Saturday, April 30, 2016

Things I Learned This Week

Sewanee is home to the Aurora Damsel, the 27th species of damselfly I've identified and photographed on the Domain.

I may be the Dragonfly Whisperer of the Domain: I walked to my neighbor's yard and saw one hawking overhead; I walked out of the cashier's office at the College and saw another hawking near the Chapel; I drove home and saw a third one as soon as I stepped out of the car. (Does this happen to everyone?)

Strong sun turns the grimy porch deck into a shadowed cage, trapping dove and airplane.

Skipping a photowalk on another overcast day can be relaxing and productive.

My niece loved my gift of a cellphone case featuring my poppy photograph.

The best laid plans will go wrong at the worst possible moment; even skillful medical personnel can find tick nymphs virtually impossible to grab and pull from flesh; the Nashville Friday rush hour apparently begins at 3:30pm.

Ticks love the pine straw mulch in my neighbor's gardens. Four ticks in as many days are four ticks too many, even if the resulting photos are beautiful. 

Friday, April 29, 2016

Gifts to Myself

other ways of seeing

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Worked Like a Charm (Except for the Focus)

waited till 11:30am, drove out to Day Lake Road, prepped the camera, walked straight to the big pond, went around the curve toward the other side, crept from sunlit spot to sunlit spot, looked at the leaves, and found the Aurora Damsel


Wednesday, April 27, 2016

There's Remarkable, and Then There's *Remarkable*

I  This Is Remarkable

Without ever thinking about them since putting the bulbs in the ground, I nearly tripped on my sidewalk when I saw these.

I usually kill anything I plant. But by some miracle not this time.

Now I just need a list of plants that take care of themselves.


Insects are remarkable and Levon Bliss equally so. Just watch. 

Microsculpture from Levon Biss on Vimeo.

It's one thing to be an insect, another to see one, and still another on an entirely plane of existence to design a way to photograph one in every intimate detail.

If only I were in Oxford, where I could see these in person.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

A Good Day at the Waterpark

escorted by a Red Velvet Ant

to the lake, where I photographed a Common Whitetail

(only to discover that I also photographed a butterfly)

watched a slider floating atop a log like a cowboy loping along on a horse

all the while taking in the view

and then I saw the water between me and beach

and the water from the wooded trail

and the water from the last footbridge

before returning home to watch this

Monday, April 25, 2016

Another Record!

When KZ of the Sewanee Biology Department challenged me to create a list of odonates on the Domain, I had no idea I'd still be at it five years later. With pleasure, I sent him an updated list last night, having discovered and photographed a new species for the Domain and county at the Day Lake Road large pond.

The Aurora Damsel is a true beauty: so different from bluets -- no shoulder stripes, somehow seemingly broader and longer. I saw it for less than a minute, just long enough for two snaps, and then it disappeared.

It's a comfort to learn that the Aurora prefers "spring-fed streams, clean lakes, and ponds," according to Ed Lam's Damselflies of the Northeast. I supposed that Lake Dimmick is relatively clear, but I never thought the nearby ponds were.

In any case, I have now photographed 36 species of Anisoptera (dragonfly) and 27 of Anisoptera (damselfly), and given that I thought there was one thing called dragonfly when I started, I'd say it's an accomplishment.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

On Lying on Vegetation and Earth on the Margin of Pond and Woods: An Ode Hunter's Prayer

Please please please don't let me be lying in poison ivy!

Azure Bluets preparing to mate, interrupted by an ant

Note: no poison ivy, but a nymph tick embedded itself in my back.

So much for prayer!

Saturday, April 23, 2016

An Almost Perfect Day

"Can there be a more perfect day?" the Reader asked.

"A little less windy for me," I answered.

When she looked puzzled and said, "Sure," I added, "I'm trying to photograph insects."

"Oh!" The Reader smiled.

We talked a bit: I suggested she cross the lake to see the pink lady slippers, she said she and her husband would retire to the Domain (they are here this weekend so he can attend a fraternity meeting), I said it's a great place to live, and at that point something huge zoomed overhead. I said goodbye and made a hasty exit.

She has the right idea, this visitor from a smallish town about an hour and a half west: find a good spot, open a book, and read.

But first, there's always something to see and someone to meet.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Failures of Communication

"H-e-l-l-o-o-o-o!" I nearly shouted

A woman starting to walk across the dam called in response, "Hi!"

How could I possibly explain that I wasn't talking to her (I hadn't even seen her)? I decided to tell her the truth. "I'm sorry, I didn't even see you. I was exclaiming about the large dragonfly that just flew past me!"

She laughed and said, "I understand," and walked on.

Good thing she didn't also hear me curse about 

A. the lack of light

B. my inability to find the right position (including sitting in the mud with one foot on a rock to the left and the other parting leaves beside a rock on the right) to photograph and video this emerging Lancet Clubtail


C. my complete failure to capture even one decent snap of the large dragonfly: the first Stream Cruiser of the season. At least I know what one looks like, so IDing is easy (see that blur at left edge?)

Now if I can just befriend my camera and make Lightroom stop closing down every time I try to use it.


Thursday, April 21, 2016


The kids at the University Farm are so popular that they and their mothers have been moved close to Breakfield Road. (They are, of course and thankfully, shielded from intruding hands by an electrified fence.)

I, for one, am happy about that.

As the internet has exploded with goat pictures and videos, these creatures have reached star levels.

It's easy to see why.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016


A former student posted "The Disease of Being Busy" by Omid Safi on Facebook today. It makes me happy that she posted the article, proving her worth as a teacher and person.

Everyone on campus right now answers "How's it going?" with "Busy, busy, busy."

This morning, a friend took a portrait of me with an old large format camera and said he'd be spending the night in the photo lab with students. Why? They wait till the end of term to do their projects. They've been busy otherwise, I suppose.

I was busy today: I met with my friend, went grocery shopping (once for me and another shorter trip for an ill friend), took pictures in my neighbor's yard and in Abbo's Alley, worked for about an hour and a half, tried to use Lightroom, ate supper, looked at Facebook, and wrote this blog post. But I'm not tired and I'm not stressed because I moved at my own pace.

Turns out putting on a watch today was pointless. I never looked at it till I got home and noticed something odd.

Instead of turning it around, I just took it off and put it on the desk, where it sits most of the time.

The great thing about my life now is that I'm only as busy as I want to be. I only wish that were true of more people, especially children in American schools where everything is structured by adult convenience of lives lived by the clock.

At least, my former student knows that, and I trust she has figured out how to make the system work for her students and herself.

Monday, April 18, 2016

When the air flutters

over and around a pond, it's odonate season in full.

In about an hour an half, I saw Blue Corporals, Common Baskettails, one Comet Darner, Green Darners, one Springtime Darner, Carolina Saddlebags, Black Saddlebags, Fragile Forktails, Lancet Clubtails, and one Common Whitetail.

I watched emerging, mating, patrolling, hawking, guarding, sparring, basking, . . . the whole shebang.

Now I have to learn how to use the camera more seriously.

Note to self: do not ever drop the lens cap in the muddy water again.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Thus Endeth Spring Party Weekend (I Hope)

On the Lake Cheston beach bench:
one pair of undershorts
one pair of socks
one empty bottle of vodka.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

In Admiration of an Unknown Man

        in the same shirt, jeans, shoes 
        his hair long, hands pocketed
        eyes down, or askance

he walks
        every day
        every season
        every weather condition

the same route
        along Caldwell
        into Monteagle
        (and beyond?)
        and then back again

I do not know
        his name
        his home
        or homelessness
but I do know
        his strength
        his compulsion
        his courage

never have I seen
        him stop
        carry anything
        seek assistance
        take cover
        lie down

as I might

he simply
        puts one foot
        in front of the other

who's to say
        he isn't

Friday, April 15, 2016

Spring Party Weekend

Concert at Lake Cheston tonight till 1 AM.Oh joy.

May the emerging nymphs succeed anyway.

The real party took place during the day.



and this

and this.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Bridge of Sorrows

Some Sewanee folks call it the Metal Bridge; others, The Trestle Bridge.

Today, however, I officially designated it the Bridge of Sorrows.

In all the years I have been observing and photographing odonates, this bridge hosts Common Baskettail disaster after disaster, year after year.

Unfortunately, it's the Baskettails' favorite spot at Lake Cheston to emerge, perhaps because they can climb quite high right out of the water. I write unfortunately because it's also a favorite spot for industrious spiders who unreel their silk. Fortunately for the spiders, strong wind often pushes insects into their lairs, and unfortunately, emerging Baskettails frequently make their final molts into that silk. 

Just today, I counted five emerging Baskettails, but only two will fly and, thus, survive. Of the others, two had misshapen, crimped, and silk-stuck wings; one was already wrapped up in a spider's package.

It's hard to walk that bridge in spring every year, but walk it I must. Sometimes, I am lucky enough to pass by just in time to save a dragonfly.

But not today.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Small Break, Big Learning Curve

My two faithful readers thought I been out of town or sick between Sunday and Wednesday. I assured them not so. The break in posts was due to a perfect storm: rain on Day 1; more than two hours installing Photoshop CC on my computer and six hours working, leaving no time for composing, uploading snaps, and posting on Day 2; and more work, walking, shooting, and working to figure out Photoshop on Day 3. At least I took some pictures, and at least I managed to do something with a few of them. They will have to do.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

A Family in Flowers

My mother loved flowers. She planted them, weeded around them, nurtured and watered and pruned them, and cut the blossoms to arrange. Every Christmas time, bowls floated camellias, and every spring rows of jonquils (she never referred to these as daffodils) waved in the front yard.
Her mother too had loved flowers, tending serried rows of blooms in the down-sloping back yard, the entire property lush with boxwood (never boxwoods, mind you, as this was Virginia and my grandmother was a formidable woman).

My deceased sister-in-law loved flowers too. She tailored her yards, in increasing sophistication at home (even installing a small greenhouse in her last one); in the county, she respected edibles like blueberries (hers were always lush and fresh and tasty) and tomatoes and snap peas (which I ate with great pleasure right from the vine) and heaped flowers in large barrels and baskets along the porch.

My niece, her daughter, also loves flowers, first helping to grow them and sell them in California, then as farm manager of an herb farm (where acres of coneflowers led down to river framed by mountains), then as an organic garden planner/installer, and now as a florist of such skill that I am astonished every time I see pictures of her work.

I do not grow flowers, but I love them too, for their colors and shapes and scents and attractiveness to bugs of all kinds. I had forgotten how much I love them until, with a new camera, I started snapping them again. And now I cannot imagine how I got sidetracked from them in the first place.

by Wendy Videlock

for my mother

They are fleeting.
They are fragile.
They require

little water.
They'll surprise you.
They'll remind you

that they aren't
and they are you.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Stutter Start Spring

70 one day, 30-something the next. 

Sun one day, rain the next.

Just when the Blue Corporals, Fragile Forktails, and Citrine Forktails appear, the rain comes, or the temperature drops, or the wind blows and blows and blows.

Just when my flowering trees bloom, the rain comes, or the temperature drops, or the wind blows and blows and blows. 

And the leaves replace the blooms and the bugs come out only in late afternoon when it's as warm as it will be.

No lingerer, this cruel spring.

At least the British soldiers lichen doesn't seem to care.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Testing Other Ways of Seeing

Monet Refuses the Operation

Doctor, you say there are no haloes
around the streetlights in Paris
and what I see is an aberration
caused by old age, an affliction.
I tell you it has taken me all my life
to arrive at the vision of gas lamps as angels,
to soften and blur and finally banish
the edges you regret I don’t see,
to learn that the line I called the horizon
does not exist and sky and water,
so long apart, are the same state of being.
Fifty-four years before I could see
Rouen cathedral is built
of parallel shafts of sun,
and now you want to restore
my youthful errors: fixed
notions of top and bottom,
the illusion of three-dimensional space,
wisteria separate
from the bridge it covers.
What can I say to convince you
the Houses of Parliament dissolve
night after night to become
the fluid dream of the Thames?
I will not return to a universe
of objects that don’t know each other,
as if islands were not the lost children
of one great continent.  The world
is flux, and light becomes what it touches,
becomes water, lilies on water,
above and below water,
becomes lilac and mauve and yellow
and white and cerulean lamps,
small fists passing sunlight
so quickly to one another
that it would take long, streaming hair
inside my brush to catch it.
To paint the speed of light!
Our weighted shapes, these verticals,
burn to mix with air
and change our bones, skin, clothes
to gases.  Doctor,
if only you could see
how heaven pulls earth into its arms
and how infinitely the heart expands
to claim this world, blue vapor without end.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Happy Feet (A Coming Attraction)

Thanks to a brilliant pedorthist in Nashville, my feet are on the way to happiness (for the first time in longer than I can remember). One 45-minute visit, one purchase of New Balance shoes (in a style and size I didn't know New Balance makes), and one hour-long walk promise great things to come.

Next? Orthotics at the end of the month.

Be still my bunions: soon you may be forgotten.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016


Especially at my friend F's house, where a few of her deceased husband's tulips still bloom

and where conversations about things that matter happen in a room whose windows reflect their garden. 

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

To Everything There Is a Season

Thus endeth the season of bookbinding.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

On Emergence, Let Me Count the Ways I Love the Common Baskettail

The hairy shoulders

The see-through abdomen.

The head punctuated by yellow face.

The jaunty yellow and brown pattern.

The resilience after watery rescue.

All the ways, but not this: flattened by careless runner or cyclist.