Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Guest Post: Anne Gonnella, Taking a Chance on Wonder and Beauty


In keeping with the philosophy of looking for the small delights of home, here is a guest post from friend and former HoCo Blogger Anne Gonnella, whose #dailybug photo series focuses on some of the smallest members of our community.


Last year I started posting regular pictures of bugs on my Facebook timeline and gave them a hashtag. These #dailybug posts hearken back to three memorable experiences in my life.

Butternut Woollyworm Sawfly on a stick at Font Hill Park

The first happened one summer in college, when I interned as a naturalist in the Metropark system of Toledo, Ohio. One of my favorite duties was leading nature walks for groups of people, often families. I took the groups on short hikes in the woods, stopping along the way to point out interesting things in nature: flowers, animals, trees, and of course, bugs. One day I picked up a Daddy Long Legs, and held it out for everyone to see while offering some facts. The children all leaned in, oooh-ing and ahh-ing and excitedly jostling to see the wriggly bug in my hands. That is, until one of the adults called out in dismay, backing away to the refrain of “Ewww, spider!”  Immediately, all of the children also backed away. It struck me right then in that moment, many years before I was to become a parent myself, that what we say and do matters tremendously to young minds. All of the budding young naturalists were ready to be awe-struck by the wonders of a common arachnid, until an adult in their lives modeled fear and disgust. Daddy Long Legs are as harmless as they get, when it comes to bugs and “spiders” (for they are not actually spiders), but the children’s opinions were immediately tainted by unfortunate behavior modeling. 

Marbled Orb Weaver Spider in Rockburn Branch Park

The second experience to shape me also happened in college, during an art class. I had some talent and the technical skills to draw something well, but I was struggling with the assigned landscapes and still-life drawings.. Nothing I did had any life in it. I felt discouraged until something changed one day in the school’s botanical gardens. I recall clearly how the students were all drawing rows of potted plants in the greenhouse, and it just wasn’t working for me. I walked away to explore and found myself staring at a tropical monstera leaf, which I then sat and drew, filling the entire oversized page with just one gorgeous leaf. My professor walked in when I was nearly done and said something to the effect of “I believe you have found your perspective.” The lights went on for me. Beauty can be in small things, if you look closely enough.  They can fill the page, so to speak.

Black Swallowtail Caterpillar displaying its bright orange osmeterium in my back yard

Lastly, I recall a hike, right here in Howard County on the Grist Mill trail, when I was an adult in my 30s. My husband and I noticed a tangled mass of black snakes sunning themselves on a rock in the river, so we stopped to watch. An elderly couple walked up and asked what we were looking at, and when we pointed out the snakes, one of them marched right toward the rock to get a better look, scaring them all away in his oblivious haste. They then both told us that they walked this trail all of the time, had been walking it for years, and had never, not once, seen any wildlife. Let me repeat that - this was the first time in all their years of walking that trail to see ANY wildlife, not just the amazing sight of a mess of sunbathing snakes. I still think about this. Why on earth had they never seen any wildlife in Patapsco State Park? Certainly the way the man marched noisily up to the snakes could be a clue; you don’t see a lot of animals when you are loudly crashing through the world. But the lesson I took away with me is this: If you don’t look, you don’t find. Many people barge through the world on a mission without ever looking around them and noticing what they share this world with. I have had people marvel over how many nature sightings I seem to have, but I don’t possess any special Disney princess talent for drawing the birds and animals to me. I simply go outside regularly, and pay attention.

Robber Fly on a chair at the Thunder Hill Pool

And so, the daily bug. I like taking pictures. I’m not a professional and I just use my phone camera most of the time, but it usually does the job. I started sharing bug pictures because I was seeing bugs all the time, since they are everywhere, and I know that most people don’t stop and notice anything that isn’t a bee or a wasp or a spider that got too close to their body to ignore.  Bug pictures were my little niche of overlooked beauty. And they really are beautiful! One of the coolest things about bugs is that there are so very many different kinds, so many that we are unlikely to ever know them all.  They are small, so you will only notice most of them if you are in the habit of looking. And they get a really bad rap. You can’t post a spider picture on the internet without someone commenting that the only answer is to burn it all down and move away, which just perpetuates that bad and mostly undeserved reputation. And I get it - I also don’t want to find a giant spider in my bathroom. But enough people respond with fear and disgust.  I want people to take a chance on wonder and beauty in the smallest and most unexpected places. Let it fill the whole page.       


Millipede at Greenbriar State Park

* A note on my choice of the word “bug”. Some people like to point out that my use of the word is incorrect when I use it to label spiders and millipedes and other small invertebrates that are not insects. Some dictionary definitions of “bug” insist bugs are insects. I find it pretty funny that a universal and unspecific word like “bug “ would be attached to something as specific as an insect, when there is a whole world of arthropods out there. I prefer to use the term “bug” to mean any of the abundant and marvelous creepy crawlies I find when I look.

Me, taking pictures of bugs while on vacation at Cape Henlopen State Park

Anne Gonnella is a nature and photography enthusiast in Howard County. Her love of capturing images of all things that fly, frolic, and frisk about is rivaled only by her love of hiking into the woods to find them.

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