Born Under a Lucky Star

aunt-ellen-and-gram-alone-mothers-day

Aunt Ellen and Gram (Ann O’Grady Sullivan) on Mother’s Day

All my life, she was there when I needed her. My Aunt Ellen lived in the village of Ballston Spa, New York, in Upper New York State. She was my mother’s sister. Aunt Ellen usually wore dresses. She gave the world her sunny side with sparkling blue-eyed Irish smile. She had rosy cheeks and auburn curly hair.

On the private side, Aunt Ellen told me that when she did cry, she would hide in the closet. She didn’t want Uncle George or her children to see her upset. Seeing pictures of Aunt Ellen in her youth, I imagine my Uncle George fell in love with her because she looked like a Victorian lady with her hair all swept up in the day’s fashion. When they married, Aunt Ellen moved into the ancestral Victorian home where my Uncle George grew up.

Aunt Ellen always knew that when I called, there was usually some trauma going on at my house. It was the drinking that upset me the most with its unpredictable rage that would flare up. Mostly I remember the kitchen chair scraping across the floor when my dad stood up from the table and started yelling at us kids, or my mother. Those were terrifying times, and when I could, I would sneak away and call my Aunt Ellen to come and get me.

Pulling into the driveway and getting out of the car, she would come into the house with a smile and charmingly say, “Hello Woody. Hellow Connie.” The way she said it was like nothing was going on in the whole wide world, and she could diffuse an explosive situation with her innocent smile. Oh, she knew all right what was going on.

Aunt Ellen had a shield that I frequently hid under as a child and young adult. She would say, “I’ve come to take Mary Ellen home for a visit.” Sometimes an argument would be smoldering, and the air would get cloudy and laden again. It didn’t matter, Aunt Ellen had a way of turning a situation around, and soon, I was safely out the door. Different feelings plagued me as I got into her car.

At times, I felt downcast and sometimes confused as to why I felt the way I did. Aunt Ellen had the ability to sweep my dark mood away. Driving the car, she would say, “Look at the sky M.E. Look at how beautiful the world is.” I would get caught up in her enthusiasm, and in an instant, my melancholy evaporated. Aunt Ellen liked driving the car and seeing all the beauty around her.

One day while riding in the car from her house to the farm, I started to get uptight thinking about returning home to the chaos again, and she caught my mood. All of a sudden, she stopped the car along a country road, and said, “Look M.E., look at those flowers. Do you know what they are? In a foul mood, I said, “No.” Aunt Ellen said, “They are Turk Cap Lilies.” The way she said it was like witnessing the Lands of Arabia and her sheer magic had a wonderful affect on me.

As a young woman, I was selected by Seventeen Magazine for a position at the World’s Fair in New York City. My father forbade me to go to the city. He said,”No daughter of his was going to New York City.” It was a terrible time for me. I had no clothes or money, and he was adamant. I wasn’t going to New York City. As usual, I called my Aunt Ellen and told her about the job and that my dad wouldn’t let me go. She said, “You are going, and I am going to take you there.” She knew that I needed to get out of that house and to start a life of my own. There was no future for me in Saratoga Springs where I grew up.

For the trip, we went shopping for clothes. Hiding them under the bed, I waited for the day when Aunt Ellen would come to get me, and we would travel to New York City. The day finally arrived, and I came downstairs wearing a new suit, hat, and gloves and carrying my sister’s Samsonite blue suitcase. My sister was going with us too and helped drive the car. My father had tears in his eyes when we stood in the driveway to say goodbye. He was having financial difficulty at the time and was not in the position to adequately provide for me. Dad handed me $40 and told me that was all he could give me. I knew he felt bad and without adequate funding, I still went ahead. I felt free as a bird. My Aunt Ellen was there, and I was walking into my future thanks to her.

Years later, I was home visiting my parents from the far corners of the Earth. Aunt Ellen had kept up with my adult life and had followed my adventures across the country, Europe, Mexico, and South America. One one of our last visits we drove, from the farm in New York to my sister’s home in Massachusetts, and we took a long way. Aunt Ellen wanted to go through the Vermont Mountains to see the view and fall colors. After all, it was only three or four hours out of our way. In listening to me talk about my travels, she said, “M.E., you were born under a lucky star.”

All my life, I think about my Aunt Ellen who had so much to do with who I am today. When something special happens, and I see something beautiful in nature, I remember to say, “ Aunt Ellen, you would love this.” I often feel her close. I think my Aunt Ellen had a lot to do with how I think because she taught me how to see.

In the studio: Mary Ellen Ryall

1 11 2013

Butterfly posterMary Ellen Ryall and I crossed paths more than eight years ago when I purchased milkweed seeds from her through eBay. This connection quickly morphed into a frequent e-mail exchange and a great friendship! I do volunteer design and photography for her environmental education organization, Happy Tonics. For several years, I designed and produced her quarterly 4-page newsletter, Butterflies & Gardens, as well as other marketing materials. I also designed a Monarch Butterfly Habitat Poster for her a few years ago. The poster included original photographs by me and my friends Brian K. Loflin (www.bkloflin.wordpress.com) and Jeff Evans (www.evanimagesandart.com).

I had the chance to visit Mary Ellen in her former home base in Minong, Wisconsin, in August 2011. (Sidebar: at the time I was making the three-hour drive from the Minneapolis airport to Minong, I called Michael and learned that I had just missed a big earthquake in the D.C. area; it was enough to scare both him and our cat, ZenaB, and for a vase to fall off a bookcase and break!). While in Shell Lake and Minong, I visited Mary Ellen’s Monarch Butterfly Habitat and met many of her friends, most notably Diane Dryden, a published author and feature writer for the Washburn County Register. Diane’s novels, The Accidental King of Clark Street and Double or Nothing on Foster Ave., are available on Amazon here.

About a year ago, Mary Ellen relocated to Fitchburg, MA, to be closer to her sister. She talked of slowing down, but I knew she wouldn’t—she’s brimming with far too many ideas! An author and truly dedicated environmental educator, Mary Ellen’s first book, My Name is Butterfly, was published by Salt of the Earth Press in 2011. This teaching book about a little girl and a Monarch butterfly was illustrated by Marie Aubuchon-Mendoza and is available here.

TwoBooksEarlier this year, I assisted Mary Ellen with producing The Monarch Butterfly Coloring Book. Written by Mary Ellen Ryall and illustrated by Moira Christine McCusker, It is available for purchase here. It is published by Mary Ellen’s new company, Butterfly Woman Publishing. Our next project is a plant guidebook, which we hope to debut in 2014. She visited the D.C. area a few weeks ago to attend a three-day conference for the North America Pollinator Protection Campaign (NAPPC). She is presently on a task force to design a smart app called S.H.A.R.E. (Simply Have Areas Reserved for the Environment). This app will allow gardeners around the country to list their habitats on a national map. Mary Ellen blogs about organic gardening and open pollination for diversity on her blog here.

After seeing the portraits I did of her while she was in town, Mary Ellen said, “now I see that I have to go out and buy a new wardrobe!” The outfits she is wearing came from my “modeling rack” as well as my closet. She feels I captured her energy in the shots—and if you’ve ever met her, you know how high-energy this woman is!

P.S. Butterflies are the second largest group of pollinators after bees. Butterflies as pollinators are in trouble too. The Monarch butterfly population is down to only five percent in 2013. The Monarch and other butterflies need native host plants. We need to plant native wildflowers to bring butterflies home. Milkweed is the only host plant of the Monarch butterfly. If you would like to be part of the solution to stop the decline of Monarch butterflies, plant some milkweed seeds in your garden! Mary Ellen sells seed on her website here.

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

MaryEllenHeadShots

Comments : Leave a Comment »
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Categories : Butterfly, Flowers, Food, gardening, Insects, nature, Photography, portraits, publishing, Travel

Photo Posse

Mushroom trails and other stories

One can hope that the moist forest has lots of different mushroom species. A few days ago I discovered mossy maze polypore (Cerrena unicolor). I am looking for Turkey tail mushroom. The algae-covered mushroom feels hairy in sections, then smooth in others. It is strongly zoned which gives it a false appearance of turkey tail. Mossy maze polypore grows on live deciduous trees or conifers.The polypore was growing on a live apple tree. Flesh has white with grayish zone separating it from a hairy cap surface. Spore print is white. I need to find colored paper for testing spores that are white. I tried getting a spore match on a white paper plate and of course I couldn’t see the print. Turkey tail grows on dead deciduous trees or in wounds. Mossy maze polypore grows throughout N. North America. Source: Field Guide to Mushroom by National Audubon Society. Not all species live on trees.

NOTE:  A few day later my eight year old great-niece Amelia and I went mushroom hunting. We found a few more species. I still am unsure of species, but want to add photos and any notations that I have that may help with identification. Along the way, we stopped at the wild butterfly habitat for me to check it out.

Amelia and Toby

Amelia and Toby

It wasn’t long before I saw Amelia kneeling down by a white cross where Toby, the dog, was buried in the butterfly habitat in the nearby woods. I was surprised to find her there quietly visiting the deceased dog whom Amelia and the family loved. To see her innocence and love for one of the Creator’s creatures was a heartrending sight. She said she wished she could pull the rocks away so she could see Toby once again. I knew how she felt. I told her my own story of wanting to dig up my dog Tia just too see her again too. I explained that we had to let our loved ones go when they walked on. It was respectful to them. Amelia understood. It wasn’t long before we were hiking on the trail once again.

Mossy maze polypore

Mossy maze polypore (Cerrena unicolor) Leathery , stalkless, grayish. Hairy, often algae-covered caps. Smoky pores. Spore print white. On deciduous trees mostly, overlapping. National Audubon Society Field Guide to Mushrooms, 2004.

NOTE: More mushroom photos follow.

Mystery mushroom

Mystery mushroom

Red mushroom growing in wet forest area

Red mushroom growing in wet forest area

I finally see where the mourning dove lives. For weeks I have been watching the mourning dove in his/her favorite roost perched on the barn roof. Yesterday I saw him fly to my father’s nearby Norway spruce tree. My sister Ronnie confirmed that this is where mourning doves live. I find it interesting that the bird likes to watch the family when they are in the pool area. It is here we have garden fresh casual suppers, sitting around a umbrella covered picnic table. The cooing bird also likes to watch human activity in the front gardens. Often I am out there smelling flowers or taking photos of pollinating insects on flowers.

Gills and spore side

Gills and spore side

Grasshopper carries pollen on its feet

Yesterday I caught a green grasshopper with hollyhock pollen on his/her legs. Now I know that even a grasshopper can be a pollinator. My sister and I love old fashioned hollyhocks. Ronnie has a scattered collection of near black, maroon and pink. We both planted a brilliant dark pink hollyhock last year and new first year leaves have been spotted both in our gardens in WI and MA. I collected seeds from the plant in an alley in WI. It is by far the prettiest color I have seen.

Let’s hear it for the pollinators! Without them there wouldn’t be a bio-diverse world nor the wonderful variety of vegetables and fruits that we often take for granted. We celebrate a thanksgiving each time we remember to thank and protect pollinators.

Morning nature meditations

Monarch chrysalis extended near tomato plant. Looks to be same color as fruit.

Monarch chrysalis extended near tomato plant. Looks to be same color as fruit.

Before I begin this post, I thought you would want to know that the monarch butterfly caterpillar has changed into the next stage of its life. It is now a lime green chrysalis. I think it must of happened yesterday afternoon after the sun finally came out. The morning was rainy.

Monarch caterpillar classic J shape

I photographed a few shots of the caterpillar that just hung upside down for a day. It was cloudy out and a little cooler. I wondered if the caterpillar needed sun to give it energy in order to change into a chrysalis. Then the downpour came and I hoped the caterpillar would be safe. Rain drops can dislodge an adult monarch and cause it harm or death. I was concerned about the caterpillar. Would it be safe from the elements? After all it was hiding among tomato leaves and perhaps had enough cover not to experience the brunt of heavy rain pellets.

This morning was cool, a touch of fall crisp air. Dressed in a hoodie, I went outside to begin thanksgiving morning rituals. Old growth oak trees at the end of the driveway were whispering yes, fall is coming. They communicate a unique sound when the leaves move. It is different than summer serenades. The leaves resonate this truth.  As I stood on the back stoop for a few minutes, I heard hummingbird wings behind me. It wasn’t long before a female flew in front of me; I had a close encounter as I stood perfectly still. Evidently she decided I wasn’t a flower, even if the hoodie was pink. The hummer headed toward a moist colony of black-eyed-Susan and bright pink phlox. I think of my elder friend Phyllis DeBrot when I see hummingbirds. She loves hummingbirds and always sends me cards that have either hummingbirds or butterflies on cover.

I decided to walk out on the country road. It is very hilly; I figured it would improve my endurance if I start hill climbing. Yesterday I learned from Jack (brother-in-law) that Fitchburg is the second hilliest city in the country. San Francisco is number one.  We’re out in the country and what a hill it is for cars to get up my sister’s hill. Believe me, I am buying a four wheel drive vehicle when I return here to live starting in the fall. I have my eye on a used Suburu. There is a Suburu car dealer in Fitchburg. My brother-in-law swears by his. I heard that two other friends love their vehicles too.  The back roads here are narrow and I need a vehicle that I can trust.

Pink morning glory

Pink morning glory

My nephew’s morning glories are growing profusely at my sister’s. They appear to be illuminated from within. I imagine pollinators see the inner glow. Who is not attracted to radiating light when it beckons? Hope you enjoy the photos this morning. It is taking me awhile to learn my brother-in-law’s computer system and applications such as photos.

Be happy insectamonarca friends where ever you are.

Monarch Butterfly Chatbook – Sunflower and Native Bees

SUNFLOWER AND NATIVE BEES

Bees are the number one pollinator and butterflies are the second most important pollinator in the world.

Pollinators are necessary to pollinate flowers, crops and fruits and include native bees, butterflies, moths and bats. It is harmful to use herbicides and insecticides on lawns, farm crops, along roadways and in the garden. Insecticides kill larva and adult insects including bees and butterflies. Herbicides kill weeds often eliminating biodiversity of native plants that pollinators need to survive.

Without pollinators, many of the world’s crop species would disappear. This could include foods such as native squash, potatoes, tomatoes and pumpkins. Only the native bumblebee pollinates potatoes and the bumblebee is being used commercially to pollinate tomatoes.

According to The Xerces Society, Franklin’s bumblebee is already threatened in California. There are hundreds of native bee species in the United States. Bees need a place to live and they need healthy pollen sources. Won’t you make your garden pollinator friendly? In return, native bees and butterflies will delight you by visiting your garden.

%d bloggers like this: