THROUGH THE WOODS: A special moment

SATURDAY WAS THE 20TH ANNIVERSARY of 9/11. I decided not to watch any of the TV specials because it was too sad. On that awful day I got a call from a friend who could barely speak and kept repeating “Turn on the TV.” I did in time to see the 2nd jet hit the Twin Towers. It was obvious this was not an accidental hit. The horror went on and we cried and prayed for days in helplessness and loss of hope for the expected mass of survivors who didn’t make it.

I wanted to rush out and give blood and it wasn’t needed. Cars and pickup trucks rode around with American Flags waving. It was inconceivable and incomprehensible that such a thing could happen. That day I went to a friend’s birthday party and we all just numbly sat around and picked at some food. At least we were together, which was comforting.

Painted lady butterfly. Photo by Nancy Jane Kern

I had been in the brand-new Twin Towers for a medical lab hearing with Senator Jacob Javits and now a wonder of the world was gone. Last Saturday I decided to give in for a while and watched TV. It was a good decision to join in the remembering and honoring of the heroes of the day.

I needed some cheering up so took a cup of coffee out on the porch to listen to the birds and look at the flowers. I sat down in a patch of sun and an orange and black butterfly landed on my nose, one smaller than a Monarch butterfly. It did not leave, and I sat very still. My sadness left and I felt blessed. Nature went about its business despite man’s craziness and pain.

The explanation of the butterfly’s behavior was that it was sampling the salt and minerals on my skin, something I disregarded in the moment. It was so peaceful and seemed such a kind gesture. I had my camera next to me and eventually I noticed a similar butterfly on flowers over the porch railing. A few clicks captured it perched on a small sunflower my niece had planted for me. The butterfly was a “painted lady,” one I had never seen in the yard. The lines and colors give it its name. The upper surface of the wings has a pattern of mostly orange, some black lines and spots and some white near the front. The underwings are shown when they are held together, as in the photo. There are swirls of fine lines, eye spots, pink, tans, and pure gorgeousness. Nature heals my spirit.

THROUGH THE WOODS: The beauty of the fields

A clouded sulfur butterfly on an alfalfa blossom. Photo by Nancy Jane Kern

THIS TIME OF YEAR, as the Northeast summer ends and fall begins, all life is working hard to fatten up, reproduce if it hasn’t yet, produce flowers, seeds, nuts, fruit, and generally get ready for the cold weather to come. I found some huge fields of purple flowered green alfalfa, which are very pretty, and I often stop along these areas to listen and watch for birds. Sparrows love to glean insects and seeds, while the last of the migrating swallows swoop over them to catch the flying insects. Occasionally a few bronzed wild turkeys come along to catch grasshoppers or eat the grass blossoms, or sometimes flocks of Canada Geese will drop down to feed as they travel south.

People rarely realize how much geese like to eat grass, not just corn or grain. When I stopped to look at the purple fields there were literally thousands of yellow butterflies flitting from purple flower to purple flower. It was also exciting to see two or three monarch butterflies. I spent hours watching everything, including a big Red-tailed Hawk in a tree who was probably looking for a rabbit or mouse for its meal, and a doe and twin fawns came out at the field edge. The fawns had lost most of their spots and fed or played at a distance from their mother. They were trying out their independence and mom ignored them, probably happy they weren’t nursing. When they ran, they put up clouds of the yellow butterflies which became more yellow as the sun started to set.

I am not a butterfly expert so I tried to take photos so I could look them up when I got home. From my cell phone I learned they probably belonged to a group called “sulphurs.” From there they were narrowed down to what can be found in our area, which turned out to be the 1 to 1-and-a-1/2-inch Colias philodice, commonly called clouded sulphurs. They love to gather at mud puddles to drink and feed on minerals. There is quite a variety of shades of color of these butterflies from almost white with pink edged wings to bright, dark yellow. As the light shines on or through the wings they can have a slightly darker border. Read more…

GREEN THOUGHTS: Captivating, but deadly

Jimsonweed. Photo contributed

HOW DO YOU FEEL when the most admired thing in your garden is a weed? I was pleased to give a tour of our Master Gardener Demonstration Garden to a group of urban agriculture educators from across New York State. They enjoyed seeing the pollinators working the prairie garden, talked knowingly about the vine borers killing the squash, and nodded politely when viewing the ornamental grasses. Then, over by composting central, we found a healthy specimen of Datura stramonium in full, seductive bloom, and their faces lit up. Jimsonweed! Those with knowledge shared stories with the uninitiated, creating the best educational moment of the afternoon.

I should take comfort that it was no shrinking violet or creeping Charlie which took center stage away from our coddled, cultivated plants. Jimsonweed is a species of mystery, history, power and beauty. The plant grows from two to five feet tall and its large, dark green, deeply lobed leaves vaguely resemble those of an oak tree. Flowering from June into August, the ample white to purple blossoms open late in the day. While a dispassionate botanist could describe them in clinical terms, to my eye they’re flagrantly seductive and perhaps slightly sinister, their spirit captured so well in the paintings by Georgia O’Keeffe. As the flowers fade, green seed pods develop, egg-shaped and covered with prickles. These will dry into capsules of four segments, each containing dark brown seeds.

Do plants have some inner spark, as I and perhaps Ms. O’Keeffe might argue, or are they all innocents until human or beast comes bumbling along? In either case, Jimsonweed has attracted attention for centuries. Containing chemicals called the tropane alkaloids, in small doses it was thought to cure ailments from asthma to diarrhea, but larger quantities proved powerfully poisonous and could cause a trip of delirium, delusions and hallucinations for a few hours to several days. Death is also possible. The plant’s well-known abilities made it part of eastern religions, gave it a mention in Homer’s “Odyssey” and provided it roles in several of Shakespeare’s plays. Read more…

THROUGH THE WOODS: Switchel

EVERY PERSON SHOULD HAVE THE OPPORTUNITY to work in a mid-August, old time, blazing hot hayfield. I thought I had it bad stacking hay bales in a wagon behind a tractor and hay baler as a kid until my maternal grandfather, Frank Wambach, showed me something worse. He and his four brothers had to mow hay by hand with a scythe. He tried to teach me to sharpen and use a scythe, and I did it poorly. There is a rhythm to swinging a scythe and an art to sharpening the blade with a handheld whetstone. I butchered the grass and often my fingers too.

The Grim Reaper carries a scythe, and he might have harvested some of his victims in fields where they were dying of heat stroke. To stay hydrated and keep working, people have used various liquid concoctions. One used by our early settlers was switchel.

The origin of the drink may have been New England or the Caribbean and there is something similar from early times in Persia. Various recipes for switchel consist of water, vinegar, and a sweetener like molasses, sugar, honey, or maple syrup. It might have spices, hard cider or rum added. Our early Congress drank a switchel containing rum, and members purportedly drank often and deeply during sessions and oratory. Read more…

Historical society revitalized

Lauree Hickok (standing, right) presided at the annual meeting of the Canaan Historical Society. Photo by Ginny Nightingale

CANAAN—Lauree Hickok presided at a reconstituted and revitalized Canaan Historical Society during its annual meeting and the final of its 2021 summer program series.

Jerry Grant spoke about the Canaan Shakers at the society’s 1829 Meeting House at 13 Warners Crossing Road.

President of the Canaan Historical Society Mrs. Hickok reported on the completion of a new roof using historic materials to protect and preserve the building and its contents, the CHS collection. The building will be 200 years old in 2029. The new roof was supported financially by two local foundations, HRBT Foundation and Veillette-Nifosi Foundation, along with donations from friends of the organization. Read more…