Still water and sun explore the painted turtle’s paint,
complete its mirrored arm and rosy plastron
on the under of the log it basks upon.
The red edge of the dark green shell
winds down the arm into the mirror.
Gold stripes and green lengthen turtle’s neck in light,
delicious in alert repose. Pads of pondweed and lily
border the log, here lifted ribs, there upside down
and flat, afloat like the white breast feather
propped against the log’s knob end.
Beyond its dome, the turtle is going round.
Its legs embrace beneath the mirror,
a hoop for minnows to swim through.
I climb the steep trail puffing
to discover this fungus
braying from its tree at me
from a mouth more grotesque
than any clown. Surely
I wasn’t horselaugh funny?
It’s hard sometimes to
recall that I am ludicrous
and Nature will have the last laugh,
but please, I’d rather a crow.
Autumn in the wet meadow is ripe with strategy.
Plants with vast and slow intelligence now
observe their seeds mature sharp –pointed
hooks and stickers evolved to attach to mammal
hairs, so in the next weeks trained rabbits & raccoons,
skunk & mink, fox & tall coyote will oblige the plants
by brushing by on a night forage and carry
hookseeds back to the den entrance, where white teeth
will groom them from fur and drop them into soil
loosened by the paws of these ready gardeners.
Pretty bur marigold and sweet cicely can sleep winter
content with the safe dispersal of their tricksy seed.
A hundred pelicans line up along a mud bar.
They flew last night; today they catch up.
Endless preening is the migrant’s chore
to keep them airborne with least spent energy.
The pool is but inches deep—this drought—no
room to do group hunts and herd small fish.
Big beaks hunt frogs on small walkabouts.
Groups of ten tuck necks, unfold nine-foot wings
and leap into sky, splashes lingering.
They form lines and spiral up, wings echoing wings.
They fly to water deep enough for minnows, but
their ascent carries them into the bright being of sky.
Hours after rain, gifted today with a rainbow
in the wings of a tiny syrphid fly
intent on dandelion pollen,
some of the last before the freeze.
She pretends she is a wasp to ease her way,
a character found across life’s spectrum,
but no matter—she is magnificent, her
Indian abdomen, her eyes themselves
a kabuki mask for we who seek faces.
As days shorten, all must seek the flower feast.
Outer petals host truly tiny thrips,
enlarge our fly to epic size. For me,
her winged rainbows span the sky.
Ripe hips of the wild rose seem to reach
toward the red oak leaves, beyond all gold,
as if to join their fires against the season.
Rose hips do not know that trees
shrug off leaves and pull essence
deep into roots, while hips
hold seeds alive, and alone
defy the white of snow.
Seed fire will be shared with Spring.
Under oaks, on the forest floor lies a Lilliput
of horn-bells in pale green, flared trumpets
that jut from a green turf, an orchestra
of woodwinds and horns.
Music plays here in many timbres
and pitches of green. Its volume is scant,
scaled to its birth. Gently lie down
on your side, an ear above the trumpets
In a slant light like now,
just after rain, bell rims ring
bright as crystal goblets
circled with wet fingers.
The trumpets, of course, are cup lichens, (Cladonia), and the green turf beneath them made of miniscule liverworts.
Strange pair at the last asters,
bumble bee and grasshopper, one
smoothed slick, one fuzzed, both
replete with chitin hooks. Both
hunger for life. We think
‘Killing frost’ means plants,
but as dendrites of ice rupture green,
so ice will end hopper and bee,
except for newborn buried queens
ripe with royal antifreeze, and a host
of hopper eggs that too will freeze
and yet in thaw emerge.
So many insects die in the northern Autumn. But only their final life-stage dies; their reproductive stages live on.
The great owl swoops low across the night road,
so low lights moving too fast dazzle it,
and the impact is soft but sufficient.
As it drops to the blacktop both eyes close
and a thread of blood badges the hooked beak.
Across the road, a rabbit continues to nip clover.
Early past dawn, my wife moves the owl to the shoulder.
That gift of power requires more respect than flattening
under the wheels of fools who relish the thump.
I come then to the owl on my walk. A sprawl of feathers
flung, muscles still, loose, still cooling. The horns
made of feathers—a great horned owl. Legs
stretch long below its weightless body,
feathered to the talons, which claim my eyes.
The talons are huge and black, recurved.
I see them splayed as the owl flies,
ready to swing forward for the killing slam.
They contract in the strike as they do now in death,
but clutch now nothing to lift.
What lifted did not wait for daylight;
it was nocturne’s hunter, gone into night.
The Virginia Ctenucha moth is worn,
wings faded, blue iridescence gone
as autumn sags toward winter. But
its tongue still sips sweets
from the few calico asters.
This ancient day moth is still raw silk,
neck-fur of its growing still gold.
Ragged on each edge,
I uncoil my tongue
against this lowering sky.
Cut down twice to the root,
hawkweed answers the imperative,
flames with the rush to make seed.
Hard frost almost here.
If pollinators still fly out there,
this orange fire
will pull them to its
rich with nectar--
ripe with pollen—
heart of burning gold.
In autumnal light
all that grows
fills with transient beauty
richer for the coming change.
Plain white clover leaps to me from shadow,
a gift come into bloom, a sense
that Earth has given me a smile
the sweeter for the scent.
On a straggler aster, twin hoverflies seek nectar,
striped thoraxes pollen sprinkled,
abdomens elegant as a Haida cedar box
in the slope of afternoon light.
The veins of their wings draw lines
like rivulets meandering downhill.
I know it won’t be long;
they don’t have the strange gift of foreknowing,
and for that I ache with their beauty.
Water becomes strange
in autumn light
in absolute still.
All begins somehow to jell.
Leaves rise from water
that can’t be here,
lie flat on the mirror as if
the effort spent them.
Surface tension grows.
The holes it creates today
find the form of whirlpool
with smooth sides,
locked in time, unmoving.
In this moment I know again
I know nothing of this Earth
of which I’m made.
A monarch butterfly
flies erratic across the trail, sunny
after weeks of chill dark rain.
Few flowers this deep into Fall.
The monarch swirls by; I lose it.
Further up the hill, I discover it
hanging knee high on my jeans.
For a moment I am honored.
When I lift the monarch off
it flutters to the earth.
It is dying
as the season spirals down.
The hindwings have lost color
with their scales, pale trailing edges torn.
Like a child, I offer it a finger.
It climbs up, uncoils its tongue
and probes my cuticle for nectar.
A forest pool contains autumn in its glass,
trunks of oak and pale aspen, leaves of long grasses,
Rafts of golden aspen leaves, and on
actual water margins grows a duckweed coat
soon to be shrugged off.
I can see why the mythic child Narcissus
lost himself to stare into a forest pool,
but for the bright stirring colors as air
touches water, and for the textures of bark
made to tremble in their evanescence,
not for the glory of his self-love
Reflection is what pools do, and elders too,
but few elders would love their image in the pool,
or rise without risk from kneeling on its brink.
I am charmed enough by what is mirrored there
by trees and light and autumn leaves
and the release of season’s passing.
A rivulet plays with sunlight
and the colors of its pebble bed.
Some fallen leaves are sunk
below the flow, some still float.
Clasped tight to one oak leaf,
dead white against its russet,
a last mayfly hangs on as if
refusing to be swept downstream,
but such is the season of the fall.
In primal waters Earth transforms.
A swamp-logged oak in North America
has grown the ears of river-horse
and is working up the jaws and girth.
Some generative power out of Africa
has kindled a hippo in a Minnesota wetland.
I am relieved that eyes have not yet appeared.
I don’t care to be here when they do blink open.
A dewdrop suspends from the sharp tip
of an erect grass blade, close to soil.
The convex water lens enlarges green
and captures light, which it magnifies.
Within the dewdrop lens,
inside the grass blade tip, chloroplasts
capture the starlight focused by dew,
and use it to grow more green.
Far across the meadow
I see the long death outlined
as if in charcoal, before
the earth-colors of
the small dying of the fall.
The char bones are oak’s
twists and jags, the same
naked form shown to snow
when alive. In no time now, gorgeous
aspen golds and oak russets, even
the raspberry leaves of red osier
will lie on soil, to begin
their return down to where
even sharp outlines
blur as the improbable
mouths of microbes begin to feed.
Just across the planks,
Same vine kind,
It’s like seeing
in two mirrors
two faces of me,
There are other ways than up
to enter sky, ways clouds have
long known, and blue.
One path is water, still
when wind has no breath.
As an oak branch enters sky through
a pond, a few of its own wan leaves
float above the entrance, denied
by water’s tension.
Surface is illusion,
sky is depth.