Friday, October 08, 2010

Swimming in circles

At some point in the misty past, the people who owned this land built a pond to water their cattle.

It is not very large and it is not very deep, especially at the end of summer when the water level has dropped owing to evaporation and the lack of rain.

When we first lived here, and our boy was young, we went to the pond often. We especially had fun in the winter when it was covered with ice. The cat would follow us and trot out on the ice, and we would chuck small rocks in her direction and she would go nuts batting them around on the ice.

And then time passed, and we sort of stopped walking out there, and the trees and brush grew, and soon the path we had taken to the pond was impassable, choked with brambles and honeysuckle and poison ivy. The field where a few beef cattle once grazed gradually turned into mostly a cedar forest.

Several years ago the electric company hired a contractor to clear the brush and trees from under the power lines that stretch across our field. When that was done, we walked out into the field for the first time in years and found that there were deer trails meandering all through it, and so about a year ago we decided to expand one of those deer trails into a new path out to the pond. Richard marked it and we put our boy to work to widen it.

Now I walk to the pond frequently, especially when I have had enough with sitting in front of the computer. Especially on a bright blue fall day, when if I spend one more second inside the house I feel as though I am going to crawl out of my skin.

There are no fish in the pond. But plenty of other life abounds.

Including these guys --

...the whirligig beetles (click on the picture). I have spent quite a bit of time in the last few months watching in fascination the large colony of these silvery beetles that live on the surface of the pond. They swim in meandering circles and figures-of-eight, reminding me of the bumper cars we used to ride as kids at the amusement park.

Ripples from their whirling merge and interact and set the surface of the water to dancing.

And I began to see patterns in their circles and that there were interactions going on between them.

Sometime in the early 1960s, my Uncle Johnny (the husband of my father’s oldest sister, Betty), who was an ornithologist, received a grant to study a sparrow in Peru. I can remember my father shaking his head, somewhat in disgust, I think, at the idea that they (I guess it was UC Berkeley or some group connected with the university) were giving my uncle a huge amount of money so he could take Aunt Betty and their 2 kids to Peru for a year to track down this bird. I know he was thinking that it was a terrible waste of money and “who cares about some dumb bird in Peru!” On the other hand, my Aunt Betty wrote the most amazing letters of their adventures, pages and pages of thin onionskin paper came frequently during the year that they were gone.

I started chasing that rabbit because of what I found out when I did a search to try to find out what these mesmerizing silvery beetles were all about. So I looked them up on the Internet and found that quite a bit of information is available on these bugs.

Although some might think it was a waste of money for someone to be paid to study this insect, but I am rather glad that someone thought it was important to find out what makes this funny little insect tick.

Perhaps it is never a waste of money to pursue knowledge.


The Weaver of Grass said...

Your last line says it all, LL - it is never a waste of money to study anything, in my view.

Maggie May said...

I thought this was a great post and I enjoyed the talk on whirly gig beetles. I don't think we have them over here.
I think it is always a very good thing that people are willing trek for miles in sometimes hostile places so that we can learn about forms of life that are new to us.
Many thanks for this interesting post!
Maggie X

Nuts in May

Paula said...

Love this entry and the pretty pond. Of course down here we call them tanks as in stock tanks.

Oklahoma Granny said...

Interesting post. I'm not sure that we have those insects around here. I'll have to check our pond again. The only thing I remember seeing down there are frogs and dragonflys.

willow said...

Nice pics! I especially like your shot of the damsel fly.