Julie, paying attention. Photo by Sharon Hull.

Most people want friends who are loyal, honest, and kind. I do too. I also put a high premium on friends who suddenly blurt out “ooh! Are you a Clouded Sulphur? Are you ovipositing? Are you ovipositing on a honeysuckle, or are you just cold?”

This is the sort of conversational Tourette’s you can be privy to when you’re walking down a country lane with Julie Zickefoose. The Clouded Sulphur in question would be a small butterfly fully twenty feet away from us that I couldn’t have seen with a telescope and GPS coordinates. It goes without saying that I couldn’t have told you if it was in the business of planting eggs on a honeysuckle.

The most fun people in the world are the ones that haven’t quit paying attention to things. Most of us, if we’re lucky, were pretty good at that when we were kids. For one thing, we were a lot closer to the ground, and that helps. But we also hadn’t gotten our brains all webbed over by concern over how others see us, or cluttered up with tchotchkes like the Kardashians, whoever they are.

I wasn’t a pure child, nature-wise. I flat-out didn’t like mosquitoes and gnats until Daddy explained that they were frog food, which made them nobler. And although I was never cruel in any other way, I liked to spit on ants. Or more precisely, around ants. We had a brick patio that was constantly being mined for sand by ants and I’d sit out on it and watch them work. Out of boredom I’d try to moat one of them with a ring of spit just to see if it could get out. The ant was never in any danger. Nobody in the Washington, D.C. area had any spit in the summertime. All of our water went into the production of sweat, which trickled continuously into our shoes rather than evaporating as it might have in a more sensible climate. We had to dab our postage stamps on our foreheads first to get them to stick to an envelope.

But I probably spent hours watching ants. I didn’t necessarily draw any correct conclusions. I thought ants lived in little pyramids that they erected themselves. Every time we’d hose the patio off, they’d get busy and build themselves more pyramids. I was a fully grown person before it occurred to me that the pyramids were just the debris pile from excavating their real homes. But right or wrong, I was enriched by watching ants. It calibrated my mind to the proper speed of life. The older we get, the more time we spend in the future and the past, and neither one is good for us. We’re better off getting our pace to match the rest of the world’s. You don’t necessarily need a spiritual advisor, but you should never pass up a conversation with a good naturalist like Julie. That’s how you can find out about spittlebugs, and nothing gets you over yourself faster than that.

Most of us have seen those little globs of what we will call spit hanging in the crotches of our garden plants. The spittlebug produces these, but not (precisely) by spitting. The spittlebug is the larval form of a bouncy little item called the froghopper, and it chews on its host plant for sap. From there, according to Wikipedia, the “filtered liquid” is transformed into a glob of comfy bubbles. Let’s review. What is the liquid being filtered through? The spittlebug. That means the bug is blowing it out its tiny little ass. Our future froghopper is comfortably ensconced in a protective nest of wet farts. We can’t do that on our best day.

We can only try.