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Archive for the ‘Nature’ Category

Playing Dead

Lying half-curled on its side in leaf debris, head limp, jaw open in a reflexive curled smile, the full grown opossum was dead.

My two dogs, neither youngsters, danced around it, lunging, grabbing it in their mouths, and throwing it back down. By the time I got there, I surmised my female dog had done what she usually does with rodents, birds, or in this case, a marsupial—a forceful shake and the neck breaks.

Because of the potential for these nighttime encounters, the female goes out on a leash in my fenced backyard, otherwise she is impossible to corral, hunting is her thing. My male dog, her dad, is bigger, but not as twitchy fast.

Once I got my female stuffed in the house, I ran to stop him from pouncing on the body, mouthing it, and throwing it around. A nightmare vision of the opossum returning fully vitalized with angry eyes and pointy teeth gnashing at my dog and my hands ran through my head.

Finally separated, my thoroughly insulted dog was difficult to push in the door, but we got there.

The opossum lay prone, unmoving. I apologized to it and made plans to dispose of the body in the morning, hoping there was truth in the slang, “playing possum.”

Playing dead is common. People do it all the time in relationships, jobs, and in the face of overwhelming aggression. For humans it exacts a serious toll, the burial of honest reaction, hope, potential, and pleasure. But for some, it means survival.

For opossums, it means the same. When I looked 45 minutes later, it was gone.

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Rounding a street corner on Walkabout, I heard the first frogs of spring at 4:43 AM several weeks ago.  We call them “spring peepers.”

As the weather swung between warm spells and cold snaps, the song of those solitary individuals, and eventually quartets, came and went as they somehow detected me on the street some distance from their marshy greenbelt.

At about the same time, two early birds, robins in this case, took up the traditional roosting spots where I find them year after year.  For anyone interested, that would be a particular mailbox post and a tree down the block.

Nowadays, spring is in full swing.  Forsythia bush and magnolia trees are blooming and the 5:00 AM robins quickly give way to a delightfully discordant mashup of birdsong—an audio veil that transports any common morning into something more exotic.

And the peepers?  It is prime time.  Early spring rehearsals have led to a tightly interwoven tapestry of sound, a background thrum that is both impenetrable mystery and a well-remembered song of childhood.  Eternity calls nightly—and in those early morning hours, along the greenbelt in an unremarkable neighborhood that could just as easily be yours.

 

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Age bequeaths change.

Change gives us life and flesh. In turn, change leads us to shed those gifts, eventually.

I am older than I was, and hopefully younger than I will be. It is the same with you.

White, brown, black, pale, dark, yellow, poor, comfortable, avaricious

Genetically conferred containers, in the flesh, while we are.

Take a moment, take a lifetime, soul etches experience from the inside out

You see my face, I see yours, a book and its cover

Scramble for status, to have and to get—does it really matter?

Horseman, pass by.

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Moon

Moon and cloud

Cloud over moon

Cloud and moon

Moon

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As a wise man once said, “from there to here, and here to there, funny things are everywhere,” or at least, three feet in front of me and moving fast.

With some luck I avoided walking straight into the flank of the buck deer crossing the sidewalk in front of me.  Silent and swift, he was across the street and blinking at me from the pine trees yonder in a flash.  There is a lot to be seen in the neighborhood at 4:50 AM, including apparently, deer.

In these summer months I marvel at the bustling before-dawn world that plays out as most humans sleep. Come winter, with snow, ice, and sub-zero, there isn’t a songbird to be heard, unlike now when the robins pluck up the tune at around 4:20 AM.

Earlier this week, one particularly vocal robin conducted his fellows while perched upon the mailbox of number 5668.  In my three circuits of that street, the bird never budged from his perch, unbothered by my quiet passage.

The birds and critters of the nighttime no longer run from me.  Sometime earlier this summer I passed a mileage or other marker, and am no longer deemed a threat worth fleeing.  Stray cats, rabbits, skunk, fox, and even a low-slung groundhog do not find enough menace in me to turn tail.  The bats are interested only in insects above my head. I’m good with that.

Looking up, the stars and planets dazzle as the universe slowly turns.  The waxing and waning moon is a fine and true companion. Bright orange Mars is a feature in the morning sky these days.

Lately my thoughts have turned to the rover, Opportunity, on the Martian surface. The plucky rover has been silenced for weeks as a dust storm engulfs the planet, prohibiting the trusty traveler from recharging its solar-powered batteries. Mission Specialists say Opportunity is hunkered down until the storm passes, let’s hope it is so.

At other times, shooting stars light up the sky. Yesterday morning the International Space Station (ISS) made a pass overhead.  I waved.

Like the critters and the stars, I am usually on my way by the time dawn streaks from east to west.  Sunrise is a different gift altogether, and on comes day.

 

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Montgolfier is full these days.  Named for its resemblance in full leaf to a globe aérostatique-style hot air balloon, the tree rises considerably above this two-story house.  When I first met it, it was a broken four foot stick in the ground that provoked thoughts of quick firewood rather than any future grandeur. Tending and time have lent it vigor, an almost impenetrable green depth, and an easy, safe haven for the generations of birds who have called it home.

Off the back deck, a garden flag bedecked with painted zinnia flowers flutters ever so gently in a slight evening breeze. A new garden spinner with young colors spins quietly as the sun sets.

I spent time in the garden today, not a lot, but some.  Nudged out of the front garden – which needs a lot of work – by a neighbor’s seeming mid-life moment.  How do I know?  Male, mid-fifties, overloud tunes overwhelming the driveway and street, predominantly boozy guitar chords and licks of Nugent’s “Stranglehold” are a dead giveaway.

Up the street, same thing on a nightly basis with a different play list. Easy to gauge mood there.  Creedence on the upswing, Pink Floyd on the down. No judgment, just annoyance that these moments must be attended by the rest of the neighborhood, children, couples, dogs, grandparents, trees, and breeze, when a moderate volume would be fine for personal use.

Summer solstice has passed. The sun and the trees are as full as they are going to be. Today hummingbirds, a monarch butterfly, and even a monarch caterpillar graced the garden built here to provide them succor.

As the sun sets, the midlife woes have quieted along with the lawn equipment and power tools of home-improvement projects.  At past the height of the season the rain has been kind.  Green oasis of lawns encircle houses when hot, dry weather usually crisps things up by now.

The night songs of the tree frogs are giving away more quickly to the crickets.  A waxing moon is brilliant against a deep blue sky. The birds are slowing down now and soon, when the solar orb drops fully below the horizon, the bats will wing by to start their day.  In the distance the distinct chirp of a cardinal calls loudly of the coming nighttime.

The fireflies have not begun their twilight shows yet this year.  When they do, I’ll let you know.

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Nestled neatly in columns, a cinematographer is just down page from a designer whose space is not far from a bon vivant. A thoughtful partner and fine businessman reside just above on the right- each much loved by the families to which they were once attached.

On the Obit page of The New York Times, some life stories jump off the page, while the words in others achingly illustrate both soul and sense of loss.  The use of time on Earth summarized one last time.

A page of compressed text, dedicated to life in order to announce death. Life, electricity running through tissue, and inevitable death, the decline and failure of that tissue to carry on any longer.

Pictures from youth or distinguished professional photographs remind us, give us the cloak, of the preferred persona of the deceased.  Gazing in black and white from thin newspaper, these civilized mugshots can only hint.

Obits are stories that usually begin with the end, and then spill a tale of time, love, interests, and achievement, before closing with a list of those left behind.  Unique twists, turns, and choices clarify  individuality, even as it is lost. Death returns us to night air, unrestrained sunlit joy, and the projective ephemera of human memory.

The most mortal of publication pages, the small print is full of life, mystery, suffering, and not a little eternity.  On any day, lives exceptional for being ordinary, or extraordinary, pass into smoke, drifting through the portal we call the obituaries. All of life held in an endless cycle of names, dates, and details, in memoriam.

The original call of “Halloween” was to abide rules of civility to honor deceased kin with a bit of food, a favorite chair, a light left on. Only a threading heartbeat separates the living from the dead, a thought from a flatline, stories that takes decades to write, and just moments to read.

 

 

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A spider

For more than a week, a small grey-black garden spider has stared down from my ceiling.

Each day, never traversing more than a few feet, one direction or the other, this way or that.  Undecided.

This is the time of year garden spiders find their way in by mistake during cooler evenings.  One never knows exactly where spiders come from.  At daybreak, there they are–sitting ducks for a broom or other lethal weapon.  Doomed by their ick factor.

I appreciate spiders, inside and out.  When necessary indoors, I place a drinking glass over them, slide a slim piece of sturdy card under them, and convey them outside.  The spider on the ceiling was a different matter altogether.

As dedicated as I am to saving lives, I was not mounting a ladder to precariously attempt a rescue against a textured ceiling likely to rip its legs off, and cause me to lose enough balance to fall and break mine.  So I waited.

Yesterday my high school-aged child noticed the spider, crammed into the crease between the ceiling and the wall.  “Kill it,” he said.

I explained I was waiting for it to come down, as it surely would.  He didn’t believe me, but asked if I would kill it then.  I said, “Of course not.”

A high-pitched scream alerted me that the spider had come down today when I wasn’t looking.  Arriving on the scene, my child excitedly pointed in the sink.  And indeed,  there it was.

With glass in hand, I carefully approached the spider, but not before it noticed the movement and darted down the sink drain.  Ankle deep in water, at the bottom of the drain, in an unapproachable spot, the spider thrashed.

“You killed it,” he said.  “You might as well turn on the water and flush it.”  I decided to leave it, hoping the spider would climb back up. I heard an Eensy Weensy spider once successfully did something similar.

Half hour later, the spider, still ankle deep in water, was moving less. Contributing to the death of a spider was not what I had in mind.  I cut a thin strip of sturdy cardboard to fit through the grate of the drain.  I slowly extended it downward into the shallow water.

Regarding it suspiciously, the spider did not do much.  Can’t say I blamed it.

It moved two soggy legs onto the cardboard, and then hauled the rest of its wet self onboard.  As I slowly pulled the strip up,  it fell off, back into the water.  I tried again and so did the spider.  As the cardboard moved up again, I hoped the spider would untangle itself and make its way onto the underside of the drain grate, and then through it.  The cardboard life preserver was too thick to pull the arachnid through the grate.

Slowly, the spider did just that, and was soon perched on slippery stainless, unable to go up, without sliding back down toward the drain grate.  I laddered the cardboard between the drain and the sink and it popped on.  It was only a second until the spider was back on the flat porcelain sink bottom.

My second attempt to catch the spider under glass was successful, and it finally got outside onto the dry deck.  It seemed stunned by natural light, or maybe it was just wet.  It stayed maybe five minutes and then very rapidly made a beeline for points–and life–beyond.

A lot of trouble, and a lot of text, for one spider. But I imagine it appreciates its life as much as I appreciate mine.  Nice when we can help each other out.

 

 

 

 

 

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Night

Night is when eternity comes to play – or is it just me?

A half moon, a few clouds, and the cicadas that signal summer’s end – cool enough now for open windows.

I am partial to the night.  With the passing of years, memories crowd the darkness, living like yesterday, or perhaps tomorrow, already in memory.

It has always seemed wise to me, to live in memory. To recollect how today’s words and deeds will play 20 years down the road.  Or at night, when the truth sits gently, without bumping into the glare of day.

The night tells it straight, for some that must be hell.  For me, it is good company, somewhere between now and then, here and forever.

 

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The last total solar eclipse visible throughout the continental United States was in 1918.  On Monday, August 21, a total solar eclipse will stretch across this country, offering a personal view to anyone interested in stepping outside.

When the moon slips between the solar disk and the earth, it throws shade on the path below. For millennia, the darkened sun has influenced history, struck terror, and inspired wonder.  A solar eclipse is on my bucket list, so I am hoping to see what I can see.

Oddly enough, during an eclipse, the moon is not visible, but its impact is clear.  Although gobbling the light, it’s form can only be guessed.  It is not unlike life, when shadows fall from a source never seen, history shifts, and the path dims – often for years down the road.  Total or partial, eclipse is as home in the soul as it is in the sky.

Wishing you good weather, and the view you seek, wherever you may be.

 

 

 

 

 

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