The cardinal boy has a mate again! Maybe a new mate? Cardinals never leave their beloved’s side and after his dash into the bushes weeks ago in a state of alarm (loud fast calls) I hadn’t seen her. Now she appears with him. Maybe it is the same mate? Perhaps after a close call with a hawks talons she became the quiet master of camouflage? What could we learn from cardinals about courage, altruism and survival?Thanks to the shrubs and trees for providing them with shelter.

Happy Tu’Bshvat! Happy Birthday trees.

Riding my bike along the shallow muddy river I saw something beautiful. Three small, beautiful ducks swimming swiftly. They seemed very shy; they noticed me on the opposite side of the river looking at them and with furtive glances swam quickly away. The iridescent green stripe on their face was visible, then hidden, then visible again as they swam at different angles. Bright buff colored feathers under their tail, green iridescence contrasting with rusty brown on their face, delicate grey feathered pattern of their back and their shy behavior all made me excited to see this beautiful bird. The Green-winged Teal, Anas Crecca. This duck is common in our North East Winters, but I haven’t seen many. My phone was out of juice and I had no sketching materials so I could only record what I saw in my mind.

I came home and took out my art materials. No Green-winged Teal to be seen, I sketched a grey squirrel leaping and searching among the oak leaves. Blue-grey and rusty brown fur, dark eye circled by a cream colored line… was this furry being intrinsically less beautiful or exciting then the duck I had seen? I thought about our species’ search for the exotic. Maybe this search has helped us survive as a species. Does it still serve a purpose? Maybe, but we also lose something in the search by dismissing what is around us all the time. Is there any way to change this human trait? Maybe by just looking deeply at what is right here now. I think if we really look, we will always see beauty in nature, right now, right here where we are.

“The lure of the distant and the difficult is deceptive. The great opportunity is where you are.”

― John Burroughs

pastel drawing by Rebecca Arnoldi

I just saw and heard a cardinal swoop down into a shrub in my yard calling loudly and quickly. The calls got quieter and softer. Then he was silent and just looked around for several minutes. Now he’s gone.Cardinals are always with their mate and make constant contact chirping calls to each other. There’s a couple that hang out in and around that shrub. Quick loud chirps like this cardinal made are an alarm call… I fear this cardinal I’ve been watching may have lost his mate to a hawk. Predation… so natural and necessary and yet I feel for the guy. This is him.

Friday I was at the beach and the green heads were plentiful. I don’t like killing. I especially don’t like killing tiny mamas trying to get blood to make babies, but I admit I was just about to. Then I saw a Robber fly (probably Efferia albibarbis) go after one of the green heads. It failed, then grabbed another. I felt a bit like I’d been saved by this tiny hero. I was glad I let the fly go to a good use. I thought about the fact that I prefer one life over another, and that the life I prefer is one of a predator; not a parasite who just takes a bit of blood, but a predator who kills. It’s hard to watch one creature kill another, no matter who they are; Yet when it comes down to it, the animal world is all about one life consuming another. Oh to be a plant and live off sun, or a bee and live off nectar. But even the plant and the bee are getting vital nutrients through soil and nectar that come from decomposing creatures. We are constantly consuming lives of other beings. If we let go of the idea that we only live as individuals, then you could say we all live on as long as there is life on earth. There is a great song about this titled “we will live again”. I think about this as my almost fourteen year old dog is struggling for breath in the heat… as the mosquitoes bite me and her… as I sit down to eat egg and lettuce and olives and wheat and some other beings on my plate… as the catbird hunts for insects. We are part of one big flow of life eating and being eaten, living and dying and living again.

Watched a honey bee on milkweed and soon after saw a bee mimic robber fly with a honey bee.

(all Photos and text on this site: Rebecca Arnoldi)

Sometimes the brilliance is tiny and hidden. If we look carefully and patiently beauty may surprise us, OOp….it’s everywhere.. (Milkweed Beetle, Lady Beetle, and Leafhopper on milkweed- Rebecca Arnoldi July 2020

Ants hang out around scale insects and other insects that suck plant juices. They feed on their sweet “honeydew” secretions.  They also sometimes feed on the insects themselves, helping the plant in this way. These are on Rosa Rugosa.

Horsechestnut flowers change color after being pollinated so that they are no longer attractive to their pollinators.

We talk about individual organisms as if there were such a thing. We are made of many. When we look at another organism, we look at an interdependent intertwining group. We need the bacteria inside us, the insects need the plants and the plants need the insects. We all need each other. If you, or I, ever feel lonely, we can remember we are always filled and surrounded by other beings. We are we.

Photo of insect (likely ladybug) eggs on Rosa rugosa by Rebecca Arnoldi

Today I don’t feel clear and bright and open to the sky like the leaves of grass in sunlight. Today I feel more like the dark deep shadowy soil and the violet that grows out of it. Veins looping a flow of sugar and water through thick heart-shaped jagged leaves and thin high stems. Purple petals hold sweetness. Some face the sky, some face the intimate earth.

Why do so many people hate this plant?

Garlic mustard like other “invasives” came from afar (Eurasia in this case). It thrives here and can take over an area. This plant, like many other “invasives”, grows well in areas disturbed by us. It’s roots put out a chemical that damages mycorrhizal fungi that other plants depend on. And deer don’t eat it.

BUT

Don’t worry if you have garlic mustard growing around you. It’s edible! And while it may be bitter it’s super high in vitamin C, E, Zinc, omega -3 fatty acids, calcium and iron.

I just had my first garlic mustard salad! The vinegar, oil and salt helped mitigate the bitterness.

If you do collect some to eat, don’t go too crazy, it has some compounds that might not be good for you in excess.

I say, let’s celebrate this resilient survivor from afar and let’s have some salad!

sources/ resources:

Peter Del Tredici, Wild Urban Plants of the Northeast; John Kallas, Edible Wild Plants

I guess you could say we all feed from the sun and are ultimately made of sunlight.