Filed under: seeds
“Spring cannot be canceled.”
After the catastrophic ice storm we had in February, it is enormously heartening to walk around the neighborhood 3 months later and see all the new growth and life. One plant at the end of my street that was hacked down to the ground is so tall now that I have to look up to see the top:
The prickly pear cacti that looked like they’d been melted in the microwave have now, in some places, grown a few layers of nubby neon paddles.
There are new fronds spiking out of the top of my battered windmill palms in the backyard.
And although Coconut and her mate have flown elsewhere, a cardinal has made a nest in one of the orange trees my wife has growing in a planter on the back porch. (We have named her “Claudia Cardinale.”)
We had a downright magical encounter in our backyard the other day that I want to tell you about:
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Coconut is an eastern screech owl that lives in our palm tree. We’re not sure how long it’s lived there or if it’s a boy or a girl. It naps all day and then flies off around sundown to hunt. Here are some more pictures:
We can’t stop looking! Feels like an end-of-year miracle. A wild bout of luck. An omen of better days. Happy New Year!
“Who are you?” asks the Caterpillar, in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
Alice replies, “I—I hardly know, Sir, just at present—at least I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.”
Alice is changing and she is confused. She looks for sympathy from the Caterpillar. “When you have to turn into a chrysalis—you will some day, you know—and then after that into a butterfly, I should think you’ll feel it a little queer, won’t you?”
“Not a bit,” says the Caterpillar.
I keep thinking about Sam Anderson’s piece about about what caterpillars actually go through inside their cocoon:
Terrible things happen in there: a campaign of grisly desolation that would put most horror movies to shame. What a caterpillar is doing, in its self–imposed quarantine, is basically digesting itself. It is using enzymes to reduce its body to goo, turning itself into a soup of ex-caterpillar — a nearly formless sludge oozing around a couple of leftover essential organs (tracheal tubes, gut).
Only after this near-total self-annihilation can the new growth begin. Inside that gruesome mush are special clusters of cells called ‘‘imaginal discs,’’ which sounds like something from a Disney movie but which I have been assured is actual biology. Imaginal discs are basically the seeds of crucial butterfly structures: eyes, wings, genitalia and so on. These parts gorge themselves on the protein of the deconstructed caterpillar, growing exponentially, taking form, becoming real. That’s how you get a butterfly: out of the horrid meltdown of a modest caterpillar.
What will we look like when we emerge from our own meltdowns?
I am trying to remember: Beautiful things grow out of shit.
1. Our neighborhood was filled with monarch butterflies last week. “More monarchs are expected to fly through Austin than have in 10 years,” says a report from KUT. “Thanks to exceptionally good weather up north, where monarchs lay their eggs during the summer.”
Monarch butterflies are making their way through Texas to wintering spots in Mexico…. Think of Austin as a rest stop for migrating monarchs. Just as you need to fill up your tank when you drive down I-35, monarchs need to stop to eat. In the fall, they fill up on the nectar of certain flowers; in the spring, it’s milkweed they need to lay their eggs on. Austin adopted policies to grow milkweed in the spring and summer and encourage the growth of native pollinator plants.
2. Flying from Austin to Los Angeles this week, I watched Won’t You Be My Neighbor? At the beginning of the documentary, Fred Rogers is shown sitting at a piano and talking about modulation — a fancy word for changing keys. He shows how some key changes are more difficult than others — C major to F major is pretty easy, for example, but F major to F# major not so much. He felt that his job was to help children through the modulations of their lives.
3. Migrations and modulations. Movement and change. “Maybe I’m trying to combine things that can’t be combined,” Fred Rogers says to the camera. “But it makes sense to me.”
Last August I wrote about my belief in creative seasons, and after I read Matt Thomas’s great post about trying to live with the seasons, I doodled this little chart in my notebook, trying to map some of the markers of “clock time” to organic things that happen in nature, wondering if I could learn something by paying attention to them. Right away, you can see that the week is manmade, and therefore, so is the week-end, and with it, the “Sunday Blues” and other neuroses, which Witold Rybczynski writes about so well in Waiting For The Weekend.
Other bits of clock time map approximately to nature’s doings. I find that the moon phases, for example, are much more interesting than months when tracking my own creative time. (Yes, I’ve become the kind of person who can guess what phase of the moon it is just by how shitty I feel.)
Still, the months are different characters that do different things for me, and it’s now October, my favorite month, and it feels a lot like how Henry David Thoreau described it, in a journal entry, dated November 14, 1853:
October is the month of painted leaves, of ripe leaves, when all the earth, not merely flowers, but fruits and leaves, are ripe. With respect to its colors and its season, it is the sunset month of the year, when the earth is painted like the sunset sky. This rich glow flashes round the world. This light fades into the clear, white, leafless twilight of November, and whatever more glowing sunset or Indian summer we have then is the afterglow of the year. In October the man is ripe even to his stalk and leaves; he is pervaded by his genius, when all the forest is a universal harvest, whether he possesses the enduring color of the pines, which it takes two years to ripen and wither, or the brilliant color of the deciduous trees, which fade the first fall.
I’m reminded of a sign you see in craft stores in Texas: “Happy fall, y’all.”
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