17-year Cicadas

I settled into my hammock a couple of weeks ago, ready to enjoy a glass of iced tea (with chocolate mint from my garden), a good book, and some peace and quiet. Until I heard a pulsing hum in the distance. With a sigh I tried to ignore what I assumed was some sort of motor noise from a distant neighbor’s yard. The pulsing wasn’t loud, but it was continual and somewhat irritating, since too often I feel inundated by various types of engine noise that drown out the quieter sounds of nature and eliminate silence from my world. It occurred to me that it might be some sort of insect sound, but it seemed so regular in its pulsing that we figured it must be an engine.

The next afternoon the motor noise was louder, and I began to think it might be the 17-year cicadas I had been reading about, but I wondered why I hadn’t seen any in our yard. When I went for a walk around some neighboring roads, though, the humming was much louder in some areas and almost nonexistent in other areas, even along a two-mile loop. And, I began to see a few red-eyed cicadas. It turns out that these periodical cicadas can be very localized and may emerge with great density in some areas and be completely absent in immediately adjoining areas.

Interestingly, once I knew the noise I was hearing was a cicada chorus and not a motor running loudly in the distance, it no longer seemed irritating. Now I wanted to hear it more closely and see more of these red-eyed singers, more fully experiencing this brief and fascinating visitation of long-lived insects.

By yesterday the chorus was dying down and I began seeing dead and dying cicadas on my morning walk, so I brought a few dead insects home to sketch. I also looked them up and found out that there are both 13 and 17 year cicadas, with three species of 17-year cicadas and 4 species of 13-year cicadas. One fact I found particularly fascinating is that all these species have life cycle lengths that are based on prime numbers (13 years and 17 years). I just love the way math shows up in nature cycles and systems and structures!

I am sorry to say good-bye to the cicadas and their song, and I look forward to seeing and hearing their offspring in 2030.

Click image to enlarge

Interesting links with more information:

Melissa’s Nature Notes– New Blog

I have started a new blog, Melissa’s Nature Notes, which will be dedicated to nature observations, sketches, and photos. The idea came to me a couple of weeks ago, when Stephen and I were walking on the Dutchess County Rail Trail. We had stopped to look for a bird we were hearing and couldn’t identify by its song alone, when several boys zipped by on skateboards, then stopped and asked what we were doing. We told them, and they thought that was pretty cool and stood and listened quietly for a minute, then went on their way, at least slightly more aware of the fascinating abundance of nature all around them. Shortly after they rolled along, a woman walked by, ears plugged with headphones, listening to some electronic device, oblivious to the variety of song surrounding her. And then a group of loud men came by, drowning out the bird song long before they reached us and for some time after they passed by.

As we continued our walk, stopping to look at a snapping turtle beside the trail and to enjoy the vibrant pattern of a male White Tail Dragonfly (and thank him for eating mosquitoes), I thought I’d like to help even a few people walk with more awareness and enjoyment of God’s beautiful creation, the natural world that exists beside and around us, but which we so often ignore.

I still muse and doodle on a broad range of topics, so my artwork, random writings, and other musings and doodlings will be on this blog. Some nature posts will probably show up here, too, as well as on my Nature Notes.

Here is the link to my new blog, Melissa’s Nature Notes. Please join me in walking with eyes and ears open to see and experience the wonder and beauty of the world around us.

Male White Tail Dragonfly

Nature and Wonder

I remember hiking in Vermont years ago and suddenly being surrounded by a magical sound– liquid notes of gold, silver, and many other hues, flowing through the spruce trees all around me. I searched and searched until finally I spotted a tiny brown bird perched way atop the tallest spruce. As I watched, my neck nearly bent in two, he raised his little head, opened his beak, and poured forth his glorious tune.

I had no idea at the time what kind of bird I was observing, but I did some research and found out it was Winter Wren, one of my favorite woodland mistrels to this day. I heard one again a few weeks ago, this time as I painted at the Pawling Great Swamp, and was one again transfixed by this little creature’s melody.

My purpose in starting this new blog, Melissa’s Nature Notes, is to attempt to capture in words and pictures the wonder of nature as I experience it, in order to help others also experience it. Sometimes a sense of awe and wonder comes with something small but dramatic, like the song of the Winter Wren. Other times it is a new view or understanding of some fairly ordinary aspect of nature that is easily overlooked. And other times it might come with some unusual or less common situation, such as the 17-year cicadas that are humming and whirring until, in some places, their roar is loud enough to drown out most bird song.

I hope that readers of all ages find their sense of wonder growing as they share in my delight in the world around us, and I look forward to reading of your experiences with nature. Please feel free to comment and tell me what has awakened wonder in you today.

Happy 10th Birthday, Rowan!

Funny, brilliant, silly, sweet, watchful, and so much more. In some ways it’s hard to believe my furry boy is ten years old. In other ways, it’s hard to believe he hasn’t always been with me. Rowan takes his job seriously– to watch over me and remind me to take care of myself. If I am late for a meal, he comes to me, snorting loudly, to tell me I need to attend to something. If I don’t figure out what he’s talking about (or I ignore him), he’ll bark to let me know it’s important. As soon as I “get it” and walk into the kitchen, he lies down and goes to sleep, knowing that he’s done his job and communicated successfully with me.

I know Rowan can’t read, but one time I came into the room to find him lying with this pillow leaning up against him. It had been on the chair when I left the room, and no one else was home at the time. I don’t know how he knew I needed that message that day, but he made sure I couldn’t miss it.

Rowan also watches over the other animals in our home and runs to check them if they yelp or start throwing up or suddenly start to limp, and often has then run to me and led me to the animal who needs my attention. When I was visiting a friend a few months ago, he alerted her to her blood sugar being too high. I call him my EMT dog– he’s a first responder here in our family.

Life isn’t serious all the time, though. Rowan loves to play, whether with a toy or a an empty flower pot. When I’m gardening he hovers, waiting for me to get the plant out of the pot, then he grabs the flower pot and runs, cavorting like a puppy, sometimes with the flower pot covering his whole face.

Happy Birthday, Rowan, my wonderful boy, and may you have many more! I am blessed to have you in my life.

PJ– July 2001 to May 28, 2013

PJ was my friend Sarah’s dog, and I got to know her well while I was pet-sitting when Sarah would travel. Later on PJ spent a fair amount of time with me and always fit in as a sweet, happy member of our family.

It was a kind of grace to be
PJ’s friend. She came to Sarah as an unsocialized, semi-feral puppy, and Sarah slowly, patiently taught her to trust. Over time PJ became more and more social and ended up loving people, but when I first met her as a two-year-old, she was still quite
reserved. I immediately felt an affinity for this shy, camouflaged
sprite, who so loved being quietly outside by herself, and I always felt
it was a gift and a privilege to have her trust. Sarah often said that PJ had the same personality as I, but in a dog’s body. Maybe that is why PJ and I connected right away; I felt as though we understood each other without words.

PJ was an observer. She spent much of her days watching and waiting in eager expectation. Hour by hour contentedly watching a tree in which she knew a squirrel sometimes foraged. Waiting patiently for a woodchuck to come out of its hole. Watching and waiting while a squirrel walked within a few yards of her on the deck. Weather rarely deterred PJ, and she would frequently ask to stay outside when the other dogs came in.
Watching the Horse Chestnut tree on a rainy day

Watching the world with her, whether slowly
meandering through the woods on leash, investigating every interesting
scent, or roaming fields searching for something moving subtly under the
grass, or sitting on the deck with her watching her watch a tree for hours, opened my eyes to much
that I may otherwise have missed. During times when I might otherwise have been stressed, PJ often helped cultivate a peaceful spirit in me, attentive to easily-overlooked but fascinating aspects of the natural world around my home.
My shadow and PJ, enjoying a winter woods walk

 I miss the gentle tap on my elbow or soft poke behind my knee that were
her quiet ways of saying, “Hi, I’m here with you.” I would turn to see
those bright eyes, that sweet expression or happy grin, and her wagging tail. I miss the
thump, thump, thump of her tail on the floor whenever I’d look in her
direction. I miss her uniquely beautiful ears that would twitch slightly in my direction to greet me, when she was “watching.”

PJ, beloved scruffy girl, I miss
your gentle spirit and quiet zest for life. I will watch and wait and remember all you taught me.

A young PJ, in pencil
watercolor sketch done in the field
How to Appreciate a Tree, by PJ