Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Spineless creatures, and a poem

I feel like I've been neglecting my birding blog lately. I have an exciting weekend coming up, so hopefully that will give me some fun stuff to share. The last time I was out in nature I was looking for benthic macroinvertebrates with the Master Naturalist class. If you're wondering what the heck that is, just continue reading, as I was inspired to write a poem on the topic.

I'm still struggling with the title. I could call it "Ode to a Flatworm," I suppose....

Three Worlds: A Nature Lesson

We arrive as explorers, with nets and buckets
at the banks of the Little Vermilion,
a river thin and idle from weeks of drought.
Skate bugs zig-zag lazily across the surface,
over schools of scurrying minnows.
Below them, a layer of pebbles, and
our objective: the hidden world of
benthic macroinvertebrates; in layman's terms,
the spineless creatures of the river bottoms.

The minnows dart away from my shadow
as I peer past them, at the sullen lips of
freshwater mussels. The mussels do not scatter--
that is the whole point of them, a nearly motionless
existence, sucking subsistence from the current.

Almost, I can imagine the minnows' lives:
acrobats suspended in the water,
a world always in motion, punctuated by
the distortions of refracted light.
But what silty sensations
inform the mussels' world?
On the chart of life's branchings,
we diverged too far back to allow
a sense of kinship.

We step in, and the water muddies.
The minnows ribbon away when we reach down,
for handsful of mud, gravel, leaves.
Someone has found a crayfish, which has
grabbed her thumb in protest.

Water drips through my fingers, revealing
the messy guts of the river, nothing more.
Then something moves against the rocks,
a flatworm, small as a fingernail clipping,
curling in distress, so tiny that seeing it is an act of will.
Other beings are revealed, clinging to a shred of leaf,
a flake of bark, burrowing into the mud.

They have strange names, like caddisfly, and
unfathomable life histories. By my thumb,
for example, a larval mayfly, which will swim
for several years of infancy before metamorphosis
turns it into a mouthless creature that
mates and dies within a day.

Our nature study over, we slosh them back;
the mud settles, and soon the shallow water clears again.
Along the banks, jewel-toned damselflies pause
on dangling roots, prowling for prey.
The skate bugs angle back above the minnows.
For the mussels, too, order has been restored;
they snuggle deeply in the benthic ooze,
dreaming of silty delectations.

1 comment:

  1. This is such a beautiful poem; it really showcases the loveliness and fragility of all these tiny beings. Even studying someone gently and with respect can cause great distress. Thanks for sharing it! MOM