The Suitcase Lady


August 4, 2020, 9:07 pm

One of my favorite quotations is a song lyric whose eight words are filled with reassurance: “The fundamental things apply as time goes by”.

This well-known adage comes from the song “As Time Goes By” which was sung by Dooley Wilson in the 1942 film, “Casablanca”. It was written in 1931 by Herman Hupfeld but did not gain fame until the Bogart/Bergman movie.

The song is a reminder that a few things are unchanging, at least in the short span of a human life. These things keep operating oblivious to our people problems such as Covid and Constitutional crises, and are like anti-venom for hard times.

Take the seasons, for example. They just keep coming round, each bringing unique joys. With summer in full bloom at this moment, the fields are patchworks of green and gardens are technicolor wonders.

And then there is music, the great lifter of spirits. Even in the worst of times, music always breaks through. Conversely, happy times become happier with the addition of music. Nietzsche summed it up concisely: “Without music life would be a mistake.”

Two more daily doses of joy are the sunrise and sunset. Being a night person, I’m a staunch member of The Sunset Club. I have a perfect view from my front deck; only the bagpiper is missing. My husband has MacGregor genes in his ancestry, but he has thus far resisted my suggestion that he should learn to play the pipes. The sun will still set. It’s fundamental.

Here’s a video taken from our front porch of a splendid performance by el sol (click photo to play).

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July 28, 2020, 7:16 am

Without a doubt, hummingbirds are tiny natural wonders. My home state of Wisconsin hosts one species, the ruby-throated hummingbird, and it is always thrilling to glimpse one darting about.

All hummers have an impressive array of features and feats. Here is a short list:

  • Hummingbirds flap their wings an average of 50 times per second, but some species can reach an amazing 200 times per second.
  • The heartbeat rate of hummers is 1,200 beats per minute.
  • Hummingbirds can hover, fly forward, backward and even upside down.
  • With the exception of insects, hummingbirds have the highest metabolism of all animals. To keep those little wings flapping, they must eat more than half their weight in nectar every day. If people had their metabolism, we would have to consume 155,000 calories a day.
  • Ruby-throated hummingbirds make a 500 mile nonstop flight over the Gulf of Mexico at migration times.
  • To save precious energy overnight, hummingbirds enter a hibernation-like sleep state called torpor.

In addition to all these talents, hummingbirds have the ability to see colors we cannot see. They can perceive ultraviolet light. Researchers in Colorado recently reported that these tiny birds pick up on multiple colors in the UV spectrum and use these colors to identify food sources.

There is one thing that hummingbirds do not excel at, and that is being nice. They are highly aggressive birds. I’ve witnessed their boundary disputes in the gigantic aviary at the Sonoran Desert Museum (really a Zoo). There are numerous hummer species in the enclosure, and those little flyers have it all staked out with their invisible boundary lines. Visitors only need a short viewing time to realize they are standing in the middle of multiple war zones.

In addition to defending territory from other hummers, these birds have also been known to attack hawks and crows. Now that is a true David vs Goliath scenario.


The world’s smallest bird, the Bee Hummingbird, which is found only in Cuba

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July 21, 2020, 10:39 am

Leave it to the French, masters of joie de vivre, to create a burst of joy during these sober, Covid times.

French illustrator and graphic designer, Jean Jullien, is known for his popular drawings of gangly figures. This award winning , thirty-seven year old designer has a style that produces smiles from the young children who delight in his books and from grown ups in need of whimsey. Her are few examples of his witty drawings.

But now there is more. Jean Jullien has gone 3D. He’s been cutting out his charming characters from steel, bending them into interesting poses and painting them. Voila! His line drawings have turned into sculptures.

Four of his massive artworks are now mingling with nature in Le Jardin des Plantes in Nantes, France. Since travel to France is currently off limits to Americans, we have created a mini video of this mirth filled event. Take a Covid break; imagine strolling in these lovely gardens. Photos from Dezeen Daily


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July 14, 2020, 5:26 pm

At this moment, big, orange daylilies are the reigning flowers of our roadsides, fields and yards. At our house, they’re looking in the windows, marching around our mailbox and waving in the meadow. Even though each individual flower only blooms for one day, a daylily stem makes multiple buds that bloom sequentially. Our happy orange explosion will last for several weeks.

Since daylilies are prolific from the Atlantic to the Pacific, many people assume that they are native wildflowers. Not so: these hardy flowers are from China and Eastern Asia where their buds have been roasted and eaten for many centuries.

Daylilies are world travelers, being brought to Europe by traders in the 16th century. These easy to grow, mostly beloved plants spread through Europe from the 1500s to the 1800s. The Dutch, who are known for cultivating hybrid blooms, derisively called them “ditch lilies”.

When the Colonists came to America, their daylilies often came with them. The plants were welcome additions to colonial gardens for their low maintenance and cold weather hardiness. The lilies thrived and multiplied. Many westward pioneers further helped the spread by taking clumps of lilies with them in the backs of their wagons.

One important fact about daylilies must be noted: they are not a member of the lily family (Lilaceae). Daylilies (Asphodelaceae) are more closely related to asparagus than to tiger or Easter lilies.

Here are the differences between daylilies and true lilies:

  • Daylilies grow from roots; true lilies from bulbs.
  • Daylily flowers last one day; true lily flowers last many days.
  • Daylilies grow atop a leafless stalk; true lilies atop a stalk with many leaves.
  • Daylilies have edible parts; many true lilies are toxic, some extremely so.

In summation, feast your eyes on the daylilies’ beauty, but do not eat your Easter lily.

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July 7, 2020, 10:28 am

The other morning, a red admiral, a mourning cloak, black and yellow swallowtails and numerous monarchs joined us for breakfast in our front yard. The butterflies dined on their preferred menu of nectar from our prairie plants while we had toast, granola and fruit. All of this fluttering about caused me to say aloud, “I wonder how many wings are flapping in and above our acre of land at any given moment?”

I’m sure the answer is a staggering number and one that could only be estimated. The bird wings could be counted; the insect wings would be impossible to total. Even the huge dragonflies that ply our airspace are not candidates for individual tracking. When a big hatch of them pepper our skies, their flight paths resemble those of helicopters gone berserk.

I envy all these winged creatures and often think how fabulous it would be to take off and soar through the skies. My flight envy often surfaces as we are watching the purple martins just before sunset. As the sun goes down, they are making their last round of the skies to scoop up bedtime snacks. The spectacular soaring, scooping and snacking continues for about fifteen minutes after the sun disappears below the horizon. Then the birds’ trajectories get lower. Each bird then makes a perfect bull’s eye entrance into its small hole in our Martin houses. There are no misses, no traffic jams…it’s a perfectly coordinated ballet in the sky, all done at super speed.

After the birds have all settled down for the night, the bats and moths claim the airspace. Seeing bats is a rare occurrence, and we wish we had more. But the moths with their fat, furry bodies and feathery antennae are everywhere. And, unlike butterflies who close their wings when they land, the moths keep their wings fully open when they settle.

There is one moth in particular which we would love to host. I have met a number of people who have found a huge Luna moth clinging to a screen door or window. They all say it is an unforgettable sight. These giant, lime green silk moths were given the name “Luna” because the eyespots on each of their four wings look like miniature moons. They have short lives as they never feed.

We humans may all be grounded at the moment, but we can soar vicariously by welcoming winged creatures into our yards.

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