Small crabapple flowers have attitude,
stretch long stems out until
in your face red folded petals
hold the show
until the grand opening
when fragrance wafts out to the bees
and wasps, who will take their parts
and play out this endless flowered tumbling.
The long co-evolution of flowers and pollinators is an endless spirit lift.
A vertical cleft with sides so close
a small fallen tree bridges easily,
the branch depending clad all
in green maidenhair ferns.
Thirty feet down, the architect streams.
Both rock sides live in shade much of the day.
Both absorb enough bright to grow
tier after tier of maidenhair ferns from
green mirror water all the way
up to the alarming bright.
The place is Fern Canyon, near redwoods on California‘s north coast. Maidenhairs!
Sowbugs scurry toward shelter
like photophobic time machines.
Hands and knees at four by the concrete
blocks I uncovered sowbugs
which grew antennas with elbows,
which clearly came from a different place,
which only wanted moist and dark,
until I grew ashamed. So now
I turn the camera off
and turn the bark back over.
People with cameras have little shame. Their vast need seems to confer, they think, a certain reprieve from ordinary social standards. Present company excluded, of course, given that I listen to my childhood shames as I lurch toward childhood again.
Mosses prepare to cast their futures to the winds.
Like all in spring, generation is the first concern.
The little capsules at stalk tips dance already in breeze
as if green raindrops were arrested and held flat.
Within, myriad spores mature to be puffed out
in a little dark cloud. Think of it:
A cloud of future released from a raindrop.
Two tree swallows contest a territory.
They have good reason, although not
at all reasonable. They nest now.
Dispersal means enough food for nestlings.
This was learned and in-wired so long ago
our minds can’t hold that span.
But they can hold beauty.
So here are we, too new for much in-wired.
But we are reasonable, sapient, and do find our reasons.
Our minds hold pride so easily.
The difference between our contests and almost every other species' contests is that in ours, conspecifics often die.
The coiled spring of life uncurls
pure as a pearl is pure
and as unknowable. Once
life discovers itself coiled
and holding life tension it must
release, it must spring free.
How Spring got its name. This fiddlehead belongs to the maidenhair fern.
Trillium opened and orioles flew in
on the fine seventh day of May.
Orioles sing now from oak tops,
that swelling of trills and sudden vowels
while trillium petals three white
ruffles around a core of gold.
Oranges are cut and wait,
juice gleaming, magnets
for migrants bright with orange
that burns against black plumage
come alive as summer night.
Gold and orange everywhere, and now rose-breasted grosbeaks have arrived. Hummingbirds any moment. A circular pageant and paean of pleasure and praise.
Met a yellow violet in the woods,
others in the patch like her, but she
was special, her petaled beauty set off
by a beauty mark, as women once
artfully placed on a cheek or near a lip
in the fashion of the day. Ambiguous.
But violet’s mark exists outside time,
the punctuation mark of life. The mark
at first seems a tiny map
sketched upon a petal lobe, of an island
immersed in a sea where a fungus
has paled deep yellow to almost white
as if it had eaten sun.
This flower’s beauty is direct: Like you,
it says, “I eat, and I am food. I guide the bee
toward nectar with converging lines,
pollen-dust its head, take pollen from the bee
so we together can make seed.
Are we not beautiful? Even though our petals
become the food of time and fall?
Life and death, eat and be food, round and round. The pollinators see target patterns on flowers—this way to nectar. We all are beautiful. Renaissance beauty-marks simulated moles, which connote otherwise today. We are all ambivalent—it goes with the territory. Admit it: this fungus is a pretty good sketch artist.
As the water lily leaf nears the surface
its red pigments blush green
where chloroplasts kick in--
some will wait for sun direct.
The leaf is already food for animals,
a notch chewed there, here tunnels of larvae.
A pale sunburst of rays brightens
the circular pad where on its flip side
the rays show as ribs, structure for strength
to withstand wind and storm wave
and vascular system in one.
The center, the sun, is the stem, the green
spear that drove up from the mud.
The colors on the canvas of the emerging water lily leaf are a delight. But water plants seem improbable and somehow uncanny.
On the path, a clump of down compels me.
A bird died here, was killed and eaten,
and there is that pang. Feathers flurried
all about. This breast down
pulls me to my knees, as power will.
Such fine blues, such a flowering of lines.
Blake said, “For everything that lives is holy.”
And each that dies is holy too.
There is such beauty in the flow.
This is the old bargain, predators hunt, eat the least swift and wily, that the species live on in health. Life is all process and we are all verbs.
On these clustered little flowers
many anthers curve into the center stigma
as if the male part gallantly protects the female,
but the anthers only wait the warm to spring apart,
expose the stigma on the style,
and gift the fur of bee with pollen gold.
Flowers have their own persuasive ways.
These papery little flowers cluster on the raceme of chokecherry; each will be a pucker cherry dangled on a stem. The fragrance of the flower is most sweet.
A redwinged blackbird male perched on a snag
bends his head down and down until
his beak is at his toes.
I see chickadees do this every day
to crack seeds between their toes,
but this silhouetted curve
is tense and lovely as a gymnast’s
and as improbable.
Pure shape. Simplicity.
The ordinary becomes extraordinary once a moment if you keep looking.
Opportunity opens with the wild
strawberry flowers that array
pollen gifts and sweets
for insects to come feast,
a chance for the patient
flower spider to grasp and eat
a hungry pollinator wasp or bee.
The spider will unmoving wait,
four legs ready and outstretched
until dark or food arrives,
for this is life and death.
This little spider is known as the hairy crab spider, an awful name it doesn’t know about. It calls itself the little flower spider. And none of us is sure whether that rose would really smell as sweet.
Trumpet honeysuckle vine owns magical leaves
we don’t notice until now, when
intense buds are ready to delight
all beings that own long slim tongues, be they
hummingbird, butterfly or bee, for
there is nectar in the trumpet bulb
below the open petals. As if
nectar were not magic enough,
wild honeysuckle gives us stems that
pierce leaf centers and rise.
Picture this vine grow.
Buds in the center of encircling leaves.
Stems that from buds rise to leaf
and by magic culminate in flowers.
It’s all magic of course, but no smoke and mirrors. Plain and clear. Few plants have these pierced leaves, boneset and compass plant come to mind. They have always struck me as improbable—I can’t imagine an adaptive advantage, but that only heightens my affection.
Thunderstorm rolls in
and time hangs. All
beings pause, crawl under
if they have senses. Light
is epic just before storm —
a story of bright need &
dark contrast, myth from
the mornings of Earth.
First fat drops white forks
black explosions winced
in the root of the spine,
The exhilaration of dark-within-day.
No pallid weather here in the Midwest. I suspect that many of us, when we read of Dr. Frankenstein, enjoyed some sympathy with his joy of lightning storms. We don’t love them, but we do find them fascinating. Old Chinese curse: May you live in interesting times.
Wild geese feed on good roadside greens,
Mom and two fledglings
almost her size.
A car is coming, slow, the driver knows
this is a game refuge.
Mom is edgy, tries
to alert her kids, who nibble grass, ignore her,
what does she know?
She bugles alarm! No response.
Steps to the center of the road
stretches her head to the skies
as mothers have for all time,
lifts one foot for emphasis
and bugles the Angry Mom call,
“I said Go!”
As one, the three fly.
Sometimes the Cousins really are like us. No body with a brain messes with an angry Mom.
All in sequence sleek as the fish
he grips the blue heron
unfurls wings, crouches,
leaps from pool to sky
lifts wings through light to pull down air
as pearls drop from feathers
and scales, all this aimed
again and again toward
the hunger in the nest.
This great dinosaur descendant makes now endless round trips to grow squalling spike-feathered chicks. This circle is ancient, and whatever our kind, hard to complete.
Under great twin umbrella leaves
mayapple reveals her flower, shy and lovely
in self-shade. Petals textured like camellia
surround anthers and fused styles.
Mayapple flower is so shy she lacks nectar.
Pollinators visit rarely, sweet scent their sole reward.
Mayapple grows in colonies of clones
and cannot fruit without crossing
with a different colony, another heritage.
Often then her petals fall to waste
but the clone is energetic and knows
that if each year it flowers, eventually
one spring some accidental bumblebee
will wander far through woods and pollinate
her flower, the result a tasty little fruit
that a furry creature will find sweet
and down the trail, drop mayapple’s seed
so a brand new clone can open her umbrellas.
The self-shaded shy learn to rely on chance, which, in the long run, works as well as any other means of finding what one needs. Mayapple is guarded; she ensures survival by growing toxic leaves and roots. After one taste, herbivores from grasshoppers to deer leave her be.
The ordinary never is when
you permit your senses play.
The lion’s tooth that painted
once your chin with gold is
extraordinary when you kneel
and magnify its flower bud.
Fused sepals make a green vase
that swells on top toward opening,
glimpses of the sun it holds.
Elegant this shape compressed at waist,
Careless charm where lower sepals
Droop like a child’s discarded sock.
The ordinary is a bud that waits for you.
Look close and it will open gold.
Ordinary is a one word oxymoron. Lives we encounter, rooted or mobile, are buds ready to share their becoming, if we will share our own. Sometimes it requires the knees.
Particulars are best, lives
self-flowering one by one, gifts
taken inside one by one, but
a few things experienced en masse
like lilacs in full season, can open wide
your heart’s child, and retrieve
that moment when your thrust tongue
found the nectar at the center.
There may be no universal experiences, but discovering nectar at the root of a flower must come close. Nectar is the pollinator’s reward, which makes an intriguing generalization.
Wildflowers have such spirit.
Umbels of virginia waterleaf
are clustered wine glasses
held up for a wedding toast.
Hola! It‘s spring!
Hold your anthers high.
Reveal your style.
Wildflowers are adept at advertising their intentions in this pollinating season. Waterleaf is named for the whitish spots on its leaves, perhaps by a botanist who left water rings on his wife’s favorite table.
Close by in willow brush a yellow warbler sings.
I am all smile as eye leaps into mind: Blue-eyed grass!
It’s native here, a true wild
flower, here at my feet, a patch
of tiny thin-leaved iris, pale blue blooms,
Bee-guide lines to center gold,
large seed capsules iris grow.
Buds are blue and long,
petal tips already curled
as elves’ imagined shoes.
Blue-eyed grass in eye,
golden warbler in my ear.
Wakeful attention to Earth offers lovely moments of discovery which become sorrow’s ease.
Top of Page