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A View From The Woods


Fri, Sep 16th, 2011
Posted in Columnists

The Air is Alive

Draped over the lawn chair, feet up, I'm sinking into a pleasant summer afternoon snooze with a magazine forgotten in my lap. Cicadas whir and crickets chirp in that endless loop of late-summer background music.

A soft bird twitter, far overhead, stirs my consciousness and I peer through my eyelashes to see what's up. Some fifty barn swallows are silently looping around and around the garden, with only the occasional call to announce their presence. Oddly, they are absent over the closely grazed meadow that surrounds two sides of our garden. I try to focus on one bird at a time. One circles endlessly, another seems to repeat a figure eight to round the tall white pine, while another has no discernible route as it soars and drops and leans away from the woods in a wide arc.

A smile on my face already, I notice there is yet another layer of action. From the ground up to about fifteen feet is a parallel swarm of dragonflies. I'd guess a hundred little helicopters are performing a similar up-down-all around show as they too seem to stay in the yard and avoid the field and woods.

Even though I haven't seen a single gnat or fly or mosquito, I suspect there must be some kind of an insect hatch going on. The motivation for the swallows and the dragonflies is much more likely to be food than the sheer delight of zooming over the colorful late summer flowers.

I decide to get even more comfortable as I resume reading my magazine in the hammock in the shade of an apple tree. Yet I'm easily distracted, catching a glimpse of a zooming bird in the openings of the orchard canopy. I glance into the sunlight over the garden-and suddenly the air is dense with drifting white dots, a billion nearly invisible bugs of some sort that are surely the focus of the airborne party going on.

The biodiversity in the garden, tall and short flowers, herbs, vegetables and fruits, mixed with trees, shrubs and lawn, is a hatching ground for a world of life. I can barely perceive it, and science hardly knows it. Yet swallows and dragonflies know what is good to eat, and when, and so they arrived.

The day after the first significant rainfall in over a month is a very good day. Gentle temperatures and soaking moisture must have been the trigger for the hatch, and the visitors.

A half hour later the swallows are gone, and moved on to some other timely feeding ground. A bit later and there isn't a dragonfly to be seen.

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