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John Caddy
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John Caddy's
Morning Earth Poems
February 200


Twenty degrees below zero here today.

In this still cold, nothing moves.
Birches stand in windless biting air while
Sky slowly glows the blue of glacial ice.
Then cottontail sits up from seed search
to prove that fur can trap this bitter air
to warm it with the blood beneath,
to prove that hearts beat through
this tilted time of year, beat
red and hot this day as they have
beneath our mammal fur since we
scurried from the feet of dinosaurs.

Two things to encourage over and over: (1) A sense of deep time, and (2) a recognition of our connections with other lives, especially with our closer relatives. Mammals are the critters who learned to live through winter, and hairiness was the key. Help kids to place themselves in an expanded context, help them answer the forever questions, "Who are we?" "Where did we come from?"



Through the house cats chase,
tails happy high,
hoping to be caught.
From spruce to oak five squirrels race
in daring leaps,
“Catch me, Catch me, Please.”
Inside the acrobatic hearts of kids
from the dreaming place,
Valentines are murmuring,
Catch me, Catch me, Please.

Tip: Even in this February gray, Spring is just beneath the fur. Encourage kids to discover that our human patterns are the patterns of life everywhere. We are all connected.



Hoarfrost in the trees.
A touch of fog..
Owl's eggs are warm
as she broods them in the nest,
shells against unfeathered skin. When
with her beak she gently turns the eggs,
can she feel against her brood patch
the stirring of her young?

Ask questions as you observe life. Observation of nature (including one's own nature) generates many questions. Encourage inquiry as an habitual stance of mind. Answers are good, but probably less important than the seeking. Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, "Were I to hold the truth in my hand, I would let it go for the pure joy of seeking."

FYI: When birds breed and lay eggs, they lose feathers on a portion of their breasts so body heat can be transferred directly to the eggs. This bare skin becomes suffused with extra blood vessels to better transfer heat, and wrinkled so as to better cover the rounded eggs. When you see a bird "settle in" on returning to the nest, it is fitting its brood patch to the eggs. In most bird species, both parents develop brood patches.



In leaf litter undersnow, the small
woodfrog would gleam with ice
if sunlight glowed so deep.
His raccoon mask is fixed
and hard as painted stone,
for he has become both life and ice.
The eyes are closed, the mouth line
grins at the trick this frog has played
on the winter of the world
for wake he will from cold
and hop bright-eyed through woods, slowed
at first but gleaming with a frog's fine living glow.


Nurture a sense of wonder, (astonishment! really) at the incredible mysteries of life on Earth. Life finds ways to live; this is the first imperative.



Inches of new fine-grained snow
waits for life to mark it,
waits for tire treads in driveways,
waits for voles to poke out heads
and lightly etch the surface,
waits for doves and jays to break
unbroken white while deep
in woods and marshes deer tracks
show the path, and here, now, turkeys
lift and plant their four-spined feet
to slow-walk toward the corn across the pond.


All this movement, all these tracks are about getting energy. For the deer browsing dogwood twigs, the food is now. For the commuter, the energy is postponed. Encourage kids to explore the 'whys' of what they observe: Most movement of all organisms is in search of energy.



In the lee of an oak
in the wind hollow
carved down almost to leaves
seven acorn caps
filled to the brim with snow.

Pay attention to the small. Often the small contains and predicts the large. A single image can drop into the receptive mind like a pebble into a pool and ripple all around.



I drive night hills in wind that blows
granular fresh snow.
From the crests of drifts it
streams across my headlights
smoking cold
to swirl and eddy to the other side.

Now on the flat,
snowsnakes swim the road,
braid themselves across the dark
with beauty namesake slow.
Mesmerized in lights I think,
“How strange. This water that once
filled reptile veins has frozen into snow
and flows now across this road
to simulate reptile sinuosity.”


Transformation is not always metaphor. The endless transformation of water as it has cycled earth for more than three billion years means that every molecule of water in the snow (and in your veins) has already flowed down every river on Earth, has been locked for eons into glacial ice, and has been part of countless other lives. Encourage kids to develop a personal sense of deep time with their own recycled bodies as the text.



Clad all in copper feathers
Owl came in dream
landed large and light
on grasses hoarfrost white
and spoke to me black beaked:
"To enter Forever,
Ride the crest of Now"

"Carpe diem"(seize the day) is old advice. One day is an infinity. Owl's advice zooms in: Live in the instant, as the wavecrest of becoming breaks. To simply be, as a cat can be, within the present moment, is an old and wise desire of hunters and lovers and artists. 'Ride the crest of Now' parallels Owl's advice to embrace the small. The first deals with time, the second with space. Owl is apparently into both surfing and quantum mechanics. Begin writing from the intense moments of experience, the bright single images of life.



Late the other night, sky cleared
and Moon full round swam strong
though veiled by wisps of cloud.
The night grew lovely and cold,
her winter twins when she fills
with light she spills on us below.
Around the whole earth
our faces lift to her,
silvered with her sharing.


Love will have its symbols, and Moon has always been available, but in myth, of course, she is not. Artemis is chaste and terrible in her beauty, and we approach her in awe and fear. This response to the female principle may help make love survivable. This is one deep truth of myth.



The white horse rolls in snow,
leaps up and canters all about
at twenty degrees below.
Now his long head tosses
and he rears, clouds of frozen air blow
from his vast lungs, now
he cavorts in trot
and hurls himself again to snow.


Take special note of exhilaration, an emotion shared among the many mammal cousins. We are all at our most beautiful in un-selfconscious exhilaration. The colt or pup or kitten reveals its living presence within, and wakes our own. For kids this can be one birth of empathy, which happily is as contagious as exhilaration. And at twenty degrees below!



Moon a strong crescent
against a sky beginning blue.
Soon the crystal panes of snowflakes
will light the surfaces of snow.
On the path the wind has found
five dry leaves to play at mystery:
Five curved stems point south, five tips north,
each at leaf-length intervals.
The oaks they fell from stand
dark and tall, where a few
more russet leaves wait for wind to play.

We humans see patterns; they leap out at our eyes. We are wired with search-images for patterns that may hold meaning. As a result, n nature we notice chance patterns created by the vagaries of wind and water; the best of them are found art . Cherish and describe these small patterned mysteries.



In bitter cold, nine deer:
Five does, five large fawns behind the house:
Twin fawns hang back, browse pond's edge willows
while one approaches a stocky doe
who chases him off.
Turkeys have gobbled all the corn, so the deer
browse a twig or two while they range about.
As they chew, their jaws swap sides.
The chased fawn, close now, lifts
his black nose high to sample breeze.
His nostrils flare. Mine open too.


Often, when you want a poem, all you can do is record notes of the experience you are celebrating. It's a start. Like kids, poems arrive when they're ready, and that's fine. Do not orce the process. Include a note about the personal response that made the incident worth recording (in this case, my nostrils flaring in response).

Our community of cousins is huge. One key to empathy is in our physical responses to other children of the earth. Notice these often involuntary moments of connectedness; they are worthy of celebration.



Earth has spent day after day
swallowing light
from the cold blue bowl of sky,
photon packets bouncing about
in crystals of white
and up into our eyes.
In spite of Siberian air
we drink down this bright
gift that speaks somehow more of green
and less of ice.


The lengthening daylight plus the clear days of a cold snap works on the brain and translates in the mind to hope. Spring will soon have many harbingers. Become intensely aware of which ones speak most strongly , most personally, to you. Then celebrate those events in words.



As sun breaks free,
clusters of squirrels leap
impossibly from tree to tree,
race up the trunk, race down,
dive into tunnels under snow,
pop up, duck down,
chase high to thin branches
and leap ten feet
heated from within
by the pheromones of spring.


Hope leaps eternal in the furry breast. The imperatives of mating are so strong; what's a little cold? What looks like boys’ "showing off" is really a leftover from furrier days of proving fitness.



Just watched Crow fly off with a chunk of suet
after clinging like a woodpecker.
Neat trick.
As I passed windows on the way to bed
last night, impulse raised the spotlight,
shined it on the feeders, and Coyote
stood there in a pool of bright,
raised his eyes,
lolled his tongue at me
and walked from sight.
Seems impulse is named Coyote.
Neat trick.


Cause and effect are question marks in science these days, but not in schools. Wakeful participation in the flow of events works better for learning than standing back and "knowing". Perhaps expressions such as "Go with the flow" make more sense than Isaac Newton's certainties. In education we have long habits of putting carts before horses. We teach kids to approach new experience by first naming and classifying, which creates automatic distance between event and self and not much else. The artist/naturalist's approach is instead to join in, to connect with the experience. When observing nature, be intuitive first and save the cart of analysis for later.



As the wild turkeys peck at corn
they coo and softly gurgle
like Spielberg oviraptors then
sudden gobble shakes the air
as one tom spreads his tail
and pump his neck blood red
and turns his naked head bright blue.
Around he struts the other tom.
droops his speckled wings and tilts his fan
his power to present.


For those of you in southern California, please understand that the only way we in the far North survive the final month or two of winter is to cling to every harbinger of coming warmth.

Be alert to every sign of season change, and do not exclude the human context—changes in sporting goods displays, more people who insist on riding bicycles on icy streets. Or kids walking around outdoors in T-shirts at a sunny 38 degrees. Ask them to imagine ancient kids in their local space 2,000 years ago responding to the coming spring. These needs are old as time.



This leaf met me at the door after storm,
left by wind and chance on unmarked snow.
This leaf hung on all winter long until it
let go in the blizzard for a final dance
and ended in my hand.

  This leaf a year ago was coiled into a bud
waiting for the sap to flow
up a fountain we call tree,
for first-thaw days and nights of ice
to open into red oak's greening tapestry,
dark green above but sage
when chance breeze flips the blade.

Chance encounters with earth's objects often feel meaningful. Honor that feeling and record it as part of your observation. We create the meanings, of course, which may just be our job. We are the bits of earth that have learned to think and laugh and tell tales. We are the earth looking at itself.



From yesterday
I'll keep the broken goldenrod
that swings its gray head side to side
and rasps itself away against snow.

From this morning dark
the creak-crack of weight on decking
and the squeak of feet on snow
at twenty degrees below.

From this leap of light
I'll keep one crow
beating audible wings
into a world of wind-carved snow.


Zoom in on specific images/moments you hope to keep in memory, moments that sum up a particular span of time. These three images all have to do with the way sound carries in very cold air.



Her crescent wide,
Moon rides early night
before the stars
with Venus bright beside.
Small is beautiful.


Encourage yourself toward economy of expression; the written word does not need to be wordy. Writing is the act of choosing the best words you can find, not the most words you can find. Kids don't know this until they are shown.