Hard freeze. twenty degrees.
Air so cold and still
that trees sigh, let go
of leaves, which drop like stones
as if air itself collapsed. Now
trees will bare themselves in cold
to wait, and in faith swell
new buds to gift someday
a promised spring.
We did not invent faith. What is a bud but faith?
He basks on blacktop stretched out
ruler straight and long, head lifted up an inch.
He lies where tires will cross
and squash him flat. I pick him up.
At first he twines my fingers.
As he winds, his coral belly
rings me with jewelry of jasper.
I am blood warm, and he
is thick with last night’s cold.
The little snake quiets in my hand.
His small head quests,
his bright eye cannot take me in,
but he knows warm,
and he is quiet in my hand.
When I place him in the garden,
he straightens and is still.
My eyes slip off a moment,
and he is gone.
This is the season of seduction for snakes. The black road holds heat that morning snakes find irresistible. They soon are food for crows. Red bellied snakes charm me with their miniature perfection.
Fall winds dance colored leaves
on flagging stems
until they name their season.
Winter winds stir needles.
Northerners take a perverse pleasure in shivering as we contemplate winter-to-come. Autumn is so marvelous it is worth all.
Under clear skies bluebirds and warblers
hunt the trail’s short grass
for sun-warmed grasshoppers.
They are migrants, spend their days
fueling night’s long flight.
As I near, they dance sunbright wings
back into trees.
All night their beating wings are dipped
in silver light of the Hunters’ Moon,
unalloyed by cloud. Night all across
the great funnel of the continent
is filled with silver wings.
The amazing journey funnels six billion birds down the flyways, most of them crowding down the isthmus-mouth into Central and South America.
Far across the fields a dove flies.
A peregrine falcon leaps from its tree,
arrows flat to the dove, strikes!
Cloud of feathers, body falls.
So distant it seems unreal,
as the falcon goes to ground,
until my path slowly takes me there.
Then I feel.
Distance is dangerous to us; it’s like a movie. Predation is inevitable and as truly necessary as death. Life is energy exchange. But I must never let the distance of space or the distance of abstraction allow me not to empathize.
Fermenting grapes top off compost
on a hot October day.
A tribe of yellow jackets frolic
in grape pulp, a few dug in
to their second legs.
Ah, the grape.
Eat, drink, and be merry
for tomorrow you freeze.
Many of Gaia’s creatures indulge appetite to excess. Robins stagger drunk on berries, paper wasps on root beer, hornet hedonists. We once made wine a vivid god. In vino veritas indeed. Life is seducible.
A sharpshinned hawk
sits a branch and wipes her beak,
admires her black-clawed yellow feet.
Four crows in the next-door tree
yell fierce insults, conjure
old hate. One crow
flings herself at the hawk,
just skims it.
The sharpshin chases the crow,
races a quick circle round beating black,
talons out, allows the crow retreat.
The sharpshin again
grips her branch,
wipes twice her beak,
switches her tail from side to side.
Birds’ old hatreds are wired in; ours are choices. Hawks are not villains, just predators. I love little sharpshin’s savoir-faire.
The sap pump’s spotty this round,
rich red here, gold there.
Gold is always right beneath green,
Red arrives in sugared sap,
but leaves splash now with both.
Venous blood is blue until
it kisses air
and spills in flame.
All these colors masked
but willing to unveil.
So where’s our gold?
In our long years, is the tale.
Autumnal thoughts collect like windrows as leaves rapidly fall. Colors are such mysteries. See Goethe’s color theories circa 1810
Chickadees fluff into balls
but they glean the shrubs and sing,
for cold is simple as dawn,
simple as sky clear, rose
in the east, else a blue wash.
Juncos catch expanding light
on tails, scissor it to flashes
as they’ve done all the way
down from tundra.
Cold is morning and clear.
And now the burning gold.
Essentials are simple, and feed us endlessly.
On my knees, I push leaves
away from soil which
they will enter. Everything
is under here, all that life has shed:
acorns, caps, snail shell, seeds,
The threads of fungi work
the silence when the crackling stops,
the quiet of autumn’s promise.
The goal is to dissolve again,
burn down to basic stuff
as this duff has
almost since forever,
and feed the billion pale mouths
that seethe below sight here in
this crucible where earth and air
meet to cycle soil again, again, again.
The forest floor has not changed since Eden. It is Earth’s nourishing placenta that is eternally self-renewing unless/until the interface is destroyed by pavement. But seeds will always find the cracks.
A sharpshinned hawk surveys
her hunting place. All the small
birds hid when they saw her dash in,
hoping for surprise. Chickadees
down in leaves, sparrows burrow deeper,
juncos white breasts are prone,
leaving gray. Finches still
in cryptic winter molt.
Behind the branches sharpshin sees,
downy woodpeckers hang still.
The hawk abruptly launches
flat-winged out over cattails,
curves back without
a wingbeat, lands again.
Looks about with golden eyes and flies
off to surprise another hunting ground.
Hawks like sharpshins are so fiercely beautiful that people tend to think they are unfairly equipped to kill and eat small birds. But sharpshins succeed only once in awhile; the small birds are experts, too.
so red against brown leaves I gasp
when my hand releases them.
One little sermonizer smug
under his hood has fruited into
a whole congregation
of an unseemly fire red,
plus one orange interloper
who always turns up
The plant has three leaves, so it starts out properly triune. Jack-in-the-Pulpit is a New World cousin of ‘Lords and Ladies’ aka ‘cuckoopint.’ What odd names we bestow on the arums that visibly remind us of our risible sensuality.
As the sun’s arc lowers
south toward solstice,
our northern light learns to lean all day
against the land and sky
like the cello light of afternoon.
Now marshes lit slantwise glow
every ripened furry spike
that begs for hands and wind.
Flocks of small birds scud through sky
their brief backs burnished steel.
Leaning sun at midday
lights clouds in dark relief.
It’s not only the different depth and hue of blue sky that transforms our eyes in Autumn. It’s also the slant of light.
The land is littered now with
crystal wings of dragonflies
scintillant in light, littered
with sulfur wings of butterflies
and goldenrod gone white,
while oak leaves crackle
under squirrel paws, toss
as whitethroat sparrows hop & kick
for bugs to fuel the flight.
Autumn is a wonder-filled simultaneity of dark and bright, death and life.
She beguiles the small pond lives,
with slow shadow and slow walk
lulls them to their deaths.
The great blue heron hunts
the shallows of the pond,
bright white along the line of beak.
Her hunt is measured, slow,
head and neck extended long before her,
body leaning, just. Yellow legs deep to knees
seem still, slowly move. The rear leg lifts
from water, green pondweed slips
from long toes, the foot dissolves
again a slow long pace ahead.
She strikes small short stabs
to the surface of the duckweed
but only just, no splash.
Then she brings her long head up
tilts her beak a bit,
swallows something small,
shakes duckweed from her bill.
As she turns and faces me, sun
picks out a streak of light down
her feathered breastbone,
white stripe front to back of skull,
beak bright looking down.
Early down the path--
ahead of me a crash
through trees, heading
up the hillside. I wait
to see where they stop.
Just five feet up,
large eyes appear behind leaves,
widen as they take me in.
When I purse my lips, make sounds,
the fawn pushes its face
beyond the safety of leaves,
steps toward me, turns its head
to see me sidelong.
How can eyes be this full of wonder?Be patient. Do something small and interesting. Wait to see what happens.
A dead branch off the trail
suddenly splashed with sunlight
draws me in, draws me out,
sends my mind awander
to a hand soothing
wood as if a lover’s body,
pausing there, curving here,
wanders to a life lived
in starts and fits
nothing like an arrow’s flight,
shedding strips of bark,
all along the way,
but when the light falls right
zigs and zags are glorious.
Elder’s morning thoughts, triggered by chance meetings on the land. Reminiscence is an odd thing at best.
Bluebirds still straggle south,
feeding in short grass,
and small robin flocks, but the swell
is with the tundra birds:
white-crowned sparrows jostle
purple finches in the feeders.
Local nuthatches, chickadees,
goldfinches slip in as they can.
Canada geese from the far North arrow
south all night, fly lower mornings, as
they cast about for stubblefields,
determined, strong, voices
honking, ready for a field to glean.
What must it be like to fly
in that beating arrow for the first time,
and discover that you can?
All these travelers from the tundra and beyond! All disinterested in us. The rose-colored ‘purple’ finches warm the wan eye, paint the overcast. How right it must feel to be one with the flock and self dissolved into flight.
Morning has no shadow, or
morning is all shadow
and cold steady rain.
The heron broods or
seems to brood on
one end of a floating log.
It stands, scaled feet together,
a hooded presence
with no top, its head gone
under a great gray wing.
But in the scope I see
exposed the long beak’s tip,
and bobbling on it crystal globes,
gathering the light there is.