After the Solstice

After the solstice a bee on an English daisy

After the solstice the sun appears. Warmth finally fills the Skagit Valley and bees are everywhere, at least in my little neck of the woods.

I planted English Daisies this year. I read that they are also called lawn daisies because they can establish themselves in lawns. Go at it English Daisies. Cover as much of the lawn as possible. I’d rather look out over a carpet of red, pink, and white flowers than green lawn. The bees would prefer English Daisies to grass too.

Bee on a red English Daisy.
A dead bee in an English Daisy flower. Is there a better place for a bee to die in the summer?

One tired bee died in one of the English Daisies. Maiden bees live but six weeks or so. What a lovely place to have your last breath. What do bees dream of when they tire out and are about to expire? Do they dream of returning to their hive? Or are they glad to rest forever inside a soft flower? What about the other bees from her hive? When they fly by and see her there, do they go tell the others when they return to the hive?

Lavender blooms

The lavender I planted last year are blooming. This is another favorite of the bees. Sometimes a swarm of bees vibrates every flower on a lavender bush. Maybe the lavender have a word for when every one of their flowers is being vibrated by bees. A beegasm? It must make the whole lavender bush shiver with delight.

Stewartia blossom

The Stewartia is blooming. One of my favorite flowering trees. The name comes from a Scottish botanist, John Stuart. A native tree of Japan, Korea, and China, they had names for it well before John Stuart ever came along. Oddly that it is name after him. In Japan it is called Natsu-Tsubaki 夏椿 – which translates to Summer Camellia.

It finally feels like summer here. The forecast shows 83ºF, 28ºC, for Monday, June 27. A scorching heat wave for around here.

Let It Peel

We are almost at the longest day of the year, yet summer seems a long way off. Chilly mornings, gray skies, cool breezes. Will it ever get warm this year? Last year’s unbearable heat is a distant memory.

The cherry trees are laden with heavy bunches of fruit. A sunny week or two will make them divine. Then it will be a race to pick them before the birds do.

Speaking of birds, a small group of starlings delight us these days. Throughout the day, five to ten of them pick through the grass and bushes hunting for slugs. They drag the slugs onto the pavement, peck at them for a bit, and fly off with them.

They must be taking them off to their nests to feed their young. It’s the first time I’ve seen starlings eat so many slugs. They can eat them all.

Salmon berry are nearly ripe. Tart with a touch of sweet. They are one of the berries you never see in a store.

The horseradish blooms are a delight. From the sweet, honey-like fragrance, you’d never imagine the plants have roots filled with fire. It’s a mind-bending experience nibbling on the sweet smelling flowers. They taste like mild horseradish. Imagine spreading honey on bread and tasting horseradish instead of honey. Your nose says, “Sweet honey!” But your tongue screams, “Burning horseradish!

I found a garden snake skin. It’s so light and delicate. What would humans do if we shed our skin every year in one whole piece? We’d have skin-shedding salons where staff would help us wriggle out of our skins without making a single tear. Wouldn’t it be freaky to take a full skin we just wriggled out of and stuff it to make a life-size replica of ourselves?

“This was me back in 1980,” you’d say, proudly showing off a skin you shed in high school and mounted as a science project. And parents would embarrass teenagers when they bring their date over to see the family by bringing out a stuffed baby skin. “Robert was such a cute baby. Do you want to hold him?” Could you say no?

Some people would keep their skin each year and have a special room with their skins stuffed to show off what they looked like year by year.

People would paint shed skins and make art from them.

“Cool,” you’d say when you visit someone and they point out that each lampshade is their skin from a different year.

Skin Preservationist would be a licensed profession. DIY enthusiasts would have YouTube videos showing the best way to preserve your last skin shedding for posterity. There would be skin shedding competitions to see who can shed their skin most creatively. Celebrities would auction off their last skin. And in some cultures you know that just shed skin would be part of the cuisine.

Marshmallow Harvest

Marshmallow harvest field

It’s marshmallow harvest season in the Skagit Valley. Marshmallow berries in the marshmallow fields are plump and ready to be picked. Marshmallow berries are the largest of all berries. In the mild Skagit Valley climate they grow to epic proportions.

Even though they are so huge, they are so light that they can be hand picked and stacked onto the marshmallow trailers.

Marshmallow farmers in Skagit County are a major grower of marshmallows. From the vast marshmallow fields, Farmers haul the marshmallow berries to marshmallow packing plants. Dedicated workers in the packing plants cut the huge marshmallow berries into bite size marshmallows and place them into bags you find in your local store.

Despite all the rain this spring, this year looks like a good year for harvesting marshmallows. And from how plump this year’s marshmallows are, this year’s crop will be a great tasting crop.

So how can you tell if the marshmallows you buy are fresh? Look for the harvest date on the bag. You’ll find it in tiny print somewhere. By law, marshmallow packers must include the harvest date on the package.

Marshmallow farmers in the Skagit Valley harvest marshmallow berries from June into August. So if you want the freshest marshmallows buy them from mid June through August.

Remembering the Sun

Blooming iris on a sunny day

I need to take pictures when the sun is out so on days like today when the rain pours all day long I can remember the sun. According to the National Weather Service, Seattle had 5 hours in all of May when it was 70ºF or higher. In a normal year there are 80 to over a 100 hours of 70ºF weather in May. So you can see how off we are this year.

Spider on a log

What do the spiders think of all this cool, rainy weather? They can always crawl into a crack to escape the steady rain drops.

Snow on her nest

Snow waits patiently on her nest, waiting for her eggs to hatch. She picked a perfect place to hide.

Chicken in meadow

When it isn’t pouring rain, I do like to let the chickens enjoy the nice weather. Do they compare this spring with sunny springs from years past?

On a totally, not a man and his hoe type of topic, with all the horrific shootings happening recently, I decided to get the latest numbers on gunfire deaths in Japan. And for that I turned to a reliable source, the National Police Agency of Japan. So these are the statistics for gunfire deaths in Japan from 2017 through 2021. The English labels for the rows is on the right.

Gunfire deaths in Japan 2017 through 2021.

The figure that popped out to me was that in all of 2021 there was just one death by gunfire in all of Japan. If the US had the same ratio of gunfire deaths, there would have been just 3 deaths by gunfire in the US during all of 2021. The number of gunfire homicides in the US during 2021? 19,384. A far cry from 3.

The goal of the National Police Agency of Japan is to have zero gunfire deaths. They are almost there.

Letting children get gunned down in elementary schools is a choice not an inevitability. Some countries choose to let this happen, others do not.

From Me to You

Bee in thimble berry flower

From me to you, a photo of a bee gathering nectar and pollen from a Thimble Berry flower. Cool weather still dominates here with the occasional warm, sunny day breaking the wet, cloudy days. I’m sure the bees are wanting warmer weather more than we humans.

Baby cherry fruit

Despite the cool spring, the bees did pollinate many of the cherry. The proof is the green cherry fruit where white cherry blossoms used to be.

Seven duck eggs in next

And the three duck eggs in the second duck nest are now seven. So how many duck eggs will the ducks lay before they decide it is time to incubate them?

Chickens foraging in the grass

The chickens do enjoy foraging in the meadow. But the bob cat is back, so how much time to let the chickens roam is something to consider. Two nights ago the dogs were still out at 2 in the morning. It was too quiet. Something wasn’t right. I grabbed a flashlight and went looking for them. I found them at the gate, looking up at the archway. And on the top of the archway was a large bobcat.

When I aimed the flashlight at the bobcat, it jumped off the arch onto the roof of the garden shed and disappeared into the neighbor’s woods.

I did find it odd that the dogs were so quiet. Normally if they corner something in a tree like a squirrel or raccoon, they bark constantly. They were eerily quiet with the bobcat.

So how do these pictures get from me to you? When you look up into the sky, do you imagine that at some point the pictures I take were at some point radio waves bouncing around 550 kilometers (340 miles) up in the sky? They go further into space than the International Space Station.

From me to you, words and photos are streamed from an antenna into space.

So how do my words and photos get from me to you? I use my iPhone to take the photos. I edit the photos and words on my MacBook. From my MacBook the words and photos get beamed as radio waves from our StarLink antenna to a StarLink satellite orbiting the earth. From there they get beamed back to a StarLink ground station and sent to our host company’s servers, and sent on to you.

Starlink satellites orbiting the earth pick up the radio waves from me.

This morning, there are 1,877 functioning StarLink satellites orbiting the earth. Each one circles the earth in 90 to 95 minutes. Which means they are overhead for just a few minutes. If I could grab a tether from one, I could be in Tokyo in 12 minutes.

Every little white dot is a StarLink satellite orbiting the earth. The long strands of satellites are recently launched satellites which are still climbing. As they reach their final orbiting height they will spread out and blend in with all the other orbiting satellites.

The hexagon cells are areas where StarLink provides service.

Neary StarLink satellites which pick up the radio waves from me to you.

Our StarLink antenna tilts north, so it mostly communicates with StarLink satellites zipping across southern British Columbia. Which in turn communicate with ground stations in places like Redmond, North Bend, and Brewster. And this happens in millionths of a second.

So that is how my words and pictures get to you.

It Lives

Building thunderstorms over the mountains.

Summer skies have returned to the Skagit Valley. It’s finally warm and dry enough to work in the garden.

Bee flying to buttercup.

The late spring warmth has the bees buzzing about. Speaking of bees, I’ve been reading and listening to Jacqueline Freeman’s Song of Increase. The book is about the life of bees. After keeping bees for many years, Jacqueline Freeman wrote down what she heard the bees tell her about their lives.

“Listening to the Wisdom of Honeybees for Kinder Beekeeping and a Better World,” is how she describes her book. “When the bees speak, I listen,” she says. Throughout the book she sprinkles sections where the bees speak for themselves, like this:

“We wake up to the understanding that we are all one, all the time. Human beings exist connected each to each, but believe that they are not. Honeybees dwell in the full realization of that connection and have done so for eons. The unity we embody is a reflection of the kingdom-wide Unity that dwells in us all.
This is the gift we bring: complete, sacred unity in body and spirit. To be in the presence of Spirit [God], to simply sit and be in such presence, offers the opportunity to be transformed by it. This we offer you. Come sit. Be with us. Drink in the Unity as you would fresh rain. We offer our gift with great joy and love!”

For a refreshing, different view of bee society get a copy of Jacqueline Freeman’s Song of Increase.

Bee on buttercup flower.
It lives. A green sprig sprouts on a dead California Lilac bush.

The harsh winter killed our grand California Lilac. So we were debating how to cut it down today when we noticed a green sprig sprouting on one of the main branches. It lives. We won’t chop it down yet.

A harsh winter followed by a long cool, wet spring has given way to summery days of delight.

Dirty Dogs, Duck Eggs, and Bullfrogs

Have you seen a dirtier dog? Talk about dirty dogs. Enna and Taku outdid themselves hunting rabbits in the woods. They caught two! One they brought back early and left at the gate. Perhaps they were hoping we would chop it up and fry it for them while they got more rabbits?

They came back hours later with another rabbit. The two dogs looked like they had died and gone to heaven. Enna and Taku love nothing more than chasing and catching rabbits. Wild rabbit is their favorite food. Fortunately a straw bed is the best cleaner for muddy dogs.

This is the first nest like place I’ve found of duck eggs this season. Most of the time the ducks are leaving their eggs scattered along the banks of the pond or in the grass. But this spot is too muddy, at least for me, maybe not for the ducks. So I couldn’t stop myself from spiffing it up with some straw.

So if at some point a duck decides to hatch ducklings, she’ll have a drier spot to sit. And the view from this nest isn’t bad. She can watch the swallows dart over the pond while she sits, and sits, and sits, and sits.

However, danger lurks nearby. Close to the nest is a favorite spot for bull frogs to sit in the afternoon sun. These invasive frogs can swallow baby ducklings whole. Now that I know where these large frogs like to whittle away the afternoons, I can catch them, or at least try. There are three that hang out in this spot. Maybe the dogs will prefer them to rabbits. Don’t they taste like chicken?

Cherry Blossom Snow, Witches and Goblins

Cherry blossom snow

Cherry blossom snow blankets the bank of the pond. And witches and goblins decide our future. We live in absurd times. But I suppose humans through the ages have always thought their time was particularly absurd.

I never thought I’d see the day when modern judges recite Medieval texts or the foreign judge, Mathew Hale, 1609-1676, from centuries ago who argued such blithering nonsense as the existence of laws against witches is proof that witches exist. Really? You’re going to base your argument on a judge from the 1600s who thought that? And yet our highest judges think these are perfectly reasonable reasons to back up their rulings. We might as well leave our fate up to goblins and such.

Purple flowers bloom against a wooden fence.

Spring is still cool with clouds, sprinkles, rain, and downpours nearly every day. So when the sun comes out I record it, just so I have proof that blue sky does exist and that somewhere a sun does shine.

Late spring rainbow
Sky with bits of blue

The apples are a riot of color. They can be as beautiful as cherry blossoms.

Apple blossoms

See how wet the leaves and petals are? Don’t let the dabbles of sunlight on them fool you. It’s not as warm as it looks.

Lilacs starting to bloom.

The lilacs are starting to bloom too. I could cover my face with their blossoms and inhale their sweet fragrance all day long. It would take my mind off the reality that our fate is up to judges who think highly of an English judge from the 1600s who executed witches and argued for chopping the heads off of 14 year olds. It makes me wonder what the war of independence was for if we’re bound to beliefs and superstitions of English judges from so long ago.

Skunk cabbage growing vigorously in the woods.

In the woods the skunk cabbage grow vigorously. I admire these robust plants which can produce such huge leaves out of the air they breathe and the minerals they quaff from the ground.

Large earthworm next to a hand.

And in the garden I find these large, translucent earthworms. It’s remarkable how such soft, fragile tubes slither through the soil. There are some 22,000 species of these creatures. Annelids is what they are called, from the Latin anellus which means “little ring.” You can make out the thin segments on the earthworm in the picture. If you want to take your mind off the absurdity that our highest judges have their minds muddled by Medieval thought, count the rings on this earthworm. This earthworm is large, but it is nothing compared to the meter long Giant Gippsland earthworm of Australia.

Warmth Arrives

Bee in cherry blossom

Warmth arrives and with it the bees. The Rainier cherry trees are in full bloom. This year warmth arrived in time for the bees to be buzzing when the Rainiers are in bloom.

Apple blossoms

Some of the apples are starting to bloom too.

Rosemary blossoms

As are some of the rosemary bushes.

Trillium blossom

The trilliums are opening their delicate flowers too. I’m very lucky to be able to step out of the house and stroll into the woods to see trillium blossoms dabbled with sun light. How many get to do that?

Potato sprout

And a sure sign that warmth has arrived are the first potato shoots poking out of the ground. If potatoes are sprouting, some things in this world are going right.

What Month Is It?

April clouds and snow in the mountains.

The calendar says it is April 20, but the snow falling in the foothills makes me wonder what month it is?

Blooming mustard.

Blooming mustard says it is May, but we saw a flock of snow geese yesterday so it can’t be that late. And then this morning, thick frost painted the grass.

Frosty grass in late april

And here I thought we were way past the last frosty morn. Even the tips of the tulips had tiny ice droplets on them.

Tulips with ice

So what month is it? Though I’ve seen tulips with heavy hats of snow on them. A fairy dusting of frost soon melts away.

Weeping cherry blossoms

Pink weeping cherry blossoms tell me that it is April, so the calendar isn’t misleading me when it says April is in its last third. These weeping cherry trees don’t weep in Japan. They are called “Drooping branch cherries” 枝垂れ桜 – 枝 branch 垂れ drooping 桜 cherry.

Billowing white clouds

And the billowing white clouds I saw yesterday say that May is just around the corner.