Shiny new dragonflies rattle past my ears,
different sizes, blue to black to gold, different kinds.
They are the same though in a hunger
that demands three-sixty eyes, for now
at emergence from the larval husk, food is flying
everywhere. Ponds and pools are birthing
insects from their warming waters, and they do fly,
but none so well as dragonflies. Dart and hover,
backwards, glide, spin like gauzy tops in air—
contort a mating wheel and with all eight wings fly.
When they see prey before, behind, or to the side
spined legs interlock a cage to hold the capture.
Dragonflies land with the aplomb of the dragons
we discover at imagination’s root.
It may seem odd to say of an insect, but dragonflies own no fear. The top predators in their arena, they seem casual about everything except hunting & eating, inscrutable as the big cats.
Turtle stretches out her neck
extends her legs to sun
on a small island made of mud.
This is land she owns, her First-Times
Grandmother Turtle mouthed this mud
up from the primeval Deep, and made
this continent called Turtle Island.
Today in sun Turtle shares her mud
with Canada Goose, who stands alert
on platter feet. They have basked
together long, known the other’s essence
for some million years, know
they both have scales,
and are in unison at peace.
A pleasure to see beings of such dissimilar appearance simply going about being on the same patch of land, neither feeling intruded upon. The lineage of goose is young, that of turtle unimaginably old, but they share a reptile ancestor before their lines diverged.
Its leaves are toothed, its stems
but the lure is cast soft, inhaled.
A wild rose.
Five petals explore shadow and curve
in sunshine’s play
with breeze as anthers weave their pollen circle
round the gold.
The apex of each petal turns white. Whole
the five create
a five-point center star, to our eyes white,
in the bee’s
a nectar target ultraviolet. Scent
leads here, to the center we are led
time without end.
The human response to this particular fragrance and wild beauty is as old as our species, and perhaps even part of our species definition.
Goose and gosling head for water,
play it safe, for the child must
learn caution young. We are charmed
by golden down and baby beak, but
a month of graze will grow gosling
into goose the size of Mom & Dad
with the plumage of adult. And flight.
So fast. No time at all, we say.
Ask the goslings. Grass matters.
Time does not.
Our instinctive response to “baby” features of many species is a response to cherish and never suppress. Rapid development means little learning, strong reliance on instinct, and brief lives. Enjoy their gawky charm while they wear gold.
In the darkness under fallen leaves
life pushes not toward light but air
in breeze to spread the being’s spores.
This fruit is pale as stems of seedlings
trying to push through leaves to light
and find their green to grow.
A network of fine tubes grew this mushroom
and thrust it up from soil, no germinating
seed, but a whole adult mycelium
that helps the plants and trees to grow.
Underleaf’s the edge of soil and sky,
and there life churns in the energy of decay
and birth, the old swap meet.
The heat of release in decay
eases white roots from seed,
sends to it the bits released again into
the pool of atoms from which we all spring.
I watch a bird hunt on lily pads,
flutter from pad to pad or hop,
bend and pluck insect after insect
come upright with a beakfull--
my own jaw drops in delight.
This bird is carefree, confident
as any dipper in mountain rapids,
knows it is made for summer moments
when the lily pads float in every shallows
and on them crawl from water insects
each about to molt the larval skin
join the legions of the sky
before a hunting bird offers
metamorphosis in an unexpected way.
Once again my ignorance exceeds expectations. This insouciant running about on lily pads seems tropical, and not quite temperate. A great gift it is to see something entirely unexpected and unknown.
While everything grows quick, summer style,
I catch a bumblebee taking a rest
on the arc of a yellow flag leaf. Curve
after curve—the drag of Earth’s core
pulls the leaf to its arch, the black
eye of the bee watches all round,
the gold-velvet arch of the bee’s back,
the mouth of her nest crafted by mice
where now white bee daughters grow,
the nectar teardrops she draws
from her mouth to larvae’s blind muzzles--
The circles bee etches in air, her path
never straight, follows roundabout
scents that wander through breeze
but strengthen on gradients she tastes,
then homes in with eyes on circular guides
in centers of flowers painted with
UV that we cannot see--
the wet sphere of my eye pulls light
into mind, rolls these images
down alleys of time where small hands
once suddenly closed whole hollyhock
flowers upon bumblebees, the buzz
against petals as fresh on my skin
as this mother bee on the arch of this leaf
is to my sparkling eye.
Excellent moments spiral down time and call into now the fine moments of then—the ecology of an experienced mind which yes, does wander, but knows to home in on the nectar.
It can’t dig these round river stones,
so it searches walls and window, air.
Trapped in the window well
the star nosed mole is dayblind,
hurries about touching this world
with the twenty-two tentacles on its nose.
It pauses often, lifts its pink nose ring to air,
tentacles wiggling so fast they blur.
This nose is made to feel prey in the dark
underground and on the bottom of ponds
where it hunts, feeling about with its
sensitive twenty-two tentacled nose.
When it digs, when it eats, it folds its pink tentacles
over the holes in its nose, but in the open tunnel
the wiggling ring on its nose unfolds
so the star-nosed mole can know the tactile
delight of touching the earthworm’s cold rings
an instant before he bites it and holds
so it cannot retract in its hole.
Even though moles tunnel our garden,
this is his soil in a way I can’t have or know,
so I catch him up in a net out of the well
of light for the window and let him go on field turf
he digs through in seconds to home.
The star-nose is exotic to me, the mole from the moon. I’ve lived where it lives most of my life, myself on the surface,
the mole under ground and water, but I’ve never seen it before. A rare gift of Earth.
I watch an egret gaping at the mirror
still of pond. He or She is stunning.
Does the mirror say it so? Or say
there is no magic dialog,
just another weary parent
pulling faces at its other.
Or likely none of this. A little fish
is swimming just below the surface
and the beak about to strike—
Or this bird is newly fledged
and learning water’s ways
by looking in the mirror,
playing with its jaw.
Fifty great egrets in one pool today. One close colony had a good season, fledging lots of young just at the time when ponds begin to shallow and fish are easier to catch. Predators must time their young’s emergence to prey, which depends on lucky weather, like these great birds have for this beginning summer, these beginning lives.
Wild Iris is an exhilaration of form
pure as swallow in flight, quiet on stem
but a blue as able to leap into sky as into
a mind’s image trove. On the broad falls,
converging lines and gold guides
aim bees at sweet nectar that will
become winter honey when
wild iris opens and flowers in mind.
Wild Iris could be called Sky Iris as well, for no flower so well expresses flight. When I was small, I saw this flower among sedge and cattail from a canoe and knew it for bird, shushed the paddlers so they wouldn’t scare it to flight.
A curious bird, the little wren,
inquisitive as monkey me.
Closer it flies, and close. Each
short flight ends perched
in a dried relict of summer,
where it sits and trills wren song.
The tail of the wren is famed
for pointing straight up. But
I need to know why it points
so at sky.
A story still told: There was
A Contest of All Birds one time
way down the backalong,
for which could fly highest in sky.
Eagle climbed and climbed,
climbed high above all, and
knew it had won, until then little Wren
crept out of Eagle’s tail feathers
and climbed singing even more high.
It is clear the wren’s tail
still points so at sky to remind all
that when Earth was young,
Wren won, through its wit and its wings,
the title of Highest in Sky.
It’s curious how many folk tales applaud tricksters who balance the scales. Praise the antic spirit.
Swallowtail is fresh from chrysalis,
emerged now to find alfalfa in flower,
rainbows made all of blues.
She is dizzy with nectar, this garden
of plenty, with this sunlight, these
spread wings, this flight.
I am dizzy with swallowtail,
gold fur of her body laced black,
blue riches, this sunlight, her
colors, her flutters,
this clear simple Earth.
As a boy familiar with grasshoppers and ants, I recall how astonished I was to discover fur on the bodies of butterflies, and patterns elegant.
A green insect feeds in the true-flower
yellow of a daisy, an early instar of some hopper,
one antenna tip caught careless in a flower.
iIs wings are nubs so incomplete they charm--
short and shine like cellophane.
The abdomen’s pellucid green, translucent
cabochon of youth. The first paired legs
mirror their partners, well placed; the last pair
as hopelessly sprawled as a teenager falling up steps.
A small green being speaks to me
of the young of my own kin,
tenders me the usual message: I just want to eat.
One of our blessings is our response to young beings no matter
the kind (with some exceptions). Psychologists describe this response of ours, but are silent when asked to explain it. For a moment, anyway.
The flower spider waits beneath a rose petal
until I brush the rose, then instantly drops
to escape as spiders do, unreeling silk quick
as nerve impulses leap a synapse.
Above ground, it stops and dangles, aware
of no pursuit, spins once slowly in sun.
It drops now to a dry goldenrod stem,
begins to climb up
toward its petal hunting ground.
It climbs with four legs only, the others
stretch wide like a crab’s, ready to attack.
Close up, many little black eyes gleam
from a dark shield on a pale head.
Five symmetrical dimples pock the plump
white abdomen between two bands of coral
that break the spider shape as it lies in wait.
Flower crab spiders seem unlikely ambush predators, but may succeed so well because the coral chevron on the abdomen shines bright in ultraviolet (bee eyesight) and are perceived to be nectar guides by the unlucky bees. The outstretched capture legs are pairs held tightly together.
Close up, monarch caterpillars become clown
with rubber bodies that bend to every shape and curve,
flamboyant yellow white and black stripes
that run down its length, topped off
with black wiggling tentacles at either end.
As with clowns, there is an unease, something
both too alien and too intimate together But
even so these bodies wake my lips to smiles,
which fade as this infant life-strength pours
from them to me, their absolute focus upon need
to grow, and mine suddenly upon the adult
monarch butterfly, who will for now wing wide sky
despite Monsanto and our public servants’
casual murders of links in life’s chain.
Something alien, like clowns.
The land I live with was sprayed by a helicopter this morning without announcement or permission. Eminent domain. Kill.Who needs swallows? Who needs bats? Bone ignorance has never been more cherished in America. Meanwhile, gene-tampered Monsanto Bt corn is quietly killing every caterpillar that touches it or its sifting pollen. The need for ethanol requires sacrifices. Our children’s children will live in a world where butterflies are rare or absent, but there will be corn. Omelets and eggs, the old fools say. One celebrates in spite of…
Egrets are always smooth,
carefully groomed, feathers
all combed in place
and eyes looking down
long yellow beaks at you.
Or I should say
down their beaks at me,
for I am scruffy, fur awry,
ill-dressed and glad
they cannot see my nails.
It all looks effortless, this long smooth
elegance of black leather legs
topped with beaks of gold,
and between these poles
each feather locked in place,
but I know better now, for
I have stumbled on the egrets’
secret dressing room where
feathers stick out all directions,
beaks corkscrew on long necks,
wingtips slump, there a foot
reaches up to scritch an itchy neck,
all decorum knocked akimbo,
no eye looks around.
I have trespassed, I am again Acteon
startling Artemis at bath.
Will the Goddess find me hounds?
Confiscate my negatives?
Or horrors, make me groomed?
Observers risk seeing more of the wild than intended, and sometimes pay a price. Paparazzi of the Wild, take heed.
How corolla petals part to fall below
the corona of the marsh milkweed but stay
to present the crown of hoods their fall reveals.
How nectar horns arch sweetly in
around the center where styles and anthers fuse.
How saddlebags of pollen cling
to their front legs as insects feed from horns.
How tricked out in pollen, pollinators
fly off to suck nectar from a new marsh milkweed.
How insects grew these milkweed flowers
how milkweed flowers grew these pollinators.
How back and forth shapes this Earth.
All the milkweeds have flowers unlike any others, including unique nectar-bearing horns that position insect legs so they are likely to slip down a bit to where they touch a pollen structure which attaches. As the leg lifts up, it pulls up with it paired bags of pollen (pollinia)which hang right there until they touch the stigma of another milkweed flower. Our notions of cause and effect do not equip us well for wrapping our minds around the cooperative process of co-evolution.
In stripes and spots and arrowheads
dragonflies drip with gold.
Imagine that way down the backalong
a Cro-Magnon girl picked up
a nugget washed downstream
and named this lovely metal dragon gold,
because she liked the sound and she was first,
which gave rise to countless tales
of saints and swords and heroines
not to mention golden dragonhoards,
and very human golden hordes.
Or say that dragon stories named these hunters
which drip with gold that gleams
in flight through crystal wings.
Or let’s just say that sometimes
what does glitter is true gold.
Killdeer tugs at my attention
but has no need--I am gifted in her presence, in her thrall.
Her dance of pathos is her white lie to keep me from her eggs.
We are on a sandy road where tires roll
I hope she did not scrape an egg-site here--it must be close.
She begins the display to lure me off. Shrill cries.
She dips her head down, lifts her tail, bends one knee
almost in a curtsy, almost in a bow. But loud.
Stage right she spins, and makes her courtesy again.
Suddenly collapses on the sand, fans her tail
and flaps her wings in deep distress.
I am smiling wide. I know that killdeer
is not crazed with grief or fear, I know there is
expressed a brilliant actor in her genes.
Many plovers—killdeer’s family—perform distraction displays against predators. Some imitate lemmings in the tundra. Killdeer’s grace as she pivots beak down, tail up is a great delight, and her collapse into her feathers the mark of a great ballerina.
Two young egrets hunt the mirror pond
with consuming eyes.
Sight and speed and spear of beak
are all they need,
these novice hunters who explore now
ways to use these tools.
One bird is conventional, leans
slightly forward, head high, looks down.
The second tries out a tactic,
tilts against the sun
so his whole self makes shadow on the mirror,
bends his head sideways
on his curved neck, looks straight down into
shadowed water with one eye.
What moves down there?
Flexible behavior is not what we expect from predators whose usual hunting tactics work just fine. But this difference one recent fledgling displays suggests that he had an idea and is trying it out. Vive la difference! Some in the heron family shade water with their wings to improve the catch.
Paper wasp larvae push up in their
hexagonal cells, desperate to be fed.
But some unknown force has sheared
the thread that held the little colony
to its overhang. Such early helpless
death sparks compassion, for both the larvae
and the queen who’s lost her brood.
Whether death is never the question, only when. When very young things die, life feels disordered for a moment, even though it happens all the time.