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A changing climate.  Old boundaries disrupted.  Chaos.

Communities must reorganize.  Spread north. Dive south. Retreat up mountain slopes.  Or fly upwards into the atmosphere and disappear forever.

Some seek refuge and hibernate beneath the desert soil or in the leaf litter.  Others finally reemerge after decades into a newly formed world.

Strings that had become tangled and frayed from change too fast, are now being worked and restrung.  The communities are reforming, different, slightly alien, but always interesting.


Today I worked on my first photograph in three months.

It is not quite the same as all those that came before.  Subtle differences.  Pulled back.  A fuller view.  And completely unanchored.

Maybe most significantly, it was produced during a teaching moment.  A workshop I lead in the desert.

I surprise myself every day.  And now that my photography has wiggled its way back to the surface, I’m curious just how my art will interact with this new landscape.


Eumorpha typhon – Portal Arizona





Caterpillar wrangling. Over a cappuccino . These caterpillars aren’t from here. The deserts of Southeast Arizona are far away from New England.

But their world consists of a few leaves in a Tupperware container. And though they have left their natural hosts behind, they seem satisfied with the honey locust and privet that I’ve collected for them.

Who knows though, maybe they dream of their lost homes too. The Ocotillo. A vision from Dr. Suess. A creative texture both from a distance and under close inspection, on a caterpillar’s scale. The Mesquite. Part of a landscape of legumes. Familiar thorns and explosions of brush flowers. Unmistakably Sonoran.

And now I’m in a new place too. A new coffee shop in a new town. A new school and new people. New ideas and new challenges. I do dream of my lost leaves in my lost desert every night. And think about them again every morning.

But I struggle now also to define the nature of my habitat. Is this life the Tupperware container? Or have I been returned to the wild after a captivity held me safe, but for too long.

As the contrast grows between old and new it is tempting to try and describe one version of myself as true and one as false. One as captive and one as free. The caterpillars just roll with it. I’m relatively certain they don’t struggle to define their situation. As real. Or fabricated. As honest. Or deceptive.

But I’ve left too many habitats behind in my life. Even the memories of them becoming unnaturally vague. Whatever the nature of my past existence – wilds, plastic, home, or wayside – I’m going to keep the dreams at my side. And face the memories. Even if it makes my current life just a bit harder to understand or accept. If it makes home a little harder to find again.

I guess in the end I’m quite a bit more complicated than a caterpillar. That at least is worth celebrating. Right?

An Evening Window

An evening window:

Four panels of glass and a wooden cross. Quadrants of light. Texture. Life. For now frozen and absolute. A painting.

One panel shows the violet inflorescences of a Buddlea. The Venessa that crowded the blossoms earlier have all departed now. Without the sun. A flutter of constant movement replayed as a memory. Shifting wings and light and air. From an afternoons garden wander.

Another shows sharp angles and perfect cylinders. White. Pink. Purple. Just a fragment of this old farm house. Built upon. Loved. Something of pride for those who have worked so hard over the years. Something of deep commitment. Softened and made more lovely still by sprays of clematis creeping amongst the more rigid forms.

Bellow is the darkest vision. The shade of leaves. Night already fallen. And moist with trails of slugs and isopod footprints. Reflections of the interior already visible against the glass. A reflection of me. Writing on my phone. To be.

Finally, above. Depth and a ray of light. Canopy of oak a quarter mile out. Branches of red maple sweeping into view just before. Fingers of larch creeping in like veins, or tendrils of lush fungus under sickening bark. The last evening light. Falling on my legs and reflected back in the darkest pain of glass. Legs and slug trails.

I write often to find some kind of calm. Or myself? Another day filled ultimately with some nagging sadness. Despite triumphs. And all the wonderful things I’ve begun to place. A window at the end of the living room. A view split up. Plotted for research. Like the junipers in Arizona. My reflection and this view and the glass between us.

Maybe I write for realization. Like now. It is the slug trails. The slime laid down on the glass. It is that texture in time and place that make this view more than a painting or photograph. It is glass. It is a window. I can always get up and walk into this beautiful garden.

And watch the nighthawks heading south. Far above. Or find a slug in the leaf litter. Just at my feet.

A New Title

A new Title:

In Arizona I was continually referred to as a “Zenner”. A rare beast who uses only his senses to track down caterpillars and other insects. Turning his back on modern technology – the beating sheet and sweep net.

A Zenner – heightened awareness keyed in on piles of frass, clipped leaves, and recently damaged foliage. Thousands of relevant search images loaded and ready. A Zenn

er – like the wasps and flies and birds that hunt caterpillars day and night.

This is what I could speak to. It is what I could teach. By Zenning I learned of behavior and life history beyond those who collected in more traditional and efficient ways. By Zenning I learned how to fill each of my photographs with the life stories of each species. By Zenning I gathered all of my most cherished secrets.

I’m happy to share this new title, this new word for what I do, with so many of my natural history friends. We Zen my friends. We learn secrets, stories, life histories. We absorb information that light traps, beat sheets, and pheromone lures, could not hope to divulge. Zenners rock – don’t let anyone tell you differently!


Limenitis archippus

It is early spring at Fowl Meadow in Milton, Massachusetts. A small pussy willow sapling has struggled over the winter months and many of its branches have shriveled and died. Two full-grown viceroy caterpillars wander the plant. They have already devoured all signs of emerging leaves and they will have to move on if they want to keep feeding. A third viceroy still rests inside its silky hibernaculum. Maybe if it bides its time, new leaves will grow. So much of a caterpillar’s success depends on timing.

Cut Flowers

Cut Flowers
Purple Pugs
Eupithecia species ‘Blue Vervain’

An expanse of white linoleum. Scattered across the surface are tiny black grains, like spilled pepper. Looming above is a vase of cut flowers taken from an early summer field: daisy fleabane, blue vervain, and a sprig of goldenrod. Each is home to one or more tiny uninvited caterpillars, dropping frass into untidy piles far below on my kitchen counter.

An exercise in vanity

“My blue eyes”At Zervas elementary school we had one tough head lunch lady. She was going on seventy years old, her voice was deep and husky, her face jowled, and her eyes hard and unforgiving. She was always pushing her authority beyond the lunch room, pulling in kids to the principal’s office, or lecturing rules and regulations to anybody she could catch in her web. But she seemed to like me.

“Hey Ol’ Blue Eyes” she would say as I walked by. Making me shutter. She was the first person to ever isolate this quality in me. My blue eyes. And I hated it. It was a creepy sort of attention, even when I got in trouble with her she would smirk a little every time she scolded me with the name “Ol’ Blue Eyes”. What was with this woman? Had she been some starlet once, seduced by Frank Sinatra, the original Ol’ Blue Eyes?

Of course, over the years I heard much more about my wonderful blue eyes. Dunkin’ Donuts girls at the drive through window, who just have to make a comment. Meeting somebody new, who just must tell me about my eyes during a handshake. People visiting my photography show openings, or my caterpillar exhibits too. It just comes up in conversation. Again and again and again.

And I had always hated the comments and the compliments. They made me feel awkward and uncomfortable. My eyes are just a feature, and I’m generally a shy person. Forced to think about my physique, what may or may not be attractive, it has made me squirm. I built up some kind of resistance to it, a modesty gone too far. And maybe it all started with that terrible lunch lady.

But I think I may be moving beyond this now. Call it a personal challenge. Or a change in perspective. I’m tired of my modesty, or hiding my eyes. My eyes are beautiful. I mean they are bright freaking blue! Beat that. I will wear them with pride from now on. Wanna talk about them? Let’s start up a damn conversation. And how about my chiseled jaw line? Come on, you know you like it too. I’m not a bad looking guy. And that is probably the first time I’ve said that out loud.

I’m not really on some hyper ego trip here. I’m just trying to shake off years of low self esteem, cautious modesty. I’m walking along beaches with my hairy chest exposed. Exercising, jogging, not always wearing a shirt either. My eyes, my face, my body. I’m done hiding it. It is what it is. And its ok to be proud of it too. I feel proud of it now.

Hopefully this all helps to explain that dude with the glasses that showed up as my profile picture, and now the solitary blue eye. Who knows what’s next.

Pier and Pride

I’m on a long pier projecting out into the bay. It’s just after the Pride parade and the human component here is colorful, cheerful. Strangers talking. Relaxing. Boas and strange hats. Hotpants. I’m wearing beads and a “firefighters for gay rights” badge. I feel part of something human, even if I don’t strictly belong to this city or this community. The bay bridge stretches out on my right and the water filled with sailboats on my left.

I can’t help but notice that the sky above is filled with birds. Distinct gliding tiers organized by species, disappearing into the heavens. Flying highest are V’s of brown pelicans, calm and directed. Closer to earth are so many calling and competing western gulls. They stick their neck out so far as they call. It looks strange, not like the gulls back home. They have more attitude too. A snowy egret flies at eye level. I would have said he was out of place here. But he flies with confidence, so I’m just going to trust him. On earth, or rather in the water, a single common loon dives among a scattered group of cormorants.

Another group of pelicans catches my eye and then moves off, leaving me staring instead at a faint daytime crescent moon. Spilling whatever contents it carried over the bridge. The moon has held much more significance lately. It is the perfect detail in this scene, but one that threatens to overwhelm.

But a young man with rainbow spiked hair and wearing only hot yellow spandex shorts surprises me with a comforting pat on the back and a grin. Then moves on. I smile too and look back towards the sky.

Walking back to land, the chatter of Pride starts to fade, the city noise grows louder. A treat, the parrots of telegraph hill race down the Embarcadero, squeaking and chattering.

The night heron

A black-crowned night heron sits on a chain link fence at the base of the bay bridge. I’ve been here for twenty minutes now and he’s been so many things to me.

First. A statue of a bird. Solid and unmoving. Clearly unmotivated, not exploring for food, not interested in the nearby foraging pigeons, not obviously weary of predators. A pelican flies low over his head, but still he sits in place. Why am I tempted to liken him to a large block of cheese?

But then a subtle change. The wind picks up and a single long white plume is lifted in an elegant trail back from his nape. Still unmoving. But now regal. A confident bird sitting on that fence. Not so blocky. Certainly not cheese.

He’s been frozen in place until now. A photograph. But as I look up from my writing, he turns and meets my gaze head on. He even tilts his head a little to the side. Just the way my Labrador retriever does when you ask her a question she doesn’t understand. So now there is some connection with this statue, with this regal, with this quizzical dog that is actually a night heron. He’s taken on, or more likely, I’ve assigned him personality.

Definitely more awake now. The night heron turns his whole bulky head and bill towards shore. A broad cheek, more wind swept feathers, that same plume. He reaches down and preens his breast feathers. A more dynamic animal now. Less sculptural, less of a mystery, but more fully biological. A beautiful heron.

I think I could sit here all day and watch him change. My perceptions of this animal shift unending. And yet he is a night heron. This is only a small part of his story. Foraging, courtship, nest building. His real life will play out in another place and time.

But I’ve had this time with him. A closer connection, for me, than with any of the walkers, joggers, and bikers who pass nearby in silence. I wonder though, does he even know I’m here?


* A piece that came out of “Whole”.  Maybe just trying to tone down some of the more negative feelings.  

So.  Jogging.  Running.  Moving fast through a landscape.  It has never really been my style.  Missing out on possible discoveries, losing an opportunity to really know a place.

But, when I started running, just a few weeks ago, I found myself surprised. Instead of feeling the loss as I ran, I actually felt an incredible sense of freedom. Somehow released from a crushing responsibility that I have always carried.

Before, I moved through a landscape with a thousand goals, a thousand purposes, always in the back of mind.  The successes and failures in these weighing me down or pushing me forward.  Never anything for its own sake, but instead always “caterpillar walks”, “bird trips”, “beetle searches”, and “moth lighting”.

A life full of discoveries.  Full of adventures and new stories.  But also rushed, chaotic, and much too rarely appreciated.  Doing what I loved, but feeling a satisfaction only rarely.

Jogging seems to be catalyzing change.  I am not about to give up my passions or even my intensity, but inserting something that lies wholly outside my preoccupation, my sometimes obsession, has made me realize what I have been missing.  What my intensity has actually cost me.

So now jogging has expanded.  It is racquetball, it is strolls through a forest with no purpose in mind, it is visits to farmers markets,  it is discussions with friends, it is down time on a beach. It is time, and peace, and comfort.  I am still listing species in my head, still cataloging nature as I go, but I’m finding so much more value in so many things I had been taking for granted.  Now I want more of a life I have been missing, or misunderstanding.  I want to look at the sky at night.  I want to hike a trail because it’s there and not because of a list of things I might see.  I want to be more fully awake and involved with people.  I want to know my friends.

I don’t want to give the wrong impression.  I’m proud of my abilities, of what I’ve accomplished.  And I do love the natural world.  But maybe at some point an obsession took hold that kept me from being whole.  And I think jogging has just shaken its foundations.