Shepherd's Needle and White Peacocks

11 Nov 2015

Shepherd’s Needle and White Peacocks

Note: This is November entry about my yard will help make sense of our recent turn into summer.

           It is apple season up north now.  Honeycrisp, Red Delicious, and all sorts of other apples we never see are flooding the supermarkets.  I know that in North Carolina, the leaves in the mountains and even the Piedmont are a dozen shades of red and yellow.  In west central Florida, people not from here are confused why the month of November doesn’t yield all those things promised further north.

            In Clearwater, those of us who watch know this season but more as a version of spring than a beautiful harbinger of the temporary death of all the plants and the vacation of the birds and animals.  Around here, this is when animals arrive.  Yesterday, a yellow wren flitted along with wood fence.  Kingfish and Spanish mackerel have been crashing schools of whitebait for weeks now (though I’m too busy to get out and catch them).  It should be time for a mullet run, too.

            About a month ago we knew that fall was here when the rains abated (really, we have rainy seasons and dry seasons here) and the grass miraculously slowed its growth.  This was great cause for joy for my teenaged daughter, who has recently taken on the job of mowing grass and was growing exasperated when the yard required mowing every five days. She would stand at the window and sigh when it rained, knowing that the sun would come out the next day and Friday afternoon after school she would be mowing grass and working up a sweat.  The grass still grows, but more slowly, and our diverse lawn of sod, beggar’s tick, cupid’s paintbrush and other “weeds” blossoms into a variety of small flowers.

            I’m hesitant to have her mow the grass, though it would help the yard look as sharp as our neighbors’ yards.  Today, I went out and photographed some of the White Peacock butterflies feeding on the flowers.  They prefer the white and yellow Beggar’s Tick, also known as Shepherd’s Needle.  I look further and can see the unkempt lawn busy with White Peacocks. They spin around each other in the air like some combination of a First World War dogfight and mating dance.  They share the yard with small grey butterflies that light only on the Lilac Tasselflower (another “weed”) and move too fast for a photograph.  They’re probably the Grey Hairstreak, though they move so fast in the sunlit exuberance I can’t tell without trying to capture one.

            The pictures of the butterflies on the Shepherd’s Needle remind me to look at the yard again.  In the images, the six-inch-tall plants look like bushes or trees and they stretch away like a wild landscape.  Here, the butterflies aren’t in my front yard, they’re in a field of flowers and their play from one nectar source to the next is a grand carnival they share with half a dozen species of bees, wasps, moths and other butterflies, all of which drink what they can from one flower and then are up