If tent caterpillars were something of a leitmotif for the earliest blogs, this entry’s icon is the heron. This poetic bird is both above and below, both transcendent and inside the natural world. Obviously, there is everything to say about the wonder felt for the great blue heron.
History of the Heron
The word heron is old and of uncertain origin. It appeared in the English language around 1300 A.D. Some say it may have originated from the Latin aerius, meaning aerial, or from Old French’s hairon. The species called the great blue heron — Ardea herodias — was originally described by Carl Linnaeus in his 18th century Systema Naturae.
This highly mobile bird is cosmopolitan (almost). Additionally, the heron exists on all continents except Antarctica, and it is present in most habitats except the coldest extreme of the Arctic, the high mountains, and the dry deserts.
Associated with water, but essentially a non-swimmer, the heron feeds on the margins of lakes, rivers, swamps, ponds and the sea. Earth-bound, the neck and beak kink into an S-shape, but upon lift off, with wings outspread, its legs and feet held backward, its long neck retracts.
In Surfacing, Margaret Atwood calls a heron in flight a “bluegrey cross” http://margaretatwood.ca/books/surfacing/. Similarly, when the central character Yasmine in Dionne Brand’s “Ossuaries” crosses the Niagara River into Canada, her arrival is heralded by this quintessential image:
“Call it heron, great blue, long-legged migrating alone
I love how she makes the bird into a punctuation mark.
The Symbolic Heron
The image I chose for this page is not the heron in flight but the motionless bird mirrored in shallow water. Calculating, probing, peering beyond the surface, this bird is a cryptic symbol of editors. We also take a wide field of view , do a lot of foot stirring, and move our heads from side to side to read the depths.
Therefore, the surface is my computer screen, a portal through which I communicate with you. The text is our mirror, both of us working on it from our two sides.
Neither commas! nor em dashes! can rein in my enthusiasm! The caterpillar has become a moth!
The psychic journey undertaken saw it completely pupated. In this torpid, passive state, the muscles went to jelly: they shimmered, they glowed. Searching within itself for a more authentic identity, the seamed body split at the core. It folded once, twice, then flapped about, rehearsing a new role. At long last, shedding the final traces of its old larval self, the flesh went iconic. More symbolic changes returned it back to muscle, flesh and core. Finally, the moth emerged from the magic closet, a flying cliché.
The Reupholstered Product
Editorial metamorphosis performs a similar kind of magic. Just as the wormy caterpillar symbolically ceases to exist even as it seems to give birth to its own wingéd self, so too a first draft can morph into descent copy. The cosmic oneness that occurs between writer and editor in the swaddled depths of cyberspace bring good writing into being. In the World Wide Web, the dualities of first draft/final copy, larvae/imago, writer/editor simply disappear. Then, as the perfectly formed adult insect bursts from its fibres, in a similar way, new concepts about copyediting and proofreading punctuate the online world.
Like a Moth to A Flame
Avoiding false porch lights, delusional street lamps, acting as both body and soul together, the moth soars through the stratosphere, seeking out a mate.
Surely we all know that insects have no need of speech; however, I wish I could lay their pheromone pillow talk on this page in little punctuated snippets.
(Would they whisper sweet everythings, grant certain permissions, make enquiries regarding certain acts or most favoured positions?)
The Last Chapter
Of course, the adult imago (plural: imagines) live life large, having a total lifespan of one human day and one human night. There are many comparisons to draw here, but quickly, quickly, I will make two links. Firstly, there is James Joyce’s Ulyssess. Secondly, Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway. Both modernist novels imagine what their caterpillars characters get up to over a 24-hour timeframe. For added enjoyment, Joyce even describes two moths flies mating.
Mating over, the female — laden with eggs — will oviposit her frothy load in a preferential tree. After that, she’ll fly away, and die.
Our little caterpillar will eventually become a moth and the outline or first draft will find its own ideal shape through editing. A good proofreader or copyeditor can be crucial at this stage, helping the emerging text find its wings, fly, fly…toward the light.
Last week, the tent caterpillars left the natal tree, crawled hither and thither, and now are trying to hang themselves pupating in a protected area. [P.S.: the strike through is intentional–obviously, this was the wrong choice of words! To find the right word “pupating” I needed to do some research. It’s also a technical term, so I’ve italicized it. This example of self-editing is similar to the way I use TRACK CHANGES to edit a document. The MARK UP is always done with red ink.]
In this cocoony other world, things take a supernatural turn.
Much of the strange awesomeness of this turns on the fact that I find metamorphosis fascinating. For haven’t we all had to tunnel down into our own dark parts? Don’t we all emerge slightly changed? I know I have. Ripped and torn, heart still beating, still trying desperately to fly, fly…up and away.
During part of my wild youth spent in Ontario’s Haliburtons, it was more common to see Eastern Tent Caterpillars worming their way across the dirt (and through my waking nightmares). They are the ones that build nests in forks, close to the main stem of the tree. I recall the candy cotton webs. I also recall the throbbing hairy larvae inside those webs. Something from the Alien movie all wrapped up in a gossamer package.
Of course we all know by now the tree in my backyard has been invaded by Western Tent Caterpillars. They build smaller nests at the ends of twigs and leaves. But I ask you, why the Western in this slightly Eastern part of the world? Is this a new immigration? How odd. These caterpillars are not “foreign” exactly, but they’re also not indigenous to here. Maritimers would call them CMAs (“Come From Aways”). Such are the unsolvable mysteries of Canadian nationhood. We might think regionally in terms of culture, climate, history — but bugs? They hold no such “Mind-Forg’d Manacles” (to quote William Blake).
Patterns of Migration
On top of that, in Canada, we usually see influences (or in some cases, infestations) moving from East to West (then North). Not vice versa.
Whatever the case, outbreaks of Tent Caterpillars — whether from the forest, the west, or the east — are yucky. Apparently they happen every 10 years, and sometimes last up to 2 years. They stress out the trees, and gross out the neighbourhood.
Without getting too bogged down in specifics, they must make a good protein supply (if you can stomach them). I’ve heard some birds find them toxic, but if you are human
you might be happy to learn they do not transmit diseases to us, they do not bite us, and they are not poisonous to us. [P.P.S.: more intentional strike throughs because I’m self-editing again. Isn’t the reference to “us” somewhat redundant?]
Who knew the metamorphosis was so near? Today was the last day for the larvae to chomp on ash leaves and bask in the early morning sun. In my backyard, where half-a-dozen tents are slung, the whole colony entwining each cousin-nest in the Lasiocampidae family tree, the brothers and the sisters are dropping from the branches.
For starters, they are social creatures. Since they’re born together (in one egg mass),
they leave camp together (in one larvae mass).
Where the herd turned right, this one went left, eventually finding itself a tree length beyond reach.
Allow me to describe what that lone ‘pillar looked like! You can see from the picture that it sports long tufts of hair along its humped back. Closer now — are those really bilious brown streaks down the spine? Yesssum. Additionally, our dashing little bagworm has a blackish-yellowish check pattern edging the torso.
How UNLIKE the fabulous blue caterpillar in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865). In that surrealist story, after a girl named Alice falls through a rabbit hole into a scary world populated by peculiar anthropomorphic creatures, she meets up with this paradoxical creature. How self-contradictory! How illogical! Why its human face appears to be formed from the head and legs of a real caterpillar!
Additionally, Alice’s caterpillar puffs from the hooka, screams at her, blows smoke in her face, ignores her. Later, after he turns into a butterfly, he flutters away, not caring if Alice makes it out of Wonderland dead or alive.
Writing and the Rabbit Hole
The process of writing is like venturing into the rabbit hole with Alice, going from small to large, learning logic along the way. For Alice there’s the initial state of confusion — following this, a sort of inner paradoxical dialogue.
“What does it all mean?” you might also ask yourself.
When the self gets challenged it stays that way until the mysterious metamorphosis. Then — voila! The caterpillar transitions from a slow-moving ugly creature to a colourfully winged butterfly. And, the first draft is transformed into final copy. Also, Alice becomes open for persuasion.
The Helpful Editor
UNLIKE the blue caterpillar in Wonderland, I am a helpful editor. Rest assured, I’ll guide you out. How? By paying attention to the multiple meanings of words, in particular, the paradoxes. As a consequence, you will avoid the pitfalls in writing that frustrate expectations, that resist interpretation, that leave you in a rabbit hole.
Finally, proofworking surfaced onto the www, so now onto the topic of speculative research drawn from googling the wiki-sites vs. depth reading with a scholarly search.
Googling and Wikipedia
I’ve nothing against googling Wikipedia — the pictures are great and the information well organized. However, the encyclopedic nature of a wiki-site makes for a dry read. When I do research, I want to be illumined and enriched and transformed forever — that’s why I turn to scholarly sources. I like the atmosphere of these texts. I appreciate the restrained objective tone, the well-balanced perspective, and the even-keeled analysis.
While I am mid-rave, let me add: if you don’t have access to online databases through a public or university library, use Google Scholar, the freely accessible web search engine that provides good depth reading.
When I search Google Scholar, what I fetch to my screen opens me up to see the poetry of the ‘pillar who is, obviously, on a personal journey toward both its beginning and its end. (This as the setting sun spins bubbles of dew along the tent’s delicate gossamer strands.) On top of that, a quick Google Scholar search nets more information about the three species of tent caterpillars that call my region of Canada home. Without getting buried in sheaves of analysis, suffice it to say that the local taxonomy includes
the Forest Tent Caterpillar (Malacosoma disstria)
the Western Tent Caterpillar (Malacosoma californicum)
and the Eastern Tent Caterpillar (Malacosoma americanum)
Obviously, my tree contains the Western tribe of Tent Caterpillars. And did you know that Western Tents prefer the sunny side the tree? Read all about it right here: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3565313
Another ‘Point of View’
Currently, it’s early evening. The sun is almost down; the caterpillars are at rest. However, during the day when the sun shines hot across the land, they move through the tree like Olympic tightrope walkers, bending around behind themselves, tight-roping across silken crosshairs, eating above their weight level. Of course they leave great swaths of destruction and defoliation in their wake as they move from nest to feeding sites. But from their “point of view” it all makes sense! After chewing through the available leafage in their local zone, they have to find bigger supplies to meet their daily needs.
Additionally, birds have begun to perch on the tents and peck out the larvae. As the beaks slice through, do the bagworms cower in their webby lairs? While I am not that knowledgeable about birds either (surprise!?), with Delphic certainty I can say — it was small.
On the internet, web “bots” and web “spiders” constantly browse my site for the purpose of indexing or “scripting” it. Translation? The bots and spiders see and understand text placed within specialized headings and subheadings. Used to denote the importance of information, these so-called HTML headers — or “tags” — receive prime treatment by search engines looking for “hookwords” to associate with each webpage.
HTML — Indexing Code
HTML is geek speak for HyperText Markup Language. Because this code “marks up” certain words, it functions like Track Changes and draws your attention to particular places on the page.
Obviously, bots and spiders like to read, and so do humans. That’s why outlining, formatting, PowerPointing and indexing are the primary methods used to write code, copy, articles or screenplays.
How is Outlining a Document like HTML Coding?
HTML code makes the “crawl-able” links for search engines; they in turn entice the spiders and bots to your website. Writing code is like scripting an essay’s outline. Level I, the main point, contains the thesis or the “hook” that lets everyone know what’s at stake. The next Levels are the smaller subpoints/subheads. Each performs like a paragraph in the document, separating itself from other block elements with a line of blank space.
To format the text on a webpage, you use a headline followed by subheadings. This breaks up the writing, improves the layout of the page, and lets the search engines know what’s relevant. Similarly, titles and subtitles make written documents easier to read, and understand. Usually they are formatted with different font sizes or font aspects (i.e. uppercase, lowercase, bolded, underlined, etc.). Similarly, with HTML code, the h1 element makes the headline BIG and bold. To create smaller subtitles or levels of text, you can use the h2 or h3 etc. elements.
When HTML tags define a line of text as a headline or a subheading, they also create hierarchies of importance. Writing good code helps to ensure the levels are correctly indexed and searchable. Bullet-point headings and subheadings on PowerPoint slides also tell the viewer what to look for. Additionally, they aid in organizing the screen by getting all the main and sub points across quickly and directly.
To index keywords in a book or on a website, the coder/indexer finds the hookwords, slugs or taglines on each page. Both the HTML coder and the manuscript indexer list these terms properly, then format them in a certain order. However, the indexer has to add page numbers so readers can flip back for more information.
As my proofworking.com website winds its way through the interweb, I’ve had grammar brainworms all week that I blame on those tent caterpillars.
When I look at a
I see an arboreal hair-net. I know that inside that concentrated dark centre the bagworms squirm. Interesting that the nest completely covers the end of a tree branch. At this point in time, it is stretched beyond reckoning and I’m horrified to report that the black spot in the belly of the tent — the mass of larvae (up to 300 eggs) — grows bigger by the minute. These little critters were born to eat! They get their nutrients by consuming the green foliage in the tree. Since I am bad at identifying leaves too, I really have no idea what type of leafage we’re talking about here. Ash? Aspen? Who knows. So, I rummaged around beneath the branches and found a pair sporting a sweet little hinge-system at the top.
After I took the leaves inside and left them on my desk my little housebound cat found them and went buggy. Excited by the smell of nature coming inside, he raced around, sniffed, wrestled the leaves to the carpet, stomped on them, rolled over them, and left them for dead. This is what remains:
The Grammar of Nouns
Notice above how the words “ash” and “aspen” are not italicized. They are specific proper nouns but I haven’t researched them yet to find their Latin names. When I include the Latin for tent caterpillar (Malacosoma) it is always typed up in slanted font, aka italics. This special typeface makes the word slither across the page. But generic words like “bugs,” “trees,” “unmentionables” often disappear into the sentence, unhighlighted, unnoticed. These are of course still proper words but they’re classified as common nouns because they name a class of objects.
The Grammar of Bugs
The Latin grammar for tent caterpillar further divides and subdivides. Malacosoma just represents the genus of the beast; in addition, there is the family — Lasiocampidae. The terms genus and family, part of the biological classification set up by Carl Linnaeus’s Systema Naturae, also includes species (and sometimes subspecies).
A Taxonomy of Bugs and Nouns
Fascinatingly, common nouns further subdivide into concrete nouns like caterpillar and larvae and abstract nouns like love, happiness, bliss. Because the latter nouns — states of being — are often in flux, their taxonomical break-downs depend upon the individual, and its species.
Each time I edit my slugs and snippets, or whenever I activate a verification code through my new plugin tool Yoast SEO, I feel certain I am getting my new website ProofWorking ready to enter into the great unknown, to swim off into the depths, to find the like-minded, to school with the big fish. Blessings to my website! I hope you have it in you to find your way up to the top.
I don’t know why I’m using a piscine metaphor for my site as I’m really more earth than water. Instead, I’ll plug in another theme: caterpillars. They preoccupy me too. Especially when I am out on the back deck, hanging someone’s unmentionables on the clothes rack, watching the tightly coiled nest of tent caterpillars shake in the wind. Of course I wonder, when will you hatch?
Here are a few pictures of their deeply horrifying nests.
That first web has a dark ominous coil of life at the centre. Heavy with teeming hairy slugs, each ready to worm its way out and down, down the end branches of some kind of big tree. I know the larvae will change into moths or butterflies, but what type? Will I think they are lovely when they take to wing? Because I surely do not love them now, swinging around in their soiled webs, sucking the life out of the leaves, making ready for the great hatching.
Notice how generic I am about some life forms, but specific about others. Like the female protagonist who descended into the core of her psyche in Margaret Atwood’s *Surfacing*, have I lost the grammar that I know once existed, unlearned the tools for naming things? Trees, flowers, unmentionables. I need to edit those words. So instead of bug, worm, larvae — TENT CATERPILLAR, and more specifically, Malacosoma disstria.