Visiting part of the Pennsylvania elk herd in Benezette, Pennsylvania. December 27.
On Saturday, I witnessed a murder.
The Hemaris moths are gone (presumed dead), and all that seemed to be left are the skippers and an occasional monarch. On Saturday, though, a hungry painted lady appeared. I spent an hour or more trying to take photos of this favorite of mine, but I’ve noticed they tend to turn their wide rumps toward me. I try not to take this personally, nor the apparent glare of the skipper that landed on my finger as I raised the phone.
At some point after the painted lady landed on an upper branch, I noticed that it began to beat its wings furiously. I looked and could see only a bit of yellow-green against the purple flowers, but the painted lady seemed stuck. I broke the sprig off with the butterfly still attached. The poor thing went still, its poor legs curled up. I discovered the yellow-green thing had legs. I later decided it was a kind of well-named “ambush bug”—a formidable garden predator that doesn’t discriminate between pests and pollinators.
This was one of the few times I’ve interfered with nature—something I’d normally not do and would not recommend. I can only plead that I was distraught over being deprived of my colorful little friend. I was reminded that the butterfly bush, so full of life in August, when dozens of moths, butterflies, and bees flitted about, can also be full of death. I have complicated feelings about the murder (anthropomorphism) of my new painted lady friend, but I won’t go into them here.
Now, on this last full day of summer, the one creature I saw, a painted lady, flew off when I approached and didn’t return. Another plant down the path that was crawling with a variety of bees only a couple of weeks ago is nearly motionless, with only a few stragglers lethargically tapping into its flowers. There wasn’t even the chatter of birds to relieve the loneliness of the garden past its seasonal prime.
And so summer ends and autumn begins.
During the first half of August last year, I was thrilled to discover not only butterflies at Perennial Garden, but also the little fairy moths known as snowberry clearwings (Hemaris diffinis). I’d seen one of their cousins, the hummingbird clearwing (Hemaris thysbe) in Ann Arbor a few years ago, but never expected to see anything like them here.
I found that great, Eastern tiger, and black swallowtails; red-spotted purples; painted ladies; silver-spotted and fiery skippers; bees; clearwings; and even a hummingbird or two love a particular butterfly bush at the garden. This bush, which had been cut down to the ground after last summer, didn’t bloom fully until early to mid-August—I started checking as early as May! On my brief visits, I never saw clearwings, so I braced myself for disappointment.
I started seeing a few a couple of weeks ago Thursday. When I pedaled over the Saturday before last at 3 p.m., the bush was swarming with life. I noticed that among the snowberry clearwings a few hummingbird clearwings, with their fuzzy green upper backs, were making an appearance. I was in heaven. I love these guys—even after I noticed they were buzzing one another and throwing each other off choice branches of blossoms.
By Saturday there were fewer of the hummingbird moths under the increasingly cloudy skies. I was happy to have seen so many the day before.
I’d made one of the photos I’d taken the background image on my iPhone screen. I’ve changed phones since then, but I haven’t changed the image. I took a closer look at it—and realized that particular photo from last year is of a hummingbird moth (Hemaris thysbe). How did I never notice that? It had the species’ distinctive fuzzy green upper back and lacks the light band near the skirt. While bemoaning that I hadn’t seen any Hemaris thysbe at this butterfly bush, I’d been staring at a photo of one I’d taken a year ago. Brilliant.
Last Tuesday I left work early for a doctor’s appointment and managed to get to the garden by 5 p.m. I was happy to have this unexpected opportunity to visit my little fairy moths—especially since they live only a few weeks.
The bush wasn’t buzzing like it’d been on Saturday, and there weren’t any large butterflies around—but there were enough moths for me to get a few photos and videos, including one in slow motion. I don’t know why I didn’t think of that sooner, except I am still trying to get a sharp closeup photo.
While I was standing watching a handful of moths flitting around, I heard a “bzzzzzzzzt” behind my head. I turned to find myself face to face with a hummingbird, separated by only a foot and a half or two feet of space.
As I was trying to get myself together (“Where’s the phone? Where’s the camera app?”), she buzzed around me to take a couple of quick sips at the bush. I have only these mid-distance shots and a memory now.
Now there’s only about an hour between the time I get home, change, get my bike out, and ride over, and sunset. By that hour, the Hemaris moths are few if any. The other day I was watching a hummingbird clearwing when a snowberry clearwing attacked it and carried it away.
I wish I could tell them there are plenty of blossoms to go around for the little time they have left.
While this snowberry clearwing was intent on seeking nectar, I was intent on photographing it. I couldn’t get crisp photos with an iPhone, but this is one of my favorites. It looks like it’s playing hide-and-seek with me, but I have no idea of how this little hovering moth perceives the world. Maybe I was just an annoying anomaly of movement, shadow, or strange colors. To me, they are like garden fairies. I haven’t seen one in a couple of weeks, and I miss them. So long to summer, and hope to see your progeny next year.
Click photo for more on Flickr and hit the slideshow icon.
Lately I’ve been lurking at Perennial Garden in Hyde Park, a favorite spot of mine. Right off where the pavement turns in I found a bush where butterflies hang out. I’ve learned it’s called “butterfly bush.” It’s an invasive species, so I don’t recommend it for your garden. (Try something native, like butterfly weed.)
Some days the bush is visited by butterflies. At other times I see more little moths. One day to my surprise a hummingbird whizzed in and out. I’m not sure it even stopped. It (or another) did the same thing the next day, never when I was ready for a photo.
After the hummingbird sightings, I started thinking that my life would be complete if a hawk, or hummingbird, moth showed up. I’d seen only one once before, near the Cascades in Ann Arbor, Michigan. It was a fancy, not even a hope. The next day my jaw dropped when one of these little garden fairies buzzed in. Now I wish I hadn’t waited until August to start my lurking.
My life is complete. Until I figure out how to get better photos or get my camera over there. By then it will be September.
May 29, 2015
Click photo for more on Flickr and hit the slideshow icon.
Because we’d been to Cherry Springs, we had to get our state parks books stamped. At the park, though, the ranger told J. we’d have to go to Lyman’s Run State Park a few miles away for the Cherry Springs stamp. Getting there involved a narrow, winding road around mountains, constrained on one side by a guard rail unprotected by more than a couple of inches of shoulder — J’s favorite kind of driving conditions. Just as we found Lyman’s Run, a deer crossed the road well ahead of us, then, to our surprise, a fawn on spindly legs appeared and stood in the road, confused for a few moments before wandering off in Mom’s direction.
At the Lyman’s Run office, we told the ranger about the deer. A few moments later, she asked where exactly we’d seen them — a couple desperate to see deer had just come in.
At a beach below the nearby dam, a family or two was splashing about in the water. I always hope that when these children grow up they will want their own children to enjoy the same kinds of outdoor experiences they had.
At breakfast someone had told of seeing elk in Benezette and of a motorcyclist who’d feared for his bike’s life when a big bull elk eyed it. Benezette had been a possible destination, but now it became a must-see. I’d never gone there from the north, and we found ourselves on the narrow, twisting road to Galeton, then on more narrow, twisting roads post what seemed to be a lot of state parks and recreation areas. We had to hustle to get to the Elk Country Visitor Center before it closed at 5 — we just made it, at about 4:40 or so. I was surprised I found it as easily as I did.
We hadn’t seen any elk in town or near the visitor center, so I steered him toward the overlook where the bull elk had looked upon the motorcycle. Nothing. Seating had been added, and a man sitting there told us he’d seen some animals earlier, so we sat down to wait patiently.
Within about 10 minutes a female showed up at the edge of the woods and tucked into the field vegetation. Soon she was joined by a second and then a third, who also seemed to materialize from nothing. None of them strayed far from the wood’s edge.
We’d seen elk, if only a small number, if only at a distance. J proclaimed himself content.
We returrned to Benezette, driving around for a bit and spotting the top of a deer’s head among the high grasses along the river. Even the picnic area, jammed with elk during my December visits, was populated only by a few people and vehicles.
After eating at the Benezette Hotel (where J got an elk burger to go), we called it a day, knowing we had a long way to go. On the road out of town, however, elk began popping up in front yards, including three bulls in velvet. By now the residents of Benezette and beyond must have given up on any kind of garden or landscaping and let the elk have at their yards.
We stopped at length in front of several houses, sometimes in awkward spots ahead of road curves. I worried about being rear-ended, but the few times we saw cars, they slowed down and stopped too. The elk are hard to resist.
On the way back we noticed several popular fishing spots and some vintage bridges. Oh, to have a creek nearby to visit every day . . . preferably an uncontaminated one. In Pennsylvania, you never know.
For the last leg of this day trip, Google Maps helpfully steered me toward a long gravel road overrun by creatures that, in the growing darkness, could have been toads or chipmunks or something else — they scooted across so fast it was hard to tell. After two to three miles we came to the main road to Frosty Hollow, where a sign invites you to detour four miles up the gravel road (the way we’d come) to Jackson’s Bargain Barn & Gift Shop (open Thurs., Fri., and Sat.). When we’d passed the sign earlier, J had pointed it out and wondered if anyone (like us) would ever choose to go up that road. Ooops. Thank you, Google Maps (and for trying to take us down a footpath at Chestnut Ridge Park). We got back as rain began — no need to debate a return to Cherry Springs. Sitting on the barn porch, watching the rain come down, ended the day in the country perfectly.
August 9, 2014: Grand Marais to Judge C. R. Magney State Park to Kadunce River to Baptism River Inn On which I spend a goodly amount of time seeking the devil or at least his kettle After some confusion about … Continue reading →
August 4, 2014: Ely to Tofte
On which we meet a snarling bear and a mellow wolf, learn about the “Root Beer Lady,” see a rock that’s older than dust, and find new waterfalls
Our first stop in the morning was at Chocolate Moose (one of the few moose we spotted during the trip) for breakfast en plein air. Next, we were lured in by their neighbor, Piragis Outfitters, where we found cool stuff like bags and sporks. Who wouldn’t love a good Swedish-designed spork? I’m almost as dangerous at an outfitters as I am at a bookstore or office supply shop. If I camped or canoed or kayaked, I’d be destitute.
The next stop in Ely was the North American Bear Center, where we arrived in time to see the enrichment program at work and some of the relationships between the bears in play. I supplemented my Vince Shute photos with some of the center’s youngest bear treed by its largest, and of the largest bear snarling. She didn’t seem to be in a good mood on this beautiful August morning.
Toward the end of our visit, we ran into a woman who encouraged us to drive around Shagwa Lake, which is one of the many places I’d hang out at if I lived in Ely. Judging from the family we saw on its shores, it’s as good for wading and fishing as it is for photography.
J. stopped briefly at the Dorothy Molter Museum, a tribute to the “Root Beer Lady.” She’s said to be the last non-indigenous resident of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW). Her homestead was dismantled in 1987, with two cabins restored in Ely. She made root beer and sold it to canoeists. I confess that at the time I didn’t find this as interesting as J. did, so I stayed in the car. I’m still haunted by all the stops made during last year’s trip, the long drives between destinations, and the resulting 1 or 2 a.m. arrivals. I have to get over that.
At the International Wolf Center, a lone wolf posed for photos, although I wasn’t quick enough to get a photo of him while he was moving.
Both the bear and the wolf centers offer a great experience, with lots of information for the interested adult and activities for children. While resting my feet at the Bear Center, I watched videos of Alaskan brown bears catching salmon and strutting off with their victims. I also posed with a late member of the elusive moose species and compared my size to the that of several North American bear species (at best, I’m the height of a juvenile or female black bear). At the Wolf Center, we walked through an exhibit of aurora borealis photos — the northern lights that in nearly three weeks of travel in 2013 and 2014 we were destined not to see even once.
After all this activity, we went to a café I’d found on Yelp!, the Front Porch, which is as comfortable as a café can get. It’s in a house with a lot of porch space in addition to roomy interiors. The food and coffee were good, and so was the cheesecake we bought for later. The Front Porch ranks high on my list of places I didn’t want to leave and that I wish were nearby. That’s even without having seen the live music offerings they have on some evenings.
After tearing ourselves away from the Front Porch, we began our hunt for the Ely pillow rock, which I’d spotted on a whimsical tourist map of Ely I’d picked up at Fortune Bay. From waymarking.com:
This historic 15’ rock outcrop is a wonderful example of Ely greenstone, a “rare ellipsoidal lava flow formed beneath primeval seas 2.7 billion years ago.” It is volcanic in origin and there are very few specimens like this in the world. It is easily accessible 24/7 and can be seen on the north side of Main Street in the northeast part of town.
Ellipsoidal lava is also known as “pillow laval” and is any lava characterized by pillow structure and presumed to have formed in a subaqueous environment.
When you have a chance to see a 2.7 billion-year-old lava rock in the Midwest, you can’t miss it. We almost did, however, because it was hard to find. A pair of cyclists tried to help, but I’m not sure they agreed on where to send us. After we drove around a while and ended up downtown again, one of my map apps finally gave me a clearer picture of where it should on Main Street, which, despite its name, proved to be a gravel road. When we finally got to what looked like the right spot, we didn’t see it at first because it was down the road a bit. This ancient piece of lava, formed when the area was underwater, is on the edge of a wooded area across from some typical houses. Most likely the residents who see it every day are over its charms, but I would find it amazing to pass such a relic of the past every day. I would feel more connected to the world that was than to the world that is.
During all this driving through Ely, we’d seen a custard place, Red Cabin Custard. It was a warm enough day for it, and stopping there gave J. a chance to get a Dorothy Molter root beer, while I had a PMS sundae (I recommend it whether you need it or not).
After packing up and checking out of Silver Rapids Lodge prematurely, we stopped at Kawishiwi Falls, which is a relatively easy short walk. The falls seem to be downstream from a dam, but that didn’t detract from their beauty in the early evening.
Leaving Ely behind, we set out at last on Highway 1, which was a long, lonely drive that seems to be used primarily by mining and logging vehicles. We saw very few cars, a few trucks, and no moose, although there may have been a white-tail or two. Even the towns seemed tiny and remote.
At least we reached Highway 61, the scenic road that runs along the western shore of Lake Superior. To our surprise, Highway 61 was under construction. Whether it was northern Illinois, southern Wisconsin, the Sauk City area, or now Highway 61, we couldn’t get away from construction. In this case, long stretches were gravel only, and some parts were down to one lane with long red lights to control traffic. Gone is my original memory of 61 as a misty, lightly traveled wonder (which it still is, in parts).
After bumping along for miles of torn-up, gravelly road, we arrived at the Americinn in Tofte, perhaps another sign of a growing tourist trade along the North Shore, to get ready for the next day.
August 3, 2014: Tower to Ash River Visitor Center to Orr Bog Walk to Ely On which I discover the job I should have had and then am eaten alive at a bog August 3 began as a leisurely day — … Continue reading →