Archive for November, 2012

Requiem for a Beetle

I hiked recently on a strange November day – where the sun and warmth made silly the layers of clothes I’d brought to keep warm. And on a snack break, sitting on a rock amidst a breadth of identical pines, I noticed a moth skim by. And then, in a patch of sun in the grass, a small beetle moving sluggishly through an obstacle course of criss-crossed vegetation. And as I stooped to examine his progress, I started to wonder about him. This, a November day… one of his last, perhaps? I’m no expert on insects, but I know that for the most part, these exothermic little critters don’t survive the first real cold of winter. Something about the body freezing and the irreversible rupture of cell walls and all. There are exceptions, of course, some of the butterflies (Mourning Cloaks come to mind) actually survive freezing temperatures and emerge in the spring … and maybe some moths too, but in the case of my little beetle friend, prolonged freezing temperatures are a death knell. And this is Montana. But on this November day, a beetle out on a walkabout.

And as it sometimes happens, I began to wonder. What is that like? Imagine going to sleep every time you get cold. The slowing of everything to a crawl, until you can’t move, you barely breath, your heart barely beats. Perhaps even the stop of everything, but then the reawakening on a warm day like this day. A reprieve. And imagine knowing that death comes in this way… the slowing to a stop, the wondering if this time would be the last. The wondering if this sleep will be the final sleep. Wondering if the cold would stay and you would go. It seems so poignant and sad. But I suppose, in a way, it is true for all of us. Death comes, there’s no denying that. And we are left wondering when.

But it’s dangerous to dwell on thoughts of death. Shaky ground. Unsettling. Instead I turned to wondering what he was doing on this day. No point in eating, I suppose, and hardly a need. Hoping to mate? A final coupling before the cold. It seemed unlikely, too. In the end, it seemed like my little insect friend was simply wandering around in the sunlight while he could. Gripping the ground one last time, tasting the air with antennae flicking.

And finally I was sated on insect ponderings, and moved along. There was a trail to walk, after all, and a creek nearby with the promise of trout. And air to breath, and sun warm on me. Life to taste.


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