Tuesday, June 28, 2016

RIP: Toad

Update from where we left off: I woke up this morning to an email from Jason.
The light also had its disadvantages; specifically, it negated Mr. Satan's camouflage to more developed eyes. On returning home tonight, I noticed sticky, red smears on the porch combined with strange, lumpy shapes.  On closer inspection, I determined it to be blood.  Following this trail of blood and viscera, I found the bulk of Mr. Satan's dessicated corpse surrounded by raccoon tracks.  Nothing was eaten; the raccoon killed the toad purely for sport.  On a positive note, I'll have a new hat soon, and I'll bury Mr. Satan where the red fern grows.
I'm sure Mr. Satan spent its final hours doing what it loved: devouring living things. And hey, at least the raccoon had a good time.

Mr. Satan: gone but not forgotten.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Critters: Featuring Frog & Toad

I sojourned briefly in Jersey on the way from Philadelphia to rural Massachusetts. The reason for the trip: I hadn't seen Jason since January and hadn't visited Earthdance since 2014, and when he finds himself with two consecutive days off at the border of spring and summertime, the wise wage slave takes advantage.

I was only in town for a few hours, but made a point of checking up on the situation out in the woods. Three weeks made all the difference: the ebony jewelwings are out and about, and I know precisely where to find them. With the water level of the pond decreasing over the last few years, my favorite odonata have taken their domain from its edge (pictured hereabouts) to the brook the overflowing pond used to spill into.

I wish I possessed the time and imagination to convey the quiet joy and wonder of the damselflies' grotto. Verdure and water-flattened stones; the only immediately perceptible movements above the creek's surface are committed by antediluvian insects that look for the world like living automata, equal parts tensile muscle and silent gearwork, chitin and lapis lazuli, engineered by an anonymous forgotten Daedalus for Babylon's royal conservatory or the temple gardens at Rhodes.

You see? I cannot explain it without resorting to silly metaphors. But there really is something splendid and otherworldly in the scene—a statement which might express less about the event itself than imply the estrangement of its author from the world that shaped him and the insects both. (Postscript thought: it is the pale cast of anthropocentrism—events that have no clear analogue within an anthropized setting are called "otherworldly," as though the city and the wild green exist independently on separate planets. It is a dangerous way of thinking.)

*          *          *

On the dry bed of the defunct anastomotic channel between the pond and the brook, I met a frog.


Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Straight White Men

I'm pretty sure this is a first: I've reviewed video games, cartoons, bad direct-to-video superhero films, and books, but never a play. Today we'll be looking at Young Jean Lee's Straight White Men, staged in Philadelphia by the InterAct Theatre Company, which I had the pleasure and (ahem) privilege of seeing last week. This is also one of those rare occasions where I'll be issuing a spoiler warning: if you're fortunate to live in or near a city that is or will be hosting a production of Straight White Men, you'd be much better served buying a ticket and seeing it without any expectations or preconceptions.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

stray thoughts: ducklings & dragons

Was in Jersey yesterday on an errand and took another opportunity to visit the woods. It's only been a week, and I might be mistaken, but it appears to have filled out considerably in just the last seven days. Maybe I can attribute the difference to weather conditions: during my last visit it was partially overcast, and yesterday the sun shone brilliantly and unobstructed.

I know I once wrote a bloody novel about how crappy it can be to live in the suburbs of North Jersey, but damn if they're not beautiful during the spring and summer. So unbelievably luxuriantly green.

I'm indebted the the forests I habited as an adolescent for pretty much anything I can claim to know about wild flora and fauna. The only reason I ever read up on birds, plants, or bugs is because I find them outside and want to better understand what sort of life my own is intersecting with. I don't understand much of anything about "nature" at all. There's just some woods here and there in North Jersey I'm acquainted with.

At the onset of my visit yesterday I met several odonata and got my hopes up that another week was all the ebony jewelwings needed to mature and populate their grotto by the pond. No such luck—but it was one of those uncommon (but not unusual) days when the pond was hosting a wood duck. They always startle me: even before the surface of the pond comes into view over the tangle of wild roses at its circumference, the wood duck (a very shy, skittish, and exceedingly vocal bird) hears you coming and tears shrieking into the arboreal shadows almost too fast for your eyes to find before it disappears.

Most of the time I've only seen solitary males at this pond. Yesterday it was a female, a mama bird. True to her species' form, she screamed and bolted into the woods before I even knew she was there, leaving seven ducklings behind. I moved in for a closer look, puzzled as to why she'd apparently abandon them to me (a predator, as far as she knew), and wondering if maybe they weren't actually her brood. I came around to where the ducklings were gathered in hiding under the leaves of a fallen (but still living) tree drooping out over the surface of the water. The female was still nearby: she made herself conspicuous, crying plaintively, staying low to the ground, flapping and hopping towards the forest's interior, but not going far.

It was the first time I'd seen volucrine decoy tactics in action up close! Mama bird was trying to lure me towards herself, away from her brood. After I'd backed off and waited in the brush for a while, she returned to the pond with a swoosh and a splash, and her ducklings hurried to her, peeping excitedly.

Via Sergey Tishin.