Nature-Through-the-Lens

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Hooded Merganser by David Assmann

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Barn Owl (Tyto albaby Nature Through A Lens

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Welcome To Our World by Armstrong White

– An exploration of nature through the mechanized lens of Armstrong White.

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Hilt Close-up by Andy Morffew  
A close-up of a female sword-billed hummingbird. Photographed at Guango Lodge, Ecuador!

Undercover 13:  Surface Tension

Dusk is bruising away the last of the pale winter sky when she pulls into the mostly deserted parking lot at Holy Cross.  The white walls of the sanctuary refuse to melt into the gathering darkness just yet, still glowing in that unearthly way churches always seem to.  She stares up at it through the windshield, straining her tired eyes.  She’s unable to discern whether the friezes carved into the facade of the chapel are flowers or the faces of saints.  

Wilted garlands of pine still festoon the large wooden door.  The eight-pointed avant-garde starbursts ornamenting the turquoise domes of the cathedral make for a garishly distorted mirror of the night sky winking into being overhead; the subdued and subliminal beauty of the natural universe refracted through a lens of Catholic pomp and circumstance.  

A dry east wind tosses her hair as she climbs out of her car and tucks the bundle of roses and babies’ breath under her arm.  She walks straight past the church and through a wrought-iron gate that’s propped open.  

Acres of rolling hills unfold before her, a muted blue pastoral in the fading light.  The park-like expanse is dotted with trees and meandering paths, and rows upon rows of obelisks, gravestones, and celestial beings cast in stone, frozen in wordless benediction.  A few taller mausoleums rise in the near distance.

The echo of her footsteps is swallowed by the quiet reverence of this place. Votive candles sputter in glass jars here and there, the small flames casting deeper shadows on the names and faces of the dead.  

She knows where she’s going, and allows her body to take her there unthinking.

xxxxx

The interment was just yesterday.  Only Maggie had accompanied her.  Bill and Tara had opted to stay home with their new son.  Part of her was relieved that they hadn’t come.  They should be celebrating the new life they’d created together, not helping her bury a small, dead stranger.  

Her older brother and his wife looked at her now with an annoyingly potent combination of pity, incredulity, and guilt.  When they took turns carefully passing football-sized Matthew back and forth between them, cooing over him and marveling at how his tiny fists curled so tightly around their fingers, she could feel them stealing glances at her.  Like they were sharing a bottle of expensive champagne in front of a recently rehabbed alcoholic.  She hated herself for hating them for it.  

In the background, Mulder had hovered and shuffled and rechecked that his luggage was properly zipped a few dozen times.  She knew he wanted to go with her to the cemetery.  She also knew he wouldn’t go unless she asked him.

She’d hurt him when she’d told him she’d wanted to be alone at the hospital. He’d retreated, reluctantly, when he’d sensed that she needed to mourn more than just the little girl that lay dying in her hospital bed.  Only Mulder could fathom the depth of her loss without being able to properly understand it, lamenting the daughter she’d never know, and the children she’d never have.

Predictably, he’d respected her wishes even if he didn’t agree with her conclusions.  Scully knew she couldn’t manage both her grief and his.  God, how she loved his heart, his too-big, too-full heart, always threatening to spill over because he felt too much.  Mulder absorbed anguish the way dry wood drank in a stain.  The fundamental structure didn’t change. It just gradually darkened over time the more it allowed itself to take in, so that the natural beauty and character of the grain became that much more vibrant, but only when light chanced upon its surface.

So she’d said nothing and denied them both the intimacy of meeting his gaze as they walked out to the car.  She’d breathed in his silent disappointment from the backseat like a poultice, grateful for his steadfast, steady willingness to simply exist with her in the same space and time and ask nothing of her.  

She thought she might want him to be there but the cross Mulder bore was already so heavy, weighted down by all the people in his life that he’d failed to save.  She couldn’t - wouldn’t - add Emily’s weight to that burden, no matter how slight she’d been. She didn’t think she could bear watching the man she loved (she knew this now, was as certain of it as she had ever been about anything) throw handfuls of dirt onto a casket filled only with sand and the ghosts of their children that might have been.

They’d dropped him off at his hotel on their way to the interment.  When Scully got out of the back seat to join Maggie in the front, Mulder had grabbed hold of her elbow and ducked his head to see past the cascade of red hair that curtained her downcast eyes.

“My flight doesn’t leave til tonight,” he’d said softly.  “You want to grab some dinner after?…”  She’d finally looked up at him for the first time in what seemed like days.  His ever-changing eyes were grey that afternoon.  

Shaking her head, she’d turned back towards the car.  “No. But thanks, Mulder.  I wouldn’t be very good company.  And I just haven’t had much of an appetite lately.  Plus, I should spend time with my brother and Tara and…the…” she’d choked and let the end of that thought dangle on a dangerous precipice of barely checked emotion, had to clear her throat rather than stumble and unleash a flood of tears over the word, ‘baby’.

He’d nodded and chewed on his bottom lip, swallowing whatever he’d wanted to say.  He lifted a hand to her cheek instead, and brushed his thumb purposefully just under her eye.  “You have a…” he pulled his thumb away and held it up close to her face for her inspection.  For a split second she’d been mortified, half-expecting to see one of her own tears glinting back at her.  She’d almost smiled when instead she saw a red-gold eyelash pressed into the whorls of his fingerprint.  

“Make a wish,” he’d murmured.

She’d stared up at him for a long moment, then squeezed her eyes shut, taken a shuddering breath and puckered her lips into a small ‘o’, blowing gently against the pad of his thumb.

When she’d opened her eyes again, he had already turned and was walking towards the elevators in the lobby of his hotel.

xxxxx

By the time she reaches Emily’s small plot, she’s slightly winded.  She crouches down and sees that days-old flowers and a nearly burned-out votive candle adorn the grave next to Emily’s.  A photo of a smiling Roberta Sim and her daughter (my daughter, Scully thinks) is also propped up on the headstone.  

A few beautiful arrangements from Emily’s funeral surround the stone marker of her daughter’s grave.  Scully stoops to place the bouquet she’s brought with her alongside the spray of purple roses and asters she recognizes from Ms. Chambliss, the county social worker.  So few people had ever truly known Emily, and those that had were dead.  

Just as she’s about to pull herself up again, a flash of silver catches the last guttering flame of the candle, something tucked into the shadows and wedged behind a huge vase of stargazers that have started to droop.  She reaches behind the vase and pulls out a package.  It’s about the size of a shoebox, and it’s wrapped in dark blue and silver paper.  Tilting the gift up to catch the last of the light that’s dying in the west, she can see that the wrapping paper is patterned with dreidels and menorahs.

She looks up and glances around, confused.  Surely this must have been misplaced.  Or left entirely by mistake.  While she holds no such prejudices, she knows the archdiocese only buries Catholics on these grounds.  A tag taped to the upper right corner of the package in the shape of a reindeer says the gift is most definitely supposed to be “To: Emily”.  The “From:”, however, is blank.

Curiosity getting the better of her, Scully shakes the box, hears it rattle promisingly.  Glancing over both shoulders again, she tears the wrapping paper off of the box and turns it over.  A lumpy, plastic brown potato with removable, bulging eyes and a cheeky mustached smile stares back at her.  A Mr. Potato Head doll.

Damn him.  Scully closes her eyes tight, unable to brook the tears that well and spill immediately.  Bless him.  She imagines him hailing a cab from his hotel to a Wal-Mart, wandering around the store in his rumpled G-man suit by himself, weaving in and out of after-Christmas shoppers and their squealing children to find this gift for her dead daughter.  Imagines him wrapping it up in Hanukkah wrapping paper and then wandering around the cemetery in the fading light until he finds her grave.  

Gingerly, she sinks down to her knees in the freshly overturned earth and tucks the toy back behind the vase where she’d found it.  She stays there for a long time.  When she looks up at the sky again, she sees the bright arc of a meteor across the sky.  Make a wish.

As she pushes herself up to stand, she pulls her cell phone out of her trenchcoat pocket and presses the speed dial for the only voice she wants to hear…and makes a wish.

[M]ost biologists observe ‘nature’ through a narrow and biased lens of socionormativity and therefore misinterpret all kinds of biodiversity. And so, although transsexual fish, hermaphroditic hyenas, nonmonogamous birds, and homosexual lizards all play a role in the survival and evolution of the species, their function has been mostly misunderstood and folded into rigid and unimaginative hetero-familial schemes of reproductive zeal and the survival of the fittest.
—  J. Halberstam, The Queer Art of Failure (39) [summarizing Roughgarden’s Evolution’s Rainbow]