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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
There are nearly 50 of them!
Perhaps I'll call mine Good Company on a Cold Day.
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, like500px. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.