Sunday, May 31, 2015

Campus Hijinks

Two dorms and a frat house border Lake Finney, and evidence of extreme partying still litters the grounds, even almost a month after commencement.

Undergraduate celebrations have nothing on the Slender Bluets, however, who do it en masse. I suppose that once a female has found just the right spot for oviposition, others hone in on the same spot. Today, I ignored the human evidence of extreme behavior and focused on the bugs instead, skimming and dipping across the lake in droves of electric blue.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Three Wonderful Posts Made by Other People in One Day

Humans of New York posted this today.

Thirty years is mighty impressive.

I have been trying to post every day in this blog for almost six years. It is hard. But harder still if I miss a day.

A Facebook friend posted sage advice today found here. I am especially fond of these three of Amitava Kumar's principles:

  1. Write every day. This is a cliche, of course, but your will write more when you tell yourself that no day must pass without writing.
  2. Have a modest goal. Aim to write 150 words each day.
  3. Walk for ten minutes.
After I re-posted this article on Facebook, a former student (in 8th, 10th, and 12th grades) wrote, "I still have my journals from your class." (Twenty-three years and counting. I hope she has her words forever.)

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Chance Encounter



Shell station. 

The Pig. 


The bank. 


Even before getting out of the car, I saw it -- the Gray Petaltail flying from my neighbor's yard to my largest black walnut tree. A quick run into the house, bags and all, for the camera. (For once, I didn't have it, a regrettable decision.)

The sun was finally out. And happily, it was afternoon, when sun streams into my west-facing front yard.

Welcome, annual and ancient visitor (expert Dennis Paulson has written that the Petaltails "are often considered the most primitive living odonates"), I want to shout, but don't, and sneak, and sneak, and sneak, assume a position and hold it, and try -- again and again -- to snap the female, camouflaged on the trunk.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Regal and Wild

Ann said, "Aren't the wildflowers lovely? They have really taken off!"

"Yes, and the grasses too since the mowing program changed," I replied.

"I love it!" she added, turning toward home.

"I do, too, and so do my bugs!"

At the moment, the Cheston dam wears wildness like royalty wears crown jewels. 

Whatever this weedy stem is offers fantastical proof.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Another Tally

Rain provides another opportunity to take stock. Here's the current tally of 34 Odonate species that have appeared, or rather that I have noticed thus far:

Common Green Darner
Fragile Forktail
Common Baskettail
Springtime Darner
Blue Corporal
Carolina Saddlebags
Lancet Clubtail
Common Whitetail
Azure Bluet
Southern Spreadwing
Calico Pennant
Comet Darner
Violet Dancer
Painted Skimmer
Black Saddlebags
Spangled Skimmer
Double-striped Bluet
Skimming Bluet
Orange Bluet
Citrine Forktail
Doubled-ringed Pennant
Eastern Pondhawk
Spangled Skimmer
Ebony Jewelwing
Stream Cruiser
Blue Dasher
Swamp Spreadwing
Amber-winged Spreadwing
Lilypad Forktail
Golden-winged Skimmer
Banded Pennant
Stream Bluet
Powdered Bluet
Slaty Skimmer
Addendum May 27 -- No 35
Prince Baskettail
Addendum May 28 -- No 36
Gray Petaltail
Addendum May 30 -- No 37
Southern Sprite
Addendum June 3 -- No 38
Widow Skimmer
June 24 -- no 39
Unicorn Clubtail
Eastern Amberwing

Monday, May 25, 2015

Rainy Day Treat

The only thing better than a visit with a loved one, especially on a rainy day, is an unexpected treat -- in this case kourabiedes!

Witness the delicacy, in the brief moment before finger-licking consumption.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Full Circle

Down, in the book, I read this: 

"I was intrigued to learn of a novel Swedish solution to human burial. In a country where cemetery space is at such a premium that older bodies are dug up and reburied more deeply so that second- and third-story tenants can be installed in the same plot, the practical Swedes have now developed a system for composting human remains.

"They start by freezing the corpse in a vat of liquid nitrogen. Once solid, it is easily shattered into tiny frozen pieces, nugget-sized, by ultra-sound waves or, somewhat less palatably, a hammer mill, a process likened by one proponent to that of making chipped beef. The nuggets are then freeze-dried and placed, with a starter of bacteria, in a biodegradable box to be buried as fertilizer for whatever plant you place above your still-serviceable 'loved one.' In my view, this is as about as close as we're ever going to get to reincarnation: our very atoms coursing through the venous leaves of, for example, a long-lived oak." -- Hold Still by Sally Mann, page 419

Then up, I saw this.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

That Goes Double!

At the dump, the sanitary collection manager Tommy said in response to my comment about the beautiful weather, "I'll have to thank God twice for this day."

At Lake Dimmick, I had good luck twice: once when I saw a big dragonfly hanging low in the brush, sneaked close enough to snap several pictures, and get a lifer photo of a mature Springtime Darner; and second, when, hunkering to see the lake run-off pouring down into a tumbling creek, I turned and saw Powdered Dancers (only my second sighting ever).

I don't know about God, but I'll thank pure dumb luck or timing or eyesight for my double pleasures today.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Manchester's Unexpected Pleasures

May Prairie State Natural Area, a woods walk wedged between fields, airport, and automobile scrapyard, provides shady respite from the highway and strip malls.

The Little Duck River Greenway bustled with walkers, children, and folks just out to enjoy the beautiful weather. A beautiful stroll along the "river," which to me seems more like a wide creek, teemed with Stream Bluets, both emerging and mating, so many that every shore plant hosted them, along with Fragile Forktails and one Ebony Jewelwing.

A Shell station coupled with an Indian restaurant. Who knew?

Turn left on the first road after the entrance to Old Stone Fort, the walker at the Greenway told me. "Go to the end. There's an old golf course, not used any more, and you can walk down to the river." I did, and found a ranger's house, a river (Little Duck?), and beautiful fields covered with grasses and thistle.

At Old Fort State Park's boat launch, where I've not been before, a family from Kansas City fished. They had spent the night and will spend this one in the park before heading on to the world of Disney in Orlando tomorrow. "What are you photographing?" she asked. When I answered, she said, "Oh! On our hike this morning, we saw these wonderful black dragonflies!" "Yes," I said, "Ebony Jewelwing damselflies. See?" And she smiled.

Sometimes an "off-island" wander without certain destination offers unexpected pleasures.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

What Nourishes

The Rain

All night the sound had   
come back again,
and again falls
this quiet, persistent rain.

What am I to myself
that must be remembered,
insisted upon
so often? Is it

that never the ease,
even the hardness,
of rain falling
will have for me

something other than this,
something not so insistent --
am I to be locked in this
final uneasiness.

Love, if you love me,
lie next to me.
Be for me, like rain,
the getting out

of the tiredness, the fatuousness, the semi-
lust of intentional indifference.
Be wet
with a decent happiness.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Facebook to the Rescue

A puzzlement.

A dark female dragonfly in full sun. Grasses and waist-high weeds all round. A curiously lumpish abdomen.

What the heck? I thought, dismissing my initial evaluation of Common Baskettail.

For a day, I thought, This could be a county record! Maybe it's a Sundragon!

Finally, after posting to one of my Odonate Facebook groups in the morning, an answer arrived from an expert, Ed Lam: "Female abdomen shape can be quite variable as the female matures and develops eggs."

Once, and once only, I heard and saw a Baskettail drop all her eggs in the water, and I thought of my mother singing "A tisket, a tasket, a brown and yellow basket."


Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Monday, May 18, 2015

"O look out on the fields

the harvest is ripe," Sister Gertrude Morgan wrote on a painting hanging in my bedroom. For reasons I don't understand, I stopped, worked my way over to the fence, and stood, looking out over the field becoming summer-colored, and heard Gertrude and Sweet Honey in the Rock.

The way the mind works, undulating like grasses in warm wind.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Not a Peep

Yesterday, this little one kept up a constant chatter. Today the box is silent, and I have seen no sign of the parents.

So soon?

I am bereft.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Cabin Fever

I've been there.

Friday, May 15, 2015

If looks could kill

I would not have posted these pictures of one frustrated daddy bird (Get out of there, woman!) and a couple of his equally frustrated offspring.

I finally walked away. He finally delivered his meal. They finally ate.

And I lived to tell the tale.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Throwback Thursday

Facebook loves TBT. I rarely participate, but today I couldn't resist posting a photo of the man for whom I am named.

He has been much in mind since reading a chapter in Sally Mann's Hold Still last night. Titled "The Munger System," she writes about our mutual ancestor, a great-grandfather to her and a great-step-grandfather to me, Robert Sylvester Munger. A fascinating, generous man whom my father adored, Mr. Munger cast a long shadow in Birmingham, my childhood home. He was loved for his charitable works and admired for his inventions and industry.

While I already knew much of the information in the chapter, other parts are startlingly new, especially a private letter Mr. Munger wrote to three of his four sons, one of them the man in the photograph above, my step-grandfather.

Because both Mr. Munger and his son died before I was born, I have always been curious about them and about why my father adored them so. Gentleness of spirit, I gather, and kindness. But Mr. Munger reveals something else, something far less admirable in my step-grandfather. He wrote,

We, Mama and I, feel like we can and should get away from home now . . . to regain some of the youth and vigor that we have lost in thinking and worrying over our children's affairs . . . and we are hoping and looking forward to the time soon when they will do something for us, instead of our working or worrying over them --

We can then direct our energies into channels more for the good of our Community, our Country and our Church and in fact the wide world -- Even while away down here we see opportunities and think of the great good we could do if we could just turn ourselves loose for the rest of our lives --

. . .

Now will you do it?

You can if you will. But you can only do it by one way, and that is by "Work".

All three of you are gifted with everything necessary to assure success in anything you might undertake except one thing, and that one thing you all three lack and that one thing is spelled by four little letters -- e.i. -- W-O-R-K --

Well I would enjoy a few lines from all of you --

Your Affectionate Papa
R. Munger 
Ironically, my grandmother divorced my father's biological father for what I have heard whispered amounts to the same complaint: he just couldn't get started. Oddly, my step-grandfather is chastised by his father for similar listlessness or laziness.

I am struck by the forthrightness and honesty in Mr. Munger's letter, something I doubt many fathers could write or say to their wastrel sons today.

I am also struck by the loving plea that they live up their promise.

And I am more than a bit stunned to see my own father, second from left on the first row, staring out from page 304, in a family photograph, printed in another person's book. (Mann's father is next to my father, the first boy on the left.)

For Sally Mann's research and thoughtfulness and beautiful writing, I am grateful, and to my parents I am grateful for the family name I bear, and for all that it represents, especially the love.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Christmas in May

Like a Santa gift, Anax longipes or Comet Darner (once known as Long-legged Green Darner) hangs from a low stem like an old-fashioned glass ornament of considerable size (3 to 3.4 inches).

Sometimes a woods walk (despite two large tick tag-alongs) is worth the risk.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

On Happiness (Whatever That Is)

Some years ago, because it was assigned to colleagues and me, I read Martin Seligman's Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment. I didn't do as much reading as I did skimming and skipping, groaning impatiently all the way. For me, the book was a slog. (Even the subtitle makes my teeth grind.) Despite what many others (some of whom I respect) said about the book, I found it . . . well . . . unhappy-making.

Yesterday, a friend recommended an even more unhappy-making article with downright dangerous observations from The Atlantic: "What Would You Pay to Be Happy?" My answer is Nothing. Happiness surely isn't something one can buy. That said, I am leaning toward accepting the research that indicates beyond a certain level of income ($75,000, a figure that seems impossibly high to me), one achieves no significant increase in happiness with an increase of funds. (From my vantage point, I can say unequivocally that money can buy a level of ease, if not happiness, in securing necessities.) A Buddhist friend succinctly captured my view of this article: "ho-hum. if anyone's interested, the Buddha's teaching still seems to focus on a stable refuge of well-being that isn't dependent on external conditions. so, not so much of a monetizable app for anyone's phone. as Ursula Le Guin says, so much for capitalism."

I'm more a member of the Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi school of happiness. Flow, "joy, creativity, the process of total involvement in life" is happiness. He writes, "It is by being fully involved with every detail of our lives, whether good or bad, that we find happiness, not by trying to look for it directly." In the state of total involvement or surrender to the creative, a sense of presence outside of time blossoms: that is flow.

Walking with a camera is flow.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Seeking Balance: Before and After

The Lancet Clubtail makes for a clumsy teneral, falling into brush, clutching for anything to hold onto, seeking assurance of survival.

But then look what it can do when it matures.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Woods Walk

by George Oppen

Veritas sequitur . . . 

In the small beauty of the forest
The wild deer bedding down—
That they are there!

                              Their eyes
Effortless, the soft lips
Nuzzle and the alien small teeth
Tear at the grass

                              The roots of it
Dangle from their mouths
Scattering earth in the strange woods.
They who are there.

                              Their paths
Nibbled thru the fields, the leaves that shade them
Hang in the distances
Of sun

                              The small nouns
Crying faith
In this in which the wild deer   
Startle, and stare out.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Two More New Arrivals

Sometimes, they appear singly.
Double-ringed Pennant (first appearance)

Sometimes, in threes.
male Citrine Forktail
Female Citrine Forktail
Immature Female Citrine Forktail
(first appearance of Citrine Forktail)

Sometimes, two by two.
Calico Pennants

I'll take them any way they come and be thankful.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Tallying Again

As the temperature rises and the sun continues to shine, more and more Odonates appear, making it time to create a new tally.

Today, at Lake O'Donnell and Grundy Lakes, I saw a Black Saddlebags (O'Donnell) and these for the first time this season:
Double-striped Bluet at Grundy Lakes
Skimming Bluets at Grundy Lakes
Orange Bluets at Grundy Lakes
Spangled Skimmer at O'Donnell

Now for the order: 
Common Green Darner
Fragile Forktail
then Common Baskettail
Springtime Darner
next Blue Corporal
Carolina Saddlebags
Lancet Clubtail
followed by Common Whitetail
Azure Bluet
Southern Spreadwing
Comet Darner
Violet Dancer
Painted Skimmer
Black Saddlebags
Spangled Skimmer
Double-striped Bluet
Skimming Bluet
Orange Bluet
Addendum on May 9:
Citrine Forktail
Doubled-ringed Pennant
Addendum May 11
Eastern Pondhawk
Stream Cruiser
Addendum May 13
Blue Dasher
Addendum May 16
Swamp Spreadwing
Addendum May 18
Amber-winged Spreadwing

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Other Selves

Watch a dragonfly emergence, and it's easy to understand why the insect is a symbol of metamorphosis and transformation:
it leaves its other selves behind in the process of becoming its final self.

Lancet Clubtail emergence

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Holy Odonates, Batman!

Three in one quick morning: Lake Dimmick never disappoints.

My first-ever good snaps of Lancet Clubtails mating.

My first-of-the-season Violet Dancer.

My first ever decent photographs of a Painted Skimmer (seen for the first time, only briefly, last year at Lake O'Donnell).

And now to continue tallying (May 3):
Common Green Darner
Fragile Forktail
then Common Baskettail
Springtime Darner
next Blue Corporal
Carolina Saddlebags
Lancet Clubtail
followed by Common Whitetail
Azure Bluet
Southern Spreadwing
Comet Darner
Violet Dancer
Painted Skimmer