Ascent after Rain

After the first November rain, sun. Vapor rises from warmed wet wood. Amid the slow whirls of vapor, slender black insects are also beckoned upward by the sun. Their white wings light up like paper lanterns. The angle and direction of their ascent is precise, slow, and uniform, miniature drifting squadrons headed to some distant island. Steady and determined, they enact their slow rapture. Most don’t reach heaven. My field guide indicates that they are winged termites, but they seem as harmless as angels. Fragile as white ash, in fact, and as impermanent.

When the sun hides, the insects descend, as if they run out of power. They mill around their hole in the Earth like terriers after prey. Each time they rise, yellow-rumped warblers appear out of nowhere. Butter-butts, birders call them. Their flight is acrobatic, swift, deadly. They snatch the slowly-rising insects, often several in one pass. Slender fluttering forms pass through warbler maws into the starless night of gullets. Imagine the birds after sundown, the inner candle of digestion warming them on hidden branches. Their eyes shine with the whirr of tiny lanterns within.

Warblers on night roosts

Dark eyes shining from the flame

Of a good day’s hunt.