Wasps are What?

When we took up housekeeping on Mountain View, the wasps had already staked out their territory. The workers putting on our new roof noticed a few nests hanging under the eaves. The painter staining our front porch reported the large active ground swell hidden in stacks of pine straw. What concerned viewer doesn’t tell a woman to pour gasoline on the nest at nightfall – and run? We diligently set about eradicating these threats with cans of spray.

On sunny days when spring was not in full swing, I saw wasps flying solo, making unbidden appearances. And in the interest of discretion and good judgment, I began to cover the honey dripped biscuits when breakfasting on the back deck, and kept a cautious eye on the tea and cookies I served in the afternoon on the front porch. We never dined alone, the formidable insects constantly hovered.

I have felt a wasp’s unapologetic sting, and watched in horror as my ten year old daughter stepped on a ground nest while camping in the Smokey Mountains, the swarm of stings instantly producing pain, swelling, redness, and sobs. We washed with alcohol swabs, packed with cooler ice, and served up four-hour potions of Benadryl from the campers’ first aid kit. A wasp struck my toddler son’s forehead with full force when we lived on the farm, and his violent vomiting and headache led to years of carrying an epipen. My mother-in-law’s wasp sting was the serious one – 911 call, ambulance run to the emergency room, and fifty years later (she just turned 96) she continues to have shots. Clearly wasps are pests, with a reputation for striking without apparent cause. I could not see these flying insects in any other light – until I heard the casual comment of a horticulturalist, “But Wasps are Wonderful”!

The perks of these creatures who inherited the earth long before we appeared on the evolutionary horizon are as hidden as the fact that indeed most wasps don’t cluster in nests, but live solitary lives. 135 million years ago these early insects shared the skyways with oversized dragonflies and pterosaurs. But by chance, circumstance, and nature’s drive to propagate they began to feed on pollen in the green forests filled with ferns and conifers, carrying the pollen around on their feed. From the beginning wasps were predators and today are credited with helping to control the pest population, feasting on aphids, spiders, and beetles. Apparently they take care of a super supply of flies as well. Pollinators, pest patrol, and oh my, they only live for one season with or without my intervention.

I still stare with caution when I see this insect approach, rarely making a buzz. I duck when necessary. I cover my sweet drink with my hand and check before sipping, in case a wasp has decided to search the glass for nectar.  And I would eliminate as health precaution, strategically built nests. But in my wide berth I might also acknowledge a bit of thanks for their doing their proper job. Anyway I suspect that they would prefer we just stay out of the way.

And there’s always more to learn…


https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-beguiling-history-of-bees-excerpt/     Excerpted from The Beguiling History of Bees by Dave Goulson




Magic of May Days

Trees took their time dressing in variations
of spring green until seemingly with a single
swipe of Nature’s wand, whether midnight,
noon or early morn, I do not know, buxom
beeches, cherries, oaks and maples
flaunted their arrival, exchanging high fives.

Folks who grew up in these mountains
cautioned – two colds snaps yet to come.
As sure as their word would have it,
in mid-April dogwood winter dropped-in
and a profusion of pink and white cross
shaped petals hailed its departure.

Just as April showers seeped into May
the second freeze chilled the nights.
Days after Blackberry Winter wrapped
up a long weekend visit, delicate white
flowers popped up on roadside vines .

We marked the ways of the local lore waiting
for Mother’s day to scatter pollinator seed
on the sun rich hillside where day lilies
yearn for summer and greet the newly
planted purple cone flowers and red salvia .

Pots of bright red impatiens hang on the porch,
inviting hummingbirds but not the bears.
The fragrance of honeysuckle blending
with boxwood announces with full
assurance that summer is coming.

may trees


Shadowing Summer

Early in spring before the trees fully dress themselves in skirts and shirts of leaves, I began to observe the influence of shadows. For some time I have been fascinated by the shapes and forms shadows cast in my life. As a child I played with my shape shifting form, wiggling my fingers to make tiny animals appear or dancing with my shadow across our stubbled lawn – well we really had a yard more than a lawn. On hot summer days, shadow and I played statues –striking one frozen pose after another. Afternoons on the beach I would feel ancient and wise, in tune with the earth, as I placed a straight stalk of sea grass in the sand to check on the time! I still do that today, walking on mountain trails, placing my hiking stick into the ground, wondering whether it is time to turn back – although today I have to make an hour’s adjustment for daylight savings time. When I am worn weary with play and the persistence of the sun’s heat, shadows offer me the refuge of shade.

Shadows create for me a marvel of art and architecture; the straight lines of my deck railing take on new angles as the sun moves from east to west. My backyard becomes a shadow garden as the limbs of the neighbor’s massive oaks and the hanging arches of dried hydrangeas create lacy patterns. As the breeze blows, shadows of leaves begin a spiraling dance around the maple’s steady trunk. All along the sidewalk tree shadows lock arms, shadowed wires create continuous arches and berries become buttons. Shadows cast more than the replica of an object; they create something new and amazing.

From light of dawn to evening, shadows enter stage left and right with seemingly whimsical changes in wardrobe.  David Abram in Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology nudges my awareness that the shadow is something more than a two-dimensional silhouette lying flat at my feet.  “The actual shadow does not reside primarily on the ground; it is a voluminous being of thickness and depth, a mostly unseen presence that dwells in the air between my body and the ground. (16). As Abram points out, the truth of this becomes more evident when I step into the shadow of the mountain. I feel the influence as the coolness brushes over my skin; I sense the change in the rhythm of my breath. I relish the comfort zone, sharing the favored space with lamb-ears, lily-of-the valley, violets, bee balm and begonias. And imagine! I share with the material world the power to disrupt the domination of the sun when insects and blades of grass fall under the spell of my own shadow. (Abram,19).Shadow

A Pair of Blackbirds

Before you read any further, I will tell you the moral of this tale. There is so much right in front of our eyes we just don’t see because we are busy looking for something else. I stumbled onto this discovery now that the blackbirds have gone. This is a soaring bird story that begins with bears and bird feeders. On my side of the mountain, bears compete for the birds’ food. Paws up for a fast, fatty protein shake, and the birds have nothing left. And no one wants to attract the bear population, so residents in our community are encouraged to bring in the feeders.

I have missed the bird feeder activity in this new home. I consider birds more than passing visitors. Bird song and dashes of color have the power to lift my heart and pull my attention away from fretting. As we entered deeper into winter the only winged sightings in my new world were a pair of blackbirds. And they were daily visitors, the only sky dots in the horizon I could count on seeing from my work space. I somewhat begrudgingly began to anticipate their appearances, and on some days I could be swept up in their flight patterns. On occasion three or four blackbirds appeared high above the hardwoods and pines, dipping and swooping, and I imagine working together to find a meal or two.

Drawn to the neighbor’s chicken coop, the birds with huge beaks, wide wing spans, and a bit of a ruffled appearance would strut about the fence with a high step, as though on parade. At times I felt that later in the day they intentionally joined me for my afternoon walk. While I was silent, they could keep up a running commentary with an amazing variation of crucks, gurgles, and broken door bell sounds.

The last time I had an up close encounter, Kate, my red headed border collie, and I were making a slow turn of the town park, a place designed as natural habitat for flora, fauna, and wildlife creatures. I was startled into a standing tree pose by a song like none I had ever heard, a deep throated call that seemed at the same time to be knocking and gargling. It was actually quite beautiful, like a chord from Benjamin Britten. From a short distance came a resounding response. I would not move for fear this awesome moment would pass too soon. All the while my eyes scanned the tree tops to identify the sources. After a prolonged period of no activity, just as Kate and I continued our circular path, two blackbirds merged from different trees, flying so close I wanted to reach up and touch.

Instead I returned home determined to learn more about the crows that  had companioned my winter. If I couldn’t see the finches and nuthatches, the robins and the bluebirds, I could come to appreciate the blackbirds that were clearly visible.

A click on links to learn about crows created a moment of cognitive dissonance – what I was recording in my notes conflicted with what I held to be certainly true. Several facts, however, shifted my point of reference. Crows like crowds and hang out in large extended families. They flap-flap-flap their wings, and for the most part caw, caw, caw. Ravens! Ravens are more solitary, often sighted in pairs, can entertain with graceful soaring, gliding, flights and only humans can exceed the vocal range of ravens.  All winter I had been accompanied by ravens and I did not take the time or attention to come to know them and respectfully call them by name. Though seen in larger numbers and with greater frequency in the Northern and Western states, the ravens also roost in the mountains of western North Carolina.

While raven thoughts may turn to high school literature, and Edgar Allen Poe’s dreary winter night disturbance – a visitor rapping and tapping at the chamber door, I am drawn to the Greek mythology of the raven as symbol of good luck. However, I missed the message because I failed to look closely at the messenger. I wanted to see red birds, blue birds, snow birds, and finches and nearly ignored the insistent presence of Apollo’s herald.  I would be remiss if I did not share the other reported side of a raven’s reputation for being naughty, creating annoying problems from stealing golf balls to pecking holes in airplanes wings – clearly attacking strangers inhabiting their space.

Just as I was eager to shout out a greeting, welcoming the ravens to my territory, I noticed their sudden disappearance. I surmise that they have flown to higher altitudes for a bit of nesting this spring. The bears are out of their dens, and the buds and insects, worms surfacing after spring rains, have attracted birds of many varied feathers and am I over the moon excited, but now I have an eye that will never stop scanning the skies for the jet black titled wings of the raven.

Thanks Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology, my go to source for all I want to know about birds:



© Chuq Von Rospach

Shaking Out the Blues

Those days come around every now and again, when I can think gratitude, but not feel the beat in my heart that makes the day more of a dance than a march. Recently I had just such a day. When the skies shimmer and shadows make an appearance, I find myself searching for the warmth of the sun spots. Easing into a deck chair, I allow contentment to create an inner space for thinking through whatever is clouding my perspective. On this particular day my eyes shift from the Blue Ridge Mountain peaks to a humbling spectrum of blues creating the canvas.

Surely it IS enough to simply gaze, appreciate, and let the heavens silently grace my disposition with awe. However, I am pulled by deeper longing to communicate an appreciative connection to that which feels bigger than me, than self. For me, finding the words is an expression of Love. With a writer’s compulsion I struggle to recreate awe through words.

I do not have an artist’s eye nor the immediate ability to describe a dab of this color and brush of that shade to recreate the dome some call a portal to heaven. I begin making my acquaintance by playing with blues I can call by name: baby blue, deep sky blue, cornflower blue, electric blue, indigo blue, lavender blue (that one from a nursery rhyme), royal blue, blue violet, turquoise, and true blue.  Once the game begins there are sports blues (Carolina, Duke, or Brandeis; uniform blues (Dodgers, Royal Air Force, and the Navy), flowers, jewels, and paint chips. To identify the sky spectrum I am directed to discover the variations of azure, from a pale pastel tint called cyan to the dark shades of lapis lazuli.

A mid-day southern sky, blistering bright, is draped in baby blue; a slight turn to the west and there a brilliant cast of Mayan blue, reminiscent of an ancient civilization. A day of breath-taking blues unfurls like the flags of many nations, white sheets stretched between Honolulu blue and Bleu de France. On other days the skies are cloudless displays of ocean blue, or the pale pastel tints of soothing azure. Nearing sunset, I may see the sky bejeweled with sapphire blue or lapis lazuli.

Days pass that I am not aware of this protective dome, and the numerous displays of glory it creates. Yet any single day the sky subtly influences the drama of my day- my mood, habits, events, conversations, predictions, recollections – the sky is a happening place. Sky gazing takes on a new meaning for me, an assurance of presence that offers endless variations of change, a reminder that every single day is an opportunity for a new creation. The beauty and magnificence of the universe is easily accessible as a source of peace, joy, calm, a portal for lifting the spirit, changing my vision for the day. Right there through the window, a step outside my door. “Blue skies, nothing but blue skies.”


Star Light, Star Bright

Opening the door and stepping onto the back deck on a clear, cold winter night feels like falling into a universe of stars for the first time – such is the wonder. While I am told that on the clearest night the eye beholds perhaps as many as 2,500 stars, I feel certain that there are tens of thousands of glittering jewels – all indistinguishable to my unaided sight. I am mesmerized by the gradual appearance of more and more layers.

Some years ago on a summer night I stood at the edge of a cabin porch, surrounded only by mountains on every side, and the pitch darkness that creates shivers of appreciation. I toasted the skies’ magnificence with a glass of wine. “Look,” I shouted a bit too loudly, “see the next whole layer appear.” My friend, thinking I was a bit knowledgeable about astronomy, got caught up in the excitement said, “The nextal layer? Where?”  The “nextal” layer drew me from awe to adulation.

I know enough to wonder at a light – several thousand pinpoints of light traveling through the vacuum of space at the speed of 186,000 miles per second for a span of at least four years. Some star bursts of energy have continued to shine for billions of years. I cannot begin to wrap my head around the power of light.

This winter night I pondered whether each point of light is as distinct as each snowflake, as nature has a propensity for diversification. Indeed, I read that the colors of Betelgeuse and Arcturus are cool red and Vegas burns a hot white. Astronomers have a range of color categories. There are varying degrees of brightness; the luminosity we see is dependent on the distance from us. The distinct size determines the giants and the super giants. And yet our eyes are trained to the sameness – it’s a star. Unless, of course, we are talking about Hollywood, and then the star is a standout.

Origin and design form the unity of the stars. At the core they are pulsing bodies creating energy, the results of the collapse of a nebula and dense heat that produces nuclear fusion. A new star is born. When stars explode as supernovas, dispersed elements release the building blocks of life through the universe – hydrogen, helium, carbon, calcium, iron, sodium, chloride, silicon… What is there about the twinkling star that doesn’t create wonder?

Diamond in the sky. Orion’s Belt. Big Dipper. Great Bear. Water Carrier. I can only make out the simplest patterns of constellations, but imagine the millions of tales told by sailors, settlers, wanderers, poets, mystics – trying to make meaning of the heavens. Light blankets our darkness with more than joy; stars emanate life. In this reality I discover a Divine plan.

The Universe stimulates the ‘zest for being’ and provides the nourishment which are transformed into Love of God.”

Teilhard de Chardin “My Universe”





Laurel River Hike

Grey skies with promise of afternoon
showers do not deter the five women,
willing to take a chance. Bodies
eager to keep moving forward,
spirits hungry for change of scene,
they enter  the rail-bed trail along
Big Laurel Creek, a forest path
waiting for new explorers. The hikers
willingly soak in the cleansing coolness
and pause to attend to the powerful pound
of rushing waters. Grace emerges to purge
the faint scent of defeat pushing against
the edge of  consciousness.

Bleached river boulders, shaken loose
from mountaintops eons ago profess
unseen messages inscribed in stone
– Stand firm. Stay strong.
Green moss, clinging with confidence,
celebrates the fertile embrace of unobstructed
sunlight through winter’s opened arms.
Fallen trees toppled by simple breeze
or furious storm display ancient time-worn roots,
Beavers mark their night’s labor, precision
cuttings that surpass the art of woodsmen.

Ten thousand steps of discovery,
the women ease off the nearly empty trail
moments before the first heavy drops of rain
silently erase the signs of a day’s journey.
Five indelibly marked travelers extend
thanks with appreciative sighs.