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Done!

Done! Finished!  They say only the painter can tell when a painting is finished … well … for me that moment occurs when I am heartily sick of looking at the #*%$* painting.   So here they are.

California Buckeye Tree

California Buckeye Tree

D.L. and I scouted up and down a remote country road in order to find the California Buckeye Tree … pinched off some leaves which were rapidly turning brown and beginning to drop. This native tree has a clever strategy to defeat the dry, dry summer. When the hills become parched in June or July it drops all of its leaves and concentrates of developing its seed pod. The crispy leaves are graham-cracker colored – the seed pods are enclosed in a leathery yellowish covering which splits as the summer progresses and releases the glossy orange/brown seeds. The seeds are spectacular !

Iridescent Beetles

Iridescent Beetles

Painting 2 is a fantasy of the iridescent beetles emerging from a pot … a sort-of still life with drapes and two umbrellas.

Foothill Reeds

Foothill Reeds

Painting 3 is a flowering reed which grows around ponds in the California foothills. In order to see the blossoms you must kneel in the soggy soil and look close … and it must be in the two weeks the reeds put out their peculiar flowers.

O.K. ….Tha … that’s all for now folks! … as my favorite roadrunner says.

 

Privileged – “having the rare opportunity to do something that brings particular pleasure”. Yes, that describes our trip to the Red Blossom Tea Company.

Teri Kalama, my son’s true love who is newly in his life, offers to take us to Chinatown to meet her college friend Alice who owns a tea company and will conduct a “tea tasting” just for us. I am thrilled … D.L. is doubtful but game for another experience … and we arrive to meet a gracious person who puts black tea and hot water in a teapot to steep … after a few minutes she transfers it from the teapot to another clay container … my Curiosity Imp gives me a poke … “Why did you pour the tea into the second vessel?” I ask.  Alice smiles and says, “Oh this is the ‘fair’ vessel”. This way when there is a tasting the third cup of tea gets the same intensity of tea as the first cup that is poured … it makes all the cups “fair”.

We all look at each other in amazement. Alice then presents us with cups of tea and two pastries. The first contains a combination of gray sesame custard and green tea custard and the second has a golden tangerine custard inside. D.L. balks at the sesame/green tea pastry but tastes the second golden pastry and pronounces it very good. These pastries come from Mr Holmes Bakeshop and are called “cruffins”, a combination croissant and muffin.

We move on to another pale, creamy green tea as Alice explains that her family has owned this shop on Grant Avenue for decades. Her father was a Chinese Apothecary (from the Latin apotheca- “storehouse”) who dispensed herbs and special teas for years to the community. He developed ties to local tea growers in Asia and selected all his own herbs. When Alice took over the shop many of the tea farmers he bought from refused to do business with a woman, so Alice went to the locations and began friendships with her own suppliers. This elegant tea shop is what emerged from all her hard work. As an added treat Alice shows us a video of her five-year old son playing the piano at a recital at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. It was a WOW!

After carefully wrapping my tea purchases she gave me a tea thermos … glass cylinder with a screw top where you put the tea and hot water into the cylinder, put a shallow metal plate on top so the loose tea does not wind up in your mouth,  screw on the lid and replace it in a black bag which fits perfectly to keep the tea warm. Thank you, Alice … we were privileged to meet you … Mary and D.L.

A Yummy Snack

Hairstreak Butterfly

Hairstreak Butterfly

“Many hairstreak butterflies have an elaborate false eye near the edge of their hindwing, often with slender tails that resemble antennae, creating the impression that the back of the insect is in fact the front.”  This quote is from “A Buzz in the Meadow,” a great book by Dave Goulson about the natural history of a French farm.

So is that clever or what? I see many butterflies with bits missing out of their wings where birds and other predators have taken a swipe at them.  In order to confuse the birds further they usually do a swift 180 turn when they land so the bird thinks their protein-rich body is at the opposite end of where it really is … thereby giving the bird a bit of hindwing but preserving the body of the hairstreak. Saved to fly another day!  Imagine how many generations of butterflies it took to evolve those two orange false eyes and the inclination to land with a quick reverse of direction. Apparently eye spots frighten off predators. Certainly they add to the beauty of the butterfly for we who value beauty.

 

The HUISACHE tree is blooming in Texas. Shall I handpick a ton (or 2 or 3) of those small orange flowers and press the oil out of them? These trees have a pleasant, fresh, violet-like smell which drifts on the breeze, tickling your nose and your memories.

First, here is how the Egyptian cultures did it …”Traditional Egyptian practice involves pressing the plant material, then burying it in unglazed ceramic vessels in the desert for a period of months to drive out the water. The water has a smaller molecular size, so it diffuses through the ceramic vessels, while the larger essential oils do not. The lotus oil in Tutankhamen’s tomb, which retained its scent after 3000 years sealed in alabaster vessels, was pressed in this manner.” WIKIPEDIA

In the 1800’s the French perfumers imported Huisache trees and cultivated them in order to extract the oils and use them in perfumes. They devised a method of crushing the flowers with coconut oil or cocoa butter to extract the scent. That is why the oil was priced at $4,400/ kilogram (2.2 pounds). This product was called cassie oil. I invite you to come to Texas and gather a few tons of tiny, fluffy, orange balls and press the oil out of them….or just cover yourself in coconut oil and rub lots of orange flowers on yourself until you achieve the scent you want. You might attract a Crimson patch butterfly. Perhaps you will have a White Peacock butterfly land on you so you do not have to chase this flitter, flitter, fly-away guy around a 100 acre garden in order to photograph him. Anything is possible!

 

Playing Hide-n-Seek with a tiny sparrow may not sound like the highlight of the week … but it is for me!

Black-throated Sparrow

Black-throated Sparrow

This crisp “Tuxedo” bird, with his black and white markings, lives in arid desert scrub-land where it seems he might have trouble keeping his immaculate appearance, yet there he is, looking splendid. He is shy and elusive like his cousin, the Olive Sparrow. Their habit is to make quick forays from beneath sheltering plants, grab a seed, and scuttle back under cover. Over a period of 7-8 years I have managed to get a few blurry photos but never one that shows their true colors.

Rancho Lomitas Garden

Rancho Lomitas Garden

Today we are out at Rancho Lomitas in Texas, where we called ahead and arranged for a man to meet us at the locked gate and allow us to visit his RV trailer where he has fed birds for 18 years. Jim meets us and we sit outside in his garden and admire the huge cacti and many statues, baubles, and various hanging feeders. Then comes the big surprise … a Black-throated Sparrow ambles out, picks up a seed, and instead of running quickly back under the bushes, he fluffs his feathers, and utters a clear loud note. Two more stroll out and the three of them pose casually among the cacti. Terrific!

Then out comes the Olive Sparrow to join them and he also stays in full view displaying his olive green back for the world to see. As if this is not enough riches for one day, a whir of wings deposits a flock of Scaled Quail at our feet. None of them seem concerned that people are near them.

Finally, venturing out to get a drink of water from the drip feature is a Clay-colored Robin. I think he has been re-classified as a thrush in the last few years but in my mind he is a robin with his round, chubby profile. Another hard-to-see bird! Rancho Lomitas is an unusual place … we enjoy these Southwestern birds in peaceful silence broken only by the liquid notes of a Cactus Wren perched on top of a blue sphere. Bird Heaven indeed!

How They Fool US!

Perched on a tree about head-high is a plain black-brown butterfly who slowly begins to open his wings to bask in the sunshine. As he does so, a sliver of iridescent blue appears. He could have been an old brown leaf until he unfurls his black and blue stripes to the sun. The white dots dazzle the viewer of the Mexican Bluewing.

A mud-brown leaf lying on a rock shifts slightly revealing that he is a living butterfly.  I am unimpressed and snap a casual photo but then notice that if I look closely with the sun behind him he has a red-orange streak on his wing. He prepares to leap into the air where both wings open wide showing an intense orange flash. It is a Tropical Leafwing! What a transformation from plain to breathtaking color.

With the sun climbing overhead and lighting the fringed edges of the Questionmark butterfly it is obvious that this is a.spectacular specimen.  Golden with chocolate dots scattered over his wings he seems too beautiful and fragile to exist. The morning sun warms him and he drifts away to conduct his life among the Hackberry trees of the Rio Grande Valley.

Hot, humid air hangs over the beds of Blue Mist Flower and hidden down in the depths is a tiny one inch butterfly tightly closed and seeming to be a wrinkled leaf. As the sun climbs higher he emerges to fly from flower to flower flashing his metallic blue wings. The iridescence makes it impossible to miss him but he flies fast and trying to take his picture as he flits erratically around is difficult. He deserves his name of Blue Metalmark. A joy to see.

The Bordered Patch butterfly is somewhat nondescript with his wings closed but he still shows you what to expect when the wings open…yellow-orange stripes and glowing white dots on a black background He is a big, showy butterfly who floats above the flower beds with slow wing beats.

Once again we set off to drive an hour to a butterfly garden before it gets too hot and humid. We were told by a person at the NABA butterfly gardens that “we were likely to see the Blue Metalmark ” at Resaca De La Palma State Park.  After expressing our doubts that this glorious event would actually happen we agree to get up the next day and go TRY to see  it.

We drive and drive and finally arrive at the park and look in disbelief at a sign on the gate blocking our way. It says “CLOSED – open Wed thru Sat” and today is Tuesday. We can see the visitor Center ahead of us … so we gingerly unhook the gate and drive in.  Ambling over to the hedges we see many plain brown butterflies sitting there with their wings closed.  This is disappointing as we wanted to see a BIG Iridescent BLUE butterfly, and then we hear shouts from Tom and D.L.

“Come quick!  We have found it!” and they point to a half-inch, tiny, blue butterfly. It is the Metalmark … we just had unreal expectations. When they close their wings they become a drab brown. . After looking it up in the book it says the guy should be half an inch … but what a color he flashes at us!! We spend a happy hour combing the bushes for more of them and sure enough there are quite a few. I make a mental apology to the young lady who told me they were at this place as I had so many doubts that she knew where they could be found.

Another wildly successful day out in the thickets of Rio Grande Valley.