Saturday, August 17, 2013

A Brief Hour

 It's been a cold summer, but we had a few August-warm evenings this past week. On the warmest, I was wearing a light summer dress, sprawled in an armchair with my knitting. The crickets outside were clear and bright as sleigh bells. Amidst the winter jingle, I was savoring the soft luxuriousness of the summer night, wistful at the thought of how fleeting summers are.

Phoenix and Matisse came out to report that there was a huge winged insect on the back screen door. Matisse rummaged around for the insect book, and the two of them set about trying to identify this lovely creature:

After some rummaging in the insect book, Matisse thought it might be cicada.

But it wasn't a cicada.

I took a flashlight and went around the outside of the house to take a closer look at the top of the insect. It clearly wasn't a cicada. I went through the insect book, but no insect in the book seemed to have wings that neatly overlapped and attached like this creature's.

I looked through the moths, thinking that it might be some sort of sphinx moth.

But it wasn't a sphinx moth.

There was clearly no sort of insect big enough and delicate enough to be this one. It kind of reminded me of a dragonfly or a lacewing, both of which were clearly wrong in different ways.

At the end of the section on lacewings, though, there were a small number of strange large insects: dobsonflies, fishflies, stoneflies, and snakeflies. All of the insects pictured in the book were also clearly wrong, but the shape of the head, the attachment of the wings to the body, and the shape of the wings was very similar to that of our visitor. 

There are so many species of insect out there that it is a challenge to find the right one. This insect, however, was not even a general type of insect that was familiar to me. It was something completely different, completely out of my ken.

I set the book aside and searched the web for these insects. Eventually, I narrowed the search to the Megaloptera, a primitive group of insects that spend years living in water or mud as happy caterpillary larvae and then a brief week as delicate adults who look clumsy on their wings.

Phoenix and I went out with a flashlight and a camera to photograph our insect. I also photographed the underside so that you can see the bright orange abdomen.

Meet Neohermes californica, the California fishfly or California dobsonfly. Our visitor is a female. The males have feathery rings of hairs on their antenna.

In bygone years, this would have been treasured as a homeschooling moment. With 3/4 of the children now adults, however, it felt more like a chance to briefly touch back into the past while holding a delicate moment in our hearts.

California fishflies live for years as larva, but their adult lives are very very brief. Although they live around us all the time, we had never chanced a glimpse of one in its full adult glory before. We might never see another.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

it's a small town after all

During an especially fun dance class this morning, one of the songs talked about living in the city. The instructor asked how many people had lived in the city. Then she asked if we missed living in the city.

I nodded.

“I'll bet you don't miss having to find parking in the city, though.”

These conversations at dance are always so one-sided. She has a microphone, but we don't. I wasn't able to tell her that what I miss most about living in a city is not needing a car. It's so incredibly freeing to be able to walk my errands.

After dance, I walked out to my car, reflecting on how I need it because I don't live in a city right now.

I had to stop by the grocery store, so I debated about whether to take the direct route, which involved a mildly awkward left turn onto the highway and then having to stop at the main stop sign in town. The alternate route involved going around a long block on a fairly bad road.

As I started around the block, I thought, “Heather, you've obviously lived in a small town too long if you're going around the block to avoid traffic.”

The wind ruffled the crowns of the honey locusts on the main street as I came up behind them. The honey locusts were in full blossoming glory, gracefully shedding petals to be whirled away by the breeze. In the fall, they shed their leaves in the same graceful way.

I slowed down to take in the glorious scene. If I hadn't gone around the block, I would have missed it.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

squinting towards patriarchy

To misquote Thomas Jefferson, "I smell a rat. It squints toward patriarchy."

I think it's a common mistake for the products of an unjust system, particularly those in privileged categories in that system, to view the problems of the system as though they are outside observers looking in. We are not any of us outside observers looking in. We are knee-deep or chest-deep in the muck of the system, and its values have utterly permeated our beings.

Even those of us who disapprove of these systems carry many of the attitudes and beliefs of the system. Even those of us, and sometimes especially those of us, in oppressed classes in the system carry those attitudes and beliefs. Look at how little black children have already internalized our cultural beliefs to the point where they believe that white dolls are prettier, nicer, better, more well-behaved, smarter, etc, than black dolls.

I have always rather despised a particular trait in women, a sort of retiring invisibility coupled with a deep passivity and a horror of making waves. It has seemed to me that such women are weak-willed sell-outs, women who are colluding with their own one-down status.

It has recently come to my awareness that many, maybe most, of the women who are like this are abuse survivors. They are not weak-willed or sell-outs, rather they had the fight beaten out of them early and repeatedly.

At the same time, it has come to me how strongly this fear of male violence has shaped my own life, even though I have only been very lightly touched by it. That fear is always with me, influencing my choices, preventing me from stepping too far out of line.

In a similar way, my husband lightly carries the prerogative of his privileged male status. He does this without any awareness that he is doing it, without malice, without any thought of how his assertion of his male privilege affects those of us upon whose territory it encroaches. He can increase his awareness of his male privilege and how that has shaped his life, but he can no more change it than he can change his skin.

And so we find ourselves perpetuating the system, with slight modifications, over the generations. We can't get out of the system because it is within us.