In the dark night in cold
that can crack trees,
the water of this hill stream flows,
and of its vapors night grows
twigged dendrites on stream stones.
These bitter nights pass
beneath a firmament of stars,
each a hard bright spangle on black
rivaled when sun reveals the frost
that grew a crystal moss
upon numbed stones.
Everything wants to connect.
Every phase of water desires touch,
like every phase of you.
Does not the snowflake
seek the child’s tongue? Now
ice from the left bank of the rivulet
grows toward ice from the right until
midstream they kiss,
the water beneath all abubble.
We are 60-70 % water. Perhaps our drive to touch is the water of us trying to coalesce.
A side-blotched lizard, elegant
in patterned browns and blues,
cocks a wary eye as he stops
before an ant-lion’s cone.
The sudden mandibles that wait
for ants to slide into their trap
are not so quick to snap up
ants as this lizard’s jaws,
which bite so fast the ant seems teleported
from sand to mouth: One to beam up!
The local ants are red imported fire ants. They are a menace to many, but a bonanza for lizards and ant lions.
Salt Creek mud is sun-hammered dry,
crust cracked and curved
like scales sloughed off
that wing of a dead brown moth
you found on the windowsill.
But up close the mud plates show
what shut hope’s door:
raindrops pocked the mud
when still soft, but that rain was
too brief to even slick mud smooth.
An American tree sparrow endures
fifteen degrees below zero.
Its wings hang
without apparent spirit.
But it is daylight,
it did survive the night,
this spark of life that kept its grip
as blood cooled but flowed,
pumped by a wee strong heart
through the utter still of cold.
Tree sparrows breed in the high Arctic and come here for warmer winters. All praise to the small and tough.
Winter nights, and small Snow Climbers are again born.
Most climb stems, a few hunch their way up trees.
Few humans see them in camouflage white.
(They freeze when they sense our eyes.)
The Drift Longnose is bold and climbs in sunlight.
Sometimes his nose melts mostly away by the time
he makes it to the top of the cattail and sits to rest.
To us, Snow Climbers have short lives,
but to them life is long and tall.
A whole dark! A whole day to climb toward bright!
Don’t all lives melt into that second night?
A disk of ice slides downstream,
an impact crater announcing deep winter,
ice crusts thrown up all around.
The rippling river reflects a cold sky blue.
Within the crater, water is gelid, still.
As the river freezes over,
beneath the locked surface, it will flow.
A pelagic cormorant presents
a green eye set in skin
improbable as pumpkins.
Water-beads from the last dive wobble
as tail feathers spread their fan.
Every fish that slid long down throat
felt the beak’s yellow hook.
A shoal of herring swims below.
The diver’s green eye knows.
The sea records the dive of the grebe.
When the grebe pulls air down with its force,
bubbles bobble up to churn
small circles inside the large
while flung droplets splash themselves
into donuts just beyond the halo of the dive.
The grebe completes its herring dive,
loops back to air and sky, finds
the ripples water makes for him.
Sky finds its horizon all the way around,
water grows the ring we live within.
Give the winds polished grains of sand to drive,
and dunes grow out of dry and roll
valleys into shadow and hot bright
Give the winds fine grained snow to glide,
and crested forms emerge that shiver cold,
that live until another sweep of white.
Such shapes lift as if from dream
or the wild-eyed mare of night,
but sand drifts and snow dunes
are for earth’s juicy kinds extreme,
the one to twist to leather, one to freeze.
Fog is far today from burning off.
When the harrier hawk crosses
the ground-feeding flock
the wigeons rise as a beating cloud,
first but gray turmoil, then emerging
as a bird mass of wings that all flash
white patch, dark, headed out
to estuary shallows where fog rides waves
and hawks don’t harry winter ducks.
Winter waves seethe the Pacific Coast.
Gray sky, gray sea, froth and foam off-white.
A gull tilts winds, whips across shore eyes.
Free rides today for strong sea birds, and for all
the small sea lives tumbling in the surf.
Against the mist of winter morning shores,
a whimbrel decides she is a watercolor
painting of herself, patient and poised, while
the artist adds the bit of seagrass wrack
to the background that really exists,
but of more interest to the painter
than the painted, who is listening
for the little crabs below that have
shaped her lovely beak’s downcurve.
Ear engaged, but look, her eye will follow you!
A young eagle sits among branches
wet with condensed fog, almost tears.
He is fully fledged, strong-winged.
Fog surrounds him, but not fear.
It will burn off. Light will lift.
We have all this week received the gift of an eagle.
There is an eerie cast to winter skies
as breakers crash on sea stacks.
These are the waves that tear holdfasts
from the rocks and drop
kelps and mussels at the tide line.
The sounds that wind and water
jam into our ears would shiver skin
even if air were not so cold.
The shore stones here are black.
But it is this thin yellow light
that persuades winter to these shores.
Feathers ruffled all the way,
crest erect, head down,
poised as if to lunge,
a young tern screams at others,
the targets of its anger.
The bird’s sidekicks,
beaks aloft, silently agree.
How abruptly an ocean beach
morphs into junior high school.
Social animals all spend much energy complaining of each other, we no less than juvenile terns. It’s the smug companions we attract who crack me up.
A great blue heron
presents color to winter drab.
Mist droplets shift light,
create opalescent feathers.
The heron wades the estuary
at high tide, beak and neck alert
for returning sun to unmask
small swimmers in the flow.
Marsh grasses stand upright and sway
in a hollow by wind and snow contrived.
The drift encloses stiff stems in its white arms,
for drifts are always ready to give you a hug,
if you will stop wandering and just stay put,
like this clump of grass, oblivious, dead above,
but down in soil white roots sleep, held in an embrace
that is no cold death, but one that holds the sleeper safe.
There are hugs, and there are hugs.
Rabbits have beaten a trail across pond ice
where in the open night they run.
For eons, owls have taught them fear.
I try to grasp the track’s sudden shifts,
sharp angles rather than the curves most wander in.
A straight line is fast, but this must work better.
I think of rabbits’ big prey eyes, set high and wide,
picture heads tilt to sky, then tilt up the other side
with each direction shift—it might forewarn
of owl’s silent flight in time to scamper back.
But halfway across the open snow,
the track runs straight. Time now to run flat out