The truth of snow
is bright welcome night,
this winter dark that glows
with light that snow
soaks up in day.
Winter nights are long
but are alight with crystal
ice bouncing solar photons,
fallen flakes agleam with moon calm
on clear cold nights,
when some snow glow
is wandered light from stars
that burned before the earth
took shape, and in full time
learned to grow
this lovely snow that
sets the winter night aglow.
Northern nights are truly saved from dark by snow. Whatever light we catch exploring night is incident radiation that reflects from an increased albedo (reflectivity of a surface, such as cloud or moon or snow). Only in southern climes does winter night remain truly dark.
Princess Raven is a sprite
who likes to steal a ball of yarn
who holds it high in sharp kitten teeth
who chirrups as she trots off with her prize
who makes sure you see her with the captured yarn
who races off when your eye finds hers
who unrolls her yarn in angular bewildering designs.
Kittens are a delightful form of self-torment.
Sister Princess Magpie finds a wool sock
wherever one may land, grasps its
firmly in her teeth, tail high.
Sock drapes between short kitten legs,
trails beneath her belly.
Maggie trots on jaunty jolly, but when the sock
catches her hind leg, bright eyes stay high,
the pride of Princess Magpie gives no sign.
No more kittens for a bit, I promise you. A wee bit anyway. I am off to Seattle Thursday for a week to bask in the warmth of my family.I will be emailing from there, assuming my laptop behaves.
Navajo sandstone has layers visible
the way woodgrain shares the seasons of its growth,
visible as banded rock laid down by ocean sediments, but
this striped stone records a different fluid,
ancient winds that flowed sandgrains down in dunes
on land as dry then as deserts now,
winds that swept sharp grains across the sky
and rolled them over rock and self until
all edge was rounded over, smooth.
These layers of cemented dune tell tales
that took a hundred years for wind to say,
as sand blew up the dunes until grains flowed
down the other side, cascaded stripes
laid slowly down until the dunes stood foothill high.
These grains go free again wherever washes rush
and rivers roll the sand downstream
toward the mother sea again.
I like rocks; I hope you do.
‘Navajo’ is the name geologists use for the topmost sandstone formation in most of southern Utah. It is an eolian sandstone—that is played by wind, like an aeolian harp. These winds blew some 180 million years ago, in the Jurrassic. Bands show the cross-bedding. Grainflow strata.
At Taos pueblo,
a door, adobe wall, a ladder,
a mop, a dog asleep.
The mop put out to dry
drapes a post.
Behind the ladder,
a window, turquoise trim.,
Beside the ladder the plain
plank door, six boards
The black dog sleeps on his side
in front of the door,
near his head a hand-sized wedge of rock.
Branch rungs on the ladder
through-mortised into the juniper uprights
Like all the Taos ladders,
one upright is taller by a foot.
Asymmetric. Wise for climbing down,
a post to hold while
your foot swings to find the rung.
The dog has found his shade,
the mop its place to dry,
the door has found its weathering,
the ladder knows what it is doing,
and sun has found and made it all.
As I pour my second coffee
the ringneck cock picks driveway grit,
small metates to grind
kernels of flint corn stubble gleaned.
His crop will muscle and roll
each tooth of corn against pebbles
once ground small and smooth by glaciers
in their milky hidden streams.
Every bit of earth tells itself an infinitely expanding story. If you can be still, you can overhear bits and pieces.
Snowmen in Seattle
on their sunny second day of life,
slump at waist,
heads roll off
and carrots point the sky.
reach up as they tilt, implore,
lumpy eyes are falling out,
but winter sun ignores
their snowman pleas.
snowmen in Seattle,
melts unmercifully away.
And that’s not all! There was starlight in Seattle last night. Orion’s belt shone bright with nebula.
Sage stretches far as eyes,
ends at remnant volcanoes
that leap from the horizon
abrupt as old men
One has a caldera,
top dished concave,
one side jagged
where it blew out
The compression of gases beneath the rock that exploded is like the squeezed time in the desert, that suddenly, when realized, expands the mind with force.
Coyote walks the road just ahead,
a line of tracks fresh in slushy snow
here in the North Cascades,
the line of tracks deliberate,
pacing west beneath old man’s beard
set asway by the first puffs
of approaching storm.
An elk, here, splays curved
hoof prints down the edge of gravel.
That roar is the Suiattle River
rushing past snow on boulders,
rushing around curves and bars
of its own carving. Wide it braids
and silver, small channels turned
backwater here and there that
trap fish to feed heron and raccoon.
Beyond the river’s bottomlands,
mountains leap up north and south,
white paths of avalanche
channel steep forested sides.
A few russet big-leaf maple leaves
won’t let go. Thick moss cushions
alder trunks and branches,
Everywhere green lichens sway
Somewhere in these trees,
Coyote watches us pass,
ears briefly perked.
A winter stream
cascades mountain to river,
froths in its need.
Fluid air and fluid water hover
on the edge of phase change.
Dropped logs downstream
grow icicle curtains
between wood and water.
Water winks between
flow and shape,
rush and lock.
The indeterminate physical earth and the ambiguous minds of her children share much. Both can be hard to put up with. But their result is often the startle of beauty.
Twenty degrees below zero.
Peter Jennings says “Minnesota is suffering
the coldest temperatures ever.” Ha!
He’s old enough to know better.
From Canada, yet
Fifteen, thirty, or forty-five below
were routine before the Warming
began the change.
So it’s cold. Always was,
and worse than this. One year
I walked to school at fifty-four below.
It occurred to no one to close school,
or to moms to keep kids home.
In air hollow as bird bone
I heard my breath freeze
and tinkle to the ground.
Enchanting, but a game
Now, twenty below.
But back then
few lived outdoors.
“Homeless” was a word unheard.
We would not abide it, then.
Not for families, not for kids.
We didn’t have the heart.
We would have been ashamed.
We should now.
Hard-frozen Honeycrisp apples
hold the collapsed shapes of decay
fermenting stopped cold,
so crisp a zoo polar bear would
not care to catch one in his jaws.
These unpicked apples wait until days
of thaw turn their juices
hard as they grow soft.
Spring robins and wasps will stagger sky
in the tart rewards of migration.
Sometimes cedar waxwings tilt their worlds with alcohol, sometimes robins and other fruit lovers, and always the wasps. It was twenty below this morning, and I’m eager for the intemperate celebration to begin. Hard cider is much older than humanity, as are spring parties.
A glimpse intense enough to tear the heart
ends quickly as the car sweeps by,
and I want more.
The great gray owl stands enormous
on a roadside tree,
tall and blinking not.
He’s flown down from the North
where food is slim
and here he sits to bless
my now holyday, along the frozen streams.
He’s the third so briefly seen.
Great grey owl listens so well he hears
the mouse tunneling
the underbelly of snow.
Any instant he will spread and leap,
fly to mouse claw scrabble, open talons
and plunge deep into snow.
Buried but for head, he will lift one
taloned foot with the limp mouse
and transfer it to beak, leap into air
showering snow, and mousedangle
back to perch, where with a flip of beak
the mouse will disappear.
Growl no more, great grey owls.
Here we are rich with mouse and vole, ermine,
hotblood shrew to fill you for the journey north
and winter nesting soon.
After starry nights of cold, bitter
but blessed with green dancing
shafts of aurora borealis, 0
after night two of 40 below
has tumbled small birds from roosts,
the winter cleanup crew sweeps
wood and marsh, all the hungry fur coats
wildcat, fisher, loping ermine
in its ghostly grace, pine marten,
and possum toward the south,
all glad for the weather-gift
of chickadee or finch.
All readily scavenge for a living when we must.
We all eat, and take our turns.
On the bajada, let
thump dead wood
down wash, roll wet
Prepare sage wood
Splay tangled gray
branches below sun’s hammer
until each growth year
its own curved
separated shell, thin as
Unlike other ecosystems, most of the biomass of deserts
resides in dead wood. Recycling dead wood is essential to survival of all desert life. Heat, cold and water do much, but termites much as well, courtesy of the protozoan symbionts in their guts that allow them to digest cellulose. Cooperation at all levels.
His facial disk is concentric rounds
of dark on white circling, centering
bright yellow eyes, bushy white feathers
curve down and below
each side of a long bright beak.
In courtship the great gray owl
approaches his intended with
a fresh mouse beak-dangling,
offers it. If she accepts, both
close night-large eyes, slowly,
softly as a curtain of falling snow,
as the mouse is passed beak to beak.
So it begins.
And Hollywood thinks it knows.
Moonlight plays on snow tonight,
steals beneath the crystal face
so everywhere it kindles
in the eye a clarity old
as tides and seas, stirs
red flower buds on maples.
Moonlight plays tonight with trees,
walks them dark across the snow,
trunk and branch and twig,
woodcuts dark on white.
Moon walks tree shadows long and west,
shrinks them short from high upon her roll
across the milky stars, then walks the dark trunks
long again but fallen east.
Moonlight plays tonight on snow,
catches deer stretching high for twigs
and swapping jaws as cud is chewed,
watches cottontail race across the pond
in fear of open night and silent owl,
while within the snow, within the eye, it glows.
The full moon fills us if we arrive willing to be filled. The play of moonlight with snow and trees is ever fascinating—we’re not the only animal who likes to roam in it.
Perched close by feeders at dawn is barred owl,
who waits for breakfast to appear from under snow
as breakfast seeks morning sunflowers.
Owl mutters under his beak’s hook
the litany absorbed through brood patch,
The owls’ song of songs:
"To find the all,
Search out the small."
And abruptly flies to eat it.
The old Roman adage is multum in parvo (Much in Little). Knowledge of the large follows 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.
The temperature of snow
is the wisdom of the ear, the sole's
sound as it squeezes snow down.
The squeak in the teens:
flashback to buckle overshoes
and warm enough to play outside.
That soft-texture sound
in the twenties cries
snowballs and snowmen.
Below zero the pitch sings
to the edge of a knife,
but some contrary impulse inside
cherishes the pure clear sound of cold.
Snow in cold is a strange business for a unadapted primate from tropical Africa, but snow is lovely. The clarity of cold can be scary, but the sound of one’s own walking is loud and intriguing.
The hawk appears from above just trees,
looking, spiraling low in hope
of winter food. A white underside flashes
in slant south light. Young broadwinged.
Below the hunter, fields of snow gleam
as the surface ices in midday warmth.
Tonight a crust the hooves of deer will crunch.
But lightfoot mouse and vole, determined
to be food, enjoy the crust and may tonight
play on top if air is warm enough.
Tonight, moon rides full, whitens dark,
plays snow as her winter instrument of choice,
makes some predators grumble
about privacy, and owls gloat.
January aspen buds are open to the fur,
pushing winter scales aside,
January goldfinch males are going gold
though the nest is half a year away.
Great horned owls have picked out nests
they’ll spruce up for the eggs,
and hoot the darkness hollow.
Squirrels are wafting
fragrances like valentines,
Then madly chasing through
the bending tips of branches
whose buds begin to show
that day has evened time with night.
Roots deep down begin to think
of pumping sap up and up and up.
We all know in our minds, even in the frozen North, that Earth will wheel around old Sol in time to bring us Spring, but with these visible signs our hearts do leap with fresh belief.