Monday, April 30, 2012

Lydia's Garden

Lydia, oh Lydia, quite math'matical,
How does your garden grow?
With pink poppies, red poppies,
Yellow rue, shown in Robley's photos!

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Some Call it S---

The Question Mark pair
and dozen Spring Azures
belly up to the dung bars
(canine and avian).

Everybody eats!

Saturday, April 28, 2012


Today, a bluebird chick poked himself out of the birdhouse and stared out at the world for a long time. I was lucky to be there and to see him.  I came closer and closer and closer until finally his parents, hunting elsewhere in the yard, sensed me and returned.  For another good while, one sat atop a windchime on my deck while the other chirped from a tree near the satellite dish.  I backed up bit by bit till finally the father flew down to the house, protecting his chick.
I am not a parent myself, but I know that feeling of protection and love.  Today, I have been thinking of my niece, whose birthday this is.  She messaged me, "Can you believe I'm 40?"  And I responded, "Well, yes and no."

I see her daughter
and I see her too.
She's still a little chick to me.

Friday, April 27, 2012


into beauty another jogged by.  I know. 

I saw her, plugged into an iPod, race past a Northern Watersnake without so much as a pause.
Not me.

When she ran across the metal bridge, I doubt that she saw the Blue Corporal flailing to free itself from the spider web. 
Not me.  I snapped a picture and then set it free.

When she rounded the bend just beyond, where passion flowers will bloom and blackberries will plump, I doubt that she noticed the new Lancet Clubtail perched atop a wild rose blossom.

Not me.

We both blundered this morning -- she past ordinary miracles for the sake of physical exercise, I into ordinary miracles for the sake of spiritual exercise.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Falling in Love Again

As a child, I fixed on the stars.  I wanted to see them up close and personal.  A family friend had a telescope, and I wanted one, too.  Instead, I got a beautiful National Geographic book about the universe.  It was good, and I was pleased.

When satellites circled the earth, I tracked them till my neck hurt.  When a dog or a man flew in a capsule, I pictured myself there, looking out a window or a porthole.  I didn't know what I'd see, but I knew it would be beautiful.

The summer that astronauts first landed on the moon, I watched on a black-and-white television with fellow college actors in Boston.  Only when the capsule opened and Armstrong descended the steps did we dare to breathe.

Later, I watched space shuttle flights, and still later I obsessed over the incredible photographs made possible by the Hubble.

And now, today, I read about a man who has found small meteorites from the fireball that streaked across the western sky just this last weekend.  In his photograph, he holds a small bit of carbonaceous chondrite, dating back four to five billion years.  

Billion with a B.  

The time of the early formation of the solar system.

Imagine: holding the beginning of time in the hand.

I can imagine that when I look into the iris each spring.  Cells sparkle with starlight in the inward-turning petals.  The center spirals fiery color outwards.  The blossom opens and then folds in on itself, like a universe bending and expanding in time.

I have not traveled to the stars, but I saw them today.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Third Time. No Charm.

For the third time, I rounded a curve toward the metal bridge and heard a bird choughing.  For the first time, I knew who it was.  For the third time, I saw it glide on wide wings into the forest.  An owl.

Third time.  No charm at Lake Cheston this morning except for this obliging female Blue Corporal.  She will have to do.

But tomorrow, I shall try again.

Monday, April 23, 2012

So Good to Me

The Mamas and Papas sang two lines that have it just right for me:

Monday, Monday, so good to me
Monday morning, it was all I hoped it would be.

Oh, I love Monday.  In fact, it may be my favorite day of the week.

While others rise to an alarm, shower and dress for work, and then commute, I wake when my body wakes, breakfast in my jammies at the computer (reading email, Facebook, The New York Times,, do some work, and then when I feel like it head outside for a walk.

Today, that meant skipping Lake Cheston (too windy and too cold for dragonflies, or so I thought) for a stroll to Cedar Hollow Lake through woods splatted with spotty sunlight, snaking through shaking leaves.

A catalog of companions makes me sing even now: black cricket; female Blue Corporal; female Common Whitetail; owl; jaunty black cricket; green nymph hunkered beneath blackberry blossom stamens; and countless songbirds.

Return, bath, lunch, a fascinating workshop, more paper reviews and emails, and finally downloading and viewing photographs before online tutoring.

Oh, and I'm still in my jammies.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

All That Glitters

Just dew,
I remind myself.
Just dew.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Other Eyes

An article in yesterday's New York Times points to the melancholy of today's emphasis on student evaluation. 

I have taught for a long time.  I have never liked grading.  In fact I am not sure there can be fair or accurate grading.  Teachers can't fully measure or appreciate what students learn.  So much of it is hidden, or latent, waiting to be awakened, sometimes years later.

In the close of her argument, writer/teacher Claire Needell Hollander, argues the importance of literature in education: "We cannot enrich the minds of our students by testing them on texts that purposely ignore their hearts.  By doing so, we are withholding from our neediest students any reason to read at all.  We are teaching them that words do not dazzle but confound."

The key word here is "dazzle."

All subjects should "dazzle." 

I have been thinking about the science classes I was subjected to, and the science classes that luckier students enjoy here at the college.  I don't remember encountering living beings in biology other than my classmates and teacher.  I learned about flowers and pollination without ever looking at a living plant and I memorized plenty about genetics without ever witnessing the results of a broken code.

Now I feel as if I am doing science on my own.  I am daily dazzled by the world, and I am daily filled with questions.  Do horses befriend one another?  What do they see when they stare at me?  Does the Calico Pennant, too new to fly off from me, see me?  Am I in focus?  In color?  Do I register as dangerous?  Friendly?  Why do the Pennants emerge so slowly now, one at a time, rather than in the swarms of Blue Corporals? 
And why can't schools dazzle students?

Friday, April 20, 2012

A Quiet Evening at Home

Even a quick trip out to retrieve a bird feeder means brief entry into the strange world of insects.  Just before I put my hand on the deck post, something caught my eye.  I ran inside, grabbed the camera, came back out, and started snapping.

Crane flies like this pair have been wobbling all over Sewanee for several weeks now.  I have watched them stuttering in the grass, lifting upwards as if on thermals, mating on leaves and grass, and ovipositing in the lake. 

I snapped and snapped this pair, and they never blinked or moved.  (Can they blink?  Do they blink?)  If insects can have calm and dignity, this pair had calm and dignity.

Here's what I have learned so far about crane flies: adults do not eat; adults live only a few days and only to mate and oviposit eggs; larvae live in water and eat decaying plant matter; "swarms of males dance above treetops looking for females"; nicknames include "leatherjackets"; the little knobby "lollipops" behind the wings are halteres, which function as gyroscopes when "flapped rapidly"; and "at least 4,256 species of crane flies have been described, most of them (75%)" by one man.

Read that again: 4,256 species.  Now that's a number that puts humankind to shame.  Impressive, yes?

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Mornings Like This

make me happy.

1.  A student and I rescued a turtle from certain squishing on South Carolina and Florida.
2.  Viewed from under the tree canopy shading the Lady's Slippers, I saw the lake open like a turquoise geode.
3.  A millipede lay in a sun pocket.
4.  My first-ever Green Heron glided out of a tree at my elbow and sailed across the lake, and I long admired the bird's beauty.
5.  Dragonflies fluttered and buzzed around me like cards on bicycle spokes and clung to my jacket and cap.
6.  Blackberry flowers strutted their stuff.
7.  Blue Corporals and Fragile Forktails posed like Playboy models, spread out on impossibly green leaves. 

Today, I loved my life.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Yet Another View from Here

Before the storm, thunder rolling behind me, I can't resist one last long look, past the Blue Corporal on the right rock, into the space just above the water where two bluets, three Stream Cruisers, one Whitetail, one Lancet Clubtail, and other corporals still fly, eating against the onset of night.
One more bite.  Just one.

Monday, April 16, 2012

In Another Light

Unfurled and unfurling,
the yellow iris
puts the sun
to shame.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

A Few Things to Consider

Three centimeters long, about the size of the middle of your pinkie finger; lace-patterned gold-filigree wings, chitin hardening, new now and fragile; the female calico pennant thrusts out into air pushing back like a jet engine and she fights her way to the grass downhill, removed from the water where she could fall and drown, hidden from birds and predatory adult dragonflies and she grasps a grass stem, faces uphill toward the sun, and waits.  And waits.  And waits, before winking into the forest.

Watch her and know some of the terror and beauty of first flight.

Saturday, April 14, 2012


If I were an insect
I would happily
climb into that pouch.

Lady's Slipper

Friday, April 13, 2012


Double pleasures:
hunting & snapping;
transferring & viewing;
occasional surprise:
a twofer.

Exuvia and Eastern Tent caterpillar

Thursday, April 12, 2012

A Calmer Place

I too make poems
with my eyes
reaching for
a calmer place
out of love.

At Jacques Imo's
in New Orleans
Naomi and I laughed,
and in a hotel
restaurant at a
teachers' convention,
Naomi introduced me
to her editor
and we laughed,
and over shared
creamed spinach --
the best she said
she'd ever eaten --
in Murfreesboro,
we laughed.

I have seen her
and she has seen me.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Grounds Crews

Babette's Feast has nothing on these amber ants, dining delicately since yesterday on the remains of a beautiful Common Baskettail. They probe with such culinary cleanliness and cooperation that it is hard not admire them and their solemn duties.
University mowers and weed-eaters -- ear-muffled, cigarette-smoking -- make short work of their crew-cutting grass, wildflowers, weeds, dragonfly exuviae, reeds, spat and flung  like chaff, with impersonal abandon. It is hard not to resent them and their dirty work.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Looking Closely

means seeing just how brutal the insect world is.

or be eaten.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

A Lesson from Baby Suggs

As a tutor, I am helping a Chinese student try to cope with Toni Morrison's Beloved, a brilliant and difficult novel.  The other day, I read aloud passages about Baby Suggs and her study of color.  "I want to think about something harmless in this world," the former slave tells Sethe, her daughter-in-law, who takes her whatever she can find with color.  Sethe remembered that it "took her a long time to finish with blue, then yellow, then green.  She was well into pink when she died."

Today, when friends and family might have been in church or hunting eggs, I was thinking on color. There can be no better way to spend a glorious day.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Morning Warm-up

Natty spider,
you finger
a rock
by sun
warming me.
So big
you dwarf
So black
you shine --
onyx star
of morning
for evening.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Lake Cheston, Breathing

This morning, 
cold wind 
warm water; 
the lake 
dream drapery, 
. . . napkin spread 
by fays." 

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Dewy Morning

When I walked into the library to meet my tutee, Julie asked, "Did you just get a haircut?"

"No," I confessed. "I decided to go to the lake before coming here this morning.  I can take my shower later."

She laughed and added, "You've got your priorities right, Robley!"

Had I showered, I would have missed the emergence of Common Baskettails, lifting my spirits on a dark day.
Fly, Dragonfly! By Joyce Sidman

Water nymph, you have
climbed from the shallows to don
your dragon-colors.
Perched on a reed stem
all night, shedding your skin, you dry
your wings in moonlight.

Night melts into day.
Swift birds wait to snap you up.
Fly, dragonfly!  Fly!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Luxury of Thought

Yesterday, I attended a reading and talk I have long been anticipating.  David Haskell, a Sewanee biology professor, read from and talked about his experience writing The Forest Unseen, published a few weeks ago.

He shared some thoughts about being still in a natural environment, observing a small place and feeling an expanding consciousness, about the tension of cruelty and beauty in the world under our feet and over our heads.  He spoke about the inventiveness and imagination of the "apes" on this planet and their (our) kinship with all things on the planet.

It's that capacity for imagination that this ape activates with every step, alone, outside.  Every thing I see I feel I am beginning to see for the first time.  I walk down my sidewalk at the end of a long day and am struck dumb by the blue-purple un-spinning of a clematis flower, the first of a new season from an old plant, and I stand and look for a long time as if on a miniature cosmos.  

I wonder, and I feel alive.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Robley's Rules for Odonata-Watching at Lake Cheston

  1. Go early.
  2. Slather on the Neutrogena.
  3. Make sure both batteries are fully loaded.
  4. Wear insect pants with long socks pulled over them.
  5. Put on a long-sleeved man's shirt, preferably bought during the all-you-can-stuff-into-one-grocery-bad sale at the Hospitality Shop.
  6. Wear a baseball cap.
  7. Surrender one strong pair of athletic shoes and the orthotic inserts to the rigors of the environment.
  8. Set the camera to the preferred setting as soon as I get out of the car.
  9. Be prepaed: I may get only one shot.
  10. Pause to check out the baskers on the culvert by the gate to the dam.
  11. Check out the area under the trees in the elbow between dam and picnic area.
  12. Find a happy spot and sit or stand.  Still.  Look and listen and let them land.
  13. Move from favorite spot to favorite spot only when satisfied with one area
  14. Never ever push the telephoto past 5X, the end of optical telephoto.
  15. Break rule number 12 for certain damselflies, which cannot come into focus otherwise.
  16. Remember that the experience matters, not the shot.
  17. Go again, mid-afternoon.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Questions without Answers

1.  A few of Dr. Haskell's Field Biology students found this Clubtail, which, because one wing has hardened around a leg, will not fly.  My question is not why did the wing not open properly (perhaps wind at the wrong time), but why have I seen only this single Clubtail at Lake Cheston?  

2.  What is that gooey gelid mass in the water which this dragonfly was protecting so assiduously?  I watched females of his ilk dipping right there.  Were they ovipositing?  Is that mass eggs?
 Wondering and reading continue.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Hungry Heart

Nerd alert!

A friend has called me a "nymph"-o-maniac.  I have called myself an "Odonatamaniac."  But yesterday, I read Mark Edmundson's "Education's Hungry Hearts" in the New York Times.  Now I know what I am: a hungry heart.

Call it what you will -- Nerdiness, "nymph-o-mania," OCD, "hungry heart" -- I have it bad.

And I like it!

Like the best of Edmundson's students, I have "energy to learn . . ., love for learning and openness to experience."  I have dragonfly/damselfly sensitive eyes and the will to wade into and lie down in much to snap the littlest of them all.