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John Caddy
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John Caddy's
Morning Earth Poems,
January 2001

Two deer drift through night snow
calm as spirits
untroubled by the cold
that has ruled the winter here
since glaciers last ground stone.
Even in this moonless night
they drift through snow serene as leaves
autumn-swirled by breeze.
When light spears dark, two deer
stock still stare, power
primed, cocked ears
as huge flakes spark the darkness
and settle whole upon their backs.
They drift through snow to eat,
and tonight we all are fed.
Go where a piece of writing leads you, and don’t stop until you’re done. I thought I could capture these deer in a few lines, but they kept leading me on.

It's eight below and still
as only winter can be still,
as dawn begins a cloudless sky
with hoarfrost crystals grown on every twig,
Across the pond a band of wild turkeys roost
in the tallest tops of oaks, immobile,
crouched like boulders of night
which linger in the trees.
I want to wake up in the sky
embraced by hoarfrost which
reflects the rose of dawn.
Nature is filled with surprise and wonder. Outdoors, we are always seeing things we've never seen before. Cultivate a willingness to be surprised and delight in that. A willingness to feel wonder is a survival skill that can be practiced. It sometimes takes a teacher to awaken it.

The snow has smothered all,
all the vibrant surface of the earth
its pall of white a shroud
that bleaks the wintered soul
But the way of earth provides,
for life is warmer undersnow
than up on top, open to the cold
where breaths inhaled are knives
and exhaled breaths are frozen clouds.
In the world of undersnow
many tunnels criss and cross,
dug some by claws and some by toes.
Life below is safe from hawk
and owl, but under snow,
as under soil, life can be fierce:
Shrew hunts meat in darkness
driven by his racing heart,
Ermine, sinuous and long,
ripples through white tunnels
disguised herself as snow,
sniffing after mouse and vole,
for the way of earth provides.
All lives survive on what other lives provide. Energy is transferred from life to life and always renewed by sunlight.. Encourage kids to look beyond narrow human concerns (the conventional sentiments of stanza one) and become aware of our intricate and mutual interdependence.

A ladybird last night showed herself
walking on the stairs,
not up the stairs or down
but strolling round in circles.
What does she know, do you suppose?
Now she's dainty-walking
on the rim of my blue cereal bowl,
balletic, lifted on her insect toes
round and round the ladybeetle goes.
I suppose she knows
that all of us are circle bound,
so on the stairs or on the bowl
she's going with the flow.
“Life lives in circles” is a basic principle of ecology. This is a little poem just for fun, but I am delighted with this tough little survivor of the warm season, and wanted to share my pleasure. Life is always reminding us of what we already know, when we allow it to, and I let her remind me that perhaps going up or down is less important than going round, or going with the flow.
Pay attention to vernacular language. It's often wise. "Go with the flow" acknowledges succinctly that life is process. We all know more than we think we know, and everyday language often makes our collective wisdom real for us.

A leaping through tree-trunks
insists upon my eyes, shapes move
like rocking horses on the run--
now one by one emerge from woods
into the cattail marsh,
white tails flashing high each jump
as if their hooves had kicked up snow.
Six does, then two, one,
and last three yearlings rock in rhythm
out of trees and hurry to catch the herd.
They run from nothing I can see,
but bless my eyes so gracefully.
Getting spooked at times is something all gregarious mammals seem to share, our cousins and ourselves alike. "Run fast, run now!" is as time-tested a survival strategy as you can find. Encourage kids to realize that if they do get spooked and run , they are in good company. We all inherit the shadows of fear.
Last night we all
shared white lady moon
who spilled her nocturne light
into the darkling eye of night.
This dawn we share the rose
that falls up the eastern sky
into day's blue eye.
Halo high proud Lady Moon
rises to receive her Night
while Night embraces Moon.
I watch them through
the dark criss-cross branches
that don't exist without her light.
Before dawnlight she finds
the veil of branchwork
on sky's other side
and sets, great oblong cabochon
blushed with Night's desire.
Take every opportunity to focus your attention on the gifts of earth we all do share, and have all shared for uncounted centuries. Moonlight is both beauty and power that has moved us everywhere and everywhen.
She sits a branch ten feet from me,
tail S-curved, sweet breakfast
held between her fine forefeet
while she chisels meat from shell.
Done, she wipes her paws,
strokes her cheeks, abruptly
races down the trunk into her tunnel
to the undersnow to find
another acorn for another treat.
Encourage slow observations of "ordinary, everyday" events. Take a little time, go with the flow . This is hard to perceive as valuable in our society of jump-cut images. Beauty and complex relationships often reveal themselves slowly, blurred at first but coming clearer as you get closer. None of this is news. But kids need continual encouragement to stick with their observations. Tell them that “Everything on earth, every life, every stone, every drop of rain, has a long story to tell. Your job as an artist/naturalist observer is to find a way to let the thing tell you a little of its story.”

Days of blue skies grew a thin crust
on surface snow where the cock pheasant
chooses to parade his power and glory,
but it's hard to strut when your feet
prong through the crust:
Poor tottery bird looks silly as me.
Find personal connections between the self and the other. There are always connections; the artist’s task is to discover them. I love the ostentatious, funny maleness of cock pheasants as much as their great beauty. I cherish moments when I recognize my own foibles in other beings, when a cousin creature becomes a mirror that teaches me what I am.

In this morning drear of winter rain
I cherish yesterday:
As moon fell down the western sky,
the knife-sharp tree trunk shadows
all cut east across bright snow.,
foreshadowed sky clear, sun pure
But just outside my window
a bluejay bounces rain-blurred on his branch
and screams, "I'm here! I'm here!"
Eat what's on your plate.

The great predator
bellies down and slinks,
now, he thinks, invisible,
toward his chosen prey,
young and feisty wild turkey toms
with growing spurs on hard-scaled legs.
The birds outweigh him ten to one
but when the cat bellies down
ancient images wake in turkey brains
and make them fear,
for through deep time they have been prey,
and they know hunters belly down and slink,
so they flap their wings and run away.
All animals have "search images" wired in that tell us what to fear. So turkeys have no choice but to fear a housecat when it sllinks. But we humans learn additional search images that are not hard-wired. Racist images are of this kind. But perhaps alone among our cousins, we have the gift of choice. We do not have to act like turkeys.

The sharpshinned hawk surveys her ground,
ignores bluejays too big for prey
who perch near her and scream.
Unruffled, the sharpshin cocks her eyes
at every movement in the bushes where
all the small birds disappeared.
She flies now to another perch
to wrap her talons round.
Winter is hungry time, for hawk
as well as chickadee and junco,
all alive and glorious until they're food,
for sharpshin is the prey of owls.
All living beings eat and are eventually eaten. Being eaten by bacteria and fungi is called decomposition--but that is simply eating done by tiny organisms. In the vast ecology of earth, all this eating and being eaten is a way of transferring energy from life to life. This is sharing on a grand scale. The whole system of life is built on sharing energy and materials.

Pad, pad, pad, pad,
each step cross-footed, cougar delicate:
Our cat Jem walks like John Wayne,
a good trick with scant shoulders
and no boots.
When you have nothing to say, play.

Four Graces
Eight below
crisp new snow
sun up ice haloed
caw of crow
Keep it simple. The gifts of Earth are simple things; reflect that in tour writing. One syllable words have more 'punch' than two or three--syllable words. Discover the best few words you know to re-create an experience. Use restraint.

Moon the other morning
sails across the southern sky
sail full bellied
but the starwind blows east.
Today her sail is narrowed to a scimitar
lateen-rigged on her glowing dhow
tacking west into the starwind.
The other night Earth's root stuff
fell down on us, pretending to be fluff.
Both these little entries ask you to reconsider the ordinary. The 'common' experiences of nature are all in fact extraordinary, the stuff of myth, romance and campfires. Babies see the world with brand new eyes, which is wonderful to observe. The artist/naturalist's goal is to find ways to strip away the blinders of routine and return the eyes and perceptions to those of a child.

As sky begins to glow, a barred owl
sits a hoarfrost branch and looks around,
and around, and all the other way around,
a pair of hungry eyes perched upon a swivel,
but mostly he is feathered ears:
he hopes to hear the tiny sounds
of mouse claws on the crystal snow
where tunnels end and day is risked for food.
Owl's hunt is so still that when I see a talon flex
I almost hear the hoarfrost break and sift to ground.
Observation, like any hunt, is done with all five senses. Encourage kids to practice being still. Stillness is a much more attractive idea to kids than being quiet, or listening Tell kids, "If you become very still within yourself, you will open to the world outside yourself."
In the pond, minnows hang
suspended in their peaceful sleep,
pectoral fins slightly fanning now and then,
light slowed from above by ice and snow
but present as a waterglow
that passes through the calm flesh
of transparent minnow fry
that wait the winter out to grow.
Cast out your observing imagination and net awareness of the other lives around you. Fish beneath the ice really do spend the winter mostly hanging out, allowed by a lower metabolic need. The pure wonder of all these lives so unlike our own!

Light lingers longer day by day,
In the branches squirrels race and play
at love, while raccoons grow restless in dens
within the hollow trunks
and wrinkle noses for the other's ready scent.
The nostrils of the earth flare wide
to the change this reborn light requires
There are yet no humming bees
but there is honey in the trees.
For the billionth time the turning of the earth about the sun has begun to temper winter and prepare the great rebirth named Spring, and all earth's creatures sense it. For many mammals and some predatory birds, now is the time to mate, so the young will leave the nests and dens at a time when spring's lush food is plentiful.

Something new is in the air.
A dozen young turkey toms peck and chase,
stop and beat wings as back and forth they trot
indignantly, a "guy thing" free-for-all.        
All the while a single crow sits a branch
above the fight and brays out his caws
bouncing with each raucous call.
When spring begins to dance the bloodstream, we see ourselves in nature's mirror at every glance. Guys are guys, of any species, and every fight does have its delighted, jeering crow. Life is We, not Us and Them.

Through light fog this morning
Opossum sifts snow for something she can eat.
Her ears are hairless pink, black ridged
on the edges where they froze one night.
Her pink tailtip has frozen off as well,
with an end of telltale black.
But here she is, stubborn supple hands
sifting snow in fog the funky white
of her wide possum back.
Life and seasons bite parts of us away. But our stubborn lives insist on making do with what is left. Honor this universal persistence wherever you may find it. Imagine also what was present before life nibbled it away. This grows empathy.

Perched close by today is owl,
who waits for breakfast to appear,
and mutters under the hook of his beak
the owl's song of songs:
"To find the All,
Search out the small."
And quietly flies to eat it.
Owl's song restates more simply the old Roman adage Multum in Parvo, or Much in Little. Knowledge of the large proceeds from intimacy with the small. See the universe in a grain of sand, a lifetime in a flower. General principles are revealed by close attention to the details of experience. This is as true in science as in art: the theory of evolution flowed from the beaks of small birds.

A rain of January ice
with snow on top.
Sheathed branches bow
to the force that humbles oaks:
A reign of January ice
topped with sticky snow
coats twigs and weeds with white
and bends them low in arcs.
Above this caws one crow.
Be playful with your words, puns and homonyms and such, like rain and reign. Also encourage contrast (the crow against white, his caw against silence). In poetry, recurrence is one key: recurring sounds, repeated images, recurring rhythms. Repeat yourself, for fun, for emphasis, for music.