Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Same Bugs, Different Ponds

S, a fellow ode-o-phile, invited me to meet her at friends' ponds on another part of the mountain.

Same elevation, different water, same bugs. (Nineteen species I counted.)

We wondered aloud what makes the difference between there and here (I have seen some odes she hasn't, and she has seen some I haven't).

Like the experts, we have no idea.

But we enjoyed the outing, the beautiful weather, and the generosity of her friends.

That is . . . until I helped flush (unintentionally) a newly emerged ode about which she was curious, and a red-winged blackbird snagged it. Only a few feet in front of me. Despite my frantic screaming (cursing, really) and arm-waving.

Sometimes ode-watching hurts.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Sewanee's Seasonal Visitors

some (people)
amble threefourfive
abreast with traffic
traffic behind
they turn
stare, signal
the other lane
urging a driver
to ignore
blind curves
oncoming cars
animals or
other visitors
taking the road
as if 
entitled to it

some others

(not people)
share sun
without much
bother like
the brown
butterflies warming
themselves on
leaf, deck,
doorscreen before
flight, taking
no notice
of the person
other side
of the door

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Think Sewanee First

Sewanee prides itself on its long and illustrious literary history.

In that light, one might consider this an in situ demonstration of a literary term: irony.

Alas, probably not.

The bicycle, cigar butt, quarter, beer jacket, and beer can on, behind, and under the Cheston beach bench indicate someone thought about Sewanee not the least little bit.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Cell Phone 1, Robley 0

Finally, dipped my toe in and drowned.

Yes, at the urging of members of my family, I entered the smartphone pool.

But only a weensy bit: an AT&T Gophone.

First, I couldn't figure out how to open the package.

Then I couldn't figure out how to remove the back of the case. (Thanks to a friend who showed me how.)

Then I couldn't figure out how to change some basic settings.

Next I couldn't figure out how to get the pre-purchased minutes usable.

Then I made two members of my immediate family nervous when I messaged them. They responded "Who is this?" I assumed they would see my name.

Finally, the phone locked me out, and no matter what I did, it stayed locked.

After an hour with a helpful AT&T woman online (who answered "Because I have three kids and have been married for sixteen years" when I asked how she could be so patient helping people like me all day long), the phone is working again.

Until I fail again.

Friday, May 27, 2016

You go, girl!

Thanks, Thumb's Up Jesus!

Thursday, May 26, 2016


This day.
This light. 
This blue sky. 
These clouds.
This hill.
This yellow-green grass.
These green leaves.
This moment.
They're enough.
Right now.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Spectacular Occasions

I walk every day, often in the same places. I know these places pretty well: I remember the exact spot where I realized that dragonflies were not just one thing and where I saw my first and only Painted Skimmer and where I collapsed in front of an Arrowhead Spiketail and when I knew that I was obsessed with All Saints' Chapel and the Univeristy Farm Hoophouse, and . . . . But it's more: it's also the first two photographs I took here in Sewanee that reminded me of the good photographs I made as a young adult in North Carolina, Alabama, and Louisiana with film cameras.

But then there are spectacular moments, like the one I had today at Abbo's Alley.

I went there only because it was close and I was worried about the weather. I took one of the usual paths and decided to cross a concrete beam (not really a bridge, per se) to peek under one of my favorite bridges. I thought I might get a good shot. Instead, while I looked, I noticed a violently shaking small plant at the edge of the water. I looked and looked and finally lifted my camera (the one fitted with a lens that extends no further than 280mm, alas, and has no auto flash) and looked through the lens. An exuvia! And then a white face! A dragonfly!

I watched some dragonfly (large, I could tell) move work its way with difficulty and determination to another plant, one more open, even closer to the water, with open space for large wings. I studied both banks below me, both quite steep, both completely covered with vegetation. No walking stick, of course. I decided to risk it and crossed back to the path where I started. From across the stream, I could tell I was watching a Gray Petaltail, but the light was so poor and the lens so short that I couldn't really shoot the bug. I crossed over again and sort of slid down the bank as far as I could without falling forward into rocks and stream and watched and snapped (although at an extremely high ISO, so the pictures are grainy in the extreme).

I ran home, looked at the images, adjusted two, uploaded them to my Facebook Southeastern Odes group, and then learned that most group friends had never before seen this ode emerge. The conversation was as enjoyable as the sight.

Some days, like this one, I am reminded of just how lucky I am to have found something I love doing -- taking pictures of things that are hard to photograph and learning everything I can about them and interacting joyfully with like-minded people. May there be other such occasions.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

A Certain Shade of Blue

Every year I look forward to tiny blue blossoms that burst up from forest floor and lake shore. 
And every year I photograph them. 

I don't know why. 
I've seen them before. 
I've admired them before. 
I've made good pictures of them before. 

To be honest, it's a compulsion. 
Not entirely unknown thing for me, 
having once spent hours among daffodils, every day they were in bloom (and this as a child); 
now spending hours photographing the same kinds of dragonflies and damselflies over and over and over again, as if the act of taking pictures would help me see their beauty more clearly
(and it does). 

Today was no exception. 

Despite watching a snapping turtle, splayed out on grass with her business end over her newly dug earth-scoop, strain to release a single egg; 
despite having discovered a new path through woods I thought impassable; 
despite finding a dead watersnake, its tail-end smashed and buzzing with flies and oozy innards;
despite rescuing a Banded Pennant from a spider web and pulling off as much spider string as I could,

despite all this -- 

it's the tiny blue flowers I memorialize here.

(And of course I can't post just one snap.)

Ironically, the Sewanee Herbarium featured this same blossom (among others) in a post I read after writing this.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Wonder if

an undergraduate on the way to the dorm ever took this turn?

Sometimes, I wonder about road signs.

And about the people who decide where they should be placed.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Seriously, Wiki How?

Coping with Acute Instances of Frustration

1. Learn your triggers. That's easy: trying to use a macro lens on teeny tiny, fast-moving odes in the shadows.

2. Avoid triggers whenever possible. W-h-a-t??? How will I get better and any less frustrated by avoiding the thing that I want to learn?

3. Practice stress-management breathing. Got this one. I can barely breathe when I walk with a camera because it's so exciting.

4. Manage your expectations. (I'll leave out the "of others" part since it's expectations of myself and my photography skills.) I pretty much expect to fail right now, so I've got this one.

 5. Check in with yourself. Ask yourself questions, like "Are things really as I perceive them?" Well, yes, the pictures aren't any good. "What might I be missing here?" Skill built from practice?

6. View frustration as "delayed success" rather than "failure." Got that: If I'm not frustrated, I'm not learning anything. (But. I sure as heck can't wait till I feel the flow again.)

To wit: Twenty minutes shooting this one flower and its shadow, never quite figuring out how to frame and focus the shot.

One more thing, Wiki How: didn't anybody ever mention that some frustration is a good thing and actually a lot of fun?

Saturday, May 21, 2016

A Trick of Memory

but only
I miss
closing rituals
like graduation
but then
remember this
among my stash
button stash:
how can
I miss
you if
you won't 
go away?

Friday, May 20, 2016

Water Bowl

without sun
I made
my own

Thursday, May 19, 2016

New Terrain

A friend drove the car (and I drove her crazy since we're both used to driving ourselves), and we went to a new destination for both of us: the Riding Reflection Arboretum and Nature Center at the base of Lookout Mountain. What a beautiful site.

Leaving behind the schoolchildren (apparently the center welcomes schoolchildren every day of year, which is fantastic for them, not so much for adults who long for respite), we headed up The Riding, a beautiful winding drive or walk that includes mountain views, ponds, creek access, meadows, wild animals in captivity (because of injuries or inability to return to the wild), historical markers about "bold" Confederates during the Battle of Lookout Mountain, wildflowers, horses, greenhouse, and odonates (of course).

I especially loved, and I think my friend S. did as well, the Indian Pinks, a native wildflower I'd never before seen. (Naturally, I had the wrong lens, thinking twice before leaving home and then deciding to leave the macro at home.) 

I shall, however, return.

Often, I hope.

What a wonderful place I only happened upon thanks to the Internet. And what a lovely outing, complete with sunshine.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Merely a Flourish

What stairway to heaven?

What heaven?

We're all stardust and we need no up or down -- every thing, and I mean thing everywhere we're all one.

I've written about this before, and I've written about it just as poorly before, but Carlo Rovelli has given beautiful form to inchoate thoughts I've never been able (or capable of expressing). At the end of his wonderful little book, 7 Brief Lessons on Physics, he turns  to "Ourselves."

From his book, I highlighted this passage because I found it moving, and I believe it to be true:

"Within the immense ocean of galaxies and stars we are in a remote corner; amid the infinite arabesques of forms that constitute reality, we are merely a flourish among innumerably many such flourishes. The images that we construct of the universe live within us, in the space of our thoughts. Between these images— between what we can reconstruct and understand with our limited means— and the reality of which we are part, there exist countless filters: our ignorance, the limitations of our senses and of our intelligence. The very same conditions that our nature as subjects, and particular subjects, imposes upon experience.

"These conditions, nevertheless, are not, as Kant imagined, universal— deducing from this (with obvious error) that the nature of Euclidian space and even of Newtonian mechanics must therefore be true a priori. They are a posteriori to the mental evolution of our species and are in continuous evolution. We not only learn, but we also learn to gradually change our conceptual framework and to adapt it to what we learn. And what we are learning to recognize, albeit slowly and hesitantly, is the nature of the real world of which we are part. The images that we construct of the universe may live inside us, in conceptual space, but they also describe more or less well the real world to which we belong. We follow leads in order to better describe this world.

"When we talk about the big bang or the fabric of space, what we are doing is not a continuation of the free and fantastic stories that humans have told nightly around campfires for hundreds of thousands of years. It is the continuation of something else: of the gaze of those same men in the first light of day looking at tracks left by antelope in the dust of the savannah— scrutinizing and deducting from the details of reality in order to pursue something that we can’t see directly but can follow the traces of. In the awareness that we can always be wrong, and therefore ready at any moment to change direction if a new track appears; but knowing also that if we are good enough we will get it right and will find what we are seeking. This is the nature of science. 

"The confusion between these two diverse human activities— inventing stories and following traces in order to find something— is the origin of the incomprehension and distrust of science shown by a significant part of our contemporary culture. The separation is a subtle one: the antelope hunted at dawn is not far removed from the antelope deity in that night’s storytelling.

"The border is porous. Myths nourish science, and science nourishes myth. But the value of knowledge remains. If we find the antelope, we can eat.

"Our knowledge consequently reflects the world. It does this more or less well, but it reflects the world we inhabit. This communication between ourselves and the world is not what distinguishes us from the rest of nature. All things are continually interacting with one another, and in doing so each bears the traces of that with which it has interacted: and in this sense all things continuously exchange information about one another."

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Slow Strolling

Yesterday, I never left the shore opposite the Lake Cheston beach. Today, I made my way to three of four sides. When others ask what I do each day, I say "I go walking with a camera." But is I'm honest, I go slow strolling, stopping and looking far longer than walking. After all, if I were to go fast for exercise, I'd miss all the good stuff.

Like this: a female Common Whitetail ovipositing. Oh, I've seen it before, but usually at a further distance, through foliage. I was so happy to see her at work (and the male protecting her above and out of frame) that I made two videos -- one at her speed and one at mine.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Damsel in Distress

I had only an hour with some sun, so I ran to Lake Cheston. Not much doing, I thought, until I happened upon this female damselfly.

She was so loaded down with mites that she merely alit on the sandy bank and stayed and stayed and stayed there. All of a sudden, an ant attacked and tumbled her. I managed to get her away from the ant (I admit I killed the bugger), and she perched on my finger a good long while. I had the wrong lens on the camera (of course) and managed what I could by way of photos.

Because I had an appointment and then work, I finally had to leave. I perched her on a broad leaf and left, feeling, I admit, quite guilty that I could do more nothing more.

When I came home and looked at my pictures, I was puzzled. I didn't believe what I was seeing. I posted photos on the Southeastern Odes Facebook group, and Dennis Paulson (who wrote Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East, among other guides) responded, " I think that was a Vesper Bluet, Enallagma vesperum. Clearly not in the best of condition, probably because of all those mites."

Holy cow! That makes three Vespers  in less than a week. And this one is a whole different body of water!

Small consolation, though, for the damselfly, who I feel certain has been dispatched by now.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

What Shadows Do

hide Ebony Jewelwings

accent Kousa dogwood

make bridges mysterious

play on running water

announce leafy canopy

Saturday, May 14, 2016

An Intentional Walk, Unintended Consequences

I went back to the Lake Dimmick area, hoping to find another Vesper Bluet. I started at the big pond, where I saw only Blue Corporals and a number of Azure Bluets. So windy and cold were the pond and shore that I lost my hat several times and finally gave up. 

I walked down to the boat launch pull-off at the lake, where "snot grass" grows. Several Facebook friends noted that the only Vesper Bluets they had seen were bodies of water with lily pads. I found what I was looking for -- one female Vesper Bluet.

And something else: a feather pile dotted with water drops, atop of which a spider dragged her egg ball.

Then, a few feet away, I noticed the bird's carcass in the water, its bill still parted its feet spread and caught in the reeds.

I don't know the species; I'll leave that to someone else. I don't know what happened; no one can. What I do know is that I left my walk feeling oddly dislocated and tired.

I found what I hoped for, and I left feeling sad.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Another Sewanee Odonate Confirmed!

Hello, Vesper Bluet (Enallagma versperum)!

When I saw the bright yellow thorax and blue final segments on the abdomen, I was puzzled. After poring over my books and Odonata Central, I thought perhaps the light was so bad and my photos so poor that I was mistaken in my initial impression of Vesper. Orange Bluet, I decided.

I posted these to my Southeastern Odes group on Facebook and asked what others thought. Their response was astonishing.

Vesper Bluet at 11:30 in the morning! That makes damselfly species number 28!

Thursday, May 12, 2016


Current election cycle.

Universe: 13.8 billion years. Odonates: 300 million years. Homo sapiens: 200,000 years.

Rainy day tricks of light.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016


Sometimes, I just need to pull off the highway and stop, look, and listen.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

"Illegal Alien"

Google multiflora rose and you might discover that it's an invasive species. Its thickets apparently provide erosion control (they appear to help on the Cheston dam) but they also crowd out native species.

I don't think I actually care (perhaps because I don't fight them in my own yard).

In fact, I love them, for their perching ease (I'll never forget the Lancet Clubtail drying out atop one several years ago) and for their beauty. The blossom's deep pink bleaches in sun, reminding me of stiff white cotton sheets, wrinkled and holding their wrinkles. 

Most roses I can take or leave (the odor always for the taking), but this one I love. By any name -- rambler or seven-sisters rose -- it's a beauty.

Monday, May 9, 2016

After Commencement

Yesterday, they graduated.

Some left yesterday; some today; some will hang around.

A walk at one of the two campus lakes depressed me as much as the cold, gray weather. Litter. Everywhere. Beer bottles, take-out containers, liquor bottles, cigarette butts, books. Someone somewhere could have used this one.

I can't help wondering if the parents ever notice the junk their children fling about.

Other community members do. One sent out an email on the Classifieds system noting the perfectly good mattresses and box springs left outside the house next to the post office. Because it's supposed to rain, she suggested someone might want to scavenge them.

Need I say this?

I shall anyway.

The folks who lived in that house are students.

Ah privilege. Ah disposable culture. Ah entitlement.

On the upside: odonates don't seem to care about the trash.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Bugs Bugs Bugs! Even When I'm not Trying to Photograph Them

Mistakes. I am making lots and lots and lots of them with my camera. Good thing I don't have to pay for the printing.

Every now and then, however, something delightful happens, something totally unexpected. Even if the focus doesn't show the extra character in each of these, I can identify them as Carolina Sadlebags hawking from the dam and a flower fly.

Some accidents are indeed happy.

Saturday, May 7, 2016


Commencement weekend: parents, distinguished guests, seniors in gowns, loud parties and some drinking, cool nights and warm days, ends and beginnings.

I remember my commencement, on the mall facing the Vanderbilt library, late afternoon in June, sun shining directly in our eyes, and the heat, the heat, the heat. We waited our turn. Five hundred and twenty-nine (I think) graduates of the College, wearing stifling black gowns, twitching and waiting.

After I crossed the stage and walked into the aisle to my seat, the fellow behind me leaned forward and asked, "Do you have anything on under that gown?" I was thrilled to part the gown and show him my bright chartreuse cut-offs and striped tee. 

Ah youth.

(At least I didn't sweat as much as everyone else.)

Friday, May 6, 2016

Three Hours and a Funeral

A wonderful Bell Buckle man I first met as "The Mayor" died in March. His family arranged a memorial mass at the Catholic cathedral in Nashville, where his father had played organ for years. My friend F and I drove up for the funeral, a lovely service in a beautiful building, with a fitting tribute paid by his eldest grandson, who read goodbye letters his cousins and he had written. Mr. Strobel was a congenial, smart, generous person, and his grandchildren were lucky to have known him, and to have known him so well.

Three hours later, F and I finally had lunch -- at her house in Bell Buckle. Why three hours? Because we stupidly decided to have hot chicken at Hattie B's, despite the long lunch-hour line and our previousl mixed experience. Some two hours later, after paying the parking twice (for a total of $25) and after paying another $20 for lunch, we left the restaurant, having never received our food. Why pay another ten bucks, we reasoned, to continue parking and waiting?

On the way home, an hour's drive, we made a promise: "If someone says 'hot chicken,' go somewhere else or shut the cluck up! Never ever ever again!"

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Blackberry Winter

Thirty-nine degrees on May 5.
Strong wind.
Lows of 44 predicted for the next two nights.
Everything makes sad music.

Your choice: lyrics or instrumental.
Either paints the mood blue.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

I Bet I Know What You're Thinking, Doodlebug

Let the cat out of the bag!


The Cat-Sack, a vet's best friend and a cat's mother's delight!

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

I Feel Like This Every Spring

Oh, the iris. I can never find the words for wet silk of petal, shimmering cells, impossible comings and goings of color and line and shape, flow, furl unfurling and re-furling, a painterly fantasy of blossom. At least today, I found a poem with language as beautiful as the blossom.


To prepare the body,
aim for the translucent perfection
you find in the sliced shavings
of a pickled turnip.
In order for this to happen,
you must avoid the sun,
protect the face
under a paper parasol
until it is bruised white
like the skin of lilies.
Use white soap
from a blue porcelain
dish for this.

Restrict yourself.
Eat the whites of things:
tender bamboo shoots,
the veins of the young iris,
the clouded eye of a fish.

Then wrap the body,
as if it were a perfumed gift,
in pieces of silk
held together with invisible threads
like a kite, weighing no more
than a handful of crushed chrysanthemums.
Light enough to float in the wind.
You want the effect
of koi moving through water.

When the light leaves
the room, twist lilacs
into the lacquered hair
piled high like a complicated shrine.
There should be tiny bells
inserted somewhere
in the web of hair
to imitate crickets
singing in a hidden grove.

Reveal the nape of the neck,
your beauty spot.
Hold the arrangement.
If your spine slacks
and you feel faint,
remember the hand-picked flower
set in the front alcove,
which, just this morning,
you so skillfully wired into place.
How poised it is!
Petal and leaf
curving like a fan,
the stem snipped and wedged
into the metal base—
to appear like a spontaneous accident.

Monday, May 2, 2016

The Difference Size Makes

Issues: Size and focus.
To wit: Lancet Clubtail, featured yesterday, measures about 43mm (1.69 inches). Double-striped Bluet, the smallest bluet, measures between 21 (.826 inches) and 28mm (1.10 inches). Note that these numbers relate to length only. Girth is a whole other issue entirely.
Double-striped Bluet
less problematic was this newly emerged female Variable Dancer (29-35mm)
even less problematic was this mating pair of Skippers (wingspan open at about 1.25 to 1.625 inches)
Problem: Finding a tiny damselfly in the EVF or on the screen, focusing on it, and taking a decent photo.

Solution: Practice at home with a straight pin.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Oh Yeah, Baby!

Well, this was fun: odes meet macro.

(Now I can't wait till I really learn to use the lens!)