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
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.
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.
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.
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 I 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 I tramped on. I 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.
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.”
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.