Photographic Sequence of an Emerging Cicada

We discovered a cicada breaking out of his larval shell early one morning last week. I decided to record the process at roughly forty minute intervals.

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It looks at first like some kind of mutant – a failure with stunted wings and albino coloring.

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An hour later, the wings have unfurled themselves, and are drying, stiffening.  

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The wings fold back against the body. The body begins to darken.

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And darken. Several hours later it was gone, leaving behind the familiar husk.

Aside

P1020076Snapped on our front deck this morning, I caught this little guy chillin’ by the front door.  He’s the very first of the celebrated Brood II that we’ve seen.  Soon enough, however, he’ll be joined by thousands of fellow emergents in our trees alone –  millions in the local area.  This is the year. Nary a ‘whir’ has been sounded from our trees as yet (May 16th).  Ahh, but wait till the crew assembles and things heat up!

Male cicadas from the same brood really do mass together in huge groups once the calling starts.  This obviously increases the noise volume –  even to painful levels, depending on the locale.  That wall of sound in the heat of the day. . .  doesn’t it take you back?  It’s a musical interlude (perhaps a questionable interpretation) impressed into southern and eastern US ‘cultural genes.’  Might as well grab a glass of lemonade, ya’ll.  Show’s about to start. 

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Magicicada is the genus of the periodical cicada native to eastern North America.  What an interesting and suggestive name.

Let me take you down. . .

The day begins very early when, the sole riser at this hour, I open the front door to the soft shimmer of rain on oak leaves –  whispering a presence more immediate than anything my sleep-fogged brain could have imagined. A steady sigh pours across the threshold into our darkened house. We have been asleep, hidden away behind our walls; and now to open the front door is to awaken a second time. . . onto a reality we had temporarily forgotten.

North_doorway_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1372481Here is a secret world I have found, wild and innocent, a place outside of alarms and media, where nature moves, oblivious of our attention and ultimately beyond the container of language. I should like to open more such doors – awakening over and over – each time penetrating further toward the origin of my thoughts. I wonder whether other folks have looked at their awareness as I have: composed of a series of veils – like Russian dolls, each revealing a place more sacred than the one before, each farther removed from the surface of the world, each closer to the One.

The gray green weather is the continuation of a system which has dumped rain all across the country, filling mud puddles and dog bowls in its more benign moods, relocating trees and cars and forcing evacuations in its more destructive ones. But here, on our little piece of ground, the most destructive thing we have seen are the hordes of oak strings that wash down from trees onto rooftop, windshield, and deck, thereby forcing some attentive maintenance. I search the leafy canopy above and note one tiny window of blue breaking the dark clouds. We’ll see intermittent sun today, perhaps. This is good. Rain and sun in the same day, and a ground water level that becomes more substantial by the week.

Today is strawberry day. . . ” the thought rises, unbidden, to my mind as I gaze into the pre-dawn morning. And I think, rather agreeably, that time spent in cultivation of these sweet plants would be very close to the very best thing I could do for my soul – plunging my hands into the soil, becoming slowly and happily soaked by the soft rain falling into the afternoon.

For about a week, I have kept a carton of six or eight new plants waiting on a small white table below the rear deck. Until today, other obligations have delayed our settling them in alongside their peers. But today, those moist cubes of soil can finally be separated from their plastic cartons and transplanted into the composted soil of our raised beds. We have prepared well up to this point. Still, a top dressing of well-rotted chicken manure and straw would not be too much nitrogen to consider. . . perhaps in another week.

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The new plants are bold and lush – a dark green. They have continued to grow since I brought them home. They reach between six and ten inches in height and are dotted with white flowers. A few stalks have gone leggy; their serrated petals extend above the rest like open hands on outstretched arms.  Plants by nature grow in poses of supplication. All display a unique personality, but always they describe some form of sun worship.

A strawberry plant that is well-washed by the sun becomes unassuming and peaceful, quietly living, quietly producing its gorgeous red bounty. Their serrated leaves find a mirroring correspondence in the form of the berries, stippled as they are with their external pods. On these plants, the first tiny green globes are forming in the protected spaces below the leaves. I want nothing more than to get them in the ground and to provide them with the most optimal growing conditions for our space.

Last year was the first season we put in strawberries, and I didn’t know what to expect. Our plants flowered, fruited, and, at the end of the season, vanished in strands of brown decay and matted straw. I wondered whether we would see them again. And like an ancient humanity contemplating the strange magic of fertility, I nursed that secret fear which predates rationality. But new plants have risen from the old crowns, bigger and better than ever, their foliage a bright, vibrant green. Already, many flowers are apparent, the central pistils showing signs of greening into future berries.

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We call them berries out of custom, but technically the strawberry is not a true berry at all. It is what botanists have called a “pseudocarp“, or false fruit, -carp being a combining form taken from Greek (karpos) for fruit. The true fruits of this plant are actually the tiny seed-like achenes, which dot the exterior of the ‘berry’ and give it that stippled look. The plump red part is called the ‘receptacle’: that part which produces the fruit rather than the fruit itself. As for the word, Karpos, one might look him up later and find further horizons of meaning in the mythology. Context is what gives beauty to language.

Later this summer, mounds of freshly picked strawberries will yield their gorgeous sweetness to our table, served over a foundation of partially soaked shortbread with a dollop of fresh whipped cream, perhaps a blueberry or two, or some mint leaves for garnish. . .  How do you describe the flavor of this food? It is nothing but its own perfection. These are times to quit our internal monologue and simply succumb to a delicious avalanche. I have never understood people who persist in chattering through such experiences.

But certainly, we must resort to the safety and the consensus of shared language to manage our days. Talking, reading, listening: language is where we live, how we maintain our identities. It is where we accomplish everything that requires form and organization. And it is only from language we can construct rational descriptions of places like. . .  the Strawberry Fields of our experience It is tempting to confuse language with reality. But language is, ultimately, itself a pseudo-carp: a premise of meaning constructed over something wilder and beyond description.

There is and has always been a wild place – beyond words, challenging and scary. But to penetrate the veil is to take our words for rain and weather, plants and dirt, souls and strawberries. . . and maybe, just maybe, forget them for a spell.

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Can tasting a strawberry really accomplish all that?! I’ll tell you what: I don’t mind practicing. (Where’s the cream?)

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* Doorway image: Richard Croft  CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)  via Wikimedia Commons

It’s For You

Phone_handsetAt our house, we still have a land line. This is mostly due to our rural location where cable Internet does not reach. But also, we live in a marginal cellular coverage area where the reception changes with the leaf color, the weather, and whatever limb our chickens happened to roost on last night.

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“Dude! Where are you now?”

So, we’ve held fast to our land line: this ringing box with a wire connecting it to the wall. Can you imagine? Such old school stuff in this age of pocket connectivity. But think about this. When you call a land line, you’re calling a place attached temporarily to a personality. When you call a cell phone, on the other hand, you’re calling a personality attached temporarily to a place. Indeed, people are the only real units of reference in our mobile calling culture. Technically it doesn’t matter whether they are two rooms away, two states away, or on a lay over in Reykjavik.

The absence of place as a necessary condition has been challenging for us seasoned communicators. You’ll often hear older callers ask early in the call: “Where are you?” when calling a mobile number. My wife does this all the time. It’s as though she cannot talk comfortably to me without first establishing my whereabouts.  (I should probably leave that point alone for my own well-being and move on. . .)  I  guess we need more than the immediacy of the person’s voice at the other end; we want to know what situation we have called into – whether that someone is lounging in their pajamas, driving down the interstate, or sitting in a Taco Bell.  Otherwise, we feel slightly disconnected – as though we might be channeling a disembodied spirit. Knowing place somehow supplies the weight our words ought to have for each other.

We first got caller ID for our land line many years ago. At first, it felt deliciously sneaky to know who was calling before we would answer. It was the caller, then,  who occupied the exposed position and not the one answering. But soon enough, just having that extra bit of information became normal – and something we’ve come to depend on to frame our minds before we pick up.  

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Dialing ‘CRestwood 7- 5647’ in the 70’s would cause a wall phone like this one to ring in our hallway.

Consequently, we have long since forgotten how to take a phone call with any sense of real curiosity. This much is gone. Can you recall that sense of anticipation as a teenager when the phone rang? A state of high alert would ripple through the household. Or again on Christmas mornings, when the ringing phone often meant the hiss of long distance and faraway voices calling in to re-connect across the miles. The compelling mystique of the unanswered phone is largely a curiosity now.

Nowadays when the land line rings, one of us will reluctantly drop a fork, get up, and check the readout. Chances are, we don’t know the caller (and sometimes even when we do); we say to ourselves: “They really want to speak to us? they’ll leave a message.” What a couple of curmudgeons we’ve become!  But this trend reflects the sheer number of junk calls that now come streaming down the line.

I remember a lecture once given by the Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, in which he recommended a practice he called ‘telephone meditation.’  In his inimitably measured way, Thich Nhat said: “On the first ring, simply listen to the sound of the bell. Stay exactly where you are. Breathe only. On the second ring, rise with dignity and go to the telephone. Breathe only. You know that you can afford to do this,” he said, “because if the other person has something really important to tell you, she will not hang up before the third ring. And on the third ring,” he continued, “you answer. In this way, you bring no unhappiness, no anxiety to the phone, because you have taken the time to re-establish who you are. That is what we call telephone meditation.”

I’ve always liked that idea. But when that strident sound splits the silence of the house, how easy it is to forget all of that.  And do I dare avert my eyes, ignore what the LCD wants to reveal to me, and simply say (as we once did) with a happy expectancy: “Hello. . . ?”

I suspect I might often find more inner peace in just allowing it to ring.

Books your high school English teacher never let you read

In keeping with the general topic of Spring: of joyful gushings and sudden flowerings, of reawakened appetitites, of nymphs and satyrs frolicking in fields and woods – I thought I’d post a review of Rabelais*.

You might remember Francois Rabelais from your high school English class (or probably you don’t – especially if your teacher avoided it out of misplaced concern for your safety) as the author of the bawdy 16th century novel, Gargantua and Pantagruel. Rabelais  (roughly: rabblelay) was a French Renaissance writer, humanist, monk, doctor, and a teller of dirty jokes.

So here’s this 16th centurygargantua_pantagruel classic which proudly appears in Great Books of the Western World.  I plowed this compendium of arse-wind symphonies, infarctious bum-hole fruppery, codpiece flip-flappery, and vertiginous piles of latinate verbiage, much of which only a scholar from the Beansquiddle School of Counterposed Argumentation and Juxtiperous Scholary Assidification would understand, or profit therefrom. . .

And for all that, it was fun.

Yes, the complaint that I formed early on was that the writing was overwhelmingly verbose. Despite outlandishly bawdy humor, it took forever to get through what I took to be pointless descriptions, words piled up in a groaning sideboard of verbiage, chapters with no apparent aim toward what I thought should be the meat of the enterprise: advancing a book’s plot. But that complaint, I finally realized, was really my 20th-century American upbringing speaking: my get-out-of-the-way-I’m-in-a-hurry, time-is-money, nose-to-the-grindstone, put-it-in-a-sound-byte upbringing.

Compared to Gargantua and Pantagruel, today’s novels are practically written in short hand where an economy of words wins. Blogs must be digestible in two minutes or less.  We can quit any newspaper article after only three sentences and come away with its essential point. Got to keep moving, folks. We’ve basically re-written Descartes’ famous dictum to: ‘I stress, therefore I exist. . .’

On the other hand, with Gargantua and Pantagruel you have sat down with someone from the 16th-century, and you must not be interested in getting anywhere in a hurry. You must be prepared to sacrifice the entire afternoon to careless, rambling conversation where the person repeats himself, gets sidetracked in colorful but pointless tangents, tells lewd jokes, flirts with passersby, pauses frequently to order more beer, farts at will, and has a love for rattling off endless lists: of popular games, of foods appearing at a banquet, of ways to run someone through with a weapon, or the best materials to use in an outhouse.

The characters,  Gargantua and Pantagruel, are of a race of giants, and in a satire the figure of a giant usually becomes a device for showing human traits writ large. It occurs to me that Rabelais’ use of this literary device may be seen as a kind of rejoinder to Plato’s Republic. In The Republic, man was writ large in the form of an ideal city to explore the question: how should a man live? Then, in Gargantua and Pantagruel, perhaps the corollary occurs: the city or society is writ large in the form of a giant man to explore the question: what is the end of life?

And if this be the case, then Rabelais tell us, in effect, to chill…  There you go! There’s your modern urge to reduce everything to one formulaic pithy equation: just chill. Rabelais seems to be saying: what’s the use in being so pretentious and tight-assed? Humanity is funny, flawed, tragic, comic, both beautiful and ugly – and driven by passion and appetite more so than rationality. Relax, understand this, and stop pushing.

If you don’t mind bawdy jokes, gutter humor, satire, and enough crude body functions to start a riot in a whorehouse, this will be a delightful, if somewhat long read. Let it have its effect on you. On other hand, “If you say to me, master, it would seem that you were not very wise in writing to us these flimflam stories, and pleasant fooleries…” as Rabelais interjects, near the end of Book II, “I answer you that you are not much wiser to spend your time reading them.” ‘Tis a sentiment truer than meets the eye, because to respond out of impatience to this book is to have missed much of the point.

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Gargantua and Pantagruel can be read in the public domain on sites such as: Ebooks and Project Gutenberg. Nothing quite compares to a physical copy, however, and for a translation, I might suggest Burton Raffel for liveliness and fun.

*This review slightly repackaged from a post on LibraryThing..

time’s winged chariot drawing near. . . and blowing right by

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Me like! This am perfect world!

I am faced with a minor dilemma. Shall I choose a standard topic and write. . . blithely, as though this blog had seen no intervening silence. Or shall I post about the silence. It’s a bit awkward, starting right off with a meta-discussion about blogging. But friends, I follow the bizarro- world recipe for success: make a flurry of posts, lapse into silence, rise up again with apologies. Lather, rinse, repeat.

But a six month gap? This just shoots the limit for attention spans. By now, I may be talking down an empty Ethernet cable, so how can I expect you to give two spits in a beggar’s cup? Let’s see: last time, I used the spiritual sabbatical angle to excuse the lapse in posts. If you recall, it was about how interplays of light and shadow, color and sound had hypnotized my soul to the point where I simply threw up my hands and sat gawking at clouds. What fun! and by the way, have you tried that? It fulfills a perfectly reasonable behavioral need at times. However, it turns out that somebody still has to fry the eggs and pay the electric bill.

So, been there and done that. Scrap that explanation.

Ok, got it! I stopped blogging in anticipation of the world ending.

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Yes! That’s it! The world ended last December. It was the singularity of humankind. The zero point. The whole enchilada – all wrapped up and stuffed in a “to go” bag. With that monolith approaching, I just couldn’t bring myself to string two words together. Sounds reasonable, right?

Oh wait. . . you missed the end of all time?? I kinda did, too, actually, because. . . well gosh, we’re still here! But let’s qualify that statement.  This time-line has persisted (the one where I am writing this sentence, and you are reading). Maybe we should try the next universe over (cue up the ominous music).  Then who knows? Maybe they’ve actually stopped showing ‘Friends’ reruns over there.   This all might sound clever from a quantum-physics-wannabe point of view. However, in the end it’s rather the same thing  – for us souls in this universe – as: ‘didn’t happen.’

You know, I was really looking forward to the end of the world. What glorious drama that could have been. It’s not that I dislike blogging, and to be sure, I don’t particularly like large explosions. It’s just that, for a shining moment, thereThe_Scream loomed the possibility that this good old dystopian realm of ours, this jaded planet Earth, might have been traded for something new.  We could have all been leveled up, raptured, or at least cast into the outer darkness!

Instead, life has gone on pretty much as usual, and I suppose that’s reassuring. The profiteering, the wars, the terrorist attacks, the viral plagues, all the usual suspects that give us warm fuzzies on the Nightly News – all are still here. This is called ‘finding comfort in a normatively toxic environment.’ It’s also called pessimism for folks who enjoy not smiling.

Meanwhile, seeing as how the world didn’t end, I was cast adrift for a while. There I was, having quit my job, cashed in all my savings, and waiting on a mountaintop.* Then I found refuge in the smothering embrace of Nutella and Wild Turkey. Yes. . . you read right: chocolate hazelnut cake icing and good ol’ Kentucky 101! Now, there’s a remarkable sensory combination and a cautionary tale in one go. Such smothering sweetness, such amnesial decadence! I may as well have been languishing in a nineteenth century London opium den. One might even recommend it for short-term psychic downtime . . . but you are likely a person who takes your body drama more seriously. In that case, you’ll find green tea and brown rice less normatively toxic – at least, over the short term. As always, choose your own adventure.

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So here we are, still hanging onto God’s merry-go-round, whilst a demonic steam calliope keeps banging out the same crazy tune.  Or maybe that’s just the TV left on.

But Oh Fortuna! it’s Spring again! And that’s something, at least. Warm sunny days, startlingly blue skies coasting with wind-frayed clouds, open windows, two-blanket nights, suddenly overgrown lawns, pollen-streaked windshields. . . and sneezing. Yes, Virginia, there is an April!  I really think we can do this. Here’s a Kleenex.

So, what do you think? Are you buying any of this? Having read this far, it would be a shame not to check back next week to see if another bizarro world post actually makes it up. The underlying message is: we are still alive over here and trying to figure out what to do with a year that ends in ’13’.  Actually, this is the most fun I have had with an overdue post.

* One of these statements is actually true.

Status

New Widget – 1000 Words a Day

Just added a widget to my sidebar – over on the right just below Categories: a new “1000 Words a Day” sticker. It’s really nothing new, as I have been able to bang words out in quantity for some time. The badge is just kind of fun, plus I like the motivation. The first two secrets to high daily word counts: keep a journal and don’t censor yourself. It should be no surprise that paragraphs pile up like snow drifts when the subject is you.  The intent is then to transfer this momentum to other projects.