You and I and the Winged Things

You and I and the Winged Things: Late Autumn Evening Courtesy & Copyright Friend Weller
Late Autumn Evening
Courtesy & Copyright Friend Weller
One of the greatest magics of these late autumn evenings is that of midges, gnats, flies, mosquitoes, and bugs which flitter about in the humble stratosphere of their world between the intermittent cold snaps. They loop and spiral, as if on spiritual roller coasters, gently refracting the setting sun through and upon their bodies so that they seem to glow and become prescient of the night’s stars soon to bloom. When the cool November sun begins to set low, I can look out amongst the naked shrubs and thinning trees, the tall shaggy grasses and dead kaleidoscopic leaves, and see those hidden creatures who only dance in unlovely places the splendid slow waltz of autumnal joy.

Through the cascading shadow, the dance of the waning wing-bearers becomes even more dramatic. As the sun continues to slide below the mountains, the insects increase their pace it seems, and then begins the cataclysm of the birds. Small gray and off-gray birds with different flecks, inflections, songs, and hearts, though unified as the kind that would easily build a good hardy nest in an old dilapidated mug, begin diving through the midges and gnats and flies and mosquitoes. The birds are trapeze artists. Starting from a perch in a nearby tree, they swoop with grace through the air in a dramatic arc. At the nadir of their swing, the snare roll abruptly halts, a sharp inhale of silence descends like thunder and is followed in quicktime by a cymbal crash as the acrobats catch their purse in midair. Then, gently arching back up to the adjacent branch across, a great applause raptures. Like this, the birds dive and breach, avian orcas earning their rich protein in preparation for the imminent changing of the season. The horizon of thin times drives the orchestra of life onwards.

As I watch the fading insects, bugs, winged things, and other wonders I ponder as to why many see them as pests. In the evening glow, it seems an impossible identity for these fellow inhabitants of our world. Do people fear them? Not understand them? Believe they belong in one place and not another? Watching them in that moment, the thought escapes my mind and I am glad. I am glad to forget their supposedly assigned state, and I instead reforge my memories anew in the present, watching them as sparks in the swiftly quenching day. The perpetual creation of the world continues along, with I and you and all we’ve ever known and will know wrapped within it.

I’m Patrick Kelly, and I’m Wild About Utah.
 
Credits:
Images: Courtesy & © Friend Weller https://upr.org/
Audio: Courtesy & © J. Chase and K.W. Baldwin https://upr.org/
Text:    Patrick Kelly, Director of Education, Stokes Nature Center, https://www.logannature.org
Included Links: Patrick Kelly & Lyle Bingham, Webmaster, WildAboutUtah.org

Additional Reading

Wild About Utah, Posts by Patrick Kelly

Top 20 Identified Insects, Utah Plant Pest Diagnostic Lab, Extension, Utah State University, https://extension.usu.edu/pests/uppdl/top-20-insects

I’m At Home in the Dark

At Home in the Dark: Western Screech Owl Fledgling Courtesy and Copyright Katarzyna Bilicka, Photographer
Western Screech Owl Fledgling
Courtesy & © Katarzyna Bilicka, Photographer
All year I wait for the summer evenings. All year I long for the oddity of ‘warm and dark,’ of trilling owls flickering from treetop to treetop, and for the scent of hot baked earth cooling as on a sill. Summer evenings evoke in me joy in being out of doors, living within the intact Eden which lies just below our own preconceptions, and deepening my appetite for life. Summer evenings, those dark arid cradles of Utah’s providence, have other benefits, too.

It’s in the dark that you can live in the footsteps of local literatos. We can heed the words of Utah’s Ed Abbey, that: “There’s another disadvantage to the use of the flashlight: like many other mechanical gadgets it tends to separate a man from the world around him. If I switch it on my eyes adapt to it and I can see only the small pool of light it makes in front of me; I am isolated. Leaving the flashlight in my pocket where it belongs, I remain a part of the environment I walk through and my vision, though limited, has no sharp or definite boundary.”

It is also in the dark that we can allow our eyes a rest from glowing rectangles, and for the rest of our navigational senses to pick up slack. Our ears listen for how sound meanders in the landscape, detecting the clitter clatter of dogs on the deck, or chickens working their scratch. Our nose picks up the scent of a neighbor’s firepit to the east, and when the wind shifts the humidity from another neighbor’s evening watering to the west.

It is in the dark that we can also learn to see that we share spaces with corpuscularities and nocturalites. Those trilling owls, Western Screech Owls to be exact, who emerge from their deadstand cavities and prowl for rodenta. When one spots a human watching it, it watches back, then dances a shimmy-rumba-polka. I imagine that it’s waiting for us to communicate, too.

The dark also brings the insects galore which fill the nights making good on their pollination out of the heat of the day, playing odds with the primroses and their opening hours, and some finding the blood meal they need from undeeted legs, arms, head, feet, and neck. Friends will tell you when there’s a mosquito on your face. Good friends will smack your face for you.

Lastly, the dark gives us our stars. I often need to remind myself that it isn’t that they are out at night, but that they are just no longer obscured by the light of day. The stars are always there, but in day they are dimmed into the blue sky void, and in our city nights given mute by our love of lights which would make Lycurgus roll over in his simple, unmarked grave. That said, they are still there for us to see as we have for as long as life has existed on this earth, but only if we choose to see them. Long ago, looking up and wondering was our choice, and luckily it still is today.

So as your summer progresses and perhaps you find yourself in need of a sigh of relief from woe, I’d invite you to leave your flashlights, glowing rectangles, and worries inside. Step out of doors at dusk and stay into the evening. Hear the music and laughter of a party down the block. Smell the tapestry of worlds that is held in the wind. Feel the mosquitos live because you live. Choose to look up and see infinity in the stars. Know that the dark is not a scary place to be if you learn to see it for what it is and can be.

I’m Patrick Kelly, and I’m Wild About Utah.
 
Credits:

Images: Image Courtesy & Copyright Katarzyna Bilicka, Photographer, all rights reserved
Audio: Contains audio Courtesy & Copyright Friend Weller, Utah Public Radio
Text:    Patrick Kelly, Director of Education, Stokes Nature Center, https://logannature.org
Included Links: Lyle Bingham, Webmaster, WildAboutUtah.org

Additional Reading

Wild About Utah, Posts by Patrick Kelly

Stokes Nature Center in Logan Canyon, https://www.logannature.org/

Abbey, Edward. Desert Solitaire. Touchstone (January 15, 1990) http://www.amazon.com/Desert-Solitaire-Edward-Abbey/dp/0671695886

Western Screech Owl, Overview, All About Birds, The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Western_Screech-Owl/overview

Western Screech Owl, Utah Birds, http://www.utahbirds.org/birdsofutah/ProfilesS-Z/WesternScreechOwl.htm
Featured Article by Eric Huish: http://www.utahbirds.org/featarts/2004/OwlBox/OwlBox1.htm
Gallery Pictures: http://www.utahbirds.org/birdsofutah/BirdsS-Z/WesternScreechOwl.htm



Mendon’s May Day

Mendon’s May Day: Mendon May Pole Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer
Mendon May Pole
Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer

Mendon Glacier Lilly Courtesy & © Mary Heers, PhotographerMendon Glacier Lilly
Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer

Mendon Glacier Lilly Close Up Courtesy & © Mary Heers, PhotographerMendon Glacier Lilly Close Up
Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer

Mary's Neighbor's May Queen Crown Courtesy & &copy' Mary Heers, PhotographerMary’s Neighbor’s May Queen Crown
Courtesy & &copy’ Mary Heers, Photographer

Never have I seen the coming of spring celebrated with more flair than Mendon’s May Day.

On the first Saturday in May, Maypoles with 20 foot long ribbons appear in the Mendon town square. By ten o’clock a couple hundred residents have gathered around the poles. A piano in the gazebo strikes the first chords and the May Queen and her entourage step around the corner of the church and onto the green. Suddenly everybody gathered in the square begins to sing. “Come to the woodlands, away, away”. Most people know the whole song by heart.

The queen is crowned and the real showstopper, the braiding of the Maypoles, begins. Mendon’s young girls, grades 1-5, pick up the ribbons. Braiding the poles is complicated. The girls have been practicing after school three times a week since the beginning of April. Last week I dropped in on one of the practices and counted: 3 Maypoles, 64 girls, and a little bit of chaos. There’s a march, a minuet. More songs. Stepping in, stepping out, kneeling, skipping. The girls bob up and down as they sing ”Apples blossoms swing and sway..”

Mendon is one of Cache Valley’s oldest pioneer towns, tucked up against the Wellsville Mountains. Winters were long and hard, and the coming of spring eagerly awaited. The beginnings of May Day can be traced back to the days when the young girls in the pioneer settlement raced up the hillsides to gather spring wildflowers to put in their hair.

The first May Queen, Seny Sorenson, was crowned with a hand woven wreath of flowers in 1863. Since then, every year, rain or shine, a queen has been crowned in the town square, and the maypoles have been braided with the same songs and dance steps. 160 years, with only a few changes.

The queen’s name is now drawn out of a hat from a pool of the town’s high school juniors. And this year, for the first time ever, the young girls will be getting store bought dresses. In the past, the mothers were expected to sew the matching dresses for their daughters. Not knowing about this tradition, you can imagine how bewildered I was when I had just moved to Mendon and answered a knock on my door. A woman I didn’t know handed me a dress pattern and proceed to say something about altering the interfacing. I was pretty sure she was speaking English, but I couldn’t understand a word she was saying. Luckily my good friend and neighbor quickly brought me up to speed. This wonderful neighbor had actually been Mendon’s May Queen over 50 years ago. “Do you want to see my crown?” she asked as she opened the door to her hall closet. And there it was, a tight ring of pink and white flowers, secured to a tiny satin pillow with a fading ribbon.

I had one more stop to make. I hopped in my car and drove up to the Deep Canyon trailhead high above Mendon. A short way up the trail I found it– a whole hillside covered with curly yellow Glacier Lilies, the “early blooming flowers” from the May Day song “Maying and Straying…” And believe me, this was a sight worth singing about.

This is Mary Heers, and I’m Wild about Springtime in Utah.

Credits:
Photos: Courtesy & Copyright © Mary Heers, Photographer
Featured Audio: Courtesy & Copyright Mary Heers AND Courtesy & Copyright © Kevin Colver, https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/collections/special-collections/kevin-colver
Text: Mary Heers, https://cca.usu.edu/files/awards/art-and-mary-heers-citation.pdf
Additional Reading: Lyle Bingham, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/

Additional Reading

Wild About Utah, Mary Heers’ Postings

Mendon May Day, https://www.mendonutah.net/may_day.htm

May Day Celebration, Mendon City, Utah, https://mendoncity.org/may-day-celebration/

Gratitude is Work

Gratitude is Work: American Robin Courtesy Pixabay, Chakraaphotography, contributor
American Robin
Courtesy Pixabay,
Chakraaphotography, contributor
All y’all, I think winter may be over. Here it is, mid too-early yet again, and it’s thawed even the once. Or is it twice now? Do I have a thrice? Either way: woof. I can’t say I didn’t expect this, given the past 30 years, but I was at least hoping to be in error one of these times. Don’t get me wrong, the interludes are nice, but seasonal consistency would be at least in line with what I remember.

Now, I’m only a ripe old 31 and the last good winter, true winter, winter like winter should be, I remember is still lodged in that ever-expanding haze of childhood I once thought only existed with fogies. Once you get that haze behind you though, it seems you’re always nostalgic, at least now where winter is concerned, if you are concerned about winter.

But that last ‘normal’ winter I recall, I can’t even give you a year, or my age to be fair. I just feel like it was back there, way back. The kind of winter that used to make glaciers seed and grow, that was more than just some storms. If I remember correctly, I remember remembering. Now that I think of it, it may have actually been a story my parents or grandparents told me about how winters used to be. Cold and snow from stem to stern, pillowy white nivian firmament blanketing every ski hill, and quieting every night, all the way until the very edge of spring when a great melt would rise up and make the world descend into mud. To be honest, I would even expect that my last memory of a good winter was a tale I was told to placate me when we had even poor winters back then that made my folks nostalgic. But even those off winters which rubbed my folks into remembrance it appears take me, too. Even my poor childhood winters are perhaps truer than those I see today. That certainly lifts the spirits. Woof. It makes me miss even more that which I’ve never even had.

But then the better of me gets in, and I look out my window and see that it’s not gone yet, as rickety as it may be. I recall that it is disingenuous to pray for something imagined as gone and not to thank it when it’s actually here. That’s how I was raised at least. Gratitude is not rocket science. But it is work.

By that I mean that work is the greatest gratitude we can show. Work towards winter and water and snow means more than utterances and nostalgia and certainly desperation. And I’m not afraid of the work. I wasn’t raised to be. Work isn’t hard, it’s just difficult. I was taught that just because we do not inherit the blame does not mean that we do not inherit the responsibility. But if we do not take up this effort, then the blame shall be more ours than even those before. Do we want to be the people who could have done something, or those who did?

Now, I know at this point the next generation will likely too only know a world with whatever-we-call-this being considered a “good childhood winter” in their grand arc of life, but I refuse to let them see what could’ve been get in the way of what can be once more. All it will take is many years of nonstop intergenerational gracious work by all of us. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

I’m tired of praying for snow because I remember remembering what it once was. Even though I’d rather see than believe, I’ll be thankful for what is here. From grief there is a pathway to thankfulness, and from thankfulness there is a pathway to action. It may be that you cannot see the way, but that does not negate that it is there. So, even in the waning days of another rickety winter, let’s mold our dourness to be thankful for what we do have, and turn our gratitude into the work necessary to make our prayers increasingly more often in thanks rather than in desperation.

I’m Patrick Kelly, and I’m Wild About Utah.
 
Credits:
Images: Courtesy Pixabay, , Photographer
Audio: Courtesy & © Kevin Colver, https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/collections/special-collections
Text:    Patrick Kelly, Director of Education, Stokes Nature Center, https://www.logannature.org
Included Links: Patrick Kelly & Lyle Bingham, Webmaster, WildAboutUtah.org

Additional Reading

Wild About Utah, Posts by Patrick Kelly

Stokes Nature Center in Logan Canyon, https://www.logannature.org/