Ways of seeing: Looking from a new perspective

One recent summer evening, a group of friends gathered on our front porch. As we caught up with each other’s lives, one of us posed the question, “Given the present global challenges, how do you maintain hope?”

I immediately knew my answer: I switch dimensions.

These past two pandemic summers I have taken morning walks around Bristol Village, admiring the gardens and stretching my limbs to start the day. The phone in my pocket provides access to a camera, so it is easy to capture a lawn covered with purple violets or a blossoming rose as I stroll by.

I soon found myself fascinated with the insects who crawl, fly, hop and hover about the flowers while gathering nectar. Bees, butterflies, beetles and peculiar insects of every color and design populate the flowers around our village. Observing them, I leave my world behind for a while and enter theirs.

If I move carefully, a bumblebee might ignore me long enough that I catch her drinking nectar from a sunflower while sprinkling herself with the bright yellow pollen dust that clings to her furry body. (Her is the intended pronoun here. Bees and wasps who gather nectar are all females.)

Once in a while I capture a tiny creature in motion at just the right moment. When I return later to view and edit such a photo, I can move in closer to the creature, closer than I ever could with my camera or my own eyes, and see it more clearly.

That’s when I catch a glimpse of the scale of an insect’s habitat, the way each of a grasshopper’s barbed legs grabs onto the side of zinnia petal, how an ant delicately balances on the side of a stem, antenna alert, each limb posed gracefully, or the way a honey bee buries herself in the petals of a dandelion.

Bees are challenging to photograph, as they are constantly on the go, wiggling and hovering and sipping quickly, then on to the next blossom, and the next and the next. They are difficult to pin down, some species moreso than others. But looking closely, I get to see a variety of color patterns, sizes and wing and body types among the roughly 300 species of bees that live and work among us in Vermont, from the round fuzzy bumblebees to the slender, wasp-like honey bees.

Apparently, both bees and wasps can identify specific human faces. The colony kept by a beekeeper will know that person by sight. I wonder if the bees around town recognize my face. When I look closely at a bee photograph, I feel an emotional response similar to caring. I want to touch her furry body and speak to her, tell her how much I appreciate her hard work, along with her countless sisters pollinating one third of the plants we eat and 80% of the flowering plants on our planet.

Scientists say insects are uniquely adapted to survive the damage we’re inflicting on the planet, that they will exist long after humans become extinct. Until that happens, we can learn from these small creatures how to focus our energies on a sweeter, more delicate and collaborative approach to the work at hand. It is a gift to peek into the tiny populations that coexist with us. It gives me joy and gratitude and even hope.

Alice Leeds taught in a variety of private and public schools and colleges for forty years. Presently retired, she tries to engage in some useful endeavor each day. She enjoys hearing from readers at [email protected].

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