buggy, but pleasant

7.2.24 ~ North Carolina Botanical Garden
eastern tiger swallowtail

Yesterday was a great weather day! We took advantage of rare low humidity and temperature and scooted over to the botanical garden. There were many bugs out and about, doing their summer thing. I’m suffering from another batch of spider bites on my legs and I have no idea how they’re getting there. (I now know they’re spider bites because my reaction rash is so bad it drove me to a dermatologist. She was mystified and had a biopsy done on the rash to see what was causing it. I hope I won’t need another round of steroids!)

smooth purple coneflower
eastern cicada killer wasp on lamb’s ear leaves
bee on lamb’s ear flowers
ant on cutleaf coneflower
oakleaf hydrangea
pitcher plant in the summer sunlight
zipper spider
New York ironweed
fly on rattlesnake master
pond cypress (?)
bee on lanceleaf arrowhead
some kind of bug under the phlox
more phlox
still more phlox
bugs in the woolly rose mallow
New England aster

I hope you enjoyed the glimpse into the buggy summer botanical garden. Creepy crawlies go hand in hand with pretty flowers. I’m biding my time until autumn arrives!

family secrets

A book on the new arrivals shelf at our local library caught my eye. I snatched it quickly, as if I feared someone else might have been around to grab it before I did. The Rooster House: My Ukrainian Family Story, is a deeply moving memoir by Victoria Belim, who was born in Ukraine and then emigrated to America with her mother and stepfather when she was 15 years old. Many years later, after Russia seized Crimea in 2014, she felt pulled to return to Ukraine for a lengthy visit with her aging grandmother Valentina, who was still living in the village of Krutyy Bereh.

The book started with two of my favorite things, a family tree diagram and a map of the villages in Ukraine where the stories of the lives of the author’s ancestors and relatives unfolded. Central to the story was the Rooster House, an attractive mansion in the city of Poltava, with two red roosters flanking the door. But to her late great-grandmother Asya it had been a sinister place to be avoided, the home of the secret police.

Back in February 2022 I wrote a short post about Russia invading Ukraine and the vague memories that event stirred up for my sister and me. See post here. Ever since I have been wondering about those possible genetic memories.

My father once told me that when he was 4 years old, in 1926, his father was finally able to send for his 18 year-old sister, who grew up in Ukraine with their grandparents. When she came to live with her family in America she brought with her some notions that were puzzling to the rest of her siblings. Once, my father went up into the attic to play with a couple of his friends. When his sister heard them having fun up there she came up the stairs and scolded him severely. Didn’t he know that attics are where families keep their secrets?

While visiting her grandmother Valentina, Victoria Belim found and started reading her great-grandfather’s journal about their family. In it was a short underlined sentence mentioning one of his brothers: “Brother Nikodim, vanished in the 1930s fighting for a free Ukraine.” And so began a very long and frustrating search for Belim’s great-granduncle Nikodim’s story, which very sadly, finally led her to the guarded archives at the Rooster House.

Reading about Nikodim reminded me that I also have a mystery in my Ukrainian family. In 1999, when my aunt was 91 years old, I had a chance to interview her about the grandparents, aunts and uncles she left behind, but kept in touch with, in Ukraine. She was very reluctant to share anything and only met with me after being somewhat persuaded to by another aunt. One thing she did reveal was that her uncle had served in the Austrian army and later studied to be a teacher in the Soviet Union. At some point he went to Czechia. He is thought to have been killed by Stalin when he returned to Ukraine. I wondered what ‘being killed by Stalin’ involved. This book gave me some ideas about what life was probably like for my father’s aunts and uncles during those years.

My portrait of Ukraine is personal, tracing my own story against the tidal wave of Ukrainian history. At the same time the book reveals the complicated nature of Ukrainian identity and the country’s difficult relationship with its Soviet past. As such, The Rooster House explains the context in which the current war takes place.
~ Victoria Belim
(The Rooster House: My Ukrainian Family Story)

What I appreciated so much in this book was those personal details, how her family made the best of things in the midst of so much turmoil, over many years and several generations. I loved reading about how much their gardens meant to them, how they cared for their cherry orchard. I was surprised to learn about how culturally important Ukrainian embroidery is, not just used for clothing, but also for ritual cloths used in weddings and funerals. Some patterns had hidden meanings, handed down in families. They hung on to their scant possessions, they were students and teachers, all while suffering through famine and random arrests and interrogations, and adapting to never-ending changes in circumstances, including the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl.

They had no jewels passed down from illustrious forebears and no books of family trees. They knew of their distant ancestors only by virtue of their own existence. They left few traces. It was hard to accumulate belongings and uninterrupted history when one lived in a place referred to as ‘the bloodlands’, ‘the borderland’, or ‘the frontier’. Asya and Sergiy lived through many upheavals in the twentieth century and their way of life was swept away by one tsunami of events after another. In the end, anything that survived was valued simply because it had emerged out of the chaos. My mother and aunt disputed ownership of Asya’s chipped cups from the 1930s with the passion of Greeks talking about the repatriation of the Parthenon marbles.
~ Victoria Belim
(The Rooster House: My Ukrainian Family Story)

How the author finally encouraged her reluctant grandmother and cousin to talk about the past was heartwarming. It took multiple extended visits to Ukraine for her to connect all the dots, but thanks to her persistence and research skills Victoria Belim’s family now has this beautifully written book to treasure, a record of the lives of their ancestors and relatives, and what she went through to find some of their stories.

three quick pics

6.21.24 ~ North Carolina Botanical Garden
Coastal Plain Habitat boardwalk in June

It was too hot for a walk but I had to get my summer picture for Karma’s “same location for all 4 seasons” photo hunt. And my coastal plain habitat boardwalk picture for June. I darted into the botanical garden, got them, and then took two quick pics on my way back out.

fewflower milkweed
Horace’s duskywing

These Fevered Days — to take them to the Forest
Where Waters cool around the mosses crawl —
And shade is all that devastates the stillness
Seems it sometimes this would be all —

~ Emily Dickinson
(The Poems of Emily Dickinson, #1467)

a midsummer day

6.20.24 ~ solstice sunrise in Bolin Forest

Living in a heavily wooded neighborhood I only get a peek through the trees to catch a sunrise. It happened at 6:00 am on the summer solstice here. Hours later, for solar noon I took my flower fairy out to the moss garden for a little photo shoot. There was a small patch of sunlight available to highlight the very short shadow she was casting.

1:17 pm, solar noon
shortest shadow of the year!

As I was photographing the fairy, mama deer brought her fawn by to check out the scene. It was so hot outside!

mama deer and her fawn

In the evening, for some reason, the dew point dropped and even though it was still hot, it became much less humid. Midsummer magic? We packed up the grandchildren and headed to the Piedmont Wildlife Center. None of us had been there before and they were having a summer solstice celebration. What a great time we had! We got a closer look at some of the birds and turtles in rehab.

Piedmont Wildlife Center
barred owl
red-shouldered or red-tailed (?) hawk

Katherine showed a lot of interest in the raptors and Finn was enchanted with the turtles.

box turtle
another box turtle

We were all delighted with Pumpkin, a sweet little opossum. She’s full grown but only about a third of the size of an average adult. She had a rough start in life. The kids asked all kinds of questions, like, does she eat ants? The answer was not usually, unless they happened to be on something else she was eating, kind of like pepper or another seasoning. And opossums only eat the ticks that are in their fur when they’re grooming themselves.

Pumpkin on her running wheel

We had a little walk through the woods and saw a few more birds and animals tucked inside their enclosures. Eventually we got to the solstice campfire where the kids could make their own s’mores. A man playing his guitar gently on the side added to the peaceful mood.

Finn roasted a marshmallow for me, too
Katherine displaying one of her perfectly roasted marshmallows

After a while we were invited to participate in a little solstice ritual: writing on a piece of paper what we wished to let go of from the old year and what we wanted to welcome into the next year. Then we burned our papers in the campfire. It was a meaningful way to pause and take stock of our intentions. I noticed Katherine took it very seriously while Finn, being four years younger, was naturally interested in other things.

a small painted rock along our path

The plan was to go to Maple View Farm next, for ice cream and to view the sunset. But, we finished our ice cream (sorbet for me) an hour before the sun was due to set, so we called it a day and headed home. It was wonderful celebrating the summer solstice for the first time with our grandchildren.

Maple View Farm
(an hour before solstice sunset)

as we mark the longest day

“Summer Landscape” by Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Counting one’s blessings has a particular poignancy at this festival because, as we mark the longest day, we are reminded that from this point the year will begin to wane and the days will gradually shorten. Transience is a reality for all of us and so we learn that our capacity for joy and happiness — like an inner sun — must radiate from within. It’s worth taking a moment to ponder the mystery that at the height of summer winter plants its own seed.
~ Maria Ede-Weaving
(The Essential Book of Druidry: Connect with the Spirit of Nature)

wild, free, spontaneous

6.8.24 ~ North Carolina Botanical Garden
eastern tiger swallowtail

These pictures are from another walk we took when we were still sick, the weather being so nice we pushed ourselves out the door. It was good to see even more things blooming.

wild bergamot
Canada lily (endangered)

We stopped for quite a while to listen to a Carolina wren loudly singing from a high branch just off the path.

Carolina wren

And I’m also glad we went because, finally, the lemon drop swamp azalea was blooming! It was back in January I first spotted the little buds and kept thinking it would bloom soon. I checked on it each and every visit, wondering what color the blooms would be. A lovely shade of lemon chiffon, perhaps.

‘lemon drop’ swamp azalea

I do miss my wild beach roses but down here I’ve happily discovered wild Carolina roses, also known as pasture roses. They look about the same to me!

Carolina rose with bee

For myself I hold no preference among flowers, so long as they are wild, free, spontaneous.
~ Edward Abbey
(Desert Solitaire)

spider flower
tall thimbleweed

The very tall (up to 8 feet!) giant coneflowers towered over me!

giant coneflower
woodland tickseed
white-breasted nuthatch
house finch

The height of a patch of native woodland sunflowers also caught my eye. Since I’m only 5 feet tall I guess I’m easily impressed.

woodland sunflower

And now, the weather is hot and humid, with no break in sight. But lots of flowers out there in the garden are surely thriving in it.