Wittier Word Weavers

Writers' Club of Whittier


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Flowers Full of Prayers

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Flowers are full of prayers in the month of August. On a half-mile walk in an area overgrown with pink silk floss blossoms, wild phlox and butterfly plant, I spied thirty-three mantises praying for prey today. Brown like a twig or green like a leaf, Stagmomantis californica waits upside down, underneath or smack in the center of the flower. At the moment, butterflies frequent the yellow blossoms in this area the most, so that’s where the majority of mantises lurk. I’ve seen them eating fritillaries, bees, skippers and, yes, their own mates. No one seems to be able to explain that seemingly deviant behavior of species survival.

A photographer friend of mine used to find these camouflaged little creatures everywhere and post them to Flickr. There had to be hundreds even thousands of them out there but I never saw any. I had mantis envy. I was determined to learn how to see them.

I figured it was like finding mushrooms. In Iowa, where I was raised, folks enjoy picking and eating wild morels. (You best know exactly what you’re looking for because there are deadly poisonous mushrooms.) The light brown, spongelike fungus blends well with the leaves and earth. Whenever I went mushroom hunting with my parents they’d have bags full while I’d come up empty handed.

In art classes you’re taught to look at the positive and negative space. It’s kind of like that with hunting mantises. Hmm — I wonder if that technique will work for mushrooms?

~Sherry Novak, author of the soon to be released novel The Chick Sexer.

 

 

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Summer Travels

The highlight of this summer’s vacation was cycling 300 plus miles under rain-filled skies surrounded by verdant green forests and raging brown rivers. What a treat to leave drought-ravaged southern California and see not only mud but also puddles. Flashes of lightning and the crashing thunder underscored the power of vacation to reawaken sleeping senses.

We started with a visit to the mother-in-law in Massachusetts. This afforded me the opportunity to swim in Walden Pond’s 60 degree deep waters. An hour communing with Thoreau was worth the amount of life exchanged for it. Did I mention state officials warned about high levels of potentially dangerous bacteria? I swam anyway. Can you say civil disobediance?

From there it was off to Buffalo for the wedding of a friend’s daughter. Given the distance, they were surprised we chose to attend. So was I.

The bike ride started in Buffalo, the Sunday morning after the wedding. The forecast was afternoon rain and thundershowers. The hotel had some plastic shower caps. We each had a set of regular clothes and a second set of riding gear, all packed in plastic bags. Off we rode along Lake Erie into a gray upstate New York cloudy day. The heavens let loose that afternoon.

We took shelter in what we thought was a restaurant. It was a bar filled with folks who seem to start their daily drinking well before noon. As we stood outside on the veranda, the patrons came out to console us as they rotated for cigarette breaks. Finally, we realized there was no way to stay dry for the hours we had yet to ride. Off we went navigating by gps and local redirects.

Bed and breakfasts were our general choice of lodging. There were also a few motels during our six day trip. We rode through New York’s Amish country where we passed several horse-and-buggy rigs. In Pennsylvania, we rode on the Allegheny River Bike trail, a conversion of a former railway. The sensory deprivation experience of riding through a dark dank tunnel was unparalleled. Not knowing when the tunnel would end was part of the thrill. Rolling fast down the hills helped balance the work to climb them.

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We didn’t get wet everyday, but we learned no matter how wet we got, it didn’t take long to dry. Finally, we arrived in Pittsburgh where our oldest son attends college. Showing up at the high tech company where he works was interesting. His boss said, “So these are the crazy parents you were talking about.”


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Chasing Butterflies by Sherry Novak

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Saguaro National Park campgrounds were empty when we arrived on a steamy August evening. Apparently everyone else knows to avoid summer in Arizona. My friend and I figure it’d be wise to get the tent up before dark; we don’t camp often and it’s borrowed gear. But, first, we have to take pictures of the covey of quail bobbing around the bushes and the lizards skittering with their tails up like scorpions. The fiery sun dips down silhouetting giant cacti against a shamelessly pink sky. A couple cowpokes on horseback would complete the wild west picture. Two motorhomes lumber into camp, air conditioners humming. Night falls fast.

Heat lightning and the low rumble of distant thunder add more sultry to the air. Only a sprinkle is forecast. Coyotes howl from a faraway canyon. We lay out our cots and sleeping bags, unzip all the “windows.” There isn’t a breath of breeze. I rustle out my small flashlight for a trip to the bathroom. I make my tent-mate escort me. Not two feet from the flap door something scuttles under my light — a tarantula! First I want to scream, pack up and look for a motel, on second thought we get out our cameras and take pictures. In the bathroom, thank goodness not an outhouse, I find a big, fat frog and a couple praying mantises.

Back at our nylon abode my roomie crashes out immediately. I wonder how I let myself get talked into this. What’s an insomniac to do in a dark tent? It feels so vulnerable having only a thin piece of cloth between you and the wilderness. Throughout the night the wide circle of howling coyotes grow closer and closer. Have any campers been eaten lately? Bugs chirp, twigs crackle, night birds call. At one point I hear something sniffing next to the tent. The lightning stops, the sky clears and I can see the Big Dipper through the net window. Stars blaze deep and infinite.

The next morning we decide to go peruse the welcome center and come back later to break down our tent. There’s the spectacular panoramic window view I remember. A lady ranger asks what we like to photograph as we have our big cameras hanging around our necks. Birds, bugs, butterflies, most anything we say.

“Have you seen the sulphur butterflies?” she asks. “They’re right down this path in the sugar bush.”

A desert turtle is sunning himself on the sidewalk, so lazy he doesn’t bother to move. Twenty paces and down a few stairs we enter butterfly paradise. Cream-colored sugar bush flowers and blooming cacti are aflutter. Besides sulphurs, we count at least ten varieties. We photograph for hours and decide to stay over night. Happy campers, we come back again the next day to chase butterflies. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CMEuedrVb6E


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Wild Strawberries and Broken Dreams

Uncanoonuc Mountains. Photo courtesy HockeyPuck

Fifty summers ago: For years I had a recurring dream of returning to my childhood home in the outskirts of Goffstown, New Hampshire, a small town in southern New Hampshire. We had a house with rose-covered trellises, a fireplace, a full attic and cellar and two barns. When you looked out the kitchen window, you saw the Uncanoonuc Mountains, two wooded hills whose name translates Breasts of a Beautiful Maiden. That’s where the sun came up. Over the breasts.

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Strawberry Fields Forever

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June 25, 1976

I travel to Blairgowrie, Scotland with three of my high-school friends.   Although we are Yugoslav citizens we are allowed to work in Great Britain if a British citizen offers us temporary employment.  We have work visas for six weeks and we join other students in a summer camp.

July 10, 1976

The sky is gray most of the time. Finally, the sun shines for more than two hours. My bucket is half-full of strawberries.  With both hands I pull off the ripe berries while I’m careful not to squeeze them.  The bucket can’t have any leaves, stems, or straw because it would spoil the jam.

It is 10am and my fingers are swollen.  When I pinch off the green stem a tiny bit of fruit juice drips on my fingers.  Then the straw around the plant sticks to my hand.  I marvel at the perfect berries and taste another one.  Delicious, like each one I had before.  I never thought that a fruit could grow to be this sweet under a gloomy Scottish sky.

I earn 3 pence per pound of fruit.  I wonder how many buckets I will fill up today.  I’m determined to earn the most I can.  If I work hard by the end of the day I’ll have 3 or 4 British pounds, unless it rains.              Continue reading


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Dragonfly Summer

Exclamation damsel, hyacinth glider, fiery-eyed dancer, each name a picture and a poem. Summer heat calls dragonflies and damselflies to life. Nymphs leave their water world to a reed or leaf. Exuvia left behind, newly emerged dragonflies transform into winged sky hunters.

Vermilion saddlebags, roseate skimmer, amethyst dancer, Odonata, “the toothed ones,” are brilliantly painted. Birds, butterflies, dragonflies, endless is Mother Nature’s imagination. Wings transparent or dabbed with brilliant splashes, delicate-looking, yet strong and flexible. All four work independently allowing for forward, backward, up or down flight.

Stygian shadowdragon, lyre-tipped spreadwing, ebony boghaunter, their names evoke mythical images of dragons and damsels, magic and the underworld. Dragonflies ancestors are far older. Fossils, with wingspans of up to 25 inches, are thought to date to around 300 million year ago.

Aurora damsel, filigree skimmer, sparkling jewelwing. I’m as fascinated with the names as the creatures themselves. As a photographer I appreciate the poetic touch in the title, showing the scientist’s admiration of nature’s artistry.

I say hummingbirds, tiny jewel-toned wonders, deserve their own haiku. Anna’s hummingbird might be renamed roseate-helmeted swordplayer and Allen’s changed to fiery-gorgeted nectarseeker.

Are Hummingbirds Attracted to Red?

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Orange aloe, lavender Mexican sage, bird of paradise, golden currant and red bottlebrush, hummers are drawn to any nectar sweet flower into which their little beaks fit. A birder friend of mine who leads nature walks says, “They’re not here for our entertainment.” I don’t know — watching the small packages of energy wage war, sit on their nest or blush orange or ruby, can keep me fascinated for hours.

Gorget. It derived from Old French meaning “armor that protects the throat.” “Gorgeous” is from the same root. The male Anna’s wears a whole red-violet helmet. Why are some birds so outrageously beautiful? ‘To attract a mate’ is the normal answer. Then why can sparrows and wrens find find love when they’re plain old brown?

Having a 300mm telephoto lens on a fast (10 fps) Sony Alpha 65 camera has made spying on the tiny creatures more interesting. I observe them catching gnats in the mid-air, snitching spider webs to build their nests and sticking out their tongues to lap up nectar. Before I thought they used their beak like a straw! Nature’s feast, a hummer at a flower. The bird is fed, the bloom is pollinated as evolution intended. I can’t help but think sucking artificial sugar water out of a red plastic container just isn’t right.