Category: Random Thoughts

November 14, 2017 Linda Ruggeri No comments exist

 

For the last few months we’ve been housing monarch caterpillars inside our home. We find them in our small butterfly garden out front – where the milkweed wildly blooms. We watch them grow and transform over time (two to three weeks), until a butterfly finally emerges from its chrysalis, unfolding it’s wings, drying them out until it’s ready to re-join nature.

The California Natives

Torrance, California, California Poppies, Butterfly Garden
California poppies, grown from seed.

After removing the front lawn, we planted several California natives: A Western Redbud tree (cercis occidentalis), yellow and orange Kangaroo paws (anigozanthos), Sea Lavender (limonium), Mexican Feather Grass (Nassella tenuissima), Lion’s Tail (leonotis), sunflowers, California Poppies (from seed) and several milkweeds (asclepias curassavica) in scarlet, silky gold and “balloon”. Because we also wanted it to be a functional garden, there is lavender, parsley, oregano, basil, purple basil, fennel, te de  burro, lemon verbena, mint, rosemary, thyme, lemon balm, a few hot peppers.

Within a few days, the butterflies began visiting.

Seeing monarchs swirl around was beautiful. A friend showed us how to find the eggs and caterpillars and how to care for them indoors. It was a fun project to share with my 5yr-old son (who also loves observing and releasing them), but over time, it’s been me who has become fascinated with their movements, patterns, and extreme body changes, following the development of each and every one (unfortunately not all make it, for different natural reasons.)

Butterfly garden in Torrance, CA
Our little butterfly garden in Torrance, CA

As I work on my next book project, I find myself relocating to the living room table everyday, close to the tall backyard window where we keep their little habitat. It’s become a source of mindful entertainment, relaxing, ever changing, and allowing me to gather my thoughts when looking at the dialogue on the screen gets tiresome.

Who knows what more will come of this experience, but so far, it’s incredibly rewarding.

 

Plant the natives, and they will come.

Monarch caterpillars in different sizes at home
Monarch caterpillars in different sizes
January 17, 2017 Linda Ruggeri No comments exist

Last year I took a walk down this amazing man made path in a little “secret area” called Mitchell’s Glen in Green Lake County, WI. This glen was a place local Native Americans would visit in the summer (back in the 1800s and earlier), to reach a beautiful spring and plants that only grow in the unique micro-climate that establishes itself here.

Picture of a wooden path through the luscious green glen
Wooden Path at MG

On that morning walk, we came across the trunk of this large white oak that had fallen, probably days before, right across the boardwalk. I got to know the person who built this boardwalk really well (and consider him a true and treasured friend.) I’ve learned the care he brings to his work, and his respect for all things living or dead, so that others can walk along this path and experience the creek, the glen and this little sacred space in nature.

But that fallen tree trunk, that log in our path that very vivid spring day, seemed to symbolize so much more… like…

 

  • The strength in Nature
  • The cycle of life
  • The obstacles in our (life) paths
  • That maybe removing the large obstacles in our way can take more than 1 person
  • That we never know when it’s our time to fall/go – nature will have its way
  • That sometimes we can just walk right over some obstacles to get to our destination, but the obstacle will still be there when we look back
  • That nature can be incredible, forceful, beautiful, sad, and destructive all at once
  • That we should take pause in our own glen and take it all in, seeing both obstacles and beauty at once, for what they are and for what they may not be.

That log in our path turned out to be anything but a log.

 

May 10, 2011 Linda Ruggeri No comments exist

Salerno, Italy

The morning was going to be a mellow one. It was nice to have a morning off (I’d been longing for one), not having to rush through breakfast, makeup and deciding what to wear. Before the husband left at daybreak, I asked him pull up the persiana[1] covering the large glass window-wall across from our bed. He rolled it up just high enough so I could have a straight look at the bird feeders on the terrace. The sun was already with us on this April morning in Salerno.

I stayed in bed, ruminating in my brain, trying to understand the anxiety left inside from a night of waking up and falling back asleep, and waking up again. Over the years, I’ve discovered that the true issues that keep me up at night are (usually) financial ones.

 

I need to earn more. How am I going to do that? Should I continue to ask for that promised raise? Can we afford the move back to LA? Should we dip into our savings? Would it be right to do so? On one hand, we could label it “an investment into our future”. But is it? Was this the right time to make this decision? Should we wait? Wait for what? My parents aren’t getting any younger, and my mom’s Alzheimer’s isn’t going to slow down and wait for me to make resolutions. It was one thought after another, after another. A roller-coaster of constant thinking. We didn’t have any problems right now, but I sensed they could come sooner than we expected.

 

After C. left, I got up (to seize the day?). Made myself a bowl of cereal with a cup of Italian cottage cheese called fiochi di latte[2].  An passive attempt of loosing weight and continuing to eat healthy (why do all diets have cottage cheese in them?). Although I always found it distasteful, with age, I’ve gotten to like cottage cheese more and more.  With a spoonful of honey, corn flakes and a tablespoon of wheat germ, now I had myself a psychologically satisfying breakfast (the wheat germ is in honor of my father who, since I was a child, insisted I always add it to my cereal.)

 

Before sorting through my desk and tackling the day’s tasks, I picked up my binoculars and Birds of Europe guide in case any of the “usuals” decided to pay an early morning visit. While I checked email, the first to show was a Great Tit – or a Blue Tit – and his partner or close friend. You would think I’d know the difference, but I’m not that attentive of a birdwatcher yet. My family and friends think I know much about birds, but I really don’t (I know more than them perhaps, and I’ve been interested in the topic for a long time now, but that doesn’t really get you anywhere when you belong to an Audubon society.)

 

As of today, I’m a member of four clubs: two in the US (L.A. Audubon and Santa Monica Audubon) and 2 in Italy (Birdwatching-Gaiola and EBN Italia), and even so, I’m still an amateur birder. However, see me with my binos hanging from my neck, my bird guide under my arm and my camera, and I exude birding experience. As the fabulous Eddie Izzard said, 70 percent is how you look, 20 percent how you say it, and 10 percent is what you say.[3] 

 

Back to the Great Tit (Parus major) that visits us. It’s hard distinguishing the female from the male, but they are both quite beautiful. They have this sort of black mask that begins at the top of their heads (officially called the “crown”) to right under the eye line, down their face to their beak, then chin, becoming narrow down their throat, forming a black line that descends down onto its chest.

One of our spring visitors, the Great tit

I observed them for a while, and all my admiration for their beauty went away in a second when I saw how the male (it must have been a male) would push the seeds away with his beak until he found the one he wanted. This meant that quite a bit of good seeds fell straight to the ground, explaining the mess I find each afternoon on the terrace when I come home (he goes for the black sunflower seeds – as the book said he would – probably because they are the most fatty). But why be so picky…? Ungrateful behavior can be found anywhere these days… even within the avian community.

 

There is quite a lot of work that goes into eating a seed for them. With strong resolve, GT (my nickname for him) chooses the seed he wants, then turns around, holds it between his feet and the edge of the bird-feeder, banging it relentlessly until the shell comes off and he is left with just the seed. I timed it and it took the little guy about 15 seconds to do it.

The daily visitors snacking on black sunflower seeds.

The tits are usually never alone. While they’re up in the feeder eating, the house sparrows are down on the ground getting whatever scrap falls their way. These common house sparrows are considered “resident birds”. Resident birds are low on the “excitement scale” to me (right after rock pigeons, seagulls and crows). And I have a feeling they know this – where they stand on the list – because of the way they carry themselves in this brown matte shades of theirs, as if with humbleness, trying to blend in like undeserving creatures. As most unfortunate creatures too, they seem to eat what they can find, and are not picky of seeds, crumbs, insects… they appear to be simply grateful that there is always something to snack on.

House sparrow (female) one of the “residents”.

 

By late morning, the last visitors were the quite sympathetic robins, who stopped to get a drink at the water fountain. Even in Italy, we can tell Spring is here because the robins have arrived. Here we have a cute pair that comes and goes, and even though the robin is not a resident, it keeps house around here for most of the year. Their face is round, with a kind gaze that makes you all warm inside. Their way of hopping around with their very skinny legs, their great big orange chest and the lack of a neck, gives them a funny appearance. You cannot not like a robin. You just like it. The male resembles your chubby uncle Charles, or your neighbor Bob. But since these are European Robins they’re probably more like a Carlo or Roberto. In any event, when they come here they also seem to be mellow visitors, less demanding than some other birds their size. The Princeton Field Guide nails it when it writes about their character calling them “wary, but by no means shy”.

 

And as noon rolled around and I got back to writing, the few visitors I had took off, looking for a place to hide from the sun. That was my queue that my time was up, and that I too needed to get up and get moving. I didn’t have seeds to shell, or places to hop and fly to, but a part of me wished I did. I would love to hang out with other birds my size one day and meet up with them at the water-cooler. That wouldn’t be a bad life.


[1] Shutters that roll up, typical of European and Latin American countries. Aka “Persian Blinds”.

[2] Literally translates to “flakes of milk” (flakes as in snow flakes).

[3] “Dressed to Kill” – 1998 

March 5, 2011 Linda Ruggeri No comments exist

 

It’s the end of the winter in Southern Italy, and the days are becoming longer with more and more glimpses of sun. Not at a fast enough pace for me though, I wish it was already summer. The rain seems to subside for a few days, and then it returns. At times with a major wind, strong enough to push down the plants on the terrace and knock the birdfeeders off their hooks. The fern has had enough of this weather, having spent most of the winter on its side. Not fun when you’re a tropical plant, and your gene-cousins are probably enjoying the slow paced life of the tropics. That must be nice. If only the fern and I could escape to Costa Rica right now.

The cold and rain does make life less eventful. There is less enthusiasm for leaving the house on excursions or travel. Why leave home to visit an agriturismo for the weekend, when you know you’re going to freeze you soul off, and only long to be the warmth and comfort of your own home? As an amateur birdwatcher, being outdoors, away from the city centers is always a recurring daydream I have while at work, sitting at my desk. But then the weekend arrives, as did last weekend, and the husband and I decide to go out and get some fresh air, somewhere new.

We had been wanting to visit a WWF Oasis in Persano (www.wwf.it/persano.nt), about an hour south of Salerno, where we live. This seemed like a good day to do so. We already visited a Lipu* Oasis in the Molise, in the summer of 2009, with very little luck. Not only did we not see one single interesting bird (other than your standard pigeon, field crow and sparrow), but we were bit in continuation by mosquitos (the infamous zanzara). It had taken us 2hs to get to this Oasis (a literal misnomer), spent about an hour inside the park with a very kind guide, and then drove back home, all the long way home, a tad bit frustrated. But Italy always has the secret quality of giving something back, no matter where you land that day. Be it in its landscapes, its people, it’s paese’s… there is always something that can get to you. For us, the high of the day was a nice one: a simple picnic on a golden hillside under a very large oak tree. Behind us, an old brick house from the 1800’s, and in our hands a slice of a deliciously home-made pizza di spinaci (a version of a spinach quiche) with a nice bottle of Morellino di Scansano.

This was our first picnic together.

*LIPU is the Italian League for the Protection of Birds http://www.lipu.it/)