Wednesday, June 30, 2010

In the bramble

This morning I stood a while and watched a pair of wrens play in a bramble of vines that had colonized the corpse of a fallen poplar. There’s a special grace in the way some birds can navigate dense brush—more impressive, really, than the stunt of soaring through the air. The open sky seems easy compared to the treacherous nets the earth casts across itself. Imagine yourself inside one of those tangles. It would be torture, wouldn’t it? Thorns tearing skin, snatching ferociously at hair and clothes, the rough web of creepers holding fast against all attempts to escape—just thinking about it makes me feel a little panicky. But the birds are very happy inside the trap. They fly around fast and unhindered, no matter how tight the web may be. That dark, convoluted realm is home to them and they don't long for anything different.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Sunday, June 13, 2010


It was so hot and sticky at 6 this morning that I worked up a sweat just walking in the shade. Good weather for things that sting and buzz, not so good for charging along the trail, so I decided to take it easy and hang out by the creek. The water was flowing slow and clear, and I could see the crawdads scuttering between the rocks. There's something profoundly strange about crawdads--mostly due, I think, to that weird, sidelong way they move. They always look like bits of trash tumbling along the creek bed until they are suddenly seized with intention and dive under a sheltering stone. They seem to inhabit a special category somewhere between living things and inanimate objects. They disturb me, because if there's one spiritual duty I really believe in, it's endeavoring to see myself in all of nature, and I cannot see myself in the crawdad. I'm pretty sure crawdads can't see themselves in me either, but I have enough human arrogance to think they don't have the same spiritual obligations I do. I don't want to consider the other possibility. I don't mind if the deer or the crows contemplate their kinship with me, but I don't want those arthropods having deep thoughts. (See "Sandkings.") I left the crawdads to their business and ambled back up the path, where I met a barn owl on his way to bed. He perched in a tall poplar and studied me with a doubtful look.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Hawk and dragonfly

Yesterday I came upon a small Cooper’s hawk that had taken down a flicker right in the middle of the road. He was so absorbed in strangling the life out of his victim that he didn’t budge as I pulled up next to them. The flicker was lying on its side with its pretty speckled breast toward me. The hawk was perched on top of it and a little blood seeped out where talons met flesh. I stopped the car and studied the drama for a moment. Exasperated by my intrusion, the hawk lifted the flicker—which nearly matched him in size—and flew away into the trees.

At the lake a startled turkey startled me by suddenly rising out of the tall grass and taking off over the lake, weighed down by his own bulk as the hawk had been by the flicker. I walked into the woods, where a box turtle hissed at me when I passed him on the trail. Apparently, it was my day to be a nuisance.

By the time I got back to the lake the sun was high enough to start warming the water and the dragonflies were out in force. There were dozens of them buzzing delicately around me, diving for their morning feast of gnats and mosquitoes. They didn’t seem to mind my presence. Maybe they thought of me as a useful lure.

Photo by Kuribo at Wikimedia Commons