Just the Right Time

 

DSC_0042edThe time is now. The time to see Virginia Clematis, Old Man’s Beard or Devils Darning Needles has come. Since this native climbing vine in the clematis family is rare enjoy the photos. If contrasting green and white appeal to your taste, you’ve found a new favorite.

This amazing climbing vine can dominate the area it grows in. Mine is planted on the west corner of our garage. Its vines climbed nearly to the roof covering the corner of the garage. After being cut back 3-4 times it settled for a height of 4 feet completely covering the trellis fastened behind it.

The time is now. This Virginia Clematis is covered with a tidal wave of white one-inch flowers each with 5 white petals. It emits a faint, but pleasant fragrance. This explains why there are honeybees, miniature black native bees, house flies and even ants gathering nectar and pollinating every flower they visit. This plant is a miniature world of its own. Lush, green and white and a rich food source for many pollinators, it’s one of my favorite stops on backyard walks.

The time is now to see this green and white beauty. In a few weeks the five petals on each flower will develop into showy, soft feather like plumes each with a seed attached at the bottom. It will be clear evidence of the success of the pollinators visiting now.

It is beautiful in its time of bloom and ripening seed. This is the time of year it happens.

King Solomon knew of plant seasons and human seasons. He wrote the words of Ecclesiastes 3:11, “Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time…”

God is the perfect time expert. God knows our time. Our times are in his hands. “For God says, “At just the right time, I heard you. On the day of salvation, I helped you.” Indeed, the “right time” is now. Today is the day of salvation.” (2 Corinthians 6:2)

Plants bloom at specifically ordered times. The Virginia Clematis is an impeccable example. God orders this. God is perfect in His order of our lives too. Listen, His power is at work in every human heart. One of the beautiful things He has given us is His love…”at just the right time.” He listens for your call.

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Danaus plexippus

Danaus plexippus, the milkweed butterfly.

This resident caterpillar…

from one egg of over 300 eggs; after a 3-5 day development becomes…

a summer weather caterpillar for 9-14 days with 5 stages of growth called instars.

On the 5th instar…

a pupa forms, then in 8-15 days an inexplicable wonder …

millions of late summer adults become international travelers.

Unfathomable mystery packaged by God.

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The Flying Lion

I have a new summer favorite for you.

Anax Junius, the Green Darner Dragonfly. Think of it as the lion of the insect world. If it is an insect that flies, the Green Darner will eat it. Mosquitoes, midges, flies, butterflies, moths, mayflies, stoneflies even smaller dragonflies all fuel this winged predator. Its life cycle differs from most insects. There are three stages in a Green Darner’s life: egg, nymph and adult. A dragonfly nymph has a voracious appetite. It will eat anything in the water smaller than itself. For the Green Darner nymph this includes minnows and tadpoles.

Look closely at its compound eyes. There are about 30,000 lenses in them. It can see all the way around itself. Those large wings can propel it at speeds up to 30 miles per hour.

Did you know this dragonfly migrates? Biologist estimate there are 331 dragonfly species in North America. Only nine migrate seasonally. Green Darners will fly up to 60 miles a day in favorable conditions. Their compound eyes protect them from a predator which migrates with the darners. American Kestrels and small falcons time their migrations to match that of the darner. They feast on the winged buffet of green darner dragonflies.

Like the birds that eat them, Green Darners migrate to Texas, Florida, and on to Mexico and the Caribbean where those that survive mate to begin the next generation whose offspring will lay eggs in northern wetlands the next summer.

If they weren’t such amazing creatures, their beauty alone would make them on of my favorites.DSC_0114ed

Perfection Found

It is winged perfection. Calling it a flying emerald, would not be wrong. The season of long-legged flies has come to the upper Midwest. Some are metallic green, emerald like. Their eyes have a red tint. They do have long legs. Found in the order of Diptera, they are true flies. But they are flies with an exclamation. Most people have never seen them.

Having them in your garden or flower bed is a good thing. Though tiny, long-legged flies are beneficial insects. Its diet includes things that eat flowers and vegetables. Aphids, mites, gnats, beetle larva and even smaller flies are all in its diet. But it will not come to your outdoor picnic. The long-legged fly is not attracted to human food. We should be thankful.

The colors of these flies ranges from bright metallic green, to copper or bronze. Some species are muted in browns and grays. Most of them are 5 millimeters or smaller. But it would be worthwhile to see an emerald long-legged fly. You would be watching a highly skilled predator. Insatiable is a human appetite term but could describe the appetite of a long-legged fly. For dining on the small invertebrates in its habitat, the long-legged fly has an extendable lower lip paired with flaring opposable lobes on either side of its mouth. They use them to efficiently crush and tear prey.

You may disagree. But, it would not be an exaggeration to describe long-legged flies as near faultless. Perfection is seen in its emerald iridescent green color, its crystal-clear wings, and contrasting red tinged eyes. While we really know little about its life cycle the long-legged fly fits seamlessly in its environment.

Where does all this perfection originate? Where does iridescence come from? How about long legs, or a specialized mouth? Laugh if you will, but this little fly is approaching impeccable.

We delight in perfection. We admire what seems perfect. We constantly seek perfection. We are disappointed when the next thing or person fails to be perfect. Perfection we want, yet perfection is not attainable for a human. No human or thing on earth is perfect, not even the long-legged fly.

Only God is perfect. The Bible explains it. “As for God, his way is perfect: The Lord’s word is flawless; he shields all who take refuge in him.” (Psalm 18:30) There is another reason to seek this little fly. It is to see an example of God’s perfect work. God’s WAY, God’s WORD and God’s SHIELD are for us. They are perfection. Seeking perfection? God is seeking you.

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Greatest Grace

Unseen most of its life, we seldom think of it or the service it does. My eyes have been watching it for you. That’s because its story will give you joy. You will be awed. Being awed is a joy for me. So, it must be for you. Don’t expect a large object. Its small. It is quick. In trying to photograph it my patience was tested every time. It’s not colorful either. Yet black fuzzy yellow with yellow pollen attached legs can be beautiful.
Yes, our subject is a bee. DSC_0010ed
What are your typical bee stereotypes? Perhaps your knowledge is based on the negative experiences you have had with a non-bee, the yellow jacket wasp. Worse, a yellow jacket has stung you. This is a bee, not a wasp. Look at the photo. There are no alternating black and yellow stripes on its abdomen.
It is small. For size perspective, it faces a 5/8 inch diameter garden hose.
This little ground bee can be your introduction to the concept that bees are not only good, they are amazing.DSC_0005ed
About bee stings. This bee and members of its colony have been active since late April. Be astonished, these small ground bees have their nests in front of the outside water spigots to our house. My wife and I use these spigots to water flowers, shrubs, and grass for the last 4 weeks. Each time we go to turn on the water spigot we step over, or on one or more of these bees’ nests. Guess how many times my wife and I have been stung? Zero. How many times has one of these bees buzzed around us for disturbing its nest? Zero. The day I forgot and covered the nests with a thin layer of landscape bark I was reminded the bees have their nests here when I returned and found 5 or 6 of them searching for their nest tube in the ground. I had covered them. Would you say I was stung that time? No.
More amazing. About 70 % of bee species nest underground like these do. These bees are expert at soil excavation. They tunnel into the soil and create a hard tube of small soil particles. Beneath the soil these tubes end in cells. The female ground bee brings pollen to the cell and shapes it into a ball. She lays one egg on the ball and closes the cell. The egg will hatch to feast on pollen before winter but spend winter in the cell as a prepupae. They freeze there and survive! Next spring it will emerge from the cell as an adult bee.
While many of the nest tubes are hidden, my estimate is between 30 and 40 tubes in a 2 foot by 3-foot area just below our outside water spigot. Many bees are using this area. We would like to add fresh landscape bark to the spot. We can wait till they finish nesting.DSC_0003ed
Have you thought about where the pollen comes from? Our yard has flowering crab apple trees, two fruit apple trees and a raspberry patch in our garden. We have a small native prairie garden. Two days ago, we planted a cherry tomato with blossoms already on it. These bees are doing us a great favor. They are making our food. As they gather pollen they pollinate the plants. Seeds and fruit result. They expect nothing but pollen to feed their larva. We get the best part of the bargain and we seldom if ever notice them.
Sometimes we mistake them for wasps and kill them. If they were human we could say all they ever are is gracious.
There is an even better greatest grace bargain. We get the best part. We do none of the work. The work of paying for our sin has been done for us. It was hard. It was agonizing and extremely painful. I don’t know the name of the little bees we’ve talked about. I do know the name of the One who paid for all our sins. His name is Jesus. While there were eyewitnesses to his crucifixion. You and I never saw it. To us His sacrifice was like that little bee-unseen. He is unseen, but on the throne of heaven today. His death for the sins of each person living and once living on the earth. He made the little bee I’ve shared with you.
Why did Jesus die? Love. God’s love. The Bible says it best. “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” Romans 8:32 Jesus died for your sins and mine because God loves us, he graciously saves us. He made the beautiful ground bees to remind us his love has no limit and his power is everywhere present.

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Waiting for Sunrise

Have you ever anticipated something? It may be a day in the future like a graduation, or a wedding. It could be a new job. There are many things we find reason to anticipate with pleasure.
For me, it was a sunrise.
Bruce, my cousin and friend would be my guide. He said, “I’ll pick you up at 5:00 AM.” My response was, “I’ll be ready.” After he told me I had to wait. Waiting is hard-especially when you wait for something you know will be good. Waiting for sunrise, it’s splendid and hard.
My head was on the pillow early the night before we were to go. My goal was to be up at 4:30. My feet touched the floor at 4:23 AM. Knowing the morning would be long, a bit of food was my task after dressing.

With camera and gear in the backpack my step outside happened 20 minutes before 5 AM. The black sky glittered with stars. The Milky Way glimmered from southwest to north-east. My gaze went to the east. Sunrise was on my mind.
Soon, the sound of tires on asphalt told me he was coming. No one else would be up this early. We drove east on the main road of the island. Only one other vehicle was out this early. That person was headed west, likely not for sunrise.

We reached the entrance gate to the State Park. Bruce punched in the code and we drove eastward into the park. In the darkness to my right it was difficult to ignore the vastness of the Gulf of Mexico. It was mystery with hundreds of miles of wilderness salt water. But we were headed for the east end of the island, the tip and sunrise there.
We came to the gate that closed off the protected shorebirds nesting area. Only a gravel road passed through this part of the park. Using the code provided we went through and closed it behind us. We were 4 miles from sunrise now. In those dark miles with only the pickup headlights to show the way our only companion was a Night-hawk which flew up from its resting spot on the road.
The Milky Way and handle of the Big Dipper were still visible as we parked at the east end. Bruce gave me a red-light LED flashlight and we walked on the sand along the bay. Ghost crabs scurried into their holes or swam into clear deeper water from us. No hint of sunlight yet.
As we reached the end of the island Bruce led us southward toward the Gulf of Mexico. The south wind pleasantly cooled our faces. The vastness of the place was unmistakable. A deep sense of wildness came upon me. We were alone with only the sound of the breeze, the surf and shorebirds of the night.
Then Bruce said, “Let’s look for a bench.” It delighted me when a short distance later we found a ledge of sand created by the water from a recent high tide. We sat on the “bench.” It was perfectly positioned. It faced east. We sat. We waited. Our words were few. The magnificence all around us was powerful, making words, irrelevant. Sunrise would be soon. We watched the eastern horizon.DSC_0455ed
My camera was ready. We watched as a more intense pink-orange glow developed in the east. Moments later a golden sliver of sun popped above the earth’s edge. We could see the sun move with the horizon as a reference. In moments the perfect star for earth cleared the horizon. The day had begun.DSC_0477ed
One reward for our early rising besides the sun, were the shore birds we saw in first light. A Great Blue Heron landed near us. Perhaps it thought we were fisherman. Royal Terns, Sanderlings, Willets, Brown Pelicans even a Red Knot searched for food to fill their stomachs. We got to watch them.DSC_0484ed

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Waiting for the sunrise turned my thoughts to another event greater than any sunrise. It is a once in eternity event. It is coming. It is worth every anticipation, even longing for. It is better than a sunrise. Actually, it is better than all sunrises and sunsets combined since time began. Imagine that.
One day, some-day, Jesus the Son of God will come again. The Bible tells us “every eye will see him.” Like a sunrise, Jesus is coming again to the earth he made and on which he walked. The return of Jesus will be a simultaneous world-wide event. Every person on earth will see him.
This is the best part: Those who believe he is the Son of God and Savior of the world who have turned from their sins in repentance will be raised with him… “in the clouds” to be with him in heaven. (Revelation 1:7 and 1 Thessalonians 4:17)
Waiting for a sunrise reminds me that one day Jesus will return. It will be magnificent beyond imagination. DSC_0477ed