Notes from the dead time

Early afternoon: the dead time, I always think of it. A cicada is using the plank walls of my house as a resonator in lieu of a tree. It’s LOUD. But as soon as I go out with a camera and try to film him in action, he stops, like some sort of hyper-self-conscious poet.


Over the past few days, I’ve heard a couple different people mention “seven-year locusts.” More biblical influence, I suspect — things always come in sevens in the Bible. What the hell is seventeen? A number of no mythological significance whatsoever.

But maybe for us residents of the eastern United States, it should be. Isn’t making new myths an essential part of becoming native to a place? To me, the old stories about Persephone or Orpheus or Korach pale by comparison with the saga of the 17-year cicadas.


It’s not all cicadas here, though. On the powerline right-of-way, the lowbush blueberry bushes are blue with berries (is there any way to say that without sounding horribly redundant?) and the black raspberry canes around the houses are beginning to bear fruit — those that haven’t been grazed too heavily by deer.

One morning last week, I came out onto the powerline to find someone else there before me. “Hey, it’s a bear, eating up all my blueberries!” I shouted. Dad was using his walking stick to lower himself gingerly into a crouch, and was shoveling handfuls of berries into his mouth. So that’s what he uses that stick for! But who can blame him? Wild blueberries are definitely worth a painful descent.

Ten minutes later, climbing the ridge beyond the powerline, I saw a bear for real — one of the four yearlings wandering the mountain alone now that their mother has chased them off and (presumably) gone into estrus. It came ’round the bend in the trail and stopped. I had been standing there waiting for a singing black-throated blue warbler to get close enough to photograph. The bear and I blinked at each other for a few seconds. Then it headed off into the laurel at a gallop, before I could fully redirect my attention from the bird.

The very next moment, the warbler dropped down into a laurel bush right next to me, sang once, and flew off before I could turn my attention back to him. So, no photo of either one. My glacially slow reactions do make for memorable glimpses of things, though.


Last night I saw something I wished I’d been able to film in some way. Around ten till ten I took a walk up the mowed path through the field to the top of a bowl-shaped feature we call the amphitheatre, thinking I’d watch the fireflies. And it was quite a show: blinking, floating lights throughout the field and yard and into the treetops, all the way up the side of the wooded ridge. But what made it even more spectacular was the distant thunderstorm, visible but completely inaudible above the eastern horizon. Cloud-to-cloud lightning kept lighting up different fissures in the clouds (is there any way to say that without sounding redundant?) while the rest of the sky remained dark — and the equally silent fireflies flashed below.


Now I’m sitting out on the porch, fighting the dead time with strong tea and reading Richard Shelton’s Selected Poems for the hundredth time. A doe is grazing on the black currant bushes in the stream below the yard, and I notice with a mixture of disgust and pity that her back is black with deerflies. Her short tail swivels and her hide twitches constantly in a fruitless effort to shake them off. Watching her skin vibrate while the rest of her goes unhurriedly about her business puts me in mind of a belly-dancer, bedeviled by the crawling stares of her audience.

A fawn appears and shoves its muzzle between her hind legs. The two of them amble across the driveway, climb the bank and disappear into the woods.

8 Replies to “Notes from the dead time”

  1. Sounds amazing. Really. I am jealous of your continuous encounters with nature in PH. Your story of the storm reminded me that Thursday night, we sat on our driveway watching a lighting storm roll in. We live above the valley that the town of Bellefonte lies in, and so have a good view of the town itself and the hills perched behind it. I actually did get some footage, but it’s definitely best experienced live. I’ve never actually sat and watched a storm move across the sky, and so it was quite remarkable to watch the lighting strike cloud to cloud and then occasionally touch down. I imagine it would be very cool to see that from where you were.

    My favorite line from this post: like some sort of hyper-self-conscious poet.

  2. Oh my golly, this writing is sooooo good. I want to comment on the exquisite parts, but it’s all exquisite.

    “Wild blueberries are definitely worth a painful descent.”

    That’s my favorite bit.

  3. Gina – I’d like to see that footage – sounds like a good show! This is of course old hat to folks from out West – but we get it virtually worry-free, since lightning-sparked fires rarely burn far. AND we get it with fireflies! Our biodiversity beats their scenery every time, as far as I’m concerned.

    It’s funny how writing that line actually made me self-conscious about my writing, worrying about redundancies and whatnot.

    Dana – Thanks. I’m thinking I should’ve said “squat” rather than “crouch,” though. But I’ve already exceeded my arbitrary, self-imposed limit of five edits per post.

  4. Dave, it seems very wise of nature to give you this front row seat at her show so that you can attentively observe and write about it for us. She knows when she’s got a great reviewer, an excellent PR and devoted fan capable of inspiring others. Bravo nature and Dave.

  5. Thanks for mentioning Richard Shelton–I was curious about any poetry book you might have read 100 times. I found a few of his poems online, and now I’m going to bother my librarian for interlibrary loan.

    I’ve been enjoying your series of poems on tools and…stuff.

  6. Well, “100th” might have been a slight exaggeration, but certainly I’ve read it dozens of times. I’m glad my mention prompted you to look it up. Thanks too for the thumbs-up on my own poems.

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