Monday, November 29, 2010

The life of the boy

While I had my Fabre in hand, I read again his recollection of the pond of his childhood, from his book The Life of the Fly. Allow me to quote at length; it's worth it:
The pond, the delight of my early childhood, is still a sight whereof my old eyes never tire. What animation in that verdant world! On the warm mud of the edges, the Frog's little Tadpole basks and frisks in its black legions; down in the water, the orange- bellied Newt steers his way slowly with the broad rudder of his flat tail; among the reeds are stationed the flotillas of the Caddis-worms, half-protruding from their tubes, which are now a tiny bit of stick and again a turret of little shells.

In the deep places, the Water-beetle dives, carrying with him his reserves of breath: an air-bubble at the tip of the wing-cases and, under the chest, a film of gas that gleams like a silver breastplate; on the surface, the ballet those shimmering pearls, the Whirligigs, turns and twists about; hard by there skims the insubmersible troop of the Pond-skaters, who glide along with side-strokes similar to those which the cobbler makes when sewing.

Here are the Water-boatmen, who swim on their backs with two oars spread cross-wise, and the flat Water-scorpions; here, squalidly clad in mud, is the grub of the largest of our Dragon-flies, so curious because of its manner of progression: it fills its hinder-parts, a yawning funnel, with water, spirts it out again and advances just so far as the recoil of its hydraulic cannon.

The Molluscs abound, a peaceful tribe. At the bottom, the plump River-snails discreetly raise their lid, opening ever so little the shutters of their dwelling; on the level of the water, in the glades of the aquatic garden, the Pond-snails -- Physa, Limnaea and Planorbis -- take the air. Dark Leeches writhe upon their prey, a chunk of Earth-worm; thousands of tiny, reddish grubs, future Mosquitoes, go spinning around and twist and curve like so many graceful Dolphins.

Yes, a stagnant pool, though but a few feet wide, hatched by the sun, is an Immense world, an inexhaustible mine of observation to the studious man and a marvel to the child who, tired of his paper boat, diverts his eyes and thoughts a little with what Is happening in the water. Let me tell what I remember of my first pond, at a time when Ideas began to dawn in my seven-year-old brain.
Every child should have a pond. I had one, in the woods at the bottom of the hill behind our house in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Not a big pond. It must have been created artificially when the land was agricultural, but now, as the suburbs encroached, it had reverted to a kind of wildness that was adequate to excite the imagination of a seven-year-old boy and his chums. We made our wobbly rafts and set out on the short voyage from shore to shore. I won't pretend to have been awakened to nature to the extent that gave direction and purpose to Fabre's life, but the teeming mud and frog spawn and alga slime certainly entered my bloodstream. We collected crayfish and yellow-bellied newts and painted turtles, and always watched out for the deadly cottonmouth that never appeared. What animation in that verdant world!

Gone now, the pond. Filled in for house lots, the feeding stream channeled through buried conduits. No pond or ditch for the seven-year-olds who grow up there today. Those boys and girls are no doubt affixed to their Xboxes, living in a vicarious world of someone else's imagination.