Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Photographing butterflies is like photographing flowers

Flowers that move.


And erratically.

It is astonishing how butterflies can move. I saw one fluttering along the side of the house, about three feet above the ground, when suddenly, literally in the space of a single second, it shot up and disappeared over the peak of the roof, which is about fifteen feet high. That's a twelve foot vertical ascent in a single second, by an insect perhaps two inches long. I know these things don't scale, but that would be roughly the equivalent of my making an 800 foot ascent in a second, and I don't think that would sit very well with me.

The butterfly garden is expanding. More than doubling in size, in fact. Judi has been studying intensively, and has found lots of plants that are different in habit or nature from the ones she already has, and attract different kinds of butterflies. The original butterfly garden, however, is full. Full as in no-mo'-plants-gonna-fit-in-here full. So a new one is under construction.

Photographing butterflies is trying -- you end up with a lot of empty frames -- but here are a few that I managed to get. Clicking on them will open a larger version:

Gulf Fritillary Upper Wings

Gulf Fritillary, Upper Wing

Gulf Fritillary Underwing

Gulf Fritillary, Underwing

In Flight

In Flight

Black Moth or Butterfly

Black Moth or Butterfly

This is Judi's current pride and joy: What we think is a Yellow Swallowtail caterpillar, chowing down on a fennel plant. He's been moved to inside the Florida room to protect him from birds and other predators:

Caterpillar Front


Caterpillar Back

Munch, munch, munch


Friday, April 25, 2008


It's been about a week since Joseph Alois Ratzinger, D.B.A. The Pope, addressed the United Nations. His speech emphasized the idea that world peace must be based on universal human rights. Hardly an original idea: See Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Stride Towards Freedom: "Without justice, there can be no peace," among many others. But still, an idea I agree with. So Fr. Ratzinger and I agree on this one thing at least. Except... Fr. Ratzinger makes an exception.

If you are gay.

If you are gay, Fr. Ratzinger denies you have a right to marry, to have sex, to have children, to have a family -- even to have your children baptized into the Catholic Church.

It's easy to support human rights, isn't it, Fr. Ratzinger, when you pick and choose what those rights will be, and to whom they will extend.

It's even easier when you are convinced that you possess the magick of infallibility.

Come to think of it, you remind me of another world leader....

Okay, I'm sorry, the two of you loyal readers. This has been bugging me all week. I needed to get it off my chest.

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Monday, April 21, 2008

Update on waiting for spring

In my post Waiting for Spring I quoted a message from a neonatal ICU nurse that talked about a tiny premature boy whose twin brother had died in utero and whose mother was afraid to hold him. Well, in case you are interested...

...he went home last Saturday.

Four pounds, thirteen ounces.

Do you think Spring is here?

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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Haiku Tuesday... er, kinda

I go through cycles where I find it easy to write bad poetry. I haven't had one of these cycles in a while, though, so in honor of Haiku Tuesday, albeit a day late, I thought I would dash off a bad poem that has the extra added benefit of being uninspired:
Everyone, please
Objurgate objurgation.
Serenity rocks.


Saturday, April 12, 2008

War and Peace in the butterfly garden

When Judi's arborist son was advising her on setting up her butterfly garden, he warned her that it had to be organic: "If you want butterflies," he said, "get over the idea that you can solve problems with chemicals."

The first challenge arose a few weeks ago, when the garden was attacked by aphids. The first attempt at aphid control was spraying with horticultural oil. That didn't work. So, last weekend, it was time to unlimber the big guns: You fight fire with fire, and that means you fight insects with, well, insects.

In this case, ladybugs.

Perhaps I have lived my life under a rock, but I confess that I did not know you can go to your friendly neighborhood Ace hardware store (at least, you can if this is your neighborhood), and fork over ten dollars and leave with a small plastic tub containing 1,500 ladybugs (I didn't count them -- 1,500 was what it said on the tub). The friendly hardware store people keep the ladybugs in a refrigerator, "so they stay fresh." The ladybugs aren't moving when you first buy them, but they become active quickly as they warm up, and then they crawl all around inside the tub.

I have to tell you that Judi loves ladybugs. Loves, loves, loves. She had been excited at the prospect of going to the hardware store "to pick up my ladybugs," and on the way home in the car, as the ladybugs warmed up and crawled around, she looked through the air holes and chortled, "Oh, look at you! You are so cute! I see you in there!"

I have to tell you that Judi is young at heart.

Following the instructions on the tub, we waited until dusk to release the ladybugs in the garden. Ladybugs don't fly when it's dark, so releasing them at dusk ensures that they remain in your garden as they start on their dinners. Which, of course, consist of aphids. The plastic tub said one ladybug can eat up to fifty aphids a day.

Early the next morning, Judi went out to check on her ladybugs:

Ladybugs on milkweed

"But they're flying away," she wailed to me on the phone.

At lunchtime, she could only find a few ladybugs. By the end of the day, there were none.

"My ladybugs are gone. I wanted my ladybugs to stay!" She was almost crying.

"There's nothing left for them to eat," I said. "The aphids are wiped out. Do you want the ladybugs to stay and starve, just for you?"


Maybe you are laughing at us, but after all this was our first attempt at organic pest control. Fifty aphids a day times 1,500 ladybugs means a buffet of 75,000 aphids a day. There were nowhere near 75,000 aphids in Judi's garden. There were maybe a couple hundred. Tops. In retrospect, we probably should have released just a few ladybugs, and put the rest in the refrigerator for future use. As it was, dumping 1,500 ladybugs in Judi's ten-by-twenty-foot garden was probably like sending the 101st Airborne to deal with a schoolyard fight. In fact, we've probably wiped out the entire aphid population for blocks around. Yes, neighbors, that was us. You are welcome.

Anyway, now an aphid-free week has gone by, and yesterday I noticed some holes chewed in the leaves of the milkweeds. I turned a leaf over, and saw this:

Tiny Caterpillar

Caterpillars! Aren't they cute? Albeit very tiny. How tiny, you ask? See that flesh-colored thing on the right side of the picture? That's my finger. And you can see the whorls of my fingerprint. Look at your own fingerprints for a moment, and you will realize how tiny.

But still, caterpillars!


Monday, April 07, 2008


If you have multiple bluetooth devices, do you have blueteeth?


Sunday, April 06, 2008

You don't say

The OED defines roadway as "A way used as a road."

That seems like cheating.


Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Dogs can tell time

Seriously. They can. I've seen many different examples, with different dogs. For one, Judi's beagles find her at 5:30 every evening, no matter where she is, to remind her that it's dinner time and they want their kibbles. She will see them standing together and staring up at her, and even before she looks at the clock she knows it's 5:30.

My beagle Andrea always knows when it's 5:00 am -- time for me to get out of bed to get ready for work! If my alarm doesn't go off for any reason (sometimes I forget to set it), she'll start pawing me at 5:01. I don't know how she knows it's time, but she does. And she paws me with her crippled leg, which, since she can't walk with it, always has long and sharp toenails. "Get up, get up," she says as she paws frantically. "You have to go to work and make money to pay for our house and our food, or we'll be out in the street." Andrea has experienced life as a street beagle (before she found me), and she's always anxious about having a house with heat and air conditioning and a roof to keep out the rain.

Andrea can time as well as I can (better, I guess, since she doesn't need a watch), but she's not so good with days of the week. "Andrea," I sometimes say, "it's Saturday. I don't go to work today. Leave me alone. I want to sleep." Eventually she'll give up and go back to sleep herself. But if she's not so hot with Saturday, she has Sunday nailed. She never paws me on Sunday. She seems to know that the day after the day when we sleep in, is another sleep in day. And then on Monday she's back on duty at 5:01, pawing away.

But the thing that really throws Andrea for a loop is the twice a year when we change our clocks. Especially in the Autumn, when we turn the clocks back. In the Spring she will just raise her head and look at me and say, "What are you doing up so early?", but in the Autumn it never fails that she will start pawing at 4:01 am.

"Andrea," I will say, "it's only four o'clock. I have another hour to sleep."

"No! No!", Andrea will say, pawing away, "It's not! It's five! It's five! Time to get up! Don't be late for work!"

"No, Andrea, it really is four. Everyone set their clocks back an hour this weekend."

"Say what?"

"We set our clocks back an hour. Twice a year we change our clocks by an hour."

"Are you pulling one of my legs? Why?"

"Ummm.... Good question. I think I once knew the answer, but now I've forgotten."

"It makes," Andrea will say, "no sense."

You know, there are times when I agree with her. And one of those times is in the Spring when we set the clocks forward. I have a really hard time getting my own internal clock to adjust to getting up an hour earlier. A really hard time. It's been, what, four weeks? And I still haven't adjusted.


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