Follow the hum, follow
the drone into the woods
where basswood blooms
Follow the fragrance strong,
walk its gradient when air is calm.
Follow honeybees, watch them spark in light
as they fly through dapple green.
Thrum, scent, spark of bee:
at the end of this sense rainbow
you will find your gold in basswood trees,
yellow flower clusters so thick branches
bow at sunlit tips, scented seductions
of the pollinating bees.
Bees make a special honey from these flowers, as often called linden honey as basswood honey—same tree. The bees, of course, benefit from being seduced. This ancient cooperation is another co-evolved symbiosis.
Say you’re new, just fledged, in school,
and you are a crow.
You perch in leafless branches
near the sky, alone.
Other birds, small birds arrive high
on twigs too thin for you.
Two little birds, one black, one blue,
aim screams at you.
Say you learned this game when feathers grew
and scream right back.
But the small birds change the rules
and dive their beaks at you.
This is your perch, first come, you are big, don’t
they know you are a crow?
They dive, they peck, you try to beat them off
with flailing wings, spread tail.
You scream for help but black in distant trees adults
watch you learn what crows must know.
This young crow seemed bewildered by attack. Leaving the nest is filled with surprises, some unpleasant. Crows live in families, but this fledgling was not helped. Nests of small birds are routinely preyed upon by crows. As you know, small birds routinely harass crows until they go away. Three species joined today: redwing, blue jay (a smaller corvid), and a bluebird.
A toadlet leaps from my great feet, I look to see
what that blip of motion was, and it has
vanished in plain sight. Toadlets are cryptic little lives,
and had best be, for they are tasty morsels to the hunters.
These recent tadpoles hide inside their own new
nubby skins, camouflaged. When they halt,
earth’s own colors steal them from our eyes.
Once they leap they stay put like hares
unless danger triggers legs. I look and look
at soil and bark debris, bits of wood, leaf,
here and there a maple seed.
When I bend close, off the toadlet hops and
quick as a finger snap disappears.
A tadpole’s life is perilous. A tiny fraction transform to toadlet miniatures graced with spots and colors that keep them safe from hungry eyes. So where is Waldo, anyway?
Hedge Bindweed is a noxious weed,
or is it Wild Morning Glory?
Each name says volumes, but
nothing of the flower: says
how we connect with lives, how not,
how “hedge” calls up landscapes old, but
how “bind” speaks to body strange,
how “weed” says unfair competition
and how “noxious” speaks to
the roots of domination,
how “wild” recalls the Transcendental Earth,
how dawn can wear
the face of glory opening.
How words can turn one’s head
The Burying Beetle shows up next to the abyss,
here to clean up after a cat
who left a dead shrew by the door,
which began a small stink so
flies buzzed in and laid a thousand eggs.
As the carrion stinks more, presto!
Burying Beetles, one male, one fem.
a nuptial occasion: this is a first affair.
Once a pair arrives, others
find the dead shrew occupied,
leave it to the happy couple
in their fancy black and orange dress.
Now to drop the body through the abyss,
mate, and sink the body into soil,
and lay eggs nearby.
But first a backstory:
burying beetles carry passengers,
pale mites who live on fly eggs,
which hop onto the carrion
and dig into the egg array.
The mites supply the beetle larvae with
baby mites to carry with them to the grave.
The beetles want the meat
for their own few young, which they
stay with and feed until they mature.
Only then will the beetles dig up and out
to taste again the air for death.
This “transport symbiosis” is called phoresis. The mites get lifetime transportation, the beetles get reduced competition for food and increased reproductive success. Ah, relationships.
A burdock leaf,
Black ants of many sizes
black aphids of the same,
some wearing wings.
Will the aphids fly away,
leave the farm,
leap over the moon?
If you think that’s cool,
did you heard what
happened to the spoon?
Ants have farmed aphids almost forever. Milk them, protect them, carry them to new pastures. But when aphids are stressed by numbers, they birth clones with wings, to go off and begin a new colony, a bit uppity for a domestic. Flight as worker dissatisfaction? Wings as protest? It gets silly at times.
We will call her Rose, this little orchid.
She likes bees, gives them lip for landing,
or maybe tongue.
She’s learned to spread from root,
needs no bees, gives lip service anyway,
clusters in the leatherleaf and pitcher plants.
She likes wet feet, graces sphagnum bog,
acid is her bog's pH, but not her tongue.
The edges of her tongue are fringed,
in the center nubby little fingers pink and gold.
She displays that orchid welcome, spreads
wide her upper petals in full blush.
Delighted to see you too, Ms. Rose.
Her full name is Rose Pogonia. She is a rare treat. She grows at Warner Nature Center, which is graced with a sphagnum bog left over from glacial times, hundreds of miles south of the boreal forest, where such would occur more commonly. Rose is uncommon, but where she does grow, she is glorious in colonies of hundreds.
She’s plunged headfirst into nectar,
deep inside a bindweed blossom
this bee luxuriates. Half sugar-drunk,
she’s forgotten to go home.
One foot grasps the flower’s style
with its paired claws, the others wander
without aim. Her eyes are down,
can’t see me. I’ve seen her golden fur
times without count, but never have
I before cast eyes upon the lovely russet
of her rump, the same red-brown
repeated on a legwarmer sextet, this fur fired
against the golden glow centering
the trumpet of the bindweed.
Bees and wasps both sometimes imbibe sugars to excess, and unlike some human drunks, aggression disappears. La Dolce Vita! I have never seen the grasping claw on the bee’s foot so clearly. A student read a poem tonight that included the foot of bees. What is not connected?
Found a swarm of bullheads in a pool
gone sudden stagnant, warm.
Hundreds churn the surface,
push their catfish heads up beyond the surface
to take big gulps of air.
This seems to be disaster
happening, mass death--
even as their blunt and homely faces charm
with barbels soft before.
Bullheads are antique
uncouth survivors of the primal.
They choose not to die, still
live in pools where most float belly up.
So air they gulp and trust their blood.
With every foray into air, every splash,
more oxygen dissolves for gill to grab,
so they school and don’t disperse.
Some do die, but few. And that’s the Way.
The old ones are not, after all, so primitive. Bullhead mothers guard their young in spherical wiggling schools. Such extended grouping may teach a survival pattern for later use.
Along any path,
every time I kneel to look
I see amazing lives
that always were right here,
but I was way up there.
Today it’s clover rabbit’s-foot
in full flower quietly as silk,
fuzzy flowers white until I kneel
and find rose pink
feathering toward light
as watercolor wicks into
the fibers of rough paper.
In the early 19th century, John Keats observed that “the world is filled with wonderful things, waiting for our eyes to grow sharper.” I recommend kneeling toward such wonders.
Hot day, drought.
Skybowl blue entire.
As I walk the trail
a small bird on a stump
scolds me, scolds.
I think it’s a phoebe
whose sweet flies
are grounded by heat.
Phoebe doesn’t know
it’s global, so why
One of us smiles.
Why not? We First Worlders are all culpable, all live unsustainably. The phoebe’s vigor charms me utterly. July heat wave and beginning drought bring the Warming home.
A spike buck dandles down the gravel edge,
takes little practice alarm jumps and dances
the way young browsers do.
His antlers are in full velvet, plush
russet aglow with sun absorbed.
A two-step knees high prance.
Sees me in the field across!
Freezes like a cottontail. Bounds away
through brush, legs and ears and waving flag
with two bright antler lines.
The moments when you get to watch wild young mammals unobserved are extraordinary gifts.
Orange. No, black. It’s iridescent blue.
The butterfly sits on the road in sun
and casually becomes two
quite different wonders for my eye as it
closes wings and opens wings.
Closed, it banners orange
with scalloped crescents blue edged white.
Wide it drinks light but
some escapes as jeweled sea
above the same bright scalloped edge.
I never really saw this butterfly before, thought it was a black swallowtail. It’s name is Red-Spotted Purple. Go figure. The underside is pure eye feast.
As sun falls down prairie
light catches mullein spears,
each flower stalk tipped this hour
with metalled dragonflies fresh
from pond and marsh where
they unhusked wet life
to unpack wings
that catch west light
with hints of autumn,
four flamboyant wings
dark striped once twice thrice,
pumpkin-tinged but clear
once and twice and thrice.
This jewel on the mullein is the Halloween Pennant. The name mullein derives from the Welsh and Cornish word for yellow, melyn.
I watch an oriole just fledged
put up with all this sudden stuff,
nestling down still poking out
from plumage juvenile, patchy
color halfway there.
Sun too hot, not like
the shaded pouch of nest.
It’s hard to be emerging
into oriole society.
Her older brother just chased her
off the feeder full of sweets.
She watches as he drinks,
perches, drinks again, sunlight
glaring off her beak.
It’s hard to be a teen of any kind. There is small comfort for the fledglings of this earth. Have a kind thought for the unkempt young.
These white scraps on sand, dried,
were white globes whose leathery shells
were meant to be pierced by
the egg tooth on hatchling beaks.
These were painted turtle embryos
dug up by mammal paws
and found claw-licking good.
Raccoon or skunk, nosing possum,
it matters not. All of us who eat
wide, we omnivores, love eggs,
the food tasty and compleat.
They balance life, these hungry
nest thieves in the summer night.
There are usually extra young, and adult lives wait for only a few.
I cherish the old herb wild bee balm,
have always been pulled close
by thin white strands that
reach from blue flower tubes.
White and blue, contrast
and complement, white
filaments bearing pollen,
nectar in the depth of blue.
Today I learn that I am not
the only life tugged close
by filaments thin and white.
The clever flower spider
has gone all white today,
and mimics with thin legs
these strands. Bees
white strands on bee balm
are tipped not with pollen,
but with spider claws.
Mimicry requires very long co-evolution. Don’t begrudge the little flower spider its meal; it has been arranging this table for millions of years. Bee balm is also called wild bergamot, and mothered garden monarda, to the delight of hummingbirds.
Met myself this morning
in a butterfly, black swallowtail
on pink Joe Pye.
Life is all ephemeral, this butterfly’s
even more brief than my scant
passage through the sky,
one moon for swallowtail,
a few hundred for a man.
Scales worn thin, its wings approach
through them, I can see its legs.
Hindwing edges are notched
like castle roofs by bird attacks, each
a testament to Fortune.
Two large gaps mar
the leading edges of
forewings. Many hungry
young have flown the nest
with beaks that snap a bit
of wing but miss the plump
abdomen of swallowtail.
Blue is bright in both of us
and with crescents left of gold
we search out and find,
unroll our tongues to drink
the nectar of the flowers.
A child told me once of poetry,
“Oh, you mean that Earth
speaks our feelings back to us.”
True. If eyes are wide,
she shows us what we need.
Near shallowed wetlands
I stop the car, step
into a wild and whirling
wonder in the air,
a swooping, darting
swallow clan at feast,
that wets my eyes as I look
up and all about
and makes me swallow.
The birds ignore me, I am
simple landscape, an object
to avoid, but they do
flash by whisker close
in the weave of their pursuit.
Deer flies, I realize,
these birds are eating deer flies!
I widen with delight, filled
and thrilled after days
of swat and sweat and slap.
Deer flies sense
their brief days left,
swarm to find their blood meal
so their kind will live again
to drive the mammals mad.
A feather weave embroils me.
I am the sudden center of an atom,
electrons spinning all around,
but these break orbit, jink to snap
morsels from the air, all electrons
and what a menu has this feast!
Deerfly has its beauty, but that does not redeem its bite. Swallows are well named; in flight their huge mouths are scoops their agile wings keep filled. Barn swallows have dressed for the occasion in full tails.