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“Often a butterfly stopped to rest there.

Then Laura watched the velvety wings…”

On the Banks of Plum Creek – Laura Ingalls Wilder

 

Like the young Laura Ingalls of the Little House books, I watch the “velvety wings” of butterflies. I squeal with girlish glee when a Monarch flits by, dipping around as if by the mere breath of the breeze, partaking of the abundance of native flowers flourishing in our prairie garden.

The plight of the Monarch butterfly has been well documented and its migratory flight has been monitored for more than a decade. I have often shared photos and thoughts about the Monarchs and bees in the journey of this little blog, from travels afar to what is right under my nose here along the Cutoff.

Last summer was alarming, especially here when I saw but one Monarch. One. This year, I have spotted at least a dozen and have found Monarch eggs and caterpillar on the milkweed – enough times to have perfected my happy dance. Butterflies have been flitting about and stopping to sip on the Joe Pye Weed, the Monarda (bee balm), and Echinacea (cone flowers) which are all a bloom in these dog days of summer. There are bees and moths and other pollinators that also show up on sunshiny days, sipping sweet nectar from the cups of flowers. It is a regular insects’ tea party, if ever there was one, here among the native plants and some of their distant relatives.

This increased activity is encouraging for those of us who have worried about the changes in nature that have occurred in these past decades; we counters of bees, planters of pollinators and taggers of “velvety wings” who have become a small army of citizen scientists. I am cautiously optimistic.

As I brandished my watering wand, I reflected on how much is yet to be done and how much has already been accomplished on our little acreage . I watered some newly introduced cone flowers and pulled that rascal, Creeping Charlie, who was cavorting  among the feverfew and indigo, and I imagined Laura’s life along Plum Creek.

How our little prairie has grown! Established in August, 2013, it is now a crowded confusion of exuberance and joy that will need dividing and some expansion of plots come Autumn. For now, I’m enjoying watching those velvety wings of nature as the plants reach for the sun and spread their arms in a blowzy embrace of prairie life.

I remain appreciative of all the green thumbs who shared their plants in our little adventure, and I am optimistic with this glimmer of hope for the Monarchs and the bees.

Here are a few photos of the prairie garden being developed in 2013

and recent photos of the garden today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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bbtm

Image from Monarch Watch at http://www.monarchwatch.org/

I held it, ever-so-gently, between my thumb and first two fingers. I placed it on my hand, where it danced across my flesh, and I felt the innocent wonder of the wee girl I once was who chased monarch butterflies across the yard, holding them softly, then letting them flit away.

Visiting the Salt Creek Butterfly Farm Thursday afternoon. I had an exceptionally busy week of paperwork, weeding, planting, committee work, and life in general. The monarch butterfly, held briefly in my custody, was pure bliss. Just the simple touch of the monarch settled my soul and took my thoughts aloft to other places.

Have you ever held a butterfly or been to a butterfly garden or farm?

Before going to the butterfly farm, about 24 women met here on the Cutoff for lunch. We had been on a tour of an area nursery, The Hidden Gardens, and stopped by, in between nursery and farm for a little lunch. I made Ina Garten’s (Barefoot Contessa) Chicken Salad Veronique. There was just enough left over for dinner for Tom and I.  Since there are no more leftovers to share with you, I thought I would share the recipe instead.

I’ve made this chicken salad several times. It is easy and best prepared several hours, or the day before, serving. I’ve used pecans, but, prefer cashews, and I cut back just a bit on the tarragon, which brings a delectable taste sensation to the salad. A few guests asked what the herb was, detecting something different in chicken salad. I also added a few spoon’s worth of sour cream.

Here it is, dear reader, my solstice gift to you whichever hemisphere you are reading this in.

Chicken Salad Veronique adapted from “Barefoot Contessa at Home” 

4 split chicken breasts, bone in, skin on

olive oil

kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

1/2 c good mayonnaise (I use Hellman’s)

1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon leaves

1 cup small-diced celery

1 cup green grapes, cut in half

Preheat oven to 350° oven

Place chicken breasts, skin side up, on a sheet pan (I line the pan with parchment paper), rub with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste

Roast for 35-40 minutes (I kept mine in longer) until cooked through.  Set aside and let cool.

Remove meat from bones. Discard skin and bones.

Cut chicken into 3/4 inch pieces.

Place in bowl.

Add mayonnaise, tarragon leaves, celery, grapes, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper (I omitted the salt). Toss

Just before serving, add toasted pecans or walnuts.  Enjoy!

Here it sits with our very first tomato, just picked from our community garden plot. Chicken salad:first tomato

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Monarch

Butterfly Ladies, James Christensen americangallery.wordpress.com/2010/09/26/james-christensen-1942/

Have you heard? Scientists have announced the discovery of a new planet that may have life on it. It is a mere 20 light years away and is being called the “Goldilocks Planet” as it is assumed it is not too hot and not too cold, but just right. “Goldilocks” may have liquid water (their term) which means the planet may be able to sustain life.

I have had a post on monarch butterflies sitting in abeyance for some time now. It is a place in my blog site where I can put drafts of pictures and stories and ideas that I may want to write about.  What I call my cyberfile. There, I have had a working title, Monarch, and a few websites stored for future reference. On my desktop are pictures, stored in other files; pictures I have taken and images from other sites that I may want to borrow.

I started my draft file on monarchs after a few posts and conversations with Marilyn, a blogging pal from New Zealand. Marilyn posted a picture she had taken with a Monarch butterfly on a flower. It was beautiful, as Marilyn’s photos are, and I was curious about monarchs down under, specifically, did they migrate to and from New Zealand. Their climate is milder than ours up here and the monarchs there do not migrate, but, cluster in areas there. You can find more about them by clicking onto Marilyn’s blog here and on the links listed below.

I was thinking about this as I was hearing about Goldilocks and her little planet. I tend to live in my own little world; my life here on the cutoff, my town, my activities, family and friends. I’m a little planet with all my satellites swirling around me, I have what I need to survive. Food, water, air, love and I don’t have to go very far to find all of this. Not even a lightyear away.

Discovering new planets is far from my purview. I am content to sit here and research on my computer and gather with family and friends and see monarchs in summer and wonder about them without having to go very far. The monarchs, however, travel thousands of miles to protect their species.

I know two ladies, our own monarch ladies in our garden club, who have travelled far in search of the monarchs. Pat was the first, then Jane went along on a second trip. They have trekked thousands of  miles to the place where the monarch migrates to each year. I admire them their courage and stamina to make this trip and I am in awe of the monarchs, who make this trip every year, from as far north as Canada, across the United States, to a small area in Mexico where they overwinter, gathered in the thousands, massing on tree branches, their wings at rest as they bask in the sunshine.

Our monarch ladies travel to schools and libraries and garden clubs to tell of the life cycle and migration of monarchs. They also give warning of the danger monarchs are in. Development has eradicated a large part of our prairies where the milkweed plant grows. Monarchs lay their eggs only on milkweed. (There is a milkweed variety in NZ that the New Zealand monarchs lay their eggs on as well).  Jane and Pat provide information on planting not only milkweed, but nectar bearing plants as well, so that this lovely winged insect can have nourishment and places to rest along the way.

Schoolchildren and adults are encouraged to not only plant for the monarchs, but, to tag them as well. In tagging monarchs in the fall, citizen scientists can help determine how many monarchs are actually reaching Mexico. The tags go gently on a monarch’s wing. Mexicans then gingerly collect the tags, which will tell where the monarch originated from.  They are given money for each one found. This money, in turn, helps sustain them throughout the year.  In very small mountain villages, the monarch migration is a greatly anticipated occasion where man and nature meet and are sustained by each other.

It is all so fascinating, here on our planet, how monarchs and ladies and scientists and you and I are connected in the most amazing of ways. You may see the lovely monarch traveling in large groups in your area right about now as they head southward on their instinctual yearly migration, fourth and fifth generations, or more, from the ancestor monarch who made it to Mexico previously. You might see a lone one, flitting about, looking for nourishment or a place to lay her eggs. Won’t you take a few minutes, or bookmark for later, a few of these sites, especially Monarch Watch for those of us in North America, to see what monarchs are all about and perhaps think of planting some host plants? Won’t you stop by for a look no matter where you live to learn more about these most beautiful of butterflies?

www.monarchwatch.org/

www.monarch.org.nz/monarch/projects/taggingtransects/

www.odt.co.nz/news/national/55670/nzer039s-flight-simulator-find-clues-monarch-navigation

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