(Note: This is a slightly written version of a column written many years ago.)
In the King James version of the Bible, the 19th Psalm has it that “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament shewith His handiwork.”

These deep summer nights, when I watch the spiders harvesting moths snared from their ecstatic loops around the floodlights on the deck, it seems as though He is “shewing” us a dark, fevered Nature unlike the brave, noble version most of us were brought up to believe in.

In an earlier essay I wrote about the praying mantis that lived in a potted plant on the back porch of our apartment in town. I admired her for a number of reasons, not the least of which is her role as a reminder not to become overly sentimental about “nature.”

Most often, when you hear somebody say they love “nature,” what they really mean is they enjoy scenery, the “Nature” that they see in the advertisements for 4X4 vehicles and motor homes.

“Nature,” after all, is the whole package, from the dawn mists around a forest cataract, to the shelled and jointed things humping and dragging their way through the leaf mold. These are what the essayist Loren Eiseley called the “ugly, innocent, necessary” aspects of Nature with a capital “N.”

When I lived in town, I would often say, thoughtlessly, that I missed Nature. It is an absurdity, of course, like standing in a forest and saying I longed to see trees.

French naturalist Henri Fabre (1823-1915) once said his own back yard contained enough nature to keep him busy for a lifetime. I read somewhere else that the typical suburban yard contains some 40,000 spiders of various sizes and species, and a cubic foot of soil from that same yard may contain billions of individual living creatures.

American nature writer Edwin Way Teale (1899-1980), described his early interest in nature starting at his grandparents’ farm in Indiana. In his book “Near Horizons,” Teale described tucking himself away into a burrowed-out hollow in a field of rye, to spend hours observing ants, beetles, snakes, and other creatures in their everyday existence. He wrote that returning home that evening was like returning from a “distant voyage of discovery.”

What all this means, if one lives in town, is that one does not need to look far to find a very busy nature; one need only look more closely. Even in my third-floor apartment, surrounded by asphalt and a few houseplants, I still found plenty of things to watch.

The mantis, for example. She is cousin to grasshoppers, cockroaches, crickets and walking sticks. Like other insects, she has just enough brain to operate her angular body and that’s about it. Insects are hard-wired, operating on instinct, each species mass-produced by nature from a single mold.

Once I watched a spider, trying to salvage her web during a powerful storm, mooring one of the stays on a branch of my night-blooming cereus, near the spot where the mantis poised, all patience and severity. In the morning, the abandoned web fluttered in the light breeze.

The next day the mantis, calligraphy against white boards, watched as I walked past, her strange, triangular head pivoting on its ball-and-socket neck.

The next night I sat again, watching as she ate another mantis. The female mantis usually eats its mate. The unfortunate Romeo usually gets his head eaten off during the mating, possibly to prevent him from changing his mind.

This mantis lay horizontally before “my” mantis, clutched in the spiked front legs, being eaten aft to fore. Horribly, the victim continued to gaze about, only mildly interested in the proceedings, its antennae waving a vague semaphore while the clockwork mouth parts of its destroyer munched away.

These are the things that inhabit my summer dreams. The profligacy of insects is necessary but the stuff of pure nightmare. If predation and sheer accident did not kill most of the young, who wriggle and rattle near the bottom of the food chain, we would be wading through seas of the things in a matter of weeks. The clattering females of the thousands of species must each lay eggs by the tens of thousands in order to keep ahead of the mortality curve.

The same day I watched the little act of mantis cannibalism, I watched two dragonflies trying to lay their eggs in the parking lot behind the apartment. Female dragonflies lay their eggs by dipping their tails into the water of ponds and streams.

The dragonfly in flight is a spectacle worth watching; perhaps nothing else in the insect world is so graceful or so swift. Teale, who called them “winged bullets,” said some species can achieve speeds approaching 60 miles per hour. The largest living species reach wingspans of seven inches. Fossilized dragonflies with wingspans of 30 inches have been found.

The dragonflies are almost wholly creatures of the air. They scoop their prey into their clustered legs and eat literally on the wing, letting the drained bodies fall without missing a wing-beat.

For all their grace, they are not bright. The dragonflies in the parking lot tried to lay their eggs on the shiny roofs of automobiles. The hapless bugs flew from car to car, thudding uselessly against the shimmering surfaces.

I can watch this kind of thing for hours, on walks in the woods or along a pond, until I just cannot watch any more, and my uneasy sleep is haunted by hockey-mask faces and Rube Goldberg movements.

After awhile, though, I go back, ever curious. If I have learned anything in my somewhat spotty education, it is that “nature” like “art” is a process, never a finished thing. More importantly, as in art, one cannot begin to learn from it until one casts aside any expectations that it’s all going to be pretty.

© 2009 Marsh Creek Media, Gettysburg, Pa.
Burger to Go” is a product of me and my company, Marsh Creek Media and, as such, I am solely responsible for its content.
Check out the two “Burger to Go” blogsites:


It is suddenly storm season in my part of the world.

Every couple of days, sometimes more often, big, strident, Old Testament thunderstorms have stomped through, flooding basements, downing trees, darkening whole neighborhoods and just generally smiting and smoting like nobody’s business.

Well, the garden is happy, and the creek is higher than it usually is this time of year.

Mid-August here in south-central Pa. is typically hot, humid and rainless. I’ve seen the creek so dry by this time of the summer that the fish were taking sponge-baths and my watermelons were the size of baseballs and had similar flavor.

So, I grudgingly admit, the rain is at least provisionally welcome.

That is, it’s getting to be a pain in the butt.

My truck doesn’t have A/C, which means when I’m out in a storm I have to close all the windows and just sort of stew in the stale air.

I have an umbrella and a good, bright yellow rain parka. They are inevitably locked up, safe and dry, in the truck, because if it is not raining when I get out of the truck, I don’t give them a thought. It’s the sort of thing that makes me think I should have had special teachers in school, if you take my meaning.

So, Friday, working on a long story that wasn’t showing any signs at all of helping me write it – some stories practically write themselves, you know – all hell broke loose overhead. I jumped online and called up PennDOT’s traffic camera website and took a peek at what the cameras were seeing.

To the north, east, and south, the view was pretty much…not much. All I could see was a few sets of headlights, nothing else. No road, no discernable details on anything.

Guess where my rain gear was.

It was OK, though. By the time I had beaten the story into a semi-readable condition the storm had raged on and was kicking the crap out of the Poconos.

I squeezed into the Dakota and started on the hour drive home, boring through the occasional light shower and dodging morons, keeping the grumpiness meter down on the sunny side of a full glower. It was, after all, Friday.

I was three-quarters of the way home when the rainbow appeared.

The sun had tumbled down off the edge of the cloud cover way out west, sending its beams eastward across their undersides, turning them to a bright apricot. The fresh-washed air teased the trees and cornfields, some lit gold, some in deep shadow.

Due east, the rainbow arced, vivid against black clouds over toward nightfall. Traffic slowed as drivers, including me, kept looking over to the vast curve of light refracted through raindrops. It’s easy to understand why people used to think them magical. Hell, I still do.

And then, the black boil of storm behind the rainbow cracked open with a fiery spider web of lightning, the kind that snakes briefly from cloud to cloud, painting the landscape white for a split second and then it is gone. All of it framed within that rainbow curve.

Within the cars around me, I saw people pointing, slack-jawed with wonder, or laughing. I made eye-contact with some, and we all smiled together.

It was still sprinkling a little, but I rolled my window down anyway. Suddenly, I didn’t mind the wet so very much.


© 2009 Marsh Creek Media, Gettysburg, Pa.
Burger to Go” is a product of me and my company, Marsh Creek Media and, as such, I am solely responsible for its content.
Check out the two “Burger to Go” blogsites:

The Lottery Ticket

August 9, 2009

Normally, I’m not one to buy lottery tickets.

For one thing, I’ve written about the subject and know the odds are lousy.

For another thing, I don’t want to get in the habit to the point where if I DON’T buy a ticket I’ll think that the one I didn’t buy would have been THE ONE.

The whole Lottery idea is a pie-in-the-sky thing, yet another means of luring dollars away from those who can least afford it, who buy the tickets in the forlorn hope that they will hit it big and become rich as kings, or at least pay off the credit cards so they can buy more stuff on the credit cards.

I had a relative who worked at a lottery kiosk at a grocery store. She would tell tales about people who would come in and cash their welfare checks, then spend the money on lottery tickets. Sometimes one of them would win a little something. Usually they did not.

Nobody ever won the pot at the end of the rainbow.

But she herself would buy tickets out of her own meager income.

I guess hope springs eternal, even against the odds. Maybe especially against the odds.

On Friday, I bought a lottery ticket.

Times are tough. I had just depleted my checking account filling up my pickup truck. It gets lousy mileage, and has no air-conditioning. My car did have a/c and got pretty good mileage, but I blew the engine. At work, we’ve been taking furlough days, which have cut into my income.

They’re also talking about layoffs.

So, I saw the ad for the Cash 5 game. The prize was up over $300,000.

It’s not like reaching for the crown, the Powerball, with its $160 million-plus jackpot, I reasoned. It’s a modest goal, $300,000. Enough, but not a wretched excess that might lead me to doing goofy things like buying a motor home and a GIANT MOTORIZED WATERCRAFT.

I had a dollar in my pocket. Instead of the usual cup of coffee, I bought a Cash 5 ticket and stuffed it in my shirt pocket with my cell phone.

I got back in the truck and shifted through the gears to overdrive, and settled in for the hour-long drive home.

Two minutes later, my cell buzzed to let me know I had received a message. I reached in and pulled it out.

A piece of paper in my pocket popped out with it, whirled around in the cab playfully for a moment, then out the window it went, to flutter like an albino butterfly amongst the cars and tractor-trailers before disappearing from view.

My $300,000 lottery ticket.

I stared ahead, trying not to wobble all over the road.

I knew two things.

I knew that I would never be able to find the ticket.

I also knew that this was going to drive me crazy.

For the rest of my life, I would suspect, no, I would KNOW BEYOND A DOUBT, that the little square of paper that had blown out of my pocket was THE WINNING TICKET. I knew that, in my dotage, in some dark, dank, charity nursing home somewhere, I would spend my final days staring at the walls, muttering “That was THE ONE, yes, it was, I know it. It had to be….”

The staff would call me Mr. Millionaire or Tycoon Terry or some such, just to get my goat.

I parked the truck at home, trudged in, my mood black.

As I changed clothes, I reached in to pull out the cell and felt a piece of paper.

The Ticket.

The paper that had blown away was the receipt for my gasoline.

I have to confess: I laughed out loud.

A little later, I checked online for the winning number.

Not. Even. Close. Naturally.

But at least I knew.

I threw the ticket in the trash.

Now, what am I going to grumble about at the nursing home?

© 2009 Marsh Creek Media, Gettysburg, Pa.
Burger to Go” is a product of me and my company, Marsh Creek Media and, as such, I am solely responsible for its content.
Check out the two “Burger to Go” blogsites: