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

.

Home again, home again

Because we’d spent most of the summer at camp and I barely stopped at home, I hadn’t visited my usual haunts in a while. Today, that changed.

o-green cone sap

Into the woodlot I ventured, where green pine cones oozing with sap decorated the forest floor.

o-green cone midden

The remains of those serving as sustenance also lent a bit of color from the center cobs and deseeded scales left behind by red squirrels.

o-Inidan pipe from above

Most of the Indian pipes were past prime, but they remained beautiful with their flowers turned upright since being fertilized.

o-pine sap

The same was true for pine sap, which supported more than one flowerhead per stalk.

o-powerline

Emerging from the cowpath onto the power line, I found conditions to be as expected–anywhere I’ve traveled past such a line this summer, I’ve noticed that Central Maine Power has sprayed. I shouldn’t complain for I depend on that power and understand the need to keep the trees cleared, but it does make my heart cry for all that is lost.

o-sundew sad face

My sundews were among those that had suffered, brown and shriveled were they.

o-juniper

The white pines took a beating as well, but the juniper continued to grow and produce a bounty of fruits.

o-cicada

As I walked, the air buzzed with a chorus of cicadas,

o-field cricket

field crickets,

o-grasshopper

and grasshoppers.

o-red maple cotyledon

A visit to the vernal pool was a must, and in true vp form all was dry, but from the bottom new life sprang forth in the form of red maple . . .

o-vp, quaking aspen

and quaking aspen seedlings. It’s worth a try on their part, but I suspect they’ll be short-lived for soon enough the pool will begin to fill with water from late summer, fall and winter storms yet to be.

o-vp, red leaf

Speaking of fall, some red maples had already stopped producing sugar, thus the chlorophyll disappeared and anthocyanin formed–evident in the red hue.

o-vp feather

I found some other color in a small blue jay feather. I only saw two and didn’t think much of it, until . . .

o-blue jay feathers on stump

I passed by an old stump and did a double take. It appeared a young jay had served as a feast.

o-field succession

My next stop was the field, reached by passing through the two stonewalls that demark the boundary of our extended property. The field belongs to our neighbors’ parents and they recently had it bush hogged. At the western most end stood a fine example of forest succession, from mowed area to wildflowers and shrubs to saplings and finally the forest beyond.

o-small-flowered gerardia

Among the flowers at the edge I found one I hadn’t met before–small-flowered gerardia with delicate, hairy petals and needle-like green leaves bordered in their own shade of purple.

o-steeplebush

Being Sunday, it seemed apropos that the steeplebush reached heavenward.

o-meadowhawk above

As I continued to look around, a meadowhawk flitted about, pausing occasionally.

o-meadowhawk face

I knew if I stood still long enough, it would get curious and let me approach.

o-meadowhawk up close

And I was right.

o-home view

At last it was time to head in. Home again, home again, jiggity jig.

 

 

 

 

 

Rather a Mondate

Yes, it’s Monday. But as has been the case lately, my guy and I haven’t been able to hike together. We both had chores and projects to complete and so we did.

In the late afternoon, however, I headed out the back door. My mission–to locate something orange to photograph for our young neighbor who is prepping for a bone marrow transplant. Not an easy task, but like others I know, as often as he can, he smiles through this journey.

m team orange

Orange hawkweed provided today’s support to Team Kyan. May he continue to be strong. And his family, as well.

m cicada 5

After my orange find, I journeyed on–headed for our woodlot. And only steps from it, I discovered this camo-dressed insect fluttering on the ground. The male member of this species is known for the high-pitched buzz we hear on summer days. Sometimes, it’s almost deafening.

m cicada wings

This is a cicada, one that appeared to have a wing issue. A set of wings was held close to its  thick body, while the other set extended outward. (I thought of Falda, the faerie with folded wings in The Giant’s Shower.) I love the venation, reminiscent of a stain-glass window. Strong, membranous wings for a large insect.

m cicada flap

When I returned a second time, it was flapping those wings like crazy, but take off wasn’t happening. Did a predator attack at some point? Will it still be there tomorrow? So much to wonder about.

m cicada up close 2

And being me, I took advantage of the fact that it wasn’t going far to take a closer look. Notice the three legs extending below the thorax.

m-cicada kiss

Face on! We might as well have kissed. I’ve licked a slug, but passed on the opportunity to kiss a cicada. I do love this broad head, however. Check out that mouth that protrudes. Hidden inside are mandibles and maxillae used to pierce plants and drink their sap (xylem). Even if this chunky one couldn’t fly, it could still eat. And those eyes, oh my. So, here’s the scoop. The two obvious outer  eyes are compound, the better to see you with. But then I noticed three red spots located between the two compound eyes. Do you see them? These are three more eyes known as ocelli–they look rather jewel-like and are perhaps used to detect light or dark. Yup, this is a five-eyed insect. Certainly worth a wonder.

m indian pipe 6

As I continued my wander, I noticed that in the past few days a large number of Indian Pipes made their ghost-like presence known.

m indian 7jpg

Ever so slowly they broke through the ground–these under a hemlock grove.

m indian pipe 24092

Though each is one flowered, they love communal living.

m indian pipe 5

Their waxy flowers dangle as they pull up through the duff.

m indian pipe

Once fertilized, their pipes slowly turn upright, where the flowerhead will transform to a capsule encompassing the seeds of the next generation. Notice the lack of leaves–scales take their place.

m pine sap group

Also in these woods, I knew today to look for a relative of Indian Pipe because I found their capsule structures last winter. Pinesap growing below an Eastern white pine.

m pine sap 3

Since it was dark under the trees, I needed to use a flash, thus the color. But really, these are amber. And multi-flowered on a raceme. Pinesaps and Indian Pipes produce no chlorophyll, therefore they can’t make food on their own. And because they aren’t dependent on light, they thrive in shady places.

m-pine sap flowers

What sustains them is their saprophytic nature–they aren’t a fungus, but depend on fungi to obtain carbohydrates from another plant, so the mycorrhizal fungi serves as the connector between the host and the Pinesap’s roots.

m-pine sap up

While the Indian Pipe is scaly, the Pinesap has a hairier appearance. Both are members of the heath family.

As for me and my guy, today we’ve been near each other, but not on a playdate. In fact, as I sit in the summer kitchen and write, he’s doing a huge favor for me. Isn’t that how it should be? No, not really. We’d rather be on a Mondate together.