Saturday, August 31, 2013

Guess Who?

Carlene pointed out most of the teeny bugs in her flowers at the Gardener's Market this morning -- the little fly, white-and-gold crab spider, and the fat caterpillar eating its way through the ruby dahlia.

But I spotted the camouflaged looper.

"Look!" she said. "It's one of those assassin bugs!"

And so I thought.

Till I came home and looked again and remembered another of her little tag-alongs.


No more guessing who!

Friday, August 30, 2013

Friday Night Date

My Friday night date made the local newspaper today.

Boo and I chatted about the first interview a day or two after the writer talked to her. He's right: the chat didn't go well.

He returned, however, and I think he captured my friend. What do you think?

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Light, Oh, the Light

The light. Oh, how I love light. (Of course, if you read my blog, you already know that.)


Sometimes, the thing I love can be more frustrating than the thing I hate most (probably whining).

Take today, for example. Morning at the lake, when shadows are deep and light is bright. I found the female Blue Dasher in shadow, spotlit by white splats of sun. I took photo after photo, moved all around her (she was willing), but came home irritated and unsatisfied.

Then I paid my phone bill and became even more so. Why do I pay almost $50 for a regular old landline? Maybe it's time to make the change to a cell phone like the one Sewanee resident Stephen Alvarez shows off here.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Itsy-Bitsy Ones

Lake Dimmick does not disappoint: it's a big lake, with a big beautiful sky, and tiny Odonate jewels. One must remember to look down in the brush where they hunt and eat, warm their wings and cool their bodies.

Lake Dimmick
Here are two of my favorite teeny-weenies: a female Little Blue Dragonlet (roughly an inch in length, or a little less) and a female Eastern Amberwing (about an inch in length, or a little less).

This is the Little Blue Dragonlet.
A dragonfly obelisks, turning the underside of her abdomen toward the sun to cool herself. This is the Eastern Amberwing.

Wing warming.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Steady On

Among dozens of Pipevine and Eastern Tiger Swallowtails, this battered butterfly worked flower after flower, content to pull strength through its proboscis and then move on, while the others -- fully winged and tailed, rich in bright color -- hustled and bustled from bloom to bloom, as if always looking for the motherlode on a fast track to success.

Think on this old specimen, not long for this world, and on your grand- or great-grand-relative who, despite the losses that life still delivers, soldiers on, and you will know why for me this is the most beautiful in a garden full of fluttering flyers.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Summer Evenings Long Ago

At some point, when I was a little, little girl, my family spent a few days and nights on the Gulf Coast, Alabama or Mississippi, I don't remember which. What I remember are these things: crabs scuttling in the metal mesh cage which we hung from the dock; my brothers gigging frogs or saying they had and making me squeal (but I don't remember seeing any frogs); playing canasta, a game my mother loved and taught us as soon as we could hold the Bicycle playing cards; and the flicking lamp on the screen porch where we stayed (a cabin perhaps?), glowing golden bugs buzzing beyond.

At another, older age, I remember one moment on one muggy summer evening at my Aunt Ruby and Uncle Alec's creekside cabin south of Birmingham, where, between the shuffleboard court and the screen door, I stopped a moment, just a moment, and looked at the shadows of adults on the other side, lit only by a single golden lamp, the shade ambered with age. They murmured, softly, like a lullaby.

Lying in bed, in the left-side room, in Cabin 1, Redstone Camp on the Black Warrior Camp, I heard the soft thunk of swollen wood slap swollen wood. 

Beersheba Springs Assembly: a single door, a single lamp, so many associations, all of them embracing me like a family's arms.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Nutrition Facts

Late afternoon amble: 2 1/2 hours
Blue sky: sunrise to sunset
Sunshine: sunrise to sunset
Odonate surprise: 3 hawking Clamp-tipped Emeralds
Psychic energy: 383 photographs

Friday, August 23, 2013

A Bad Boy

Do not be fooled by his natty appearance, done up as if appearing in a Broadway show with stylish gangsters.

Stylish this bug might be, and compulsively clean. I watched him preen and clean for a long time this morning, as I hovered over the sticky patch of goldenrod and blackberries near the lake.

He's also a natural-born killer -- of just about any other sizable insect you can name. Know him as a robber fly, Diogmites neoternatus, to be specific.

Me? I can't help thinking of him as some kind of fancy hard candy, butterscotch, with stripes of licorice.

Neverthless, I'm glad he's only an inch in size.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Let's Hear It!

A pop-up blossom in the Lemon Fair window box stretched toward the sun.

Hip hip hooray!

For the volunteer and sunlight!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

A Happy Family

Finally, late this afternoon, the sun appeared after a day's drenching rain. A single patch of light caught my attention beyond my office window. There, a female deer and two young males (look at their velvety horns!) basked, at first only she lying down, nuzzling one of the youngsters, then all three relaxing.

When the dryer buzzed, I moved from to the kitchen, where I spied two more members of the happy family -- still spotted fauns investigating the weeds just behind my deck.

Their appearance, though brief, more than makes up for the deer who ate my virgin's bower clematis last week. After all, how can I blame them for what I love, too? Food, sun, rest, and family.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Three Beautiful (Orange) Things

Recently, I discovered a blog called Three Beautiful Things. In describing it, writer Clare Law has written, "I'm a mother and a writer and an editor. I've been keeping this daily diary since 2004: I started it because I needed a quick and easy-to-keep blog to be like my colleagues at a new job. It's brought me so many wonderful things, and introduced me to many wonderful people; and the practice has helped me take note of life's many tiny pleasures." She and I share this peculiar passion of daily noticing and reporting, and in celebration of our blogging kinship, I write today about three beautiful (orange) things.

For weeks I have wondered where the Autumn Meadowhawks were: more than a month ago, they emerged; I photographed them; and then they departed to mature. Finally, today, I saw a single female, perched in a bit of light, on the path circling the lake. Now, she sports the crimson color of her sexual maturity along her abdomen.

Patient like a high-fashion model, she let me admire her beauty a long time before the coming storm chased us both away.

This morning, I finished reading Alexander McCall Smith's The Limpopo School of Private Detection, one in the series of books featuring Precious Ramotswe in the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency mystery series. During their daily work, Mma Ramotswe and her employee Grace Makutsi frequently pause to drink "bush tea," which they believe solves one's problems. The ritual of tea drinking is something I practice myself, but rarely do I drink "bush tea." However, a friend served me Roibus this afternoon, and I felt the wisdom of Botswana fictional women descend.

The light of a Himalayan pink salt lamp glows like ET's heart, lighting and burning brighter and brighter as he knows he's going home.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Sunday, August 18, 2013

On Teeth

When they hurt, it is impossible to think.

Or write.

Saturday, August 17, 2013


The same way a swallowtail drinks and drinks and drinks, I gaze and could gaze and have gazed. Color, symmetry, variety -- showy welcome targets in a garden for bug and human alike.

Dizzying even on a seed packet,

the zinnia: summer's radiant addiction.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Thursday, August 15, 2013


like a stew.
Like the stew of summer --
wrecked car,
wrecked car,
toothache and toothache,
root canal,
oral surgery.
Somewhere in there
something's good
waiting. I just
can't see it.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

A Note of Thanks

Dear Tam,

Thank you for driving me to Chattanooga for oral surgery today. And thank you for coming to get me twice. I am amused that we are both somewhat limited when it comes to changing time zones, but we finally got it right.

Yours is good company. You always have thoughtful things to say, and we have much in common, especially our love of place, family, and ideas, and it was oddly comforting to share our mutual anxieties about our futures. You made the journey as enjoyable as it could be, given the circumstances.

While I know the fast-food folks must have been painfully slow and inept, the chocolate milk shake after surgery really did the trick.

As we left the pharmacy, which we both love, I said, "I'm glad there won't be sun today. I will miss buggin'" (as you call my peculiar hobby).

I want you to know that when I climbed the steps to my front door, I saw a brand new Hackberry Emperor resting on one of the few clematis leaves the deer didn't eat yesterday afternoon. I went in the house, put everything down, grabbed my camera, and stealthily came back out. There he or she still was, as if knowing the one more good thing I needed today was a photo.

You have both brought me the kind of luck I needed today.


PS Isn't the butterfly beautiful?

Monday, August 12, 2013

Another Reason to Love Living in Sewanee

Strong wind this morning and a cooperative Halloween Pennant: opposites equal frustration. 

Finally, I lay down in the grass, propped myself a bit on on my left shoulder so I wouldn't roll downhill into Lake Gregg, and started snapping.

Just as I was figuring out the dragonfly's distance, the light (too much of it and too much white and too much shadow since the Pennant faced away from the sun to collect its heat most efficiently), a small College vehicle stopped on the macadam atop the hill. 

I looked up to find a gentleman peering down from the door lip on which he stood. 

"You OK?" he called. I saw the look of concern.

"I'm fine," I answered and held up my camera. "Just taking pictures!"

"Oh," he called. "I thought you had fallen and hurt yourself. Have a good day!"

When I rolled back, the Pennant had flown away.

A missed photo.

A chance encounter.

Frustration eased.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

What I Did Today

I worked. I walked. I worked. I walked. I worked.

And I did this: I saw a female damselfly light twice on the edge of the dock at Lake Finney during my first walk; I took several pictures, but they're fuzzy because of clouds and my inability to get closer without scaring her; on my second walk I returned to the lake, determined to confirm my guess that she was a green form Orange Bluet; I saw a male, took two shots, and watched him disappear; after about three minutes I saw him and a female (green form!) spar; he alit on one leaf and she on another; just as I bent down to shoot her photo, he tried to fly to her but got caught in a spider web; I ran with terror back to the main part of the dock, grabbed my walking stick, ran back, scared the spider, and lifted the male Orange Bluet back to the dock; he was dazed and I snapped two photos; then I offered my finger and he grabbed hold; for one photograph he gathered himself, then broke the spider silk, and flew off; about four minutes later, I saw the green form female and the rescued male couple; then I watched as he and she flew to several different places where she oviposited.

I had a good day.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

A Note to the Visitor at My Front Door

Welcome, Snail,
to my rickety
porch rail.
I am honored
by your silent
visit. Your home
shines, shining
mine with quiet
light. Please,
help yourself:
what's mine
is yours.

Friday, August 9, 2013

First Sun After Deluge upon Deluge

The light woke me.

But I didn't mind.

First sun after deluge upon deluge and the world feels new.

A quick trip to Lake Cheston's beach proved I was not the only sun worshipper today. The air shimmered with Blue Dashers, Slaty Skimmers, Widow Skimmers, Calico Pennants, Banded Pennants, Black Saddlebags, Carolina Saddlebags, Swamp Spreadwings, and several Common Green Darners.

I pursued one pair from dirt shore to sandy shore and back and managed a few distant photos.

Happy, I went to the shop, where twice -- on trips to the garbage -- an Eastern Pondhawk female buzzed me as if to say, "Isn't sunshine life-filling?"




Thursday, August 8, 2013

We Are Stardust

Years ago, when the Hubble and Chandra beamed back life-altering photographs of the universe, I watched an astrophysicist cry on the PBS Newshour and say, "We really are made of stardust." Of course, I wept, too. And I wrote a long poem, one part of which read,

II.   1999

On the television
a Harvard astrophysicist
points to an image of Cas A.

In the Milky Way plain
the soupy sea of red star shreds,
remnants of an explosion

more than 380 years old,
moves out at more than
10 million miles per hour.

He says, “I find myself
grinning all the time. This
nourishes our humanity.

That stuff is made up
of oxygen and silicon,
sulfur and calcium,

all the way up to iron.
The calcium in your bones,
the oxygen you’re breathing,

the iron in your blood —
all of it came from stars
that went off

before the Sun and the Earth
formed. We really are
made of stardust.”

Three days ago, another scientist/journalist moved me to tears with an essay I wish I had written. He captured my own impressions of two recent science stories and did so beautifully.

New York TimesAugust 5, 2013

Who was it that first said that people are stardust?
Some people, of a certain age, might say Joni Mitchell, who sang, “We are stardust, we are golden, and we’ve got to get ourselves back to the gar-ar-den,” in her paean to the Woodstock festival. Others will say Carl Sagan, the author and host of “Cosmos.”
In fact, the answer goes back before those acolytes of beauty and consciousness were born. In 1929, the Harvard astronomer Harlow Shapley declared, “We organic beings who call ourselves humans are made of the same stuff as the stars” — a remarkable observation, considering that at the time nobody even knew what made the stars shine.
It would be 30 years before Geoffrey and Margaret Burbidge, William Fowler and Fred Hoyle showed in a classic paper that the atoms that compose us are not only the same as the ones in stars — most of them were actually manufactured in stars. Starting from primordial hydrogen and helium, denser elements like iron, oxygen, carbon and nitrogen were built up in a series of thermonuclear reactions and then spewed into space when these stars died and exploded as supernovas in a final thermonuclear frenzy.
Any gardener knows that ashes make good fertilizer. Our atoms were once in stars.
I was reminded of all this by a pair of recent news items. One involved dung beetles, among the least lordly occupants of this cosmic garden, which apparently navigate by orienting themselves to the light of the Milky Way.
The other was the announcement last month that astronomers had tentatively traced the existence of gold in the universe to a cataclysm known as a gamma-ray burst, which can light up a galaxy. As Joel Achenbach wrote in The Washington Post, “The bling apparently begins with a blam.”
The blam in question happened — or rather was noticed here on Earth — on June 3. It was then that astronomers, alerted by a brief flash of high-energy gamma rays in the sky, think a pair of dead, ultradense neutron stars collided, leaving behind only a distant radioactive glow. Edo Berger of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics said the explosion could have created an amount of gold equivalent to the mass of 20 Earth Moons.
Neutron stars are themselves a result of cataclysms, those supernova explosions that can squeeze the space out of atoms and compress a mass more than the Sun into a ball 10 miles across — essentially a great ball of neutrons, hence the name. On Earth, a teaspoon of the stuff would weigh about five billion tons.
Astronomers have always wondered whether ordinary supernova explosions could produce very heavy elements like gold, whose nucleus has 79 protons and 118 neutrons — a far cry from the single proton that is a hydrogen nucleus. If a pair of neutron stars are in orbit around each other, they can collide — a second cosmic act that will add to the universe’s repertory of elements, the bling from blam.
Indeed, Dr. Berger and his colleagues suggested that all the gold in the universe might have been produced by neutron star collisions, which have been termed “kilonova” explosions.
Of course we aspiring gardeners have other names for what is left behind after an object’s energy has been metabolized into light and heat to nurture the cosmos.
Which brings us back to the lowly dung beetle, the scarab.
These creatures, which live on the feces of larger animals, have a problem. Once a beetle has found some dung and rolled part of it into a ball, he’s got to get it out of there, rolling it in a straight line away from the dung pile, or the other beetles will come and poach it.
How they manage this, even on moonless nights when obvious cues and landmarks are absent or invisible, has been a mystery.
Last January a team of Swedish and South African researchers reported that African dung beetles, Scarabaeus satyrus, can use the Milky Way as their guide.
In a series of experiments in a game preserve and a planetarium, a team led by Marie Dacke of Lund University in Sweden found that when the beetles were fitted with little caps that prevented them from seeing the sky or the stars were clouded out, the beetles wandered aimlessly, putting their little dung treasures at risk.
But a starlit sky, or just a dim band representing the disk of our humble home galaxy, is a enough to keep them on track.
“Although this is the first description of an insect using the Milky Way for their orientation, this ability might turn out to be widespread in the animal kingdom,” the scientists wrote in Current Biology.
It’s hard to imagine a more beautiful or humbling connection between the sacred and the profane, the microscopic and the large, inner space and outer space.
The Milky Way is one of nature’s grandest creations: hundreds of billions of glittering stars, wreathed in ribbons of gas and dust, a cloudy, starry pinwheel so vast that a light beam would take 100,000 years to cross it and the Sun with its planetary entourage takes a quarter of a billion years to circle it once.
And it is only one of countless galaxies, scattered like sand from here to eternity, rushing outward in the great expansion, whose meaning, if we are honest, is as fathomless to us as it is to a scarab pushing its carefully wrought investment portfolio through this garden of Earthy delights.
Scarabs were sacred to the ancient Egyptians for their ability to create life from waste. They were a symbol of the eternal renewal of life from death, not unlike the waxing and the waning of the stars themselves.
Egyptians wore representations of them as amulets. And wouldn’t you know, in one of the ultimate symbols of recycling, some of them were even gold.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: August 8, 2013
An article on Tuesday about the connections between stars, gold, dung beetles and people misspelled the term for explosions resulting from collisions of neutron stars. They are known as kilonova explosions, not kilanova.

This I believe: I am, and nature is, and we are of the same good stuff, now and forever.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013


Rain descends again, and the smell of earthy decay, the slap of slip-slidy stones, the plop of raindrops on summer leaves, the cooling shift of air after rain transport me to childhood evenings at Redstone Camp on the Black Warrior River, where wooden boathouses opened into green sloughs, loosely-hung wooden doors fronted screen-porched cabins, and lightning bugs flickered their golden lanterns in cicada hummed darkness.

I am lucky to have spent so many days and nights there, and to have my father's old map hanging in the hall where I can see it even now: for real, and realer in my memory.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

A Day Out

Even on a day out with a friend (who drove us to DeSoto State Park, Little River Canyon, and Mentone), I find I am pursued by Odonates. She patiently let me indulge my habit, with the result that I saw two I've not seen before and another more familiar (but never more cooperative).

Powdered Dancer? Awaiting confirmation. Confirmed!
Dusky Dancer? Awaiting confirmation. Confirmed!
Ebony Jewelwing
Getting into the zone makes me rude and cranky so far as others are concerned, but it sure relaxes me.

Thanks, Sue, for the journey and your patience!

Monday, August 5, 2013

It's Wild Out There

No judgment, no right and wrong, no reasoning: existence and then not.

At the top of the insect heap, dragonfly and robber fly. Today the robber fly won.

This is the real world: it ain't always pretty, but it's endlessly fascinating.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Another Happy Accident

Another in a continuing series of accidental photographs, this one of two impossibly small Violet Dancers, both in flight.

A moment of pure joy. 


Saturday, August 3, 2013

Two-lined Spittle Bug (Prosapia bicinta) at the Gardeners' Market

Little hopper
perched atop dahlia,
what do you see?
Bing! He hops
atop a leaf,
scans flowery
horizon. Bing!
And off he goes.

When I lift
the scone cover,
there he waits,
perched atop
a chocolate
chip. Bing!

Friday, August 2, 2013

Watching One Bird, Seeing Another

Just as the swallows wheeled and slapped the water, a blue heron floated from the beach around the curve, planning to land where the family gathered and one of the young boys arguing with his mother shouted, "What's that?" and the big bird turned, flapped once, flew down the channel, and into an elbow of the lake with overhanging branches.

And I was there to watch.