The Secrets of Life Found Among the Dead

Dear Mr. Charles,

In 1882 you passed
from this life to the next,

but it appears
that your story
didn’t end there.

Today was the day
that in your nymph stage,
you chose
to emerge
from your underground burrow
where the sap
of plant roots
had sustained you
for several years.

While I walked about
and noticed
other forms of life
taking place within
the fenced land,

such as Robberflies
canoodling in their
tail-to-tail fashion,

and a Chipmunk
who made me think
the dead were walking
until I saw it
checking on me,

I also spotted
the larval skins
left behind by
many of your kin

who had chosen
a nearby tree trunk
and surrounding ground
for such a transformation.

Their thickened legs
spoke of the digging
your species endures
while in that
subterranean habitat.

You, however,
preferred your stone
for metamorphosis.

Ever so slowly
through a split
along your back,

your body,
pale-colored at first,
extended outward.

Large and chunky
with bulbous,
yet beady eyes,

and long,
thick-veined
and translucent wings,

you looked like
something out
of a sci-fi movie.

Hues of salmon.
pale green.
and aquamarine.

At first
your coloration
reminded me
of a pastel painting,

but over time
it became apparent
that your palette
changed with maturity

and eventually
looked more like
a camouflaged adult
who will spend time
in the nearby tree.

Left behind
was an empty shell
of your former self.

Our time together
came to an end
after periodic checks
over the course
of three hours.
I suspect by now
you’ve flown
to a tree
in search
of a mate.
The resulting eggs
will be laid
on a branch,
and your story
will come
to an end
once again,
Mr. Charles.
But never fear,
for the next generation
will carry on
the circle of life
as the larvae hatch
and fall to the ground,
where they’ll burrow
into the earth beneath
or somewhere very near
your resting place
before resurfacing
as young nymphs
ready as you were
to burst forth from
their exoskeletons
three years from now.

Thank you
for allowing me
to watch
on this day
as you shared
the secrets of
a Cicada’s life
while I wandered
among the dead

.

Honoring My Guy

Maybe it was because I intended to read “Emergence,” a poem I wrote in honor of dragonflies at a local poetry reading, or maybe it was just because, but for the first time this summer, a Slaty Blue Skimmer landed on my shirt as I stood waiting for others to arrive at a trailhead on Tuesday. I placed my pointer finger in front of the insect and it slowly climbed aboard.

That’s not so unusual, but what struck me was that I was able to walk to my truck and grab my camera, use my left hand to take a photo as he remained on my right hand, and show him off to my friends–for at least fifteen minutes.

Of course, then I was hooked and so after returning to camp and taking a dip, I felt a familiar tickling on my toes as I sat on a lounge chair. The minute I moved, my friend moved, but only as far as the dock ladder. And so, I ran inside, grabbed my camera, and sure enough . . . he was either still there or had returned from a brief flight during my absence. Dragonflies do that–return over an over again to favorite perches in their territories.

I figured I might as well try again, but this time smartened up and used my left pointer, the easier to manage the camera with my right hand.

Ever so gently, he climbed onto it. Notice how you can see him using all three pairs of legs, well on one side anyway? They offered me a lesson.

For you see, I became aware that once he was settled on me or a leaf or twig, he pulled first one and then the other front leg up, rather like the draw-back position in karate, where you make a fist and pull your arm into your body. (I only know this because years ago our youngest took karate lessons until he was just shy of a black belt.)

What Slaty Blue (SBD) taught me was that he could stand on two pairs of legs and pull the front pair up, only using it when necessary to climb upon something or capture a meal.

My dragonfly and I . . . we spent a lot of time together. Even if he needed to fly off and twirl about in the air with a rival, or catch a delectable snack, he kept returning to my finger.

And if not my finger, then the top of a dock post. Those eyes–so brown. That face–so black.

And then there were the wings. Translucent and delicate with thin black veins. By spending so much time with SBD, I also noticed that a bit of the slaty blue coloration radiated from his body outward, as if that was his basal wing patch.

If you look at a Calico Pennant dragonfly, you’ll really understand the basal wing patch, that section of stained glass on the wing closest to its body.

I loved noticing that bit of coloration, but it’s the mechanics of it all that always astonishes me. How can an insect with such a chunky body fly with such thin wings?

The other thing about the wings is that they helped me with identification. Oh, not to say that this was a Slaty Blue for his coloring gave that away. But which SBD was I holding? My friend had a tatter on both hind wings. The one on the left was about a vein cell wide and the one on the right looked like a small chunk had been taken out of it. What happened? Prey or a run in with a plant or twig? I’ll never know, but I will know by those injuries that he was the one that liked to land on me.

Another, who was actually a rival, and perhaps a sibling, or at least a cousin, had a tattered forewing that looked a wee bit worse.

And then there was one I spied while kayaking yesterday and he had a pine needle stuck through his abdomen. What? But there it was and each time he moved, I could easily locate him.

On the same kayak adventure, an SBD landed upon a Pickerel Weed and as I watched . . .

he arched his back in a pose that reminded me of two things: 1. a move I’d learned yesterday morning during a Yoga in the Woods walk offered by Deb Nelson of the Greater Lovell Land Trust, and 2. His mating position. Was he in practice?

Would he find a she? She is so different. Her wings astound me the most.

My experience has been that there are more hes than shes so the guys better make their moves.

If you haven’t already figured it out, I’m in love with all dragonflies, but the male SBD is one of my favorites because his eyes remind me of my guy’s. And today, August 4, we are celebrating our 29th anniversary. So this post is in honor of my guy (even though he never reads these because he feels like he’s already lived them). May our journey together continued to be wonder-filled.

Mind-ful, Wonder-ful Art

I’m thankful for today’s art-ful offerings.

The day began with a sketching workshop at Hewnoaks Artist Colony that was led by visual artist Pamela Moulton as part of the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Wellness Series.

I sketched the circle of life for a Mica Cone 😉

And then the fun continued as I tramped along the Leach Link Trail in Evans Notch with Pam Katz and Bob Katz.

A mountain. Train tracks. Topographical map. Zippers. Stitching sample.

Radiating out. In. Chunks. Lines. Shades. Puzzling.

Zigzag. The end?

Hardly the end for lines continue. Into. Infinity. Over. Under. Indents. Outdents. Is that a word?

Waiting for a pollinator. Already pollinated. Color. Lack of color. The past. The future. Was. To be.

Pearly Eye. Circles. Lines. Stained Glass. Overlap. Shades of brown. Shades of gray. Bull’s eye. Target. 

Water. Rocks. Flowing. Refreshing. Life giving. Carved. By. Nature. Nurturing. Cold. River.

Ebony. Jewel. Big eyes. Little guy. Damsel. Fly.

Thanks to all for letting me be a part of your day. Mind-ful. Art-ful. Nature-ful. Wonder-ful.

Emergence


Oh dragonfly, oh dragonfly
In your infancy, you laboriously 
climbed upon a slender stem.
Ever
so
slowly
seams split.
Soft and squishy, you spilled forth into this sunlit world.
Perched upon your former self, wispy strings recalled aquatic breaths. 
Moments slipped
into an hour. 
Your body of velvet pulsed as blood pumped into cloudy wings.
Standing guard watching you, I noted preparations for first flight. 
Eyes bulging
you chose
a spot
of viewpoint vantage.
Colors changing, 
you gained 
the markings
 of generations past.
Wings drying 
you offered
a reflection 
of stained glass.
Beyond understanding
you flew 
a dance
of darting restlessness.

Odonata, Odonata,
You have known 
both worlds. 
First playing 
beneath the surface.
Then in a manner 
so brave,
climbing skyward
to ride summer’s breeze
on gossamer wings.
Forever in awe 
of your transformation
from aquatic nymph 
to winged adult, 
I can only imagine
the wonder of
 emergence.

Nothing False About This Celebration

With a mission
to check upon
a heron rookery,
I invited
a friend
to join me.

The young’uns
sat upon their
nests of sticks
waiting for
the next meal
to arrive.

With the flap
of wings
slowed in rhythm,
landing gear
was extended
in the form
of long legs
and feet.
Within minutes,
a meal of fish
was regurgitated
and
passed
from
parent
to
child.
Because of 
our location
beside
a slow-flowing river,
many other sights
caught our
attention.
But it was one
with a
penchant for moisture
who stood
as tall
as my chin
that garnered
the most attention.
I've oft 
relished its
pleated leaves
of green,
their manner
that of the
lily family.
In a 
clasping formation,
they attach
to the main stem,
spirally arranged
from bottom
to top.
I've seen 
the plant often
in its leafy rendition,
but today
was the first time
its star-shaped flowers
atop the plant
revealed themselves.
With
petals and sepals
combined
as tepals,
my friend noted
their resemblance
to the leaves below.
The more we looked, 
the more we realized
there were others
who also
revered
such a unique structure,
in particular
the nectar-producing glands
at each flower's base.
The plant
took advantage,
or so it seemed,
of allowing those
who ventured
into its sweetness
with a dash,
or perhaps
a dollop,
of pollen
to pass on
for future reference.
Because of its location
in the moist habitat,
insects formerly aquatic,
such as
the Alderfly,
did walk
with sluggish movements.
Up its stout stalk
one rose,
the fuzzy structure
perhaps providing
it texture
upon which to climb.
Did it seek
the bright yellow anthers?
Or the nectar below?
With wings
delicately veined
and folded over
like a tent,
the Alderfly
paused
and hardly pondered
its next move.
The flower
mattered not
for this
weak flyer.
At last
it reached
the tip
of the
long, upright
inflorescence,
conical in form,
and I wondered:
would it pierce
the unopened flowers
for a bit
of nutrition?
Perhaps not,
for adults
of this species
have a need
more important
than eating.
Theirs is to
mate,
particularly at night.
Maybe it was
a he,
looking for a sight
to meet
a she.
As it 
turned out,
not all
who had
canoodling
on their minds
could wait
until the day
darkened
to
night.
Meanwhile,
there were others
who sought
the sweet satisfaction
of nectar
for their needs.
And in 
the process
of seeking,
tads of pollen
decorated
their backs,
in this case
where X
marks the spot.
It was 
a place
for many
to gather
and garner
including
Lady Beetles
of many colors.
And upon 
those pleated leaves,
were Mayflies
who had
lived out
their short lives,
and Craneflies
taking a break,
while showing off
their wings
reminiscent
of stained glass.
After such 
an up-close greeting
of the delicate flowers,
and recognizing
for the first time
their immense splendor,
June 15
will forevermore be
the day
to celebrate
False Hellebore.

Book of April: I’m in Charge of Celebrations

Serendipity: the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way.

And so it was that upon arrival home from a short hike with my guy this morning, we discovered a package addressed to me in the mailbox. When I saw the town in Florida I knew exactly from whence it had come, but still didn’t know what was inside.

Well, much to my delightful surprise it was a children’s book.

I’m in Charge of Celebrations by Byrd Baylor with illustrations by Peter Parnall.

Upon opening to the inside cover, several pieces of paper fell out. The first was a letter from Ben and Faith Hall; though actually it was written by Ben. Here’s an excerpt: “One of my favorite children’s books is Everybody Needs a Rock. It was written by Byrd Baylor and illustrated by Peter Parnall. When Byrd Baylor’s name appeared on the cover of the book I saw, I purchased it for fifty cents.

Ben and Faith, you see, are part of a group of twelve retired residents in their Florida town who tutor second graders struggling with reading comprehension. Given that, they are always on the lookout for appropriate books to share with their students.

Ben continued in his note to me, “After reading the book, I left it by Faith’s chair without saying anything. Obviously, I wanted to see if her reaction was similar to mine. It was. The story reminds us of your blog with its information and imagination. Thank you for sharing your gift with us. Keep going!

My ulterior motive in sending you the book is that hopefully you will write a children’s book. In no way should you take time away from your blog, but with your depth of spirit it would be worthwhile.

The illustrations in the book are fascinating and remind me of your skill with photography.”

Well, Ben and Faith, thank you so much for this gift. And for your love and support for what I enjoy doing. As for the children’s book, ideas fly through my brain all the time, but . . . I’d have to self-publish and it isn’t going to happen.

As for I’m in Charge of Celebrations, I totally get it. My guy wasn’t in the house when I sat down to read it and it’s a book that needs to be read aloud. And so I did. When he walked around the corner into the living room, he thought I was talking to someone on the phone.

For those of you not familiar with the title, Baylor begins the story with an explanation of how she’s never lonely as she explores the desert.

I feel the same way and on January 11, 2019, I actually wrote, “People often ask me this question: Aren’t you afraid of hiking alone. My response is that I’m more afraid to walk down Main Street than through the woods, the reason being that it’s a rare occasion I encounter a mammal. Oh, I do move cautiously when I’m alone, but there’s something uniquely special about a solo experience.”

As Baylor goes on to say, part of the reason she’s not lonely is this: “I’m the one in charge of celebrations.” Indeed. Each celebration marks the day she made an incredible discovery.

And so, I took a look back at some of my blog posts, and it’s all your fault Ben and Faith that this is a long one. But you inspired me to review some exciting discoveries I made just in the past year. With that, I attempted to follow Baylor’s style.

Friends,
while reveling
in the colors 
of dragons and damsels,
their canoodling
resulting in 
even more predators
of my favorite kind,
I met Prince Charming,
a Gray Tree Frog
who offered
not one rare glimpse, 
but two.
And so it is
that May 30th is
Gray Tree Frog Day.
For over thirty years
I've stalked this land
and July 14th
marked
the first time 

noticed
the carnivorous plant
growing beside
the lake. 
Droplets glistened
at the tips 
of the hair-like tendrils 
of each leaf
filled
to the brink 
as they were
with
insect parts. 
On this day
I celebrated
Round-leaved Sundews. 

A celebratory parade 
took place
on
September 22.
The route
followed the old course
of a local river.
Along the way,
trees stood in formation,
showing off 
 colorful new coats.
Upon some floats, 
seeds rustled 
as they prepared
to rain down
like candy tossed
to the gathered crowd. 
My favorite musicians
sported their 
traditional parade attire
and awed
those watching
from the bandstand.
With an 
"ooEEK, ooEEK,"
and a
"jeweep"
they flew 
down the route.
Before it was over
a lone lily
danced on the water
and offered
one 
last 
reflection. 
And then summer marched into autumn. 
With wonder
in my eyes
and on my mind
I spent November
in the presence 
of a Ruffed Grouse. 
The curious thing: 
the bird followed me, 
staying a few feet away
as 

tramped 
on. 

stopped. 
Frequently.
So did the bird. 
And we began 
to chat. 
I spoke quietly
to him
(I'm making a gender assumption)
and he
murmured back
sweet nothings. 
Together 
we shared the space, 
mindful
of 
each other. 
As he warmed up
below a hemlock,
I stood nearby, 
and watched, 
occasionally offering
a quiet comment, 
which he
considered
with
apparent nonchalance. 
Sometimes
the critters 
with whom we share
this natural world
do things
that make no sense,
but then again, 
sometimes we do 
the same. 
Henceforth,
November will always be 
Ruffed Grouse month 
for me. 
At 6am 
a flock of crows
outside the bedroom window
encouraged me 
to
crawl out of bed. 
Three black birds
in the Quaking Aspen
squawked
from their perch
as they stared 
at the ground.
I peeked
but saw nothing 
below.
That is,
until I looked
out the kitchen door
and tracks drew
my attention.
It
took
a
moment 
for my
sleepy brain
to click into gear, 
but when it did
I began to wonder
why the critter
had come
to the back door
and sashayed about
on the deck. 
Typically,
her journey
takes her
from under the barn
to the hemlock stand.
Today,
as the flakes fell, 
and the birds scolded,
she sat on the snowpile,
occasionally retreated 
to her den, 
grunted, 
re-emerged, 
and then
disappeared
for the day. 
I went out again
at dusk
in hopes
of seeing 
the prickly lady
dig her way 
out
but 
our time schedules
were not synchronized. 
I don't know
why she behaved
strangely this morning,
but I do know this:
when the crows caw--listen.
And look. 
And wonder. 
April 8th
will be the day
I celebrate
the Barred Owl
for he finally
flew in
and landed.
As I watched
he looked about
at the 
offering of treats. 
Cupcakes and cookies
were for sale
to the left
in the form
of Juncos and Chickadees. 
And then he turned 
his focus right, 
where drinks
were on tap
as the snowflakes fell.
He even
checked out 
the items 
below his feet, 
hoping upon hope 
to find
a morsel
of a vole
to his liking. 
Eventually, 
he changed
his orientation
to take 
a better look 
at the 
entire spread
of food. 
But still, 
he couldn't
make up his mind
and so
he looked some more, 
swiveling 
his neck. 
In the end,
he never did 
choose. 
Instead,
off he flew 
without munching 
any of 
the specialty items. 
But I finally got to see my owl. 

Ah, Ben and Faith, there are moments when one miraculously arrives in the right place at the right time, such as when a dragonfly emerges from its exuvia and slowly pumps blood into its body and you get to be a witness.

It strikes me as serendipity that this book should arrive today. You see, all month I’ve been debating what book to feature and time was of the essence as May approached. And then today, your lovely note, a copy of I’m in Charge of Celebrations, and the Christmas homily you wrote, Ben.

You are both the salt of the earth and I am honored to be your friend. Thank you for your kindness. (I’m only now realizing that we’ve shared a few celebrations that we’ll never forget including the fawn at Holt Pond and your smiling Bob the Bass.

Once again, the April Book of the Month: I’m in Charge of Celebrations.

I’m in Charge of Celebrations, by Byrd Baylor, illustrated by Peter Parnall, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1986.

Poking About Among the Trees

My intention this morning was to meet up with a few old friends, namely a porcupine and a beaver family. Added into the mix with any luck would be a barred owl.

But alas, it was not to be as I wandered on and off trail through the northeast corner of the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Heald and Bradley Ponds Reserve.

Instead, it was those who seemed inanimate that came to life repeatedly.

Right from the start the trees pulled me in for I needed to, well, it wasn’t exactly a need, but still, I needed to check on the swelling red buds of a basswood that grows near the edge of the parking area.

And I could hardly pay homage to one and ignore its neighbor, and so I moved a few feet to enjoy the glory of a beaked hazelnut catkin and bud as they began the countdown toward spring.

Climbing the Flat Hill trail, an old tree grinch tried to sneer, but I noticed a tweak of a smile and knew he was glad to have me there.

He must have been for he made sure that I saw . . . such things as a beech leaf layered upon an oak atop the snow–mirroring the skyspace above.

And speaking of beech, I noticed one spiky husk, which actually surprised me with its presence for so few were the beech seeds this past summer.

The same was true of acorns and without a mast production, the squirrel middens were rather sparse in the landscape, but I did find two, both a couple of feet deep. But there’s something else to note–the trickle of yellow pee by the pine needles to the upper left of the hole. By its skunky scent, I knew that while the squirrel sought sustenance in the form of an acorn, a red fox hoped to dine on the rodent. The latter meal didn’t happen anywhere nearby, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t occur.

With lots of meandering on the way up, I finally reached the summit of Flat Hill, where the mountains beyond hinted at today’s snow flurries and this weekend’s impending storm. But it wasn’t to the mountains that I spent much time focusing. Instead, I scanned all the trees around–hoping for the sight of another spiky one–a prickly porcupine.

I suspected that I wasn’t alone in my search for just below the summit ledge, I spotted a bobcat track.

The evidence of the porcupine’s presence was everywhere as it had left its mark on so many trees where it scraped the outer bark to reach the softer inner tissue.

Shallow and narrow tooth marks were all that remained. I love bear trees, but porcupine trees rank right up there.

And the same is true for pileated woodpecker trees, which are easy to sight not only by their oblong holes, but the woody debris below them as well.

Who can resist searching the debris for scat? I know I can’t. What I found today was an exploded version with ant body parts spewed about in such an array that I almost wanted to glue them back together. Almost.

My wander continued as I walked a portion of Perky’s Path where the wetland mounds were so littered with snow drops that it was impossible to decipher any mammal tracks. I did make my way to the old beaver lodge in the center of the photo, the mound standing tallest toward the background, but the sight and sound of water meant caution was necessary.

The same was true at the rock stepping stones to the south of the wetland and though I have an affinity for water, I chose not to cross for a chilly bath wasn’t in my plans.

Instead, I backtracked and then followed the snowmobile trail for a bit until I reached the outlet of the old beaver pond.

It was there that I turned off trail and followed the stream through the woods.

Water gurgled below its frozen form and ice bridges offered crossings for those who dared. I did not.

My purpose was to check on another lodge that had been quite active a year ago. Today, I was surprised to find no one at home in the stick-built inn.

Beyond, the dam stood high, but the water behind it was low–another indicator that the beavers had moved on by their own doing. At least I hoped it was their own doing.

Evidence of their previous works was apparent all along the brook, where many a tree had been logged by the rodents, including this yellow birch.

Though that birch and others had been toppled, upon the snow old catkins, their fleur de lis scales grown large, added texture to the scenery and seeds to the future.

Finally, I made my way out and smiled at the smiles in the ice and water that mimicked my own. Today, my heart rejoiced with the affirmation this morning that my friend, Jinny Mae, had received good news about her health. She is one of my pokey hiking friends and I tried to emulate her as I celebrated. From Jinny Mae I’ve learned to do what Mary Oliver recommended in “Sometimes”:

Instructions for living a life:
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.

And so it was that as I paid attention just before leaving, I was astonished–by the tree I saw in the ice. I knew Jinny Mae, had she been beside me, would have taken the same photograph, for that’s what we often do when we’re together.

When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.

I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.

Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.

And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”

~Mary Oliver

Today, I stayed awhile, poking about among the trees that shined in honor of these two women who have shared the gift of bowing often.