Every morning, I resist the temptation to pluck a fig from a sidewalk tree. I walk before dawn, but the plump silhouette is clear against the brightening sky.
I’ve watched this fig grow from the size of a chocolate chip to the size of a . . . fig. There are dozens on offer: stem-down, bottoms-up candy for strangers. But I keep walking. Someone might be looking out a window.
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:
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.