Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Work Well Done

When I moved to Sewanee, I thought a skipper piloted a boat or bounced down the sidewalk.  Only about four years ago did I hear the word in connection with the little butterflies (family Hesperiidae) found so frequently on summer flowers.

Then a couple of years ago, I started photographing Lepidoptera, but while I learned the names of all the butterflies I snapped, I mastered only the Common Checkered and Duskywing skippers.  There are so many of them, and they are so small. 

Just recently, two Sewanee students (with the advice and counsel of their professor David Haskell), published Guide to Sewanee's Butterflies, a delightful, well-researched, and beautifully illustrated book.  Already, it has become one of my favorite guides.  Today, photographing again in Lydia's garden, I spotted a brilliant skipper on a flower of complementary color.  I managed two shots before it darted off.  At home, I opened the book online and immediately found my insect (I think): a Zabulon Skipper.

Thanks again to work well done, I am navigating my way into a new stream.

Monday, July 30, 2012

By Special Request

In her absence, Lydia's garden blossoms.  May she come home soon!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Photographing Red

A former student's beautiful Facebook photograph of a red flower captures what I find so hard to shoot: red things with contour, shadow, and three-dimensionality.  Under her picture, I commented, "Red is so dadgum difficult to photograph!"  She replied, "Yes, it blows out so easily, doesn't it?"


Caressing a Cardinal Flower this afternoon with my eyes, I kneeled in not-yet-hardened-muck and, like a penitent, sought spiritual guidance.  I surely earned forgiveness if not transcendence.  I could not, no matter how many snaps I took, quite capture the beauty of the flower renowned for its attractiveness to Ruby-throated Hummingbirds.

My heart fluttered as a bird's wings might whir, and while I did not pierce the long throat of flower -- dusting my head with pollen -- I pierced the afternoon sky with bloody blossom.  Today, that was pleasure enough.

Saturday, July 28, 2012


To know the word
find a tomato vine
hung with ripe
ripening fruit
like pendant coral
gems of the garden
sweet, tart, juiced
lift the limb
palm one tomato
careful not to
break its hold
thumb the skin
roll the weight
and know summer

Friday, July 27, 2012

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Wondering Why

Yesterday, a friend asked, "How did you come to be such a wonderful dragonfly photographer?  Were you always interested in them?"

I answered her, easily and quickly: "Two years' interest.  I'm trying to identify all the species here on the Domain.  They're really hard to photograph, so it's fun to try to snap them."

This is true, but I don't think it's the whole truth or the deepest truth.  Why, I have been wondering all day, do I spend so much time each day looking at and photographing dragonflies? 

If I don't hunt and snap, I am unhappy, grow physically restless, feel my energy sap and zap.  There is something about being outside, alone, looking at creatures that I used not to see, finding them everywhere.  Sunday, I drove with a friend almost an hour away to an orchard.  Three times or four, I exclaimed as we started to leave a spot, "Look!  There's a dragonfly!"  They are always with me.

So much surrounds us every day, outside of ourselves and in.  Choosing what to attend to is what I do.  Creative focus itself alleviates loneliness, disappointment, anxiety, listlessness, . . . .  You name the ailment and I respond, Look!  There!

I hope you will see what I think I have found.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Transportation Blues

I suppose I should be grateful: the 12-year-old Nissan Sentra has taken me 200,000 miles at  very little cost.  However, it refuses to move even after $500-worth of repairs only two and a half weeks ago.

Grateful is not the first word to leap to mind.  At least not for my car, but certainly it is for my friend Jill who has let me borrow her truck till the "newer" car arrives.

Sewanee is the kind of place where the transportation blues can be friended away.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Healthier Living and Unintended Consequences

My 12-year-old car has officially died.  I am now Carless in Sewanee.

As a result, I bike or walk where I once drove.  For three days running, I have biked to Lake Cheston, 1.5 or 1.7 miles each way (depending on the route).  I can feel muscles in my lower back that I had forgotten were there.  They are now unhappily announcing themselves.  My legs feel stronger already.

Better health may be an unintended consequence of a hunk of metal junk stuck at the end of my driveway.

But so may be a few startling pictures, especially those I took today at a friend's horse pasture.  Had I driven by, I'd never have seen yesterday's Spot-winged Glider swarm or today's Swift Setwings.

When I get a car that works, I may have to reconsider my travel habits.

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Perfect Fruit

The Asian pear --
a speckled orb
neither gold nor olive,
with firm opal flesh
and wet crunch --
spills its juice:
summer's pure

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Toadstool or Mushroom?

I don't care!

After rain, the earth spoke fungus, and thus it was: red, chocolate, white, yellow, maroon toes and umbrellas and  awkward lumps, small and large, bumpy and smooth.

Whether toadstool or fungus, whether edible or poisonous, their variety and beauty deserve celebration.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The South in My Mouth

My car is dead, despite my having spent $500 to fix it two weeks ago.

Thousands of sugar ants are swarming my kitchen counter, despite the Terro.

My insteps are screaming like banshees on a moonless night.

But life couldn't be better than a plate of Cherokee Purple tomatoes and purple hull peas, both fresh and locally grown.

Enough said.

Friday, July 20, 2012

There Are Limits

beyond which I wouldn't . . . well . . . go.

A friend alerted me to this video, which offers the most amazing view of dragonfly eating.  It also shows the lengths to which well-meaning people might go.

Were I to meet the woman, I would ask questions.  Are you certain the dragonfly can't fly?  (I've seen plenty of them fly with one or two severely damaged wings.)  When you picked up the clubtail, how did you make sure you wouldn't injure the wings?  (I can't help thinking they're crunched in the palm of her hand somehow.)  Did you keep feeding the dragonfly throughout its life span?

I thought I was a bit cuckoo.

Until I saw this.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

My Senses Shook

The air moistening and the sky graying, I thought I should leave the lake without making the full loop, but pressed on anyway.  I think I am glad I did.

On the path to the beach, something rustled ahead, and I looked, glimpsed gray feathers, thought Heron! and tiptoed on, careful not to startle the bird.  Closer, I focused on its head, the one yellow eye, the beak, and thought I could continue to sneak without frightening it.   Only much closer did I realize it seemed stuck in a vine, struggling to get to safety into the woods.  It flopped over, opened its wide wings, closed the left one, and sort of lumped onto the leaves.

Then I knew: it was injured.

I ran to the car, drove to Lynne's house (she had saved an owl and would know what to do).  We went to the lake, and she saw what I had missed: blood along the edge of the path.  She called Margaret (Margaret rescues birds) at two different numbers, found a message at both.  Then she called Lucia, who knew David's phone number, which Lynne called.  No answer.  We drove to David's house, rang the bell, but only Junebug answered with vigorous barking.  Then we went to the shop to get the cell number for Sarah, David's wife.  She didn't know where he was, but she would let him know. 

Within the hour while I readied for work, they returned to the bird.  David picked it up, found the leg torn away right into the bone, and moved the heron further into the woods.  Later, he dispatched it, writing "the heron's end was swift and probably painless.  Let's hope wherever its life goes after here is less broken."

Yes, let's hope.  And let's thank those who came to the rescue as a result of my chance encounter, one that has left "my senses shook," as Richard Wilbur wrote in "The Groundhog."

I shall miss watching that Great Blue Heron fish in the shallows.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Red-letter Day?


Yellow Nature Day.

Before a big rain (and I mean BIG in the sense of powerful thunder and sudden darkness), I spent an hour outside and remembered my mother's morning wake-up call, "Rise and shine!"

Even the single dragonfly I snapped in flight shone: an ovipositing Wandering Glider.

Like the sunflower that follows the sun, I follow my feet on a daily wander, and I always wonder.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

On Waking

Some mornings
(this one)
wear silence
like the moment
just before waking
suspended between
not and is,
the body
hangs or holds
to a slender thread-
like stem.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Thinking about Blogging, Blogs, and the Internet

Thursday, I will give a blogging workshop for university students.  I have worked on my PowerPoint presentation to accompany the online workshop for a couple of weeks, first off and on and then in a concentrated manner on the weekend.  My head is filled with information, and my eyes are dizzy with the array of blogs and bloggers.

In the middle of my research, a friend and I talked about photography and dragonflies and the Web.  He commented that the Internet allowed others to see private pursuits and obsessions in a way never allowed before.  He's right.  Before the popular version of the Internet introduced in the 1990s, only serious birders would meet other birders, for example.  Now anyone can take a peek, and sometime the peek is fascinating.

Here are a few of my favorites:
  1. Clouds 365 Project Blog posted by photograph Kelly DeLay
  2. I Love Charts curated by Jason and Cody (this blog has become a book)
  3. NeverSeconds published by a British schoolgirl
  4. Paper and Salt combines author portraits and anecdotes with recipes
  5. A Lady in London provides delightful armchair traveling
  6. The Everywhereist written by a young traveler who recently had brain surgery
It's a comfort, oddly, to know that thousands of strangers out there are as driven as I by some quirky topic that they write to unknown audiences every day.  Perhaps we aren't so strange, and perhaps we aren't strangers.

Thanks to the Internet.

And now I add my photo of a Great Blue Skimmer to the 133 others published online in the last week, and with it and this photo I join the strange conversation!

Sunday, July 15, 2012


Even my friend Jill thought it odd when I went to such lengths to secure Tatty, the camouflaged looper, a place where he/she could move on to his/her next stage of development.

After taking final pictures, I held the large vase with Tatty's bouquet and drove down and up and around seriously twisty streets to Jill's house (not an easy feat in a stick-shift car).  There, I deposited Tatty on his/her flower with two other blooms (I stuck them in the dirt [Jill's idea]) in a shady bed of zinnias.

Yes, nature may take its course.  Tatty may be eaten by some other being.  However, Tatty may pupate and some day emerge as a moth.

In either case -- death or life, I have not been the god who determined the outcome.

This is my constant paradox.  I eat animals but don't kill them myself.  Perhaps it's time to re-think the eating habit, just as I re-thought the pleasure of a tatterdemalion caterpillar in my living room.

For now, I feel as if I have met my responsibility, and for a while, I think I shall avoid that section of Jill's garden.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Cute as a . . .

At the Saturday market, I used to be known as "the scone lady."

I am definitely now "the bug lady."

(Or perhaps "the crazy lady.")

My friend Lynne stopped at my little table to tell me that Carlene, "the flower lady," wanted to show me something -- an inchworm decked out in flowery bits.

Just as the market was heating up with customers, I couldn't leave my scones and my money.

A few minutes later, Lynne returned with the bouquet, and sure enough ensconced (there is no other word for the caterpillar's comfortable position) in the middle of a zinnia was a flower-garlanded inchworm.

Later, as I was leaving the market, Carlene insisted I take the bouquet home so the inchworm could live with me.  So I did.

And now I think I know what it is: a camouflaged looper, a Wavy-lined Emerald who will grow up (if it survives my house) into this.

Meanwhile, I shall call it "Tatterdemalion" or "Tatty" for short.  Ain't it cute?

 P.S.  Please note that I am committed to the looper and his poop!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Oxford on My Mind

If I had spent today in Oxford,

I would have breakfasted here on Muesli, toast, tea and milk;

I would have sat in the Fellows' Garden

and looked out over the Radcliffe Camera;

I would have read for a while in the Chapel;

I would have walked through the Porter's Lodge and out the gate onto Turl Street;

I would have ambled through the Covered Market;

I would have walked along the tow path and listened to the geese and coots;

I would have sat at Iffley Lock to watch a boat move through;

I would have admired the flowers at the Botanic Garden;

I would have ogled fountain pens at Pens Plus on High Street;

I would have attended a choral Evensong;

I would have lifted a pint with friends;

and I would have been happy.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

A Day for Quiet Gray Brown Things

A third day of rain, the good kind -- gentle, steady, all-day and night.

At the shop, a customer opened the door, and a small gray-brown tabby cat trotted straight up the steps, right down the center aisle.  I scooped it up, plopped it outside, but within five minutes it shot past another customer.  Once again, s/he was deposited on the damp landing.  A compact cat (a cobby, I think), well fed, seeking a little shelter, but surprisingly dry despite the rain.

At home, a small gray-brown moth (a Tulip-tree Beauty), striped like the cat, stretched across a two-postage-stamp-sized spot next to my doorbell.  Its scalloped silhouette and softly muted pattern like an elaborate bit of scalloped flannel or a remnant of a Victorian shawl.  Before dark, it had settled in a dry spot.

The gray-brown cat and the gray-brown moth, welcome and unassuming familiars in muted weather.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Fire This Time

Big rain, welcome
rain.  Afterwards,
every thing glistens:
russet wings,
amber abdomen,
scarlet leaves,
silvered water,
branch filigree.
Sewanee's big gulp.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Great Blue Heron, Lake Cheston, July 10

Damselfly, Trout, Heron
by John Engels

The damselfly folds its wings
over its body when at rest. Captured,
it should not be killed
in cyanide, but allowed to die
slowly: then the colors,
especially the reds and blues,
will last. In the hand
it crushes easily into a rosy
slime. Its powers of flight
are weak. The trout

feeds on the living damselfly.
The trout leaps up from the water,
and if there is sun you see
the briefest shiver of gold,
and then the river again.
When the trout dies
it turns its white belly
to the mirror of the sky.
The heron fishes for the trout

in the gravelly shallows on the far
side of the stream. The heron
is the exact blue of the shadows
the sun makes of trees on water.
When you hold the heron most clearly
in your eye, you are least certain
it is there. When the blue heron dies,
it lies beyond reach
on the far side of the river.

Great Blue Heron at Lake Cheston

Monday, July 9, 2012

Common Names

"And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof.  And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field . . . . (Genesis 2:19-20).

I've always wondered what language Adam used to name all the animals.  And did he name all the plants and flowers and algae and bacteria as well?  If I think like a Biblical literalist, I would have to believe so, even though the Bible is largely silent on things like Pigweed Flea Beetles, for example.

But perhaps like other great origin tales, Adam is a representative of the naming spirit of people, not of a person.  If so, then many scientists, including Dennis Paulson  and Sidney Dunkle, are Adams. 

Paulson and Dunkle, "discussing the need to encourage wider studies of dragonflies by amateur naturalists, attempted to generate a set of common names for the North American fauna" (Paulson, 2012, 32).  Published, criticized, revised, and adopted, that list is now in wide use as a complement to the scientific names of Odonata.

This fellow, for example, is Pacydiplax longipennis

That's quite a mouthful, isn't it?  Especially for this lively little dragonfly.  Imagine seeing one, obelisking as he is, and exclaiming, "Look! A Pachydiplax longipennis turning his abdomen to the sun to minimize exposure to the burning rays!"

As for me, I prefer something like this, "Look at that clever little Blue Dasher doing his cool-down pose!" 

Thanks to Paulson and  Dunkle (and countless others who contributed to their naming) I can enjoy the poetry (Halloween Pennant) and familiarity (Great Blue Skimmer) of the Odes I photograph.

Paulson, D.  Dragonflies and damselflies of the East.  2011.  Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Different Points of View

Last night after Melancholia ended, Boo said, "Why didn't anybody help her?"

At 90, my friend Boo is still what I'd call a literal "reader," in this case of movies.  She brings her lifteime of experience as a social worker to every Saturday night Netflix.  She never surrenders to the world of the fiction, but always assumes that the director or writer failed when characters are troubled and not "helped."

It's an odd thing to watch a movie with Boo because we come at the imaginative experience from totally different points of view.  Were I still teaching literature, I'd find her a frustrating student because she can never suspend her disbelief. 

Boo added, "I know.  You don't have to answer that.  What did you think?"

"I thought the movie was a beautiful (though heavy-handed) exploration of the suffocation of sadness."

"You would think that," she said.  "Now get me some more ice cream, please."

About ice cream, at least, we agree: chocolate and lots of it.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Mrs. Mayes Makes Magic

every Saturday morning at the summer Gardeners' Market.

Some folks buy 'em.  Me, I snap 'em.

Guess whose pleasure lasts longer!

Friday, July 6, 2012

In the Swarm

The Halloween Pennant flew away, again, and I stood to look for it.

What I saw was not that single dragonfly, but a mass -- a swirling, dipping, lifting swarm of feeding Wandering (or Spot-winged, I still don't know which) Gliders.

I've read about such phenomena, and two Sewanee folks told me about a swarm in the same general neighborhood last summer.  Standing in one, however, is a whole other thing.  It is just flat-out awesome. 

An hour and more, I stood and then knelt among them.  I tried, unsuccessully, to photograph them.  And when they moved, I moved with them -- from the field beyond Farm Pond, to the edge of the dam, and then on to the road back to the Equestrian Center.  Dozens and dozens of them taunted and teased and entertained me.

Later, I read David Haskell's essay "A Closer Look," in which he wrote,  "Nature is a vast and ancient manuscript: we've recovered and read only scraps."

Today, I banqueted on a scrap, and it was delicious.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Of Rain and the Lack of it

Every day, the water recedes from the land at Lake Cheston.  Deer tracks dimple mud where lilies used to grow and dragonflies emerged.  Tuesday, the yard man came to mow and kicked up so much dust I felt transported to some 1950s TV western.  I half-expected a horse and rider to appear through the swirling cloud.

According to the Sewanee Mountain Messenger, we have received only 17 inches of rain so far this year.  One lakes reserved for our water are down six feet and two respectively  The University forestry and geology lab coordinator is quoted as saying, "This is not the driest year on record, but we are on track for perhaps the driest year yet."
Dry is dry, and Sewanee is dry. 

The evening's dramatic, short storm brought an hour's relief, but I long for those steady drenching rains I remember from childhood, which teased earthen scents through the air like a good perfume and pattered and splashed just beyond the window screen.

Come on, rain!  I've missed you!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Unbearable Loveliness of Neighbors

Mine bring me out of myself -- every now and then.  And for that and so many other things, I thank them.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012


Andy Griffith died today, and while millions remember him as television's favorite small-town sheriff or country lawyer, I will always remember him for "What It Was, Was Football," a monologue I first heard as a child.  Even then I laughed.  And tonight, listening to it again, I laughed again.

Andy Griffith was a classic: an actor, musician, comic who entertained people for almost 60 years without ever resorting to demeaning people or using profane language.  That's quite a feat, one well deserving of the Medal of Freedom former president Bush bestowed on him a few years back.

When I listened to the recording on You Tube just now, eyes closed, I could hear ice tinkle in minted tea, feel the scratch of the living room's sisal rug on my bare legs and a warm breeze snake through the screen porch, and hear my father's laughter. 

Tonight I feel like the child I once was. 

Andy Griffith may be dead, but his story magic lives, just as my father's laughter does in memory.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Like Angels Dancing on a Pin

Something stirred
the pot of thistle
since Wednesday, when
leaf-footed bug
nymphs dove into
folds of flower
away from the light.

In another light
today, the bug brood,
adult & nymphs,
clambered over one
another, jitter-
bugging under
boiling sun.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Seven Things I Learned or Re-learned This Week

1.  Yellow jackets eat meat.  Witness the group feasting..  (I am thankful someone pointed the frog out to me before I squished it under my sneaker.)

2.  Unlike the Common Green Darners I have seen, the Comet Darner hangs just out of reach, maddeningly testing my balance and my camera.

3.  Ignorance is bliss.  Hornets working away at a tree, stripping it for a nest, seemed docile, so I leaned in.  I don't think I'll be doing that again.

4.  The Blue-winged Wasp is a voracious feeder, weighting the Queen Anne's Lace head like a heavy sleepyhead leaning into Grandma's lacy doily.

5.  Buried at the center of a lily, a common skipper becomes an uncommon Tiffany bauble.

6.  The female Eastern Pondhawk is as described in book after book: a merciless hunter.

7.  Walking with a new friend as OCD as I am about Odanata is a pleasant way to spend part of the day.