A bumblebee flies in, tongue
unfolding as her feet touch petals.
Count on fireweed after fire.
It waits to germinate until the soil is bare.
Its roots that live through fires
love the potash jolt in new wood ash.
So the old partnership renews,
bumblebee and fireweed,
daily nectar in her flowertubes.
Can you imagine standing barefoot on flower petals as you sip a sweet?
There is a way to know the gender of mosquitoes
though not a barnyard sort of way,
no close look required. If one finds you attractive,
and hums for blood, she’s female;
she can’t lay eggs without warm blood.
Any hairy beast will do.
It’s not just you.
He feeds on nectar and plant juice.
Beyond the blood, she does too.
The male mosquito needs no blood meal.
Today he seeks nectar from the burdock flower,
whose seeds are meant to stick to mammal fur.
Could it be that mosquitoes
have a sense of irony?
The female mates before she seeks a blood meal, so, in his vegan way, the male is culpable as well.
On a shed wall up north on the border
hangs an account of lives lived in the woods
in times when machines might be fixed
and hands were both ingenious and bruised.
You hang up stories on these walls, not
too far from a fire circle, so a talker might point.
But you don’t take things down, you let them tell.
Some are parts of trees--a wooden crutch,
a crossed pair of old wood skis,
Some are recent, a rista of red peppers,
bleached almost as white as the long skull
of a moose hung high, and below, its toothed jawbone.
One story is paper—the hive of baldfaced hornets
whose queen sensed they’d here be safe.
Most stories say rust and iron--crosscut log saws
from when woods were winter-quiet, salty handles
eaten by porcupines of yesteryear,
A huge holed fry pan, chain & bear trap rusted shut,
a spatterware coffee boiler gone rust,
here and there toothed gears pretty as a sea being,
a spiral steering wheel, maybe from a tractor,
headlight bar off a 30s car,
horseshoes, one a Finn once painted white,
wood-spoked wagon wheels and rusted
track gang tools for handling rail,
Hubcap from an antique Ford,
fancy top andiron, one, a blade off a sicklebar,
tricycle wheel & pedals, a host of iron tools
and fittings lost in someone’s memories,
whose stories are no longer told.
A young toad presents
cryptic coloration with a twist.
Well-camouflaged against beach gravel
and organic duff, he has another secret:
mimic eyes on the back of his head,
that top pair of spots, slanted just so,
a hint of pupil, just enough to caution
a mouth that wants to open.
Little toad has priorities:
One, hide in plain sight. disappear.
Two, try fear and surprise, mimic eyes.
Three, leap and leap thrice.
Four, if a hand picks you up, pee.
Finally, if a mouth closes around you,
foam it with poison parotoid glands.
The AmericanToad, bufo americanus, is generally courteous, but we all have limits.
When he sees me on the trail,
the chipmunk runs lickety-split
across rock and needle duff,
in out over and under
through and around his turf.
I have become the clunking ape
who inspires only fear
when the chipmunk interrupts
my melodrama. He quick-stops, clasps
a grass stem with forepaws, stands
up easy on two legs as if to let me see,
nibbles a second on his treat,
then dashes off on all fours to disappear.
Every summer day I see an insect life
that never flew into my mind before,
or did it? Eyes are odd, perception more.
I have seen so much more than I saw.
But this little fly with wing stripes
and an amber bottle abdomen
looks memorable, half-familiar.
Is it the stripes at abdomen’s tip?
Or is it how they echo wing stripes?
Or do these stripes of black on amber
warn? Just what’s in that amber bottle?
This fly looks confident and more.
Three vegans are quick to mount
a flower opened just this day
that will quickly find its symmetry
one beetle eats a petal edge
while a weevil sizes up another.
Petals are not essential to the whole
but true central flowers are
protein rich and sweet
as a pale inchworm seems to know
as it munches toward its wings.
Beauty can nourish in many ways.
Fireweed blooms pink against black ash again
when burned soil lies open, bare,
where its thousand seeds have lain in wait for fire,
where its roots have lived through the yellow dance of flame.
Pale corydalis blooms again in fire’s lee,
heat loving seeds pioneering soils with ash
filled with sudden calcium, potassium that bursts
its pink and yellow flowers up like fireworks.
So are these beauties both the work of fire,
the turning and returning of the elements
pulled into tree and needle leaf
by questing roots exploring rock worn
down by water, life and time so for
these summer days, shades of red gone pale
and the lick of yellow flame-tips
are born again in willful joy of burgeoning.
Golden argiope has caught a golden flier
in her web among white phlox,
bee or wasp or mimic fly.
I have not noticed her before but
she’s big as spiders get up North
and flamboyant in attire. Every night,
an argiope eats the old web and spins anew
her orb, so she must have spun
half a hundred webs to gain this size
this gold and black rotundity
and where were my eyes?
Her abdomen is huge and filled with eggs
I hope will hatch in my garden with leaf-fall,
where I can see next year her exotic daughters
and speak to them of Mother Argiope
and how she caught the golden fliers
and turned them into spiderlings
to carry on her golden tribe.
Two lovely inches of rain
drenched our drought for the moment,
and this morning all the egret families
came to fresh pools to learn hunting,
the proper preening of wet feathers,
and the social graces of reflections.
The kids don’t care about the lessoning.
There’s water! Everyone has four long
black scaly toes flexing in a cool and soggy bottom.
My pink toes want to join them. They would fly,
I say, We’d ruin their day .
My toes don’t care for moral lessoning—
There’s water, hey!
Green herons change size at will.
This has long been known.
Most of us can puff up at need
to make a larger mouthful, but
green heron owns a telescopic neck
that zooms up tall enough to scare
a swallow zipping by. It’s
good to seem small enough to
hide behind a lily pad
that wind has folded up to reveal
clustered little edibles which
gathers hungry insect hunters
gleaned in turn by green heron
crouched in small mode
all but hidden by a lily pad
that barely trembles with his ounces.
As light spills through leaves it creates
illumined columns like searchlight shafts
as they fly up to pierce night.
These day-shafts cascade down to catch other lives.
Look up. Small fliers course through like sparks
and blink out at the edge of shade.
Where sun shafts touch the forest floor,
more lives grow bright—fernleaf, moss,
small flowers like these pink tickseed treefoil,
welcome to brighten summer eyes.
What makes trefoil special now is the shadow
behind that has not swallowed them,
for they are bright and fresh against the dark.
To be green on this green Earth
Is a goal this pondhawk found,
one I’ve wished to make,
not the notion, but the color green,
even to photosynthesis.
Green animals are not everywhere.
A few parrots, a half dozen lizards,
a few metallic beetles,
a fish or two, some tree snakes,
and our female eastern pondhawk
dragonfly--the color of plants,
of all that feed themselves
beneath the solar shower.
I volunteer my DNA.
Not having to eat the dead.
Green is a dream of grace.
Over vast stretches of time, Eastern Pondhawk females turned green, their males turned blue. Go figure.
In a cold breeze after two days of blessed rain
a little blue butterfly rides a grass blade.
Every shift of breeze blows her flat. Her
hook feet hold tight and stretch the grassblade.
She’s a half inch of wing with a yard of stubborn.
She will ride this as she rode out
two nights of thunderstorms. When I bend
to take a close look, my giant knees hurt.
I wince and know I am absurd.
The strength of Earth’s most natural little creatures, their insistent survival despite apparent fragility, points up what a cosseted giant I have become.
In human-terms this well-grown caterpillar
of the monarch butterfly
is a teen who must have used
a dewdrop to achieve
such perfect rake to his horns.
Debonair beyond his fellows.
Reminds me of mirror time with
my eighth grade pompadour.
I never was this debonair. Still
working on the wings.
Streamlined birds have landed in the wetlands.
Exotic, green, they poise to leap into the sky.
Such shapes as these must take to air, but first
the opening: they must dry to brown until a long seam
appears on each, splits open wide to free to Earth
a host of fliers of another kind,
that do not pierce the air but harness it
with silken sprays that carry seeds
as far and high as wind will bear
in hope of wetland touchdown.
Some few silk-borne seeds fly far beyond
the reach of the birds their parent pods imagined
that they were, before the opening.
These are the fruits of swamp milkweed, Asclepias incarnata (Asklepias was the Greek god of healing).
Molt time in the marshes,
curled feathers everywhere
on water, grass and in between.
On a shallow island, great swan
and three sandhill cranes preen
and pluck their way toward flight.
Resting on young grass,
wood ducks do the same.
Cranes change now from earth
browns to a cool gray elegant
as doves, a suede that reaches only
down their necks as yet.
The rest is patchwork, old rust, new gray.
Sandhill chicks hatch out afluff with rust.
Adults who camouflage with muds and clays
at nesting time reach back to natal plumage
to risk their eggs, a fine risk to assume.
Molt is itchy, long neck exercise,
and a caution when you can’t fly.
This is why ducks hang with big guys.
Feathers renewed, grasshopper fat,
soon this marsh of birds will take again to sky.
Kingfisher presides once more over a pool
that had turned green grass before, at last, the rains.
She hunts from the scoured branch of a barkless tree.
No depth for diving yet, but no sleek minnows
to tempt a dive to a broken neck.
When the kingfisher hovers over the mirror
before she commits, does she see
a kingfisher in the pool? Does she know
it is herself? The beauty?
I think this white moth must be fresh
from the cocoon. It’s spanking clean
and white except for the black and white
striped socks on the end of each leg,
which are also purely clean. How thin
these draped wings--each vein that
stretched and dried these wings
reveals itself in bas-relief. What
awes me is the angora fur that masks
the head, and from above, the eyes.
Northern girls once carried muffs soft
as this must feel, made of rabbit fur,
I’m sure, not from angora rabbits.
I want to touch this fur, but outstretched,
my hand decides to let young beauty
sleep this day, for the coming dark
may be redolent with mating pheromones.
This moth is Spilosoma congrua, the agreeable tiger moth. Who could argue with that?
I fall in love again each year with bottle gentian,
the flower that seems to hold itself in bud for all its life.
But that’s a trick. The flower is full grown,
pollen and nectar wait within, but she
insists on bumblebees, the burly pollinator
strong enough to force apart
the bottle gentian’s cloistered petals.
A strange scenario, that pollination.
I remind myself that flowers are not
girls or boys but both in one, but where,
through our narrow human filters,
does that leave the burly bumblebee?
She could have been a queen, but was not fed the gel,
so she is a worker, female but suppressed.
Her relationship with bottle gentian
is symbiosis, that hopeful drive to join up.
Anyway, I fell in love again with bottle gentian,
and that’s enough about the tangle of relationships
and the yarn snarl of my human mind.
Even with its back turned,
the small hawk has too much down
overflowing its breast. As it ducks
its head I see that it is eating a bird,
making its living. The prey
is held against a branch to make
the plucking easier. There is nothing
fierce or viscious here, just an accipiter
that made a kill. It sobers me to watch
down drift from the tree,
wandering almost like air.
I see my mother plucking mallards
in Autumn, watch her separate
downy feathers from the rest
to make a down and feather pillow.
I smell again burnt pinfeathers, just
like burning human hair, and know as then
the kinship: we are made the same
right at our skins.
Mine pebbles in the knowing.
The young blue heron bites a turtle
as it joins him on a log, grabs its head
and lifts it high in one swoop
so the turtle bites him back inside his bill.
Turtle splashes, heron shocked,
thrashes beak about and squawks.
My own tongue winces, remembering
how many nerves live within tongues,
the bright surprise of bit-tongue pain
that makes this bird my rueful kin.
Like yawning or scratching an itch, there are old basic matters that unite the vertebrates. Many have tongues to bite, and turtles too have beaks.
It never goes away, this fascination
with the elfin part of living Earth.
Today a host of tiny mushrooms
bright in coral colors claim
a rotted log to present their
fruit and spores, with the charm
of miniature perfection.
Small lives wake the child
and send me into reveries
of tiny lands. But bite marks
on three mushrooms bring me home.
Half of each cap cut
neatly with a chisel tooth.
Now the dream is acted
out in moonglow by
a half-grown mouse that
discovers small indented parasols,
lifts to take one bite
from one, two, three caps,
drops to fours, sweeps whiskers,
disappears in night.
Nowadays, we must make an odd distinction between elfin (small and delicate, with an attractively mischievous or strange charm) and ‘elvan’ as with Tolkien’s elves, (immortal, tall, beautiful and grave).
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