Wednesday, November 30, 2011

This Morning's Poetry Break

About creativity
poet Billy Collins
said: jealousy
births imitation;
imitation morphs
into originality.

Without having met
him, my great-niece
E proves his definition.


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Let It Snow

season's first 
flurries swirl
a Sewanee
snow dome.

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Manifesto of Done

Every year, as I think about, plan, draft, sketch, design, layout, publish, and make The Greats' Christmas book, I feel as though I'm fishing in the sky.  My bobber is stuck -- right now -- in some branch beyond my reach, and no matter how hard I tug, I can't pull the line loose.

Just as I was panicking today, I came across The Manifesto of Done, mentioned in a blog I follow.  Number 4 is especially helpful at the moment: "Pretending you know what you're doing is almost the same as knowing what you are doing, so just accept that you know what you're doing even if you don't and do it."

Fingers, don't fail me now!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Book Lust

It isn't that I want a particular book.

It's that I wish I had written a particular book.

Just a Second, reviewed this week in The New York Times, celebrates my own peculiar preoccupations: bugs, stars, perspective, and time.  It's as if Steve Jenkins had taken a walkabout in my head and turned my random thoughts into art.

Sometimes, I think, like James Wright in "Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy's Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota," that I have "wasted my life" (line 13).

Alas, this is one of those times.

Steve Jenkins, I envy you.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Foot in the Door

Sylvia Plath

Overnight, very,
Whitely, discreetly,
Very quietly

Our toes, our noses
Take hold on the loam,
Acquire the air.

Nobody sees us,
Stops us, betrays us,
The small grains make room.

Soft fists insist on
Heaving the needles,
The leafy bedding,

Even the paving.
Our hammers, our rams,
Earless and eyeless,

Perfectly voiceless,
Widen the crannies,
Shoulder through holes.  We

Diet on water,
On crumbs of shadow,
Bland-mannered, asking

Little or nothing.
So many of us!
So many of us!

We are shelves, we are
Tables, we are meek,
We are edible,

Nudgers and shovers
In spite of ourselves.
Our kind multiplies:

We shall by morning
Inherit the earth.
Our foot's in the door.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Moving Day

On the day when millions of Americans eat turkey, the starlings are moving into The Lemon Fair, where they have roosted for years.

One pair has selected the space between decorative medallion and clapboard, just below the roof peak from which a view of the village opens.  Inside the building, their chirruping provides company on wintry days, their twigs sometimes fall through the ceiling cracks, and in the spring their chicks cry for supper.

Pests in the thousands, those at home above the shop number far fewer and figure in a friendlier way.

Welcome home, starlings!  Enjoy your moving day!

This article has just appeared in the New York Times, with some fascinating news about the European Starling:

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

So Said Hamlet

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

Amazon sells 1,000 Green Lacewing eggs for $14.99.

Wikipedia tells me that adults are nocturnal.  Perhaps that explains why this 1/2-inch specimen awaited me to the left of my front door yesterday, late afternoon, just as evening descended.  A clever insect, the lacewing eats garden pests, explaining why you can buy them so easily online.

What the sales slip won't tell you is this: the tiny flyer with delicate-looking wings belongs to the insect order Neuroptera, which first appeared 1,000,000,000 years ago.




Tuesday, November 22, 2011


Some ants herd aphids and mealybugs, protecting the little honeydew-producing critters so they, the ants, can slurp up their sweet excretions.

On this dreary moving-into-winter day, mutualism doesn't sound like a bad deal.  I wouldn't mind if some large beast came along and herded me, protected me, took care of me, and ate up my refuse.

I might even call that beast Honey-Do.

Monday, November 21, 2011


What was once a caterpillar is now a butterfly.

 October 25

November 21

My friend Lydia let me come over and take its picture.  We thought if we unzipped the netting, he or she would fly off.  Instead, the Gulf Fritillary moved toward the fresh air, inhaled, and waited.  Maybe tomorrow.

Now that Lydia knows the caterpillars eat maypops, she'll be planting plenty before next summer.

And I'll know just where to look!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Can You See Me Now?

Today, I met a couple at the lake I've run into several times.  They are funghi foragers.

We chatted about mushrooms and dragonflies, and before parting I said, "See?  There's one!"

Neither saw the female Autumn Meadowhawk till I slid down the bank, approached the rock, and pointed.

And she was hiding in plain sight, just like these.




Can you see me now?

Saturday, November 19, 2011

When Is That Fat Lady Going to Sing Anyway?

O brave new world that has such creatures in it!

Note to self: to avoid the painful conniptions of trying to take pictures with my left hand only, next time offer the left forefinger as the perch.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Longlegged Flies

A lonely walk around Lake Cheston this morning.  

First ice -- patchy, disappointing.

Four flying geese -- too far away to photograph or record.

And a school of longlegged flies, an insect I had never before seen, probably because I couldn't see anything well until after my eye surgery in January.  

Tiny glints of sunlight, I thought they were, until I realized the flecks were flying and striding along the water with clear purpose.  Once I realized the silvery glints were diaphanous wings, I stalked them along the shoreline, even dropping a glove into the bourbon-colored water.

Finally, I managed two shots good enough for identification.  Bugguide to the rescue yet again: Longlegged Flies: Genus Hydrophorus.  Species: Unknown.  Here, I hit the wall.

Wonder why?

There are nearly 50 of them!

Perhaps I'll call mine Good Company on a Cold Day.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

I agree with the deer:

hydrangea are delicious.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Eye Candy

When I was in elementary school, my mother sold the World Book.  I've always wondered why, but I suspect it was because she got a free set for us.

I loved that encyclopedia.  I would sit for hours alone, in the den, on the floor, with one volume.  I might have looked up something for school, but I'd forget it within ten minutes.  I paged through, looking and looking and looking like a picky eater who moves from one good thing to another.

Now my eye candy is the Internet, where I sometimes happen on a remarkable site, like 500px.  A former student posted her web page on Facebook, and then as I did years ago, I started skipping from photographer to photographer to photographer.

There's just one problem with such eye candy: envy.  Oh, how I want a camera with amazing macro ability.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Trout Fishing in North Carolina

Of late, my nephew-in-law has been taking C, his son and my great-nephew, trout fishing in and around Brevard, where they live.  Mostly, they throw back the catch, though at least once C caught dinner all by himself.

He has become Nature Boy, write large.  Knowledgeable about bugs and flowers, now he is adding fish to his bank of facts and, more importantly, respectful pleasures.  Two days ago, my niece even emailed that he had even taken my Christmas book, Bugs with Attitude, to show-and-tell at school.

He's a sweet spirit and a darn good naturalist!

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Miracle Treat

My cousin Alice came to visit briefly ten days ago for her reunion, and because she is Alice, she arrived with gifts: home-baked bread and her miraculous cheese straws.

Cheese straws may well be my favorite southern treat, and Alice's Alabama cheese straws are the best I have ever eaten.  Bar none.  Cheddary and spicy hot, the little crackers snap in the mouth and burst with flavor.

I don't know who invented the cheese straw, but I sure as heck know who perfected it.  And I'm well pleased she's a member of my own family.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Dignity of Stone


On my way in to hear John Johns play guitar, St. Luke's Chapel alights like butter brickle stacked against a suddenly feathery blue sky.

So good to be here,
at this moment,
in this place.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Fifteen Minutes

That's all I had before work.  I drove to Lake Cheston, got out of the car, walked briskly down to the dam, and immediately saw a Common Checkered Skipper and a Variegated Fritillary.  I walked three more paces and there she was: a single Autumn Meadowhawk, sunning.

Two freezes, several cold nights, and still a dragonfly.  I continue to be impressed.

The fat lady hasn't sung yet.

Friday, November 11, 2011

In Praise of a Slow Stream

Just below the small footbridge on South Carolina's sidewalk, at the edge of Abbo's Alley, a slow moving stream collects the season's detritus, swirling leaf-fall and shadow in shallow water, above silt and pebble.

I hunkered and looked for a long while this morning, narrowing my focus to a series of small and smaller shifting scenes.  Had I not needed to work, I'd have happily spent the day.

Now, at home hours later, looking at the pictures, I wonder why I have filled my house with art: all I need do is walk outside to find my fill.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

These Are My People

When he was a little boy, my nephew said, "I want to be a cowboy artist."  And he was: in his boots, with six-guns strapped, he worked at his easel, making beautiful pictures.

Last year, on seeing his first-born daughter in The Nutcracker,  he asked, "How do you get to do that?" with reference to the men in the party scene.

This year he and his two daughters (middle and right) will appear in The Nutcracker.

As they said in their birthday note to him yesterday morning, he's "not old yet."

In my heart, he will never be an old man: he will always be the boy with the artist's heart.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Years ago, at the Denver Art Museum a trompe l'oeil show featured paintings so fool-the-eye real I fought a natural response to write on paper (which wasn't paper), to sniff flowers (that weren't flowers), and to walk through doors (that weren't doors).  

Oddly, the loose collection of leaves blown onto the weathered wood of a moldy bridge reminds me of those paintings with their sharp edges and surreal colors. If I could paint, I would paint such simple lines, such brilliant colors, such sharp shadows, and space would open from canvas like Alice's rabbit hole.  I would be lost, and I would be happy.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A Fire Within

This afternoon, between the rec center and University Avenue, one back-lit tree licked the sky like some tortured, enraptured El Greco figure afire on darkening ground. 

Across the triangle, another joined the hymn of autumn and sun, their duet a remarkable crescendo of yellow and orange and gold.

I was driving home, but had to stop to pay homage.  Just as I reached one tree, a policeman pulled up to the curb, stopped, got out, said, "Don't miss the other."

"Oh I'm walking there next," I said and added, "I was driving home but I had to stop to take pictures."

"I know what you mean.  Just the other day I took a picture of an alumni group in the same place.  Isn't it beautiful?" he asked, not expecting an answer.  "Only in Sewanee," he said before turning toward the gym.

Maybe not only in Sewanee.  But only in Sewanee do these two particular trees flame into evening.