The mother the daughter and the What is that empty space? We need to fill it. Fill it up with explanations that amaze our self-regard. Here are compound eyes flecked with the dust of stars made by... Matter is a pickle, or is this pickle omnipotent, like energy, like the predestined, the chosen by What is that fucking empty space? Nothing sacred here but us, but you and me and our tribe. For sure. But the elements, all of the dragonflies, all of their ancestors too, 300 million years ago, when the wingspans were two feet: As it was before, so it will be again. Or not. No rapture for us. Not exactly as planned. This 200K event and all its monuments To glory. Shall we implode and sink? A microscopic sedimentary layer. Beyond the horizon, a hawk flies on recycled pinions. Raptor flight plan, no love, no hate, no war, just rapture. Where is the myopia of our species located? Maybe before I die, I will locate the exact spot, the part that remains in the dark. One thing I know for sure, a juvenile bet on divine intervention is The optimal losing hand. An ornamental bootstrap we created to comfort ourselves. To explain our existence and supremacy in the natural world. At that stubborn, insistent junction with hegemony, it all goes bad. Coming apart, falling apart, the agony of understanding. Without long-term vision, we are as blind as bats without sonar. Might as well be sent back to the stone age right now. When the threads unravel, we will not have time to do it all over again. Rumination is for ruminants. Going now. The dissolving edges of a butterfly's wings. She flies on according to her instinct, until the final grounding. Sherrie Felton © 2020
Things derive their being and nature by mutual dependence and are nothing in themselves.
—Nāgārjuna, second-century Buddhist philosopher
The Meditation (My Trip into Crazy Town)
Truth is a provisional construct, the integrity of which is only as good as the reliability of the source. We all know this on some level. Without some basic agreement about what we see, about the world around us, we would not be able to understand each other at all.
Consider the color blue: You and I are walking along a trail when you notice a butterfly with blue wings. We stop to take a closer look at the butterfly. It has inexplicably ceased its typical, mind-bending for human observers flight behavior, and is now perched on a branch of deerweed. Thank you butterfly.
Your perception of the color blue on a butterfly’s wings is not the same as mine. Aside from the fact that neither our eyes nor our brains are identical, we are not standing exactly in the same place. The view angle, the light and several other inputs that shape for each of us what we see, are a little bit different.
Blue sky. Blue eyes. A western bluebird. The color name is a place-holder for all the variations, it has become the vessel that allows our mutual understanding: Blue is a sensory experience as well as an abstract concept that we can agree upon, even though we know that each of us may see a different shade of blue. So much potential for growth is seeded in our infinite shades pooled together, but we must not let go of the reference point we rely upon to sustain universal understanding. The “truth” of blue is that reference point, however complicated and multi-shaded its iterations may be.
Our species has, over millennia, developed the ability to communicate through language. Words serve as accessible wrappers for ideas and meaning. The tool of language enables us to agree on some universals, including a baseline understanding of the color blue.
We can agree on the presence of the color blue, unless one of us decides to confuse or complicate the matter. For example, suppose I insist that the butterfly’s wings are not blue, but yellow. Playing the devil’s advocate can be useful if the goal is to determine whether facts are missing or our understanding is flawed. In response to my claim, suppose that you suggest that we ask others on the trail what color they see on those so very patient butterfly wings. Perhaps there is a wisp of yellow somewhere.
But what if I do not care about the input of any others on the trail unless they agree with me? Maybe I will choose to disagree in spite of the majority consensus gathered among our trail-going peers because I simply disagree with the assigned color names. Ridiculous scenario of course, but I feel entitled and empowered to do this as a high-level member of the Blue is Yellow party.
Or perhaps I take you aside and state off the record in a most dreary tone that my true purpose is to sow confusion:
I do in fact see a color that past precedent has established as blue, but I choose to say blue is yellow from now on to further the Blue as Yellow party’s goal of confusing everyone on this damned, buggy trail and beyond about whether they are seeing blue or yellow.
A general consensus regarding facts, of truth built squarely upon those facts is necessary for a civil, humane society to continue in its project of becoming more civil and humane. I hope that is still our project? Presenting fictional narratives as factual, distorting evidence-based science and promoting lies based upon such distortions, is to facilitate and expedite our species’ descent into barbarism.
Etz Meloy is one of my favorite trails, but I decided to hike Backbone in the opposite direction yesterday. I followed the trail until it came to an intersection with the Zuma Ridge trail, then continued on Zuma Ridge up to Buzzard’s Roost, then turned back and retraced my steps. Just after I started walking, I encountered at least one signpost promising “Agony.” Agony turned out to be a short and steep side-trail connected on both ends to the Backbone trail. I followed it on the way out but passed it by on the return.
The trail wound down to a canyon floor. Because there have been some good bouts of rain this winter, a stream was flowing at the bottom of the canyon. Wafts of moist air rose from below as I descended. In the sun the drifts of air were warm, in the shade they were cool. Humidity was a mild constant. When I reached the canyon floor and started walking through a green world, isolation’s gravity took hold. I was surrounded by living things. Isolated from whom? From what?
Here were leaves and trees, shrubs full of energy, reaching up and through their (blackened by the Woolsey Fire) former iterations. Here were ancient boulders and rocks, the pebbles and sand below my feet and what I could see of the sky, above the canopy. I listened to the stream, to the birds, to other, unidentifiable sounds.
Pacific Pea, Lathyrus vestitus
A popular food source for a number of butterfly species, the Pacific Pea is a perennial herb that is native to western North America and is concentrated near the coast, although it appears to exist further inland that the California Hedge Nettle described below. There are subspecies associated with this vine. Subspecies identification is a level of classification, ongoing discussion and reclassification best left to the botanists, so even though the vine I saw may be Lathyrus vestitus, var. vestitus, I am leaving off the subspecies portion: “var. vestitus.”
Of the two plants I photographed, the flower hues varied. Open flowers on one vine were closer to blue while the second vine’s flowers contained more red. Sweet Pea bloom time begins in March, except when favorable local conditions encourage some flowers to bloom in January.
California Hedge Nettle, Stachys bullata
Calflora has the bloom time starting in April, but, like its Sweet Pea neighbors, this single representative (that I observed, for there may have been others nearby) decided to bloom early. The California Hedge Nettle is a perennial herb that is endemic to California. The habitat where I found it provides a good idea of its preferred conditions, near the coast, forest, filtered sun, moisture, sand and clay. Butterflies and hummingbirds feed on the nectar. The common name is a misnomer: The California Hedge Nettle does not form a hedge and it does not sting like true nettles.
Among the several native bee species that showed up to forage for pollen and nectar in our yard this summer was the Urbane Digger bee, Anthophora urbana. The first individual I observed was working the flowers on a couple of large Cleveland Sage (Salvia clevelandii) shrubs that I planted three years ago. Cleveland Sage is fragrant, drought tolerant after it is established and native to California.
The two shrubs now regularly measure just short of five feet in height by four feet wide when the flower stalks are set and the blooming begins. With three or more clusters per stalk, individual flowers within a cluster bloom sequentially, extending the bloom period well into fall. This strategy may benefit the plant species as well as its pollinators, first by extending the length of time and fertility during which plant pollination may occur, and second by providing a steady food source from June into at least September.
For a week or more in August, I noticed a pair of male Urbane Diggers settling themselves on the spent buds and leaf tips of Symphyotrichum chilensis ‘Purple Haze’, a California aster cultivar.
The Urbane Digger male does not live in a nest. It sleeps at night on the stems, leaves and flowers of forage plants. It uses its mandibles to bite into the selected anchor so that it does not fall out, or “off” of its bed.
The asters have been in the ground for a couple of seasons. During that time, they have doubled their territory in the two locations where I planted them. They are known to spread aggressively if conditions are right. Because they are so popular with the local pollinators and bloom long into the fall, I have not tried to contain the spread.
Other native bee visitors at the aster patches included the Yellow-faced bumble bee, Bombus vosnesenskii, in abundance. From late July into August they foraged among the sage, asters and sunflowers.
A pair of pollen baskets filled with a yellow to red pollen nectar mixture on the hind legs is the easiest way to identify a bumble bee as a female queen or worker. I am still trying to verify whether the absence of pollen or pollen baskets on this group indicates that most if not all of the individuals observed in this group were male bees. Another clue that this transient influx of bumble bees at the asters was male: One day they stopped showing up.
Male drones and young queens or gynes, are produced near the end of the season. Both leave the nest to forage and mate. While the drone is short-lived, a gyne has the potential to hibernate underground and establish her own nest the following spring. Both workers (all female) and drones live short lives compared with a queen that is successful in establishing a nest, but even a successful queen’s lifespan is no more than a year.