Today was a different kind of June Bug Day: an upside-down kind. Instead of glossy, green grownups flying over grass, these June beetles are weird, white grubs crawling over streets. But the weirdest thing is how they crawl. Despite having six serviceable little legs, these larvae travel on their backs, upside down.
“Crawl” is too weak a word. Squoonch is better. The grubs squoonch, undulate, and wriggle forward while their feet point at the sky. The sky, meanwhile, is raining, which is why these teenagers leave their underground homes to squoonch somewhere less wet.
How do they do it? With “ambulatory bristles.” Isn’t that a wonderful phrase? Stiff hairs on the outside, plus strong muscles on the inside get the grubs where they wish to go.
But why do they do it? Why not walk on . . . ambulatory legs? No other grubs choose bristles over feet.
Please click the Play symbol to watch 5 seconds of Squoonching:
Do you hear what I hear? Cicadas: morning, noon, and (almost) night.
These are the Dog Day cicadas: the annual species who show up every year. Their little husks in the yard and their big songs in the trees are signs of high summer, and to me, of Home.
But more importantly, they are a sign that one bit of our world is working as it should.
If you don’t hear what I hear, can you go out and try? Listen for the buzzes and grindings and trills where the trees are: mature, native trees like Sugar maples, elms, red-cedars. For maximum effect, listen at dusk on a Greenway or near some woods, or under fat hackberries in a shady neighborhood, where the combined cicada volume can almost rattle your bones. We’re talking Spinal Tap “eleven.”
Every year, our neighbor’s treeless lawn proves good for something: June bugs. Hundreds of dark blurs zoom around us in bright sun, just a foot or two above the grass. They fly too fast to ID or catch, but when they land, they’ll crawl on a finger and take a ride.
I found the first skink hanging by his tail, twisting and paddling an inch above the floor. He was caught in a spiderweb underneath a chair, and he was just a baby.
Two days later, I found another baby skink under another chair. This one was still ambulatory but slow, with legs and tail wrapped in fluffs of webbing. Both chairs sit inside my screened porch: where spiders are expected, but where skinks are not.
Skink #1, I thought, was a fluke. But after skink #2, I started looking in earnest for ways to prevent a skink #3. Because—and let me paraphrase a line from The Importance of Being Earnest:
To lose one skink to a spiderweb is unfortunate: to lose two looks like carelessness.
Are you hearing awkward screams lately? From the sky, I mean. These are the screams I’ve been waiting for. Awkward hawk screams are a Sign of the Season.
Every summer, the Red-tailed Hawks who hunt the neighborhood train at least one baby to hunt. And even though the baby is already the size of his parents, his call is not.
Mom and Dad do the Scary Hawk Scream familiar from movie soundtracks: the raspy but piercing KEEEEEEEEE-ARR that fills the sky for about two seconds. This, I hear year-round when Red-tails soar overhead. Here’s a quick sample:
My short, personal essay “What White Tree is Blooming Now” from 2018 has just been archived online, thanks to The Hopper, an environmental literary magazine. And the timing could not be more perfect…
Here’s the first bit, to test if you’d like to read more:
It started. The procession of trees. The trees don’t move, but the white does: white tree blossoms, from species to species. First, in late February and if not charred by sleet, come white flowers of star magnolia. Stinky Bradford pears are next, trees so ubiquitous in corporate landscapes (and invasive in natural ones) that when they froth white, even people who don’t notice trees notice. Then, dogwood. Everyone loves dogwood. Serviceberry, hawthorn, black cherry, yellowwood, black locust, and so on, week by week of the rolling spring, one white tree bloom after the other. It won’t stop till summer, and by then, who is watching? By then, Nashville is a weedy jungle and we stay inside to escape the chiggers.
But I’ll be watching. The procession is important. There are rules: only white, only trees, and only where I can see them while I go about my business.