Taglife

Standing still

As a kid, I used to think that I would die if I had to live in a city. People everywhere, and hiding spaces made of concrete, or boards, and trees delegated to spots here and there. For all the happy Sesame Street bits set in the city neighborhood, I found myself in the ones looking at ponies, or chickens.

I lived in an apartment for much of my childhood, with woods all around. Not epic woods, but more than enough for a feral child. Sometimes I made hiding spots out of fallen branches and leaves. Sometimes I found them ready made, like the space beneath the roots of a decayed tree. I traveled through the swamp, leaping from tussock to tussock, and pretended to be a gymnast on a balance beam made of another fallen tree. I brewed potions out of dead flowers in the fall, and tried eating grass (several times) while playing horse. Much of the time I was alone, because homeschool kids were a rarity in the seventies.

Those places are the soil and water that are always beneath my feet, wherever I am in the world. Most days, that’s fairly close to where I started. I’ve been either a homebody, or lucky, depending on how you look at it. I haven’t had to leave to find the things I need, haven’t been forced away. I’ve had time to hear a thousand different footfalls in the autumn leaves of the same trees, hear the songs of returning birds year after year.

All of that comes with it’s own sadness. By standing in one place, I can see the changes in the land, the ones carved into it by humans. We cannot pretend these losses away.

I’ve been surrounded by bluebirds this fall, every flash of color as warming as a stray ray of sunlight. Last week I saw landlocked salmon traveling upstream to spawn. I’ve never seen them before, only heard of them, and I could have sat and watched them all day. Others had found them as well–an otter, perhaps–and left signs of their feast on the shore. I felt tremendous gratitude at being allowed to view their trek. It was as if someone had whispered psst and shown me a tiny hidden door, through which I could peer into a place I’d known only through dreams.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what is necessary for people to love a place enough to make a stand for it. It doesn’t matter the place, does it? A thousand acres, a stream you can step across, a community garden. A window box six stories up, a bit of scrub in a vacant lot.

What soil do you carry with you when you walk across the world? What places are you willing to fight for?

Greetings from May

The hawks are noisy this time of year. They circle and call, swoop past our house on their way to secret hawk functions. Yesterday there was more noise than usual as we walked up to the garage. We peered around the edge of the building and into the massive oak there. Look, my daughter said. It has another bird.

It did, though not at all the way I expected. I’m no stranger to the sexual antics of birds, but I’ve never before been privy to such a display by hawks. It makes me wonder where their nest is, whether I might find it if I go looking.

It’s an exceptional fertile spring around here. Our old wading pool has been adopted by both spotted salamanders and multiple varieties of frogs as a vernal pool. We meant to get rid of it, but they’ve returned year after year, in increasing numbers. I suppose the pool is much lighter on predators than the beaver pond, or perhaps it’s just closer. Tadpoles have begun to hatch, and they float, tail down, tired from the work of exiting the egg.

Even the old lady hens are laying up a storm. I’d assumed we were feeding and housing them in exchange for eggs past, but they’ve taken the increased light as a sign they should fill the coop (as much as three hens can manage).

My own creative output is sadly lacking, thanks to an endless cold and a surplus of life events. I did send out my first new short story in months, and I have a few more I’m working on. They feel much harder than the ones I’ve written in the past. I’m not sure if it’s because the older ones were completed during that flurry of amazement that I was writing at all, or if I’ve regressed in terms of dealing with the Infernal Editor, or if I’m simply writing a bit outside of my comfort zone these days.

The only response to any of those, of course, is to continue on. Surrounded by the buoyancy of life outside, I’ll do my best to follow its lead.

Learning to see

Once upon a time, long, long ago, I counted insects for a living. Primarily the lovely apple maggot fly (Rhagoletis pomonella), though there were many others.

The thing about spending summers deeply involved with insects is that you start to realize exactly how much life exists around you unnoticed. Mites scurrying back and forth across the undersides of leaves, lacewing eggs on long slender stalks, aphid colonies tended by ever vigilant ants. (Aphids! Really, anyone interested in science fiction should have to read up on the life cycles of aphids.) Shifting populations, battles over territory, ravenous predators, the threat of sudden chemical intervention which favors some groups over others, all playing out in a mad rush before winter comes.

Expand that to an entire orchard, an entire world, and it makes your head spin.

I learned to see during that time. I learned to slow down enough to notice the cicada emerging from the skin she’d shed, stopping to allow her wings to fill and dry. To sit and watch a cecropia caterpillar eat a leaf, as methodically as a child might eat an ear of corn. To find a collection of tiny mite eggs, clustered around the scales of a dormant leaf bud.

Winter isn’t the best time for observing insects in the Northeast, but there’s still much to be seen. Spend some time exploring the bark of a tree. Listen for nuthatches, or the soft tap of woodpeckers, or the angry calls of crows mobbing a hawk. Look for tracks in the snow, and once you’ve found them, look for places they cross under or along a tree or a rock. Find the hairs left behind on those rough surfaces.

Sit quiet. Listen. Watch.

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