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Lightning in a Bottle: A Chronicle of Wonder

Entries in Thoreau (7)


What's the Buzz? Cicadas.

The last few days, with slightly cooler temperatures and occasional rain, have given us a bit of relief from the slow-cooker that is Virginia in August—but there's still no mistaking the fact that the dog days are in full swing around here. Thoreau holds a dog-day cicada.Even when the heat is less than oppressive, the sound—the buzzing, whirring racket of cicadas—still hangs heavy in the air, adding to the lazy haze of late summer days.

The culprit? Dog-day cicadas, those big, bulky insects with wide-set bulgy eyes. If you haven't seen them, you might have noticed their "shells"—the weird, crackly exoskeletons left behind by the nymphs as they turn into adults—clinging to the sides of trees, posts or walls. (And, if you live where there are cicadas and still haven't seen them, you almost certainly will have heard them!)

Naturally, Thoreau is fond of them. Back in 2004, when the so-called "Brood X" periodical cicadas emerged by the millions, he collected them by the bucketful and made some pretty sophisticated observations for a 3-year-old—that some of the cicadas felt heavier than the others, for instance. (He was right; the abdomen of male cicadas is hollow, most likely to serve as a resonating chamber to amplify their high-decibel calls as they seek mates.)

The cicada hitching a ride on Thoreau's hand in these photos, taken yesterday, might not have made it to today. Once emerging as an adult, a cicada lives for only a couple of weeks—and this docile fellow didn't seem to have much left in the tank by the time we'd found him.

But though his time may have been brief, he did something I think we all can admire: he made a big noise while he was here.

Seeing eye-to-eye with a dog-day cicada.



Happiness is a Warm Puppy

I've fallen a bit behind lately; it's been more than three weeks since my last post here.

Not coincidentally, it's also been just over three weeks since we brought home Charlie, the little ball of energy and fur who's been filling our days with the highs and lows of puppihood.

This past weekend brought more snow—a surprise in that the inch or so in the forecast ended up as nearly five inches of light, fluffy powder. Here's Charlie, now eleven weeks old, exploring his first snowfall:

And here's a look at Charlie and The Bean, getting ready to romp in the snow together:

And, ever resourceful, Thoreau came up with a good use for the cardbox box in which Charlie's crate was packaged—a surprisingly efficient homemade sled. (That's my boy!)


Winter Wonderland

Talk about impeccable timing.  Winter break for Thoreau and The Bean began with the end of the school day on Friday, December 18th.  And, just a few hours later, the first of the snowflakes began to fall.  And fall.  

By the time we turned in for the night, our neighborhood was already feathered in white.  By the time we woke up Saturday morning, it was an alien world cloaked in at least a foot of snow.  And at the time this photo of our backyard and patio was taken, there were several more inches yet to fall.  Our best guess at the final total was somewhere around 16 inches—maybe more.

Much snowThree-quarters of the way through the snowfallIt was almost too much of a good thing.  The Bean, confronted with snowdrifts nearly up to her waist, could barely navigate the stuff—but was having the time of her life, nonetheless.  

Shoveling the driveway took place in several passes over two days, but once I'd created a large enough pile, Thoreau had fun tunneling through it, as you can see here:

When we arrived in southeastern Maine for the week between Christmas and the New Year, it was strange to find it green, having grown accustomed to the white blanket of snow back home.  But on New Year's Eve, it did snow—giving us a postcard-perfect glimpse of Green Acre as we left Maine and headed to Pennsylvania to ring in the New Year with my mother, brother and sister-in-law. 

And while it was only a couple of inches, fresh snow greeted us there, too.  On New Year's Day, The Bean set to work on the red-nosed reindeer, seen here:

Rudolph the red-nosed snow-deer

Meanwhile, Thoreau and Gabby were hard at work building a snow fort from giant snowballs—and demonstrating just why kids sleep so well after a day spent playing in the snow:

The snow was all but gone when we finally returned home, but Thoreau discovered a bit of it preserved in this unique find—a "snow fossil" etched into the underside of his sled:

Snow fossil


First Snow

Sitting at the gate this morning, waiting for a flight from Nashville to DC, I had no idea I'd be spending the afternoon playing in the season's first snow with Thoreau and The Bean.  But a quick check on my iPhone revealed a forecast of 4 inches of snow back home—and the real-time weather cam showed trees, streets and rooftops already being dusted with snow.  All of which heightened my anticipation of this first, and unexpected, snow of the season.

The DC region seems to perpetually hover near the rain/snow line, often producing soft, wet snowfalls.  And today, we had at least 5 inches of the well-packing stuff, a fairly prodigious output for this part of the mid-Atlantic—especially while we're still in the tail end of autumn.

Even before I joined them, Thoreau and The Bean were turning our front yard into a wintry statuary, including an IKEA-esque snow chair and a collection of "Snowhenge" monuments.  But the real fun began when we set out to build a tower of rounded blocks which, halfway through construction, changed course and became an igloo of sorts. 

Shortly before dark, we finished our work—giving Thoreau and The Bean just enough time to cozy up in it, and giving Bliss just enough light to snap this photo of them warming up inside:

 The Bean and Thoreau enjoy the result of an afternoon's work


Alone, Together

I'm always making peace with the fact that in parenting, "perfect" isn't a realistic option, no matter how well-intentioned we may be.  

Let's face it; there are plenty of days when "pretty good"—should we manage to reach that lofty summit—passes for a rousing success.  And sometimes, in our household filled with two spirited siblings, we most readily achieve the station of "big happy family" by splitting up. One child and one parent, two separate activities.

Choose your tongue-in-cheek euphemism: Man-to-man defense. Divide and conquer. Lord of the Flies.  I prefer the kinder, gentler vernacular of the Parent Encouragement Program: Special Time.

Call it what you will, when used judiciously it's a surefire way to defuse sibling rivalry and strengthen parent-child bonds at the same time.

So it happened that our family recently had such "special time" outings on successive Sundays, Bliss and I alternating afternoons with Thoreau and The Bean.  And it also happened that I took both of them to the same place—Great Falls Park.  It's an incredible sight, where the Potomac narrows and falls spectacularly just a few miles upstream of Washington, DC.

The Bean, as you can see, was especially fascinated by the kayakers challenging the rapids below:

And Thoreau loved the view from atop the rocks above the river, spotting vultures and ospreys and other assorted migrating birds:

But here's the wonderful thing: they both made the day completely, unselfishly, their own.  And, seeing it through their eyes, I got to see it all for the first time again—and twice, at that.



Life Is But a Stream

It had all the makings of a lazy Sunday, this first day to catch our breath after slipping back into the stream of school days, homework, ballet classes and soccer games—a stream whose currents can be unexpectedly strong, carrying you through days, even weeks, before you realize it. 

But this afternoon we decided to get out and get moving—just, perhaps, not too quickly.  Thoreau and I walked to the wooded park less than a mile from our door and enjoyed a quiet hike along the stream there, seeing ducks and deer, sunfish and water striders.  

And, best of all, we took some time away from all that doing just to enjoy being.

One last hurrah for a summer filled with tide pools and fireflies that faded all too fast.  

Merrily, merrily, indeed...


As The Worm Turns

In which Thoreau and I discover great clusters of fall webworms on the sweetgum tree behind our house...

Add this to the gathering signs—such as the first woolly bear of the season, found this past weekend—that fall soon will be upon us:

Neither Thoreau nor I know exactly how fall webworms manage to synchronize their herky-jerky motions in this way—but, as you can see, he is quite fascinated by it. (And, as you can't see, so am I!)

Who knows? Maybe he'll be the next David Attenborough, one day...