Bluebirds and Happiness

If you’ve never seen an Indigo Bunting, you’ve never really seen the color blue. The woods are full of them just now, incredible splashes of the richest blue imaginable flash through the trees, in and out of the dappled sunshine.

Swallows are nesting in all but one of the bluebird boxes around us. Their eggs are blue, as well, but a lighter blue.

There are bluebirds in the bluebird box nearest Granny Tea’s house, where her blue bachelor’s buttons are blooming. The bluebirds had eggs, but they disappeared in the night. We don’t know whether to blame the raccoons or the house wrens. The man who builds and places the bluebird boxes all over our county (it’s a hobby of his, or perhaps an obsession), says it’s house wrens. He says the carry away the bluebird eggs and smash them, in their ongoing attempts to commit birdie genocide. Nature is red of tooth and claw even when the resources to support both species abound.

Gill over the Ground- is abundant. Stepping on it produces a spicy, faintly minty scent that I love. This picture makes them look much prettier than they are. I like them, invasive weed though they are, but they are tinier than appears here.

The Wild Geranium is in bloom, and ours is much purpler than this picture. There are shady patches of woods near the road where the blossoms shine like so many stars against a green night. They keep well in vases of water, too, making them a nice plant for youngsters to bring home in their sweaty fists. This plant is also called ‘crane flower,’ because the seed pods look something like a crane’s bill.

Some of you actually grow vinca and phlox on purpose, planting it and tending it with care. To you I say, HA! You may be able to wear shortsleeves in winter and enjoy spring blossoms and even sweet corn while I am still wearing snowboots but there are Compensations.

Violets in all shades, purple, white, and yellow, are in bloom in all their favorite haunts.

Evening Campion or bladder campion, I can’t decide which, but plenty of it is blooming all about the waysides.

The mayapples and trillium are nearly done- trillium are just scarcer, and the mayapple blooms are looking tired and slightly disreputable.

Hawthorne is blooming in the woods and meadows.

Columbine is in bloom along the back wall of the old farm-house. Our columbine is not the big showy hybrid blossoms in modern colors. Ours is the original stuff, quaint, old-fashioned, orangish with yellow centers, modest and lovely. I like the big showy hybrids, too, but I wouldn’t trade my own for all the large purple, blue and scarlet blooms in the land. We live one mile down the road from the original family homestead, deeded to my direct ancestor for participation in the war of 1812. These same columbine bloom around the old homestead there, which my mother and aunt still own, and I remember my uncle telling me that they were planted by the old folks.

We transplanted some here a year or two ago, and a few are blooming. The ones by the homestead house are protected from the wind. There are still patches of lily of the valley here and there, in the coolest, shadier parts of the homestead. I’ve transplanted several here, and some of them came back this spring.

The blackberry brambles are in bloom, the apples have just finished.

Another favorite bloom for May- Jacob’s Ladder, or Polemonium something or other.

These are in the Phlox family. They are purple, though some books call them ‘blue purple,’ or even blue. The have pinnateley compound leaves, meaning the leaves along the stem look something like a feather, pairs of leaves opposite each other. That’s also why they are called ‘Jacob’s Ladder,’ the opposite leaves look something like an old fashioned ladder with the pole (stem) in the center and the rungs perpendicular to that on each side. The blooms have five petals. The largest and showiest of my stem of blossoms is perhaps 1/2 an inch from petal tip to petal tip.

One sort has the charming common name of ‘Sky-pilot,’ because it blooms in the mountains at great heights. We have no mountains, so that’s not what we have. Sky-pilot’s leaves are also more lanceshaped than feather shaped.

It could also be Greek Valerian, Polemonium reptans.

One of the most important differences between the two is that Jacob’s Ladders tend to have strong, erect stems, and the stems of Greek Valerian are limp and trailing.

Here is the alleged geneology of the pretty little Greek Valerian:
Kingdom Plantae – Plants
Subkingdom Tracheobionta – Vascular plants
Superdivision Spermatophyta – Seed plants
Division Magnoliophyta – Flowering plants
Class Magnoliopsida – Dicotyledons
Subclass Asteridae –
Order Solanales –
Family Polemoniaceae – Phlox family
Genus Polemonium L. – Jacob’s-ladder
Species Polemonium reptans L. – Greek valerian
Variety Polemonium reptans L. var. villosum E.L. Braun – Greek valerian- this last variety is apparently threatened in Michigan and endangered in New Jersey.

I read that in the east the Greek Valerian is cultivated in many gardens. God tends my garden here, because I am far too lazy and incompetent.

The white spirea, Barbie wedding bouquets, I call them, are still in bloom, cascading arches of blooming bushes in front of the little house, now empty and waiting for a tenant.

I’ve seen a few buttercups.

Salsify, a tall yellow flower that looks something like a dandelion on steroids, is brightening the sunnier roadside verges. I used to dig these up and cook the roots, which are delicious, but I haven’t done that for years.

Chokecherries, which I think smell like cat urine, but they look pretty from a distance.
Ducks and geese are laying, and we startled a swallow out of its nest while driving Granny Tea’s golf cart through a newly mown meadow the other day. There’s a small hawthorne tree right in the middle of the meadow, in the merry middle of the meadow, and as we drove past a swallow shot out of the shrub. The astonishment was mutual, I believe. The FYG peeked in the nest and lifted out a lovely, still warm, blue egg to show us, and then carefully replaced it.

There are two very young foxes down by the culvert- we’ve seen them out many an evening.

A new friend who has a bush-hog came and made a wider path down to the creek so Granny Tea and Grandpa can drive the golf cart that way when they are too tired to walk. He then scraped a path from the creek down to our horse meadow, as he did so, he says he startled two young fawns, smaller than our Sadie lady dog.

I’ve mentioned before, and here is another website useful to us amateur armchair naturalists.

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  1. B. Durbin
    Posted May 28, 2008 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

    Nature’s wonderful, isn’t it?

    I’m pretty much a suburbia girl for the simple reason of easy proximity to natural areas. I saw a photo of Hong Kong apartment buildings and got an extremely strong feeling that if I lived in one of those, I’d go stark raving bonkers.

    It’s nice to live someplace that has large nature preserves. And little ones— there’s a trail just behind my apartment complex that goes for a few miles along the creek and I’ve seen wildlife up to great blue herons, beavers (!) and lots of raptors.

  2. Kathy
    Posted May 28, 2008 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

    I loved reading that. You made it sound so beautiful.

    I’m visiting my daughter in the Blue Ridge Mountains and enjoying the woods outside her home. I haven’t seen an Indigo Bunting yet this visit. I did get to see some last year when I was here. My favorites are the brilliant red Cardinals. We don’t get to see those where I live, but every spring for a few weeks the stunning tourqoise blue Lazuli Buntings come to our yard. It’s always thrilling to me when I see the first one in April.

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