Sunday, August 31, 2014

What the Momentary Pause between Storms Does

Invites birds to bathe and drink.

Forces Odonates to mate quickly.

Silvers sky.

Riffles the re-filled lake.

Weights air.

Creates vignettes everywhere -- this one of rusted metal, flaking paint, spiders, dropletted web, water, leaf, algae, moss, stone, sand, wood. 

An ephemeral colorful quilt, and I the lucky one to pass at just that right moment.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Morning Stupor

Even the flower flies rose groggily this morning, taking their time hovering over flower after flower, till finally one offers the color or olfactory message that says Me! Light on me!

Then a hoverfly lands, atilt, lightly perched on the curve of a technicolor zinnia petal, and another dives headfirst into the yellow center of a pink zinnia one bouquet away.

They know a good thing when they find it.

Friday, August 29, 2014

One Aria to Sing

From a not very good book I finished today (others liked it, but not I so much), this rang true: "The past is so tenacious. . . . Everyone has one aria to sing over their life, . . ." (The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer).

So many times, I've taught students who've written about the same longing or sorrow or trauma or idea, revisiting and revising one thread from eighth through twelfth grades, sometimes well into college.

Tennessee Williams and Annie Dillard wrote their individual tales over and over again, in new form, picking at the same scab.

I, too, have done the same, never quite resolving or working out whatever the memory or feeling meant, might mean, could mean.

Tonight, as I ate summer fruit from a handmade bowl, whose family of North Carolina potters I first encountered at 17 -- the juices bursting, tingling, mixing tartness with syrupy sweetness, I thought of the place where I wish I were: at camp reunion with old friends, among my oldest, lying on the canoe dock, looking at stars, singing our mutual opera again.

Thursday, August 28, 2014


Outside the bookstore today, several students embraced one another, talking over each other with joy: another year begins.

Once, I was lucky like those kids.

I too had a college family, perhaps more important even than my blood relatives. Comrades in theatre, faculty and peers, we created something beautiful, pleasurable, not just from the written word on a stage, but from and in each other.

A fourth college chum died today. She, and they, will burn bright always in memory.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Who Cares about Shelf Life?

When I picked up my CSA about 24 hours ago, I squealed on seeing the cantaloupe.

"It's got no shelf life," Michael said. "So I can't sell them through the market."

"I don't care! It'll be gone by tomorrow night!"

"It's a baby . . .," he added, but my mind was already blank. I didn't hear the something-or-other kind of baby: I was already holding and smelling the small melon.

Surely, one of the orangest and muskiest cantaloupes I've ever eaten, tasting like summer -- sweet and sweaty, delicious and mildly disturbing in its earthiness, tasting of mold and rot and vigor.

Good thing my mother taught me to clean my plate since it wouldn't have kept anyway.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

As If the Grass and Stone Were Pleased

The Mushroom is the Elf of Plants - (1350)

The Mushroom is the Elf of Plants -
At Evening, it is not
At Morning, in a Truffled Hut
It stop opon a Spot

As if it tarried always
And yet it’s whole Career
Is shorter than a Snake’s Delay -
And fleeter than a Tare -

’Tis Vegetation’s Juggler -
The Germ of Alibi -
Doth like a Bubble antedate
And like a Bubble, hie -

I feel as if the Grass was pleased
To have it intermit -
This surreptitious Scion
Of Summer’s circumspect.

Had Nature any supple Face
Or could she one contemn -
Had Nature an Apostate -
That Mushroom - it is Him!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Consider This

Bug Love
AUG. 23, 2014

LARAMIE, Wyo. — IT’S summertime, the season of insects, and if you spend any time outdoors (or even indoors), you’ve probably been swatting and stomping your way toward fall. Mosquitoes and midges dance over ponds, butterflies and bumblebees tussle on daisies, crickets and katydids trill melodies, moths zigzag around lights leaving dusty trails.

Pests all, you might assume of these six-legged creatures. And hundreds of them are just that — pests. Mosquitoes and lice suck our blood and spread diseases, armies of caterpillars eat our crops, flies divebomb us, termites eat our homes, roaches invade our kitchens.

But of the millions of insects, only a tiny fraction of them, less than 1 percent, are pests. A vast majority are beneficial to humans: They are pollinators, seed dispersers, nutrient recyclers, soil producers and predators or parasites of plant-feeding insects. They are food for frogs, salamanders, lizards, snakes and especially birds. Some are important indicators of water quality. Bugs contain an astronomical array of chemical compounds, some exploited commercially, such as beeswax and cochineal dye. And they are sources of medicines, oils, waxes, fibers, dyes and scents.

In North America, 87,000 insect species have been identified. Most are microscopic and mysterious. The tiniest, fairy fly wasps, are too Lilliputian to see; they’re so small that several can have a dance party on the head of a pin. You might actually inhale and exhale a fairy fly, just as you might a dust speck. 

Many await discovery. Here in Wyoming, I’ve found new species hovering over ant mounds, flying around my porch light and inside my old minivan. When you sneeze, you may expel an unnamed creature.

Insects are the products of threebillion years of evolution. They may seem alien, full of greenish goo, but they are complex creatures with intricate organs and elegant sensory systems: multifaceted eyes, ornate antennas, and pits, pegs and pores across their cuticles.

Their small sizes have promoted species diversity by allowing them to divide the world into extremely small niches. For as long as 150 million years, insects were the only animals that could fly, allowing them to colonize new places. They have also evolved elaborate methods of development, including complex metamorphosis, which has allowed adults to avoid competing for food with their larval offspring.

They may be tiny, but they’re tough. They have adapted to some of the most extreme conditions on the planet. And try as we might, over the last century, we have not managed to extinguish even one pest species. The malaria mosquito, housefly, human-body louse and hundreds of others have developed resistance to insecticides. These poisons have also stimulated the production of new secondary pests (by killing beneficial predators), as well as posing threats to wildlife and humans.

Still, the rampant destruction of tropical forests is driving to extinction insect species that are mostly unknown to us. Vanishing with them are their hidden secrets, mysterious behaviors and unique chemicals. We’re wiping out potentially beneficial species that can never be replaced.

Since the pests we encounter are often highly adaptable and seemingly indestructible, it is tempting to assume that all insects possess those qualities. That’s not the case; many of them, such as bees, butterflies and dragonflies, can be easily harmed by our incursions on their habitats. The collapse of bee populations in recent years, for instance, has been associated by some scientists with pesticides.

Of course, the one species that seems immune to our best efforts at eradication is the American cockroach. Despite its name, it is an invasive species, having arrived here from Africa at least as early as 1625. In the forests of Africa, or even in Central Park, they’re beneficial, as scavengers, recyclers and food for other wildlife. But when they move into our homes, they become pests.

The point being, what might be a pest in one context may not be in another. I enjoy seeing Cabbage White butterflies visiting flowers in my yard, but when their caterpillars riddle my broccoli, they become pests.

The popular assumption is that cockroaches can survive anything, including nuclear explosions. You may have heard the joke: After the nuclear apocalypse, all that will remain will be cockroaches and Keith Richards. There’s a bit of truth to that, at least about the cockroach. They’re more tolerant of radiation than humans, and since they exist all around the planet, it seems probable some will persevere if we humans destroy ourselves.

So consider this: The next time an insect crawls across your path, master your impulse to squash it immediately and instead kneel down to observe its microscopic majesty. You’re seeing a creature whose buggy ancestors survived asteroids, volcanoes, continental drift, climate fluctuations and glaciers. Admire it, respect it. And rest assured that most insects will survive, while we are just a brief phase on this planet of bugs.

Scott R. Shaw is a professor of entomology at the University of Wyoming, where he is curator of the Insect Museum, and the author of “Planet of the Bugs: Evolution and the Rise of Insects.”

A version of this op-ed appears in print on August 24, 2014, on page SR6 of the New York edition with the headline: Bug Love.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

A Visit with Friends

The view from their kitchen opens onto a lush garden, shimmering in late August purples, lavenders, rose pinks, golden yellows, and green grass, green leaves punctuated by red berries or crabapples. The hummingbirds battle at the feeder, one taking command from his perch on a perfectly shaped twig just above and beyond and the others zooming in from over the treehouse or the neighboring church.

Outside, teeming activity, but inside, the people keep to a different rhythm: one tethered to an oxygen line, the other to him; and when, in their company, I look out, I see through a glass, darkly.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Saying Yes

Not long ago, a friend asked, "Why do you have cats?"

I answered, "Because I've always had a cat, ever since I was 6. They're beautiful, and soft, and fascinating, and their purring rumble makes me happy. Why do you ask?"

He said, "I'm just curious. I've never had a pet. I was wondering if you like having something there, living with you in your house."

BAC (Bassy) claims gallery space
"Yes," I said.

And I might have added, We can learn to let go from cats.

Friday, August 22, 2014

What's in a Name?

Meet Celithemis eponina.

Ben Kolstad ( writes, 

"The genus name, Celithemis, is a combination of the Greek words kelis, spotted (referring to the wing spots on most members of the genus), and themis, law, decree, order, presumably because this genus can be “ordered” or classified according to the pattern and number of spots on the wings, which are diagnostic.

"Eponina, the specific name, was the wife of Julius Sabinus, a Gaulish chief who attempted to overthrow the Roman occupation and was forced to flee, enduring a decade of privation and hardship, alleviated only by the devotion of his wife. When they were finally captured and sent to Rome, Vespasian executed Sabinus, and Eponina asked to be executed as well, a request that was granted. Plutarch called this the darkest deed of Vespasian’s reign, 'there was nothing during Vespasian’s reign to match the horror of this atrocious deed, and that, in retribution for it, the vengeance of the gods fell upon Vespasian, and in a short time after wrought the extirpation of his entire family.'"

Some folks call bugs by their scientific names. Me, I'll stick with Halloween Pennant. That's a name I don't have to look up!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

A Long Conversation

with a fellow who lives across from Day Lake wandered from talk of Mr. Cheston, Little Mountain, cattle, horses, celebrating seniors and their parents leaving garbage at Day Lake, the crew team, his grandchildren, our mutual love of the land, dragonflies and damselflies . . . and then this happened: the Great Blue Skimmer I had seen flying behind and above the gentleman's head floated down right between us and we both took long looks.

Do they come from something like caterpillars? he asked.

More like cicadas, I said.

Oh, he said, those are the shells I see right around the water.

Yup, I said.

Ain't they pretty?

I couldn't agree more.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Open Space

I like my bridges wide and blue, arcing to span a river like hands reaching across a divide to hold one another.

I like my spiders large and bright, weaving and writing silk, riding the air like tight rope walkers, only steady and firm like bridges.

I like my berries suspended, plump and particolored, making the air speak space in a sweep of curve.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Center Stage

Honestly. Who wouldn't stop to admire this arrowhead spider?

Head up, swaying in a low, loose web at woods' edge, with a view to the path and lake beyond. 

I wouldn't have minded trading places this afternoon, hanging like a jewel in one fine shaft of light.

Monday, August 18, 2014

What Burns

are not compliments.

Green leaves pocked with red and green berries backed by red complement one another, but without compliments. They do not say, I am beautiful; you are beautiful; we are beautiful.

Harbingers of fall, they burn through rain.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Raspberries Taste Like Roanoke Summers in Childhood

The Children
by Mark Jarman

The children are hiding among the raspberry canes.
They look big to one another, the garden small.
Already in their mouths this soft fruit
That lasts so briefly in the supermarket
Tastes like the past. The gritty wall,
Behind the veil of leaves, is hollow.
There are yellow wasps inside it. The children know.
They know the wall is hard, although it hums.
They know a lot and will not forget it soon.

When did we forget? But we were never
Children, never found where they were hiding
And hid with them, never followed
The wasp down into its nest
With a fingertip that still tingles.
We lie in bed at night, thinking about
The future, always the future, always forgetting
That it will be the past, hard and hollow,
Veiled and humming, soon enough.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Beginning and Ending

At day's beginning: flowers against cloud-feathered sky.

At day's ending: my first Viceroy of the year resting at dam's edge.

One fine day.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Just Call Me Curmudgeon

Some students arrived mid-week and others dribbled in since.
The rest will storm the campus within ten days.

Meantime, I treasured this last tranquil Friday evening after my movie date with Boo.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

It's the Little Things

like three new signs at the top of my street: NO PARKING BETWEEN SIGNS.

Imagine driving round a blind curve, made blind by road-hugging tall hedges, and finding three small children walking directly at your car. That's happened to me, and it's a wonder I didn't hit them or a tree trying to avoid them.

Now add the School of Theology students (adults, mind you, not adolescents) who insist on parking along my street beginning at the end of that hedge, add the three children and a car rounding the corner, even at a very slow speed, and . . . well . . . you can see what we've been living with here, for many years.

Not any longer! The College has happily done something about it. Now if the powers-that-be will also do something about those dadgum hedges . . . .

Wednesday, August 13, 2014


In my everyday life, I rarely make a difference. I don't rescue people or dogs; I don't treat wounds in a hospital or argue cases in a court of law; I don't even talk to other people, sometimes for days in a row. 

But when I see a living thing struggling to live, I can't just walk on by.

I used to think Odonate life-saving was weird, but I did it anyway. Now, thanks to my Facebook groups, which include some of the big-name experts, I know that others share my "can do" attitude.

After I finally unstuck the spider-silk-strung wings (no easy task), the little fellow cleaned himself properly and then took off.

All in all, a job well done.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Gotta Love the Dump!

This appeared recently at the convenience center:

Personally, I'm sure glad it didn't read, "No katydids."
Else, what would have happened to this fellow?

He snuggled right up next to one of the ears, staking out his territory, and gave me another reason to love the dump.

Monday, August 11, 2014

On Noise Pollution

In Denver, I endured three days of torture when I wrote my comps for the Ph.D., not because of the exam, but because I was confined to a small space with four gum chewers, smacking and cracking.

In New Orleans, where I lived for more than two decades, ambient noise scrambled my brain. Someone else's music or conversation always assaulted me whether I was riding the streetcar, sitting in my own backyard, reading at the library, or even walking in the park at first light.

In childhood, I remember silence before 24-hour-365-day-a-week television, muzak, cell phones, and utter disregard for others' personal space. Because no person nattered on and on, I could hear the natural sounds of the woods behind the house -- singing and chirping, whirring and slapping, buzzing and thumping.

Walking today, I listened to my breath, my steps, my camera lens, rain snapping leaves, and the creek, a small fall pooling and plashing, and returned to complete silence at home.

Some people ask Why would you want to live alone? How do I explain that I would be mad were it not for protection from other people's noise pollution?

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Other Ways of Seeing

Hunkering sometimes affords another way of seeing: onto a field of light and into dark woods beyond, uphill, through grass and weed, a pair of mating Banded Pennants sways and turns in the breeze.

A bumblebee flies at them, and they disappear.

I hear the final buzzing of summer, I see the cardinal flowers and Autumn Meadowhawks, I know the inevitable slow approach of a season's end, and I already mourn its loss.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

A Night Like This

"Forty-five years after astronauts landed on the moon, scientists say they have finally discovered its true shape: slightly flattened, with a bulge on one side.

"'Like a lemon with an equatorial bulge,' said Ian Garrick-Bethell, a planetary scientist at University of California, Santa Cruz, and an author of the study being published in the journal Nature. 'If you can imagine a water balloon flattening out as you spin it.'" (Douglas Quenqua, "The Moon Is (Slightly) Flat, Scientists Say", The New York Times, July 30, 2014)


Waxing gibbous on the eve of the summer supermoon.


Silvered natural satellite, a platter held in night's hand.

May I serve you?

Yes, please, and thank you.


Even bigger, even brighter tomorrow.

"Closer to the earth than it has been in over twenty years, stargazers will see a moon 14 per cent bigger and 30 per cent brighter than usual." ("Supermoon 2014: All You Need to Know about This Sunday's Supermoon," The Independent, 10 August 2014).

That's the promise.


But for now, tonight is more than enough.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Storm Chasing

The storm gathered, rumbling, darkening, while I strode the dam, finding Widow Skimmers, Violet Dancers, Slaty Skimmers, Blue Dashers, and Halloween Pennants hanging on, despite threatening weather.

Just after lightning struck and before rain pummeled my car, I idled, charmed by the color-block farm field, lit briefly like a Hopper painting come south, promising something sinister on the way. 

Hard rain stirs nerves, sending us all inside or aground.

Thursday, August 7, 2014


A week's worth of favorites I didn't publish, but wish I had.