Lichen

Bonded to a boulder,
living on air and random rain,
a forty-year-old lichen
claims a thumbprint of space.
Centuries from now it will be
the size of a dinner plate,
will still be young
when the millennium turns–
not that age applies
to a thing designed to override death.

Maybe this doesn’t sound
like much of a life:
stuck on stone, nothing to do
but make more crust.
Or maybe it’s a thrill a minute,
living up to all that potential.

I would like to find out,
to lie on a sun-warmed rock
and give myself up,
to become with steady assurance
all I was ever meant to be.


























 

 

 



Four Free Audio Stories!

I wish to thank the wonderful writer and editor Mark McNease for featuring four essays from my collection “Strange Company” on his podcast. Mark has published three of my books and his support and encouragement have been invaluable. Please visit his website to read his blog posts, enjoy his podcasts, and find information on his many mystery novels.

To listen to four selections from my book “Strange Company” please follow this link to Mark’s podcast site. After a brief introduction, you will hear the beautiful voice of Nikiya Palombi as she perfectly captures the mood of the pieces. Enjoy!

Great Deal On Strange Company!

For all you nature lovers, the Kindle version of Strange Company, my collection of nature essays is on sale at Amazon. This is a light-hearted look at some of our most curious beasts, a cozy read for these cold winter months. Here is an excerpt from “Consider the Sloth.”

“The two main emotions in life are love and fear, and certainly there is ample evidence that animals feel both. I imagine that when the shadow of a raptor passes overhead, a sloth cringes in fear. What about the lesser emotions, the ones that don’t serve us—like worry? Does a sloth, with all that time he has, worry about eagles and jaguars? Or does he have more productive thoughts, which part of the tree he’ll dine on that night? Or is he, in some deep animal way, simply enjoying himself, his mind a movie screen of pleasant images: leaves, sky, dappled light. When thoughts are not needed, maybe animals are not burdened with them.

It is estimated that people have sixty thousand thoughts a day, a figure not as impressive as it sounds. These sixty thousand thoughts are the same ones we had yesterday and the same ones we’ll have tomorrow. In our day-to-day lives, we are not much good at thinking out of the box. A sloth hangs in one tree all its life and has no company other than the mate it couples with every fourteen months or so. With this scant stimulation, I wonder how many separate daily thoughts a sloth has. One hundred? Twenty? Three? I would trade my sixty thousand for a glimpse of them.”

Some Days

Some days I don’t notice the nuthatch
climbing the cinnamon scales of a pine tree,
or the honeybee paused
on the edge of the birdbath, drinking.
Some days I see only the skim
of a hamburger wrapper floating in the bayou,
a chain link fence studded with plastic bags,
a still gray form in the middle of the road,
justifying despair.
I lose some days entirely,
as if this world can do without me,
as if the way back is not just a few feet away, where a lime green katydid the size of a staple is waiting for my astonishment.

Greatness

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Greatness

An osprey dives over and over,
as many times as it takes to stay alive
and become incidentally superb.

Driving down the road near my house
I see them flying, a stunned fish in their claws,
as if nothing could be more ordinary
than a bird bringing home dinner.

Wings or brains,
we work with what we have.
I can’t snatch a meal from the ocean
at 50 miles an hour,
but I can plant a garden,
make stories out of thin air,
learn the difference
between an aspen and an alder.
Minute by minute,
even I can be splendid.

The Common Lacewing

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A green lacewing. Isn’t it stunning? The looping cellophane wings, the extravagant antennae, the eyes a pair of shining beads. And that streamlined body–in all the world, could there be a truer green? Imagine taking flight with those diaphanous wings, sailing into darkness with see-through tackle. Maybe, with lives this brief, beauty pre-empts sturdiness.

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Adult lacewings are nocturnal and fairly passive; most feed on nectar, pollen and honeydew. At some point during their four-to six-week lives, they find a mate, touch antennae, mingle mouthparts, and finally join abdomens, jerking and vibrating in a vertical position. The female soon lays 100 to 200 eggs on foliage, ideally with plenty of aphids nearby. Each dainty white egg is secured at the end of a filament about a half inch in length. After a few days the eggs hatch, molt, and the emerging larvae climb up the stalks and into the sunshine. Immediately they start feasting on whatever they can find: aphids, mites, caterpillars, other small bugs and eggs. These creatures are so proficient at dispatching aphids that lacewing eggs are shipped to gardeners and farmers for use as biological pest control.

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Unlike humans, who are most comely in their youth, lacewing larvae are not what we’d call attractive. Their humpback bodies are swollen in the middle, and tufts of bristles protrude from their sides. These bristles are neither armor nor adornment. They are there to help secure dead victims and other debris to the backs of the larvae. As the gruesome collection grows, it serves as camouflage from birds and other predators, while offering the host cover for hunting.

Green Lacewing Nymph (Chrysopidae)

Lacewing larvae tend to swing their heads from side to side as they search for food, seizing what they find with their strong mandibles and injecting it with paralyzing venom. The hollow jaws then draw out the body’s fluid, after which the corpse is tossed onto the heap of other luckless prey. Occasionally these rapacious predators, also called aphid lions and aphid wolves, will even bite humans. In two or three weeks nature cues them to stop eating and start spinning cocoons, from which adult lacewings appear five days later to repeat the cycle.

Fearsome youth or fragile beauty–makes no difference to the common lacewing, who is always both, forever coming, forever going, a crawler with notions of flight, a flyer with flashbacks of sunshine.

Photo by mbrochh on Foter.com / CC BY-SA
Photo by dreed41 on Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA 
Photo by Pasha Kirillov on Foter.com / CC BY-SA
Photo by Marcello Consolo on Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Three Lessons I Learned From The South Napa Earthquake

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While the South Napa Earthquake was a meh compared to grand scale disasters, Hurricane Harvey has reminded me of the lessons I learned that day, which I am re-posting now. My deep sympathy to the victims and survivors of this catastrophic storm. In its wake, may love and good will continue to bloom.

1) You will never look at your home the same way again.

Homes are wounded, some more deeply than others; in fifteen seconds they have aged two decades. Most will need long-term care, the sort of attention that involves forgiveness. With enough money and patience, you can battle the mounting flaws. Alternatively, you can turn tender and live in peace with the wear and tear. You can accept your aging home the same way you accept your imperfect body.

2) Nature will win.

You know this now. Nature’s blows are indiscriminate and nonnegotiable. You have seen photos of the Mount St. Helens eruption, footage from Hurricane Katrina, but until you have been caught inside the roar yourself, flung like a rag doll inside your splintering house, you are not intimate with Mother Nature. Having survived one of her surges, you will love her no less and trust her no more.

3) You are not safe.

Security is an impossible ideal. This does not mean that you should go running full-speed down the knife edge of your life. Neglecting your belongings; falling into drink, debt or despair—these are not answers to your vulnerable condition. Instead, you must shore up what you can and live with what you love: people, plants, animals, objects. However fragile or fleeting, whatever you hold dear graces your days and justifies its place in your life.