on summer’s solstice

Summer solstice, early morning swim in the fog. The first hour, as always, is devoted to serving as a mobile life preserver for dozens of small moths and june bugs who mistook the blue sheen of the water for lights on land. Some struggle and are easy to see from yards away: they welcome the human hand that suddenly appears beneath them, rising from the deep, and seem to appreciate the short trip to shore, where leaf litter can provide shelter from roving robins and finches until their wings dry out. Some surrender and float and only well after they are fished from the water do they move gingerly about. Some try to stay on my hand; others flop nine ways to Sunday to get off, water or no.

Some make it to land and fight to get back in the liquid, determinedly walking past (or over, if necessary) the hand that brought them out, raising difficult questions for the human: what if blue water is an honorable death in the kingdom of moths and june bugs? what if its warmth provides a soothing liquescence to an end chosen by these creatures for their purposes? what if the intervening back of my hand, rising from the deep to provide a raft to ‘safety’ disrupts a life plan, not just for the one but for its society? A tiny chipmunk chirrs and stares at the questioning, paddling me, its eyes and mine on the level, and my questions fade to grey, in favor of just being and not knowing nor needing to know. At best my hand is a blunt instrument, scarcely capable of assisting creatures with such fragile wings and antennae, and likely causing further harm in the effort.

The second hour is usually devoted to plain swimming, but today it, too, was studded with these endeavors: me shanghaied by my values into the Moth Coast Guard, so to speak. (I can no more swim dully by such beings and not try to help them than I could one of my own species.) Halfway through I happened upon a large, heavy-bodied moth with wide, translucent and flowing wings. It met my hand with what appeared to be great, unsullied relief and, on being set down, marched sodden but delicately and resolutely away from the water. For maybe six inches, tops, and then it seemed to sigh, still standing up, strong, determined, eying the large leaf I’d set beside it for shelter, but not availing itself of that. Instead, the moth stood staring off into its horizon, inhaling, exhaling, stretching itself—wings, feet, then abdomen—willing itself dry once more and able to take wing on this, the longest day of the human’s year.

Who knows how a moth might reckon any of that? From tomorrow on, the days will grow shorter until we swim in the dark, fog or no, our people-y schedules unable to keep pace with the planet because we have arranged ourselves out of step with it on purpose. I treasure these habits and patterns of this season, these water-logged and dying denizens alongside. They remind me that we humans—so quick to conjure up a lonesome road for ourselves from birth to the grave—are never alone on our crossings here. We travel in good company with myriad beings of which we know little and for whom we can provide next to nothing, on this turning planet that greets and good-byes all alike.

a mill pond lately styled as a 'lake'

a mill pond lately styled as a ‘lake’


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