Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Closing of 2013 ~ Gathering Moments Past Pixels and Pages of Wildlife

As Twenty-thirteen comes to a close, I happily begin my annual series of sharing precious highlighted encounters with wondrous wildlife here on my farm . . .  from the days, months, pages and frames of this last year, pixels will emerge revealing a shared wildness reaching inwards as it dances in the breezes gently floating through fields and forest. Plant, flower and tree memories will also resurface in the upcoming weeks . . . a lovely way to nurture the imagination and keep its rich soil soft and supple throughout the long freezing winter. I hope all visiting this blog might find the stories hopeful and inspiring too.

Gardening for wildlife is surprisingly, one of the greatest joys of my life . . . joys that are so intricately connected to my well-being and that of our earth. Surprising, still, to this day, for when I first put garden fork and spade into the dark loamy crust covering my land, I had a more painterly plan. Though loving birds and butterflies for most of my life, I had no idea of the numbers, the intricate beauty within the variety of species that would find Flower Hill Farm to their liking, satisfying their requirements for raising a family of their own.

My consciousness today has evolved as the gardens and land around me have taught me to listen and see more than what I first started out imaging a garden to be. Though many basic ideas and convictions, such as never using poison i.e. pesticides and chemical fertilizers, have remained constant and even more mindful, I have yielded to other more relaxing ways of living with my landscape and for many reasons, I am so much happier for surrendering.

Stepping out into gardens, fields and forest, and feasting on these startling and strikingly beautiful creatures, can be as thrilling as stepping out of a vaporetto onto old Venetian stones, or as powerful as standing before a vast ocean or orchestra. Sometimes it feels like a fairy tale, with all the macabre features thrown in, and yet it is the most intimately real of our reality and the most precious, as our children and grandchildren, to protect.

There were many new 'first sightings' for me this year along with some noted absences. Most noted would have to be the Monarch butterfly and marking the first year, since thirty have passed, of not finding the female's eggs or caterpillars to raise. In fact, I only had three Monarch butterfly sightings in my garden this past season, after years of reporting hundreds over the summer and fall. We all know now, that the entire northeast and more has lost, perhaps forever, the glorious migration of the monarchs due to round-up ready crops and sprayings along their migration route here in the US. I hope we are all planting milkweed and also calling our reps in Congress and that Monarchs will again fly into our gardens and fasten their eggs to milkweed. This absence is just an flicker in the huge flame growing in our warming world and hopefully we may see more urgent action taken to curb our carbon footprints and by investing in clean, green energy. 

There is much to explore and share over these coming chilly months bringing us into the New Year. 

2013 brought me a cherished grandson. It was a year of getting organized and of dear friends who made that possible, of being accepted into a manuscript group and beginning to put form to my book, 'A Bestiary . . . Tales from a Wildlife Garden'. I will continue to post a monthly installment, as I have done for the last two years, over at Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens. Lovely chamber concerts, painting workshops and walks along the sea have delighted me. Lots of improvements and finishing touches for the retreat and many, many wonderful guests visiting from all over the world have enriched my life. 

I have been writing here less and less, but my blog, and the connections I have made through it, is still very important to me. I am so appreciative of your kind words of support. Thank you! I will continue to write about this Western Massachusetts hillside paradise, but I will be moving my blog soon. I am working with a website builder in creating a new website for my retreat and my work. My blog will be moved to, the soon to be newly developed, caroldukeflowers.com sometime in the next month or so. I will, sadly, lose all the followers I have here, but hope to figure out a way to reconnect with you. I want to wish you all . . . 


Friday, December 20, 2013

A Winter Focus ~ Cedar Waxwing Ornaments and Long Nights Moon

The nakedness of winter's landscape can sometimes seem cold and lonely, when suddenly, whoosh, all together in flight, a flash of fluttering life lifts the spirit high towards outermost tips of a beloved Black Cherry tree. Offering light and enchantment to the lucky viewer, a flock, an 'ear-full', a 'museum' of over sixty Cedar Waxwings alight, sprinkled along the top of the skeletal cherry canopy, resembling delicate ornaments bedecking leafless limbs. 

A closer focus reveals hints of waxwing antics, patterns and forms. A group that may rest and then be off together, a burst of beaks, trebles and feathers, winging through the crisp air down to our crabapple orchard.

Surrounded by colors of autumn and captured through glass, so as not to frighten the timorous Cedar Waxwing, I cannot quite focus the bright yellow tip of its tail or the yellow wash covering its downy belly. Tiny apples are hanging temptations, little-bitty baubles, winter apples waiting to be plucked. Only these are nourishing . . . vital winter food for the waxwings, robins and wild turkeys too.

Every inch of branch, twig and dried stalk, wearing icy snow-coats all across the fields, groan of winter's beauty. 

During a storm . . .

After a partly sunny day . . . snowy mantles melt away.

Into wonder of long black nights, native cherry, charcoal raven touching crumbling cerulean sky, tickling the 'Full Cold Moon'. A joyous interlude between dark and light.

Rising up from swirling surf of clouds, following the setting sun, the 'Long Nights Moon' sails across the painted pastel sky.

Night folds us into our dreams until daybreak, shattering the dark, while scattering light and soft puffs of rosy pink, awakens a new day. An old, softened mountain slumbers still beneath a mantle of lavender smog, as days, nights and solstices dissolve one into the other.

Dreamy underwater illusions, a world of sediments worn down over millenniums, torrents of lava flows from time and crust torn apart. A deep plentiful supply filling an ancient tectonic rift . . . pressure forced up molding forms Native American-like silhouette looking up longingly, for millions of year, towards the sky. A segment of the Metacomet Ridge, of the Mount Holyoke Range dreaming since days of dinosaurs, within my view.

Presently, with placid anticipation, life moves through a calendar of months making what it can of each. Filling the hours minute by minute, spilling seconds by the spoonfuls. It is all over in a wink.

Winter Solstice 2013 is marked on our calendars for tomorrow December 21st, for those of us in the northern hemisphere, the exact moment is never certain, when the shortest day will give birth to the longest night of the year. After a few days, we will note the lengthening of light, as a rebirth, a celebration of our sun, leads us deeper into winter. Peace and Goodwill and Good Day to All.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

A Bouquet of Warblers Continues In Plumule Expanse

December sighs and drops whiteness about the land. The last few weeks of 2013 are at hand.

Another month unfolds and now a landscape covered in downy snow and ice lies across these hills of Western Massachusetts.
I have a new installment of my 'A Bestiary . . . Tales from a Wildlife Garden' up over at Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens.

The Black-and-white Warbler joins the lively bouquet of warblers . . .  offering its striking plumage to the arrangement of songbirds. I hope you might click over and learn more about this unique new world warbler.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Last Autumnal Breaths of Cadmium and Aureolin Yellow with Palm Warbler Only Passing Through

Last breaths of cadmium and aureolin yellow 
falling through another season of autumn . . . 
 as it falls through us . . . only passing through it all . . . 
Rock Maples stand mighty and tall.

Miscanthus yellow blazes sigh with tassels reaching upwards ten feet high. 

Standing nearby, soft rustling songs become more an undertone as lengthy, waving blades . . .  yellow . . .  then fade, and float towards the leafy floor. 

A brighter, fleeting yellow reflecting tones of our November garden and landscape . . . little Palm Warbler . . . only passing through, where I used to believe you stayed and bred your brood. You are headed south now to the southerly edges of the United States or perhaps you prefer the Caribbean after spending summer months in the brisk provinces of Canada.

I last sighted one of your kind in the month of April on his way to points further north. There was such a promise of green back then and plenty of food to keep this sunny songbird content in lingering within our community for a cluster of days.

I can see you are a different bird all together from the Palm Warbler I so delighted in this spring. Wishing you a safe journey to wherever you choose to overwinter and hopefully with vernal vegetation anew, I will be here to see your cheery, cadmium yellow plumes mirroring clumps of merry daffodils.

Tree Swallows do return and remain every spring and summer, raising spirited broods here in the south field within the weathered walls of our rustic nest box . . . now being choked by bittersweet as it takes its last gulps of duller yellow.

Our weepy cherry's yellow canopy now lies in a buttery carpet around its twenty-year old main stem.  

Asparagus gone wild, flames cobalt-yellow before our Metasequoia gone russet about the north field. 

A couple of our crabapple trees, within the small orchard, make shiny, yellow spheres . . . tiny apples tasty to birds, throughout the winter months.

While on the ground, beneath our oldest apple tree, the vermilion stream of fruit has become a favorite rivulet for our resident White-tailed Deer to step into. Soon the flow of apples will run dry and that is, as it should be.

Beware brown eyes . . . it is the hour of hunting season of your clan . . . by man . . . who hopes to eat you, apples and all. And I could say . . . if with integrity and honor this beautiful beast comes to be . . .  venison . . . that too might be . . . as it should be. Still, I will continue to whisper . . . "Stay close and you will be safe." Heed yellow's warning . . . with your usual caution . . . stepping through the land beyond this land.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Vermilion Murmurs and Malus within a November Landscape

Cinnabar and Dragon blood come to mind when seeing the vibrant vermilion sprays of our middle garden Japanese Maple. Its blazing breath reaches over towards payne's gray shadows racing through the forested hills, we call Walnut Hill and High Ridge, creating a stunning contrast. Sturdy oaks still grasping their last burnt sienna leaves are nearly naked now. The Japanese Maple is as out of place in our landscape as an ancient Dracaena cinnabari might be, but it is a dormant dragon so lifting the spirit with its late and lasting fiery vibrance. 

Viburnums have yet to let go of their purple leaves.

Cotinus, without the smoke, adds to the last of early November's crimson garden palette. 

Another sleeping dragon rests just below the farmhouse in our weeping Cutleaf Japanese Maple.

Other reds in the gardens this November are juicy spheres by the hundreds . . . apples remaining on, or below, the apple trees. We have a variety of Malus senior citizens about the gardens and are thankful to those who planted the ever giving trees, one at least, over a century ago.

Sedum 'Autumn Joy' still wearing its burgundy tones before aforementioned century old apple tree. 

A stream of free falls given a good wash make yummy apple sauce. 

Weeping crabapple outside of the little studio offers a tangy feast for over wintering birds.

Our Metasequoia in the north field spreads out her russet plumes.

In the south field sumac brightens the fading countryside.

Meanwhile, as bold colors depart and cold, chilly air arrives, I have added another warbler to my 'A Bestiary. . . Tales From A Wildlife Garden' over at Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens. The stout little Black-throated Blue Warbler becomes the twenty-fourth beast . . . the seventh warbler . . .  joining the bubbly bouquet of songbirds.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

A Late Autumn Palette Within A Community of Trees

In thinking along the stream of thought inspired by Wendall Berry, I have been pondering 'my place' within my place and the community I am blessed to have membership in. I am speaking of the land, of the trees and shrubberies, of the species of butterflies and bees and birds that coexist here at Flower Hill Farm. There is a language I have come to understand and the understanding came as soon as I let go of the ideas of gardening I held true and when I stopped and listened to the needs of the life all around me. 

A Shagbark Hickory out in the upper garden and a Rock Maple (Sugar Maple) on the south side of the old farmhouse are both wearing cloaks of Climbing Hydrangea. The Rock Maple's yellow fleece will be getting a good trim once the leaves have all fallen, for I do not wish to cover the maple's beautiful bark.

Copious carpets of leaves linger until a blustery wind whips them around the gardens. Like a down comforter the leaves softly lay upon the ground sheltering many sleeping insects.

The community I belong to here is so wildly wondrous and giving. 

Our favorite Black Cherry had a rough beginning but with determination it grew over and above the conditions trying to hold it back. 

Ever reaching towards cloud and sky, the native cherry also survived losing half of its canopy two years ago.  I believe all the neighboring members of the community felt the shock and I was deeply concerned for its survival. 

In the photograph above, taken in October of 2009, the Black Cherry was still sporting its full canopy of flaxen tresses. There is danger in a V when worn by a tree.  Just at the V. . .  the entire branching going off to the right split off and was hanging threatening a deadly tear. It was skillfully cut off before that could happen.

The singular serpentine Black Cherry sometimes makes me imagine a wild black stallion with a golden or green mane grazing in the north field. There is an ongoing dialogue and connection between the cherry and two White Oaks nearby. They together form a triangle. The trees are in constant communication through their network of slender root tendrils below. Perhaps there are also connections being channeled above ground.

Besides it unique form this Black Cherry also holds a dear friend's ashes within its roots and crusty body. We call it 'Michael's tree'. He was a man who loved trees and is forever a beloved member of this community.

The Black Cherry seems to be thriving and continues to be the preferred canopy of the Baltimore Orioles each spring and summer. 

Autumn's blaze is more muted now with sturdy White Oaks painting the landscape burnt sienna. Throughout the gardens, the shrubberies and plants are still turning yellows and reds but the hillside is all gray, evergreen and burnt sienna.

It has been one of the most beautiful and long lasting falls I can recall. It was as if every tree sang out . . . a choir of vibrant leafy voices carried by a breath of wind throughout the landscape. The river and rivulets below join in plashing their melodious meanderings about the wood. It was a joy to experience it all.

Two weeks ago I eyed an Eastern-tailed Blue in the south field. It was about 70 degrees and there were still some late blooming asters . . . a blossom here and a bloom there. This butterfly over winters as a larva often within a pod of some of the vetches or clovers that grow here . . .  so I do not know what to make of it . . . I hope it had a good life for a few days at least, though other members of the community may have spied it too.

During my walk I also caught sight of a perfect Mourning Cloak . . . who by now has crawled within a crack or crevice of bark or under a rock or fallen branch in its full butterfly form and hopefully will safely sleep throughout the winter months. I will not move any fallen wood at this time nor disturb any assemblages of detritus for they may be home to tiny, delicate members of this diverse commune of life.

Many members feed other members of our community. It is hard at times to love all the species equally and be detached. We have enjoyed a few Yellow-rumped Warblers as they dart about gleaning dried seed heads of goldenrod and other plants scattered within the fields and gardens. They are busy in the trees too harvesting tiny larva and other meaty members. I do not recall seeing these curious warblers in the gardens this late before.

The Yellow-rumped Warblers have now cast off their brighter breeding costumes or perhaps this is a juvenile. 

Come spring again the warblers will be wearing their dark masks and their return will surely be a treat.

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