Let your heart be a portal for the songs of the universe.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Blue Samurai

My morning sojourn with Cooper on the Northern Llano Estacado prairie is our daily ritual of fun, exploration, and light catching. Today is different. The high altitude air is heavy with humidity. White clouds billow against the deep blue canopy of New Mexico sky. Creatures, besides Red Harvester Ants, seem to be on the move.
My first encounter is a two to three-year old Ornate Box Turtle. On our approach it retreats into its fortified mobile home and thus foils my attempts of capturing an interesting image on digital film...strike one. One hundred yards down the dusty trail, I spot a viridescent shape stretched across my path of travel. I suspect a snake and call Cooper to my side. It’s a beautiful one-and-a-half foot long juvenile Desert Kingsnake. I pause to admire the striking coloration. As I ready my camera for an image, the reptile slides into the dense sea of prairie straw...strike two. One would think a black snake with striking yellow striations would be an easy target. Disappointed, I resume my trek, determined not to head home until I capture an image of a prairie denizen. A high plains Blue Samurai warrior obliges.
The Blue-margined Ground Beetle has prominent mandibles which make it a formidable predator in the shortgrass prairie. It’s a flightless beetle and closer examination confirms fused elytra (wing covers) on its back. The elytra are shiny, it’s a male. As it pauses I notice the thorax articulates. I’m on my stomach. From this vantage point I can see its body is a flat, bent shape. I ease closer. Now I can make out the palpi, just below the powerful mandibles. These function to move food into this warrior’s mouth. Suddenly the beetle scurries off and disappears in the prairie vegetation. Cut, print, the shoot is in the can.

© Ilija Lukić 2011

Friday, July 22, 2011

Aphid Farm

It's eighty degrees Fahrenheit at nine o”clock in the morning and an eerie silence envelops the shortgrass prairie. Occasionally a lizard scampers across my path. Wildlife uses the night and early morning hours to hunt and forage for food. After that, even the most tenacious hunter seeks shelter to escape the brutal heat. Black-tailed Prairie Dogs forego barking intruder alerts and socialize in the cool bowels of their burrows. I have yet to see any young this summer. High plains vegetation barely clings to life in the unabated march of one hundred degree days and scarce rainfall.
There is one exception. Broadleaf Milkweed (asclepias latifolia) refuses to submit to the reign of drought. Robust, green sentinels dot the bleak landscape. Their stature is small compared to recent years. This favorite food of Monarch butterfly caterpillars has other roles in the struggle for survival. It also serves as a centerpiece for ant and aphid alliances.  
Mutualism is a relationship between two organisms, where each derives a benefit from their interaction. On the Llano Estacado, Broadleaf Milkweed fruit pods are a sugar-rich source of fluid aphids consume and excrete as honeydew. Ants use the honeydew as a food source. They even milk aphids by stroking them with their antennae to stimulate release of the sugary liquid. What benefit do the aphids reap? Ants aggressively defend aphids from predators and ensure their wellbeing. Aphid-herding ants carry wingless aphids to new food sources, destroy eggs of aphid predators like lady beetles. They even store aphid eggs in their subterranean nests during winter months.

© Ilija Lukić 2011

Aphid Farm

Milkweed Nursery

Silken Propellers

Splattered Milkweed

Monday, July 18, 2011

Prairie Jewels

With Cooper at my side and snake stick in hand, I bid farewell to our settlement and turn into the prairie. My cadence is full of reluctant energy. On the trails, the four-inch brim of my straw hat shades brow and eyes from the low angle of the morning sun. Prairie winds rustle through dry grasses and lifeless skeletons of vegetation. A gust arouses Shakespeare’s ghost to whisper "O, woe is me, T'have seen what I have seen, see what I see!" The prairie simmers. The land appears devoid of life. Neighbors, radio, newspapers, and digital internet streams lament our once-in-a-century drought. Amidst the tribulations of the plains I find rejuvenating solace in the beauty of prairie flora. I find a treasure chest of jewels in the rough. I am reborn.
Behold the bronze burnish on slender throngs of Cota, the gleaming silver spires of sage, the joyous face of Devil’s Grass, the fangs of Prickly Pear Cacti, the sunburned skin of a lone yucca pod, the droopy games Stiff Greenthread plays, and the trust in an equine’s eye as he nuzzles closer and we become one...at peace, on the torrid plains of New Mexico.

© Ilija Lukić 2011


Silver Spires

Devil's Grass

Rattler Fangs

Droopy Side Of Stiff Greenthread

Red Yucca Pod

Looking For Attention


Friday, July 15, 2011

Lost Horizons

Endless seas of grass and elusive horizons once defined the wilds of the Llano Estacado. Below these lost horizons and shrinking expanses of virgin prairie, the Llano still dances to familiar seasonal rhythms--the wants of drought and abundance after summer rains. It rained last night, albeit light sprinkles amidst a lightning extravaganza.

Four rain events, to include three consecutive days of exhilarating soakers, appease Mother Earth as she struggles with the ravages of drought. Her burnt complexion relaxes, cavernous cracks and wrinkles disappear from her countenance, and dormant flora and fauna stir to life.

Cooper and I pause our commune with nature in the shade of a lone Siberian Elm. My rambunctious canine companion shares a moment of quizzical interest with my camera, before he ambles off in pursuit of scent trails. I take time to absorb a full measure of the fleeting beauty white clouds create as they drift across the azure canopy of high plains sky. Southwesterly winds send ripples across my shirt and tug at my wide-brimmed cowboy hat. My spirit saddles the wind, races with mischievous waves dancing across endless grasslands, then soars into the embrace of the heavens. A glance over my left shoulder finds the terra cotta hues of a rain-drenched ranch road. It anchors my return to reality.

© Ilija Lukić 2011

Lost Horizon
(digitaria californica aka New Mexico Cottontop)

Eyes Are The Gateway To The Soul

Yellow Bear
(spilosoma viginica)

A Wink And A Nod
(helianthus annuus aka Annual Sunflower)

In The Pigweed
(Cooper in amaranthus palmerii aka Palmer's Amaranth)

Wild Lettuce

Road Home

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Sun Catchers

The morning breeze has a refreshing energy. It envelops two intrepid Llano Estacado aficionados on their way to adventure. Cooper and I expect to navigate puddles on trails and have fun with slippery footing. We find neither. The parched prairie soil shows little evidence of life-giving moisture. On the bright side, minimum water runoff signals maximum penetration. This summer I have yet to encounter Ornate Box Turtles, Barred Tiger Salamanders, and Great Plains Toads. I’m hopeful they have weathered the drought and additional rain will revive their activities. By afternoon dark clouds and thunder on the southwestern horizon rumble promises of additional moisture.
On our outing I continue my exploration of light. I crave intimate mastery of writing visual poetry with light.

© Ilija Lukić 2011 

Avispa Araña

Sun Catchers

Horse Nettle Escapade

Mar De Hierba Plata (Cooper)

God's Glory (Cooper)

Into The Light

Silver Winds

Open Sesame

Sendero De Plata

Admirador Secreto (El Llanero Viejo)

Sunny Breezes (Cooper)

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Light Catchers

On the Llano Estacado prairie light catchers abound. They are run-of-the-mill flora and denizens of the high plains, which long for the caress of the sun. They long to be set ablaze. They cheerfully transform ordinary excursions through their midst into flights of wonder in a magical realm.

© Ilija Lukić 2011

Morning Glow

Light Catchers
(Wax Goldenweed)

Crescent Sun

Twin Fenceposts
(Wax Goldenweed and Purple Nightshade)

Kiowa Toothpicks
(Arizona Cottontop)

Mile Marker

Shortgrass Prairie Morning

Monday, July 11, 2011

Summer Snow

Has anything ever triggered a tune in your head and you end up humming it for hours?  While on the prairie this morning and lamenting the dearth of color, a lyric from the song Me and Bobby McGee comes to mind, "...I’d trade all of my tomorrows for just one yesterday." I’m not quite that desperate, but, one day of yesteryear’s high plains Prairie Garden of Eden would surely improve my tolerance of drought conditions.
Amazingly wildflowers continue to exert their presence on the Northern Llano Estacado. The most prominent are Silver Leaf Nightshade, aka Trompillo, and Yellow Spined Thistle. Prickly Pear Cacti and Cholla have once again regressed into survival mode. The drought-stressed prickly pears have an unusually high incidence of Cochineal Scale infestation.
Here are some images of yesteryear’s prairie. I remember well the gleaming summer snows on baked earth, the alluring fire wheels of gaillardia blankets, the porcupine-like quills of Purple Threeawn swaying in the winds, and silvery sprays of Trompillo accenting luscious shoots of Wax Goldenweed.

© Ilija Lukić 2011

Summer Snow On Baked Earth

Silverleaf Nightshade

Firewheels And Marbles


Trompillo Fenceline

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Primeval Instincts

It’s eight o’clock and already close to 80°F as Cooper and I thread our way into the Llano Estacado prairie east of our settlement. A strong urge to run the cattle and game trails takes hold. It’s been ten days since I last stretched my walking gait into a run. Primal instincts aroused, I fall into an exhilarating rhythm of footsteps and breath. Cooper stays just ahead of me. His leg muscles flex and ripple across his hind quarters with every step. Just as I enjoy trail running and the primeval instincts it stirs, Cooper enjoys prairie vegetation for his stealth mode forays.

One half hour later we pause under our favorite elm. The lively southwesterly winds feel refreshingly cool as they evaporate sweat from body and brow. From our vantage point we survey the terrain and proceed with our trek. Our entourage consists of two Ferruginous Hawks gliding effortlessly against the backdrop of the deep blue New Mexico sky; and, Barn Swallows jetting inches above the prairie ground cover.
© Ilija Lukić 2011

Looking For Direction (Cooper)

Great Plains Toad Perch

Primeval Instincts (Cooper)