Wednesday, September 19, 2007


Thanks to Typhoon Wipha, there is no WWC news to report, other than a gripe about the tardiness of the announcement that this morning's games would be postponed until tomorrow. FIFA didn't take action on Canada's protest against only two of the games being postponed, rather than all four, until well after Arizona bedtime, meaning I hauled my ass out of bed at two this morning for the Australia-Canada match only to be greeted by a replay of Austria-Norway. That is not a nice thing to do to a groggy girl. After no more than five minutes of staring uncomprehendingly at the TV, I trudged back to bed and some really weird dreams.

And I don't have the energy for Iraq or conservative Christian brothers--although I did send mine a nice assortment of Benny Hinn YouTube videos (this one first, then this one) for his birthday yesterday--so here's some nature writing instead, both of the back yard and big mountain varieties.

As summer transitions to fall, small non-mammals get about the business of genetic propogation. Two large sphinx moth caterpillars (often called hornworms) laid waste to my pepper plants about a month ago, pissing me off to no end but simultaneously impressing me with their voraciousness and staying power.

Hornworm (look for the stripes and suckers) striking an innocent pose
amidst denuded stalks.

Their mandibles whir as they shear leaves off the plants, zip zip zip, plowing through them like a PhotoShop eraser tool through a mass of pixels. Then you poke them and they curl their front ends up in an attempt to impersonate an innocent leaf much like the one they were just now mowing down before you so rudely interrupted them. Pulling them off the stalk isn't going to happen. Their abdominal prolegs (the suckery feet on the back segment of the caterpillar) grab on and do not let go. And they also have the nasty habit of whipping their thoraxes and heads back and forth in an attempt to sink those garden shears of mouthparts into you. Fortunately for my fingers, I was attempting to dislodge them with a stick; I could hear the clacking of mandible hitting wood with enough force to leave little divots. The simple solution was to grab the little bastards with tongs and snip off the section of stalk they refused to let go, and then toss the whole package into the weeds at the back of the lot.

Fast forward a month and the big green guys have grown up into very handsome moths, about three inches long with wings patterned to mimic tree bark and exposed wood.

Sphinx moth trying to blend in to the chicken wire-covered fence post.

The adults make up for their rapacious juvenile habits by being prolific pollinators, which is a very good thing in these dark days for honeybees. I'm hoping this moth has enough of a nagging conscience to fly a little closer to the house and pollinate the few straggling flowers on the pepper plants.

The amphibians have been putting on their own life cycle show as the last of the monsoon runoff trickles away. A stream was still running through Molino Basin over the weekend, and its little pools were teeming with late-season tadpoles. They ranged in development from newly-hatched tads the size of small peas with tails (who are probably doomed by impending evaporation) to fully-formed toads. Most of the tads were fat grapes with leg buds, but the best was the little mostly-toad guy who still had a snippet of a tail.

Tadpole, not thrilled to be in my hand.

Tiny almost-toad, basking on the boy's finger.

With the last of the young critters trundling toward maturity, fall is in the air. My own tad accompanied me on this trip, to my delight, nearly full-sized himself at 15 but still happy to build temporary dams across the stream and examine the toads-in-progress before gently slipping them back into the water.

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