Lichens colonize these trees toe to tip.
These near soil are a full half-century old;
on two-year twigs gleam lichens newly born.
Lichens grow with morning dew, glory
in the rain, drink sun like any green.
They drink a little sun all winter,
like the glacier-friends spruce and pine.
Zoom in: lichens are great thallus forests
to the little lives that haunt them,
protists and roundworms and water bears.
Like the lichen forest, their fauna need the wet,
curl up to live through dry.
When ground turns snow and trunks of trees
and skies go gray, then
lichen-colors leap from bark to eye
and dye me bright. Their greens and ochers,
now and then a red, a leather black, all carry
life through cold, and I know they drink
the sun all winter, as do I.
As a boy wandering the winter woods, I was enchanted by bright lichens on bark, and still am. Some lichens on Arctic rocks are 9,000 years old. Now that’s survival.
Too bitter to eat in their season,
they wait another.
How frost puckers skins!
How dark red absorbs cold light,
soaks it warm.
As they freeze and thaw,
winter crabs ferment
into hard cider, hang
until birds are mad for food.
Sometimes it’s a flock
of tipsy winter waxwings.
Sometimes early robins
veer and stagger.
Mother Nature apparently abhors both vacuums and teetotalers. But once a year…clearly she admires moderation.
Two horses face each other as
snow falls slow as heartbeats
on their barrel backs.
Quietly flakes build white
counterpanes upon dark hair.
The appaloosa stretches her long head
and noses the buckskin in the cheek, pushes
with her neck. The buckskin snorts,
puts his head under hers and pushes up.
Soon they toss their heads, roll eyes,
mock-wrestle head and neck.
Suddenly both lie down
and roll in fresh snow.
Legs fly up like pickets.
As this snow falls it is ten degrees. Snow is always a wonderful occasion for horseplay. As they begin this play, they remind me of children egging each other on.
Day was dark with gray.
Night is bright with moon and snow.
On such winter days I would sleep in gray,
wake in bright moon and tree shadows
fallen on the snow moon wakes to glow.
It’s as though leftover photons from day are stirred up to bounce around again in crystal snow by the second light of moon. When I can’t have sun, I’ll take reflection.
Doves plump up in cold
pull heads into down,
rest black bills on breasts,
sit soapstone smooth,
eyes silent in this cold.
In blanket-burrow, chillbone cold,
north wind hurls snow flat,
shakes night windows, wants
to strip the bark from trees.
Time to dig down, time
to grow a nest of leaves and fur.
I envy all the lives who’ve
learned to sleep it through.
Under snow, beneath leaves,
frozen peepers and wood frogs
grin popsicle grins, and dug
down into soil, furry tunnelers
curl in chambers, snug.
Little balls of red-bellied snakes
borrow rooms from mice and voles
for their cold embrace.
Raccoons safe in hollow trees,
toads face up in backfilled burial holes,
turtles in pond mud far below ice
breathing through old reptile skin,
all sleep through, but birds
and displaced primates must awake,
so I roll from bed, write a bit,
go out to fill the feeders.
Perhaps this is just a Minnesota whimper, automatic as a shiver or a goose bump. The adaptations of our cousins are astonishing. Our pale echo is to fiercely burn ancient sunlight sleeping deep in rock. Praise the Carboniferous.
After snow, pheasants come early
to the feeders, hens first, a pair,
then more. They work the snow
for spills awhile. One hen twinkles twenty feet
when she catches movement, me,
but does walk back to feed. These girls
are art nouveau originals, the sweep
of tail feathers, the blush of breast.
Then the cocks stride in, three bully boys
gorgeous in russet gold
below the white neck ring,
iridescent green above, a bone-white beak,
unfeathered scarlet velvet skin
around their eyes that capture mine.
This time when I move all seven whoosh
up into an oak, where they sit safe.
A maple leaf blew onto my shoe
as I walked through falling snow.
I didn’t wear it when I left,
but here it is, returned,
relict of the summer green,
cold and wet, a bit decayed.
Follow these ribbed veins.
How they echo tree,
how veins branch, re-branch until
diving deeper than the eye,
how these leaf veins net mountain
landscapes cut by braided streams,
how reticulated veins mirror
alluvial fans reaching into sea,
how these veins net
very patterns in our thought.
Root shapes inhabit the depths of mind. They speak in metaphor.
As snow builds up and we feel at the mercy
of great unliving forces, I think about
the powers of life and time
and bedrock quiet below my feet.
Bedrock. Such a solid word, reliable,
Earth’s crust eternal.
It holds us up, it roots us down.
Here we walk above limestone
borne of myriad small lives that grew
tests and shells from ocean waters
for eons and died and slowly sifted down
to become mud which learned to be
squeezed by the weight of more deaths
and over a few million years, grew stone.
And after a time the ocean bottom crashed
into light and dried. Now, after uncounted
gyres around the sun, the life force
holds us up and roots us down.
Much of Earth’s crust was created through the action of living organisms, forams and bivalves and diatoms and all their cousins that made themselves from minerals in ocean that were in turn dissolved from rock. Bedrock reveals its lively founders to our eyes where glacial floods once carved the overlay.
The pheasants and the turkeys
trot to feeders, scratch away at snow
with the scaled claws of theropods, as
these once scratched on the Gobi
when ancient snows surprised. Deep
claws cut, and swift, search out
acorns and black seeds blue jays swept
from feeders, snatch up sleeping
bugs from under fallen leaves.
The niche of “scratching” is at least as old as the bird-like dinosaurs. Some had beaks. All food-gathering strategies have been invented time and time again, bodies shaped by the nature of the food. Watching big birds scratch is a journey back in time.
All day large flakes drift down until
driving at night, white arcs
stream out of the unknown
through head lights, each flake
a bright event racing toward you
that vanishes the second it arrives,
but is endlessly replaced before
it can be grasped or even seen,
and like life flinging itself at you,
It is easy to become fascinated by the show when light snow and night driving coincide. The effect is mesmerizing and can be soporific, lovely pure metaphor though it is.
When I walk back with the newspaper
I stop, struck with the beauty
of a pheasant’s sign in light snow.
Perfect four-toed tracks in one ruled line,
no left, no right, both feet aligned
as I once imagined the tracks of Indians
in my Last of the Mohicans days
a thousand years ago. Hawkeye’s
moccasins in perfect sequence, Uncas’
and Chingachook’s just behind,
barely stirring grass so light they fell.
Snow would not melt beneath them.
I would try it on the way to school.
My line was never ruled, not by
that boy’s unruly feet. Today, looking
back along the pheasant trail and mine,
I smile, for mine is very like a bird’s, but
it is the lovely spraddle of a duck.
I was better suited as a boy to falling up the stairs. Feet grow without warning. Oh well, Hawkeye was really Natty Bumpo.