Still Early, Afterall


I think one could tell the date from the sentence: ďwhile I knelt over Juniper Hairstreaks the Waterthrushes continuously called and Broad-winged Hawks whistled overhead.Ē At each Broadwing whistle I shook my head. My brain attuned to this noise. It reverberates in some memory centers that connect in complex ways to something pleasurable. A chemical and electrical trick that we still donít understand, I donít need its formula today; I just needed its results.

Photographing hairstreaks in the wind, it is a challenge. Kneeling in the new flowers, trying not to crush the best of them, the half inch butterflies flutter like wind vanes three inches in front of the macro lens. One breaths the deep breath of the photographer, holding and releasing, focusing and adjusting for the light, waiting for the wind and the image to still, it is a wonder any shot works. But they are so lovely up close, giants on the retina while you stoop and forget everything except the whistles of the hawks. It is worth disappearing inside for a while. The shadows of busy gnatcatchers moving around you. Like Platoís birds.

At the woodpile the Skinks still sun themselves. The black Fence Lizard males have moved away. And I find no trace of the Cottonmouth who tail-warned me yesterday in the path. I took an image of his face to keep however.

At Bell the Vervain hillsides are purpled up. False Garlic and buttercup make patterns between all the Vervain clumps, stones dot the hillside below the budding oaks. The madness of Goatweeds lords over the place. The busy bounce of Duskywings playing territory games. Baskettails, one of the earliest dragons chase whoever isnít getting chased at that moment. The Goatweed males land up and open. But even if you are magic, if you are touched and manage to sidle up to one in the blazing orange-red exposure, the flash is slower than the butterfly wing and he is closed in your image. Oh, the universe.

Up the hillside I see a bumble event. The wood boring bumblebees being the other animal ranging and chasing across the hills at Bell. Through the binoculars I see two joined briefly below the flower heads. I move up and sit down next to what is apparently the female nectaring quietly on the Vervain. The presumed male is hover flying ten or so inches to her left. He is so focused on her I can close in and rattle off shots trying to catch him in the air. He seems to be keeping the flower head between himself and her. Getting up some courage in the aerial maneuvering. Like he is about to ask her to the prom.

But nothing happens until two interlopers zing in and everything happens so fast then I nearly topple off my knees. All four bees are in a black jiggling mass for a flash. Someone has sex with her. Surely. But it is fast and noisy and I am not sure it is altogether consensual. I donít know if the hovering protector is even the one who makes contact. She seems unaffected by the bumblegasm. But he stays and hovers more, winging in and out, staying out of her visual range. You would think she could hear him but I suddenly have no idea if bumblebees even have ears. ( I donít seem to be getting any smarter.) I do seem to think after all these Aprils of my life and I have never seen bumblesex. After each of the seizure/rape/pile-ups the female returns to casually gleening nectar and smoothing her antennae. Just another April for her. Damn.

The path to the swamp is popping with Cricket frogs. It seems to be a record number of frogs. They are always busy now but lord. Now and then there is the plonk of a bigger frog, presumably a Leopard. I cannot tell from the denser visual arc. I know I hear no Bird-voiced Treefrogs, the wind may have them down. The lower greenery around me is now all of Buckeye and Mayapple. The trees are working on leafing but it is a suggestion only for now. Every day, the sky more erased. And there is still a great deal of collapsed tree damage from the December heavy snow. I find maple fruit and more bursting leaves. The Mayapples themselves donít seem floral yet. Red-eyed Vireos sing above me among all the gnatcatchers. I am always amazed at the gnatcatcher chatter in April. It is a thorough discussion of all that is happening for sure: a channel of gossip or just sheer joy.  I see several of them plucking tree moss and lichen. The artistry of their nests is of the highest order. And so unappreciated, except by the very success of its camouflage and this, the multitudinous result. The great numbering of the gnatcatchers is all the applause they need, I suppose.

If I am lucky I have twenty more Aprils. I hope to hear gnatcatchers and hawks every time. Goatweeds and Duskywings, Baskettails and Bumblebees: I hope to be always aware of this numbering in Spring. Who counts their days in winter? Winter is for longing and listening to the wind. Winter is for touching at the buds absent mindedly with your fingertips. But I do know, the most you can do for them, for these vanishing seasons, is pay attention. You walk out in them, and you pay attention. You give yourself to the eye and the ear.

Today I did. And the world gave back.