Tuesday, October 13, 2020
Thursday, October 1, 2020
Yesterday the sun rose red in a smudgy sky, a result of the wildfires burning 2,500 miles away. The meteorology nerd inside of me is fascinated by the workings of the jetstream, but the former air quality regulator in me is distressed about the health of those experiencing the brunt of the smoke. And the naturalist in me is in agony over the effects on wild places--rare and endangered plants and animals, invertebrates, like butterflies, that spend a part of their lifecycle immobile in eggs or pupae that cannot escape or survive fire. Fire is a natural part of the ecosystems of western North America, but the fires burning now are anything but natural, the results of a century of forest mismanagement and an even longer period of fossil fuel abuse.
As the West burns, hurricanes launch themselves at the Gulf Coast and, of course, the pandemic looms as dangerous as ever, despite the magical thinking that is our national policy. All these problems result from humanity's irresponsible use of natural resources and the continued disregard for human life on the part of those who benefit with profit or power from that disregard. It's almost too depressing to get out of bed every day.
Later in the day, as I was walking up my road, I saw a dragonfly fall out of the sky and land on its back. I went over and held my finger to its upturned legs. It grabbed on, letting me pick it up.
I walked on, new friend perched on my fingertip, facing forward as I walked. I wondered what it was thinking as it traveled through the air without moving its wings. I know that dragonflies don't have consciousness in the way we do, but it's hard to not think of them as sentient beings with their big eyes and oddly anthropomorphic faces. They surely have some way of processing stimuli, and it was interesting to put myself inside its tiny brain as it tried to comprehend this new experience.
There were no obvious signs of injury on either its body or wings, but it clung to my finger for most of a mile, occasionally shivering its thorax. When we reached the beaver pond, I held it (or, more properly, her; she had a ovipositor) so she could see out over the water, hoping the sight would inspire in her a will to live. And it did. She lifted off my finger, but instead of darting out over the pond, she rose up high, high above the trees until I could see her now longer.
My dragonfly friend--a Canada darner--reminded me of the resilience of life. Her ancestors, big as kites, flew around the swamps of the Carboniferous period 300 or so million years ago. The earth has seen many changes, some of them catastrophic, many more remarkable. We happen to be in a stage of catastrophe. That doesn't mean the remarkable can't also happen.
Wednesday, September 23, 2020
Tuesday, September 8, 2020
Friday, September 4, 2020
I've been working on two writing projects this summer—both of which involve deep dives into research, one in my own personal records, journals, and photographs, the other into two centuries of other women's writing. It's hard to feel productive while doing research, at least in that dogged American protestant work ethic way we're stuck with, when all you have to show at the end of the day is a few scribbled notes or pages marked with sticky notes. Still, it's usually engrossing work and I might not come up for air at all if it weren't for the wants and needs of my family. Apparently I'm still required to cook dinner.Other things keeping me from turning into a dusty book mite are a couple of more community-minded projects I'm involved in. One of these is co-coordinating the 2020 training course for the Maine Master Naturalist Program, which has, like everything, gone online. This weekend we'll have our first in-person field day since February—in small groups, properly distanced, masked, and sanitized—and everyone's thrilled to finally be teaching and learning in real life. Perhaps that's the lesson of this trying year—appreciate the small things, like a walk with fellow naturalists at the arboretum, or breathing.
Another of my ongoing volunteer activities is editing at the online journal Literary Mama, where a couple of weeks ago we launched our brand-new, beautiful website. I had the honor of writing the editor's letter for the issue and of working with writer Nadia Colburn on the issue's Literary Reflections essay.
And nature, of course, continues to pull me outsdoors and outside of my researching/ writing/ editing/ zooming cocoon. Since my butterfly class ended, and most of the butterflies drifted away in the midsummer lull, I've rekindled an interest in dragonflies that I'd let wane over the last few years. The best part about them—other than their colors, variety, acrobatics, big eyes, and insect predation—is that I can watch them from my kayak.
One morning, while paddling slowly along the edge of a lake in search of dragons, I came across a flotilla of fuchsia water lilies. I immediately assumed they were invasive (a symptom of our "we can't have anything nice" society), but my field guide insists that native fragrant water-lily can sometimes come in pink. And fragrant they are, like the smell Johnson's Baby Powder aspires to be: soft, delicate, ephemeral. If you paddle through a dense enough cluster of them, the perfume will drift up at you as your boat glides over their petals.
C and I were paddling through just such a garden earlier this summer, along the edge of a bog, the sweet smell of the flowers competing with the stink of the bog mud our paddles dug up in the shallow water. My friend B tells me there's a metaphor in there—the most fragrant flowers growing from the stinkingest mud. I think I'll wait until 2020 is done having its way with us before I weigh in on whether it's true.
Tuesday, September 1, 2020
What are you reading these days?
Thursday, July 30, 2020
This summer I've been taking an online field course in butterfly identification and ecology. Online and field may seem like contradicting terms, but, as with most things in the world of 2020, even nature has moved onto the internet. This format, of video chats and lectures interspersed with self-directed field work, is ideal for me this summer, when leaving home is both difficult (we are down to two vehicles for the three adults in the house, and the two of them with real jobs get dibs) and terrifying (I'm not sure which is scarier, the deadly virus or the lawn signs and flags championing the two people responsible for making the United States so virulent). When I need a break from writing or editing or housework or the inside of my own head, I grab my net, my binoculars, and my field guide and walk up the driveway to where our wild, raggedy field meets our neighbors' manicured lawn. Here on the edge, where milkweed blooms, is where I find most of my butterflies.
And find butterflies I do! Almost every day that I go out, as long as the sun is shining, I discover new-to-me species. In the six weeks of the class so far, I've identified more than 40 species of butterfly, about three-quarters of which I've never seen before, and even more of which I've never seen here on our property. How can I have missed all these exquisite little gems of creatures that have been here, sipping nectar and dancing over the flowers, for the last twenty years? It's as if my dresser drawers are full of emeralds and sapphires and rubies that I never notice because all I do is reach in and pull out socks and underwear.
I can draw two conclusions from this oversight: 1) I'm a rubbish naturalist; or 2) we don't truly see what we don't look for. There are a lot of terrible things going on in the world today—illness, death, vicious people intentionally trying to make others less safe, other people doing the same out of ignorance. I go looking for these stories every day when I read the news. But there must be other stories out there, too, the exquisite gems of courage, kindness, and generosity, if only we knew how to look.
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