A merganser hunts with eyes
dipped into sea, searching
for the fish she must have
for her eggs to be rich.
When a small fish finds her eye
she dives sudden and strong,
drives down with a splash
that arcs brilliant in sun
above her instant absence, above
the silent skein of her hunt.
Wind and snow evolve a knife edge
that evokes for me the beak on the trireme
galleys of ancient Greece and Rome.
Sharp rams with painted eyes rode the bow
to impale and sink the enemy galley.
This edged drift hurls me
down twenty five centuries,
swept away again by a mind
inclined to swamp within connections.
Old fool, simply love this gift
of wind and snow and fine sunglow.
The line of surf scoters churns winter sea,
racing somewhere they are not.
Three drakes, two hens intent on
finding schools of fingerlings to haunt,
an odd number of an odd sea duck,
each in plumage more sinister
than the dark of winter water, save
the males' contrary clown masks
that delight even as they surge my way.
White heather blooms on Puget Sound
to mark the New Year, but back here
in nights of still air and twenty below
all that blooms white is snow
below the lightfall of the moon.
In the mornings in such cold,
snow offers its own sound: creaks
that follow footprints as I walk
brief sorties to feed birds
fluffed to twice their size.
But the root joys sustain the heart.
Clear blue sky, full sun for feathers
to absorb, tree shadows etched
by moonlight on bright snow.
When with winter white and cold
the eye goes small in monochrome,
Bless the colors of the lichens,
Bless the lichen colors that find
and pull wide hungry eyes.
Bless the gold that leaps up into light
Bless the yellow, bless bright orange,
Bless the subtle gray with tint of blue.
Bless the oak and birch in trunk and branch
for being home and haven to the lichen.
Bless the open winter eye.
A slow cold chaos
of snow turtles waits
for the light to green.
Tussock sedge grows
a pretty landscape under snow
when sunlight slants in low
from the south treeline,
Slants in to paint shadows
on the backside of each mound
How sharper this topography
than summer’s green-brown blur.
Once upon a time, a young cartographer walking on an ocean beach came upon a curious hollow in a driftwood stump. He ran fingertips up and down the contours of the carving, delighting in the meld of hand and eye. He felt tree rings in his fingers, spring wood etched deep to make a line. His heartbeat sped, his fingers throbbed. These rings of growth gave him a way to render three dimensions on fine vellum flat as could be scraped. These lines made by tree rings could ring a change in elevation rather than the season circle. All this fell together in his mind of a sudden, so home he ran toward his inks, running on wet sand, splashing where the sea met shore, shouting, “Eureka! I am running on the zero elevation contour line!” And he lived topographically ever after.
An eared grebe rests from winter diving,
lobed feet dangled behind.
Fish are fast today. Or scared off.
Grebe feet ride way back with hydrofoil lobes
Fossil Hesperornis splayed backslung legs
for the first bird power-dive.
Life repeats good design.
But Hesperornis had no wings, couldn’t fly.
Eared grebe hops instead of walks, can fly,
but except to migrate, even in alarm
prefers to dive and trust its orange eyes.
The vulture surveys from the top of a pine,
looking down its whole lifetime,
lacing spirals through every sky,
nostrils as alert as eyes.
Even perched ever keen.
We are fifty feet below, two old men.
The great bird has our scent,
today perhaps a disappointment,
but clearly almost ready for the feast,
pungent appetizers for the vulture’s morning.
Two elephant seals in surf shallows.
The young bull accosts her from behind.
His needs are everything.
She throws her head back, warbling.
How am I to see this?
Through the filter of gender issues?
Through the dispassion of the naturalist?
I think she is not thrilled.
I am often wrong.
The bull sea lion pushes his way to
the basking spot he desires, bellowing,
but the first-come cow growls out his error.
Thoroughly cowed, the bull’s bravado deflates.
Down he goes to get her out of his face.
As the female trumpets her power
the defeated bull closes his eyes and pretends
his ears won’t hear, his eyes will not see,
and her dominant pheromones will
refuse to enter his nose.
A mound of moss cushions a fence post.
This cushion defies winter by mating.
In winter mist and rain, moss sperm cells
have swum moist air to discover eggs.
Each egg found and fertilized
grows a capsule on a stalk, where spores wait
to mature and be loosed into wind,
where lichens grow like gentle dinner burps,
where raindrops glisten even under cloud.
Elephant seals watch me as I watch them.
They don’t see much in me, don’t seem to see
the Pinnacle of Evolution, the clever naked ape.
I am just scenery with shine on top,
smiling at their faces, those broad mugs
that seem to say, “So?”
They don’t know they’re amusing.
I wish they found me funny too, but they stare
as if this was stand-up comic open-mic night,
and they got in free but still won’t
give me anything but “Yah. So?”
Last night bare ironwood twigs
lost the essence of leafless
to become wreathed in hoarfrost
crystals quickly grown in dark
from out thin air on every venue
with an edge where beauty
can be summoned to meet dawn
A Western Sandpiper proves
without making waves
that she is at the center.
She is subtle, uses ripples
to propagate her point
that spread in widening
concentrics that gently touch,
before they damp out,
more than any one-way wave.
Patterns in water vapor wait to be freed
these winter nights when thermometers
swing around freezing and the dew point.
A moment arrives when tiny crystals
appear from within thin air.
Patterns freed, they grow.
Last night the crystals found
the spore stalk of a fern called cinnamon.
Some crystals grew into spears.
Most grew into fern fronds of clear ice,
the very shape that will be freed this spring
by every spore held in every branch
of the spore stalk where today
hoar frost dances with divining.
Below redwoods in the duff
a shelf fungus lies exposed, surprised
it was pried from its high tree home.
On its fungal purity of white
trails a shallow tunnel carved
by tongue of slug or snail.
The wing of a big-leaf maple seed
bridges the tunnel tongued
by gastropod—‘stomach foot’.
What has happened here?
Where is the maple seed?
Before the seed-vane twirled to ground,
a toothy mammal with a flicking tail
neatly nipped the seed and swallowed.
Was that mammal the culprit
who pried the fungus from the tree?
This has been an earthy mystery
of Bio-Kingdoms Three:
Plant, Animal, and Fungi
A female is about to duck her head
to see what fishes swim close enough below.
We call her kind Barrow’s Goldeneye.
It is that gold eye that looks incredibly intent,
but this is a scrim my eye lays upon her truth.
Even so, I cherish her imagined intensity, and know
I lay my scrims on fellow beings every day.
Some know names, some do not,
and that will have to be OK.
A frond of red algae dropped by ebb tide.
A delta of fine sands widens from the red.
The sands, as they drop from final waves,
sort themselves by size and mineral gravity.
Iron grains paint borders on a quartz sand bed,
perhaps the black of ancient eruption
drawn in sand by its own sea-worn lava, showing
what power has the final say, and Look!
The artist put flourishes of fire on top.
A pair of stilts shows me
how long pink legs can be,
long as a mallard can reach
with her neck and beak
as she dabbles for food
in the belly of the pool.
These legs were pallid white
in the deep backalong
until Aurora saw them in flight
once at the close of night
and in pity painted stilt’s legs
with the rose blush of her dawn.
top of page
Go to Archives