Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Shades of (mostly) Blue

I've been worried about my pollinators.

Bearded Iris (Iris Hybrida)

February was mild and March proved downright warm, at least for March. Hope scented the prairie air. The first queen bumblebees took the bait.

Two of the last three years we've hosted a bumblebee nest beneath our back porch. They can be imprecise navigators and fun to watch as they try to make the tiny access hole on the fly. They sometimes bump into the wall, fall to the ground and with the coolness of a cat, parade on through the portal to deliver up their golden booty to dark sanctuary.

Bumblers are curious sorts too, especially when young. I've had them fly by, stomp on the brakes then pull a u-turn in mid-air, all to come back and take a hovering look at my face. That's quite the thing and for a host of reasons, we're glad to have them. Typically, bumblebees don't return to the same nesting spot the next season, so I expect this is our year off. But the old woodpile remains and institutional memory is strong. By the end of March there the Queens were, trying to scrounge a living off of hard times.

April began as about what you'd want out of spring on the prairie – a warming sun, the fresh blush of green everywhere and of course, dandelions. The first Red Admiral butterflies appeared then. I left most of the dandelions alone and saw bumblers on them early. Then spring took a sudden, nasty turn and everyone was just gone. March weather set in to eat the rest of April and a big chunk of May in the bargain.

Weeks on end of cold and wet laid life on the prairie low. Daffodils came and went, as did the tulips. Up north, in unseasonable weather Alberta burnt. Smoke from that fire bled sunsets red over the prairie, where on my little patch nothing further blossomed and no pollinators came. Though it renders them useless for the table, I left my spring chives to bloom.

Chive (Allium scoenoprasum)

Then as happens, things changed. The heat that held Alberta's feet to the fire broke and a more 'normal' spring pattern set in, mid-continent. As also happens, by then it was creeping toward June and late winter turned to full on summer in a trice. Tomorrow in Fort McMurray Alberta, for the first time since the spring burn began, residents will be allowed back in to see what's left. It's not much.

Meanwhile, the Bearded Iris's got enthusiastic.

I've long wanted to give macro photography a go. The Linhof provided the ideal tool for that, but I was too busy mucking around in the ruined architecture of faded cultures to ever spare the considerable effort for a flower. Now that I'm a digital imagist I'll unlikely ever again enjoy the depth of field Zeiss glass on the Linhof would've provided for botanicals, but neither will I again risk life, limb and 4x5 gear over the side of a canoe to shoot water lilies at Bobcat Lake, so there's that. And I'm happy as a clam to finally possess complete control of the experiment.

Exquisite geometry flows through the heart of my finest architectural work. Turns out, the same basic principles transfer to my basement and dead things. Hot damn.

During unseasonable warmth predicted to fail day after tomorrow, a week or so ago spiderwort blossomed on my patch of prairie. I watched for bees and saw none. This morning after a Cooper's Hawk took a sparrow with dawn and the spiderwort later awoke, when harvesting a bloom that so early in life has yet to reveal the true devil's face of the plant, a bumblebee, a honey bee and a busy little something so tiny I could just barely guess it actually was a bee, all worked the same stand of spiderwort.

Spiderwort (Tradescantia – likely – virginiana)

Some years ago I took a lupine transplant from my dear friend Will's yard up near the Big Lake and planted it in mine. Forced too far outside its natural borders, lupine typically doesn't make a good refugee. Over the course of five years the transplant traveled of its own accord. The thing threw decent stems and leaves as it wandered but refused to bloom and thus represent the wilderness I miss so, when on the prairie.

Finally, last year and apparently happy in the corner of the garden it chose just behind Mr. Lincoln's rose, the lupine bloomed. This year my northwoods refugee is positively at home in its own little patch of the greater world.

Lupine (Lupinus perennis)

If only we could all claim the same, eh?

Sadly, I didn't make it up to Lake Superior this spring. I mightn't make it this summer, either. Hope holds out for autumn, when the Gogebic Range is cloaked in cold, wet fog and colorful ghosts dance on a grey breeze. Last autumn we spread northwoods lupine seeds on the prairie garden in time for the freeze and no few of those took. They probably won't bloom this year but the little buggers give me something to look forward to near the end of next winter, god willing and the creek don't rise.

A few minutes ago, while watching a squall line bear down on the prairie, I spotted my first Red Admiral butterfly in a month. Sure, it fought the wind to gain shelter and hold on through the storm. I lost track of it in a gust, but trust that it did.

Tomorrow is the first day of meteorological summer, while today spring passes through a storm. It's gonna be a hot one. Maybe soon the hyssop will bloom and the bumblebees will again feel at home...


  1. Lovely to read as well as look at the photos. Your poet-at-heart has weathered winter well.

  2. Thanks, Ginger. At some point winter's gonna weather me more than I can it. Best keep going until it does, eh?