Monday, September 30, 2013

At Least

this Least Skipper alit, stayed still.

Like me, the tiny winged thing wanted to feel the sun stroke and warm from outside in. I felt it on my back, penetrating gray shirt and skin, warming me before another cool fall night.

The last of the insects I love fly, mate, and wait. At the very least, I can pay careful attention. 

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Art and Architecture

The fall TACA Craft Fair disappointed even my friend, who has been making and selling crafts and attending such fairs for many years. I was disappointed, too. We agreed, there at Centennial Park and over lunch, that nothing said buy me or bring me to the shop so someone else can buy me.

So many silversmiths, and so little variety. So many photographers, only one with enchanting images. The first flying pig I saw, made from a grill gas container, was clever, and I was tempted . . . until I saw at least five vendors with similar swine. 

Perhaps the most skillful thing we saw were white oak baskets made by an older couple: she picks the tree, he cuts it down, they drag it out of the woods, he strips the wood, she weaves the baskets. One was a true one-of-a-kind with deer-horn handle ("My grandson killed the deer, and we ate it," the basket maker said). Few such makers still work in these parts, and although we left empty-handed, we didn't leave these folks unimpressed.

Today, standing at the edge of one row of booths, I envied the young men playing ball in the field between us and the Parthenon, a wondrous work of architecture, more artistic than anything we saw.

Saturday, September 28, 2013


away from summer on the Gardeners' Market last flowers

and into the dormant season of long nights, short days, and still air, during which I shall wait, and wait, and wait for winged ones to emerge from overwintering.

Then, perhaps, I shall see another tiger moth, a living one.

Until then, I shall console myself with this one, proboscis curled, desiccated, dead on a friend's doorstep,

but beautiful, even still.

Friday, September 27, 2013

What Water Shows

Henry David Thoreau

Men say they know many things;
But lo! they have taken wings, —
The arts and sciences,
And a thousand appliances;
The wind that blows
Is all that any body knows.

Thursday, September 26, 2013


In Rome, starlings swirl and turn, making impressive architecture pale in comparison. They soak up the warmth of the city before roosting in trees.

A few months after my mother's death, my father and I (wearing the last sweater/skirt ensemble she made for me) posed in the yard, one of his birdhouses hanging in the background. 
He and my mother fed them, housed them, watched them from the breakfast room. There, in the bed where she planted a weeping cherry, a feeder and another house beckoned songbirds, whose chirruping we heard at meals.
As a child, I loved thumbing through the little blue guidebooks, studying the silhouettes on the end pages, trying to memorize sizes and shapes.

A house in the clouds shimmers in a window, and I remember affixing black bird silhouettes to the large glass panes on a Birmingham porch. The thump of a bird on glass brought someone to check for signs of life. 

So many roosts, so much flight, so many thumps, over so many years.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Art of Living

When she was a senior in high school, Margaret installed a long, challenging text/art piece in the hallway opposite my classroom. I saw it many times every day, and each of those many times every day I loved reading it every time. It was a courageous act of self-expression. 

Today, over chai tea and bagels, she explained how she had carved out a place for herself in that school through art. Today, it's field biology that calls out to her -- rattlesnakes and ground squirrels, among her subjects.

But there's an art to that too, just as there is in being a wife, daughter, and sister, which she is too. All of it takes dedication, and love, and joy. 

You can see those qualities in her face.

At least I can.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Going Down, Coming Up, Looking Down

Driving down in spitting rain this morning, I took the fast route, along the busy Interstate. But coming home, I took the slow drive up the old highway, a two-lane affair bordered by farms, modest white homes with imaginative and well-tended gardens, mobile homes in varied states of repair, a tree nursery, and tiny unincorporated areas. Then I skirted across the interstate on a fast four-lane highway just so I could come up the most scenic route through Alto (a colon between Here:and:There) and up the mountain, switching and turning all the way. Something made me take one more detour at Running Knob Hollow to look down from Green's View to the land I had passed through. For a moment, mist and cloud still hanging, sunlight snaked like a developing idea, lighting this field, that roof.
At the clang of a door and clatter of girls' voices, I turned toward my car. "Have a good walk," I said to the three coeds. "Oh, we will!" they said. "If it rains, we'll cool down!" And then they headed down the slowest way of all -- on their feet through Shakerag Hollow.

I like the going down.

I like the coming up.

I like the looking down.

But I love the chance encounters.

Monday, September 23, 2013

It Doesn't Get Better Than This

fall day after a sleep-under-the-heavy-quilt night: blue sky, hot sun, and mature Autumn Meadowhawks all around and over the lake -- singles, pairs, perching, eating, mating, ovipositing, shimmering ochre and red, making this a day that just doesn't get any better.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

What people in the mall don't do

is look up for the best stuff.

And it's all free.

Saturday, September 21, 2013


Toward evening.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Drawn to Stone

Stone holds color differently from any other building surface I know. In certain light, it doesn't reflect but seems to breathe light, as if from whatever is within. In the afternoon, it butters and burns, but in the morning it flickers a bit, like a distant candle flame, only dimly seen. And the seams where stone and mortar and stone meet bulge like an old man's still strong hands, with ropey veins. 

I have always had a thing for stone, from the retaining wall lining the steps between driveway and front door of my childhood home, to the Tudor houses of the neighborhood down the hill, to the lodge chimney of a beloved summer camp, to the view from Exeter College's Fellows' Garden enjoyed on a Sunday morning with bells ringing from chapels and churches all round, to this view glimpsed on a walk from library to car just this morning.

Today, I heard a symphony of stone.

Thursday, September 19, 2013


by Billy Collins

Why do we bother with the rest of the day,
the swale of the afternoon,
the sudden dip into evening,

then night with his notorious perfumes,
his many-pointed stars?

This is the best --
throwing off the light covers,
feet on the cold floor,
and bussing around the house on espresso,

maybe a splash of water on the face,
a palmful of vitamins --
but mostly buzzing around the house on espresso,

dictionary and atlas open on the rug,
the typewriter waiting for the key of the head,
a cello on the radio,

and, if necessary, the windows --
trees fifty, a hundred years old
out there,
heavy clouds on the way
and the lawn steaming like a horse
in the early morning.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

If I Didn't Live Here

I would miss fall's
hay bales,
and the lime green baler
off in the distance,
and the smell of grass
and manure,
and the land
lovingly farmed
for a century
and more.

I would miss
the countryside.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Like a Chicken with Its Head Cut Off

I'm glad to say I've never seen an example of the cliche's source.

I do, however, remember watching my mother try to kill a chicken. She was torturing the poor thing, doing a terrible job, flinging it round and back, whimpering.

Fortunately, our housekeeper Lucille heard Mother's gasps, came out, took that chicken, gave it one strong snap, and broke its neck. It did not move again.

I can't say the same of what's left of this little Eastern Amberwing.

This poor fellow had been half eaten when I found him on a stone a water's edge, still grappling with his legs, his head twisting, his abdomen missing. How that's possible, I don't know. 

I do know that in my hand he flopped from side to side, in a hideous little death dance, and I remembered that day in childhood. 

Monday, September 16, 2013

No Words Necessary

If the slide show is not visible, please follow this link.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

O Nymph

where are thy orisons now?

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Overnight Visit

At one point during dinner, Florence interrupted me and said, "You're not a guest!" 

She made that Florence face, tilting her head down a bit and raising her eyebrows, the "locking look" of "you-hear-what-I'm-saying?" that requires no answer.

She continued, "You're family!"

In Florence and Jere's house, I sleep as I don't sleep in my own home: soundly, without tossing or turning, settled as naturally as the spider, who spent the night in this zinnia, waking as this spider did to sun and warmth, still ensconced in the comforts of home.

I am grateful for them, and for my having found them in a strange place at a strange time in my life, and for their large generosity, and for their making me one of their own.

Friday, September 13, 2013


Variegated Fritillary
Goldenrod blooms now, and golden-hued butterflies and skippers fly. My yard jitters with dancing brown satyrs, wood-nymphs, and pearly-eyes. Everything burns with the rushing close to a season of sun.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Yellow Door:

a becoming
for a fresh
Gulf Fritillary.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Blowing Out the Candles

My great-niece E turned 10 today, the first of her double-digits.

My gift arrived yesterday and sat, unopened, tempting her. She knew what pleasures awaited her. I have been the giver of the Harry Potter books, except for the one her parents put in her trunk before camp this summer.

For E and for me, there will be no more Harry Potters: I gave her my own original Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, which I purchased the night it was released at a bookstore party in Portland, Oregon. I blogged about the book and last visit with my friend Betsy previously

This morning, E awoke at 5:30am, grabbed the box, opened it, and starting reading. By the time her mother came downstairs, she had read the first 30 pages. I know she read them with enthusiasm, in a gulp, just as I did after midnight those years ago.

When she makes her birthday wish, I add this one: May you enjoy the companionship of books and of those who love them as much as you do throughout your double digit years.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Tiny Gems

Seven orb weavers whorl their homes all along my front porch. Shaped like narrow lozenges -- opalescent silver on the back, lime green, chrome yellow, and orange patterned underneath -- these tiny mabel orchard spiders (Leucauge venusta) hang in the middle of their angled webs, catching light, flaring and flashing their beauty like opals.

These spinners make beautiful neighbors.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Skipping Stones

Village Creek collected fallen limbs, tulip poplar fruit, litter. Sometimes, the narrow channel cutting between the large flat rock and the upright sharp one clogged with a storm's detritus, a log creating a temporary waterfall. But always the little pool where water striders skipped, minnows swam, and crayfish darted bottomed in silken silt. I had to search for pebbles.

Abbo's Alley's creek reminds me of home, though less rocky and more pebbly. Still, striders and crayfish flourish there, but no minnows. Instead, Ebony Spreadwings collect along the bank, alighting on overhanging leaves, challenging one another, flitting away every time the woman with the camera approaches. Sometimes, wandering there, I hear the bells ring, and remember the other resonant call of Mother's dinner bell on the porch.

My first poetic crush: Dylan Thomas and "Fern Hill," with which recitation I won the poetry contest in my junior year of prep school. His "pebbles [lay in] the holy streams."

Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Ugly Duckling . . . uh . . . Caterpillar

Do not judge this caterpillar by its appearance. 
 It may be ugly now, but just look.
The caterpillar is busy becoming this butterfly!
Viceroy (
Gobsmacked? I sure was!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

After "The End"

There is still so much more to be read, simmering and sparking in memory and remembering.

That is: if it's a great book, the kind that rides on original language, suspending me in the not-here world of imagination, often more real than the tangible world of here.

Like a leaf, dying but burning still.

Like Colum McCann's TransAtlantic:

"Down below, a sheep with a magpie sitting on its back. The sheep raises its head and begins to run when the plane swoops, and for just a moment the magpie stays in place on the sheep's back: it is something so odd Brown knows he will remember it forever.

"The miracle of the actual."

I have turned the last page.

But this is a book so miraculous that I know I will remember it forever.

Friday, September 6, 2013

"Dazzling Blue"

Thanks to my niece, I now know that blue is in for brides in spring 2014. For me, blue has never been out.

Just this morning, at Lake O'Donnell, the sky and the water dazzled with saturated blue bleeding into white with the sun's rising.

Yesterday, blue dazzled in the thorax and abdomen of a Blue Dasher and in the water deepening with lowering sun.

Blue has held me in thrall for as long as I remember, back to my first floral love -- the full floppy-headed hydrangeas Mother nursed at our back door. She planted nails in the soil where they grew, and they blued -- spectacularly.

She told me once that blue was the rarest color of flower. I don't know if that's true, but I do know that with the turning into fall every year, I think of her when I feast on the blue that dazzles in sky and the water that reflects it.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

A Note to Friends

Dear Lynne and Gayle,

Remember how much fun we had at the lake a couple of years ago?

Big fat wolf spiders scaring the you-know-what out of Gayle. Lynne calmly kayaking about. The beautiful emergent Pondhawk in the parrot feather. The water snakes, adult and babies.

When we worked our way round to the beach, I swore I had seen an insect flying saucer. At first I didn't want to tell you two what I had seen, for fear of being thought cuckoo. But finally I did. "Tiny flying nets," I said, "or flying saucer-things!"

But of course no one else glimpsed them.  

Well . . . guess what?

Today, I saw another in the exact same spot and got a photo! Hello, little Phantom Crane Fly! Come to mama Robley!

Just as weird as I said, right?

Keep your eyes peeled!


Wednesday, September 4, 2013


When I first started photographing bugs, my friend J would help me on occasion, but she didn't walk with me.

G walked with me, but he didn't know bugs. He did know cameras and photography, so his knowledge came in handy.

Mostly, though I have walked alone, and I have found books on my own, and I  have read them alone, and I have studied my photos alone. As my friend S told me, I have taught myself a lot of biology in the last three years.

But then I found the dragonfly/damselfy groups on Facebook, and now I have companions. What a gold mine!

First, I have felt better about my own knowledge since many others know much much less than I.

Second, I have marveled at the different Odonates folks see in their yards. Those in Florida have enjoyed scads of Halloween Pennants this summer, for example, and I have seen only a few.

Third, a famous person -- Ed Lam -- is a member of the groups, and he is generous with his comments, advice, and support. If someone asks a question, he will answer it. Sometimes he posts his drawings and asks us to ID them. 

Just tonight, I posted that I may have been wrong about photos I put up the other day. Three hours at Lake Dimmick today seriously confused me when I found two totally different looking males of the same species -- the Little Blue Dragonlet. He confirmed that I was right the first time and then gave me specific information I can use in the field.

Both of these dragonflies are Little Blue Dragonlets. They sure look different, don't they?

Nothing, and I mean nothing, beats learning under the tutelage of a master.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

What lies beneath

is as beautiful as what floats above. 

Without roots,
nothing grows.

Monday, September 2, 2013

One Walk on the Not-so-wild Side

One Great Blue Heron.
One Swamp Spreadwing.
One friendly young woman on her rescued Walking Horse.
Numerous female Eastern Pondhawks.
A half dozen Banded Pennants.
One Slaty Skimmer.
Two Widow Skimmers.
Three Red-spotted Purples.
One male Eastern Pondhawk.
One raggedy-winged male Eastern Amberwing.
One raggedy-winged female Eastern Amberwing.
One male Little Blue Dragonlet.
One lovely Labor Day stroll.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Odonate Beacon

As I walked a wooded path at the lake, the space before me flickered with five Meadowhawks, all female, floating down from leaves above me, stirring the air with promise of morning. All five alit on bare stems of two shrubs, staying put for long admiration.

But only one wore the mantle of age, firing the darkness of woods. The female grows more beautiful as she ages, reddening, as if painted with pure carmine along the topmost of her abdomen, making everything else disappear into background.

If you do not see the slideshow, click here.