David George Haskell's book The Forest Unseen: a year's watch in nature is a favorite of mine. He picked a yard-square spot (his "mandala") in an old growth forest of Tennessee and wrote short natural history essays about his daily observations. Each one is a marvel of poetic yet scientific writing, revealing deep and deeply amazing connections between the different life forms he observes.
I've meant to emulate his practice for a long time (as far as I am able at least) and then I realized this morning that I in fact have been sitting in the same spot almost daily for a couple of years.
I sit outside with my tea, my McVities biscuits, and Duncan the dog, as close to dawn as I can manage, just a hop and skip from our front porch. It overlooks our chaparral slope, and the redwoods beyond, and beyond them, a sliver of Monterey Bay.
|Where's my McVities?|
|Just in front|
|Bit down the slope|
|The elderberries are about gone now. They tempted many shy birds to reveal themselves, wren tits and maybe virioles (not sure yet on some IDs.) and towhees and more.|
|I sit on a zafu cushion and aim to be as upright as those young redwoods opposite|
|Some mornings mist makes those ridges and valleys really stand out - so lovely.|
|Mist-filled monterey bay and hills beyond (and annoying wires!) and wonderful skies|
Through the year I become very aware of the changing position of the sunrise, to my left. it's travelled quite a bit south since the summer equinox. Right now it shines through some old flowering cherries where I often see birds. Lots of lesser goldfinches in spring, and some now I think, passed through. Where are they going? Bushtits too sweep through many mornings, though I haven't seen them of late.
At my feet, I've been watching a ceanothus seedling grow
I'm wondering if it's a local native (C. thyrsiflorus or C. papillosus) or one of the nursery natives I planted, or a hybrid.
I've also been watching the pink cud weed grow and blossom
And turn brown at its base, with prettily curling little leaflets or leaves (if you can get beyond the brown)
And go to seed. These three photos are actually all taken on the same day. The plant is going through all phases simultaneously!
Strands of spider silk connect the various plants - Only when beaded with morning mist, they become visible. And not visible enough for my little camera.
But mostly, on this particular morning, I was struck to see all the tiny flowers budding out on the coyote brush (Baccharis pilularis) to my right. My attention was first drawn here by the sound of bees.
And then this odd looking fellow (see first picture in this post for a closer view) who looked more like he'd rather pierce my skin than the stigma of a flower! I don't know what he is.
|Fly of some sort… Inquiries are out! These are the female flowers. I had to look quite a bit to find a male plant.|
|Female flowers come to a narrow throat, like an amphora, with a pretty frill poking out.|
FYI here's an interesting note from National Phenology Network (using an app they developed called "Nature's Notebook") about Baccharis pilularis - giving the name derivation, which I hadn't known before:
Baccaris pilularis is in the Sunflower family. This species arrives as a secondary pioneer species after fire or grazing in chaparral and coastal sage scrub plant communities. The genus name Baccharis derives from the Greek word "bakkaris", referring to plants with fragrant roots. The species name pilularis refers to the sticky globs on its flower buds. Native Americans used the heated leaves to reduce swelling, and the wood to make arrow shafts and houses.
I confess I wasn't sure exactly what phenology was. Google kindly offered this definition:
"Phenology: the study of cyclic and seasonal natural phenomena, especially in relation to climate and plant and animal life."
Just what my mandala sitting encourages me to do, in fact!
I encourage you to find a "mandala" spot, too. It's a lovely way to start your day.
Especially with a nice cup of tea and a McVitie's Digestive Biscuit!