I prowl through budding milkweed and prickly blackberry plants for an hour looking for Monarch eggs and don’t find one. Monarchs are usually here by now, but I’ve only seen three. Last week, I found nine viable eggs—four are still caterpillars and five are now chrysalises, but I haven’t found a new egg for a week. When does persistence become mania? Until I see a flash of orange wings, I’ll search for miracles elsewhere.
My first impulse is to go to the forest, but it’s a place of catastrophic destruction this year. As I walk in my most holy place, I see gypsy moth caterpillars devouring oaks, willows, pines, and more in the worst infestation since 1981. The oaks are leafless and look dead. I weep as a rain of caterpillar poop falls from the trees and leaf pieces cover the forest floor. The forester says most can survive this for two years. Maybe. I hope so. Their only natural predator is a fungus activated by moisture. May there be rain.
My predominantly oak forest is hard hit. It hurts to watch bristly two inch long caterpillars crawling over Vic’s cairn, creeping along naked tree branches, and hanging from silk threads everywhere. I visit the forest the way I might visit a sick friend, but I long to leave and search for healing. Today I’ll be a bird woman since all seven bird nesting boxes in open fields have residents.
Before breakfast, a Bluebird take a squirmy bug inside her box while a Hummingbird sips the orange Mandarin Honeysuckle next door. My telescope catches the Bluebird and Hummingbird in one round frame. The four Bluebirds nestlings are ten days old and hungry from dawn to dusk. It’s a long day for the parents who share the work. If I’m lucky, I’ll see the hatchlings fledge next week. If I’m luckier, Monarchs will arrive and the gypsy moth invasion will wind down.
A Tree Swallow shows up at the box that was raided last week. In late morning, I watch her carry beakfuls of grasses into the box to make a new nest. I lay two feathers at her entryway as an offering, one Blue Jay and one Turkey. My heart soars when I open the box later and see both feathers inside. Then she sits on the perch and raises her tail for her mate at least ten times. Sex is gentle and fast with a promise of tiny white eggs in a feathered nest.
Next, I walk downhill to visit the boxes farther from my house and spy three newborn chickadees with four unhatched eggs. Mama doesn’t like my intrusion and makes her warning call. Chick-a-dee-dee-dee with 15 dees to make sure I get the point. I take 10 seconds to glimpse the tiny beings, the size of a dime with pink, embryonic, floppy headed bodies draped over eggs that will hatch tomorrow.
The box next to the chickadees has another bluebird nest with one exquisite egg. The parents are out when I look in, but I glance back as I walk uphill and see her sitting inside the predator guard. He perches on top, flashing his blue wings and orange and white chest. May there be more eggs.
The two Chickadee broods on another trail have flown to the woods with their parents and left behind their moss nests. I watch Wren parents fly in and out of the last box to feed the kids.
Instead of writing, reading, or lamenting Monarch scarcity and devoured trees, I watch birds build nests, lay eggs, and feed their broods. When I’m watching at the right moment, I see the fledgling’s first flight. These are my Summer Solstice miracles.
What do you do when something disappointing happens and there’s nothing you can do to change the problem–as in the gypsy moth caterpillar infestation or the heat and drought in the west? When Vic had cancer, I learned I could always find one positive thing at the worst of times–a nurse’s tenderness, a ray of sunshine, Vic’s smile when I brought him a decaf cappuccino with soy milk from the coffee shop in the hospital lobby. This looking for one small positive thing is a practice that helps me balance bad vertigo days, bad news, or anything upsetting.