Saturday, May 28, 2016

On the transience of beauty

Not much left of the carefully constructed nest.
Three sets of eyeballs looking intently up into a tree cannot locate the blue-gray gnatcatchers' nest we watched being built a few weeks ago (here), but one set of eyes looks down and finds the remains of the nest on the ground--knocked down, no doubt, by some sort of predator. We still hear blue-gray gnatcatchers in the woods nearby, but this nest has bit the dust.

Nearby at the edge of the woods we see bushes covered with newly-emerged cicadas. Hopeful snaps up the tasty treats without making any visible dent in the population, and when a bunch of them take wing toward the treetops, it could be a scene from a horror film (if they weren't so cute).

(My son doesn't think they're cute, but how could you not love those little red eyeballs? Why doesn't someone manufacture a cicada plush toy?)

The sheer numbers are difficult to grasp: after living 17 years underground, millions of creepy-crawlies emerge, enjoy a few frantic weeks of singing, copulating, and laying eggs, and then they disappear without so much as a goodbye. Funny, but I'm more likely to mourn the loss of one blue-gray gnatcatchers' nest than the deaths of millions of cicadas. Who can understand nature's fecundity?  Annie Dillard asks, "What is it about fecundity that so appalls? Is it that with nature's bounty goes a crushing waste that threatens our own cheap lives?"

To live invisibly for many years, emerge to make a racket and reproduce, and then disappear again into the darkness--or to labor long hours to build something useful and beautiful only to see it destroyed in the blink of an eye--not so different from so much human endeavor. Still, while we're in the light, we can build a nest or a noise so beautiful that it will not soon be forgotten.

Cicada molting--pulling itself out of its old skin.

Husks left behind after molting

Bent wings--something went wrong here.


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