On a lovely, perfectly warm Monday afternoon, as I was heading down my back deck stairs, I looked up to see a beautiful smile-shaped rainbow high in the sky, high above the sun. It was stunningly beautiful.
Several years ago, I created a nectar garden to help the
plight of pollinators and one species in particular -the Monarch Butterfly.
How I remember their numbers from my childhood! Every year
they'd come through on their yearly migration. I'd see their caterpillars,
loved them but took them for granted. They were part of the landscape, certainly
appreciated, a comfort as a child and something I thought would always be there.
Their numbers are in sever decline so I wanted to do what I
could do to help them.
One thing I planted was milkweed. The monarch lays its eggs
on milkweed, and once the tiny caterpillars emerge, they feast on it. The loss of milkweed across their migration
route is the major contributor to their decline. It is the only plant they
use for reproduction and it is being wiped out at an alarming rate to farming.
For three years now, my milkweed has stood mute as no
monarch has yet to discover it. But my nectar garden has been.
Every fall and spring I look for them. I’ve never
spotted one is the spring only during the fall season. I see very few. In the
past three years I've seen maybe five, one here, one there, enjoy the nectar, then
head south. So every fall, from time to time, I go out and look over my deck, which is above the garden to see if I spot one. It is hit and miss and few and
This year, on a lovely Monday afternoon, I was outside on my deck
and something compelled me to look out over the railing into the garden.
I saw something move - sure enough it was a Monarch Butterfly.
I ran inside, grabbed my camera and shot these images. I watched this monarch for about ten minutes as it moved from flower to flower intently partaking of nectar for its long journey south.
As I watched, I wondered how far from the north it had
traveled. I thought of its journey ahead - across the rest of the southern US then
to its wintering grounds in Mexico where it would wait for spring with thousands of others. But most of all I wondered how it found my garden, a
tiny patch of land on a journey spanning thousands of miles.
What were the chances of me seeing this lone monarch while it was in my garden for perhaps a half-hour?
I thought how fortunate I was. How lucky to see this one monarch out of the thousands
that make the journey south.
It was a rare gift as rare as the Monarch Butterfly may become.
My treks into nature are within small islands of fragmented
forest among neighborhoods and cities. It is a denuded forest logged out once
or twice with many species gone from the landscape. The apex predators are gone
- wolves, bears, cougars and what is
left are the small mammals, who don't pose a threat to humans, and surviving
species of birds, amphibians and invertebrates.
The closest I've come to wilderness was a visit to Yellowstone
National Park, yet, that experience is managed. Wolves are collared, bison are
culled if they stray from park boundaries and wildlife is confined by invisible
yet set borders. Famous female wolf 832f was shot and killed, legally, by a
hunter when she strayed outside of park boundaries. How can you tell a wolf,
"Hey, you can't go there?"
How do you contain the wild?
Another experience was a hike at Mount Rainer National Park.
Along a trail, where the edges were muddy from a recent rainfall, I spotted a paw
print of a mountain lion. I stood immediately at attention, sensing with my
ears and eyes the surrounding vicinity. It was a deep, innate, instinctual
response, deep from the ages of time, a response to a predator of challenge.
For the remainder of the hike I was on alert. When a couple passed by, their
presence brought me comfort until they left the area then the unease returned.
Prior to venturing into these areas, I had read up on bear
and mountain lion attacks, how to avoid and what to do in a confrontation.
Although I went over in my mind how I would handle it, I wondered if I would do
as I had read or collapse in a heap of fear.
To be honest, there was something edgy, something of an
exciting feeling knowing I could go toe to toe with an apex predator. Crazy I
know, not something I wanted nor desired but, I believe seeing that print
brought me close to feeling what it might just be like in true wilderness. It
was a leveling feeling.
I sit at a campfire now, writing among nature knowing the
surrounding forest is less than half of what it was. Why are there county parks,
state parks and national parks where people come in droves to be with nature? Do
they have a yearning for wilderness like me I wonder as I look around at my
fellow campers enjoying the serenity that only nature can bring.
I’ve read a number of books written by authors who trekked and
lived in the wilderness. How I admire their tenacity, their courage, their
self-reliance. I want to do the same.
And I ponder, is it a good thing or a bad thing that there
is little left of the wild? Do we need wilderness? Do we need wild? All I know
is that my spirit aches for it, it aches to experience it, it aches to feel how
it was, and without feeding spirit and without that connection to what once was
and what our ancestors lived with and among, what are we?
I found this little guy lying on one of my windowsills. He must have been frantically trying to get outside but died.
I try to rescue the ones I find in my home but this one I missed.
Intrigued, as the body seemed intact, I decided to collect and photograph him using my macro lens.
I believe this insect to be in the Megachilid genera, which are solitary bees. They are also known as Mason Bees and Leafcutter Bees. I am not an entomologist, so my ID may be incorrect, but I am almost certain it is not a fly. Some flies do make excellent bee mimics.
After downloading the images to my computer, I took a good look at the body structure and details as revealed by the lens. As I slowly went over the head, wings, thorax and abdomen, something small and blue caught my eye. Something I was not expecting to see.
In the above image, do you see the tiny blue appendages sticking out of either side of the upper part of the bee's abdomen?
Here's a close look,
I was amazed and struck by the blue color! I would never have thought that this insect, found on my windowsill, would yield such an amazing discovery.
I have no idea what they are or what their function is despite doing research. If you know, please post.
When your eyes are opened to truly see the magnificence around us and surprising discoveries, even in the tiniest of creatures, it gives a deep appreciation of our fantastic world and forces you to look outside yourself to the next discovery.
And, as John Muir observed, "Nature never disappoints." And it certainly didn't in the case of this little bee.
One-hundred and one years ago today, the Passenger Pigeon was extinguished from this earth. Once numbering four billion, they flew in great flocks that were miles wide and miles long. Imagine a flock so large that it took fourteen hours to pass overhead. Yes, we can only imagine.
The extinction of the Passenger Pigeon occurred in a mere 40 years. Forty years to erase four billion souls.
Twenty-five million erased every year.
68,493 erased every day.
This is Martha. She was the last surviving member of her species who died in her aviary at the Cincinnati Zoo on September 1, 1914.
They were elegant birds of lovely iridescent colors who lived in highly social flocks.
They were hunted and persecuted and lost habitat to farming. They were horrifically slaughtered by using nets set to capture them in flight. Then, once entangled, young boys were employed to snap their necks.
Their massive rookeries, where they would rest and mate, were not safe either. Men would fire aimlessly at the huge mass of birds huddled in trees so numbered that their weight would snap branches.
They were not only slaughtered for food and sport but also because they were perceived as pests. When huge swaths of forest was logged for farming, removing many of their ancestral rookeries, they would gather in the fields eating crops and seeds where they were baited.
It was a massive slaughter of the most numerous bird ever to populate the planet.
This is all that is left.
A memorial plaque and statue outside the aviary where Martha spent her last days.
On the day of her passing, how many humans contemplated the profound meaning of this loss or reflected on their culpability in the extinction?
The Passenger Pigeon is but one of many species that have been pushed off this planet by us. There are many, many more. And the extinctions continue. Currently, worldwide, there are over 44,838 on the endangered species list.
I've come to know my neighborhood birds as I've been feeding and observing them now for about five years. And, even though they are familiar with me, they still flee when I emerge from my home to fill the feeders. I cannot gain their trust. I do not wonder at their fear.
What horrors have they witnessed committed by humans with each rising and setting of the sun? What memories are imprinted in their genes carried from generation to generation that informs them to be wary of us? It is said that the pioneers would walk through the forest blasting everything in their wake. Wild turkey, doves, cougars, bear, deer and many more well felled for fun by their guns. Did their ancestors witness such carnage? Did they witness the slaughter of the Passenger Pigeon? The Ivory-billed Woodpecker? The Carolina Parakeet? It is possible.
And what of now? Do they see and hear the hunters blasting in the forest and the lakes? Some people today, although illegal, shoot song birds from the skies or feed them rice so their stomachs explode from the swelling of the grain.
Charles Darwin, during his voyage on the HMS Beagle, encountered birds on the many islands he visited who were not afraid of humans but would come and land on a shoulder or a hand. It was their first encounter with our species so they had no reason to fear us.
It pains me to know I will most likely never gain such trust no matter what kindness I show them. Their ingrained fear of us runs deep and can only be gained by the witnessing of horrific acts.
But, I can dream of a day when one may alight on my shoulder.
To know more about endangered species, visit photographer Joel Sartore's site and purchase a copy of his book "Rare." He is on a mission to photograph species before they are gone forever and hopefully inspire people to care.