It's been rainy for the last month, and the world is sodden, though we haven't had any precipitation for the last two days. I went for a walk in my neighborhood last evening and stopped by to see one of my favorite neighbors, a dear, sweet, but eccentric woman in her late 60s whose husband was killed by a drunk driver five years ago. My neighbor has a deep and abiding love--but a very shallow understanding--of the natural world. When I stopped by, she became very excited and said, "Oh, I've got to show you something really wonderful!" She led me to the decaying stump of a red oak that had died and had been taken down a few years ago because the snag was too close to her house to allow it to stand. (Otherwise, she would have let the tree stand to attract woodpeckers). When we got to the stump, she excitedly pointed out a bright yellow mass. "Isn't that glorious? Look how brilliant the yellow is!" She proceeded to show me another mass (this one was dull orange) on her firewood stack. She commented, "This one was just like the yellow one earlier this morning, but now it's not nearly as beautiful."
I explained to my neighbor that the masses were slime molds. She winced and said, "What an unpleasant name for such beauty." Before she was distracted by one of her dogs, she finished up with the remark, "Isn't it a joy to be alive to see such a wonderful thing?"
I think, at one time, I shared my neighbor's sense of wonder, but now it's nearly gone. It's a shame and I regret it immensely. The last time that I can recall anything approaching this level of awe was a decade ago. I was in Austin, Texas for a conference and went downtown one evening to see the famous flight of the Mexican Free-tailed Bats emerging from under a bridge. I was so overwhelmed by the wonder of the event that I actually teared-up with joy.