Tuesday, September 29, 2009

First Chilly Morning

A cup from which I don't often drink is to sit outside in pre-dawn darkness to listen. I sipped of that cup this morning from 5:30-6:00 in an attempt to discover which bird is the earliest riser. I have often noticed, on my 6 a.m. walks with neighbors, a single robin's listmaking (to-do-today-to-do-today-to-do-today-check), and by 7:00 a full coucophony of birdsong tuning up, causing me to wonder who is first---or if there is a consistent pattern. In the absence of a rooster, is a robin the alarm clock?

I neglected to remember yesterday's wind, and that a wind usually brings a drop in temperature. This morning's "research" confirmed that pattern, at least, but revealed not the wake-up bird. The only sound was the drone and pulse of katydid---or was it cricket?

No birds by 6:00. Full chorus by 7:00. I got too sidetracked in walking conversation with good friends to pay attention to birdsong in the intervening hour. Quest to be continued. dkm, with yet another resolve to shorten these blog entries.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Pure and Rounded Pearl

The torrential rains of last week (floods in metro-area / schools closed) followed by multitudes of mosquitoes have kept me inside and are reflected in my mood. With yesterday's return of blue sky and bright sun, and time today to sit outside again, my spirits lift. Nevermind today's hard news of nuclear arms threat in Iran. Like Scarlett O'Hara, I'll think about that tomorrow. Today I'll enjoy the crisp dry air, the waves of wind that bring showers of dry leaves and pine needles, the cardinal pair that flits in and out of the trees and bushes around the perimeter of the yard, the hummingbird (hummingbird!) that hovers above and actually lights on the bare branches of the dogwood and on last year's drought-ravaged hydrangea stems, the lemon yellow butterflies with cinnamon brown sprinkles that spin and mate and nurse the nectar of impatiens and abelia, the only flowers left in the yard so late in the season.

It is a Virginia Woolf day---a pure and rounded pearl. No appointments. But do have much deskwork re: oglethorpe, flute, bills, and manuscript revisions.

A Carolina wren sings pretty-bird-pretty-bird-pretty-bird-preet. Nuthatches are whee-he-he-he-he-ing in surround sound. Dry oak leaves float and swing to the ground.

I pay attention, inhale fresh air, and muster courage to face the news of the world's troubles---and energy to keep the promises I must today. dkm

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Cricket or Katydid or What?

Late entry---written 9/18/09

A large lime-green leaf-looking insect appears on the outside of my kitchen window, well displayed by porch light and proximity. Fascinating as insects are, I usually avoid writing about them due to ignorance, particularly on the current question that keeps re-presenting itself: Who makes the consuming night noises in the trees---crickets or katydids or locusts or what? Additionally, I find it hard to describe sounds---though who can avoid notice of and attention to the late summer screech of these stridulating lovers?

Tonight the green thing on my window screams, "Write about me!" Or maybe, "Katydid Kate!" Alarmed to discover how little I know about it, not even its name, I remark only on the near perfect camouflage that copies the veins of a leaf in its wings; or its long long antennae, nearly twice the length of its two-inch body; and of course the elbow-like hind legs, full of potential for surprise. I'm glad a glass is between us, since my nose is but inches away. I hope to observe a little wing-rubbing, or to find the ear buds on the legs, but this specimen jumped back into the night after only a few seconds under my scrutiny.

I retreated to the internet for facts, there to consume what was left of the evening. It cleared my confusion right up. I discover that this was indeed a katydid, or bush cricket, but not a true cricket, one of hundreds and hundreds of species of "long-horned grasshoppers," which are not true grasshoppers, and are in turn a huge sub-category in the even larger category of orthoptera, meaning straight- or parallel-winged and including the major families of grasshoppers, locusts, crickets, AND katydids. That is: grasshoppers, locusts, crickets, and katydids each belong to their own families under the larger order orthoptera, but the species and sub-groups within each family often carry the names of the other distinct families. Hence: A katydid, sometimes called a bush cricket, is a member of the long-horned grasshopper division, but is neither a grasshopper nor a cricket. It is singular in its katydidness.

The umbrella progression of the family katydid goes something like this: Phylum/Arthuropod: Class/Insecta: Order/Orthoptera: Family/Tettigoniidae (katydids)---not to be confused with the many individual species of tettigoniidonous katydids, all of which carry equally cross-referenced names within the family tettigoniidae. I have no idea as to WHICH species my kitchen katydid belongs, nor do I care. But I'm pleased to be pretty sure that the creatures that make the night noises in Decatur, Georgia are probably katydids, not crickets, grasshoppers, or locusts. But they might be. It depends on the year and the website you consult. dkm

Tattered Right Wing

I'm late entering this---written on 9/17/09---

All day yesterday she came in and out of my notice. I doubt I entered hers but admit to wishing so. Again and again she hovered over different flower beds, shrubs, and general green growth in the sunny spots of the backyard. She didn't appear to be drinking nectar, but lit briefly on random green leaves in odd places around the yard---looking for host plants on which to lay her eggs, I presume, though I never was close enough to confirm w/eye-witness. So tenderly did she float and lower over each leaf of choice that it could have been nothing else. Did I imagine her delicate care and safe wishes with each touch? She would die soon. She must have known it. These were her babies. It's the same tenderness with which we look on our grandchildren---our legacy to the world. Perhaps I project.

The thing that was unmistakable was her tattered right wing---the full length of the bottom edge was mangled or missing, including the blue patches. She was a large and beautiful tiger swallowtail but only her left tail was left. (No need to say it, writers---I know what you're thinking---it's just wordplay---somehow I liked the effect of same word twice in one sentence against two meanings.) I wondered what predator she escaped, with what strength, and at what point in her life. A tatter that wide seems likely to have occurred while wing was still folded and wet---maybe in her first few minutes out of chrysalis. How long ago? Has she lived her whole life in tatters? At best, her life span is only about a month.

Last night we had friends for dinner on the deck. (Make that "invited friends to dinner") A large yellow tiger swallowtail butterfly with tattered right wing edges landed on and clung long to the banister, still as a statue. Later she fixed herself to the window on the door. She didn't move when we peered close, and was still there when we turned off the lights after midnight. This morning she was gone. I like to think she chose my window as her final perching place. Another gift imagined, but with the same effect. Gratitude. dkm

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Ribbons of Green and Purple and Blue

Gasp. Gasp. Gasp. From where I sit this single minute I can see a bluebird, a lime green finch, and a tiny purple nuthatch all three---in the dogwood tree. They all arrived within seconds of each other. The finch came first, then the bluebird, followed immediately by the nuthatch, singing he-he-he-he-he-he-he---

The nut hatch left first, followed shortly by the finch. The bluebird is silent and lingers long. Then there's a pair of bluebirds, and a speckled baby flies to the dogwood over my shoulder. Mama joins her, not ten feet from my view. My breath catches. Tears well up. A fledgeling bluebird in September.

Gifts from someone, somewhere . . .

Muti, is that you?


The Mating of the Moths

Out of seeming nowhere falls a pair of moths to the grass in front of the swing, stuck together tail to tail and spiraling to the ground like a maple tree's helicopter seed pod. They are tiny white moths, about a half inch long from head to tail end, with only a one-inch wingspan. Had I not been listening to and musing about the wrensong, I would have missed them.

I squat close to watch. The mating there observed was no less than astounding. A black-tipped tan colored protrusion the size and shape of a grain of rice emerged slowly from the tail of the male, then spread out like a fan to surround and clamp down around the tail end of the female, who is upside down and looking stunned. The black tip has fanned into a tiny furry fringe that now surges and throbs. Every few seconds she tries to pull away on a blade of grass. He clamps tighter, his own feet holding tight to his grass blade as she pulls toward hers. The blades strain under their tug of war. After ten minutes of this I think I have time to get camera. When I return, the rice grain is back inside the male, but their tails are still stuck fast, and they are still tugging of war.

An hour later they are still there, not moving. This was no chance slam-bam-thank-you-ma'am crashing in the air like the yellow butterflies I've observed. Did the moths die in the act? dkm

p.s. Ninety minutes after the hour later, I went out to see if they were still in the grass---to see if they were dead or alive. I'll never know the answer, because they were gone. I can think of three possible outcomes. 1) They did not die, but eventually separated and flew off to carry on about the business of adult mothery---she to lay eggs and die, he to find another mate. 2) They did die and were eaten by a bird. 3) Exhausted from their coupling, they did not die, but rested long enough to be found and devoured by a bird. There is not a breath of wind. They could not have been blown away. dkm

Variations on a Theme

Wish I knew what determines, for a Carolina Wren, its choice of song when perched on an open branch in that meandering way it has. Last night it was an intentional call & response between two---pretty bird-pretty-bird-pretty-bird-preet, answered from away with a softer variation of same song and a slightly different lilt. More often I notice chee-boogie-chee-boogie-chee-boogie-chee---like the old Saturday Night Live schtick. This morning it began with an idle but repeated chirp, not unlike a rocking chair with a squeak in just one place in its tread, but more musical. From its perch in the sun on an open branch at the edge of the woods, the wren faced first one direction, then another, so to chirp in every position---like a first greeting to the day. Soon it moved to the top post of the nuthatch house and carried on with a pleasing cheeri-oh, cheeri-oh, cheeri-oh---with arched emphasis on the oh. And just now to an interior twig of the flowering quince for pretty-birdie-pretty-birdie-pretty-birdie-pretty-birdie. I could have mistaken it for a cardinal had I not been watching it heave its little buff wren throat. dkm

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Miller Analogy

Trees in September are like first graders in art class. Given identical instructions and supplies, every individual turns out a unique finished product.

Now trees, pay attention. Take your leaves, cells, and hydrocarbon tails; drain the green pigment from your chloroplasts, and show your remaining colors. Listen carefully, boys and girls. Take your orange and black paper, scissors and glue; cut out your shapes, and make a jack-o-lantern.

Voila! The perimeter of the yard and the fence posts on the bulletin board present an array of design, shape, hue, size, space, and expression of such impressive variety to quicken the heart, made no less spectacular and charming that it happens every year. The dogwoods are the first to begin it, and the bats, like encouraging art teachers, announce it overhead. dkm

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Dr DeSoto, I Presume?

The tooth extraction intensifies, but the dentist does not work on the swing as first thought. His minimalist dental chair is a pinebough directly overhead, and high up. I only know this because for two days I've watched the teeth fall on the swing and on me---in a steady, perpetual drop from above---at the rate of one every ten to fifteen seconds. The swing is the landing pad, not the job site. I assume it's the work of a squirrel, thinking chipmunks don't climb that high, though focus as I might, I can not see the busy fellow. I can, however, determine the bough on which he sits by the single spot from which all the teeth originate---first over one side of the branch, then the other. Occasionally comes a core stripped clean. I'd expect to see the squirrel scurring to bring a fresh pinecone to the site, but haven't. Every morning and every evening the swing is covered with fresh discards. I sweep them away to sit. They keep falling on and around me. One of them glanced off my wine glass and made it ring. dkm

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Tooth and Core

"Learn about pines from the pine, and learn about bamboo from the bamboo."
-17th century master of haiku, Matsuo Basho.

"Learn about poetry from the poem."
-Edward Hrsch, in How to Read a Poem, 1999

It's why I sit outside paying attention, but it's as much for the enticement of wonder, the thrill of the hunt, the intrigue of the mystery, the jolt of surprise as it is for the complacency of knowing. Reading something new in a book, while lovely, cannot compete with the pleasure of one's own discovery. What author at hand can predict what will pique my curiosity in the moment?

Today it's the question of who's been eating pinecone seeds on the swing. Chipmunk or squirrel, and when? Whoever it is has discarded dozens of pinecone cores in an oval on the ground around the swing. For the past week I've arrived at the swing to find it covered with pulled teeth of pinecone---thorn-tipped teeth that must be brushed away daily if I wish to sit pain-free. I cannot see the seat of the swing from the house. Will sit on bench deeper in yard for tomorrow's watch to see what I can see from there. The dentistry must go on all day for the volume of debris that accumulates on and around the swing in every 24 hour span of this September week. The cores are picked clean. Click on the photos to see enlarged detail. Who knew a pinecone could be stripped thus. dkm

Friday, September 4, 2009

Mushrooms After Rain

Half-circle shelves of orange and brown mushrooms grow from the base of the trunk of the pinetree behind the swing where I sit. I pried one off to examine it more closely. It's heavier than it looks. How little I know about mushrooms jars me.

These look to be growing out of the tree, but on closer inspection, they grow from their own center trunk anchored in the ground, like a pedestal table. The table top is a half-circle only because one side of it is blocked by the tree trunk. The surface of the top is ringed like the top of a tree stump, the difference being that the rings are furry and wavy. The outermost ring is bright orange and looks a little like the edge of a pancake---a furry wavy ringed pancake, the underneath side of which is a solid mass of orange brain-like or intestine-like rubbery tissue---but miniscule and dry. My next big purchase must be a good microscope.

Of all the surprises of nature, mushrooms inspire in me the most wonder---symbolic of all I do not understand. Always they beg the same questions. Why their grotesque beauty? Why have they thus evolved? Why the intricacies of design? Why the variety? What secrets hide under their skins? Whence cometh their energy? dkm

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Remembering . . .

Happy to return to attentive meditation after more than a month off.

Many things to write about in Ft.Lauderdale, FL, where I was tending grandchildren . . . like the masses of noisy green parrots in Sarah's neighborhood that have been multiplying in that tropical climate since the zoo aviarium was ravaged in one of the big hurricanes of the 80's (Andrew? Opal?);like the bird-sized brown lizards as common as robins that deck the decks there, how they run upright on hind legs looking like sparrows to the inattentive; like the tiny live lizard we chased from a corner in Makayla's room and later found dead; like the dog-sized iguanas that lurk by the creek near Thad's office and peer from the vegetation with prehistoric drama; like the canopy of unusual (that is, unknown to my experience) trees that arch the streets in Sarah & Thad's hot, humid, green, tropical but urban neighborhood; like the thousands---not an exaggeration---truly thousands of raptors that loom over the landfill mountain beside I-75, gradually darkening the sky as you near it, shocking you by their numbers, varieties, shades, wingspans, and eeriness as you pass by it, thinning as you leave it behind . . . with nothing like an hour-a-day to thoroughly describe any of them . . . not with two lively pre-schoolers, laundry, cooking, shopping, and housekeeping for a busy young family. That I have, in semi-retirement, the luxury of time to be intentionally "mindful" of the surprises of nature is an appreciation not lost on me when I visit my daughter's young family . . . and remember another such family twenty-five years ago.