from june

Were I a poet I would tell
you in pretty four line verse
    Of June, and her belongings
    Of Sky and Grass
    Of hill and dale
    And Sun and Moon
All in the bonny month of
          June. 

—Emily Dickinson

To me, the first truly warm, sunny mornings of spring-turning-into summer always means pulling a volume of Dickinson’s poetry off the shelf to read outside in the grass and trees. Although Dickinson’s trim lines watercolor her scenes with the light brushes of her eponymous dashes, her scant poetry still captures the lush abundance of nature in its summer glory.

Summer naturally makes me reflect on abundance. Nature, writes Annie Dillard, is profligate. Dillard, like Dickinson, is a keen observer of nature, and her close study of the natural world fuels her art. The more I read Dickinson and Dillard, the more I am convinced that the order of the world is abundance rather than scarcity. Nature’s creativity is always inspiring and sometimes shocking.

In the Brazilian rainforest, the fungus Ophiocordyceps unilateralis grows on the forest floor and waits for the canopy-dwelling ants to descend from their trees. The fungi spores attach to the ant’s body and drill through its exoskeleton to its interior cavity. The fungus takes over the ant’s central nervous system, essentially turning the small critter into a zombie. Then, the fungus mysteriously propels the ant, with machine-like precision, through a sequence of events that ensures its survival. The ant attaches itself to a leaf exactly 25 centimeters above the forest floor at precisely the right moment of the day for the sun to hit at the right temperature. From this perfect perch, the mushroom expels its spores back into the soil, continuing the cycle anew.

Spooky? Perhaps. Inventive? Indubitably.

After learning about Ophiocordyceps unilateralis —besides swearing off mushrooms for the rest of my life—I have been enchanted by this ingenious and preposterous method of survival. It’s so improvised and yet so calculated. And it feels a tiny bit familiar. Who among us has not scraped together the best with what we have? Done a bit of jazz here and there to make it from one paycheck to the next? Making do with what we’ve got is not just the artist’s motto but is the tune which nature orders its symphony around. And nature has perfected it to an art.

So, if you, like so many of us, are experiencing scarcity or a season where abundance feels far off, I hope you can take comfort in this community of artists who are making our very best with what we have been given.

From the Catholic Artist Connection’s June 1st Newsletter

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