Here the red squirrel opens butternuts
with a circle of bites from deft incisors
that sculpt channels in the nut’s hard coat
as if cheese. Feeding stations are watched,
birds know where to glean bits dropped.
A red cardinal stopped by to snack but
was so shocked by the sudden squirrel
he dropped a panic feather when he flew.
On a fallen log, from a deep knothole,
leaflets of moss climb from dark to light.
As lessons go, what more do you need?
Imagine how many thousands of years
young humans have looked at such scenes
and thought ‘Yes! That’s it! Climb to Light!’
But the skeptic inside is awake most days:
‘What of the dead strands?’
But In the mirror Earth offers our eyes
the best part of us has always seen
that acceptance is wise with
the lessons we gather from green.
A downy woodpecker delights
in fat goldenrod galls,
for its beak is too small
to chisel through wood
to fish out thin ants.
Downies would not if they could,
for the goldenrod gall
holds a fat mouthful of grub
surprised by the mouth
of the downy whose beak
is tailored to task:
to chisel with ease
the matter of goldenrod gall
and insert its barbed tongue
to extract the creamy white grub,
sweeter than ant, and soft.
After tree and shrub have shed
and left branching silhouettes
floored by leaves of brown,
for color look down to elder lives
still bright on fallen logs.
Look to them upright
on trunk and branch revealed.
Look to mosses, look to lichens,
in their many guises green,
gray-blue and yellow, gold.
Through winter drear they will
ease your color-avid eyes.
Ice skims the surface of still waters now,
while at bottom, microbes decompose
dead leaves, and methane still
bobbles up, bubbles laze up toward
sky, but are contained by ice, where they pool
at the face of water and air, to become
a smooth membrane of gems of all sizes,
some small gems set within large
like lenses of jewelers loupes agleam
in low sun. The baubles may stay
locked inside ice until spring when
pond and lake ice go punk
and slump to free gases, like the frozen
oaths of Paul Bunyan’s loggers
suddenly thawed and out-shouted
to all ears, but such escaped lenses race
to sky’s thin top unheard and unseen,
while down in dark muck, turtles stir,
and casual billions of microbes wake
to make swamp gas to wobble to sky.
A harrier hawk sweeps the marsh
for voles down low where
she can fold and drop
like a taloned stone.
Beneath gray December sky
no hawk shadow races
across cattails below
to warn her wide-eyed prey.
She may be a summer hatch
grown on Manitoba wetlands
loathe to leave her home.
But I suspect she is a lone
stubborn elder who hunts now
to heat her blood to fly South again
as cold flows down
the curve of North America.
Walked old homestead land, found
fallen chimney bricks, the hearth,
and a hundred feet away, a heart
carved into a red oak’s bark.
Pure chance it was to find, like love.
Lilacs have survived here too,
a tall and spreading apple tree.
The oak was but sapling when
a boy’s pocket knife chose it to
memorialize his rushing heart.
Did she see it? Did he dare?
Did their finding last through time
like his heart carved into bark?
Pure chance it was, like love.
Ruins of a barn. 1850s.
Stone walls, some fallen
more not yet. One
mossed wall half-collapsed
long years back to reveal
an iron wall-tie exposed
to the elements.
I think of the moment that
hands drove in the tie, wonder
if long underwear covered his arms
under rolled-up sleeves.
Did he smile when the horse
snorted at the loud hammer?
I’ve known old men like him,
worked down to gristle and sinew,
cheekbones, bright eyes, salty
tongues, a bit acid.
They last. This stone wall is older
of these maples and oaks
that have taken the pasture.
I bend close. Lichens and moss
have learned to live on old iron,
with only rain and snowmelt
and dust to eat, plus sunlight
and their own weak acids,
old timers for true, beyond
our brief reckonings.
In wind and cold a pheasant abandons
brush and cornfield, strides up
the deck to the feeder, and although
he doesn’t notice or care, fills my eyes
with colors that beggar Persian carpets.
His species name is colchicus, after
ancient Colchis where hung
the Argonauts’ Golden Fleece,
the tapestry alive before me
a treasure no less a marvel--
gradients of umber, red and gold
that beggar my tongue, the iridescent
darks above his white ring that shine
green, or blue, now black,
to set off the crimson velvet
wattle around his fierce eye, iris
ringed with gold. Beak’s antique ivory.
The feathers of the tail arch out
with the grace of paired dancers.
At ten below, strong north wind feels
constant as it turns your face ceramic.
When the wind collapses, the landscape
it has carved is filled with curves
like serrated knife blades,
a topography of last night when
grained snow met the pond edge on
and blew in obeisance to chaos.
The scale of wind-cut shapes is fractal.
My eyes could be six miles high,
staring at Antarctic wastes
fixed as if ceramic.
Today an image of marbled godwits
wakes me to the power of surf foam, one
of the mundane miracles of beaches.
The word “creamy” pointed to foam
long before mouths found words.
The small wave just behind the godwits
shows the essential velvet
of myriad tiny bubbles coalesced
into that white confection we call foam.
The candy called Divinity, foamed
egg whites and sugar,
and fingers scooping frosting
from the mixing bowl back when
mothers frosted layer cakes--
these tasty memories tempted me
to scoop-taste surf foam.
At ten degrees below zero
water vapor decides
to sublimate hoarfrost crystals
onto the dark ice of a pond.
On the right winter night,
Air itself exhales like
a frost giant fogging glass,
and crystals flash into
a brief life of ice. Most
crystals lie flat, in moments
some grow into tiny pines
bereft of green, each
mini-branch a sharp pure
spicule of ice. Soon Infra-red
sun wipes clean the glass, as
Air inhales its vaporized frost.
Early-winter snowdrifts embrace
standing leaves and stalks of summer,
use their curves for model, or
the model is itself the wind’s caprice.
These drifts are filled with tongues
silent as the cold that holds their forms.
Currents of north wind have left
two aster stems unburied,
with their furry heads of seed.
Soon small hungry birds will slap seedheads
with their wings to drop seeds to white
where they can be seen and eaten,
save those the birds do plant.
How lucky that all winter sun is slant
and gives snow dimension with its shadows,
and now and then a cartoon face.
As first snow races sideways in wind,
a flock of wild turkey hens
(summer’s mothers and daughters)
hunker down sides to wind,
cold and bemused except
for one fractious mother who
stands and wide beats wings
as if suddenly struck by gusts
of unwelcome remembrance.
A mallard straggler dabbles
in the only flowing stream.
She upends often, I hope finding
the food she must have to survive
her late migration to the Gulf.
My mind flirts with ways to help
while knowing that I can’t,
a fool’s search for the absolution
so many want from Mother Earth.
We featherless bipeds are pretentious.
We presume to be Life’s stewards,
the Mother’s little managers,
cherishing our eco-ignorance.
We dabble like this fated mallard,
our bums thrust up like the fabled
ostrich with the buried head.
This duck’s death or life is not my affair.
This empathy that leaps to Other is.
I must be content to care
and not presume I can improve.
If I allow this moment’s power
to nourish me, I will soak up
the blue of feathered speculum,
the sweet surprise of life in snowy cattails,
perhaps the stubbornness of those
who find their own drummers,
or their folly--soak in our simple sharing,
duck and man, of sunlight on a cold
December day, of ripples on the flow
of water not yet prepared to freeze,
and cross-grain across the stream,
the outstretched arms of snow.
As I am fed by what is, I find hope.
The black round amid white
on his beak seems at first a huge
nostril, until reason says “not so.”
Just off breakwater rocks
a wintering surf scoter
boldly parades his arched beak
of hues, rainbow, save blue
offered instead by sea, his white eye
startled by a punctuated iris.
My own eyes stunned, I have not
before seen him close, thought he
was plain black with white daubs.
As he dives for mussels, webs of red
flash to close his oddly elegant show.
The cormorant rises from the hunt
with a wiggling greenling beaked.
The bird has no expression on
its rigid face, but I fancy satisfaction
as it turns the fish head first,
lifts beak to sunny sky,
gives gravity authority.
I watch it travel down the neck
to become cormorant again,
as it has as near forever we can know.
In a great pile of sea lions
heaped upon a mooring,
a mother and her pup touch
nose to nose. They know
this moment true as milk.
All these huge bodies
and their weight lift now
from these two, together.
In shallows a feather bobs on waves.
I capture it, I think, in a lens.
On preview, I learn again
the limits of my human eyes.
Magic dances on the waves,
strands of eelgrass sway,
paisley patterns stretch and shrink,
colors courtesy of bright and sky.
So much is lost to human senses,
but if all there is were manifest,
I would caper tipsy-turvy
and be so blessed I’d try to play
like magic paisley on the waves.
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