Sep 10 2013
Back in the day, when America was still smarting from its failure to impose democracy on a tiny Southeast Asian nation by force of arms, a book entitled Small is Beautiful enjoyed a few minutes of fame. It hit the stores in the same year that the Arab oil embargo saw many Americans spending long hours waiting in gas lines in order to fill the big tanks on their big cars so they could travel the big distances between work and home. This unwelcome annoyance came as something of a shock to many Americans. Bigger, it seemed, was no longer better. But the lesson — if that’s what it was — didn’t really take. America was soon back in bigness again, and it’s bigness as usual to this day, despite the occasional headwind. (Can you say “too big to fail”?)
Which, to my mind at any rate, is too bad. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve got nothing against big dreams, whether the dreamer is a kid or a country. But I also think it’s a mistake to ignore the beauty (and utility) of small things. And it seems that others agree. Take TNO Contributing Photographer Pat McKay, for instance. He’s done plenty of Big Things in his life, and he’s done them well. Yet he does Small Things, too. Moreover, he does them with grace and style.
Anyway, the following photos are only a sample of his work. Whether he’s exploring the world on a bicycle or in a kayak, Pat keeps his camera close at hand. But he doesn’t limit himself to snapping pictures. He observes his small subjects closely in the process. Gets on first-name terms with them. Tries to see the world as they see it. And I think his photos reflect this. That said, it’s not really important what I think. Spend a few minutes looking at things through Pat’s eyes. Then you can make up your own mind.
Let’s start our tour of Pat’s small, intricate world with a look at the flora — to be specific, some lovely begonias:
Of course, flowers also attract insects, like this dronefly (Eristalis tenax) flitting between roadside daisies:
And here’s a snowberry clearwing (Hemaris diffinis), also known as the bumblebee moth, tanking up on milkweed nectar (there are no gas lines here!):
Or take this painted lady, one of the Cynthia group of butterflies:
Often the butterflies compete with the flowers for top honors in the visual stakes. In this photo, a variegated fritillary (Euptoieta claudia) is highlighted against a backdrop of brilliantly colored — and aptly named — butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa), a species of milkweed:
Which isn’t to say that other milkweeds don’t draw their share of butterflies. This common milkweed has attracted a tiger swallowtail, and also what appears to be a common housefly:
OK. Flowers attract butterflies. But water — and its attendant mosquitoes and blackflies — serves as a magnet for the equally diverse, and equally beautiful, winged predators we call dragonflies. Here, for example, is the familiar blue dasher:
And here, an uncommon painted skimmer (Libellula semifasciata):
And speaking of predators, no matter how fearsome dragonflies must appear to other, smaller, insects, they’re little more than tasty snacks to larger animals. This female bullfrog, for instance, would like nothing better than to have a dragonfly stay to dinner:
And this eastern fence lizard (Sceloporus undulatus) looks like she, too, wouldn’t mind a winged treat:
Many birds also find insects tasty, of course, including this eastern phoebe, easily identified by the characteristic tail twitch when perched:
So much for the birds and the bees (or at least the bumblebee moths), not to mention the butterflies and dragonflies. All are common sights along rural roads — at least in the days before the mowers go through. But how many cyclists have had occasion to brake for a crayfish? Pat has. He found this pugnacious specimen crossing the road ahead of him:
By the way, after making this portrait, Pat moved his protesting subject to safety. I, too, frequently find myself stopping to carry creatures out of harm’s way, and as the days grow shorter and the fall dispersal picks up, I’ll likely be doing it more often.
But nothing lasts forever, and summer is no exception. Before too long, snow will blanket the Adirondack hills, and town roads will be transformed into ribbons of salty slush, empty of all signs of life. And unless I’m very much mistaken, that’s when I’ll find myself revisiting this page again and again, to renew my acquaintance with Pat’s small, intricate world.