When I read the posts from gardening and nature friends, it feeds my soul. I don’t get to see many of them now that I am a senior and moved back home to Saratoga Springs, New York, but we are together through virtual reality.
I post a short thought with photographs and the like-minded respond in kind. I know I would be lonely if it wasn’t for my tribe who have the same passion for the natural world. We live within her and share our photographs and love.
Mary 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.
Earlier 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 websitehere.
The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.
Here’s an excerpt:
600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 11,000 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 18 years to get that many views.
For the past 27 years, I have been estranged from my home town, home to my genealogy: Great-Great Grandfather William Ryall, my Great Grandfather William Ryall, Grandfather James Ryall, My father William Alfred Ryall and mother Mary Rose Sullivan and our family of four children. My parents are gone now and like the prodigal son, I went full circle to the place of my birth and first 18 years of my life. I returned to memories, my heart, preservation, elegance, tradition and beauty. Saratoga Springs is a crown jewel in the league of fame and fortune.
My cousin Jim and wife Stephanie gave me two stunning pieces of pottery. One was made by my Aunt Pat. She has had a brilliant pottery and ceramic career over the years. She studied under Regis Brodie who permitted her to work on her craft in his art studio at Skidmore College. Matter of fact, he encouraged her to come.
The piece I have is a blue bowl that was crafted by using my Great Aunt Sarah and Mary’s doilies of intricate pineapple shapes. Aunt Pat stated that she made a paste like dough that she pressed the doily on.. Then she rolled the shape out to a flat sheet, which was somehow incorporated into the pottery. I feel like I have a intricate art piece that has my own family’s history in it. I Sarah and Mary Renolds, my great aunts, were outstanding seamstresses, who at one time worked in the garment district of New York City. You can learn about Regis Brodie, the other famous potter at http://www.rcbrodie.com/
Sunday morning, Jimmy and I watched as hundreds of Canada geese flew over North Broadway in the biggest migration formation I have ever seen in my life. Later in the day, my sister, her husband and I saw thousands of Canada geese resting in the large reservoir. Jimmy lives on land that goes right to the edge of the pristine reservoir. It is gorgeous to see beautiful water and forest, which was carpeted in oak leaves and a sporadic bright green ground-cover. To hear the sound of thunderous wings fluttering and geese honking, was to witness the power sounds of nature’s force in action. On reflection, it was a wonderful prayer I was honored to see and hear.
Yesterday I hiked out on a trail through a forest near Fitchburg, Massachusetts; last week I was rewarded while on the same path by what I discovered while out in the woods.
Meantime, I have been feeling torn about taking an altar from my home in Minong, Wisconsin. I am moving to Massachusetts from Wisconsin. The beautiful raw wood is a single piece of wood, a former tree limb. Many years ago, a severe storm hit Southern Maryland and the limb fell during the storm. The fallen limb was from a sacred tree hidden in the forest, along a horse trail in Lusby. There were no other footsteps because no one hiked or road horses on the trail any longer. I used to go here with Tia, my dog, when we lived in Southern Maryland. I could unburden my heart at the base of the ancient tree. I loved the tree that survived massive development of Southern Maryland, withstood thunder storms and still strongly stood. I sensed the tree had good medicine. I could feel it. I had many experiences to learn from the ancient tree. I don’t know how to express it any other way.
When we moved to Northwest Wisconsin, I took the limb with me. For many years it stood on the mantle over the fireplace at our home in Minong, Wisconsin. Here is where I lit a candle to set the day’s intentions. Here is where I put sacred objects to honor the Great Spirit and Mystery of the Cosmos and Universe. The altar is still there. I return to Wisconsin on Wednesday. Shortly, I will be moving to Massachusetts into a small alcove penthouse in Fitchburg, MA. There really isn’t room for many of my things, including the sacred wood of the prayer tree. Now you know how I was feeling about moving this sacred object. All my family including my husband, our animals, and most of my elder friends have walked on whom once lived on B Street, Minong. It was here in this little valley where we had our retirement home and I spent many a happy year.
Now, it is time for me to move on too.
It was while hiking within the woods, in Massachusetts, that I was led to another ancient tree. It was then I literally broke down because I had found the tree, or was it that the tree found me? I knew then that I didn’t need to bring the altar to MA. I could now honor the altar by placing it with the sacred place where my animals are buried. It is here also where the bullets from my husband’s Military Honoring Internment Ceremony are also buried. My husband is interned at the Veteran’s Cemetery in Northwest Wisconsin. Someday, I will return to Wisconsin to be interned with my husband. It is a beautiful place. There are native gardens that border the woods and I will someday be in these beloved woodlands forever.
In the meantime, I am getting ready to fly to Wisconsin on Wednesday, pack up the house, and say goodbye to this sweet interlude that embraced me for 12 years. Know that when I return to Massachusetts, I can walk out to my sacred tree as long as I have the strength of my legs to carry me. How sweet this reality is and how honored I am.
Amelia, my niece was overhead saying to her brother and sister as they looked out the front door facing the expansive gardens and lawn, “It’s a dragonfly forest.” There were hundreds of dragonflies dive bombing mosquitoes and it did look like a dragonfly habitat. We often see them by the masses at sunset around the pool area when we have our dinner out at the picnic table. Honestly, there are no mosquitoes because of the dragonfly patrol. No need to spray here. I did get a photo of the red or rust yellow-legged meadowhawk (Sympetrum olcinum). We saw a twelve-spotted skimmer (Libfellua pulchella). The skimmer has a white abdomen and several spaces on the wings that are clear, with darker accented markings. It is rather large and noticeable.
Looking in a field guide for vernal ponds, I learned that the eastern box turtle is of special concern in Massachusetts. I feel fortunate to have a shell that my dog Tia and I discovered near the pond that was on the back side of our property in Lusby, MD. In December 2000, I carried the shell with me when I moved to Wisconsin. Once I was there, I learned that the turtle was a significant part of Ojibwa culture in the Great Lakes region. There is no such thing as coincidence, seeing as I had moved to Indian Country and would be studying with the Ojibwa at Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwa Community College (LCOOCC). I graduated from LCOOCC in 2003. You can read about my journey to the Midwest online at http://www.tribalcollegejournal.org/archives/8298
I was granted a Creative Writing Award from Tribal College Journal where the article was published along with other tribal college authors. I am thrilled that the prestigious Journal published the issue online for prosperity.
Continuing our woodland walk, Amelia and I saw many frogs. I saw a wood frog that wears a black mask across its eyes and has a yellow line that distinguishes this particular frog species. Frogs were not all we saw. There was cucumber root . My sister Ronnie told me what it was. Here is a photo of the plant. The upper set of leaves were growing through the beautiful ferns that exist within the woodlands.
The plant is unique because it as two separate sets of leave with berries within the top array of leaves that form a circle around the plant stalk. Ronnie also pointed out running cedar that grows near the far boundary of the property near the frog pond. . I have to jog my memory re: medicinal plants and look up both running cedar and princess pine. Something is nagging me about one of them being a medicinal plant.
On the walk down Ashby West Road yesterday, I came across lady slipper leaves visibly growing near one of my favorite grandfather boulders. I was really taken aback. There are at least eight sets of visible plants growing along the side of the road. I drove down the hill yesterday and Ronnie was able to be my eyes as we passed the large glacier boulder. Ronnie, being a plant expert herself, was able to spot the lady slippers. I love them because they are part of the orchid family and hardy enough to grow in our northern climate.
China, an 11 year old cat and I are healing together. She was injured on July 21. We think she was attacked by a feral cat. Her left shoulder was dislocated. For the past three weeks we have been recuperating together.Yesterday I felt like I was being called to come to the woods; I stated to walk out to the forest on a weathered trail. I didn’t walk very far before I heard a meow. I turned around and saw that China was following me. This is the first day that she has been outside and already she was going way beyond a safe zone. China is still limping and wouldn’t be able to fend off another predator in this condition. Naturally I turned around and we walked home together.
It is interesting that we have been recuperating together. China on three legs and I slowly building endurance after a medical crisis with respirator exasperation and other issues that caused a perfect storm. I have learned patience from China and I am still learning. Both of us need to pay attention and not go beyond our limits. She had no business being out in the woods. Perhaps I too am pushing it. My goal is to walk out to see the old Boy Scout camp. It is here where a wild butterfly habitat exists now. I want to see what shape it is in. In the meantime, there is a butterfly story that follows.
My brother-in-law Jack wanted to show me something in the garden. Growing among tomato plants there was a milkweed plant; a large monarch caterpillar was munching away on milkweed leaves several days ago. Yesterday Jack again wanted to show me something.
A monarch caterpillar was hanging upside down on a tomato stalk. The creature was in the classic J shape that indicates that it is going into the pupa stage. This is where it splits its skeletal skin for the last time and changes into the next stage of its life cycle. The day was cloudy and rainy. The caterpillar didn’t transform itself. When I was taking a photo I accidentally bumped into the plant and the caterpillar balled itself up in a protective mode. I questioned, does the caterpillar need sun to warm its body in order to allow the caterpillar to have the energy to change? Later in the day, the heavy rains came. I hope it didn’t get dislodged from its hiding place among the tomato plants. It does have some protection from surrounding tomato leaves. For now I will observe development. There is no such thing as coincidence. All thee of us are changing, China, the caterpillar and I. Each of us is coming into new life after being injured, ill or simply transforming.
Be happy insectamonarca friends where ever you are.
Over the last few days I have witnessed the moon go from full moon glow to cloud cover to thunder storms with crashing thunder overhead. One night in particular I saw my father’s hydrangea lit up where Ronnie has a grotto to our Blessed Mother. It was pure white blossoms that pulsated in light. Jack Hohos, brother-in-law, loves hummingbirds. I heard him ask Ronnie, my sister, if she had seen any hummers? It was then I started to pay attention and witnessing when I did see hummers. Then I told Jack where I saw the bird and what plant, shrub, or tree it was around.
I have been hearing little tree frogs. There was even a frog species that I didn’t recognize by voice. I have entered a more Zen way of Being. I love starting the morning off with ceremony. I find this slower pace restorative and contemplative. Recently while walking down a trail by the barn, I spotted a flat boulder on top of a stone wall fence. I was reminded that a similar setting could be found that I could claim as an outside alter for my rocks that I will now move from WI. Before this discovery, I wondered what I would do with beloved rocks from Great Lakes glacial bedrock, near Duluth, MN; sacred small rocks from Bear Butte near Lakota tribe; Pipestone from a sacred Ojibwa site on Lac Courte Oreilles Reservation, Great Lakes tribe in Hayward, WI. Jerry Smith, traditional medicine man, graciously permitted me to go along on a day bus trip with tribal youth group. Jerry teaches many about sacred Ojibwa culture. Again while on the trail coming back up the hill, I noticed what I believe to be Turkey tail mushrooms growing on a tree on front property. They did have a white bottom. I will need to look more closely to properly ID this mushroom species. Reason I am looking for it is that it is a cancer treatment. Learn about Paul Stamets, mycologist, Fungi Perfecta at http://www.fungi.com/ We were both speakers at Tesuque Pueblo in few years ago. You can learn more about the pueblo people at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tesuque,_New_Mexico
I am amazed by the delicious taste of garden fresh fruits and vegetables, in forested central MA, near Fitchburg. As close as I can presently research, a theory is starting to evolve. I am not a scientist; rather I am a citizen scientist and researcher in my own chosen field, which is monarch butterfly and food safety issues. Central MA has a heavy canopy of luscious extended forest, with giant glacial boulders that have lots of lichen on them. The lichen helps desolve minerals in boulders, which then slowly leach into the earth; add compost of decaying tree leaves, and you have very rich nutritional soil. I am almost finished reading Patrick Moore’s forestry book Green Spirit Trees are the Answer. Moore’s book is outstanding. I am understanding forestry better because of his expertise and ability to write to the average citizen. Sandy soil in northwest WI, Washburn County, does not have the ability to offer much flavor simply because sandy soil does not hold water or nutrients. Of course, I compost and have added aged manure through the years, but still there is a definite difference between the taste of garden fresh vegetables and fruits. Massachusetts wins hand over in flavor.
Another difference between MA and my beloved independent WI life is Massachusetts has banned smoking. I wish I could say the same for WI. There, I am exposed to second hand smoke. A bar is next to the Visitors Center on Main Street in Shell Lake. Bars have built three walled shelters to their buildings. Smokers can bring their drinks out there and smoke their brains out. Unfortunately I have COPD and I smoked once. I know it is hard to give up, this addiction is harder to break than heroin. At Winter Hill Farm, where my sister created a botanical paradise, the air is fragrant from herbs, woods and flowers. I haven’t smelled such sweet air since the 1980s, when I lived on East Coast and could travel to MA or Upper New York State.
The continuing saga of journeying in the natural world.
Be happy insectamonarca friends where ever you are.
Ryall, M.E. 13 June 2012. Washburn County Register, Butterfly Corner.
June 7: Fresh Start came to the Monarch Butterfly Habitat to help Happy Tonics with habitat maintenance. Eleven youth and five supervisors signed up to perform Community Service. Youth worked in teams and pounded in plant ID stakes, eradicated invasive species, dug up and transplanted native plants from the path at the Shoreline Restoration Project, near the Shell Lake Beach. Groups planted and watered transplants of elderberry, black eyed Susan, goldenrod and prairie rose at the Native Wildflower and Butterfly Garden. If you think that is a mouth full, the green team accomplished all of this in 2 ½ hours.
Even if we worked all summer, Happy Tonics with limited volunteers and staff, could have not managed transforming area three in such an efficient way. Youth were attentive, happy, willing to learn about the habitat, and enjoyed learning why we are providing habitat for pollinators.
Chad Olson mentioned that teens usually grumble when asked to do manual labor. Not these youngsters. I think they enjoyed working outside with butterflies, native bees, and learning about native plants that allow pollinators to survive and insure a secure local food supply.
Happy Tonics wishes to thank supervisors Chad Olson and Carly Moline, Weyerhaeuser; Dan Gunderson and Sherri Anderson, Shell Lake; and Mary Schmocker, Hayward, for offering a day of service to the nonprofit. Special thanks go out to Jim VanMoorleham, Happy Tonics volunteer and Joan Quenan, Board Member and Volunteer. I appreciated their efforts in supervising different groups of youngsters and teaching them how to eradicate invasive species and identify native plants.
At noon, we all went to the Lion’s Shelter for a cookout. A few youth from Shell Lake stayed at the shelter while we worked at the habitat. They prepared a delicious cook out for us. Youth did mention that the assignment was fun and offered to come again, perhaps next season. Bravo green team! We love youth to participate. After all, it is their world which they will inherit some day.
June 8: Monarch survival statistics are in from Monarch Larva Monitoring Project, University of MN. Since the butterfly was first recorded in 1993- 1994, monarchs have been in decline in Mexico (overwintering site). 2011-2012 was the lowest on record. The average habitat over the past 19 years has been 7 hectares (1 hectare equals 2.5 acres). Last winter the monarchs occupied only 2.9 hectares. There is great concern about the Endangered Migration Phenomena.
Fortunately, a few interacting weather patterns this year have been in favor of the monarchs rebounding in a single generation. The Texas drought is finally over. This means there was lots of healthy milkweed to lay eggs on. Just when the new generation was born, along came a string of warm days with southerly winds. The winds pushed the monarchs northward in record numbers and much earlier than we have seen in many years.
May 23 – Happy Tonics participated in the “My Secret Garden” event at the Comfort Suites in Hayward hosted by the Cable and Hayward Area Arts Council. The nonprofit’s theme was butterfly gardens. One of the highlights was showing Dakota Robinson’s story board that illustrates the migration route of the monarch butterfly from Mexico to Canada. The youngster started a petition to stop roadside spraying of herbicides and insecticides during migration season. Roads and rivers are the main travel route of monarch butterflies. Herbicides kill milkweed, the host plant and insecticides kill larva and adult butterflies. Many guests attending the garden gala; were familiar with the plight of the monarch butterfly and signed the petition. Others also knew about Shell Lake’s Monarch Butterfly Habitat and plan to come this summer.
May 26 – Mary Ellen Ryall and Dylan Hasbrouck attended a Destination Marketing Organization meeting, at Wild Rivers Outfitters, in Grantsburg. Dylan will be working with Happy Tonics this summer to help maintain the habitat. He is under Fresh Start’s umbrella which is building a house in Shell Lake. Dylan will also be in training to learn Internet marketing skills at the nonprofit’s Visitors Center/Store at 25 Fifth Avenue, Shell Lake.
In the morning, I stopped at the habitat and did a walk through to see what was starting to grow. Milkweed is emerging and averages 2” to 6” tall.
One colony of plants already has a monarch egg on each leaf. This is promising considering how cold and wet the spring has been so far. Remember monarchs do not fly when it is below 55 degrees Fahrenheit. Monarchs return to Shell Lake about lilac time which is about now. Native June grass is already up. Prairie smoke flower is budding. Oyster plant is at the edible stage. Native shrubs and trees are flourishing and many are in flower including Juneberry, wild black cherry and chokecherry. Earlier this spring an Experience Works member Mike Kremer applied a good dose of compost and mulch to the trees and shrubs.
Remember to call in your first monarch butterfly sighting in Shell Lake. You will win a butterfly gift if you report the first sighting. Be sure to note day, time, your location, weather, and temperature as best as you can. Dial 715 468-2097 and leave a message if no answer. Someone will get back to you.