Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Whole Lotta Love

goin' on at Lake Cheston in the morning.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Morning Idyll

Summer sounds: wind, birds, cyclical cicadas.

Among the lilies and pads, Slaty Skimmers, Common Whitetails, and Violet Dancers. And frogs, large and small. On the bridge, orb weavers and insect remains.

Extra: Today, I identified another damselfly and another dragonfly to add to the list begun in Taking Stock: Turquoise Bluet and Slaty Skimmer.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Memento Mori on a Pebbled Path

Winged dragonflies live several weeks after an un-winged underwater existence of about two years. It's easy, watching their muscular aerobatics, to forget how short, how brutal their flying life is.

Today I remembered when I nearly stumbled on this single wing (a cicada's?), still attached to blackened shell.

Who this was, I am not certain, but oh winged things, gratitude for the joy you leave behind.

Extra: Re: Taking Stock: I hunted down the mysterious brown dragonfly today. After seeing several zooming males, I happened upon a female, well off the lake path, at the edge of the woods. Aha! Banded Pennant. Welcome!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Five Favorite Summer Things

1. The Gardeners' Market: Waking at 5:45 to bake the scones, getting to the market by 7:15, setting up, photographing the beautiful flowers and checking out the brothers' produce, chatting with my regular customers and new ones, smiling at the children and petting the dogs, taking home produce like tonight's supper -- asparagus, Swiss chard, beets.

2. Scones. Nothing more need be said.

3. Neighbors in residence: chatting, hanging out, hearing children's laughter, seeing the lamps aglow at night.

4. Flowers: at the Market, the Lemon Fair, and the Community Gardens (where blooms are AKA butterfly magnets).

5. Odd encounters: a Blue Corporal dragonfly affixing himself to my new Insect Shield pants. (Uh, what happened to the shield?)

Welcome, summer! What a great time to hang out!

Friday, May 27, 2011


As a child, I loved graph paper and colored pencils or pens with which I made repetitive abstract designs. I did the same with bits of tile, marble, and granite, with M&Ms, with pastels, crayons, colored paper, . . . well you get the drift. I was a fool for colorful pattern.

As a child, I wrote occasional poems, Jeopardy! questions, songs (first for the piano and later for guitar), play-pretend scripts, . . . well you get the drift. I was a fool for words.

In college, I fell hard for something that brought pattern and word together in one beautiful form: illuminated manuscripts. I first encountered them in art history, then met manuscripts at The Cloisters of New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art and Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, D.C. Years later, in London, I enjoyed a major medieval exhibit (the button is still on the wool coat I purchased at the Camden Lock Market), and I marveled over those at the British Museum.

I thought I knew something about these objects, but just the other day I experienced another illuminating revelation. My brother sent the link to a video about the Luttrell Psalter, connecting the images in the work to animals, people, and daily life of the Middle Ages. I was mesmerized once again and hope you will be, too.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Taking Stock

Yesterday, at Lake Cheston, I saw but could not photograph two dragonflies I had not yet seen this spring: a Comet Darner and what appeared to be a Twelve-Spotted Skimmer. Both zipped by too fast, several times, for my camera. I know I will eventually snap them, though.

And it's for that reason that I want to take stock now of the dragonflies and damselflies I have seen and photographed since early April. By doing so, I may commit them to memory before adding more.
  1. Common Baskettail (Epitheca cynosura) -- Corduliidae: Emeralds
  2. Stream Cruiser (Didymops transversa) -- Mcromiidae: Cruisers
  3. Gomphus Clubtail, Ashy or Lancet (uncertain) -- Gomphidae: Clubtails
  4. Lancet Clubtail (Gomphus (Gomphus) exilis) -- Gomphidae: Clubtails
  5. Blue Corporal (Ladona deplanata) -- Libellulidae: Skimmers
  6. Calico Pennant (Celithemis elisa) -- Libellulidae: Skimmers
  7. Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis) -- Libellulidae: Skimmers
  8. Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis) -- Libellulidae: Skimmers
  9. Widdow Skimmer (Libellula luctuosa) -- Libellulidae: Skimmers
  10. Common Whitetail (Plathemis lydia) -- Libellulidae: Skimmers
  11. Fragile Forktail (Ischnura posita) -- Coenagrionidae: Pond Damselfies
  12. Skimming Bluet? (Enallagma geminatum) -- Coenagrionidae: Pond Damselfies
  13. Other Bluets -- Coenagrionidae: Pond Damselfies
  14. Violet Dancer (Argia fumipennis violacea) -- Coenagrionidae: Pond Damselfies

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Learning by Failing

I know what many of my students don't: learning is a result of frustration and failure.

Witness the difference between yesterday's and today's photos.

Yesterday, I was so excited to find two damselflies mating that I forgot to pay attention to my camera and its settings. For half an hour, I watched and snapped, excited and certain I'd gotten a number of great shots. NOT! I was so excited by the damselflies that I forgot to check the settings and shot everything with the narrowest depth of field. The pictures are awful. DUH.

Today, I intentionally reminded myself to keep checking my settings. As a result, I got glorious photographs of damselflies, dragonflies, butterflies, and blooms.As painful as the lesson is, I'll probably suffer it several times over before what I've learned has become second-nature. That's fine by me: I still have the memory of what I've seen, of what I see.

Oh happy day!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Bah Humbug

See tomorrow's post.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Gluttony or Greed?

Yesterday a friend in whose yard I was snapping pictures (several checkerspots and one white moth) said he was amused by my pleasure in learning about bugs. I reminded him that as a PhD himself, he knows the illness: the need to know.

I don't know what it is -- the sin of gluttony or greed -- that best describes my addiction to a daily amble with camera. Already this early season, I have published 85 photos of male and female Calico Pennants to my SmugMug site. Mind you, those represent a tiny minority of shots I have taken, some of which I disposed of and others of which are stored on an external hard drive.

I'm not sure what drives me to go out every day and visit the same haunts -- whether it's the brain-clearing walk and air, the challenge of finding something new, the desire to make a better picture, or . . . . I do know, however, that regular looking has meant more knowledge, even to the point that when I see something "new," it registers as new.

That happened today. While I was watching a Dionysian scrum of Calico Pennant males chasing and knocking a coupled pair, something HUGE zoomed past. All I saw was enormous size, green face, read abdomen. Happily, he zipped by twice more (as if revving a muscle car in a movie-set street), but far too fast for me and my camera. Here's what I saw, missed, and am determined to capture digitally next: Comet Darner.

I waaaaaaant him! BADLY!

Now I ask you: is that a sin?

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Dance of Death

On my deck,
the tattered wings

of the red-spotted

purple scissored jerkily

saying I'm alive
a lie slowly revealed,

when like a curtain,
one hindwing shifted
on the shoulders of ants.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

A Day for Red

Carmine, to be exact.

Male Calico Pennant:
a wind-shifted flag
flying solo.

Poppy: floppy fascinator
fit for the Derby
or a Royal wedding.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Say it quick --


Admit it: you imagine a libidinous, licentious man, maybe old or aging, but never giving up on the sweet young things. Think the Playboy empire. Think drunkenness, loss of self-control, orgies revealed on Attic vases, bawdy plays following the tragedies in the City Dionysia. See half-goat, half-man, always leering.

Now see this friendly little fellow, monkish in his brown, cream, and gray garb. Like others of his family, he bounces in the grasses at Lake Cheston, the university cemetery, my yard, pausing every now and then, before bouncing off again. A wood nymph, indeed, but satyr? Hardly.

Little Wood-satyr, today I call you Little Wood-monk. Go in peace.

Thursday, May 19, 2011


I found myself wondering today what the bugs think of the woman in the insect-shield pants, stooping and bending over them like an entomological ecdysiast with a lens.

Nothing is what they're thinking, I think. They just do their "bug" thing, so long as I don't threaten them as a predator might.

I think about them, however, especially about their extraordinary ordinary bugginess.

Take the katydid nymph who rode on my gas cover from my house to the grocery store and then to Lake Cheston and finally to a friend's house yesterday. He was still on my gas cap this morning, till scooped into a patch of grass beneath a leafy tree. Imagine the suctions on the ends of those legs needed to withstand the highway at 55 mph, the muscles in that teeny body.

Take the ladybug perched at the very edge of a lily petal, as if contemplating the depth of the Grand Canyon from the north rim, so vast the space beneath in comparison to the bug. Or the pollen-laden bee mustering his courage (I watched him pump several times before takeoff) before flying off with his golden treasure.

Or the Fragile Forktail damselfly, about an inch in length, that zips into the reeds at the edge of the lake like a flying needle, straight up and down, with gossamer wings.

In Broadsides from the Other Orders, Sue Hubbel writes, "They [bugs] are indifferent to us and our doings, whether we like them or not" (158).

It's a one-way infatuation, and I can live with that.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


A quick trip to Lake Cheston after errands offered two rewards:

1. The emergence of a dragonfly from its exuvia, a slow motion ballerina, breaking through the shell, head down, then pulling up, out, wing nubs elongating, abdomen uncurling from a long watery life, breathing tubes released.

2. A female Calico pennant riding a weedy stem in shifting wind, a Cirque du Soleil rope
gymnast, swung this way and that, bending, swaying, waiting for the safety of the night.

From Joyce Sidman's children's poem Fly, Dragonfly!" these lines come to mind:

Water nymph,
you have
climbed from the shallows to don
your dragon-colors.

How lucky am I to have seen the transformation!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

True Heroism

When I attended college in New York City, I avoided confessing my home state -- Alabama, a place infamous for bigots like police chief Eugene "Bull" Connor and the violence of the KKK. Bombingham, it was called, for good reason.

Last night, I watched
Freedom Riders, a remarkable and painful film by Stanley Nelson featured on the PBS series The American Experience. Voices of my childhood echoed in my dreams, among them one young man I saw following a Joan Baez concert about which I have previously blogged.

He stood on a street corner, shirtless, glistening with sweat, and laughed. "They got so many niggers in the Birmingham jail, they gonna have to put us in the Alabama Theatre!" (I hear his pronunciation "thee - ay - ter" as I write the word.)

photo from The Historic Alabama Theatre in Birmingham website

I don't know what happened to him that afternoon, whether he marched with hundreds of others toward downtown or whether he went home for supper. But I do know that his joyful defiance was part of the remarkable energy that ran through determined and dedicated young people then, that ran through the college students who joined the Freedom Rides and withstood American hatred without protest.

They -- those brave enough to stand in the face of hate and to withstand beating and worse -- made me proud to be American then and still do today, living in a changed and changing south.

photo from The Kwanzaa Guide website

Freedom Riders
should be required watching for every American.