Eastern black swallowtail caterpillar.jpg

An Eastern Swallowtail caterpillar.

Larry, who helps us with yard chores, is an Air Force veteran with a deep love of order, and this puts him at odds with our big sycamore, a dissolute tree that refuses to be housebroken.

Like all sycamores, it drops hundreds of leaves as big as catcher’s mitts from fall through early winter. The sycamore is an unkempt tree in summer, too, shedding bark across the lawn.

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Larry tries to keep things tidy by raking the bark into small mounds around the sycamore’s base, but the old tree’s shameful habit of undress is impossible to reform. As soon as its leavings are scooped from the grass, the tree sheds even more bark, and the yard soon looks like the aftermath of a ticker-tape parade.

I’ve learned not to fret, perhaps resigned to the idea that summer is a messy season, its dark magic drawn from a refusal to be tamed. Other signs of disarray visit us each year when the weather grows hot.

The dill weed in our herb garden has been chewed to lace by bright yellow and black caterpillars. We’ve seen the caterpillars lunching luxuriously at high noon, dangling like earrings from the stems. The other evening, as I brought an empty bottle to the recycling bin, I noticed the caterpillars continuing to eat, eat, eat by the light of a full moon, fat as hams in a butcher’s window.

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My wife doesn’t grieve the loss of the dill, figuring the caterpillars need it more than we do for the occasional sprig we throw on grilled catfish. Dill is a favorite for the caterpillars that grow into swallowtail butterflies. Given the stresses on butterfly populations, the sight of these ravenous critters is a hopeful thing.

I’ve been thinking more deeply about this while reading an advance copy of “Graceland, At Last,” a collection of Margaret Renkl’s essays due out next month. From her home in Nashville, Tennessee, Renkl writes a weekly column for The New York Times that touches on life in the South, including our local flora and fauna. Renkl notes the steep decline worldwide in pollinating insects, with about 40% of such pollinators facing extinction.

My household’s dill buffet won’t solve the problem, but we offer it each year to help nudge the needle in the right direction.

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In south Louisiana, summer can bring the wildness of the season to our doorstep — and sometimes, across it. While putting the house to bed the other evening, I opened our back door to latch the screen and found a salamander at the threshold waiting to come inside.

There were a few moments of slapstick as he darted down the hall and I nabbed him with a towel, returning him to the backyard for his night of hunting.

Such is summer in this part of the world. As school starts in a few days, it seems we’ve survived another one.


Email Danny Heitman at danny@dannyheitman.com.