When A Leaf Dances A Snowflake Will Soon Fall

Leaf1

I’m sitting on the front deck of our house which sits on a small rise above Rainbow Lake.  It’s late September in the North Country of New York State.  The trees are oddly out-of-tune with the season.  Some are brown, dead and waiting to drop to the ground.  Some are just hinting at the blast of hues they will splash your color receptors with–in a few short weeks.  And, some trees have ignored the short daylight and the 41 degree evening temperatures.  They are holding their chlorophyll until some command from the Horai and, they too will reveal their true colors.

I’m sitting on the front deck, breathing through my mouth and trying not to cough.  I am just getting over a mild case of pneumonia that I seemed to have picked up while traveling to my high school reunion.  My chest is feeling clearer and my temperature is roughly normal.  I’m sitting here wearing a fleece vest–but that’s nothing new.  I just took it off three months ago after wearing it pretty much since this time last year.

But I’m not doing nothing.  I’m watching a leaf dance.

It’s movement caught the corner of my eye as I took out a bag of recyclables.  A tiny maple leaf, part brown, part red and patched with black is caught at the end of a long strand of spider web that reaches from the roof to within a few inches of the floor boards.  Don’t even try to see the gossamer thread, its invisible as far as I’m concerned.  For me, the leaf is dancing its gentle pirouettes on the air.

That’s why I’m sitting on my front deck.  I’d be napping if I had not seen the leaf and I would be missing this special private recital.

Just now, I hear a skein of Canadian Geese flying westward.  Their honking has interrupted my silent concert.  It has led me to think of the passing summer–and the approach of the cruel and harsh months of ice and cold.

Winter usually begins without warning.  In the Adirondacks, it could come on the next cloud–it all depends on your elevation.  Here, beside the lake, it comes with seeing the first snowflake.  Usually heavy with moisture, the first flakes are soft, pure and slow to reach the ground.  Unless you find pleasure in winter sport, it’s a rough road until the Big Melt.

But, soon, if a strong wind doesn’t take my leaf away, a snowflake or two will collide with the leaf and adhere to its surface.  Then another will join–and then another.  The weight will cause my leaf to break its attachment to the thread and fall to the deck.  It’ll get swept away by new winds and then rot into the soil, under inches of snow, in our yard.

I have to go inside for a box of tissues now.  I wonder if the leaf will wait for me?

I doubt it.  The leaf owes me nothing.

Leaf2

Spider Dilemma, My

SpiderWebB:W

I wanted desperately to write a blog about Daddy-Long-Leg spiders.  But, there was a technical problem that I could not solve.  It’s not that there is a shortage of this species here in the North Country.  Indeed, just the opposite is true.  They are everywhere.  But try to get a photo of one…it’s not impossible, just very difficult.  Unless you own a Nikon DSLR with an 900:1 digital zoom lens, you’re out of luck.  The long legs are not really the issue, it’s the rest of the thing that’s problematic.  The Daddy-Long-Legs has a body the size of a match head, you know, those paper matches that they used to give away in bars.  It’s like trying to get a good photo of a fly on the fight deck of the USS Bonhomme Richard.

I found a Daddy-Long-Leg spider on the railing of our deck and took this photo:

Daddy

The gray arrow accurately points out the location of the Daddy-Long-Legs.  See it?

I realized that photo wasn’t going to make much of a blog, really.  I mean, I can hardly see the arrow much less the spider.

That was end of that idea…for awhile, anyway.

This morning I decided to brush off the R-pod in preparation for our trip to Florida in October.  There were nests and webs everywhere.  But after giving the camper a good cleaning, I noticed something near the front, where the hitch and propane tanks are located.  It was a spider web.  But this time, the spider was big enough to photograph.

Rushing back into the house, I try to find my iPhone 5 and snap a few images. I reached for my Nikon DSLR, but remembered that I had taken the chip out because it had other photos I needed for another blog.  I tried finding my CoolPix, but realized we had put in one of our suitcases for our recent trip to Ireland.  My mini-iPad was not that good because you had to fiddle with the touch screen in order to “zoom” in.  I settled on my iPhone 5 and even though I had to spread my fingers on the touch screen, decided that I could get the photo I wanted.  Now, I had something to blog about.

SpiderNext step was to identify the spider.  I can’t post something about a spider and keep calling it “spider”.  I had to find out what kind of spider it is.  I hurry back inside the house and look over my collection of Peterson Field Guides.  I don’t have one on spiders, only insects.  They’re not the same.  They are scientifically classified as being wholly separate.  So, I Google “spider” and find a quick identification key intended for the amateur naturalist.  [Notice I didn’t use the term “naturist”–those are the people who run around naked.]

I set to work trying to find out the species.  This was not easy because the spider in question hangs upside-down near the center of its web.  Not only that, but its underside was facing me and it’s identifying marks were on its back.  I pondered this for a few minutes before arriving at a solution.  I needed a mirror to see the top of the spider.  So, I rushed back inside the house and found my wife’s make-up mirror.  I ran back outside and carefully slid the reflecting surface (mirror) under and beneath the web.  I ran back into the house to replace the mirror.  It was too dark to get a good view, but I narrowed it down to three possibilities;

  • The Orb Weaver (Araneus spp)
  • The Cross Spider (Araneus diadematus)
  • The Shamrock Spider (Araneus trifolium)

It should go without saying that we’re talking about the genus Arachnids.  We all know that.  I also know that fully 75% of the human population are intimidated by spiders (only a fraction have full-blown Arachnophobia).  I’m in that 75% population cluster.  If you want to understand my relationship with spiders in more detail, order the 1958 version of The Fly on Netflix.

But all this left me with another and more complex dilemma.  I don’t especially like spiders, but I am aware that they eat mosquitoes, which I like even less.  So, do I whisk away the aforementioned spider so I won’t feel threatened each time I hitch the trailer to the car?  Or, do I let the mosquito-munching spider live?  That leads to another problem.  Do I transport this Arachnid to Florida?  What if it’s considered an alien species down there?  What if I am Person Zero who starts an Ecological Problem, a situation second only to the Rapture?

Life is not easy up here in the North Country.

BiggerSpider

[This is as close as I get.]

 

 

 

 

Gratitude From A Dragonfly

It was one of those rare days in mid-summer here in the north country.  The sky was free of the clouds that seemed to linger…day after day after day.  I was walking across our front deck and something caught my eye.  It was a dragonfly trapped in a spider’s web.

I wrote a blog about it.  In the post, I discussed my dilemma: to free the fly and possibly starve the spider or to allow the spider to devour the fly…thereby lessening the number of biting insects that would be eaten by the fly.  [Go back in my older posts to see my point.]

I chose to liberate the fly.  It flew away, I could imagine, feeling safe and free in its tiny fly brain.

I saw a thousand dragonflies this past summer.  I tried to get close to study their amazing wings…but they flew away.

~~~

A few days ago, after we had several frosts and even a dusting or two of snow, I was standing at the railing of our back deck.  I had just finished blowing off the pine needles and leaves that constantly littered the deck floor.  I emptied our tomato planter (we got about 12 tasty ones, small but full of flavor that only comes from something you’ve grown yourself).

Yes, I was standing at the railing and looking up at the overcast sky.  Summer had come and gone.  A few leaves held onto their parent-trees…refusing to give up, drop and then to rot away into our sandy soil.  A slight chill came in with the breeze that came in off the lake.  The insects of the late summer had been dead for weeks due to the frost. Or so I thought.

I looked down on the 2 x 4 pine railing (stained a light-oak) and saw a survivor.  Not just any survivor, but a dragonfly.  It was motionless on the wood surface.  I blew on it.  It didn’t move.  I was sure it was dead…but why did it die on my railing?  And, why didn’t it get blown away by the autumn winds?

A small part of me was glad it had chosen to die (do they choose?) on my deck.  Now, I could take it downstairs to my “man-cave”, pull out my binocular microscope and take time to really study the intricate and mathematically precise structure of the lattice-work of the wings.  I could look closely at what I assumed was a compound eye.  I could sketch it.  Admire it.  Study it.  And marvel at it.

Just then, in the chill air of the deck, it moved!  It was alive!  How could this be?  By all rights of nature, it should have been food by now…or lying among the rotting leaves and ferns and moss of our yard ten feet below me.

I don’t know enough about a dragonflies’ life-cycle to think that it missed the Great Migration.  I don’t even know if they do migrate.  I doubt it.

But there it was…on my deck.  I coaxed it onto my hand.  It didn’t try to fly away…just yet.  I held it close to my eye.  It was then that I knew that whatever happened, I was holding a dragonfly that had only hours to live.  Something would get it.  It couldn’t survive much longer.

I stared into its eyes.  I had a thought.

Was this the fly I freed a month or two ago?  Was this the offspring of the fly I liberated?  How could I ever know?

But, I can say this, I had two encounters with dragonflies this summer.  Hundreds that sat on my knee while I read, or sat on the lip of my glass of sun-tea.  They filled the air of my deck space.  And their iridescence was magnificent.

I came eye to eye with only two.  There must be a connection.  There has to be a connection.  I want there to be a connection.

Did the fly stay around in hopes that I would find it?  Did it want to thank me for saving its life?  Or it’s parents’ life?

I’d like to think so.  I’ll never know.

After a moment in my palm, it flew away…slowly at first…and then it vanished into the needle-covered pine trees at the edge of our property.

DragonFly

 

 

Cause and Effect: My Front Porch Dilemma

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Today, on my front porch, I was faced with a dilemma.  I was a witness to an act of nature, an act that is repeated a billion times each minute here in the North Woods.  If you factor in the endless variations on this particular situation that occur world-wide, then the number is incalculable.

But I was allowed a peak of only one such entanglement.  And, that is what it was.  An entanglement.  As I stepped off the porch onto the ramp leading to the new stone walkway, something caught the corner of my left field of vision.  It was under the cornice of the roof, you know, where the giant icicle grows from November until late April.  The mass of this ice, building drop by drop, grows into something large and frightening as a homegrown glacier.  Take a portion of Niagara Falls..drop the temperature to -75 degrees and you have an inkling of what drapes itself off the corner of our roof.  I’ve considered renting it out to ice-climbers for weekend workouts and crampon practice.

Thank heavens it’s over the guest room.

But I digress.

What caught my eye was a rather large dragon-fly.  We have hundreds of them on our back deck.  I, who have a revulsion to mosquitos, black flies, spiders, snakes and larger-than-mouse-size rodents (I can’t bring myself to even utter the word), find dragon flies beautiful and non-threatening.  It’s about the only flying insect in the entire Adirondacks that is non-threatening (you can’t count moths and Monarch butterflies).  The dragon-fly mates while flying and the males is upside-down and backwards, but delicate eyes and minors might be reading this blog so I can’t go into details.  One sat on my knee a few days ago.  It was so passive and friendly, I almost gave it a name and thought about taking it for a walk.  They don’t make leashes that small, however.

My appreciation for the dragon-fly increased 1,000 % when Mariam told me she saw one eating small gnat-like things in mid-flight.  Now, there’s a bug I can like.

So, here’s the problem: this particular fly was caught in a single strand of spider web material.  As I stood looking at it, I didn’t notice the gossamer web and I thought the fly was levitating.  I knew they were really cool, but still…

I had forgotten about seeing the spider’s web a few days before.  I asked Mariam if I should swipe it away…not a good thing for visitors to see as they approach our front door.  We thought for a moment and decided to leave it unmolested.  After all, you don’t have to be Charles Darwin or John Muir to know that spiders eat insects.  (Remember, I don’t like insects…or spiders, so that was a whole other dilemma for another blog).

Back to the imprisoned dragon-fly.  I hadn’t noticed the web so I tickled it ever so slightly.  It jumped to life and tried to fly away.  But it was caught by the spider.

That’s the moment when the enormity of the situation hit me like a lug nut flying off a truck on 7th Avenue.  Should I walk away, not interfering with the cycle of nature and let the spider feast on the fly?  Or, should I deprive the spider of its honestly won reward of good home-made fly goo?

I couldn’t help but to insert the human factor (mine) into this picture.  “Take Nothing But Pictures & Leave Nothing But Footprints” is what all the signs tell us when we are in an area of great natural beauty.  And, this scene on my porch was natural beauty.

My choices were simple: do nothing and let nature “happen” i.e., the fly gets eaten, or free the fly.  Now if I interfered by freeing the fly, said fly would, hopefully, go off to eat more insects that annoyed the hell out of me.  I win.  The dragon-fly wins.  The spider loses.

Before I raised my hand, I considered further ramifications.  If the fly dies early for lack of food, he/she may not have a chance to reproduce, thus lessening the overall number of spider in the future.  If I let the fly die, there may not be time to reproduce, thus lessening the future generation(s) of dragon flies.  Therefore, more annoying insects.

I tried to project this dilemma into the distant future.  One pair of dragon flies can, conceivably, be responsible for millions of future generations of their species.  The same goes for the spider.  My actions, in the real natural world, would have far-reaching consequences.

I decided to take a moral leap into the unknown.  I freed the dragon-fly.  It didn’t hang around long enough to thank me.  Probably because it had some time in the web contemplating its short term future.  They’re not that stupid.

What made me decide to do what I did?  I think it was, while I was mulling the situation over, I was attacked by a mosquitos.

I deprived the mosquito of future generations by smashing it into a bloody spot on my forearm.