At altitude, on the slopes
of an old volcano, there lives
a grasshopper who follows the Tao.
He does without doing,
almost Is without Being,
so adeptly volcanic his being.
His colors and patterns all
belong to the rock he lives upon,
which he cryptically does
A tenet of Taoist thought is “wei wu wei,” often translated as “do without doing” or “act without acting,” and also as “effortless doing.” This high altitude grasshopper, as long as he does not move, is invisible. Even his wings are patterned and pigmented as if volcanic conglomerate. Consider: these hidden mountain dwellers live a whole life in about six weeks, from egg hatch to egg lay to freezing out. They have had around 50,000 years to match their camouflage so completely to the landscape—or it may have been complete 49,000 years ago. And they did it without doing it!
A twig turns slowly
as it descends on the silk thread it spins,
vulnerable in suspension.
A twig with six tiny legs,
a spinneret in its head,
and skin like bark itself.
There is no going back;
this slow spiraling
is childhood’s end,
time to cocoon and create
its self-miracle again,
this time with wings
and night to fly safe within,
night to meet an Other in.
This “inchworm” caterpillar is done with eating leaves
and must now leave the tree that fed it. Its mimicry of bark with lichen is poignant.
A little spider walks on air,
her silk but hinted in noon light.
She would fit upon my fingernail,
her legs translucent in high sun.
Small beings often so welcome light.
I take an old pleasure
in living translucence.
You did this too.
A child’s finger held before
a flashlight beam
was our stand-in for
this office of the sun, and
lovely red our blood did glow.
It’s all finally about light and flow, and perhaps a quality of being clear.
Leaves and light,
light and leaves
never tire our clever eyes,
as if our intuition knows
from first sight
that light plus leaf gives life.
As you know, this photosynthesis allows all life on land. How fitting that it is accompanied by such beauty. The leaves in the photo are madrone.
Here he is, spanking new,
red feathers just arriving,
bill not orange yet.
Two weeks ago
he was an egg. Now,
should I hold him in my hand,
his heart would rush into my skin.
He is from the third brood
of summer, late.
He faces winter, here.
Winter is a cold and quiet sorting out for young birds. May he find good shelter from the winds.
Wooly Bear knows what time it is,
just like all the other bears,
time to find a hole to winter in,
survive the freeze,
but those huge hulking bears
will wake up hideloose, scrawny,
and little Wooly will wake up once,
eat a pile of greens, spin
a sleeping bag of silk,
go back to sleep,
and wake again with wings.
Lake Alice gunmetal gray
below autumn sky, sun low south.
Two crows yak from stumps
in the shallows. The wind hurls caws at me.
I step back, trip over a large rock and abruptly
sit. Next to the stone, warmed
in its stored heat, blue eyes find mine,
open them wide. Before frost strokes
them low and ices their shore,
these forget-me-nots ensure
they do not fade from memory.
In the North, we do need reminders of warm.
Don’t forget. Pass it on.
These little waterside wildflowers bloom here in June and July. Sure. Once again Earth points out how narrow is my knowing.
Full moon smolders red
as the forest burning below:
Truth will have its harvest.
So odd that forest fires and volcanic eruptions give us superb sunsets and a painted moon. If I were young, I would call this ironic. Now I focus on beauty.
A late-hatch paperwasp
wanders on the vacant comb
where her sisters all grew,
flew off, and died of wear and time.
In bright morning this lone late-hatcher
casts a shadow huge and waspy.
Could she see it, would it comfort her?
It is hard to be the last of your hive. Theodora Kroeber, in her book “Ishi, the last of his tribe,” described how, when Ishi “came in,” he was the last speaker of hisYahi language. Shadows do so magnify.
This swift bluebelly lizard approaches
perfection of his kind: spines perfectly arrayed
in serried rows, sharp climbing claws that grip
when they relax, metal sheen of armor,
blue belly-scales that name him ready male,
quick-cocked eye, wise in wariness,
plus his imperfection, proof of all tests:
the patch of un-shed skull scales that dims his pineal eye.
But scales will fall, and his brain be bright again
as the sun that heats his body and spins
his startled name from “fence lizard” into “swift.”
The tribe of Sceloporus lizards are variously known as “swifts” “spiny lizards” and “fence lizards,” and in the vernacular, “bluebellies.” Arboreal animals, lizards, squirrels, cooly arrange their claw muscles so that relaxed they grip, and contracting, they lift. When this lizard moved, it did not leave, it simply wasn’t there.
A tiny ant, a clover blossom, autumn-slanting sun.
The ant explores for food. Clover ignores the calendar.
Nectar huddles deep in clover’s tubes.
Is there room for ant inside?
Hard freeze tonight, tomorrow the sky will fall in snow,
we’re told. Ant is not concerned. No radio. Doesn’t know.
We know. We are big, we’re in the know,we
can do something with this foreknowing. Ant can’t.
So ant will just collect all the nectar that it can, try
its luck inside the clover flower tubes. But what
is it we should do, to attest the marvel of our knowing?
I know: go on TV, run in circles crying out,
“The sky is going to fall! The sky is going to fall!”
Monday is a good day to play with the weather-readers on the news, where precipitation is always a disaster. Perhaps we should all reread Chicken Little, and while we’re at it, “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” and “The Emperor’s New Clothes.”
Found today a fern turned ghost,
a lady fern gone bone white
even to her stem.
An ordinary fern goes brown
and curls when frost transforms.
This white whisper keeps
each pale leaflet on every frond
aligned and true.
Light picks her out of shadow,
performs its blessing:
each frond filled with grace
even at the end of days.
felix-femina is lady fern’s species name. This ghost recalls to me the Grand Dames of dance we’ve lost. I saw Margot Fonteyn dance with Nureyev when she was sixty years old. Elegant!
After maple crimson, aspen ochre
and the golden flights of birch,
there are left the oaks,
tap-roots sunk deep to pull
earth minerals up into
the fountain of their leaves,
the burnt sienna russets,
burnt umber browns,
whole crowns mahogany and maroon,
vermillion patches here, and
there still-proud tinted greens.
Bright lines of birch stretch eyes
up toward that autumn sky
of blue sung infinitely deep.
The cycling of minerals from subsoil to topsoil through roots and leaves continually restores fertility and tilth to soils, and gives us this splendid show.
Ponderosa pine is a name
friendly in my mouth as if
it had always lived here
waiting to be said.
Ponderosa grows a lady-cone
to hold and save its seeds.
The scales are thick,
each ends in a point
to keep seed-eaters out
until the seeds are ripe,
when the cone relaxes
and tumbles down to earth.
Pondersosa pine cone
lies now in the duff
of forest floor,
its strong scales russet,
the tip of each crowned green
as copper verdigris
until the sharp point rises
russet brown, but they guard
the silky seeds no more,
their work is done,
and clever paws of squirrel
or jay beaks will winkle
every seed into a throat
and etch their coats toward sprout
before they plant them unaware.
The cone of this tree is as rich to my eyes as ponderosa pine is rolling through my mouth.
High mountain meadows collapse seasons,
there are but two: Snow and Grow.
Grow is Spring and Summer, Fall.
Like tundra wet, high meadows flow
with rivulets and flowers,
ardent flowers eager
to quicken and set seed.
Paintbrush blooms in Spring below,
high it colors acres
with asters of the Fall,
urgent red among the blue
before the ten-month Snow.
This high meadow is on the slopes of Mount Shasta, volcano
sleeping in north California.
A large moth trembles on the verge
of road and death, just struck, tries
to move, but her rich legacy of eggs
has all spilled onto one wing, hope
broken as her feather antennae
vibrate and go still. She is furred
black, red spots near her head,
blue-gray wings impact torn.
One death among billions,
One egg-load lost, but here, close,
I watch promise die.
We assume there are many of her kind whose eggs are laid, do hatch, and some few will fly, enact the old promises, but we can’t assume any more, we no longer know.
A final black-eyed susan wakes
to find itself hosting snowflakes,
and petals curled with cold.
The only question is:
Did the seeds mature?
That is the only ever question
for plants and buried eggs,
for snakes and turtles, frogs,
for all the furry kind asleep:
After snowflakes, after ice,
what will wake?
Perennial or annual, animal or plant, winter is the test that many fail but most survive, thanks to life’s toughness and adaptability.
Air is filled with windseeds
as the north winds blow
to welcome in the cold.
Most of thistle seed and milkweed,
most of lettuce seed and salsify
will never reach a soil
where they might grow.
One windseed, a starburst
of white filaments against brown leaves,
has found black soil, held away
now by its filaments of flight,
but snow will press it down
to meet the crucible where life is born,
and melting, set it free.
Tamarac is the last gold bless of Fall,
the best. After aspen, after birch,
as sun drops toward south’s horizon
it burns in golden needles
which were almost a mist of green,
soft on skin, now suddenly aflame
as if forging heartbeats, but silent, still,
no drum. Soon the gold will drop to soil
and our eyes will find black bared,
but looking down, we will find
the gold entire upon the ground.
We are told fall color is gone, but look, here is the crescendo, what all the rest built toward. Golden tamarac against black spruce above the reddened heaths of muskeg bogs is as close to glory as I need.
Bluster is another name for Fall,
It hurtles with it leaves,
bows birch saplings south
and strips them of greengold
against gray cloud,
Black ruin his face:
nose burned away,
mouth melted closed,
he cannot speak,
but he can moan.
Deep in the dark hollows
of his sockets, something
like eyes has re-grown,
something wet that burns.
Born of fire’s red roar
he lives in silent shadows
where great trees rule.
He hides his scars behind ferns,
cannot bear eyes to fall on him.
People who live near
no longer dare hold Halloween,
for the tale is told and re-told
how some lonely pitying child
brought him a bag
and took him trick-or-treating
door to screaming door.
Have a strange All Hallow’s Eve.
"Everything wants to be round,"
Black Elk reminds me again.
Fall leaves spiral as they dry
into shapes exquisite as bird nests.
These leaves' buds spent last winter conical,
pointedly round, and inside the scales
lived pale mini-leaves, preparing
to unroll into light and widen green.
Now as Earth rolls round the sun
the leaves curl toward bud-shapes
as they continue their curve
from leaf-form to essence.
"Re-mind" is a fine word for becoming mindfull, growing round. Black Elk was a Lakota teacher/shaman/elder whose personal narrative and wisdom was recorded by his friend John Neihardt, Nebraska poet of the Western experience, in Black Elk Speaks (1931), a seminal book in cultural anthropology and literature.
Top of Page
Back to Archive