Saturday, March 31, 2012

Before Flight

Some years ago, after seeing the wreckage of a commercial air disaster -- white-sheeted bodies, suitcases, seats, and scavengers strewn along an interstate -- I became wary of flight.  Liftoff meant the seemingly simultaneous rising and sinking of my gut, my knuckles whitening with my grip on the seat's arm rests.  Slowly, over years, I lost that fear, flew without thinking, enjoying the drowsiness of hum and vibration.

I thought about that wreck today as I crossed the metal bridge, where abandoned exuviae still held to struts, some dragonflies jerked on emerging from their former selves, and others grasped cement or metal while strengthening, coloring.  The lucky ones will perform aeronautic feats with ease.

But two Common Baskettails looked to be groundlings, not acrobats, wings crumpled and hardening, their chances of flight slim.  Fated by DNA or perhaps a dog's paw, one offered a crushed eye.  The other looked normal from a distance, deformed only close.  These have already crashed without ever having lifted off.

At least the children in that plane so many years ago had flown in their parents' arms and at their parents' side.  How many others, though, like these dragonflies, never fulfill their promise because of accident or circumstances of birth?  

And how many of us are like the scavengers searching among the dead's effects, thinking only of ourselves, watching from safety?

Friday, March 30, 2012

Thursday, March 29, 2012

No Itsy-Bitsy Spider


Meet Larinioides cornutus (Furrow Orbweaver) [I think], a fat, feisty spinner hung between struts on the Blue Corporal bridge.  Tiny diaphanous-winged creatures caught in the web fluttered a flit, and just like that the spider spun each for a tidy meal.
Horrible, even horrifying perhaps, especially in imagination, this spider is every bit the spring beauty as my dragonflies.  I shall have to acquire a new aesthetic.
Or at least work on doing so. 

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Sacred Space

On October 30, I joined other art co-conspirators in Julie Puttgen's Sewanee Pilgrimage.  We placed tsatsas ("miniature versions of Buddhist stupas, or markers of sacred space," as Julie explains on her website) in the places each of us finds sacred.  

I placed my first under the rail of Lake Cheston's iron bridge , where I became interested in dragonflies.  It seems to have worked magic.

Thank you, Julie, and thank you, odonata, for your prodigious emergences. 

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Seeing Is Believing

Some things are just so . . . well . . . strange that it's hard to believe them.

And then you get lucky.

You see them.

Like this nymph, emerged from the water and wandering a foot bridge for the perfect place to hang, where it will shed its skin and emerge as a dragonfly.



Monday, March 26, 2012

Lake Cheston's Getting Crowded!

In two-and-a-half hours: emergence; tenerals and adults; at least five species of dragonfly and two of damselfly; couplings and ovipositing; plenty of flying and flitting and posturing.  In a word: joy!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Least Among Them

So many dragonflies emerged this morning that I lost count.  On rocks, reeds, sand -- they pulled out of their exuviae, hung to gather strength, then heaved themselves up and out to hang dangerously over water.  A strong wind blew their weak wings, wrapping them round their bodies, flapping like celophane flags.

Among the many were a few too deformed to fly.  Still they grew, lengthened, darkened, hung on.

It's the hanging on I am still thinking about -- the way they grasped and held despite the wind, driven by instinct and riven by wind.  For them I have one hope something like a prayer: may they not have suffered a slow drowning in the lake, but may they have made a bird's or fish's quick meal.

Saturday, March 24, 2012


A one-hour venture to Lake Cheston at about 9 this morning in spitting rain making 60 degrees feel like 50 and as soon as I step down into the curve of the dam, there they are: a quintet of dragonflies in various stages of emergence.
Friends were also there -- one on a laptop under the trees, the other in a boat.  Come see, I urged, and they did, and we enjoyed the music of their unfolding.
I hope they later found that sliver of afternoon sun!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Primary Colors

Sometimes there are no words for spring.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Ordinary Made Extraordinary

When the weather warms, dragonflies emerge along the shore of Lake Cheston.  That's ordinary.  What's extraordinary is that I can walk down to a shore and immediately find one particular dragonfly emerging, like this one near the beach or another at the dam.
When I go to my on-ground work, I ordinarily wear shoes.  What's extraordinary is that today I wore shoes from different pairs.  I didn't even know it till I got home, dropped my keys on the doormat, bent over, and noticed my feet.
 Spring means leafing and blossoming.  That's ordinary.  What's extraordinary is that I am lucky enough to live in a beautiful place where redbuds, crabapples, lilacs, dogwoods (pink and white and kousa [later blooming]), forsythia, Japanese maples, kwanzan and yoshino cherries, daffodils, tulips, and countless wildflowers blossom all along the way home.  
I make a turn and what's truly extraordinary is that I don't audibly gasp.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Momentary Meander

Before a medical appointment, I meandered through Harvey's Garden, a jewel-tone oasis of plants in Winchester. 

A shield bug lazed in the sun, the gardener pruned, bees buzzed and robins called to one another from the branches of flowering trees not yet flowering.  

Fuschia crabapple, pink and white dogwoods, snowball trees, tender green leaves feathering true blue sky: dizzying colors that made me feel I was packed lightly into an Easter basket.

Thank you, Templeton family, for your gift to birds, bees, and me.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

My Own Backyard

Today, a friend took me to Old Stone Fort State Archaeological Park in Manchester, Tennessee.  A beautiful meadow waved amber grasses and swarmed with no-see-ums; a root-riddled trail meandered below the wall of the ceremonial ground; and an even lower path skirted the edge of a racing river, punctuated with spectacular waterfalls.  Underfoot, countless Spring Beauties, Hepatica, and other wildflowers sprouted.
I loved the walk, but I loved even more the view of my own backyard, where the falling-into-dust sun lit up redbud and tulip poplars, glowing like embers before a greening forest.
 There's no other place like it. 

Monday, March 19, 2012

A Matter of Perspective

I love novels because they take me into someone else's experience of living.  Vicarious pleasure, of course, but more than that: writers provide the texture of others' lives so that for the length of the book (and sometimes long afterwards) I feel other.  (And, perhaps, smarter, given this provocative opinion piece from the New York Times.)
 What writer can take me inside the insect perspective?  I've read plenty and plenty of it has been fascinating and insightful, informative and moving.  But nothing I've read moves me like standing still, for half an hour perhaps, or sitting still, for an hour perhaps, and simply looking.
I see wonders and hear them and feel them in the air, and sometimes on me.  Then I begin to feel other.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Emergence and Transformation

A male Blue Corporal, exuvia beneath him, held to the grass in a strong breeze, and while I watched, his wings slowly elongated, translucent amber body assumed deeper and deeper color, abdomen lengthened, and wings finally snapped open.  I left, knowing he would fly.
My former student Kelsey came to visit, her hair growing out, acceptance and courage hiding behind an impish smile. She returns to her nematode research this summer, on the possible path to discovering what might make an otherwise hostile soil fertile.
In late afternoon, clouds scud like fish scales across blue sky, shifting, deepening, drifting, on a day of celebration for the living, and those who hold on.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Palate Cleansing

After papers, 
May Apples &
apple blossoms:
palette cleansers
for sore eyes.

Friday, March 16, 2012


I've read the book.

I've seen tulips in grocery stores, flower shops, and in photographs of fields.
My mother even grew a few.

today I became a certified and certifiable tulipomaniac! (Thanks, Lydia!)

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Rites of Spring

The toads gather in the shallows along Lake Cheston's dam and sing and plop and mate, sending impressively gelid strings of eggs into spaghetti-like clumps, floating thickly above winter's truck tracks.  These are the rites of spring I celebrate with as much gusto as Stravinsky's music musters.

Behind us, others celebrate their own spring rite (should I say riot?) with beer and swimming, country music blaring from the pickup truck at full volume, polluting the lake and its surrounds with their own thoughtless amusement.

Toad or local on holiday in public place?  Give me an American Toad any day!