By Jeff Tome
Shoes and I have a complicated relationship. I love them in the cold months when they protect me from the cold ground and snow, but cannot wait to be barefoot in the summertime. Shoes are the first thing that come off when I come home in the afternoon and they don’t go on again unless I am going somewhere that requires shoes. My natural summer state is barefoot.
I was gathering milkweed leaves from the yard to feed Monarch caterpillars when I stepped on something sharp that hurt the bottom of my foot. I lifted up my foot to look under it and felt something sharp under the other foot. I lifted that foot and there it was, a tiny bumblebee. She had stung my foot when I stepped on her, then again when I rudely stepped on her with the other foot. She was crumpled, but fine and flew away. I was less fine.
I hobbled inside and fed the Monarch caterpillars. Then my wife (who always tells me I will get stung on the foot and whom I always ignore) kindly got some sting relief pads from the medicine chest to take the pain away.
A stung, swollen foot is a good excuse to take a closer look at the yard and neighborhood. I wandered around (still barefoot) in the yard and started to look at the yard as if I was a bee or butterfly. What would I notice? Where was the food?
It’s weird to look at the world as if you depended on flowers for survival. I decided to look in my neighborhood for color. Walking up and down my street, there wasn’t a lot to choose from. There is a dense patch of color in front of my house, where the coneflowers and butterflyweed are in bloom. There was another dense patch of color up the street, where another neighbor has coneflowers and Black-eyed Susans in bloom, but most of the area was green.
Summer yards don’t have a lot of food selection for the butterflies and bees. There were some impatiens, a few marigolds, a geranium or two, lines of hostas in bloom and a patch of daylilies. From a distance, most of the street looked like a green desert for a butterfly or bee.
Up close, it wasn’t as bad. Many of the lawns had patches of white clover and tiny purple weeds known as heal-all. I knew the bees loved the heal-all, since that is what they were on in my yard before my foot inconvenienced them. The yards may have looked like a colorless desert from a distance, but tiny dots of color appeared when I got closer. How do bees and butterflies find them?
Truthfully, I don’t know. It’s easy for me to look up the street and see the giant clump of color that is my neighbors garden or visualize myself flying above the neighborhood and seeing the colored blobs of gardens. What I can’t picture is how the insects find the little white dots of clovers or the hidden patch of purple weeds lurking by the porch steps.
Putting myself in a butterflies’ shoes, or preferably, in their six bare feet, made me look at my yard differently. Only a tiny patch of garden in front of my house is blooming right now, a splash of color that is unmistakable but, compared to the size of my yard, small. Every year, I try to expand the options for pollinators in the yard, expanding a garden here or adding a little bed of flowers there. I make sure to put in plants that caterpillars need, like milkweed, spicebush, violets and turtlehead. There is always more that can be done and, as I walk around my green desert of a yard, there is a lot of work that can be done to make things more appealing to the butterflies and bees.
Don’t wait to be stung on your foot to walk around your yard and look at it like a butterfly would. Are there flowers for the butterflies? Food for the caterpillars? Does your yard provide life and sustenance for pollinators or is it a green desert that wildlife passes by on their way to more colorful pastures?
Audubon Community Nature Center builds and nurtures connections between people and nature. ACNC is located just east of Route 62 between Warren and Jamestown. The trails are open from dawn to dusk as is Liberty, the Bald Eagle. The Nature Center is open from 10 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. daily except Sunday when it opens at 1 p.m. More information can be found online at auduboncnc.org or by calling (716) 569-2345.