they're called, but you probably do?

    I have tons of spiders, too; overnight they will spin a web in the doorway where I will run into it in the morning if I'm not observant. I love the spiders, but not so much in the doorway!

    But my favorite being here in the yard and porch is the cute green anole. I've read that they are just as aware of us as we are of them and they know this is their home. That makes me happy.

    Tonight is John's 60th birthday party at Creekside with Lis & Lon and the Driftwoods playing music. Wish you and Mr. Moon were here with us!

  3. Living in an apartment complex there's little to comment on. Except. I inherited two fine rose bushes when I moved in here and they are blooming like crazy now and smell so very good. Part of me says I need to prune them soon but the other part of me likes the wild full looking nature of the untrimmed bushes.
    There must be some reason people prune? I can live w/o symmetry but maybe they fuller with pruning?

  4. caterpillars

  5. I love the lushness of your property, but I've resigned myself to deck gardening for one good reason: I know the king cobras and reticulated pythons are watching me from the woods, waiting for me to step into the backyard and kneel in the dirt... cobras & pythons... just waiting.

  6. Jo- Sounds like a lot of lovely nature to me. Whales? I did not know about the gray squirrels. They are certainly over-prolific here.

    Lulumarie- I talked to Lis today and she told me about John's birthday. I asked her to give you a special hug for me tonight. I wish we could be there, too! And yes, I love the anoles! They are very territorial, aren't they? I see the same ones every day. As to the You're Sweet! bird- every year I figure it out and every year I forget again. I suck.

    Anony- Yep. I went to that page too.

    Nancy- Really? Cobras and pythons? Do you live in a jungle? Or are you just being metaphorical?

  7. Ha! No metaphor. My snake-phobia keeps me from backyard gardening. Garter snake... cobra... it's all the same to me.

  8. The caterpillar looks like the third instar of the black swallowtail butterfly. However, the spots in your photograph look white and not yellow. Also, it doesn't appear to be fat enough. Anyway, check this out:
    This one has me stumped. The tetrio sphinx doesn't have the white spots but the red-orange head looks correct. Is there a conspicuous spine on the 8th segment? If there is, then it is the sphinx.

  9. Thanks for immersing me once again in all that Florida wildlife! We have one of those pine cone lilies in the yard at my mom's house in Pasco County. We have the mosquitoes and the fire ants, too!


Tell me, sweeties. Tell me what you think.