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John Caddy
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John Caddy's
Morning Earth Poems
May 2004



Phoebes gather mud now,
dip beakfuls from the shallow pools,
fly quick to the nest site while it’s fresh.
This year they build upon
the platform in the eaves
I thought would tempt the robins.
For years the phoebes nested on the east side,
plastering their nest against the rafters
sheltered under eaves from rain, but
pulled upon by stubborn gravity.
One spring the nest did fall. I’m glad
this time they chose the robin’s platform.
They weave and plaster fibers stripped
from grass and bark of river grape,
stand on one end of a stem or vine,
grab a fiber with the beak and pull,
walk it down the stem until it’s free.
Once the nest is shaped to curve of breast
it must be lined with soft—
we are clearly kin—like chickadees,
phoebes choose fine moss to pad the inside
of the cup, and weaves the outside wall
as well with mosses green.


The phoebe is a flycatcher that relies on warming days that urge insects into air above the pond. The whole sequence of nest building/egg laying/brooding/hatch is timed to warming May, and then the real work begins--endless round trips to deliver bugs to gaping mouths as long as daylight lasts.



The pond's goose pair honk loud and low,
snake their necks down into
the water's surface, thrust
toward the two who violate
their nesting ground.
The others answer from the shallows,
notch it up some decibels.
How small and terrible
a goose can squinch its eye,
how black the snaking beak. But
somehow, first come, first nest
asserts itself, claim-jumpers fly
with imprecations trailing,
and the pond enjoys again the rules.


Territoriality is inherent in many of the cousins. It's especially compulsive during reproduction. The 'owners' of a territory almost always win conflicts with interlopers. Possession confers a mutually recognized authority on the owners, for all purposes a moral right.


At dawn, I look east.
Spider silks adorn the aisles
between leafed-out bush and tree,
between tree trunk and tree trunk.
The gleam glides down each silk
as it shifts, as if leaves
blew this way, that, allowing sun to fall
upon infinitely thin silk strands.
But there are no leaves.
The gleams slide quick across
horizon lines invisible, appear
and reappear at the whim of breeze.
Were these single strands cast out
By spiderlings eager now to fly?
Or cast as anchor lines for webs?
I think by tiny spiders who sense each
nuance of air’s sighs and wanderings
who yearn themselves to wander sky,
so each spins an invisible kite
with itself as tail, spins into air until free it sails.


It’s hatching time for a myriad of beings, and they all arrive with needs. Spiders must disperse, to maximize survival of the kind, not the single being. So fly they do all across the skies, especially now, in spring.


Spring is still a lovely child reborn.
Cinnamon ferns are up and lanky
as just-teen girls ready to unfold,
fronds still uncoiling from the fiddlehead.
A shower patters ponds just as sun
cracks morning with his fire. Raindrop ripples
try to stay alive but wash into the splash
of landing wood ducks come to feed.

Maple leaves are small and from distance
blush the tree with tenderness. Squirrels
are daring branch tips where grow helicopter seeds.
Red oaks are also blushing high, washed with ruddy
leaf buds just unfolding. Male flowers done dangling
pollen to the winds, female flowers in leaf axils
begin the acorn-swelling in the ovary. All
is new again and won’t go back to sleep.


Wood warblers pass north each day,
active, tiny, easy to not see, but for
a flash of color bobbing branch to branch.
Golden crowns and golden wing-plates
mark the myrtles hawking over ponds.
In the fields toward sundown,
from saplings on the verges,
black and white warblers flash out
for flying bugs, while in underbrush
a horde of sparrow migrants hop and kick,
kick and hop the leaves to scare up
fuel for tonight’s flight.
And this dawn, knowing he approaches
the mating grounds of evergreen,
a whitethroat plays his two-note
pennywhistle for the sparrow girls.


Little birds from a distance all seem to look pretty much the same, but close they are astonishing. The warblers fly long and hard in small flocks all night, and hunt food each day between snoozes. As a child in Minnesota’s north woods, I fell in love with the tremolo song of the whitethroat with no idea who was singing. The song says, “Summer. Home.”



Late afternoon storm from the west
brings dark and strange green light,
a roil of clouds that can’t decide shape,
downpour and darkness full as night
etched with lightning, unhappy cats,
and the power gone.

But storm’s aftermath:
A litter of catkins and torn new leaves,
gold sun slips below dark clouds,
small birds carol the light,
from distance, children’s voices,
suddenly from the west, glorious light
spills on trees new-greening,
power where it always was.


Life on Earth is a gift.
We receive the gift
While we are the gift.

Let us celebrate.


1) “We are the gift” does not imply the elevation of humans over other life. It is a simple literal statement: we are made of Earth. Our flesh is Earth, each atom we inhale, every atom we ingest. We are a portion of the gift; we are one part of the whole. All life uses and reuses the same seethe of atoms from air and from sea and land, and has done for billions of years. Each molecule of water, each carbon atom in our bodies, has been alive countless times before. Our bodies, and all living tissue on the planet, are entirely recycled, 100% post-consumer content. This is old news: 'Dust thou art and into dust thou shalt return.' Genesis 3:19.

2) “Let us celebrate the gift.” We are Earth’s conscious part; we are the makers of art that celebrates Earth’s awareness of herself. (We celebrate life in myriad ways, of course, but our art-making is a fundamentally human rite of jubilation.)



It is the time when evanescent flowers lift
through fallen leaves to grace the forest floor.
Little rue anemone blushes now
delicate as a girl’s regret.
Her seed will ripen quick as
mountain meadows shrink their year to days,
flower, fruit and seed, dwindle into earth again
unseen, and wait through season’s spiral
pale in dark, with the other roots of spring.


Sun just up through new leaves, blazing low.
The white-eared squirrel races
headlong down an oak, self-arrests,
stops, hangs by his hind feet,
quickly stretches first his right foreleg,
then left, and I echo him, stretch
in the company of cousins.


I am charmed to find the squirrel within. How long have we been stretching together in the morning, half-awake?



Four young rabbits, fur
in tufts from rain, play
Leapfrog and Catch Me!
through the soaked morning.

When one stops to nibble shoots
his sister bowls him down
and the game goes on.


Young beings play eternally. That's their job. Parents watch in joy and fear; that's theirs. The old watch and feel their muscles yearn. That’s mine.


Songbirds sing the evensong,
cardinal and redwing, and rose-breast grosbeak call,
snack at feeders after sunfall, fly to trees
and descant evensong before the nest and roost.
After roosting through an inch of rain,
tough songbirds choir the morning,
Song lifts sun right up from night
to stubborn overcast bright enough
to glow all the litany of green as
song sparrow, oriole and robin,
bunting indigo and contrapuntal cardinals
insist the day to being.


Five inches of rain in a week, and still these wet birds sing up evening and morning. Toads and treefrogs are in the ponds trilling memories of treefern swamps. Small breezes through the trees rain down the drops on leaves a second time and soil embraces them, as does my unwitting head.



Twelve splash down as one,
toss water white, rave
the mirror. Twelve
wood duck drakes, no hens,
none to chase, none to see
their gorgeous mating plumes.
These are the bachelor boys,
first year students of ardor,
who travel in groups while
all the rest are paired.
High above them in an aspen,
a pair of tree swallows consummate
their pairing, the male
hovers close until
his mate presents her tail.
The wood drakes pay no mind,
no head for irony, no nagging
care for what is fair.


Our pond some mornings has become a kind of bachelor’s breakfast club. Lately two unmated mallard males have hung around, and now this flock of yearling wood duck males. Yang learns slowly, if at all, what pleases yin.


Watch a female cardinal
pull the fibers from a length
of weathered honeysuckle vine.
moving it through her strong beak,
she crushes the stem along its length,
then strips each fiber out
while standing on the rest,
and one by one flies off with them
to weave her secret nest.


I am so grateful when wild beings allow me an intimacy such as nest building. At feeders now cardinal pairs pass each other seeds, beak to beak. Their courtship is touching, and must be renewed each spring. One of ‘our’ pairs last summer raised three broods. Amazing. And we think we work hard.


She is in my hand, eyes bright, but
mouth slack, shocked by glass that wasn’t there.
I heard the window thump, went to look.
On a hosta leaf she lay, on her side, apparently whole.
As I pick her up, her head does not loll
as it would loll broken, She is not yet
altogether here, but her heartbeat
in my hand, her warmth
feathering through my blood
wakes me completely into here.
Now, after warming and waking
in the house, moving within my hand,
she wants to fly, so out we go and toss her
from my palm up into sky.


She was a rose-breasted grosbeak who survived her window collision unharmed. My hand feels her absence.



Oriole flutters at my window sill,
pecks twice at glass
to remind me that the nectar's low,
then burns away across the day
in orange flame and black.


Be cautious when attributing motives to the cousins. But the male oriole does do this when he first arrives in spring, and later when the nectar in the hummingbird feeder is lower than he likes. I suspect the hummer has a longer tongue. When a friend described this behavior to me I scoffed, then apologized after watching the orioles perform it the past three years. He sings gloriously these days as long as I behave.


Days of rain.
From each point of a red oak leaf
bobbles a drop of rain, each
a mirror magnifying green.

Barks black, rain wet
Lichen green
Spring wet, spirit green.

The Green Man spills leaves
emerald green, laughs
in leaf-out, spills raindrops

on moss green, greens striving
out of soil soaked with
days of rain.


Suddenly green has overwhelmed us. Welcome green, dark green, wet green. Enough rain.


Light toward the fade of a gray-cloud day
beguiles perception, gentles the eye,
gives a twilight clarity to seeing.
Trillium flowers wane in worn ivory,
ragged-edged from insect bites,
petal creases for the first time seen,
like lines that wait upon a face, long
hidden behind bright presence
while the eye is led
to the center’s gold anther smile.
Flower petals about to fall
are the most poignant, for we have known her,
and sigh for all that fell from our own fern springs.


Endless overcast days cast their spell upon the psyche. It was once called melancholia.


Painted Turtle should not cross the road,
but thinks she must to lay her eggs.
I turn her around, point her to my sandsoil
where her eggs are welcome,
but she hoists herself around and points
her determined turtle nose again across the road,
where the sun is right to hatch her eggs,
so when I play Good Samaritan and pick her up
incautiously, OOPS! turtle pee all over me!


No good deed goes unpunished. Will I never learn?


Wild columbine is in full cry,
The gravity of bells sweetly
curves her stems, bells blushed rouge,
golden clappers
struck by bees entranced.
Five ball-tipped horns adorn
each pendant bell
that summons us to beauty
Through the ear of the eye.


Earth is a tapestry woven by life,
Each threaded to each.
Life is a tapestry woven by light,
life all flows from the sun.
The name of the fabric is holy.
The weave is seamless,
warp and weft tight
until you look close and see
small threads cut, unraveling
the clear chronicle we once knew,
the story we entered and changed,
pictures fraying, darker to read.


Life will always outwit us, and weave a new and lovely tapestry—no doubt of that. But we evolved as part of the old light-weaving—Nature is our home. Why must we behave so badly in our home?

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