Our discovery of serpentine mines.

It was Prophet who led us to our study of leaf mining insects. Prophet tends to express dismay over what she calls the “ugly leaves” with all the holes and “messy places” on them. I usually stifle a laugh- mostly at the fact that the word “messy” is one she uses negatively, amusing in light of her perpetually-messy mom. And then, I usually look for a segue into something else…

“Let’s find out why some leaves have holes in them- and why some leaves get brown blotches,” I ventured. The gypsies were game.

They collected as many blotchy or “hole-y” leaves as they could find. We sifted through each leaf, trying to decide what had caused its particular variations. It was hard to ignore the fantastic constrast of textures and webbing in the leaves. I imagined fabrics comprised of similar patterns.

Holding up the leaves against the light helped us see the serpentine mines, distinguished for the way in which they undulated like a precipitous mountain road. The Eldest thought he saw a few blotch mines as well, which he noted, alongside my dissent.

As we sat in the front yard surveying our leaf miners, a gregarious cardinal perched on the fence nearby. He cocked his head to one side and narrowed his little black eye.

Flipping the leaves, peering closely at the possible miners, we found a hard white crescent along an underside leaf vein. The Eldest seemed certain it was a leaf miner pupa. Certainty, I reminded him, requires corroboration. And corroboration would have to wait until later in the day.

Prophet wondered about the “dark places” around the holes. The Eldest wasted no time in guessing that the brown spaces were correlated with the mines in the leaves. Or, in his words, “the leaf is being starved of nutrients and is dying in those places because the leaf miners pig out on all the nutrients.”

After observing the mined leaves, nature journals came out. Gnome treated her nature study journal with the utmost care, tracing leaves as the Eldest recorded his thoughts (“I like to pretend my eye is a microscope,” he explained.)

We talked about why sketching the outline and contour of the leaf required different tools than filling in the colors and shades.

And we pondered the size of these tiny creatures that find their nourishment between the upper and lower surfaces of a the cell walls within a paper-thin leaf. I marveled, aloud, at how the leaf miner leaves his life’s itinerary on the surface of a leaf, each one as unique as the creature that created it.

The Eldest found the contour lines of this leaf particularly compelling. It was the prospect of trying to replicate all the amazing interior patterns and veins that intimidated us.

Out came the colored pencils and watercolor paints- we agreed there was no way to capture the intricate details with watercolors alone- hence the pencils- but also that the uniform tone of the leaves would benefit from a watercolor wash at the end.

The Eldests’ watercolor impression of his serpentine mine leaf.

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