Friday, June 10, 2011


The March Browns are hatching in June this year.

On Saturday, I watched two trout feasting on emergers just below the surface film. Newly emerged adult mayflies, however, drifted safely by on the surface overhead. As their cohorts were being eaten right below them, they raised their elegant wings to dry so they could fly away and mate.

When I got home I watched Ralph and Lisa Cutter's amazing DVD, Bugs of the Underworld, for the who-knows-how-many-ith time. If you look at it a certain way, it's an existential masterpiece.

For most of their lives, these bugs crawl around on the bottom of the river. Then one day they go through a kind of puberty completely beyond their control. They fill with gas and float toward the surface.

To best of my knowledge, insects don't panic the way people do. But some of these bugs are clearly freaked out by the change and swim back toward the bottom and the life they knew down among the rocks. Those days are over, like it or not.

Eventually, the nymphs that resist the change exhaust themselves swimming against their new buoyancy. They float flaccidly to the surface where they're trapped below the film. Which is where those trout I watched were feasting.

Some mayflies embrace the change and swim toward the surface. Go with the change. These bugs generate enough momentum to penetrate the surface film. Floating downstream on the water's surface, their wings break through their husks and are raised like sails to dry in the air. On Saturday, those were the March Browns that survived the trout gauntlet.

Once I got thinking about the existential aspect of the March Brown hatch, I couldn't help but remember the Tibetan Book of Living and the Dying. It was extremely popular when I was going to college and gave us the famously popularized admonition to "go to the light."

Today, a book of poems arrived in my mailbox. The Pulitzer Prize winning collection, Alive Together: New and Selected Poems by Lisel Mueller. Her poem, "In Passing," was the final link in my chain of thought.


How swiftly the strained honey
of afternoon light
flows into darkness

and the closed bud shrugs off
its special mystery
in order to break into blossom:

as if what exists, exists
so that it can be lost
and become precious