Sunday, September 13, 2009


I -- as I have said -- take pictures of weeds. But, inevitably, one of the citizens of weedlandia will venture into my viewfinder and will turn up in a photograph, more so, I think, as summer winds down and a collective lethargy seizes the insect community. They've worked hard, after all; they're worn out, their tasks are nearing completion. Plants have been pollinated, their eggs have been laid. All that remains are a few weeks of rest, the first frost, and death.

I confess, I have capitalized on their pre-morbid lethargy to approach closer than they appreciate. I can't get enough of the ruby-red eyes of the housefly, and the complex, silvery apparatus that surrounds them. Was it the poet Karl Shapiro that called the housefly a "hideous little bat, the size of a snot" ? He clearly did not have a macro lens.

Any butterfly picture is a macrophotographer's coup. However, I decided, early on, not to fret if I missed a shot of these edgy, flittering creatures. I did not want photography to become like hunting: grimly stalking a subject until the capture. It's the other way around -- something captures my eye, and if it holds still long enough, my lens captures it. The transaction is quick and reciprocal, elusive and evanescent.

Some of my best bug shots have been accidental. Take this one, for example, a close up of a rather fierce looking woundwort, with a little slip of a critter gazing bug-eyed up into it's maw. Didn't notice the little guy until well into post-processing.

Don't get me started on dragonflies, clearly the cool kids of the insect world. They're always striking poses on tall stems and stalks, just tantalizingly long enough for me to frame and focus, but not long enough to get the shot. I have read of macro photographers who trap them and put them in the freezer -- long enough to stun them into photogenic stillness but not long enough to kill them. The photographs are gorgeous; the method is merciless.

Another confession: spiders have always creeped me out. I am not alone in this irrational distaste, and maybe also not alone in its exception: the daddy long legs. This is possibly because of the ancient children's book (and Fred Astaire movie) by the same name: Daddy Long Legs (if I am remembering correctly) is a doting, show-biz uncle who brings light into the life of a young orphan in some sort of unhappy circumstance. Or maybe there's simply something intrinsically benign about the creature, a tawny little nut suspended between improbably long and fabulously hinged appendages. But have you ever seen a pair of them ?

This little dude, an iridescent green stink-bug, seemed to notice me and dove beneath the leaf, only to peek out again a few seconds later.

Yes, the bugs are lethargic and autumn is approaching. It will soon be time to reread Robert Frost's great poems of satiety and age, "After Apple Picking" and "An Old Man's Winter Night," and Rilke's "Autumn Day." And to contemplate Thomas Merton's "If I am not ripe now, I will never be," with its echo of Rilke's "Who is not rich with summer nearly done/will never find a self that is his own."

But for now, in summer's lingering warmth, we citizens of weedlandia rest companionably together, enjoying our lethargy, our lethe, our foretaste of the great forgetfulness that awaits us all.

No comments: