Vision Series – Part 2
About a dozen years ago, I suffered from a rare affliction from which I have since recovered. It was eventually diagnosed as a malfunction in the ventral occipitotemporal stream of my brain. I woke up one morning with a slight headache, and found that the world around me was gray. Different shades of gray, but still gray.
At first, I assumed I was experiencing a migraine or a mini-stroke. I rushed out the door with the intention of driving off to the nearest emergency room, but then noticed a flash of movement on the ground. That momentary distraction turned out to be a green shiny beetle. Walking a little further into the woods, gazing from side to side, I quickly concluded that all I could see, clearly at least, were beetles. My vision had turned beetle-specific.
There was much to observe, as beetles make up about one-third of all animal species on earth (as I later learned). What was normally hidden had become obvious. What had previously been insignificant was all I cared about. I interpreted my unfortunate symptom as a lucky lesson and went exploring.
Hundreds of beetles were flying into the sunlight. Thousands were crawling out of the wounds of trees or chewing on slime mould or pine pollen or sap. There were those that rolled dung into holes, others that bartered with ants, and still more that bored wood into powder.
They had one element in common – hardened forewings called elytra sheathing their delicate hindwings. Otherwise, they were as diverse as humans.
On that first walk, when passing a small lake, a grayish beaver drifted by, parasitic round beetles dwelling on its fur. Next I spotted some whirligig beetles on the surface of the water, smelling of pineapple. (If that sounds like one of my fantastical lies, I urge you to check the fact in an encyclopedia). Whirligigs have divided eyes, and the top parts stared up at me warily, while the bottom eye-halves checked for danger underneath. The number of beetles in sight was beyond calculation.
Some were metallic, others hairy. The prettiest of them – so pretty we call them ladybirds – showed off their poetic spots. Until that day, I had no idea beetles were so plentiful, so part of the natural environs. What else have I not understood?
In the end, I did visit the medical clinic, for the malady was worrisome when I thought about it rationally. Health professionals subjected me to all sorts of invasive tests, and although the condition was identified, it could not be solved. Nevertheless, the illness self-corrected after roughly a week. The rest of the world returned to normality, and it became increasingly difficult to catch sight of a beetle. That time of my life was like a special birthday or anniversary celebration that inevitably had to end.
But every year in the spring, when the firefly beetles are flashing at night, I remember when the beetles came out of hiding. Or rather, when I was able to fathom their assorted and crucial presence.
Vision Series Part 1 – Inside My Dragonfly’s Eyes