Six Legs Walking: A Peek into an Entomologist’s Life

I had the fantasy recently that perhaps I was meant to be an entomologist. I find insects endlessly fascinating. So, it was good timing that I received a copy of Six Legs Walking: Notes from an Entomological Life, by Elizabeth Bernays (Raised Voice Press, 2019).

It didn’t take me long to realize that I might not be cut out for such a life. The science is quite complex and also requires tons of patience—sitting, watching, waiting for eggs to hatch and the like.

On the other hand, Bernays’ essays are a tempting glimpse into the privilege of witnessing the amazing traits and functions within such tiny lives, as well as the satisfaction of persistence and discovery, and opportunities for travel and camaraderie with fellow bug lovers.

The person behind the science shines through, as Bernays manages to weave scientific commentary in with a picture of her entomological escapades across the decades, starting in Queensland, Australia and most recently in Arizona’s Sonora Desert. There is a universality in so many developments she shares—like how, despite childhood enchantment with insects, she hadn’t initially realized that she could pursue that enchantment as a living. Or how her love for her entomologist life partner, Reg, dawned on her slowly. Or the satisfaction she’s derived from proving ideas that started as mere inklings about her minute subjects.

I developed an affection for how sometimes Bernays “geeks out” about something like the variations in locust taste buds. Sometimes I was impatient to get past the laboratory perspective to more colorful details of her life, like travels to India, Hungary, Africa, Costa Rica, and more. But it was her keen attention to things just like locust taste buds that have made her life so fulfilling. A palpable sense of satisfaction comes through in the book, as Bernays recalls happy moments  of immersion in her work. In one piece about stalwart observations in the Arizona heat, she comments, “For ten hours each day, I almost become a grasshopper,” and explains how her curiosity drives her to persist despite all sorts of uncomfortable conditions. In another essay she recalls a scientific revelation that came to her as she lay in the red soil watching caterpillars that were threatening crops.

Bernays takes us along; we get to ride for a while inside a curious and observant mind, peering down at her beloved insects and the plants so central in their worlds. We feel the warmth of the crew’s shared sunset beers during a stint of desert work. We appreciate a partner with whom very little talk is needed. It becomes clear how a life surrounding creatures many deem insignificant has been so very large. Appropriately, Bernays finds a fitting metaphor for life in six-legged beings: “We are tiny points of light, like a mass of glowworms in a cave, each living briefly and passing on, but wonderful at the time.” It is good to be reminded of this wonder.

The Book of Noticing

2016-05-01 08.32.39

Admirable tree in East Haddam

Soon, I want to write about tent caterpillars and robins and nests and the soul’s ease that comes with long walks during lengthening days…But this post is just a short one, because I want to share great news!

I just signed a contract to have The Book of Noticing: Collections and Connections on the Trail published by Homebound Publications. So, this time next year I expect to have the bound book ready for release into the world! There may be Kindle and audio editions, too!

The Book of Noticing is a contemplative narrative on time in nature and the deeper truths that the experience reveals. It takes in the variety and beauty of many adventures in New England, weaves in intriguing facts from the natural world, and often steps back to look at broader subjects like family, a meaningful life, and the future of our planet.

(That being said, I need friends to help me perfect a really good “elevator speech” that can help me encapsulate what this book is about! I have less than a year to learn how to be a good marketer, and any and all tips will be genuinely appreciated).

2016-05-07 08.17.51.jpg

My neighbor on Bridge Street has been mowing around these beauties!