Monday, November 18, 2013

The Summer Crawlers

A fat and noisy bottle fly has been dive-bombing my screen in the darkened room for some minutes now and so I rise with a quiet creak coming from my knees in order to fashion an escape through an open door for the creature. 

The freeing of the fly reminds me of my youth when I would steer my car around the late summer wooly worms as we drove along gently rolling country roads boarded by corn and bean fields.  You remember, the caterpillar that comes in brown and cream colors - the ratios of which are, famously, predictive of the severity of the upcoming winter. Well, it's fun to pretend.

Once, a friend remarked that there was no way that I could see wooly worms from the driver's seat.  But it was true.  That's the kind of thing I notice.

And there was lots to notice where I grew up.  I remember the great mats of algae that formed in the farm ponds during late summer.  This was my favorite trick: take a bucket down to the lagoon, fill it with algae and upon returning to my bedroom, dump the entire contents into an aquarium that I kept there.  After a while, the sheer number of creatures settling out and visible in my miniature glass-enclosed world could keep me busy with tweezer, eyedropper and microscope for days.  Nymphs would hatch - dragonflies mostly - and they would end up on the inside of my bedroom window screens.  Naturally, I would let them out.

Of course, the algae mats were grown thick from runoff farm fertilizer - a fact that I did not appreciate until much later.  Still, in a county where the only real, unspoiled land was the thin prairie remnants extending along abandoned railway tracks, farm ponds seemed to be rich and fun places to explore.  It was only later that I realized that the place where I was brought up and thought of as full of wild things was mentioned, not in a good way, by Rachel Carson in "Silent Spring."  There is Irony for you.

It was astonishing how much life you could find in a bucket.  E. O. Wilson once reported that in a single gram of soil there might be as many as 6,300 species of bacteria.  Think on that for a moment.

Imagine what it would have been like growing up in a place where most of the living things had not been systematically snuffed out by herbicides and pesticides.

1 comment:

Bob Drake said...

This is a good one Steve!