Julie A. Swanson

Purer and Purer Streams…

The Cicadas are almost completely gone (or at least for 17 years)…

The woods is quiet once again. When I clean the pool skimmers, the number of cicadas swirling in there has gone down to two or three, down from the fifty or sixty that used to be clogging it. No longer have to sweep the porch daily if we don’t want to be crunching on dead bodies just going into or out of our house. The ones still flying around that land wearily on the ground look like they’re falling apart and have lost half a body–like it’s either fallen, dry-rotted, or been eaten off by something. Does laying eggs really deplete them like that? Are they so full of eggs that once they lay them, their back ends are empty?



Isn’t She Adorable?


I found this picture of my mom while looking through old family photos over Mother’s Day weekend. It’s a big picture, 11 x 14, and I must’ve seen it before, but if I did, I didn’t remember it as anything special, whereas this time it really hit me. Not only how beautiful it is, or how beautiful she was (well, she still is, but not like this), but that it was stuffed in a big manila envelope with a bunch of other old photos, unprotected–a treasure with a tear in it and bound to get more. That it had never been framed for people to look at and enjoy, what a shame! I wanted to frame it. I said so. My step-father said, no, I’ll frame it. And he was nice enough to send me a copy of it a week later, so I could have my very own to frame. I’m in the process of framing it now. Can’t wait to hang it up.

Something about this picture. It’s Innocence, Purity, Peace, Calm, Trust. She’s so natural and at ease. Those eyes, that hair, the little cross, the posture and fat rolls. She’s an angel. Just looking at her makes me feel good. I had to share her.

Happy Birthday Grandma Ag, thought we’d celebrate with a picture of your baby.

Happy Anniversary Mom and Dennis!

They are still screaming!

The 17-year cicadas, that is. Yesterday I asked if anyone knew how long they were going to be here, and be so vocal, and someone said they had heard 6 weeks. It’s going to seem really quiet when they leave.

The other day I tried to brush one off a new tree I recently planted. It (and all its buddies also on the trunk of the tree) was chewing a little line in the bark (to deposit eggs I heard somewhere), and I wanted them to leave my fragile little tree alone. When I touched it, it screamed at me in a loud, buzzing, electrical sort of way, like No, you leave me alone! It was a startling noise, scared me. I’m leaving them alone.



…Or kind of fuschia. But they don’t stay this way long (or at least in my garden they don’t) so I thought I’d share these while I can, in real time. And for a special occasion… Happy 23rd Birthday to our oldest, A, who’s on a study abroad tour of Europe right now, and has […]

The 17-year Cicadas are in Town


This is a life-size photo of one.

At first I wasn’t sure what it was I was hearing, or stepping on and sweeping up. What had Terminix done at our last treatment, I wondered, that so many of these  were dying and laying belly up all over around the outside of our house? First the stink bugs and now these, even bigger and noisier?

Then I began to hear other people talking about them, and I knew it wasn’t just our house, our woods.

Our area of Central Virginia is full of these things, big 1-1/2″  long and very plump flying bugs. Go outside and you hear the shrill scream of them loud and constant (except when it rains? and for a spell at night? You eventually become numb to the noise and forget they’re out there), almost like a motorcylce gang must be coming down the road–a distinctly different sound than the buzz of the cicadas other years. The woods just rings with them all up in the trees. It reminds me of the sound of peeper frogs that start making their droning noise every night on the lake where I grew up. I’ve heard the same noise on other lakes and ponds as well. Only this is a much louder, more intense sound, and it comes from high up in the trees. The interesting thing about them, as my son remarked the other night, is that they always sound like they’re “over there,” somewhere in the distance in one direction that you can sort of point to, and not right where you are, despite the fact that they’re all over and we’re surrounded by them.


Their bodies are everywhere: on our porch, driveway, deck,…


…floating in the pool, in the skimmers.  Their winged bodies, that is…


Their molted bodies, the empty shells of the pre-wing “nymphs,” those are stuck to the underside of leaves on the trees, as you can see if you look look closely at this picture I took of a small dogwood in our yard. This one little dogwood had dozens of molten skeleton-bodies stuck to the underside of leaves.

Thankfully, they don’t sting or stink. (Yet? With so many dead and dying cicadas, will it start to stink?) They just make a lot of noise and then they lay there on their backs wiggling, getting slower and slower, and then dying. And if you don’t watch where you’re walking, they crunch.

At first, when I noticed them a week ago, I heard people talking about 17-year locusts (Locusts like in Little House on the Prairie, I wondered, eating everything in their path?!), but then I did a little research on them and found out that they are actually cicadas, and what the difference between them is. If interested, look here– http://archive.audubonmagazine.org/truenature/truenature0005.html.  

Very interesting creatures!


Even Butterflies Do It

IMG_0613I haven’t had much that I want to share with the world lately. A lot going on and very busy, but more the kind of thing you write in a journal. Today, however, I saw something I thought was pretty interesting, and beautiful. In our yard, two butterflies mating. Something I’d never seen before, or never quite like this. What do you know? IMG_0615

I won’t get too graphic, but let’s just say they were at it for a long time, and willingly posed for me as I tried various angles to get the best light. Well, maybe they weren’t really so willing and it was more that they were stuck in that position, because they did startle a few times and ruffle their wings in a panicked way, or as if they hoped to scare me off. But they’d calm right down again and be peaceful, no matter how close I got. It didn’t seem like they could just disengage with what they were doing—it seemed a necessarily lengthy process that they either couldn’t or wouldn’t interrupt. They were very connected. It was as if great secrets, delicate treasures, were being carefully passed between them, and they did not dare to disturb the transportation of them. Or it was as if they were saying, Good things take time, stupid human! We go slow and enjoy the process (yeah, really slow). We make a good thing last. OK, maybe so, but it did not look passionate. IMG_0618

As I watched, I wondered which was the male and which the female. If butterflies were like birds, I guessed the more colorful one would be the male, the yellow one. I looked closer, and sure enough, the yellow one, as you can see, was doing the probing, was inside the black one (rather deeply, the end of its body entirely inserted into the end of the other one’s body). I thought, OK, now I need to go in the house and check online to see if that’s right (t had to be, didn’t it?). And what kind of butterfly was this? The name for it was on the tip of my tongue… The yellow one at least. I wouldn’t have pretended to know the name of the black one, or to know they were related. And all of a sudden my mind was full of other butterfly questions—is this the way it is for all butterflies, the male and female different colors? If so, is the orange-and-black Monarch a male or a female, or are all Monarchs orange-and-black?…


[Yes, as it turns out, the yellow one’s  male and the dark one female—they are Eastern Swallowtails. Seems the female can be dark or yellow, but the males are always yellow. No, Monarchs do not differ in color between male and female; both are orange-and-black and look so similar I can’t tell the difference between pictures of the two.] IMG_0629

Butterflies have always fascinated me. When we were kids we liked to catch the yellow-black-and-white striped caterpillars that make shiny jade-green chrysalises edged in gold and then turn into orange-and-black Monarch butterflies (how do they change to such different colors?). We’d find them up on my Uncle Wally’s hill across the road from our lake, crawling on and munching on the milkweed growing in the meadow of the Hill, or we’d find one of those beautiful jeweled chrysalises hanging from the log fence rails. Wed catch the caterpillars or carefully pull of a strip of bark from the log rail and take either the caterpillar or the chrysalis home and put them in a jar with a lid with holes poked in it.

If it was a chrysalis, we just waited for it to hatch.

If it was a caterpillar, we put a supply of milkweed in there with it and a stick to climb so that when it was ready, it would have a way to climb up and attach to something to make its chrysalis. We’d keep check on it, watching to see the amazing transformation from caterpillar to chrysalis, the way it mummified itself and seemed to liquefy then, turning different colors, from stripes of yellow, black and white to green and then  as the day passed, we’ see it begin to darken and realize the chrysalis was a clear shell—because we’d see black and orange and know from previous years that it was the black and orange of a scrunched up Monarch butterfly in there. And soon it would hatch.

The hatching was incredible, too. This shaky little black-bodied butterfly came out, all long skinny elbows and knees (or whatever you call those angular limb parts) as butterfly legs are. The wing were rumpled up, wrinkled, folded, but as the butterly flapped them, they unfolded. We had to be careful to take the butterfly out of the jar and give it room for its expanding wings, so they wouldn’t hit anything and be damaged, fragile things (yes, we were to blame for some deformed butterfly wings and had learned this the hard way). We’d give the butterfly some sugar water in the lid of a jar and he’d (she’d?) unfurl his long, skinny black spiral tongue, like a long perfectly curled hair or a tendril, and stick the end of it in the sugar water and drink. My mom it needed the sugar water to pump up the viens in its wings and we believed her since the wings grew, unfolded, straightened out—much the way an inflatable water raft does when you take it out of the box and blow it up.

It would slowly flap and flap those wings, pumping them up, airing them, drying them out, making them lightweight and rigid and strong, and then… and then if you could be as patient as that butterfly, you would get to see it take its first flight. And we’d clap and say, “Yay!” and be so delighted to see the simple perfection of it. And we were somehow, foolishly, proud to have been a part of it. I felt like a parent–I’d watched after and protected this creature, fed it, and was now seeing it off into the world. But the truth of it was, I’d done nothing, I knew. Well, nothing to damage it, that is. Nature had done the rest. Perfectly.

The Prettiest Time of Year in Virginia

100_1111I love this time of year and this picture shows why. Absolute Fairyland. When my daughters were little, they used to call themselves the Lavender Fairies. They would go around where we lived at the time, picking people’s flowers to decorate the headstones of the ‘pet cemetery’ they made, where they buried dead birds, etc., and when our neighbor would notice someone’s flowers had been plucked from the beds they’d been planted in, she would say with a wink, “Huh, the lavender fairies must’ve been out again,” knowing that it was the girls and their friends. She even bought them a little porcelain figurine of a winged fairy, like a wood nymph dressed in lavender sitting Puckishly among a patch of flowers. And when I drive around Virginia in the spring and see all the dogwoods and redbuds growing natural in the woods along the roads and highway, the flowing cherry and plum and crab apples, I think of the Lavendar Fairies and Fairyland, that we are living in the most beautiful fairy land. Pinks and lavenders and lacy whites scattered everywhere, against the backdrop of the freshest bright green. This morning it’s rainy and overcast here, but I’m looking out at the scene above as I write today (picture from last spring), just a damper version of it, and the trees slightly larger, and thus even more colorful.

When we first moved to Charlottesville (April 28, 2000, thirteen years ago this coming Sunday), I was so wowed by spring here that I wanted everyone in my family who’d never seen spring in Virginia to come visit in April so they could see it, too. Growing up in the northern Midwest, I always loved spring as well, but here it comes earlier and it’s so much grander. In northern Michigan, you have to wait until May to get anything like what we’re enjoying now. At Easter, we’d turn on the TV to see the newspeople showing pictures of cherry blossoms on the trees at the White House, but outside our windows, it looked like winter. So when spring finally came, you were almost giddy with the sights and the smells and the warmth. But they were different sights. We didn’t have dogwoods in the north, very few redbuds. We had forsythia and cherry orchards and lilac, although the lilacs bloomed later as they do here–the smell of lilac remains one of my favorites. The one thing we had there in Leelanau County that I never got sick of looking out at, and which people there get to enjoy all year long, is the water, the amazing blues and greens of the lakes. OK, considering the water, it’s almost a tie for which place is more beautiful in the spring. But I would bet that there is no more beautiful a place in mid-April than right here in Central Virginia.

Catholic Confirmation in the 70s–your memories please

I don't remember much more than the fact that I had to wear an outfit something like this--a corduroy jumper with a turtleneck and knee socks both with the same ugly rust color in them that somehow went with the mallard color and tied the outfit together?!

I don’t remember much more than the fact that I had to wear an outfit something like this–a corduroy jumper with a turtleneck and knee socks both having the same ugly rust color in them (that somehow went with the teal blue and tied the outfit together?!)

For any of you who grew up in the 70s like I did, do you remember what your confirmation preparation was like? I remember the actual day I was confirmed (6th grade, I believe), what I wore and everything–corduroy jumper over a turtleneck and thick knee socks, all in wintery colors and from that I deduce that it must’ve been late fall or winter or very early spring. But if it was winter, that wouldn’t have given us much time to prepare for it in catechism classes (we spent almost a full year preparing for 1st Communion), unless we started preparing the year before.

Now kids are confirmed  much later. It seems that over the years the age has gotten older and older in increments. Most parishes confirm kids as juniors in high school now. Here, and other places I’ve heard of, it’s a two-year commitment/preparation with retreats and all, a very involved process.

I don’t remember such rigorous instruction. I do recall being worried that the bishop would ask us questions–seems we’d been drilled to prepare for it so that we might know the answers to what he’d ask–and then being relieved when he didn’t quiz us. So there was at least that instruction we must’ve been given.

Anyone who might read this and be willing to share their memories, it would be much appreciated. Read the rest of this entry »

Sounds True

imgresJust wanted to pass along the link to a site where I’ve found many fascinating and important topics discussed, by many highly regarded people. These  include Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Marion Woodman, Eckhart Tolle, Jack Kornfield, David Whyte, Adyashanti, Brene Brown, Colin Tipping, Ken Wilber, Ken Cohen, Stephen Cope… to name just a few.

I’ve enjoyed and learned a lot checking out their offerings on creativity, spirituality, psychology, meditation, yoga, health, aging…


You can not only buy (CDs or downloads of) music, audio recordings of lectures, classes, and workshops… but you can also listen to samples of them. And if you sign up for them, you’ll be sent free weekly things you can listen to or read in order to learn more about the people Sounds True features. They also have a program called Direct Access, where just for signing up for it, you get access to their archives of free podcasts, interviews, and articles.

Yes, they’re trying to sell things, but there’s something very giving and unselfish about Sounds True–sometimes it’s easy to forget it’s a business, and I feel like it exists more primarily just to help people out and share good ideas and  make the world a better place.


Enjoying playing around with my new Wacom Intuos 5 tablet (and Sketchbook Pro 6)