Saturday, December 22, 2007

June Bugs

So I called my 85-year-old mother yesterday to see how she was. “I’m fine,” she said, “just as happy as a June bug.” I smiled. I hadn’t heard that country expression in over 40 years.

Explanation of the idiom - When June visits the hill country of Eastern Tennessee the sweet scent of early summer strikes some kind of chord within the "Phyllophaga" a genus of the beetle family, AKA “June Bug”. They cover the lawns and fields like an undulating bug blanket, hovering above things that are ripe and sweet. They love overripe fruit, particularly apples. Their name, "Phyllophage", actually means "loves figs".

This little six-legger is emerald green and about the size of a dime. He can fly, yes, but seems to accomplish this task reluctantly and with considerable effort.. He buzzes about about slowly, like a C-5 cargo plane loaded with tanks.

WARNING: This next paragraph is off limits for animal rights activists who think insects should be afforded the same status as mammals. As kids we would go out with a jar and capture a few “June Bugs”. Then we would tie a string to one of their back legs and fly them like living kites. (OK, ok... I said we were kids, didn't we? It's not like we were dragging puppies around.) The fun was to watch these green little guys buzz around like drunken pilots. I remember that just the right size of string had to be used. Too fine a thread could sever a leg. Too thick and heavy a string would slow the them down. It had to be extra-light cotton kite string.

When we had about a 8 or 10 of the little critters aloft we would tie the strings to a bush and watch them tangle their lines. Sometimes we would tie them to a piece or notebook paper and release them as a squadron. Yeah, I know. It really wasn't such a nice thing to do to a bug, was it? But those were the halcyon days of summer in the 1950's, when clouds were white crayon smudges against an azure sky, afternoons were eons and, for two weeks anyway, "June bugs" ruled..

Thursday, December 06, 2007


Last night was cold diamonds on black velvet. There was Orion in his warrior pose, sword hung rakishly from his famous belt. Ursa Major is shy this time of year and doesn't appear until well after midnight. By the way, Ursa much prefers his hipper moniker, "The Big Dipper".
What makes this constellation so very useful is the fact that the outside wall of the Big Dipper's pan always points to Polaris, the North Star.... the only star that doesn't move as the night slides by. Reassuringly on the job, the North Star was where it always is -- due north, pointing the way for sailors and other sojourners.
The water beyond the pilings where "Sails Call" is moored is dark, shivering in a north breeze. As I lie in the cockpit star gazing with binoculars, I can't help but wonder what it would be like to strike out, get outside the sight of land and sail under that twinkling canopy to Bermuda. Never happen.
Too cold, I open the companionway and step down into the warmth of the salon. Three stations to choose from on television. Outside, the current of the Intracoastal Waterway drifts slowly toward Beaufort Inlet on a falling tide and the universe is spinning as it should. We are the one's who are spinning, really, but you know what I mean.