Becoming a Naturalist, Part 31.
Female Halloween pennant, Celithemis eponina, Fremont County, Iowa. Photo by Robert Smith.
By Jack Phillips
Early morning in the little cabin, coffee is on. I drag the table to the edge of the woods out back, into the dappled shade cast by birdsong. Towhee, bluebird, parula, cuckoo, vireos two kinds. Summer reduces my friends to happy trickles and so they stumble in as though by chance. Naturalists of our ilk are like that, being poets and philosophers and musicians and what-not and so-forth, students and artists and professors (a dog) and such characters believing in summer.
What a good day to write poetry, so we crowd around today’s teacher to take all the help we can get. We tumble, spin, and ponder the rhythms and lines assigned for today. For whom do we make these clicks and vowels? Is this day not enough for wrens and crickets? Now picking up the scent of a muse, we chase downhill to a weedy pond, Lake Victoria, surely named to amuse a long-ago local.
Late morning warm on the dock, some write and some doze and some watch a dragonfly circus. Pondhawks, widow skimmers, whitetails, amberwings, Halloween pennants, blue dashers. The shadow of a buzzard slides across the pond; sunfish suck off bugs stuck on limey duckweed. Swallows sip and skim. Everything loops and climbs and dives, swoops except for us, baking in the day and happy, cool feet in the water. An amberwing circles back to say:
“I take sunlight at dawn just like my leafy perch until in heat I chase the things that eat things that eat the sun. Still I am the flesh of the morning star, hard candy, amber in fossil form living still.
All that I am and eat is stolen by your hunger and even sunlight is bent and stripped, ruined! by your hunger.
But not today. I have a Sunday pond and your eyes and your love and hopefully your love oddly, I hunger for your love and a world without you.”
My feelings hurt. But seriously: why should she believe that we seek to do good and not harm, and believe that we can learn the difference? “Believe me when I say that we compose a few lines not so much to create something new than to be created anew, to become more creaturely and kin. We want only to share this moment with you, this sun, this space, and not to take up too much of either.” But she remains unconvinced. Bullfrog comments in the distance and to him we exist only as smelly weirdos of sunscreen and deet. But he seems sweet on one of us, commencing to croon whenever she laughs.
By and by we speak and move less and the wild world resumes the business of wildness forgetting us gladly. The sun grows heavy in the form of passing time; images come to us on breezes being just now composed or imperfectly remembered. We drift on a wave of snoring frogs and nooning peeps and whispers, breathing in pond-life and outpouring desire.
In Iowan bluffs what goes down climbs sweaty back up and so we do. Lunchtime overflows with delicacies fit for lower primates and now we browse hand-fruit and hummus. Ginger snaps go fast. Back out back at the edge of the woods in dappled birdsong we read our poems and laugh, having taken enough sun to welcome a snooze; the weight of our sapiens sins thins and slips with the yawning of our wilder selves. Someone reads a fresh poem as I study a tick traversing my blanket. A tiger swallowtail makes this ridge, bee balm and coneflower a dreamy circuit. He is undeterred by the birdish hunger for those who suck nectar from things that eat the sun, and unimpressed and surely annoyed by our clever versifying.