Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Magic...and Death, Dragonflies and chickens

                                    by Laura Crum

            Yes, more stories about magic. It seems that the more I open my eyes to it, the more I see. Magic everywhere. Is it all in my mind? Perhaps. As Albus Dumbledore said, “But why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”

So the other day I was floating in our little pond. I have written about the pond before and some of you may remember. Andy and I built it together—we chose every stone, we supervised every moment of the construction. And we filled it with water together and played in it together and planted the water plants together. We battled the algae together. Since Andy died the pond has been a huge comfort to me. Along with my son, our animals, the garden, and a few very good friends, the pond has been one of the biggest comforts in my life.

            I sit by the pond and watch the light change in the reflections and ripples, I pour a cocktail for myself and for Andy in the evening and sit by the water and toast him and us—just as we used to do together. I talk to him and I feel that he talks to me.

On warm days I take a dip and I float in the pond for hours at a time—watching the clouds in the sky, watching the water lilies open their blossoms—pink and creamy yellow and white—and watching the dragonflies. Floating on the water always soothes me—no matter how sad I am in that moment. And watching the dragonflies comforts me.

Our little pond attracts all kinds of life. Frogs and lizards and birds and bats…and dragonflies. I have written before of the amazing dragonfly life cycle, and we have observed this first hand. From the creatures mating, and laying eggs on the water, to the underwater nymphs, which look like beetles, to seeing these same nymphs crawl out of the water and transform into dragonflies—within about an hour. It really is amazing to watch the once-underwater-being fly away into the sky on wings of coppery translucency—now a creature of the air. It has always seemed to me to be a clear paradigm for our earthly lives. And the other day I got another lesson from the dragonfly.
            To understand this, you may need to understand that dragonflies have always been a particular symbol here. Andy liked them—he drew them on his bike jacket, we have images of them everywhere on the property. We were all delighted when dragonflies came to our new pond last summer. One dragonfly—a bright red one—was the most common here. Andy looked it up and said he thought it was called a “flame skimmer.” (Dragonflies seem to have the most wonderful names—flame skimmer, pond hawk, blue darter…etc)
            The male flame skimmer is a brilliant scarlet red; the female, as is so sadly common in nature, is a duller orange-y brown. The males swoop above the pond and perch on nearby branches overlooking the water—defending their territory and mating with the females. They are lovely vivid creatures, easy to spot as they skim through the air. But…
            When the dragonfly perches on a branch of the apple tree, as he often does, he is very hard to spot. His slender three inch long body just looks like a reddish twig. If, however, you, like me, have spent hours by this particular pond, you know exactly where to look for him, and your eyes are accustomed to sorting him out. And thus I can glance at the apple tree twenty feet away and see a red dragonfly perched on the branch overlooking the water.

            I didn’t realize how much familiarity aids me when it comes to doing this, until the other day when a friend was here. I said something idly about the dragonfly, and she said, “What dragonfly?”
            It did not matter how hard I tried to point him out, she could not see him. In the end she laughed and said, “I don’t believe you. There’s no dragonfly there.”
            So I got up and walked over to the branch. The dragonfly flew away at my approach, and then, of course, she could see him.
            “Oh,” she said. “He WAS there all along.”

            And in that moment I kind of got it.

            If you teach yourself to see magic—by looking for it and spending time in magical places just being observant—you will learn to see it. And you will find that others can’t see it. They haven’t taught themselves how. That doesn’t mean the magic isn’t real. Just like the perching dragonfly, it’s real all right. But not something you can see unless you learn how.
            The thing is—anyone can learn how. Spotting a perching dragonfly is available to all. You just have to spend the time, you have to pay attention, you can’t be ceaselessly distracting yourself with phones and computers and TVs and social events…etc. You have to be willing to sit quietly by the water watching dragonflies. For a good long while. And you will learn to spot them when they are sitting still. In time it comes to you quickly and easily to spot them; it is as natural as breathing.
            You will be able to see what others insist is not there. This, I think, is what magic is really like.

            And then again, maybe magic is like my chicks.
            You see, if you know about chickens you know that there are things that they do and don’t do. Sort of like horses or dogs or cats. But once in awhile they’ll do something that you would say that they definitely DON’T do (again like horses or dogs or cats—in fact like the cat who defended the little boy from an attacking dog—in that video that I think everyone I know has seen). Is this magic?
            People who know about chickens know that when a hen goes broody on a clutch of eggs, it takes about three weeks for the eggs to hatch. Depending on how good of a “sitter” the hen is, you will get a more (or less) complete hatching of the eggs (if they are all fertile). The eggs normally hatch in a two day window, even if they were (as they usually are) laid over a two week or more period. The chicks actually talk to each other and the hen (by peeping in the egg) as they are getting ready to hatch. And then, over 48 hours or so, all that can manage to hatch do so. Not all chicks make it out. Some are too weak to hatch, some aren’t made right. But after about two days the hen will normally take what brood she has away from the nest and seek food and water for the chicks, knowing that the remaining eggs won’t hatch. That’s what chickens do. Except when they don’t.
            So what happens when they don’t? Maybe magic?
            I had a hen who was sitting on a clutch of eggs that had been layed rather piecemeal—by several hens. The sitting hen eventually hatched one chick. It was bright and lively, but days passed and there were no other chicks. My friend Wally—who knows a lot about chickens—told me to throw the rest of the eggs out—they wouldn’t hatch. But the hen continued to sit on the eggs. She mothered the one chick she had, but she also kept sitting. I put food and water near the nest and left her alone.
            A week after the first chick, a second chick hatched. And still the hen continued to sit on the eggs. Wally and several other chicken owning friends were sure I should throw the rest of the eggs out and let the hen get on with raising her two chicks. But I kept food and water by the nest and left her alone.
            A week later a third chick hatched—and still the hen sat. And sure enough, a week later a fourth chick hatched. After that the hen abandoned the two remaining eggs—so I threw them out. And this hen now has a healthy little family of four chicks—all of whom were born a week apart—so that the oldest one is a month older than his youngest sibling.
            To those who know nothing about chickens, this might not seem much like magic or a miracle. But Andy and I kept banties out here the whole seventeen years we were together, and no hen has ever done anything like this. It is something I would have adamantly assured you would NOT happen. But it did.
            And so perhaps many other things that people will assure you “cannot” happen can also possibly happen. When the time is right. Maybe magic is like this? You just pay attention to the signs and keep an open mind and suddenly something miraculous happens.

            Finally, maybe magic is sometimes very simple and ordinary. Like watching a water lily open or close. The water lilies are very lovely—and they open and close their pointed buds in a short period of time. One evening I was sitting by the pond with a young friend. We were drinking whisky and soda and talking about life in the agricultural world, but we were also sitting quietly watching the water—watching the water lilies, watching the dragonflies. And after a particular quiet moment this young man turned to me with a big smile on his face.
            He pointed at the most spectacular of the water lilies, a biggish peach pink blossom with a crown-like shape, and I saw that it was closed. “I watched it close,” he said. “Watched it go from open to closed. I’ve never seen that before.”
            I could tell that he felt that he’d seen something magical—and I agree with him. But the thing is—such magic is readily available. Ordinary magic. Found simply by sitting still and paying attention. Doing nothing. Going nowhere. Watching the evening light on the pond.

Maybe magic is like that?


Calm, Forward, Straight said...

Yes :D

Allenspark Lodge said...

Children see magic everywhere. Adults have learned to ignore it.

The kids win that round.


Anonymous said...

That's a beautiful piece of writing. I think magic is always around us, but it takes something special to make us stop in our human lives and see it.

I also love dragonflies, they are so different from us. They can occupy the same world we do, and yet their way of living in it makes them as alien from us as extra-terrestrials.

Val said...

I think the most fascinating magic is learning about the natural world and all its exceptions to the rules.

The chicken story was great.

Mrs Shoes said...

Mothers (even hens) almost always know something more about her children than anyone else does.
Is it Scotch whiskey Laura? Anytime you've ever spoken of cocktails, I've always imagined that Andy & you drank good scotch.

HHmstead said...

Beautiful Laura, as are the photos of the pond. "Do you believe in Magic?" Oh yes - I do - have always & believe that there are both magical places & a few evil ones. The evil ones make your hackles rise - that only happened to me once, the magical ones - are more numerous - but you are exactly right - you have to open both your mind & your heart to appreciate all they offer us~

Laura Crum said...

Thank you all for the comments.

Mrs Shoes--Andy liked good single malt scotch whisky. I mostly drink rye whiskey with lots of soda right now.