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CdV's Field Notes, 6/10/19: Charismatic Microfauna

Y’all may know that I’m trained as a poet, and one of the things that gets hammered into poets is to notice what you notice. Get intimate with your subject; find the detail, detail, detail; show don’t tell; be precise!

During these first few weeks of summer at GHCC, we’re giving this intimate attention to bugs.

Which bugs? Pollinators, especially bumblebees, because (as you may have heard) we’re helping out Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation by leading surveys in remote parts of our mission area for the Pacific Northwest Bumble Bee Atlas.

But it turns out that when you’re out in the woods with your friend chasing one kind of insect— crawling through rose bushes, detaching your net from snags and hawthorns, stalking the telltale low-pitched bumble-hum—you’re bound to get distracted by some other buzz, some other flash of color or fur. Even if you have a strict 45 minutes to do your bumblebee survey, you inevitably notice other critters, too.

Like the bee with an iridescent green head, or the black bee striped on its otherwise smooth abdomen with fine lines of white velvet. Or the wannabe bees, including a family of adorable fuzzy long-snouted flies I’ve always called (incorrectly) “kiwi bird bees!” (Click through the link, you’ll see why.) Or this bee-imitating clear-winged moth, which I encountered last weekend with utter delight.

(Photo: Dr. Caitlyn Rushlow--organic farmer, hydrologist, GHCC volunteer and citizen scientist extraordinaire--ID-ing a bumblebee along the Wenaha River.)

If you’re lucky, your newfound attentiveness to invertebrate life will carry over into all of your adventures. (I think this might be Xerces Society’s not-so-secret plan.) You may be out hiking and notice dozens of pairs of inch-long electric-blue beetles mating, each couple on their own brightly blooming biscuitroot, at the top of a ridge. You might sit reading The Paris Review at Morgan Lake, looking up from the language now and again to attend to the ducks and the swarm of sunset-lit pretty reddish mayflies. You might comb through your camera roll for *that picture* of the amazing sight you saw in April down on Davis Creek: an assortment of butterflies gleaning nutrients from the body of a fawn just exposed by the spring thaw..

Insects are fundamental to every land ecosystem on earth, they are food for birds and other larger animals we love, they are beautiful and spectacularly diverse, and they are in trouble. Worldwide, their populations are declining drastically, with major ramifications for all ecosystems and humans. Conservation action—not just information-gathering— on behalf of biodiversity is more urgent than ever.

But what motivates action? Well, personally, I believe that paying close attention to the vivid details of life on our planet is an act of joyful resistance to the ignorance and apathy that underly our destructive habits. Notice what you notice is not just for poets. For me, at least, it’s been the foundation of my environmental advocacy—and may be one of the reasons I was drawn to poetry in the first place.

It’s not too late to decide to come camp out with us at Buckhorn Lookout this weekend, in

North Wallowa County, for a pollinator survey. At this family-friendly casual event, we’ll spend time in a wild-ish place where insects are still abundant, looking for bumblebees, learning about them and celebrating them, and getting distracted and delighted by the many other living things that together, in their interactions and habits, alongside us, make our spectacular landscape what it is.

In the meantime, I encourage you to slow down on your next hike and check out the bugs! And then write a poem about them ;-)

Be well!

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