Take a second look …
The yellow eyes of the Saw-whet Owl are so startling, their gaze so steady, that we tend to ignore everything else. It’s easy to miss the trace of blood just below the owl’s bill, a smear of something that changes the way we look at the bird, that deepens our understanding of it. What discoveries might we make if we took that second look more often, if we trained ourselves to see?
I spent a year at the University of Toronto reading the epic poem Beowulf in the original Anglo-Saxon. The prof for that class was Laurence K. Shook, a Basilian priest who had a special interest in the riddles contained in an Old English manuscript called the Exeter Book. These riddles all take the form of short poems in alliterative verse, and none of them comes with a solution. Shook believed several of the riddles referred to birds that were common in England during Anglo-Saxon times. One evening when Father Shook was talking about the riddles, one of my classmates snickered. … Read moreRead More
When she stops him on the Rue Royale, she’s wearing a dark veil that makes it impossible to see her face. Even so, he can tell she is “a femelle of a fine form.” She speaks to him in French because she knows it’s his native tongue. Is he the man who draws the birds in black chalk? In fact, she knows quite a bit about him—she’s had him followed for days—and he knows nothing of her. Yes, he admits to working in that medium. Well in that case, she says, come to such-and-such an address in thirty minutes. Then … Read moreRead More
All damselflies—the tiny, slimmed-down cousins of dragonflies in the order Odonata—are elegant creatures, but the Fragile Forktail (Ischnura posita) is in a class by itself. Is it the name alone that makes me think so? Fragility can make anything—whether it’s a bug or a piece of furniture—seem more graceful and refined; and the Fragile Forktail’s minute size and extreme thinness often give the impression that it’s only a breath away from expiring. But for me, its elegance lies more in color than in shape: in the male, a cool and restrained arrangement of black and green; in the female, a … Read moreRead More