Nature, nature, nature!

I know I've blogged about this before, but I am simply amazed at the way this flower, Tithonia (or Mexican Sunflower), is attracting wildlife constantly. I wish I'd discovered it sooner. The bees love it, the monarch and gulf fritillary butterflies love it, and I rarely see a bloom without some sort of pollinator on it. I highly recommend getting your hands on some seed and growing it next summer! I got mine from Renee's Garden, and I just scattered the seeds in my garden with a bit of compost, and they've done great. No need to start seeds inside. The leaves are like velvet, but look like sunflower leaves. Another plus - the goldfinches don't eat the leaves of this like they do sunflowers. And I do believe I've mentioned, but I'll do it again - I NEVER used to get monarchs in the yard, no matter what I've grown. This is the first time I have them every day, in abundance.

Speaking of pollinators, I know I've written about galls and gall wasps before, but I'm noticing something interesting on my hikes. The Blue Oak trees are simply covered in galls.

From far away, the trees look like Cotoneaster or Pyracantha in December. I've never seen so many of this kind of gall. From what I understand, insects have cycles just like anything else, and some years are banner years for gall wasps. This certainly seems to be the case this year.

I also found a new kind of gall (for me) on a different kind of oak, on my walk this afternoon.


We've had lots of adventures this week, the highlight being a visit to  Brannan Island State Recreation Area. We saw Egrets and Great Blue Herons and heard lots of bullfrogs. The day started off cloudy but that didn't stop us from getting in the river.

Can you see the heron?

I don't know about you, but I'm constantly looking for places that get us away from our various screens. I think it's getting more and more important for us to put down the devices and look up once in a while. No one ever looks at one another anymore - on the train, in the coffee shops, waiting in lines, at the doctor - everyone's looking down all the time. I encourage you to start becoming aware of how much that happens. Once you begin to notice it, it's really quite striking. Does no one simply 'think' anymore? Daydream? Look off into space? Read a book? Look out the window? Honestly. I find it quite disconcerting. And I like my devices, don't get me wrong! I'm very guilty of abusing them. That's why I try very hard to get away once in awhile. And good grief, if you live in California, there's plenty of opportunities to get outside and explore. There are thousands of State Parks, all very affordable (usually just a day-use fee for parking), and all very interesting. And I'm always amazed at what the kids come up with when they are out with friends in nature, without planned entertainment. This time it involved games that included flying mud, swimming competitions, and watching floating vegetation go by and trying to guess how fast the current was running.

This reminds me of a show we used to watch when the kids were little on PBS, called Peep and the Big Wide World. It's a great little cartoon about a chick who finds a robin and a duckling for friends. It's quite funny (we still quote it to this day), but in between the cartoons they show real kids doing real science experiments - something like watching water run down your driveway and making it go different ways using rocks or leaves, or raiding the recycle bin for building materials. It gave my kids (and me too!) lots of ideas of how to play in nature, using free things or repurposed things. It also taught us that every little thing outside can be interesting, even something as simple as a shadow. If you've got little ones, I urge you to check it out.

I've said it before and I'll say it again, cultivate curiosity about your world. Why is there a rainbow around the sun today? Why is that tree growing sideways? How does a walnut tree make walnuts if it doesn't bloom? Why is that ground squirrel hollering? And on and on and on. It's priceless. The devices will always be there later.

I spent the morning inside today, however - I made more salsa. I used a different recipe that used lime and lemon juice rather than vinegar for its acid, which seems right in salsa. Anyway it's a labor of love - chopping every little shallot and garlic clove, picking and chopping peppers, blanching tomatoes to remove the skin - it all takes a while. But we have 8 more pints of salsa on the canning shelf, every ingredient (except the citrus juice and salt) from our garden.

The cucumbers are going mad, I'm hoping Tom will make more relish tomorrow.