family, friends, holidays, nature

Independence

Independence (Noun): Freedom from control by outside agents or influence, self-reliance, self-governance.

Of course, i’m not a wild patriot, in fact – i’m currently embarrassed by the state of governmental affairs and the current administration is not particularly my favorite. But you see . . . living this close to D.C., i just don’t take a hard-line stance on political life or activism. And i never discuss politics or religion in polite company and certainly, never at the table. Besides – you never know the company you keep when you go running off at the mouth with your opinions.

We renamed sauerkraut “Liberty Cabbage” during WWII, had this spell of boycotting French wines and are so mad at French Fries in the local government cafeterias, i understand they call them “Freedom Fries.” We forget that France and its people were critical in winning our independence. LaFayette and Rochambault fought alongside Washington in the final days of the Revolutionary War, while Admiral DeGrasse’s fleet prevented Cornwallis from escaping from Yorktown. In 1778 France became the first nation to recognize the United States. It supplied us with uniforms, arms, and the credit with which we paid for them. The very symbol of our independence, the Statue of Liberty, was a gift of the French.

Interesting Etymology: “Independent” is composed of in- “un-, not” + dependent. “Dependent” comes from the Latin present participle “depend-ens” from dependere “to hang from, depend.” This verb contains de- “from” and pendere “to hang,” akin to Latin pondo “by weight” from which we borrowed “pound.” Pondere “to weigh, ponder” is the origin of this word. The English word “spin” comes from the same root, *(s)pen-, with an [s] that is sometimes there, sometimes not. The Old English word “spithra” was originally spinthra “spinner.” Today it is “spider.”

Here (and most everywhere) we have something called an American House Spider. A very self-reliant creature. Every nite it builds a large web (an amazing thing to watch) ending at the center where there is extra silk to suspend itself, waiting for its prey to be caught up and entangled. Then it throws some extra silk over the captures and eats the entire web, squirming dinner and all. It repeats this same show every nite. Females can live up to a year which is impressive for such a creature who hangs out under the eaves so close to houses filled with squalling humans.

Tonite Zoey, Brooks, Jesse, Hope, Dan, Dave & Amy and me cooked out. Barbeque chicken, cheeseburgers, baked beans, garden salad and lots of wine. Then set off some slightly illegal fireworks. i highly recommend watching fireworks while wearing holographic 3-D glasses. They make every light into a prism or a halo, even the dimming light of the sunset through the trees.

In my (red)neck of the woods, the reporting sound of gunfire can also be heard, competing with the sound of exploding fireworks. Odd that we should believe the perfect end to fighting a war and winning our freedom is to set more things on fire and fire off more weapons in the name of glory, but that’s us I suppose. Sometimes, i wish I had an eagle eye view of the whole affair. Most other times, i am glad for excellent company, warm nights, good food and glittering lights.

How was your red, white & blue?

nature

One eye in a sea of many . . .

This is a Polyphemus Moth, one of the largest of the Giant Silkworm Moths, although not the largest North American moth, the Cecropia Moth (Hyalophora cecropia).

Because of the large eyespot on each hind wing, this moth is named after Polyphemus, the legendary Cyclops from Homer’s Odyssey who lived in a cave and tended sheep and ate straying sailors.

From the outside, or underneath, when they are closed, the Polyphemus moths’ wings look like dead leaves. But if this moth is disturbed too much, it may drop onto the ground and flop its wings vigorously. It will snap its wings open as an anti-predation mechanism intended to expose the large eyespots which mimic an owl’s eyes which can startle a predator, such as a squirrel or bird. After a while the moth will cease flopping, then continue to “warm up”. Silk moths are so large that they must warm their flight muscles for a minute or two before they can fly. They do this by shivering and in doing so, the flight muscles vibrate in opposition to each other rather than in synchrony as they would in flight.

The first time I ever held a large Silkmoth I thought the trembling was fear . . . it’s really just getting ready to fly. I guess we are always trembling before something big is about to happen, before we must take flight.

The moth I have pictured is a male, which you can tell by the larger, fan-like antennae. Today, my boss called me to the back office where he pointed out a strange creature hanging from the eaves. as if by miracle . . . it was a female, of the same species. Shortly after I captured her, she laid eggs! I collected them and took her home to meet the male I had.

Now—the eggs she laid may be infertile—I will know in a few days if they collapse. There is also a good chance they may be viable, in which case this is the caterpillar of the Polyphemus Moth. Then I will be fortunate enough to witness the whole cycle through pupation and rebirth again, with fine, unbattered specimens for later.

This moth is born without mouth parts. It does not eat. There is nothing I can do to preserve it. This is a feature that constantly amazes me. All of its energy and food will have been stored up from all the eating it did as a caterpillar. It will mate and it will lay eggs and it will die.

A rainstorm came tonight, windy and cold, whispering around the house. I let the moths out of their enclosure, they crawled over my hands, scaled the length of my arm, crawled up my neck and lit off from the top of my head into the air of the room, the cats watched and I forbade them to leap or attack. I put them away and they flailed helplessly, battering against the edges of the world. could I keep them, knowing they die soon anyway and I would be left with their colorful cases? could I watch them die or come back to find them this way—colorful, then pale and ragged?

I opened the front door, opened the cage and the male found its way out immediately fluttering somewhere above the rain into the treetops. the female dragged herself lightly along, her abdomen a heavy half-moon curved to lay eggs, looking more tired, flagged, drugged, close to sleep. I wonder how I will find her in the morning.

I have to respect a creature whose ending life cycle seeks only to love briefly and to die. It spends 10 to 14 days in its tiny white infancy, eats its own shell after being born and then begins to eat everything it is presented, absorbing all it can. it sheds itself five or 6 times, each one called an “instar” and then it crawls away to hide, spins a cocoon in August or September and sleeps until May or June where upon emerging a shriveled childlike thing again, it will blossom fully and live briefly.

This is so much like us—we spend our first years helpless and hungry, we take everything we are given, swallow it up whole, we shed our skins several times trying to be stars and by the time we know, by the time we are calm and nearly perfect, our days left to love and to live are considerably short.

Best to keep our eyes open at night, to flap around for attention to prove we exist, to shiver for warmth and work our muscles to gather internal strength when we must finally take our leave, and to leave knowing we have loved.

education, family, nature, psychology, travel

Diamond Life

some days after my vacation (and still i would say . . .) adjusting to previous modes of reality was a dull and joyless task. i still find myself researching and reading about some of the creatures i saw and took pictures of while there. for instance, the smallest lizard in the world is a gecko indigenous to Virgin Gorda called Sphaerodactylus Parthenopion. i also took pictures of several birds i’d never seen before.

but then, i have returned to school, in Summer if you can believe i’m up for that kind of self-abuse. but it’s two classes, a Statistical Methods for Psychology and an Adulthood and Aging course. Numbers and growing old. Two things most people can barely manage and often, avoid. well, it was time i tackled the rough stuff. little by little, coming back to my life as i knew it, facets are moving in and out of focus: past, present and future creating and re-creating new visions for me.

on June 14th Zoey, a friend i’ve known for a few years is moving to Maryland where i am. i am busy making arrangements for her so the adjustment will be a comfortable one. it’s strange to think the man i met 7 years ago came to me via this glowing box. as she did. as many interesting friends and acquaintances have. as plane and concert tickets do. as books and music have. as bills do. as this place did. so much dependence on this magnetic, metallic, wire bound piece of furniture. so many words and images and impressions and memories tied up in it and yet – i missed it not while i was gone in the islands. her moving here is the end of an era in some ways. less chatting, more real time together. i wonder if she’ll miss getting my silly packages in the mail. distance is one thing – personality surrounded by flesh is quite another.

3 days ago i came across the cocoon of a Tiger Moth, i know this because the last shed of the caterpillar was still attached to the end of the pupa. i have it in a terrarium with a stick bent at an angle so that it may emerge, crawl up, hang upside down and from its body, pump fluid into its wings until they inflate, then i will let it go into the night. it will be born without mouth parts and all of its energy and food will have been stored up from all the eating it did as a fuzzy black caterpillar. its main impetus is to make more of itself, then in a week, perhaps two, to mate with many if it is male, and to lay eggs if it is female and then, to die.

late last night the cats chased mosquito hawks and beige moths around the nite lights in the kitchen. this morning the red-eyed cicada bloom howled and chirred in a deafening blur as i drove through the woods. this evening a dark field blanketed with fireflies winked like a billion stars, so many, it was a shimmering field of diamonds waiting to be found and gathered up. all of them looking for mates, all of them trying to be brighter than the next. early this new morning, a Luna Moth appeared, wheeling in dizzied circles toward the porch light, dashing itself into the pebbled driveway, flapping like a broken-winged bird in and out and under the ivy near the garden. ghostly, flailing but seemingly tireless. circles and circles and circles.

all of us waiting for a place to land, for our our body to break and our wings to push out, for our life to shine – or wink out at dawn.

books, nature, psychology, relationships

DIVERSIFICATION

Reading: The Roaches Have No King Daniel Evan Weiss

I’m re-reading this again. it has much to say about love and survival of the human species, and is told through the eyes of a colony of cockroaches, if you can go with that Kafka-esque sentiment. it touches on literature, history, psychology, sexuality, biology. a dark erotic tale of the urban condition . . .

An excerpt from Numbers, the cockroach who grew up feeding on book paste between the pages of the bible:

“When I was released into the intimidating world of Homo Sapiens, it was their reactions to separation from their lovers that offered me first comfort. I would soon realize that man is only an eerie visitor to our ecosphere, like a jack-o-lantern on a windy night, frightening, but already flickering and certain to go out. The reason is simple: humans cannot adapt because they are not rewarded for diversifying their gene pool. Separation engenders not a sense of satisfaction at a job well done nor a heart-pounding anticipation of the next opportunity, but instead a black, debilitating insecurity. In fact, separation ignites human passions unmatched by those occasioned by consummation.”

And this excerpt talking about the concept of Thanatos, the death wish in humans:

“I’ve always thought so. Psychiatrists, neonatologists, transplant surgeons, social workers, Democrats – these humans are esteemed for maximizing the reproductive success of those who minimize the chance of survival of the species.”

Ao there is my recommendation for the day my dears:
DIVERSIFY—specialization is for insects . . .

dreams, love, nature, photography, weather, writing

question mark . . .

Eastern Comma

woke up from a tangle of dreams
dressing in black for a party
the sounds of a baby crying
and now … the sun full & bright
the snowdrops blooming in the garden
here to stay, and not melting.

i wandered out in my robe,
hair still tangled from sleep
and what should land on me
but a question mark
a butterfly asking me
what i am asking myself . . .
can you?
could you?
will you?
it’s such a lovely day …
and you should, love.

what a lucky girl i am
to know these things:
the warm sun in my face
a melodic song in my mouth
a daunting, haunting love
and always that series
of life’s unending, unrelenting
puzzling, perfect, positive
questions.

humor, nature, photography

Pretty Poultry

Photography of the seemingly mundane, or the practically unseen in nature is what I truly enjoying scouting out. I am fond of those winged things, the shiny and the tiny hiding under leaves and building nests under your eaves. Eavesdroppings indeed. Winter approaches and I hope for the hungry red cardinal landed on a birdseed laden, snowdrift railing, or the clutch of deer whisper-quiet except for their hooves crunching through the forest nearby. To catch something burrowing and to see its eyes glinting back at mine.

There’s a large farm across the street and could surely catch some creatures there when winter makes most animals scarce until Spring, but my thoughts of farm are quite the opposite direction of wild . . . I recently posted a picture of a cow, scrawled a long journal entry about the removed process of procuring food and such thoughts about animals and the environment and our respect for habitat and hunger. And no – I don’t wear Greenpeace underwear and you won’t catch me riding alongside whaling boats or swearing off meat, or chaining myself to trees, or setting fire to my angora blend winter gloves, or saving a near-dead species of bird by harvesting eggs, or developing a therapy group for tortured vegetables because you can hear them scream when they are pulled from the soil.

No – I am still talking photography here – making personal, perhaps even anthropomorphosizing animal life. For example . . .

“Humans have turned chicken and turkey into what we want them to be – which means that chickens and turkeys are a mirror of ourselves.”

Chickens are not just food. They are not just filthy bird-brained creatures that are tasty with lettuce and tomato and mayo on a bread roll, or good with stuffing – dressing, as some of you may call it. They also make for good photography. Or so I learned today while driving into work and hearing the most compelling story on the radio. Tamara Staples is a photographer who dedicated an entire book to prize chickens. The Fairest Fowl is a book which contains “dozens of fashion-runway-style portraits [that] capture the quirky personality and undeniable grace of these noble birds.” She took photos of animals who do NOT meet “The Standard of Perfection” at the American Poultry Show, which is essentially, the beauty pageant of the barnyard. The book includes an essay called “Trying to Respect a Chicken” which is also the fourth audio segment of a four part show called Poultry Slam by Ira Glass of This American Life.

Poultry Slam is an annual program about turkeys, chickens, and fowl of all types. The show airs every year after Thanksgiving and before Christmas because it is this time of year when poultry consumption is highest.

books, nature, writing

The Force That Drives the Flower

Years ago i read “Death of a Moth” by Annie Dillard and was so struck by its communal feel for nature and humanity and mortality. The essay appears in a collection called “Holy the Firm.” One interviewer described Dillard’s themes as “beauty and cruelty, intimacy and horror, extravagance and waste” and i think that puts it succinctly. There is ecstasy and suffering in her fluid, lyrical, mystic and intensely contemplative words. I think about that now as the seasons change and I find myself saddened by the images of nature dying off and bedding down for sleep. I want to tell of it, reflect on it, write it – not take its picture . . . but i may reconsider if the composition calls out.

Annie Dillard was stricken with a near fatal attack of pneumonia in 1971. Years after she recovered, Annie decided that she needed to experience life more fully and so spent four seasons living near Tinker Creek, taking up residence on an island in Puget Sound in a wooded room furnished with “one enormous window, one cat, one spider and one person.” For the next two years she asked herself questions about time, reality, sacrifice death, and the will of God.

She spent her time outdoors, walking and camping, being there with nature in an area surrounded by forests, creeks, mountains, and a myriad of animal life. When she was inside, she mostly read. After those four seasons, Annie began to write about her experiences there by the creek (challenged to write a book herself because the one she was reading at the moment was particularly bad).

She started with a journal, then transposed it all to notecards until the journal reached 20-plus volumes. She was timid about presenting what would become her book publicly and even considered publishing it under a man’s name. It took her about 8 months to turn the notecards into the Pulitzer-Prize winning Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. She was so absorbed that she spent 15-16 hours a day writing, cut off from society, world news, living on coffee and coke. She lost 30 pounds and all of her plants died. After her Pulitzer win, all those who had rejected her works before she was famous, now clamored for her poems.

Seeing as how much i do love my winged creatures, and how much I admire Annie Dillard and her experience with nature and writing, i thought i would share the above linked title to the short story and the excerpt below, written in 1973 and printed in The Atlantic Monthly in 1977.

ENJOY!

…..

The Force That Drives the Flower
by Annie Dillard

…..

I wakened myself last night with my own shouting. It must have been that terrible yellow plant I saw pushing through the flood-damp soil near the log by Tinker Creek, the plant as fleshy and featureless as a slug, that erupted through the floor of my brain as I slept, and burgeoned into the dream of fecundity that woke me up.

I was watching two huge luna moths mate. Luna moths are those fragile ghost moths, fairy moths, whose five-inch wings are swallow-tailed, a pastel green bordered in silken lavender. From the hairy head of the male sprouted two enormous, furry antennae that trailed down past his ethereal wings. He was on top of the female, hunching repeatedly with a horrible animal vigor.

It was the perfect picture of utter spirituality and utter degradation. I was fascinated and could not turn away my eyes. By watching them I in effect permitted their mating to take place and so committed myself to accepting the consequences—all because I wanted to see what would happen. I wanted in on a secret.

And then the eggs hatched and the bed was full of fish. I was standing across the room in the doorway, staring at the bed. The eggs hatched before my eyes, on my bed, and a thousand chunky fish swarmed there in a viscid slime. The fish were firm and fat, black and white, with triangular bodies and bulging eyes. I watched in horror as they squirmed three feet deep, swimming and oozing about in the glistening, transparent slime. Fish in the bed!—and I awoke. My ears still rang with the foreign cry that had been my own voice.

Fool, I thought: child, you child, you ignorant, innocent fool. What did you expect to see—angels? For it was understood in the dream that the bed full of fish was my own fault, that if I had turned away from the mating moths the hatching of their eggs wouldn’t have happened, or at least would have happened in secret, elsewhere. I brought it on myself, this slither, this swarm.

I don’t know what it is about fecundity that so appalls. I suppose it is the teeming evidence that birth and growth, which we value, are ubiquitous and blind, that life itself is so astonishingly cheap, that nature is as careless as it is bountiful, and that with extravagance goes a crushing waste that will one day include our own cheap lives. Every glistening egg is a memento mori.

…..

for the rest of this story . . . go HERE.

food, nature, weather

darker than usual

Daylight Savings hit –
it’s not yet 6pm
and the porch light is on.
it’s been raining all day
and all i can think of
is hibernating . . .
just after this hot chai.

what do you do on
dark rainy days?

nature, photography

Mary had a Little Moth

But it followed me to work – not school.

Yesterday, i was standing at a table, taking a lunch order when i felt a crawling tickle on the back of my knee, and shook a moth out of my pant leg. It was rather big, with silver and chocolate brown spots.

It flew up and circled the table in an oddly beautiful spiraling arc, and everyone stared quietly – then laughed.

I had to explain that i JUST washed these pants, and the door near the laundry has bright lights and these guys just float in.

I also explained my affinity for things with wings, and everywhere i go, they are sure to follow, looking to have their photos taken.

food, humor, nature, photography, weather

lights are on and stable captain . .

oh – and not a moment too SOON!
and this toilet situation, i will not go into detail
but i’m glad we’re back to civilization
let’s just say we had follow camping rules for flushing
as it takes a lot of water to do so: yellow mellow, brown down.
i now understand why my cats get ornery if their litter box isn’t up to par . . .

first thing i did was make a hot cup of vanilla chai
and some buttered toast since i couldn’t before –
all the things i can’t heat and toast without power.

and if i had to eat one more can of
Orange Pseudo-Spaghetti Italian Nitemare
with Scary Soy-Cow Meat Forms,
i swear i would’ve set something on fire . . .
with my little propane stove.

but mind you – in all this adventure
i am appreciative of Mother Nature,
because hey – she’s no bullshit,
and she knows how to get your attention
and boy does she make for a wicked macro,
i know that i became very up close and personal
over the last 6 quiet and dark days
and i mean in more ways than photography.