24. September 2005 · Comments Off on In the Autumn of Butterflies · Categories: Domestic, General

We are in that part of summer in South Texas where we are waiting, desperately hoping, paying for that blessed day, when the heat of summer breaks into a thousand shards, and the daily high shifts into the mid eighties… and, oh blessed relief… the nightly low is in the sixties. All during the sweltering summer, we pray for this day, look for it like the starving look for sustenance, that wonderful, blissful day when we can turn off the air conditioner, and open all the windows to a temperate breeze, that day when it is possible to spend more than twenty minutes out of doors— never mind whether we are doing any more heavy labor than waiting at one of Texas’s interminable traffic lights— without being drenched thoroughly in sweat. (When I run in the mornings, at the end of an hour and half, my running things are as sopping-wet as if I had stood under a shower. Hard-core runner that I am, I sometimes DO run in a shower, a shower of rain.) Alas, we are balked of our cool weather yet once again, as we are outside the range of rainfall from the current hurricane; the skies are still blue, and the clouds in them are thin, mackerel-patterned patches, interspersed with the kind that looks like wisps of fiberglass, teased out with a comb.

But the continued hot, fair weather is good for one thing… it is good for the butterflies. My neighbors and I have never seen so many, so many kinds, as we have these last few weeks. Suddenly, it seemed that everywhere we looked, bright little scraps of lemon-yellow, black and yellow, and orange stripes erratically orbited certain bushes and trees. This morning, Parfait, (the white and brindle cat who lives somewhere up the road) seemed to be teased by a butterfly who hovered just beyond reach. He made a couple of fruitless leaps into the air, then gave it up as a hopeless case and sat down to wash himself. Fragile, slow-flying, aimless; none the less, something looks after butterflies.

I have been gratified by the sight of them all, because last year I went to a great deal of trouble in digging out an extended flower planting along the back fence, and planting in it things guaranteed to attract butterflies and humming birds: fire-bush, and esperanza, and dark purple duranta. A couple of seasons ago I planted an almond verbena bush away back to fill up the corner, and now everything is grown up to the height of the fence, and blooming generously. The almond verbena has tiny clusters of nearly invisible white flowers at the end of all the new-growth branches, but they fill my garden with a lovely scent, and the bees find it irresistible. The duranta has purple and white flowers shaped like tiny orchids, but in clusters like a lilac, and the esperanza bears larger, bell-shaped yellow-orange blossoms.

Esperanza looks delicate, but it’s as tough as nails; TxDot plants them all along the highways around here, and hummingbirds love them. From the kitchen window I have spotted one methodically orbiting the esperanza, several times in the last week. Success on the humming-bird attraction front at last. I used to put out a feeder, without any particular result except having the sugar solution in it go bad. The experts say it is better to plant the flowers they like, rather than have the hummingbirds grow dependent on a feeder. Also, what happens is that one particular hummingbird will take over the feeder as his particular territory, and lurk around driving all the others away. We used to be amused by this; the bully hummingbird squeaking like a rusty hinge, and zipping through the air like an enraged winged lawn-dart, all that concentrated fury in one tiny bird. I haven’t seen this happening in my yard— everyone shares and shares alike; the bees and the hummingbird, the butterflies on the shrubs, and the tiny wrens, mockingbirds, and the native doves at the feeder.

Consider the lilies of the field… they provide for themselves, and give us to much quiet happiness in contemplating them, while we wait for the cooler weather.

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