Colors of the Spirit

My Dad was a builder of homes. Much like any kid, I valued those days I rode along in the pick-up truck to a job site. The sights, sounds and smells of a new house being built can be pretty heady stuff for an eight-year old. I didn’t know it at the time, of course, but by far the most significant part of the experience was time spent with my Father.

On the way home from a job one day, Dad pointed to a huge billboard advertising “Buy A Piece of Natural Florida!“. He said, “See those trees beyond that sign? Those are cypress trees. They can’t grow if their roots aren’t constantly wet. What do you think will happen when folks try to build houses out there?”

Within 10 years, almost no homes had been built in that spot and those which had, needed a lot of fill brought in to create a suitable foundation. Even then, each summer their houses were surrounded by water. “Nature gives us hints”, Dad said. Wise man.

We surveyed the pine woods. Gini has the eyes (and skills) of an artist and her perception of a scene is usually different than mine. I see dead snags which might harbor a Red-headed Woodpecker nest. She sees the different shades of green pine needles and textures of overlapping bark of the trunks. I observe the dense growth of Saw-palmetto beneath the pines. She marvels at the dull green color of the fans and spots tendrils of several species of vines in the undergrowth.

Nature gives us hints.” A Great Egret stands motionless, patiently waiting for the frog to make a move. The large white wading bird’s presence in the middle of a pine forest may seem incongruous unless one is aware that this area is pock-marked with shallow pools throughout most of the year. Without that knowledge and without the “hint” provided by the egret, one is destined to end up with wet feet.

Our morning was absolutely glorious! No birding checklist, no agenda. Observe. Breathe. Absorb.

In his 1836 essay, Nature, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote: “Nature always wears the color of the spirit.” If we are depressed our view of the woods may focus on the dead leaves. A cheerful attitude may enhance our enjoyment of the varying hues of those same leaves.

We know we are not normal. Our over-the-top zest for life has been known to actually annoy friends and family. Nature seems to appreciate our attitude and always manages to wear the color of our spirit.

Grab your sunglasses. It’s about to get bright in here.

The American Kestrel is North America’s smallest falcon. Bright facial stripes, crisp spots on a light breast and yellow legs really stand out while perched on a bright green pine tree.

Rays from the sun were captured and reflected in waves of sunflowers. Narrowleaf Sunflower, or Swamp Sunflower (Helianthus angustifolius) can grow to four or five feet in height and spread several feet in width. The results can be some pretty spectacular yellow vistas.

That Great Egret we mentioned is actually standing in a shallow pool which is almost completely covered in grass just waiting for the unsuspecting hiker to come splashing along.

As we neared the spot where the egret was hunting, the pool opened up a bit and its surface had the appearance of dozens of fallen stars. The illusion was thanks to the diminutive Virginia Buttonweed (Diodia virginiana). Closer examination of these hairy little plants revealed a really beautiful flower.

More highlights of white around the edge of the pool turned out to be Dotted Smartweed (Persicaria punctata). Again, a closer look at the very small blooms showed an intricate beauty we could have easily walked past.

Down in the weeds around the pond, one of the bright grass skippers, a Phaon Crescent (Phyciodes phaon) ignored our presence as it searched for sustenance.

Ray, a drop of golden sun. We were surrounded by gold! And we truly felt enriched. Pinebarren Goldenrod (Solidago fistulosa) was blooming all along the edges of the forest.

Watching a Red-shouldered Hawk on the hunt was one of the high points of our morning.

Purple! It can be a bit startling to be surrounded by the green of the pine woods and green of the saw-palmetto understory and all of a sudden encounter large swathes of purple. Hairy Chaffhead (Carphephorus paniculatus), also called Deertongue, is impressive in this setting. Plants are nearly three feet tall and each “head” sports dozens of unique flowers. The Deertongue epithet is apparently due to the resemblance of rather large and wide basal leaves to the tongue of a White-tailed Deer. Those crazy botanists sure have an imagination!

So, there we were, watching butterflies nectaring at some tall flowers in the distance. Yours truly set out to get closer in order to present you, dear reader, with an acceptable quality of images. One of the large Eastern Tiger Swallowtails (Pterourus glaucus) appeared in front of me and I snapped a quick in-flight shot knowing I would soon be obtaining better pictures once I reached the flowers. In tracking the butterfly through the lens, I stepped in a hole. I didn’t fall, but as I glanced down to see what I stepped into, my gaze stopped a few feet ahead.

I was convinced you all didn’t really need any more butterfly pictures. The Dusky Pygmy Rattlesnake (Sistrurus miliarius barbouri) agreed with my decision to back up. Rapidly.

Overhead, a Tufted Titmouse observed my predicament. You may not be able to see it, but there is a definite grin on that little beak.

Even more yellow to enjoy! Growing on stems about two feet tall and with leaves like grass, the Narrowleaf Silkgrass (Pityopsis graminifolia) is also known as Golden Aster.

Tangles of bright red stars decorate saw-palmetto and the butterflies appreciate it. So did we! Belonging to the morning glory family, the Cypressvine (Ipomoea quamoclit) has a wonderful combination of beautiful blooms and delicate foliage. A Cloudless Sulphur (Phoebis sennae) doesn’t care about all that as long as the juice bar is open!

We prepared to leave and were completely ignored by a Red-shouldered Hawk who seemed more interested in something she could have for a snack. Our feelings were not hurt at all.

Our attitudes, emotions and personal circumstances influence how we view life. That view changes as our mental state changes. More often than not, the two of us are able to be optimistic on a daily basis. It truly helps as we explore Nature since she “always wears the color of the spirit”.

Enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!

32 Comments on “Colors of the Spirit

  1. I enjoyed the thread of ‘Nature gives us hints’ very much. Not sure I’ve thought of it that way consciously, yet you know where there are wading birds there is water somewhere. I always laugh when I see a cluster of trees with lots and lots of white on the leaves, good spot to wait for days end when birds come to roost for the night. I think photography helps with learning to observe.

    Your enjoyment of life shows with every word…not a negative way to look at that, and inspiring to those like me who do let life get in the way of that.

    A Very, Happy, Healthy, Prosperous 2023 to you and yours.

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    • Judy, thank you for sharing some pretty deep thoughts!

      Gini and I have been fortunate to share a love of enjoying life. Nature just provides so much to enjoy. We all face adversity at some time or another. Moving on and embracing the positive doesn’t erase the bad experiences but time and optimism help soothe the soul.

      Gini and I hope the coming year provides what you need.

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  2. Outstanding essay to begin this wonderful post, Wally. I am sure Emerson would have enjoyed the read as did I. Your dad gave you some wise advice and we are the better for your sharing it. Both the words and the fine images brought some joy here to start the day. While I agree that our state of mind can control how we interpret what nature presents to us, I often find that if I lose myself in nature I also lose whatever negatives had been haunting my thoughts and, at least for a short time, the world becomes a wonderful place once more. And despite everything that was a bother before that time in nature, the impact of those downbringers is somewhat diminished.

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    • Steve, I really appreciate your thoughtful remarks.

      You are, of course, spot on about nature providing a respite from whatever negative factors may be affecting us. Lucky us to have figured that out!

      The view from my window this morning looks like it might snow. Thank goodness it’s 65 F! Gini is baking something which has forced me to breathe in cinnamon and ginger.

      It’s a good day.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I continue to admire your positive attitude, as well as your ability to find and photograph Florida’s beautiful flora and fauna. The rattlesnake is attractive in its own way, but I’m glad you saw it in time to back away. We have had similar encounters with our version of rattlesnake and they definitely raise one’s level of alertness!

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  4. It’s easy to believe that Nature “always wears the color of the spirit”, Wally. But I think our spirits are also influenced by Nature and her colors. I know my spirits are lightened from viewing Natures’s colors in your post. Thank you!

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    • Thank you, Ed.

      We definitely are affected by visiting Nature. The more often the visits, the more positive our outlook.

      Have a great weekend.

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  5. It’s good to hear that you have beaten the flu. Fingers crossed that we keep clear of both the cold and flu as we have for two winters now. We put that down to good living, good food and the occasional holiday in the sun, a spot of red wine, G & T and ouzo.

    That made me laugh. How you two occasionally annoy the ones who cannot see and hear what you know to be true. I suspect the same people lack other insights too.

    It’s minus six here this morning so there’s no rush to go outside and scrape the frost from the windscreen but just to wait for the smell of coffee.

    Another one – a pygmy rattlesnake? You really must stop living so dangerously and take up a sensible pastime like watching daytime TV, Internet shopping or stamp collecting. Your friends and family would be very happy for you both.

    Enjoy your weekend.

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    • It is refreshing to know the annual flu shot worked perfectly and provided a dose of misery. My fault. I should have asked for the “anti-flu” shot apparently.

      Mines six degrees of air temperature simply won’t register in my head I don’t care whose system is being used. Yes, wait for the coffee. Until Spring.

      We’ll continue to take our chances with the dangerous vipers instead of mixing with crazed drivers and shoppers. I think our odds of survival are significantly better in the swamp and forest.

      Made it out birding this morning for the first time in two weeks. Glorious!

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  6. Beautiful photography. I love the opening photo of the kestrel. I would not have recognized that as a rattlesnake. Very different compared to our desert rattlers.

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    • Thank you, Peter.

      Yes, I remember learning the snakes of Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. Some notable differences! Don’t worry, the little Pygmy has a couple of fair-sized relatives in the woods around here.

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  7. I wish I could write like you! You are able to express what my husband and I feel about being out in nature. It’s hard for me to describe all the benefits to friends and neighbors. My husband and sons know first hand what it’s like. My sons live all over the country and we love to share where we are going and what we are seeing. (and the weather) I went on a trail covered in pine needles this week and was watching for the little rattlesnake. I don’t want to step on one! Love the details you got in the Kestrel….just gorgeous! And the sunflowers are beautiful. Thanks again for the kind words on my blog. And enjoy your afternoon!

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    • You’re way too kind, Diane (but don’t stop!).

      We’re fortunate to still be able to get out and about and are doubly blessed we live in Florida so don’t have to contend with too much snow and ice on the trails. 🙂

      Loving your trail pictures!

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  8. With all those wonderful colours on display, Wally, there’s a real danger that you might stir up a botanical interest in this befuddled brain of mine!

    I had to look up information on that Dusky Pygmy Rattlesnake (surprised the PC mob haven’t demanded its renaming!) and was pleased to see that you’d have survived its bite, although suffering severe pain.

    Wonderfully inspiring words and images – thank you.

    Best wishes to you and Gini – – – Richard

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    • Don’t worry, Richard. The more you start looking at the plants the more birds you see! That’s a “win-win”.

      I am allergic to “severe pain”, so I’ll continue to try and avoid bites from anything venomous.

      We appreciate your very generous remarks.

      All our best to you and Lindsay.

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  9. That kestrel really pops! The skies are three-dimensional and the flowers, down to the tiniest are so beautiful– and the freeze-frame butterflies, so pleasing to the artist’s eye.

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  10. Got up this morning, things outside had turned a bit white and so it will be for the next week or so.
    Checked your blog, yep, butterflies!!! I don’t know whether to thank you or curse you. Saying that the swallowtail in flight shot is brilliant!

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    • Yikes! I still don’t think of “snow” and the UK in the same sentence.

      We’ll take the “thank you” and you can save the curses for your weatherman. Or politician.

      Thanks for dropping by, Brian. We’ll try not to brag too much about the butterflies and dragons. Okay, that probably won’t happen.

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  11. Nature does indeed give us hints. Hints that I wish that more people were ready to listen too. She is also a superb artist, and time spent with her (even vicariously) is solace and heart balm. Huge thanks to you and Gini for sharing some of her wonders.

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    • We all need balance in our lives and time spent with Nature is a vital part of that balance.

      Gini and I hope you’re well. Thank you, EC, for visiting with us.

      Like

  12. What a panoply of color! One thing that caught my eye was the Hairy Chaffhead. I’d never heard the name, and when I looked at the maps I saw that Louisiana and Mississippi are keeping the plant from creeping westward. So, I looked a little further, and discovered this on a Florida site: “Some botanists have separated most species of the genus Carphephorus into the genera Litrisa and  Trilisa. Both genera names are anagrams of the genus  Liatris, whose flowers have a similar appearance to Carphephorus flowers.” I knew that flower looked familiar! If I’d come across it here, I would have assumed it was some form of Liatris.

    The goldenrod’s another one that doesn’t grow here. It has rather a unique form, at least to my eye. (As everyone knows, the bees and such don’t care.) But I came across the Narrowleaf Silkgrass this year, and of course the Swamp Sunflowers were everywhere.

    That’s a beautiful snake. I try to be cautious, but occasionally my enthusiasm leads me astray, as it did the day I stepped right on a coiled snake that was hidden in knee high grasses. I have no idea what it was, but the snake went one way, I went the other, and no one suffered from the encounter. I’m glad that hole stopped you when it did.

    One more note: I love the way you captured even those tiny hairs on the Virginia Buttonweed. Perfect.

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    • Hairy Chaffhead definitely resembles Liatris. Once you see the basal leaves the difference is obvious. Botanists using anagrams!

      I’ve had to really practice taking photos of the “entire” plant! The leaf detail, stalks, size of the blooms – all make a difference in identification. That Pinebarren Goldenrod was a prime example.

      The snake is colored to perfectly blend in with the pine woods understory where it thrives. The reddish-brown and gray mimic fallen pine tree branches and needles.

      Hands and knees and macro lens. Pretty buttonweed bloom.

      Liked by 1 person

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