Archives for September 2012

Spinning Silver Threads

Outside the Window This Morning


The spider spun a silver web

above the gate last night.

It was round with little spokes

and such a pretty sight.

This morning there were drops of dew

hung on it, one by one;

they changed to diamonds, rubies red

when they were lit with sun.

A spider’s nice to have around

to weave a web so fine,

on which to string the drops of dew

that catch the bright sunshine

 — Mary Ann Hoberman


The Vine or the Caterpillar: A Lesson in Non-Intervention

Pipevine Swallowtail Caterpillar

One day this spring, the caterpillars came, heeding the call of the pipevines (genus Aristolochia), the only host plants for the pipevine swallowtail butterfly.  What followed was hard to watch: a dozen or so caterpillars began a voracious decimation of the one-foot tall, densely-branched dutchman’s pipe vine I’d planted at the base of the stone wall in front of the house. The plant had not prospered, nor had it declined. It just sat there, becoming an unobtrusive part of the untamed vegetation nearby.

The caterpillars ate diligently and systematically. They went  back and forth across every leaf, as if eating rows of kernels on a cob. Every day, I went out and saw the sharply-incised edges of leaves that were previously untouched. As more and more leaves disappeared, I started thinking: Do I save the vine or save the caterpillars? Caterpillars are not the most appealing little creatures, but so what? I don’t want to destroy them, plus I’ll have butterflies later on. But what if the vine dies?  If it’s dead, I’ll never see those beautiful pipevine blooms and I’ll have to start all over.  This conversation with myself went back and forth over several days.

Then, it became clear. Do nothing. Stay out of it. Nature will figure it out. And the most amazing thing happened. The caterpillars left and the vine went crazy. It started growing up the wall, then across and back down, then over to the opposite side toward the camellia and the  ‘Fireworks’ goldenrod. The new leaves are gigantic and healthy. And the big payoff: Pipevine swallowtails!

Aristolochia macrophylla (Dutchman’s Pipe) takes off

I’ve only seen a few, but I know they’re around. Too many caterpillars not to be.

Battus philenor – Pipevine Swallowtail

The bright yellow of the ‘Fireworks’ goldenrod dominates the hillside and the more subdued Dutchman’s pipe vine.

Reaching for the Gold

Next year, I’ll be prepared. Vine leaves, goodbye. Butterflies, hello.

Sweet Potato Drop

A few weeks ago, word got out in my mom’s community that there would be a “potato drop” at a church near my old high school in Asheville.  I happened to be home then, so Mom and I decided to go check out the “drop”. When we arrived, we saw people down on their knees, sorting through several mounds of spuds that had been loaded directly onto the grass. Some people wore rubber boots and gloves — it had rained that morning, and bits of debris clung to the grass and the wet potatoes.

Volunteers at the church were having a great time, welcoming everyone and giving away what remained of the original 40,000 pound load of potatoes. They had pre-filled dozens of produce boxes and were passing out pages of recipes for all-things-sweet-potato. When I asked about the organization behind the drop, I was introduced to a representative from a non-profit organization called Society of St. Andrews. He gave me one of their brochures and told me they had recently distributed an overage of crops grown on the Biltmore estate. (I can’t remember what type of crop, as I was distracted by all the activity and the  pungent smells of wet potatoes, rain, and newly-trampled grass). He said the sweet potatoes at the church had been grown on the coast of North Carolina and brought in for distribution by SoSA. Later on, I wished I had asked why the potatoes had to travel such a great distance rather than be distributed in areas closer to the coast. Since transportation/energy cost is a major concern of advocates for food from local sources, there was a probably a logical reason for this particular long-distance transport. I need to follow up with SoSA for more information.

Later in the day, after we left the church,  I looked at the Society of St. Andrews brochure and website. I learned that SoSA has two primary objectives: to feed hungry people and to minimize food waste.  Every year, as part of their “gleaning network”, thousands of volunteers distribute 20-25 million pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables to food banks, churches, homeless shelters, and other organizations across the nation. This is food that would otherwise go to waste because of size or minor blemishes. (You know how everything has to be perfect and uniform at the grocery store).

So, yes, I brought a few potatoes home. The volunteers encouraged me to take them, although I don’t meet the criteria of need. I remember this — and am thankful for my blessings — every time I open the refrigerator or pantry door.

Plant Sale, Asheville Botanical Gardens

Late Summer – Asheville Botanical Gardens

There will be a plant sale (lots of natives) at the Asheville Botanical Gardens tomorrow, September 8, from 9 am to 3 pm. For more information, click here.

The gardens are beautiful now. Visit if you can!