Grace Notes

Sweet summertime

Jean Johansson

I take pleasure in the many sights that nature provides this time of the year, as gardens grow and birds, mammals, and butterflies abound.

I have enjoyed my late-winter-to-early-summer viewing of live webcams that have given me a glimpse of newborn wild animals and the care they receive from their parents. I’ve been treated to the sight of bear cubs being cared for by their mother in her northern Minnesota den prior to venturing out into their forest world, eaglets in their huge nest high above the ground in Iowa, and a loon chick in central Minnesota as, hours after hatching, it plopped into the water from its floating nest and then scrambled onto the back of one of its parents.

The city lot my house sits on has provided a few surprises. One early evening, as I returned from a walk with my dog Chance, I saw a rabbit sitting on my driveway. At first glance she looked like a mythological animal, the rabbit version of a millipede, with many little legs surrounding her where she had planted herself on the pavement. I soon realized that she was nursing her litter of babies. When she chose to hop into my neighbor’s yard, eight little bunnies scattered from underneath her before they all headed to the foliage on the south side of my house. The cuteness factor was off the chart!

A milkweed plant that unexpectedly appeared in my garden last summer, but never bloomed, has multiplied into seven milkweed plants this year, all of which bloomed. I am grateful for the presence of these plants, because I know the importance of milkweed to the life cycle of the monarch butterfly. The female monarch lays her eggs on the leaves, and the leaves become the food of the tiny caterpillars that hatch.

Like many people, much of my time is spent at work or indoors.

Because the caterpillars eat a large quantity of milkweed leaves, the acidic “milk” of the milkweed is absorbed by the caterpillar’s system, and the resulting butterfly tastes awful (and can be toxic) to predators. This is an important protection for monarch butterflies, since potential predators learn to leave them alone.

My friend Ruth gave me a jack-in-the-pulpit plant from her property last summer. On one of the hottest days of 2011, I planted it in a shady area next to my house. This summer, the plant emerged from the ground and grew robustly, forming a beautiful “pulpit.” Now green berries have developed where the pulpit was. The berries, which will turn bright red before fall, contain seeds. If I’m lucky, those seeds will produce more plants next year. The presence of the jack-in-the-pulpit provides a little piece of forest in my city garden.

The other side of nature

Nature isn’t all sweetness and light, of course. While I was driving home from a weekend at my cabin, a severe thunderstorm warning suddenly came over the radio. I pulled off the highway into the parking lot of a roadside bar as a downpour turned to hail. I called my brother via cell phone and asked him to take a look at the weather radar on his computer. He assured me that the storm would pass quickly. I did wonder, while sitting there, just how bad the storm would need to be before I risked grabbing my dog and guiding my 96-year-old mother and her walker into the bar. Just about that time the sun came out again.

Like many people, much of my time is spent at work or indoors. I admit that on mornings when the sky is clear, the wind is calm, and the predicted high temperature is 75 degrees, I am reluctant to enter the building where the Metro Lutheran office is located and leave the outdoors behind. Even on the drive to work, however, nature provides gifts. This morning the gifts came in the form of a bright yellow-and-black goldfinch that flew in front of my windshield, and a mirror-perfect reflection of the shoreline in the water of Lake of the Isles.

Nature can be calming, healing, and exciting. And all I have to do is look and listen.

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