Thursday, July 23, 2020

Anting

I am staying in a small garage apartment in Camden, Maine.  There are windows in the main room that look out onto a congregation of lovely trees, including a spectacular Eastern white pine, perhaps 80' tall.  A tree I'd be willing to fall on my knees before.

Looking out a window yesterday, I saw a fluttering of black near a rock nearby. The black was twisting and writhing.  Birds?  

Trusty binoculars at hand, I picked them up and focused.  Two crows.  They were moving about in the dirt on their bellies.  They were flashing their wings, often changing places, one moving over and around the other.  Constantly shifting.  Like a modern dance but an amateur one.

It seemed more intense than a normal dirt bath.  It went on and on.  Then one bird suddenly hopped onto a plank nearby.  Began preening.  Extensive beak work on the wings and feathers.

Then it was all over.  They flew away.

I went down to have a look.  I saw near the rock: hundreds of ants racing about, at double-speed, like a miniature Grand Central Station at 5:35pm on a Friday.  Heavy traffic!  Well, they'd just been stirred up by two black tornadoes.

What was...the deal?

I went upstairs and Googled, well, "Crows and ants."  And lo and behold, "Anting" came up.

"Anting is a maintenance behavior during which birds rub insects, usually ants, on their feathers and skin," Wiki says. 

A word and an activity in 75 years of living I'd never encountered.  Here's what Stanford University has to say about it:

"The purpose of anting is not well understood, but the most reasonable assumption seems to be that it is a way of acquiring the defensive secretions of ants primarily for their insecticidal, miticidal, fungicidal, or bactericidal properties and, perhaps secondarily, as a supplement to the bird's own preen oil." 

Come to think of it, how did the crows know that there were ants there?  A rush hour of ants?  I'd walked by the rock many times and not noticed ants.

Let there be mysteries.  

Friday, July 17, 2020

Fog

Driving from Belfast, Maine back to Camden, I run into a sweep of fog.  I’d been driving through full sunshine up until then. My car climbed and descended a small hill, and there it was: a white presence drifting over the hills and the road before me.  The road is not a half-mile from the sea, so it makes sense.  Still, a surprise.

Fog like this—not obscuring the road completely for the foreseeable future and so not striking fear in a driver—is a delight.  Just enough white to be called fog and yet not enough to be perilous.   Fog can be treacherous, but not today.

The fog is delicate, snowy, insubstantial; yet it’s there.  I know it’s entirely water, yet, unlike water, how graceful and airy and white it is.

When fog moves, it often drifts, taking its good time, like a jellyfish being eased on by the current.

Sometimes, of course it stubbornly sits there, unmovable, the last person at the party. 

The poet Marianne Moore writes about an ocean storm: “It is a privilege to see so / much confusion.”  I think it’s a privilege to see this little world of fog. I bask in it.

After five minutes of driving, I’m through its presence and back in sunlight. Regrettably.

Was I seeing things? 

Who knows why there was fog in just one short stretch of land and road and nowhere else?  There’s a reason, of course.  But I think if I knew that reason, the science that is, I’d be the less for it.

Leave me with my child-like wonder.


Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Living in a new place for a short time and trying to understand how everything works

I've rented a small apartment in Maine for a brief stay.  It's the first time I've stayed in this place.  Everything is new.  The shower, kitchen, windows, front door, closets, bathroom.  

Every time I stay in a new place, it's the same situation.  I have to fiddle with shower handles to discern the right balance between hot and cold, something I've long established in my own place.  Several screams later, I begin to make the proper adjustments.  Finally, after perhaps a week, sometimes even longer, I determine precisely how to reach that correct balance of hot and cold water to produce the ideal shower.


The process is the same with everything.  My stove, for example, has new mysteries of oven temperature to deal with.  Is its 350 degrees the same as my stove's at home? What about the burners?  They're electric, not gas, like mine.   The cultures are entirely different between gas and electric.  This adjusting takes up almost two weeks.  In the process, I burn several dishes, and myself.

Lamps, windows, cabinets, even chairs--they all require learning curves.  Where's that switch to turn this &^%$# lamp off?

Finally, after four weeks, I think I've learned how to make everything work according to my own particular routines and predilections.

The time to leave is just around the corner.

I can't take these highly honed skills and newfound knowledge anywhere else.  They only fit here, in this apartment.  

Maybe I could loan myself out as a kind of apartment docent to anyone else who rents this place.

"Now,  you'll notice this window shade is rather temperamental.  I would  suggest an angled pull on the cord, with the slightest tug at the end...."

Like everyone else, I just want to be useful.