Sunday, October 19, 2014

October Orchids, Spiranthes in the Pines

Brother Henry called this week with a wildflower sighting.
An intriguing patch of white wildflowers had appeared in a mossy seep just across the road from his home in rural Harnett County, and Hoot Owl Karma headed out on a picture perfect October morning to investigate.


Henry failed to warn us about the amazing autumn asters we'd encounter before we even crossed the road. 

Wow.

Once we oriented ourselves properly, we spotted the mystery wildflowers in the mottled shade of the pines near the pond across the road.



And once we laid eyes on the first, we discovered not just one or two or even a dozen of these glorious white spires; 

no, this was a thriving community of Spiranthes sp., dozens of lovely native October orchids, each determined to outshine its neighbors in their lush green bed of sphagnum moss.


Our first impression was that these were nodding ladies' tresses, but there was such variability among the gathered individuals, we decided a little more research into the October-blooming Spiranthes native to our area was in order.

In the meantime we basked in the glory of a spectacular autumn Orchid show.


Henry's neighbors dropped by to introduce themselves and inquire about our activities, and they graciously encouraged us to photograph as long as we liked. We thanked them for their hospitality and chatted for a few minutes about the very special habitat they had preserved here along their pond margins.


The sun's rays skittered across the surface of the pond and slipped between the towering pines to dance among the tiny white blossoms.


The pines cast their long shadows at our feet, dimming the glow of one, then another, of the brightly illuminated spikes,



though time had slowed to a barely perceptible crawl as we moved, mesmerized, among the gathered throng.


Each plant was a unique individual.


Some slender and delicate, others much more robust; 


some standing tall, others barely peeking above the moss;


some with blossoms spiraling so wildly as to lose their way,
others barely twisting from the vertical at all.


All white, though; some blindingly so.


Some stood close to one another, practically hand in hand, while others stood all alone.


The subtle twist and turns of some flowers as they opened in carefully ordered succession along the stalk


contrasted with others sporting a more random, somewhat disheveled look.


All in all, another unforgettable autumn morning here at Hoot Owl Karma, thanks to Henry and his neighbors and nature indomitable, here in the heart of Carolina.


Henry didn't warn us about the hundreds of carnivorous sundew plants lining the pond, either... Good thing we spotted them before they spotted us!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

All Scuppernongs Are Muscadines, Right?

Sure, but not all muscadines are scuppernongs. 
Although we were far more likely to encounter the dark purple muscadine growing wild in the Sandhills, many of my fondest fall memories are of the super-sweet, thick-skinned bronze beauties we called "white grapes", but known by most folks as scuppernon's.


An old ruin of a dwelling languishing among the pines on the sandy ridge above our house served as arbor for a prolific old scuppernong vine that boasted the biggest, sweetest white grapes you can imagine.  


We called it the Witch's House; and for good reason.
Just enough of the structure remained intact to support the notion that a hunch-backed old crone might be lurking just inside, leering silently from the darkness behind an empty window frame, contemplating a nice meal of careless grape-fattened kid.


We only ventured near the place in broad daylight; once the shadows of the pines began to lengthen in the early fall afternoon, we figured you'd be a fool to go near it. But maybe once or twice a year, with a sufficient entourage of friends and family, a grape gathering party would set out around high noon on a Saturday in late September or early October; in a good year, we might fill several large paper Winn Dixie bags with sugary brown sweetness before we were through.


As I recall, they made fabulous jelly, yummy pies (which included the hulls), and a passable (and quite potent) wine, but by far the best way to enjoy them was fresh out of hand. 


For me, that meant popping the whole fruit in my mouth, hull and all, then biting it to force the juice and seedy pulp free from the hull. I then swallowed the gob of pulp and seeds, and spit out the hull, after squeezing every drop of juice out with my teeth. Others would work the flesh around a bit to remove all the seeds and spit them out along with the hull, and there was even one crazy cousin who swallowed the whole thing, chewing on the hulls long past the point when the last of the sweetness was gone.


It's nice to see that there are still a few scuppernongs around for our children to enjoy. 
Too bad the witch's house is gone, though. 
They'd have enjoyed raiding her cellar for a few choice potatoes. 
But that's a story for another day...

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Autumn Garden


A trip to the homeplace in the Harnett County sandhills is always a delight, particularly when it involves a visit with Mom and Dad and Robbie. They have been enjoying a banner year for wildlife so far this year, so we usually pack the camera when we head over that way, and Saturday was no exception.
After sitting and visiting for a spell, Papa Jim suggested I head out to the flower garden for a few pictures ahead of the approaching thunderstorm. Apparently he'd seen a couple of monarchs passing through earlier in the day. 


Jim's instincts were dead on, as usual. The nectaring had reached a fever pitch in the lantana as a half-dozen migrating monarchs joined ranks with a ragtag band of locals,


and a motley crew they made in the autumn garden.


Spotted buckeyes and painted ladies jockeyed for position with their bold orange brethren;


restless, roving, proboscises probing,


frantically feeding, 


as though each draught might be their last.


Fluttering wings and wind-tossed blossoms erupted in a riot of color,


as eye and lens thrilled at a brief moment of repose, 


before beauty took wing again, dancing to the sound of thunder.


Hopper had yet to earn its wings, but fearlessly held to its sunny perch high above the grass,



emboldened by the butterflies' oblivious sipping.



The tiny spotted skipper, moth-like features belying its true nature, lighted for a single sip,




then yielded its spot to a lady.



The autumn garden and its gleaners glowed in the fleeting golden rays; 


familiar silver-spotted skipper, with tattered wing, 



and magnificent monarch, with scarcely a scale out of place.


Buckeye buried its head in a sweet golden cup, then orange, then pink, then gold again.



And skipper paused, head raised, as if to measure the storm's progress,



while monarch gave the camera a parting shot, in profile. 

It's autumn in the Sandhills, with lantana and sunshine and butterflies and rain on the way;

immersing us in a boundless garden of wonder. 


Friday, October 10, 2014

Forty-Five Minutes of Fall


Today we tasted forty-five minutes of fall.


In this frenetic race called life, with its relentless cycle of tomorrows becoming todays and next week this week, the changing seasons arrive and depart with barely a notice, while our memory banks mechanically register yet another year of yesterdays.


We know this phenomenon; we live it.


Yet every once in a rare while, we resist.


We stop. We examine. We wonder.


And time slows.


Each moment persists,


not quite ready to slip into the past.


And as the cellphone's clever ringtone announces the imminent start of another dizzying lap,


we linger,


not quite ready to relinquish our rediscovered link


to the slower moving parts of this world we call home.