Now an eye for detail is required.

As summer comes on and Maine changes shape and color with the eruption of green everywhere – the pine and maple, beech and hemlock, birch and oak, the meadows of wild grasses, the sedges in the wetlands – a special sort of attention is needed to keep up with nature’s hurry through the warm season toward fruition and harvest.

Perhaps the long winter still lingers at a cellular level for some of us – certainly for me – because, beneath the level of conscious thought, a sense of surprise at the riot of vegetation and the shower of sunlight delivers these early summer days as unexpected gifts.

I awake at dawn, earlier and earlier, the gray of twilight giving way to soft, then sharper, blue or the muslin feel of a day promoting rain. But beyond every window of the cabin, the trees give the impression of leaning closer to the screens and glass – as the sea of leaves swells like waves in the canopy.

I have had ample time – little though it has been between bare branches and awnings of leaves – to note the arrival of warblers and woodpeckers, hawks and jays, and at dusk the silent flight of the resident owl. And from the evidence of droppings beneath the gable, I register that the bat is back – an almost startlingly good piece of news, given the precarious plight of bats all over the world.

The dog and I make our rounds – early-morning trips to the town fair grounds to tamp down the track a bit, marking out a circle for walking, reminding me that this is the shape of life after all, a spiral of personal evolution or devolution, as time and circumstance contrive a day-to-day destiny for us.

The golden retriever, who had to be boarded with a veterinarian’s assistant while I headed to the West Coast for several days for a funeral, has become in one week more assertive and adventurous than ever before in her short life, now just shy of a year. She has made me aware of how a happy dog matures, gaining confidence and pressing obedience limits with a kind of loopy giddiness that makes foul scents and road kill the reward – or curse – of freedom, depending on which end of the unclipped leash you’re holding.

She has taken to longer and longer expeditions into the woods – though not necessarily venturing farther. Every once in a while when I am calling and calling to coax her home, I envision her nosing so far off that she can barely hear my whistle or voice. And then I will see a movement the color of deer just at the rim of the trees, barely beyond the lawn, and it is the dog, peering from behind a tree, watching to see whether I have detected her location.

I should know by now that she would never wander too far from food. Even a dog has unassailable priorities.

But I forget sometimes what is important to the retriever, because like her I am ferreting out the nuances of summer’s arrival. Mine come more often by mistake than by sensible observation, but they comprise the art of the natural world’s myriad machines grinding along – winds, wings, waves.

The other night, when the merciful temperatures had dipped into the 50s, making for perfect conditions for sleep, I found myself after dinner, cleaning not only the dishes but the counters, covered with short-lived gnats no bigger than motes of dust. I made my way along the countertop, along one side of the room, arriving at last at a window in which I earlier had positioned a small fan with accordion-like extensions.

Perfect for ventilation or to keep a breeze constant, the fan was no longer necessary because the evening air had cooled enough to make electrical winds superfluous indoors. I pulled the fan out of the window and had almost lowered the pane when I noticed a piece of artwork at the edge of the screen.

The wings, primarily, but also the half-inch-long bodies of more than a dozen mayflies had been pressed into an asymmetric assortment at one corner of the screen, and as the insects’ bodies had begun to decompose, their wings remained intact, like shadows or faint imprints of the original creatures.

I studied them for a long moment, muttering appreciations for the unintended nighttime silk-screen, marveling at the beauty and intricacy of the wings of insects that reach adulthood to live a day and die.

It was the kind of revelation from nature that I find possibly the most inspiring of all, because it is exquisite detail recorded utterly by accident, substance that is virtually weightless, a fragile finery that will be gone in a hard rain or carried elsewhere on a single gust of wind.

I see it all year long in the decaying leaves that form the organic matter of the forest floor. Pick up a leaf, well on its way out of material form, on its return trip to earth and dust, and you are likely to see the veins creating a texture like lace in this last phase of a still identifiable species.

Pluck a wave-worn shell from the sand at low tide, pocked with holes that the agitation of the sea has created. Lift a curl of birch bark that growth and the wind have coiled into usable parchment.

All are the incidental art of nature’s cycles spinning and spiraling, form incarnate being altered and, for the luck of the observer, bettered. No need for sculptor or potter, painter or weaver. In this season, in unanticipated moments of marvel, nature will do all the work.

North Cairn can be reached at 274-0792 or at:

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