A mountain pine bends to horizontal
just above loose rock
and greens its needles low.
A nearby wildflower hugs
three stems to gravel,
three blossoms for September.
This flattened pine,
this prostrate flower
bear now the crush
of twenty feet of snow
upon the mountain
but they will green again
and briefly grow and flower set,
for despite the press of winter,
there is summer at the core.
Somewhere in Thoreau’s journals is the phrase “summer at the core.” In extreme environments as in the more benign, living beings do whatever is needful to stay alive. Survival, upright or just hanging on, is always worthy of respect.
An icicle with a crick in its length
or a sharp knee
hangs from snow below
the glass globe of the deck light.
It looks organic but modeled,
a bone of clear Lucite
that picks up light from inside,
with a dark line that centers the length
of the icicle bone as if marrow
Gravity pulls icicles straight down,
but north wind has quirked the pull,
pushed drop by hardening drip
of snowmelt into an icicle crick.
A force that can alter gravitational pull is worth some respect. Like standing after kneeling, for those of a certain age. Flow of water, flow of air are the fluid shapings of our lives.
New snow softens, rounds. Everyone knows.
Snow’s angora for the eye. But today
spruce twigs half-covered with snow
pierce my eyes. Each needle more sharp,
each point honed against smooth
curved snow which is truth crystal cold.
No diplomat, Contrast abrades illusion.
Strong stuff, it pulls the real right in.
And the eye opens to a feast.
The beauty of snow is renewed. But like most beauty, we cloak it in comfy habitual illusions. I am no iconoclast. No doubt I cherish illusions that are unaware. When some illusions drop away, though, it is an awakening, a gift of new eyes. I thank the spruce and thank the snow.
At every tide the sea casts up so many shells
and husks of lives.
The sea is mother harsh with truth.
One shell catches me
where it lies alone on dark sands,
fleshless exoskeleton waiting
to be broken down again.
It was intricate, this life, evolved
with articulating armored joints, hollowed
now by the pluck and peck of mouthparts.
When I turn it over, nothing moves
in it or me, cast up on this shore of rock
rolled down to grains of black and quartz, ground
in waves of mother truth.
Balance is the quandary.
Learning is the most difficult of Earth’s gifts. At some point you want to say, “OK, OK, I get it!”
When wind sings a cold snow down from north
a tree trunk becomes a one-night compass,
a testament to shifts in wind’s course, to
shifts in snow’s density. Oak bark leaps
dark against snow driven into it hard
enough to cling in undulant cabochons
in sequence up the trees--
the cold voice ascending.
The forms that crystallized water takes vary with temperature and pressure of wind and weight, and what occurs with sunlight after snowfalls. The convex shapes are like the rings of annelids or the shell segments of tritons, echoes of Plato’s ideals.
Doves are self contained,
unflappable. They manage
every day the impossible:
they ignore blue jays,
which go all bewildered.
On perch, the dove
is plump taupe breast
that tapers to tailpoint.
The dove in flight owns
sweptback wings pure
as peregrine’s, almost that quick.
When the dove turns human,
she is that roly-poly woman
who dances lightly on her toes.
Mourning doves have an equanimity that I envy because I am so far from it. The flash of tail feathers when doves land brightens whole days.
We saw the sun today—
no clouds at all, no gray!
We even found
hanging in blue east
just untangled from the trees
our day-pale moon.
What an ancient stream of experience we step into when the sun returns from gloom, a rushing stream much older than our species.
Since solstice and epiphany,
fawns have quickened in the doe,
she feels their forming hooves,
Great horned owls begin to pluck the brood patch
as beneath that skin fresh capillaries grow
Squirrels chase and leap tree to tree,
females always first—they choose.
Raccoons stir in their den torpor,
masked females almost ready to
spill their scent upon the wind.
On each twig of every living tree and shrub
are scaled buds, polished wax.
Within are pale leaves in perfect folds.
On maple twigs wait flower buds.
Soon the lambing, Imbolc.
It begins again, this turning without end.
There are changes in the bodies of Earth’s beings as the days grow longer, in you and I, small responses with huge results.
A natty bird is this downy woodpecker,
dressed to please the females,
sleek and smooth his black and white,
red medallion crowns his head.
His neck he cocks at an angle to entice,
But at this suet-feeding moment
his bill could use a wipe.
Males try and try, but our beaks always seems to need a wipe. Good thing we’re colorful.
While we maunder under clouds,
sun still burns.
Infra-red warms both snow
and the oak leaf
sprawled upon the surface,
excites the brown leaf
more than bright snow,
so sinks the oak leaf
into a self-shaped hole,
each sharp lobe its own fjord.
The geography of fractals is a marvel. This differential heating writ small is the same power that drives ocean currents and the winds. Our star is close.
Bur globes line up like
prickly punctuation on the snow.
Their line has no gaps
where bur has caught on mammal fur or jeans,
so the seeds wait, off the beaten track,
hoping, in their vegetable way, that a
wandering deer or a passionate squirrel
chase will strip the line of one, two,
or the whole row of eager burs, who simply
want, after all, a chance to grow more
prickly globes to line up like
punctuation on the snow.
Location, location… is the mantra of the waiting seed.
Say you are a prickly seed. If the mother seed
that grew the plant that then grew you, grew off the mammal path, you wait and longer wait through winter snow.
You can’t forever wait to germinate. But wait you must.
Night is day to mouse,
and after snow, her low
gleaning of the earth for seeds
draws for day a map of foraging.
Next the road last night she found
feed handy, close, an unlooked for
winnowing of grasses’ grain
that kept her map compact.
Did headlights sweep her crouching fur?
Did she sense the perched owl?
Does her mouse-night map
reflect the progress of your days?
As you draw,
do you sense the swivel of the owl?
Black Elk said “Everything tries to be round.”
Some fill all desire—this flower sphere
is its own planet of cream trumpet bells
that sound pollen at the tips of white anthers.
We want to be complete as circles,
as the robin revolves in her nest
and shapes it to the curve of her breast.
What is it like to know you are whole?
Today I watched a small cat put a dozen turkeys to flight, and both were perfectly clear and present and round. Neither cat nor turkey felt fragmented or pulled, neither fretted about future or past.
The Northern Cardinal hunches on a branch,
his neck pulled in, feathers fluffed against cold.
He sits quiet in falling snow as do all
we Northerns of many species.
But notice: his crest is not flat.
The cardinal has only lived in Minnesota since the 1930s. Me too. We have both learned to pull in our necks--something about disliking snow on the nape. But we don’t lower our crests.
As I write snow falls fast. There are four bright cardinals right now at the feeders. I am blessed.
As snow collects first light,
on the hollow oak the woodpecker drums
a quick tattoo, the knock of wood enclosing air.
As light climbs to dawn, the quick beak of redbelly
claims these trees, his space. His rapping beak stirs
sleepers’ eyes beneath lids, wanders them out of REM
through dreams brimming with the rapid tap-tap
on a standing hollow tympanum of tree.
It is lovely to waken in connection, with rhythms
Through fresh snow walk five pheasant hens,
clear, determined, laying down tracks.
A minute later a cock pheasant arrives
in tow to his harem, pulled
on the invisible string males know,
hoping the ones who seem
to know the way, really do.
All the cousins share; the predicaments of gender are universal. The line between footprints is made by long tail feathers.
The dryad who inhabits this madrona
paints so well she no longer is alone.
A dolphin, or some pure cetacean
invention skinned in black
pours through burgundy bark.
Its snout is narrow and beak-sharp,
eye set low and challenging.
The ripple of muscle above the gray fin
rolls energy out of the wood.
The colors of madrona are incredible. This muscular small tree is inhabited by the same dryad kind that nourishes mountain ash, or rowan. The painter of this bark lives, of course, in California. Her secret name is Arbutus.
The tilt of head is the charm.
When dogs do it, it’s quizzical,
When little girls tilt their heads just so,
we gather them up.
When maidens tilt their heads
and know it,
males are lost.
The pileated woodpecker appears
on the tree next my window,
tilts her head so her ear is close to bark
Just winter tree,
plus enchanted me.
She hops sideways
across the width of trunk,
swivels her head to tilt the other ear,
Only tree in winter silence.
Tilt and listen is the hunt,
hunger has no glamour.
wildered in her charm.
It is such a privilege to live within all these connections.
Late January. Warm south wind
chases oak leaves off twigs
where they have long clung.
The leaves released chase wind
across snowfields, scurry and skitter,
scrape across blacktop, roll
on bellies and points until each
finds a softened hole punched in snow
by the clean black hooves of deer.
The leaves nestle in, suddenly still
as small russet animals secure after flight.
I trudge snow too close without seeing, look up and I’m slapped
in the eyes by death, by this long scrap of fur and bone
flung across a dead tree that leans out over the frozen pond.
What’s left is old. Hide patches through hair.
Fur drapes down the near side, ends with
a raccoon tail. On the far side hangs the skull
cloaked in half-opaque membranes that hide the eye sockets.
Between skull and tail, long furred hide with some attached vertebrae.
The right hind leg dangles below
the ringed tail, femur cleaned, red-hued, joints confused.
I shy like a spooked horse from this corpse.
It’s in my face, at my eyes. Detail that would blend
on ground is offered in all its sinew twists. I don’t
want to see this membraned skull that makes no sense.
I know how orbits spin. There should be holes for eyes.
I tell myself a tale of what may have been:
A scrap of life cast upon a dead sapling. it landed just so,
centered half on each side. A raccoon died,
was mostly eaten, was then ascended in the talons
of an eagle that wanted it in the nest for chicks, but was
dropped to earth when the skull dragged wings down.
But the skull is blind. I do not want my eyes.
The Earth-gift of knowledge is hard to receive. I wish she’d just put the apples away for a time. Every death ends in microbial recycling, but I wish it were more swift. Winter preserves and readies all for a life explosion, which will include 100 billion bacteria reducing this scrap of raccoon, which will soon in turn feed green.
Somewhere on Earth, in an old language
of bipeds featherless,
the word for “busy” means “nuthatch”.
Nuthatch is a scryer and a pryer,
apprenticed to woodpeckers,
but where they hitch up,
nuthatch hitches upside down
and spirals all the way around.
Loves a rugged bark like
hickory or oak full of hidey-holes
replete with six-legged treats:
nuthatch skries with feathered ears,
pries with sharp shapely beak.
The best gifts are those unasked, and of those, the best are given again and again without stint, like nuthatch spiraling a tree.
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