A Room of One’s Own

Insects are all about population-level survival of the species. Life is hard for individuals, starting right out of the egg-gate. You won’t ever catch young preying mantises, stinkbugs, caterpillars whining to Mom about the over-crowded nursery… she’s long gone.  If Mom was around she’d likely say (in her buggy way), “If you don’t like it here, disperse!”

Dispersal is probably a good idea for reasons other than personal space. Non-social insects are serious about eating and if the meal that’s close at hand is a lover, or a sibling, or a child, well, let’s just say that bugs don’t need to be hangry to bite someone’s head off.

But I was reminded recently that there are some members of the six-legged set who appear to have an affinity for what Virginia Wolfe so memorably termed “a room of one’s own.” Dash had stopped to see if some smell was worth rolling in, and I took that opportunity to peruse my immediate surroundings. That’s when I noticed the tree in front of me had leaves with an interesting speckled pattern. I turned one of them over and saw those spots were the result of some insect squatters.

As terrier-boy and I continued on our way, I started watching for other signs of leafy residences with solo-occupants, and found several that demonstrate even larval life-forms like to decorate to suit their own aesthetic preferences.

It never fails to amaze me that there are a seemingly endless number of little universes, right here on the home planet. We don’t even have to build a spaceship and escape gravity to find them. For the most part, all these myriad Earthlings are completely unaware of each other’s existence, despite living side-by-side in the same three dimensions… at least until, for a brief moment when a dog catches a scent and stops to investigate, and his person takes that moment to do a little undercover work of her own.

We don’t have to look far to discover worlds within worlds within worlds.

What weird and wonderful lifeforms have you seen while traveling through the Great Outdoors? Share your thoughts, experiences, and photos in the comments section below!

[Thanks to the following photographers for making their work available through the Creative Commons license: Vlad Proklov (lime nail gall mite), Martin Male (caterpillar tent), Katja Schulz (Ocellate gall midge), Jason Hollinger (maple leaf), and gbohne (cherry oak galls).]


The summer of 2017 has been a mild one here in southwestern Virginia, even now, in mid-August. There’s been enough rain but not too much. Temperatures have been temperate, with a tinge of cool in the air most mornings and evenings, and a light breeze to counter the sun’s warmth in the afternoon. The dominant color of my two-a-day walks with Dash has been green. However, that single and admittedly accurate word hardly begins to capture the kaleidoscopic diversity of leafy hues along this one-mile stretch of suburban trail.

The cusp of back to school has reminded me that Mother Nature’s wardrobe of shamrock, fern, mint, moss, pine, and laurel will soon be replaced with goldenrod, pumpkin, and bittersweet tones. I love autumn but I want to make the most of the verdant season so my intention for this morning’s walk was to steep my retinas in green.

Do you have some favorite example of nature at her most gloriously green?  Share photos and comments below!

[Thanks to the following photographers for making their work available through the Creative Commons license: Andrew Cannizzaro, Emilian Robert Vicol, John, MiwokSonny AbesamisJudy Gallagher, Alix May, Stuart Williams, Sonny Abesamis, and Racineur.© 2017 Sidewalk Zendo. Reprints welcomed with written permission from the author.]

Perfectly Imperfect

Now that summer is in full swing there are fewer flowers vying for my visual attention along the deeply shaded section of the Huckleberry where Dash and I walk. Since I’ve learned it’s good to set an intention prior to these excursions, I decided to spend the morning wabi-sabi spotting.

A counterpoint to the conspicuous consumption that had become the prevailing aesthetic of 15th century Japanese culture, wabi-sabi (侘寂) is the art of seeing beauty in imperfection.  In other words, it’s the antithesis of standardized, assembly-line, up-to-spec production for a mass audience that came to prominence in the 20th century.

Wabi-sabi is in the eye of the beholder, a singular perspective. Since my phone is the only camera I own, however, and I don’t like to bring a digital device along on these walks, I’ve included the work of other photographers below to demonstrate the kind of beautiful imperfection to be found in a remnant hardwood forest that meanders through the suburbs of a small university town in southwestern Virginia…

Care to share some of your own examples of imperfectly perfect nature?  Use the comments section below!

[Thanks to the following photographers for making their work available through the Creative Commons license: Dietmut Teijgeman-Hansen, Lisa Brown, Yogendra Joshi, Alyson Hurt, geopungo, bobistravelingVivian Evans, cobalt123, Damon Charles, saiberiac, and Phillip Winn© 2017 Sidewalk Zendo. Reprints welcomed with written permission from the author.]

Trunk Show

Walking my usual route along the Huckleberry Trail this morning I suddenly found myself in the midst of a herd of towering, leafy forest elephants. Maybe my brain was processing memories from a trip to South Africa a couple of months ago but every tree trunk on either side of the blacktop trail morphed into pachyderm legs and trunks, and I became a playful, protected youngster weaving in and out of the columned citadel they created.

It wasn’t technically a be-here-now experience but I was definitely in a flow state — completely absorbed in the timeless moment, energized and calm but slightly disoriented. It was as if the world had wobbled on its axis and I tumbled into one of the thin places of Celtic mythology, where two worlds normally existing at a distance wander into close proximity… in this case, the Eastern Cape of South Africa superimposed onto the New River Valley of southwestern Virginia.

Shortly after I made the commitment to pay attention on these twice-daily walks through the same familiar terrain, I began to understand it’s never really the same place from one day to the next, or even from morning to evening. Each excursion reveals a plant I hadn’t notice before, may not have been there before, or an animal I hadn’t know was living there…that’s been a delight but not a surprise. I knew when you take the time to look closely you’re bound to see more clearly. That was one of the reasons I undertook this mindfulness goal.

What I wasn’t expecting — never gave it much thought, really — is that each day’s experience is new, in part, because I am not the same from one day to the next, from morning to evening.  So it did come as a surprise during this morning’s walk to travel the same route and yet end up in a new place.

I guess Proust was right, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”

[Thanks to the following photographers for making their work available through the Creative Commons license: David Rosen, Alex Kulikov, Mike, and Ruth.]