Of love and late-summer flowers

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about love and late-summer flowers. I’m not sure what brought on these musings, but I think it may have something to do with turning the big double nickel last week.

I’m a late-summer flower myself.

I’m also helping my mother sell her home and move into independent living, letting my children grow up and turning my mothering to Monarch caterpillars. I’ve watched the devastation of two hurricanes in the news with alarm, resignation and then love and admiration for those who helped. Plus, I finished listening to the S-Town podcast and read Y is for Yesterday (A Kinsey Millhone Novel), by Sue Grafton, on my birthday.

Whew! I have a lot going on. Please bear with me as I sort out my thoughts. It’s good this blog is called Red Dirt Ramblings, especially today. Grab a cup of coffee or tea and wander with me, okay?

Monarch caterpillar on butterfly weed
Monarch caterpillar on butterfly weed.

Honestly, I was feeling kind of dismal about the state of the world last week until I steeped myself in prayer and cut more milkweed for my baby Monarchs.

The hurricane coverage and overall media misery were starting to get to me, and S-Town and Y is for Yesterday didn’t help either. As I listened to S-Town, I began to feel like a voyeur. The series took an especially dark turn in the last chapter which made me want to cry for John B. McElmore. I think this opinion piece by Jessica Goudeau in The Atlantic sums my dilemma up pretty well. It does contain spoilers so keep that in mind if you read it. One sentence from the poetry and letters she discussed stood out for me “Probe your own life and past if you must, but you cannot use another person’s trauma without permission for your aesthetic gain.” At the end of the podcast, only ashes remained, along with an icky feeling of crawling through one man’s private angst.

Y is for Yesterday cover.

As for Y is for Yesterday, I bought and saved it for my birthday. For me, it’s a kind of ritual because I’ve read all of her books from the beginning. I met Grafton, and I admire her greatly. After all, I’ve only written one book that’s been published. I don’t want to give anything away in the 25th installment of my favorite detective series, but the ending wasn’t the least bit redemptive. Grafton wrote another book in the series with a similar ending, and it wasn’t my favorite either. While life is messy, novels, especially detective novels, are all about setting the universe back to rights after something throws it into chaos. It’s why people read detective novels. Some of you might argue that things in fictional Santa Teresa, CA, were set right, but I didn’t think so. I did enjoy much of the novel and laughed out loud at Kinsey Millhone, who I’ve grown to love as an old friend.

With dismay, I began to wonder if we’d forgotten how to tell redemptive stories. In our society’s effort to become ever more secular, we have forgotten how to read anything that challenges us, including the Bible. Whether you believe in God or not, the Bible is a great piece of literature with extremely good advice. I would also argue we’ve forgotten how to immerse ourselves in Nature, another great teacher.

Not a Monarch, but instead, a mimic, the Viceroy butterfly, Limenitis archippus, has a smile on its lower wings that the Monarch doesn't have.
Not a Monarch, but instead, a mimic, the Viceroy butterfly, Limenitis archippus. The Viceroy has a smile on its lower wings that the Monarch doesn’t have. I think this is the first year I’ve seen a Viceroy in my garden.

After much prayer, I began to see my care for my Monarch caterpillars as a metaphor for God’s love for us. The caterpillars have no idea I’m watching over them. They just eat and poop and do their thing. They’re rather helpless. They can also be quite hard on each other so I sometimes separate them when they crawl too close. When I pick them up–after making sure my hands are clean–immediately, they curl into a C of defensiveness. It’s all they know. I gently place them near some milkweed, leave them alone, and soon they’re back doing their thing. I watch over these creatures as if each one is precious cargo because it is. Monarchs are basically endangered even if it isn’t official yet.

I’m not saying people are like caterpillars. Obviously, not, but being a woman of faith, I see God’s unconditional love to be similar to my care for these small insects that will eventually change into something much more glorious than when they first began. (Click on pictures in the galleries to make them larger.)

There’s a good reason why caterpillars and butterflies are symbolic of metamorphosis and rebirth.

My children, by the way, are completely grossed out that I have cages all over the dining room with caterpillars in various stages and sizes. I keep telling them caterpillars are not gross. In fact, if you run your finger gently across one’s back, it is silky to the touch. Plus, their camouflage coloring is quite beautiful. They blend in with the milkweed. Not so for adult butterflies who live for such a short and glorious time.

As for God’s love, I think butterflies and late-summer flowers are good points of reference. There are many more efficient pollinators out there than butterflies. I’m not sure Nature needs butterflies, but humans do.

When the news, the podcast and my reading became too much for me, I wandered outside into my messy late-summer garden. My favorite flower of the moment is Autumn sneezeweed, Helenium autumnale. I planted smallish plants last fall, and they are glorious this summer. They, along with the still-blooming Phlox paniculata ‘Bright Eyes,’ are much favored by pollinators, and the late-summer bloom is all about feeding the pollinators before winter sets in. I’m still waiting for the asters to bloom in a blue haze, but this year, I’m actually enjoying wild ageratum, Eupatorium coelestinum, a/k/a mistflower, for the first time. I used to hate it because it is so prolific, but it’s a favorite nectar plant of adult Monarchs so I’ve learned to pull as much as I can in spring and enjoy the rest. The same is true for garlic chives, Allium tuberosum, and obedient plant, Physostegia virginiana, which I can’t seem to eradicate. Don’t plant them if you don’t want them until the end of your days. Since I didn’t deadhead much in July, these plants are carrying the garden through early September.

Pretty soon, asters and garden mums will join the other flowers, and the garden will have a kind of rebirth before it dies in late autumn after a killing freeze.

We had a party last weekend, and several of my friends wanted to see the gardens. We walked and talked, and I pointed out butterflies and moths flitting amongst the blooms. My friends were amazed at the beauty of these small creatures like the Hemaris thysbe, hummingbird clearwing moth. These moths dart in and out of the phlox like hummingbirds hence the name. They are one of the best reasons to grow phlox. Need more good reasons? How about the Painted Lady butterflies, Vanessa cardui, which are so abundant this year. Painted Lady butterflies also adore stonecrop sedum, Sedum spectabile, so plant it too.

Hemaris thysbe, Hummingbird Clearwing moth on P. paniculata 'Bright Eyes' phlox.
Hemaris thysbe, Hummingbird Clearwing moth on P. paniculata ‘Bright Eyes’ phlox.

Speaking of hummingbirds, I have a couple of males that check me out every time I go out to get more milkweed. They love the zinnia patch this year and protect it fiercely. They are so cute but so naughty keeping all of the other creatures except wasps on the wing. Bill caught sight of them of them the other day and was charmed by their antics.

Butterflies and late-summer flowers both speak to me of God’s love and also the quick passage of time. Much was made of horology, the study of time, in S-town. It was the best part of the podcast. John B. was a genius who built and repaired beautiful timepieces throughout much of his life. Check out this sundial he built for his friend, teacher, and mentor, Tom Moore. I think McLemore loved people fiercely, but couldn’t accept their love in return.

Like the caterpillars and the late-summer flowers, we bloom and eventually fade away. I just hope we all experience metamorphosis and winged flight before our time is done. The late-summer garden beckons like a lover in the cool evening. Don’t forget to go outside and enjoy it before it too is gone.

19 Replies to “Of love and late-summer flowers”

  1. A lovely, thoughtful post Dee, I enjoyed it immensely! I feel that raising monarchs give us the chance to do something selfless. Yes, we get joy from it, but otherwise we’re just helping them along the journey, and they never even realize we’re doing it.

  2. I love you, Dee. I love that you raise butterflies, that you’re not afraid to mention prayer and the Bible, that you read Sue Grafton and that you write ALL about your life and share it with us. Surely hoping your mom loves her new independent living setting. I’m so proud of her for making that move. And I had never noticed that a Viceroy wears a smile. I’m tickled to know that. Take care, dear friend.

    1. Thank you Jennie. I love you too. We can’t move Mom until I sell her house, and we’ve had to do a few repairs to get it ready. Thanks also for loving me. About the Viceroy butterfly, it tickles me to no end that it has a smile.

  3. 55 alive was my slogan for my 55th year. Life is so good and so full of beauty. I’m so glad you shared this. It is a thoughtful, wonderful post. And I never tire of looking at your garden and flowers. I am so awed by your butterfly project, I plan to put out milkweed next spring in an overgrown area of our acreage. And hopefully there will be hundreds of butterflies next summer to be enjoyed by our grandchildren.

    1. Peggy, I feel that way too. At 55, I must say I’ve never been happier in my life. I see more clearly everyday that life is full of beauty. Thank you for your kind words. I hope you’ll get loads of butterflies next season. Plant some zinnias too. The adults adore zinnias. I think one of the reasons I have so many Monarchs this year is because I planted milkweed next to zinnias. Now, I’m going to get some bluevine and plant it too. I’m turning the whole garden into even more of a butterfly paradise.

  4. “I’m not sure nature needs butterflies, but humans do.” That is profound, Dee. I always feel that seeing a butterfly flying free is a gift from God. So many times the sight of a butterfly has seemed to have special significance in my life. You are a beautiful soul. 🙂 Thanks for sharing your gorgeous photos, your lovely garden, and your wisdom.

    1. Beth, I think I’ve always loved butterflies. I remember trying to raise a caterpillar when I was a young girl. It didn’t go so well that time. I think you’re a beautiful soul too and am so glad that through blogging we met each other.

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