Instructions for living a life: Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it. – Mary Oliver
As I stood at the kitchen sink on a sunny Sunday afternoon in mid-October, a ladybug* crawling along a window screen punctured my reverie. I went outside to take a closer look. Ladybugs are considered messengers of good luck, and I imagined that this cheerful emissary had traveled alone. My soul fluttered with joy upon discovering that hundreds of the tiny red, polka dotted beetles rested or crawled on the siding and along window and door frames. It’s as if they had decided to hold a good-luck convention, blessing the house I’m renting with their presence. I took a few photos, attempting to capture my delight digitally. My enjoyment expanded when I learned that a group of ladybugs is called a “loveliness.” The sheer quantity of ladybugs did not diminish their collective appeal, nor detract from the unique beauty of each. That night I slept a bit more contentedly, knowing that a large loveliness of ladybugs had visited and perhaps were still keeping me company.
The next morning I went outside to behold them once again. They had disappeared. I wondered if they had flown away, perhaps migrating to another locale. Then I looked at the ground. Many of the once moving and flying beetles lay on the brick patio, their bright carapaces now carcasses. The loveliness had turned to litter, to be blown into oblivion by wind, washed away by rain or crunched underfoot like dried berries.
The once abundant life and sudden carnage took my breath away. Nature had brought a gift only to take it back, a stark reminder that life is ephemeral, that nature, while it can soothe me, is not always nurturing. If I had been too lost in thought, as I often am, I might have missed the ladybugs entirely. Indeed, I hadn’t seen them when I had returned home that day, even though there had been hundreds. I had been keeping my eyes straight in front of me while carrying groceries along the brick path that leads to my door, blinded to the periphery. Only once I had stepped inside did I spot the bug on the screen. Despite my gratitude at witnessing the ladybugs, to note their demise left me crestfallen. That is how quickly I can become attached, how easily I can become unmoored, how rapidly my inner state can change with the vicissitudes of nature.
The following Saturday the weather warmed. More ladybugs appeared or, rather, emerged. They’d likely been hibernating beneath the shingles and surfaced to sun bathe or stretch their legs and wings. Several scurried along a rolled up green garden hose as if it were a ladybug playground. As dozens of them crawled on a sliding screen door, I had the urge to invite them all in to spend the cold months so they wouldn’t freeze to death. Some had already made themselves at home inside, clustering at the edge of the ceiling.
On Halloween, as the clock approached midnight, the winds gathered. With the temperature mild, I left some windows open to feel the moving air on my skin. By morning, the world had changed. In a boisterous orgy, the winds had stripped most of the trees bare. I closed the windows against the cold. I looked at the ceiling, relieved to see that two ladybugs remained.
*An astute reader pointed out that I mistook ladybugs for Asian lady beetles. Even though they are invaders, I’m still glad they visited.