A month ago I wrote about how an injury prevented me from running and forced me to slow way down throughout the spring and early summer. Even walking was painful for a long time. Today, I’d say I’m almost back to normal, resuming running regularly, mostly pain-free. Yay!
The irony, though, is even though I really want to run, it’s… August. It’s been hot and humid all month so far, with the heat index in the mid-80s by 7:30 am. That too warm for Conall, and for me.
Humidity is typically highest just after sunrise. Being morning creatures, that’s when the boys and I like to head out for our daily exercise, whether it’s at a walking pace so Finn can join us, or me and Conall going for a run. But when humidity is at 96% at 7:30 am, as it has been the past several mornings? With sunshine? Uh uh. No running. That feels like a sauna to me. Not worth the struggle. Even walking in such humidity is a slog, my shirt sticking to my back because my sweat can’t evaporate, the air so thick and heavy it feels like I can grasp it in my fist. Conall and I do okay, but Finn struggles. So, we slow down to Old-Man-Finn pace.
This morning, to make things more interesting for the dogs’ noses, we ignored the usual paths and instead forged cross-country through the fields. You never know what you might stumble upon, I thought. Big round plastic-covered bales dot the landscape like marshmallows, reminders that there was a cutting in early July. The field grasses, Clover, Bedstraw and some wildflowers are bounding back, getting a second chance to entice my eyes, the dogs’ noses (…sniff sniff, deer came through here!), and those all-important pollinators.
I stopped occasionally to look at young Milkweed plants growing back after that earlier mowing. They’re not even a foot tall yet, but some were developing flower buds. I pondered why I’ve yet to see a Monarch caterpillar munching on any of the Milkweed plants – in these fields or along nearby roads. Milkweed leaves are their sole source of food, which is why it’s so important to maintain plenty of the plants. I’ve seen several Monarch butterflies; surely they laid eggs? The caterpillars are distinctive, easy to identify. Where are they? June is supposed to be the best month to spot them.
What I did see as I inspected the re-emerging Milkweed plants surprised me: the newest leaves sprouting from their tops formed a sort of natural cup, and in almost every one of them I found pairs of earwigs nestled together, hugging the stem. Occasionally there were more than two earwigs to a cup, but usually, just two.
They’re not my favorite bug, even though I know they rarely bite or pinch. The pincers on their hind end look prehistoric and mean. (They’re also called pincher bugs.) In fact, this summer I’ve learned to shake my bath towel out after plucking it from the hook where I hang it to dry after a previous shower. There’s almost always one earwig snoozing there. Apparently they’re nocturnal, so I imagine the earwigs I saw in the Milkweed cups were settling in for a day’s snooze.
As I looked for earwigs, something red with black dots caught my eye a little lower on one of the Milkweeds. Ladybug? Moving closer, I saw a different sort of beetle, with very long and thick, black antennae. They weren’t quite as numerous as the earwigs, and they were moving on the plants. I saw a few more on nearby Milkweeds. Interesting. I took a photo so I could identify them later.
Already I was proving myself right: You never know what you might stumble upon! Take a new path because and be surprised at what you find. A slow pace increases the chances of new discoveries.
(When I got home, I googled “red and black beetle on milkweed plant” and viola! They’re Milkweed Beetles. Of course they are! They’re native to the area and pose no danger to anything.)
After letting the boys cool their toes and get a drink on one of the ponds, we started to head home. We took a path alongside a long swath of woods about 30 feet wide between two big fields. There are lots of tall maples providing shade for woodland plants and wildflowers.
Where fields and woods meet, I’ve seen a variety of wildflowers or blooming shrubs and wild cherry trees all spring and summer. I’m grateful for Google Lens, allowing me to identify them instantly (and quite accurately, although I always double-check other sources when I get home). This morning, ambling along with the boys next to that swath of woods, then cutting through it to the other side, I discovered several late-summer wildflowers and berries.
I also saw several Common Blue-tailed Damselflies, and one smallish dragonfly I haven’t tried to identify.
Finally, crossing back through the field, in an area the landowner mowed a grid pattern on in late June for no reason I can discern other than to have some fun after mowing around the ponds, I enjoyed seeing and thinking about the abundance of Milkweed, clover and other wildflowers getting a second chance where mowing had occurred.
In that grid, where the landowner hadn’t mowed, the Milkweed was tall and mature, the flowers having died off. That’s where I noticed their seed pods. Why hadn’t I noticed them last year? They’re enormous.
I squeezed one. It felt soft but firm, sort of like pushing on a mattress. So strange. I half expected it to pop, mostly air with a few seeds inside, but no, it was solid and unyielding. Back home, I found a video that showed how eventually, each pod will split and open, and inside, a core of dark brown seeds – each with it’s own umbrella of silky filaments, rather like Dandelion seeds – will be released on the breeze to find a new home.
I’m going to bring some of those Milkweed seeds home and disperse them on the bank between the road and my fenced yard. I’ve already seen lots wildflowers blooming there along with the grasses – several types of Aster, Goldenrod, Garden Phlox, Ox-eye Daisies. Why not Milkweed? Especially when they smell so wonderful, sweet and spicy.
Nature’s resilience at its best. The pollinators are happy. The dogs are happy. And so am I. Nature proves a good role model: slow is good.
By the way, if insects and the various flowers and plants they enjoy are of interest, visit Kim Smith’s blog, Nature is My Therapy. She’s knowledgeable, informative, and friendly, and her photos are fantastic.
[All photos mine, taken during this morning’s incredibly slow yet enjoyable walk. Despite 96% humidity.]