Orange dog

giant swallowtail 4

Jean has been blogging about pilgrimage — beautiful, moving posts. They are especially interesting to me because my family also went to Santiago de Compostela on a vacation back in 1978, traveling the old Pilgrim Road by car from Paris, with lengthy detours to take in sections of the other branches before they all converged south of the Pyrenees. We didn’t do it for religious reasons, but simply as a way to try and experience the world of the high Middle Ages. Aside from Dad, who planned the trip, most of the rest of the family grew quite tired of musty Romanesque churches, except me. I’ve always loved dark, quiet, cave-like places. Throw in stone carvings of monsters, yet, and I’m in heaven.

Heaven: where the wild things are.

I can’t say the experience changed me in any profound, spiritual way, though I know I wanted it to. It’s hard to get all spiritual when you’re crammed into the back seat of a Renault with both your brothers. I remember one stop in the mountains — one of those small sierras in northern Spain — where we all exploded from the car the moment Dad pulled over, everyone heading off in a different direction. My father came close to losing his temper, I think.

I was twelve years old, just hitting puberty. I had recently started my own vegetable garden, and missed it terribly. It was perfectly circular, and consisted of a single, three-foot-wide, double-dug bed in the shape of a spiral. At the center of the spiral stood a tepee of locust poles covered with Kentucky Wonder pole beans. My dream was to sit there, under the beans, and be content, but I don’t think that ever actually happened.

Our trip lasted six weeks, beginning in late April. Freshly plowed fields and gardens were everywhere. I remember the longing I felt — especially in the French Massif Central — and the promises I made to myself that I would come back someday and sink my spade into that soil and never leave.

giant swallowtail 1

I’ve been working on a think piece, but it’s hard to think in 80 percent humidity. So instead I fritter away at minor tasks, and the crickets outside my door chirp faster and faster as the afternoon wears on. I gulp a cold beer and get the hiccups. Chirp hic chirp hic chirp hic chirp

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The first two lines of the second stanza of Confession were a translation from the Shakespearean, “Hoist by [one’s] own petard.” I figured that, familiar though the phrase is, no one would actually know what a petard is. I didn’t. The dictionary said,

Etymology: Middle French, from peter to break wind, from pet expulsion of intestinal gas, from Latin peditum, from neuter of peditus, past participle of pedere to break wind; akin to Greek bdein to break wind
1 : a case containing an explosive to break down a door or gate or breach a wall
2 : a firework that explodes with a loud report

Or (3) an IED, I’m thinking.

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In my cellarless house, one of the few cool places in which to store bottled homebrew is on the concrete floor of the bathroom, right beside the toilet. The beer doesn’t have far to travel.

Or rather, it goes out and comes back, much transformed.

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What do you do when you reach the goal of the pilgrimage? Continue to the Cape of the End of the Earth: restless ocean, yellow flowers bobbing in the wind. Then south into northern Portugal, the best forests of the whole trip. I hear they’re burning now, every summer, thanks to global warming. And a couple years ago, Cabo Finisterre was awash in oil after a tanker crashed offshore. I wish I remembered more, so I could eulogize it better.

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Yesterday afternoon around 5:30, a very tattered giant swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes) appeared on the butterfly bush in my front garden. This was a new record for the mountain. I signalled my mother on the intercom and she came down from the other house to watch it, too. Its yellow-and-black wings were in constant motion, backlit by the low sun and glorious despite their bedraggled state.

After about ten minutes, Mom said, “Listen! I think it’s making noises!”

“What kind of noises?”

Tch-tch. Chrrrrrr!

“Uh, no. That’s my camera, Mom.”

This was a species we only knew from books and blogs, so neither of us could place it right away. When it finally flew off after fifteen minutes of nectaring, Mom dug out her butterfly guides and identified it almost immediately; there’s nothing else like it. I found the following on eNature:

Known as the “Orange Dog” by citrus growers, the Giant Swallowtail is sometimes considered a citrus pest and is subjected to massive spraying. It is capable of flying long distances and often strays into northern and midwestern districts.

“Orange,” my foot! It’s as yellow as orange juice. But a brave traveller, nonetheless.

Chilling to consider the beautiful things that are murdered for our breakfast.

14 Comments


  1. It strikes me, Dave, that your spiral-shaped vegetable garden with its central tepee was a kind of labyrinth, and labyrinths are designed to allow you to go on pilgrimage without traveling. So maybe your impulse to sit at the Holy Land at the center of your garden was its own kind of stay-at-home pilgrimage.

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  2. Wonderful post and photos, Dave – and I like the labyrinth idea of Lorianne’s! So many different thoughts here…

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  3. Lorianne – Yep, I think you nailed it. Thanks.

    Come to think of it, I might’ve been influenced by you here in the way I interspersed text with images of uncertain relevance.

    marja-leena – I hope they hold together! Maybe the post, too, is a labyrinth… or at least a maze.

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  4. Interesting post and beautiful photos. I made my first vegetable garden when I was probably about the same age — dug a patch in the back yard of my family’s house in Montreal. If I remember correctly, it was after I grew some corn in a styrofoam coffee cup for a school experiment. Watching those seeds grow got me hooked on vegetable gardening.
    Also interesting that you’re seeing a Giant Swallowtail this year. Pamela from Thomasburg Walks reported a possible sighting of one on our local nature listserve . We’re definitely quite far north to be seeing these.

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  5. I guess the swallowtail started off more orange, like your beer.

    Dave, your subtle connections, circling and layering, are a reader’s delight. You match it here with such a consistent, delightful tone. It’s poetry. This is one of my favorite posts of yours.

    Someone again said “no offence” to me after using the expression “Petered out” the other day. “Rob Peter . . .,” “Pumpkin eater,” male anatomy, and now this.

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  6. bev – I was strongly influenced in wanting to garden by the YA novel Rascal, by Sterling North, which describes the main character’s victory garden. But the actual prompt was my paternal Grandpa’s decline and death; I took over the garden he had begun three years before, when he and Gandma began spending their summers at our place, in the house where I live now. The next year I devised the circular layout, which involved some complicated construction – we can’t grow anything without a nine-foot-high fence to keep out the deer. I realized, though, that a circle would use less fencing than any other shape.

    It was hard to tell from the books and online sources just how far north the Giant Swallowtail regularly ranges, but it did sound as if citrus crops are a major host plant. In the same vein, we’re about 50-75 miles north of the natural range of pipevine, but we have gotten pipevine swallowtails on a couple of occasions.

    Peter – I’m surprised you found this post so engaging. Now I will have to write every post under the influence.

    I had to reread it to figure out your last reference (“from peter to break wind”). Sorry about that!

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  7. A very interesting and nice way of becoming interested in vegetable gardens!

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  8. I really loved this post; it’s a great complement to Jean’s, and I like so much the way you move between the past and now and the pictures all sewn in, very drifting and nostalgic.
    Perhaps it’s called the Orange Dog just because it’s a pest in orange trees?

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  9. What gorgeous photos, and what a lovely, circular post.

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  10. Yes, very nice post, Dave. Delightful. And a gorgeous butterfly. Glad to hear that the beer is staying cool – nothing better than chilled beer on a really hot day.

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  11. A gorgeous, labryinthine, post!

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  12. Yes, this is very much in the Lorianne genre — slantwise, cleverly constructed, to deceptive appearance, rambling, and coming to a close with a sharp snick. I love the way “orange” suddenly cuts three ways, at the end!

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  13. Thanks, all.

    Lucy – Yes, I’m sure that is the reason.

    SB – I’m glad you liked. Hopefully my reasoning wasn’t circular as well (though if so, it certainly wouldn’t be the first time!).

    leslee – That’s true, although if the beer is too cold, many of the flavors can’t be detected. That’s not a problem with industrial lagers, but with the kinds of ales I brew, I think they’re best drunk at cellar temperature, similar to a British real ale. I try to put the bottle in the refrigerator for just an hour or two before drinking.

    dale – Thanks, man. But a sharp snick, cutting three ways? You make it sound as if I were slaying the Jabberwock! (“One two, one two, and through and through/ His vorple blade went snicker-snack.”)

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  14. It makes me very happy to think of you and your family travelling to Santiago, and I too, like Lorianne, thought at once of the labyrinth as pilgrimage symbol when I read your description of your vegetable garden – an entirely appropriate juxtaposition.

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