In the screen-house,
new friends talk
through sunset, twilight,
and as they begin to
sense the other’s heart,
fireflies begin to glimmer dark.
Earth regularly offers us experiences which provide us the images we need—to embrace life, to grasp a solution, to heal, to celebrate. We need only be attentive.
A deer cropped the growing tip
of a Culver's Root plant,
the tip that grows the flower,
so the plant grew six new tops
in a circle round the scar
which each became tall flower spires,
white with reddish pollen,
so this morning six spires hum
with bees who fill their legs
with pollen gold and suck sweets
from a multitude of petaled tubes.
So. The deer satisfied its casual hunger; the plant provided sixfold food for bees, and sixfold seeds for its kind. The deer ate; the plant made more seeds in the face of attack; the bees eat, but pollinate as well. Disaster becomes increase. Within an ecosystem, we all help mutually, without intention.
FYI: Culver's Root is a tall, lovely prairie/woodland wildflower with an unlovely name, once used by a colonial Dr. Culver to treat liver complaints.
Imagine a sphere of closely fitted cupcake papers
which unite perfectly as if they’ve grown there
The sphere is the seed-head of the flower called
by the unlovely name scabiosa.
Once poulticed on scabies, now
it is only lovely, but it has no fragrance,
cannot smell as sweet as the old Bard’s rose,
but this exquisite ball of seeds is ready to release
hope again, seeds borne by tiny green papers
like wind-inverted umbrellas which will play parachute,
seed dangled, ready for wind and earth.
Seed and chute will leap from the precisely
patterned sphere that looks faceted to the naked eye,
but enlarged is pocked with little green craters,
each with two pointed hairs wide at base,
thin at the sharp tip. Each hair is set to catch
upon passers-by--a mouse, opossum, a raccoon--
and pull the seed from its geometry.
As soon as one seed pulls out,
symmetry will be spoiled and all
will clamor the wind for release.
Pattern is what the eye seeks, and Earth rewards our search without end.
Two green herons lift from the pond
and hightail it through trees.
The chased bird tries to hide
high in the old aspen, but the chaser
scares him out, and settles to rest a moment
in the twilight of the sky.
Someone is always “It” in the tag-game of living. Birds spend much time chasing their own kind. We’re told this is about social status, but I think it’s sometimes for fun. Or maybe the resting heron is the parent, and the other is an in-your-face fledgling who could use a dose of being chased.
In slashes of moonlight three raccoon kits
climb up each other’s arched backs and tumble about.
Their high fluting cries compel the ear as
moon’s chiaroscuro arrests the eye.
As their whistles crescendo, Mama’s abrupt
growl brings all three down to silence a moment--
until they rollick and roll again, all earth their toy.
Their robbers’ masks are just coming in, masks tonight
of moonshadow spilled on small faces around shining eyes.
It is a joy to experience the frolic of young creatures coming
alive to the earth. Moonlight is the true element of the
When he isn't thrusting his tongue down
sweet trumpets, the rubythroat
sits a nearby twig to guard
his honeysuckle vine.
When an interloper dares
to slake its honeysuckle thirst,
the iridescent owner dives from his twig,
lifts his voice to wing pitch
and drives the intruder off
with needle beak
and supersonic screams.
Male hummingbirds burn enormous energy trying to keep other hummers from their food source, ignoring the myriad bees, wasps, flies and butterflies who deplete what he protects.
Most creatures reserve their greatest ire for their own kind. Humans are in good company.
The growing tip is sensitive as skin
and motile, extends continually
for something to touch and coil about, this
vegetable movement almost seen but too slow
for the animal eye. Be they nightshade,
Virginia creeper, bindweed,
pole bean or wild grape, thin tendrils
reach out, and trust that the stem’s
rotation against the sun and a bit of breeze
will blow them into something tangible
to curl about. When they do find touch,
even if fleeting, they know it and like
our spirits, curve into shapes of hope,
curves sweet as infants’ fingers reaching,
believing that something will be there to hold to.
In mid molt, indigo bunting came to feed,
bottom half brown, top half blue.
He looked abashed, but in truth
beneath this brown-for-winter coat
lies electric blue that
winter’s feather-wear will reveal
in iridescence just in time for Spring.
“Molt” and “mutability” share the same root, meaning change. Change is often awkward, hard, but for the indigo bunting, molt means a safer winter and a spring renewal. When surfaces are lost to wear, true beauty shows itself.
A little clumsy-flying fly that mostly crawls on goldenrods
lays an egg upon the growing tip.
When the larva hatches out, it crawls down the stem,
bores into its center, begins to eat.
Its saliva galls the plant, tells
the goldenrod to grow a bulb and fast,
so the grub will have both home and food.
The gall’s skin grows shiny-hard,
becomes a citadel that fisher-boys with
pocketknives slip and cut their fingers on,
trying to extract the toothsome grub
to dangle on a hook before a sunfish.
But is there ever safety? Life is
ever clever, and in winter little downy woodpecker
with his short chisel makes quick work
of this fortress gall and pulls out the grub
upon its fish-hooked tongue.
Winter chickadee taps the gall until she finds
the hollow where the grub ate a tunnel
to escape through when it is born again adult.
Then chickadee wraps her feet around the gall
and hammers her way in until the fat grub is
winkled out and swallowed down.
Wasps also lay their eggs on gall grubs. The wasp’s ovipositor penetrates the gall and finds the hollow in the center. It’s tough to be a grub all filled with lovely fat. Hungry lives will find a way to eat.
Thistleheads are gray-white and falling apart, spent.
Spiny leaves have given up, dried and curled.
This looks like the end.
These white-haired thistles, so sloppy-sprawled,
are lovely when breeze loosens plumes
with their seeds and carries them off to begin.
For a circle has no end, no begin, has only
its round eternal turning. The planting breeze
grows from heat spent by our burning star
and the daily spin of earth.
And there’s the unblest mirror again! Gray enough.
Falling apart for sure, in my turn
almost spent, spines retracted, mostly. But for me
the breeze is young Tamsyn
who says “Grampa” like a ring of chimes,
and large Jeremy,
who may soon append me “Great-”.
So the circles roll across the floor of time, greened
and weathered by our star,
earth without end.
This is for my grandchildren, of course, but also for the boomers who are so worried about being over fifty. Relax.
Watch a little beetle
climb up a flower stem.
Black wing covers yellow-striped
from shoulder down to rounded rump.
The plate behind the head is black
soothed with orange.
The beetle climbs from low in leaves,
beneath the tall flower spike that has just
begun to tantalize wasps and bees.
Six decisive legs quickly climb
through leaves into a place of pink tubes
like a fancied reptile’s long head
with spotted lower lips cunningly open just enough
for bees to land. The beetle is not enticed.
It climbs, it climbs until it reaches the very tip
of forming flower buds, and stands,
pointed up, antennae reaching about. Nothing.
Should the beetle be a person, it might be thinking,
“Is that all there is? The beetle’s incredulity
would be familiar, touching,
were it human, but it’s not,
so it spreads its wings and flies to
the bottom of a nearby aster and begins to climb.
And what, exactly, is not human? I can’t help but think of Tennyson’s Ulysses, “To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.” And then do it again. We share much with the Others on Earth. Most is and will be mystery, enhanced by our inflated sense of absolute uniqueness.
Light now sings a shorter song,
Autumn’s in the air and turning grasses wan.
Birds know truth, begin to flock for South America,
but little rubythroat sticks it out—nestlings yet
too small to fly across the Gulf of Mexico. Besides,
jewelweed’s in bloom and turtlehead is swelling buds.
Oaks are looking satisfied--acorns are three-quarters grown,
and cattail spikes are fat and brown.
There is yet time and light, for many goldenrods are yet in bud,
and nestling goldfinches spring feathers quick as food allows.
Soon short light will sing its song of leafgold red and bronze.
This is a wistful time, a time to rejoice in harvest and the beauty of the fall, but wistful in the knowledge of the coming dying back before rebirth.
We wake to mist, and rather
than a narrowed earth,
we find an earth increased
by what we cannot see,
a pocket universe.
Space has grown ethereal.
Trees across the marsh
are mountain shores
A flock of geese are simply sky with voice
until they break the plane of vision,
gray, and lose themselves again
Evening primrose and bright nutlets of grasses
speak patterns to our human eyes.
A spurt of grass seed up a stem,
a primrose candelabra
of buttered flowers and buds
packed on tightly arching stems.
Here prairie coneflower stretched
above my head delights the eye
with a central cone where seeds spiral up
precisely as a pineapple or ancient cycad fruit.
The buds of spiny thistle find
again this climbing of the spiral
loved by Earth throughout all time,
and pleasing to our recent
human eyes and searching minds.
We are in the clutches of the tickseeds
and the burdocks and the bur-reeds, all
the smart weeds who have arranged
their migratory seeds to catch on mammal fur
(and naked mammals’ clothes) so
dispersal of the species can succeed.
When the hapless August traveler comes home,
he finds hooked pernicious seeds
attached to shirt, attached to socks,
attached to laces on his shoes,
and oh, the cries are piteous indeed
as he plucks and bites and scratches
at these knots in fur and hair located
where he can’t quite reach.
As each seed is removed, it’s spat or thrown
upon the ground—planted, in effect,
exactly as the pesky plant had planned.
The grumbling bear, the ventilating squirrel,
the outdoorsman and out-woman all discover
that creativity peaks, or piques, as
they find words and growls and screams
to celebrate their bondage to a weed.
Who is in charge around here? The berry bushes seduce migrating birds into planting their seeds all over North America. Tickseeds and gang confine their superiority to landbound four-legs and two-legs. When the plants have their secret meetings, they call the process animal husbandry.
A nursery-web spider haunts a ball of white phlox,
sprawls across five blossoms, just where
a few blossoms fade toward
a shade of tan like hers.
If this spider is a flower,
her name is Patience. She waits here
for hours unmoved, but she is ready
as a mammal is not wired to be. When
a flower-feeding fly or wasp lands near
she will spring and sink her fangs
In a thousandth of a blink.
But until prey lands on her white corsage,
she is pure waiting, bright-eyed (never doubt it) and hungry.
Of a fisher kind, when she walks on water, each foot
dimples the surface tension, casts eight circle
shadows of dimples on sand. Needs be,
she can dive with a bubble of air
held silver in her basket of legs, just as
she will carry her egg sac until she spins
a nursery web, the only spinning of her days,
a home to guard, a home to hatch her babies in.
Kingbird perches high above the pond
where insects swarm that cannot dream
the doom that will hawk down
among the throng with open beak.
Nor can kingbird likely dream,
but if he should, would it be
of the special crunch of dragonflies?
For the name some odd scholar gave
may have fierce effect: Tyrannus tyrannus.
Or would he dream of wintering in
the summer of the Andes altiplano of Bolivia
or in the fruited woodlands of warm Ecuador,
where in his black hood and elegant white front
he would remind local birds of his nature royale.
Neotropical migrants fly north for our summer and south for South America’s summer, much as Minnesotans contemplate winter migration to the Arizona sands.
When I was a boy it was “Indian tobacco.”
We tried to smoke it once, out on the Mill Forty.
Ignorant of tobacco leaves, we smoked
the dark dried seeds in one kid’s borrowed pipe
(it was his dad’s, never was the same) and
each in the circle took a puff, held our breath
with movie-Indian inscrutability, handed to the next.
After all four of us had drawn the smoke,
we collapsed in a whooping pile of bitter glee.
From then on, smoking Indian tobacco was
right up there with snipe hunts as initiation
for younger brothers and their friends.
I’ve loved the ripe color of the plant, the brown
as root red as devil’s food cake; I like it green
as well, the way the flower spikes texture sunlight
and jump into the eye. Curly dock’s a weed these days,
but its yellow root is still in many herbals, but
no part of it is smoked.
Weed is a word as odd in its way as vermin (or varmints). If it’s in our way or imagined to be, excoriate it, try to control it or eradicate it from the earth. We see foxes often here, and other varmints too. I’ve never met a varmint or weed without its own beauties—even poison ivy in the fall. Never seen one that would be controlled.
Green heron hunts from the almost sunken log, the one
so ready for a slow lurch into pond depths
that duckweed coats its wood like thick pea soup,
makes it unseeable until an insouciant bird stands
on it suspended, long legs entirely
out of water, waiting in stillness for
a fat tadpole to breach the duckweed coat
to catch a breath, then in two flaps there
to snap it up and send the frogchild wiggling down
a long unfolded throat, beak lifted to blue skies shining
at this moment right on a lucky green heron
whose legs abruptly turn gold, which is more visible
when he flies to a favorite fallen tree to wipe his bill upon.
Watching a being hunt with such a quality of stillness is to delight in the Tao’s doing-without-doing or wei-wu-wei.
I don’t know why his name is “green.” There is no green there. Except duckweed. There is russet and yellow, black & white…The eccentrics who named birds have given us aggravation and many laughs from their inept naming a century or two ago.
I am startled into blessing once again.
These vine seeds, that West light
just after rain, sky dark still.
This chain of dangled seeds
is an architect of joy, each
green translucent husk
four intersecting planes, as if
two Granny Smith apples were flat
cut-outs, and each flat apple shape
were slit halfway and egg-crated into one,
four thin vanes at right angles to each other
and all suddenly held up to sun just after rain.
What a marvelously improbable packaging of seeds! Gaia’s designs are a continual delight.