- Weekend morning, I slept in, and yoga is happening later than usual. A balancing pose requires a focal point, so I gaze outside the second floor window. A shaft of sunlight, one that usually visits while I’m already at work, has found a little gap through the dense hemlocks and is illuminating maple leaves in the dark forest. The summer has been long and hungry. Two round blotches of brown fungus mar the leaves. Some tiny mouth has chewed a hole. Every branching vein carrying water, every curvaceous edge where the cells used to divide when the leaf was young, even the knobby twigs, are aglow.
- I stand on the gravel of my driveway, hands full, head busy, car door open. And feel a tickle on my arm. A quick glance, then a second look, and I find that a furry white fairy was trapped in my arm hair. I blew it off (literally, with a focused little puff of air). Now free, the woolly alder aphid floats off to find a mate. All summer, females clone themselves into thick masses of fuzzy white wax on alder trees. In fall they get frisky. Females find a male to share genes, then lay eggs who contain enough variation that some will be programmed just right for next summer’s challenges. A ray of afternoon sun illuminates the delicate creature; a bag of zucchini dangles from my arm.
- My bike leans against the bridge railing while I admire the sunset glow on the Namekagon River. A kingfisher splashes in the shallows, every drop turning to gold. Then a shimmering V appears, and at its apex the sleek head of a beaver. Closer, closer, closer they glide, until I can look directly down on the beaver’s thick body, gray tail. Just like I teach the 5th graders, the beaver’s nose, eyes, and ears all poke above the water. Their main senses exposed, while the rest of their body should have been hidden if not for my perspective, the clear water, and the calm evening. From the beaver’s mouth trails the long stem of an aquatic plant, like a rose in the teeth of a tango dancer. They swim in circles.
- Pedaling up the hill from the river, movement catches my eye. The most adorable little black squirrel bounds across the road. Young of the year, their small size and youthful exuberance triggers all my instincts and I can’t help but exclaim “awwww….” As they disappear into the woods.
- In my kitchen, the almost-toddler holds court from her mother’s lap. Up and down the long table, her subjects make funny faces and goofy noises hoping to please the queen. The smiles and squawks she bestows on us glitter like jewels. We are giddy with riches.
- My kayak bobs in the weed bed at the end of the lake and I fiddle with the camera. Focus, focus again, start recording. I plunge my arm in and hope to get the angle right. The water is cool on my hand. Weeds tickle my wrist. From above, I can see a school of bluegills among the hovering algae motes. Can the lens see them, too? They turn and move in sync, like backup dancers. Fins flutter. Tails wiggle. They weave gracefully through the weeds. Then a big one swims up and stares curiously at my camera. The star noticed me!
- Morning in the prairie. The blossoms of cup plants wave like constellations of mini suns above our heads. Mountain mint tickles my nose with their spicy scent. Paintbrush flowers add a dash of red. And then a whole patch of the fuzzy fuchsia spikes of prairie blazing star steal the show. Their flowers open from top to bottom on each magic wand, so fresh nectar is always being served. In a blur of wings, a hummingbird clearwing moth pokes their proboscis (which the internet tells me is either 4 cm or 4 inches long) into the fray. In my viewfinder, I discover a brown-belted bumblebee sharing the feast. There is plenty to go around.
- At the end of my driveway, in a rush. Morning commute. But the flash of scarlet and gold stops me short. My car is breaking. The door won’t unlock. I have to turn off the engine to be released. There on the asphalt is a lone aspen leaf in all its autumn glory. I snap a quick photo to send to a friend, and hum to myself with the promise of fall. This is a symbol of death—of leaves, of mosquitoes, of summer. And also rebirth—from the compost, into the unguarded woods, into a new season of light and color.
- Everywhere. Wrote Mary Oliver, “the farthest star and the mud at our feet are a family; and there is no decency or sense in honoring one thing, or a few things, and then closing the list.” Go on, you, keep adding.
Emily’s award-winning second book, Natural Connections: Dreaming of an Elfin Skimmer, is available to purchase at www.cablemuseum.org/books and at your local independent bookstore, too.
For more than 50 years, the Cable Natural History Museum has served to connect you to the Northwoods. Our exhibit: “The Northwoods ROCKS!” is open through mid-March. Our Fall Calendar of Events is ready for registration! Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and cablemuseum.org to see what we are up to.