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John Caddy
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John Caddy's
Morning Earth Poems
October 2001



Driving home, everywhere
large birds on the move,
heading out ahead of winter,
gleaning stubble fields where

flocks of sandhill cranes peck spilled corn,
speaking of mysteries.
As one group lifts,
look! look!
a whooping crane unfolds enormous
in white and black origami surprise!

Like the old dark of the brain
vultures in family threes and fours
soar fingers wide, swoop high,
look and look, nostrils wide
ready to wind down the sky
wings held in their dihedral
V for victory.


Images offered me by earth on my drive home gave me what I needed: The joy of the cranes, their voices, and my very first whooping crane. And the harbingers, vultures, always ready to return us. Life is dynamic balance, where the result is neither unremitting pleasure or despair. Keeping the balance requires action.



Full moon , stars bright
and the last sweet song of grasshoppers
plaints the night.
Sumac leaves moon-silvered
as if frosted white
presage the loss of green
and its familiar grief,
which we know will be brief, but still
with us is the bittersweet of green
long-legged fiddlers in the night.

The wheel turns and we with it. Even in our seasonless houses we feel the ancient sensations of the coming winter as our deepest ancestors did. When we hear the last songs of grasshoppers beneath the moon, we step into a stream of human experience that contains our beginnings. We have gained much since then, but much has also been lost.



Off the trail a yellow aspen leaf
spins on a spider silk
spins with the breeze
without sound
blinks light
winks bright
each round


The image of this poem entirely captured me at the moment of experience. There was a little shock of recognition at how much this small spinning leaf contained for me, how much resonance. Now, days later, it still ripples in the pool of mind. Earth speaks. I try to attend, and celebrate what is spoken.



A tree stands, trunk dark
in light that grows
as golden leaves fall down.
Out of bark
juts this mushroom
purest white.
Its stem bends sharp upright
as if toward sun.
This mushroom seeks no light
but turns its parasol
against the pull of gravity,
against the falling rain
that ruins spores.
Mushrooms may not know much,
but unlike some
they do know down from up.


A mushroom stem that takes a 90 degree turn to orient itself may seem inconsequential, but I found it wonder-full: the mushroom demonstrates intelligence. It is not the fruit of a fungus that is intelligent; it is the community of life, the biosphere, that is intelligent. And we are part of it. We live within intelligence. That is an antidote for human arrogance. Our special gift is consciousness, not intelligence; yes, we're smart, but so what? Everything alive is smart. Forest Gump knows what is important: "I'm not a smart man, but I know what love is."



As the chlorophyll in each leaf
dies, and mineral pigments
replace the green,
trees sigh, let go,
bare themselves in cold
to wait, and in faith swell
new buds to sprawl someday
into a somehow spring.


We speak of faith as though humans had invented it. What is a seed but faith? What is a bud? Autumn is a set of promises. The berry promises the cardinal fuel against the cold. Acorns promise squirrels and jays this same heat. Their hard shells give wild turkeys grit to grind their meat when pebbles are deeper under snow, and the acorns left buried and forgotten promise continuation of this giving. Many seeds cannot sprout unless they are etched by the stomach acids of a bird. This gift-giving is mutual and co-evolved.



They smile my eyes,
these tiny seedling maples,
each a bright red tree for
small folk in the grasses.
Each inchling tree has three
perfect maple leaves
small as fingernails,
sprinkled everywhere
wind could helicopter seeds,
where they hid and grew
among the other greens
until frost fired them from inside so
they leap into our laughing eyes


.Little/Big and Microcosm/Macrocosm always fascinate. The charm of miniatures returns to us the child's eye, and perhaps resonates our deep memory of the eons when our ancestors were themselves tiny. Intricate miniatures look perfect until magnified, and isn't that a wistful thought. We have each transformed from littles into bigs, but in larger scales we remain infinitely small, and may charm larger eyes.



The wood drakes chase about the pond, resplendent,
bob in cold waves, ignore distant shotguns,
accept wind-drift rain.
Soon they will raft up, and try to teach
the first year males how to act in company
for the flock-time season coming,
chase the boys down when they get wild,
give their tails a nip.

Up north, loons raft on Mille Lacs,
big water, big enough to fatten up
a thousand torpedo-bodied loons
so they can quickly make the Carolina coast
and dive again the ocean green.


I look at all these splendid ducks who will run the shotgun gauntlet until they leave North America, and all these loons who will drown in careless nets this winter, and thin children in mountain camps where bare rocks show like cheekbones.



The old man snores and cold rain pours
and trees let go of leaves
while delighted toads and woodfrogs hunt
earthworms flooded from their burrows
like tentacles from sleeves,
and in a row of lightning flashes
a tiger salamander drags a slow
black and yellow path
across the forest floor.


Fall thunderstorms turn us all amphibian. I like to think of what else is happening during storms as I lie snug in bed. Rarely, I get up, go out to see, and find the original amphibians on the move. Next time thunder wakes you, imagine what is happening in the rain in a small place close-by.



the curled oak leaf
coasts across my window
hovers for a moment
sways on down the air.


Celebrate the intense moments, the small delights. These brief encounters are gifts important far beyond their brevity. They are the spirit's daily bread. When you cast such moments into words, keep them as simple and transparent as the experience.



Crunchy walk on fallen leaves—
what was green is ground beneath my heels
returning to the sneezy dust
that danced the primal dance
that whirled Earth into round.


Sometimes little and big collapse right into each other. Write down moments when you feel a sudden sense of expansion.



First, tall necks and beaked heads
sway into silhouette, then the whole
wild turkey flock crests the hill,
gleaning stubble
for whatever's left.
The heads of mothers
swivel, sentinel,
the half-grown madly peck
oblivious as leghorns.
The image stays:
turkeys sentineled
across the rim of sky.


This is a season for community, a time to emphasize our dependence on each other. Turkeys flock for stronger foraging in snow, we covey now against the unknown. And in the midst of all this, earth showers us with healing images of beauty and remembrance.



The courts between the colonnade
of trees open now to bright,
but soil's secrets hide beneath
fallen leaves woven in a cloak
of burning orange, yellow, red,
the leaves once green that
covered soil in shadow
when the year was young.

When the leaves turn brown
they burn slowly for a year
where soil churns air
into life's slow crucible,
where worms tug bits of leaf
down holes to swallow and to cast,
where white fungi thread, where invisible
empires of bacteria thrive in layered films,
eating and dividing, exchanging and dividing,
returning elements for life
to forge again in secret
when the year turns young.

Leaves dance Then and Now and When
into cycled song
as Earth forever circles sun,
and when the year is young
all that can will green,
and when the year is cold
all that's green will come to its return.

Decomposition makes new lives possible. Our culture doesn't like to think about it. Leaf Fall offers us a dance of new light and shadow, and helps us see the beauty of return, and the completion of the circle. Our bodies are 100% post-consumer content. This is the oldest story: Life begets death; death begets life.



Bitten off at branch tips
pruned by the winter jaws of deer,
stumpy shrubs on field-edge
show winter's depth of snow.

A stand of sapling birch
trying to succeed into the field:
every narrow trunk is antler-rubbed
by a buck mad to get the velvet off.
The trunks are scarred, will not grow tall,

but hear the chickadee
lilt life from
that small birch leafed in fire.


In ecology, succession is the process of one biome replacing another. Every field has its trees encroaching at the edges. It's a tough life for pioneers. Sometimes survival is enough, always worth a song.



Woolly bears are extra long this year,
coats orange and brown and plush
even flattened on the blacktop.
I see them only in the south lane.
I've tickled my palm with several who
undulated north across the south lane.
Why only south to north?
There is an autumn order here
I cannot grasp. I only know
there are too many turning wheels.

I follow the sharp small tracks
of a morning fawn
on the north lane's shoulder
to a bluebird kill still dripping
rust from a rusty breast
It wanted south.
Disorder here that I do grasp.

I had a compass needle in my brain,
I knew, until I lost myself in woods once
as a boy, and found I walked in
overlapping circles one long day,
east south west north, again, again.

There are too many wheels.
We tramp them out again, again,
eternal boys, in all or no directions.
Me, I'll take the woolley bear
curled into my palm.



Most freeze quietly, but not the paper wasps.
By afternoon, when the angled sun is warm,
they bump and bump against the windows,
long legs dangling, looking for a crack
to burrow deep.
Their urgency is old as time,
to keep their kind alive.
Most will freeze.
The clever will survive.

Sometimes the gifts earth offers us are gifts of learning more than joy. But learning is a kind of joy delayed.



With most leaves down
we see distances again.
From our windows the view
is sudden large. White trunks
of distant birch and aspen
shine against the russet oaks
beyond the cattail marsh.
My eyes follow wild geese
for miles I couldn't see before the fall.

what falls away is lost, but now
before our eyes earth stretches wide.


Loss prepares us for the winter. It requires us to remember our strength. But loss also enlarges our vision. Seek the ancient correspondences.



White breasts flash
as down splash another skein of wood ducks
hungry from long flight.
They paddle sweet curves
through duckweed single file.
Last night they flew
on slipstreams of each others' wings
as skiers follow a leader who breaks trail.

Soon the scaled feet of wild turkeys
will carve snowtrails here
across the pond, elongate sine curves
edged in shadow as the snow builds depth,
sun-edged dark as the autumn water now
where the breasts of passing ducks
part sinuous lines in duckweed green.


Life curves and recurves. The patterns repeat endlessly, and it is a joy to recognize them in each new guise.



The young red squirrel
sits up, forepaws folded to breast,
tail folded up snug to her back,
fur recurved at tail-tip.
Her reds garnish light.

From her repose, her near hind foot
taps twice and stills, taps twice
and stills.
Long toes are delicate, clawed.
The line where white breast
meets red back is sharp and fine.
Nothing moves. A breeze stirs tail-tip.
Her hind foot taps twice and stills,
taps twice and stills.


What is going on here? I will never know. But what I do know is kinship. This foot tap echoes in my own moveable toes.



November sky all day
where each cloud in this
rolling overcast of gray
seems separately made,
darkening at center.

Wind grows, persuades
oak leaves to let go
and totter down the air.
Slate above and brown below,
November seems at first blow
a separate creation,
not part of life at all.
But muscle memory tightens
through the shoulders.
Arms recall, and cross.

Then scissortails flash through air
in white and black.
Juncos down from the tundra,
returned again
to winter in our balmy south.

I'll think of them tonight,
when the sky's supposed to fall.



A milkweed pod
flowers its silk onto the wind:
The pebble-skin yawns, white
billows from the center,
a gust looses floss, the first flight
of seeds ride their silks
already high and free,

off to feed caterpillars
and turn them into kings--

what the wind is for.



A thousand grackles flood bare trees
with the sound of pebbles
rolling in the night surf
of the Straits of San Juan, but grating,
as if the sea had not had time
to rub this gravel smooth.

At the feeders the grackles lordly strut
and point their purple heads to sky,
keep a shred of self within the flock.
When they leave tree by tree
they wheel in unison lovely
as shoals of fish in a cool clear sea.


Flocks move in such incredible oneness, bird and fish, as if a single being. Except for some antelopes, mammals have no clue.



The slow currents of springs
swirl relict duckweed
into great ragged circles.
Snowflakes wander down a sky
stirred with breeze.
Yellow leaves of willows whip in gusts
that sway bare birches, but hang on.
Wind shivers across the pond,
pushes duckweed to the south bank.
Wind grows to a roar, snow dies,
and oak leaf flurries scatter all directions.

Beneath, slow currents
fan filaments of algae
on a sleeping turtle's shell.
Green frogs sprawl on black leaves,
skins slowly breathing, just enough.


What we can see directly is marvelous, but when we look below the surface the marvels multiply. Encourage awareness of simultaneity.



On a patch of leaf-clear earth
four antler points carved these lines,
chafed bark, buck torn,
wets this sapling rich with scars
of former rubs where this same buck
tried to scrape the itch
from other antlers, in a rut before
he had four velvet tines
to draw these lines.


Reading sign is sometimes all surprise; I was delighted to see where this buck had drawn four parallel lines, something I've never seen. The moment of comprehension can be pure pleasure.