This morning oak leaves fall tatterdemalion,
skip-sliding down the air, the russet fallings
just engage the corner of the eye—
then Zip! A streak of black races up!
Head turns. Chickadee with sunflower
hurls herself up from the feeder
to a proper branch where she beak-hammers
the nutmeat clasped between her toes.
All morning, oak leaves slide, chickadee
races to her branch again and again,
fueling her quick fire as leaves
prepare the slow fire of return.
Little hop hitch, spiraling up tree and down
nuthatches scamper over bark, poke
sharp beaks into every oak-bark crevice
where little foods might hide from cold
and colder yet to come. One bird stops
to prize out a caterpillar, pokes into
that fissure several times,
all but smacks his beak—
his eye could be no more bright.
In early cold spells, the number of nuthatches hunting bark is astonishing. As must be, winter will take the least fit. The bugs can freeze and survive it, larger nuthatch must stoke the fire all winter long.
We walk toward Lake Alice beach in cold rain,
myself and thirty fourth-grade kids.
When we reach the crest
where grass ends and beach falls away
a great WHOOSH!
as a hundred wings of giant geese
buffet wind to lift from shore.
Thirty-one ways to say O!
and Ohhhh, and all in awe.
The flock splashes down
a hundred yards out,
where they’d sat before
grass and grit had tempted them. Now
the bell voices, now loud words tumble air,
ring pleasure. We are not cold, we do not feel
raindrops. Man and child, we
are warm to the core with the gift.
The sound of the massed wings of great birds taking flight beggars description. The geese are the giant Canada goose, the largest of geese, and perhaps the most sudden. William O’Brien State Park was our setting. Fourth graders are much tougher in cold wet than decrepit old poets.
The highbush cranberry out front
Is today by wind gusts shorn.
Each cold pulse
hurls a hundred yellow leaves into
a lower place to dream
not of sky but of dissolve,
to feed again the tiny mouths
of nematode and springtail
and threading fungus hyphae,
and when reduced so far,
gulped by infinite bacteria
until essence is left, to soak
down soil, dissolve again until
questing rootlets seek, and pull
essence into living wood again, where it
may enter what next spring uncurls green.
The last blossom of Stella d' Oro opens wide
as on the road a possum's mouth bleeds bright red..
Newly dead, her hairless tail is warm in hand.
Bare trees wave but the pond is still.
Impatient breezes toss small birds about in early gray.
Now breezes dip and riffle light across the calm.
In the water, birches disappear.
Earth regularly offers us images which seem to fit together without logic, images rich in possibility. Jung called these perceptions “synchronicity”, and suggested that our linear sense of cause and effect sadly limits us. Humans search for meaning in these strange conjunctions of image offerings, and sometimes find a true piece of the story of the earth. Be alert to simultaneous images that somehow 'fit' together and make meaning.
With the hatching of a tiny egg
laid upon a chosen leaf by a tiny fly
the journey starts. Now
the eating, now delicious chewing
of the stuff of other life, life green
that greens us all, animal miners
growing, all tunneling our ways.
Narrow drifts begin the mining, looping out
and crossing old paths, but
as the grub grows its tunnel grows wide.
It consumes more and more of its green world
layered between tough skins.
What does it think of winds
that jostle its leaf and folds it upside down?
On the journey goes. Grub grows,
eats always curves, ranges out
to the very leaf-tip boundaries of world.
Does it sense outer space
at the leaf point? Something
drives it back toward center then,
tunnel ever wider until it knows,
all sudden, it’s the perfect size.
It eats a last green feast, a wide snake’s head
to front the tunnel bored by chewing,
a wide room for the sleep.
So green become grub becomes pupa
that slowly becomes fly inside.
After sleep enough, a tiny fly newborn
eats its way out of the leaf-mined world
and vibrates wings into boundless sky.
It will mate there with another
who has transcended leaf, and soon
will lay a tiny egg upon a chosen leaf.
A great rock rib rouses from the desert floor
to become at top
Three Kings crowned
with huge flat redrock trapezoids.
Shoulders slope hints into living rock.
These stone forms lifts the archetype from
the roots of mind.
I discover majesty
and again the urge to bow.
We search always for pattern, search always for the familiar, dive deep for the metaphor that discovers our selves, anchors us in what we know. Sometimes our finding is from our inherited mind. This formation is in Arches National Park, Utah.
Thin ice skimmed the ponds last night.
Everything is going down—at pond bottom,
turtles burrow into mud but
leave hind legs free for oxygen exchange
directly with the blood, enough for torpor.
Green frogs lie on the bottom now, asleep.
A few leaves wander air, lilt in breeze but
end up on the ground, gone down.
On the land, snakes have found cousins
and having a ball with them,
down as deep as the burrow they borrowed.
Woodfrogs and treefrogs burrow shallow
under leaves, where they will freeze hard
and wait for thaw. Earthworms have dug down
below frostline to sleep. Toads are the exquisite
delvers of earth. They back into the soil,
dig with one hind foot, then the next
and rotate their bodies a little
with each foot-full of earth. They slowly,
slowly spin deep into the ground precisely
as a human spiral drillbit.
In the fifth century BC Archytas of Tarentum
in Italy watched a toad dig down, clapped
his forehead, and invented the screw.
So toads never screw up. They screw down. Until spring, at least. It would not surprise me to learn that they dug their way toward sun while standing on their warty heads.
The root of an old bristlecone pine
refuses the spring rush of snowmelt
down the mountainside, loses bark
but holds against such force, holds
The root terraces the steep slope,
contains the stuff of life discarded
washed down, makes
a home, a niche
for little round manzanita leaves
that hug the earth
poised to clap
that they have sun, a terrace place to be,
another life that anchors theirs
as well as its own
Every life exists within community. Without intention, without consciousness, lives in the community are mutually beneficial. They co-evolved.
Out West they call her hoodoo,
but anyone can name names.
She is wind and water carved,
in winter wears an ermine crown
but in gentler seasons pins up
her clay hair, for she is all clay
by wind and water carved.
Her waist has not been found
yet by the sculptors, shoulders have
only recently appeared.
She turns her head away.
We cannot know her features, but
by the impudent lift of left shoulder
I think she smiles, a little,
tilts her head upon that slender neck.
She has no armature.
I think she knows she may collapse
before emergence , before she takes up
entire the half-life she’s been granted
by Hoodoos’ wind and water carvers.
This hoodoo lives in Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah. Erosion is a fine sculptor.
So green the grasshopper on the path,
so emerald against the desert brown
and red rocks.
So intensely green and bright
as junipers play their char green tone
accented by dusky berries blue,
and sage is hoary green paled
by ever-sun—the grasshopper
leaps and streams green across
my hungry eye like water on the tongue.
In the North among trees and fields,
grasshoppers ripen tan or red-brown,
cryptic against grass stems, but here
in the desert red and brown he is intensely,
truly, simply green.
What a blessing this Green Valley Grasshopper was. I probably ruined his day by chasing him from sage to sage to get a photo. Photographers lose all conscience and courtesy, and it’s amazing how easily those qualities sluff away.
When leaves skein blue sky
and birds fall to the feeders
the land becomes marine.
When flocks of grackles
sway in currents like the forest kelp,
or cormorants in twilit ocean waves,
On days the trees let go
and a thousand leaves weave down as one
the land becomes the sea,
and we slip in time, like
bubbles tumbled up from lungs,
from land become the amnion.
The sideways flash of chickadee,
froth upon a newborn's lips,
leaves drift round this air become the sea.
We are creatures mothered by salt sea who still carry it around inside our skins, and an autumn day returns me home. Fluids, whether water or air, similarly shape their inhabitants and the ways we move. Autumn is the time we know most clearly that we belong to Earth.
In this season bucks lock horns,
at first in play of sorts, then
as rut takes hold, bucks
fight true to prove their seed.
The blood that pumped antlers
out of their skulls roars
throughout the flesh
as antlers rattle bone
and they surrender to the rut,
knowing what must happen,
knowing nothing else, except
how to scrape the earth,
how to rub a sapling raw,
how to roll their eyes and nostrils flare
at the scent of estrus doe,
how to make this bondage beautiful.
The mule deer bucks pictured were rattling antlers in the orchard of old Fruita, Utah.
At Chaco Canyon even grasses
leap against shadow to light.
Panicles of Indian ricegrass
stutter bright on arched stems
timeless as stone,
fountain sunlight into eyes as it will,
grown green next spring,
return water from soil to sky after rains.
Fountain it remains, but dried gold
tipped with seed once ground
with matate and mano
and baked at Pueblo Bonita.
These little seeds will dance in light
next to the ruins and fill granaries
of kangaroo rats that nest in the great house
long after rebar is rust and concrete is dust.
Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, is a spirit center and will be for long. Spirit here is palpable; it strokes mind, it strokes heart. It is sacred to the tribes and to surprised tourists. Here even the spirit of ricegrass is manifest.
How strange is water ice,
the change of phase
from wet to crystalline.
How the fingers of the ice
reach out as they expand
like flowers opening
or stretching crystal needles which
seek but break as they collide.
How on the pond, this first thin ice
captures wind in ripple shapes--
or does it?
How next to ripples
is the mirror smooth of perfect calm—
crystals joined seamlessly
as molecules of air, this surface
yet so thin that bubbles rising
from below still bobble just below the mirror,
not quite caught, as will be all the lives held
below this cold twin face of sky
and pond, from little lives of daphnia
to lives snapping turtle large,
all sealed in for months
unless this phase change is undone
again by untimely, careless sun.
This season can’t seem to make up its mind. No life directly affected frets, just the impatient human. The pleasure of the sequence is watching water freeze, crystals reaching out from shore in all directions. The pleasure is that every time this “same thing” happens, the surface of the pond is new and different.
It’s something in the light
and the distance light insists
in these wide basins enclosed by
folded rampart rock.
It’s something in the height
of flat plateaus six thousand
feet above the mother sea.
It is the length and width of sky,
the miles sky carries sight through air
clear as purified by light itself.
It is the palette of the place, where
death is weathered black, where growth
is saltbush green and sage, where
between the dun and red-toned soils
fluffgrass bleaches white.
It is the red rock, slickrock shelved
and rounded in the winds,
the freeze and thaw
in every watered crack.
But all that claimed and said,
the best that I can manage is,
It’s something in the light.
This is the vista of the Great Basin Desert, the high desert in the rain-shadow of the Sierras and Cascades. The locale that evokes these maunderings is southern Utah.
The paws are most clear in memory,
long toes tipped with little claws,
those paws and white-rimmed eyes.
It’s the tactile recall of those paws
inside my pockets, searching treats,
that sings in my skin like hours just passed.
How privileged were the children
we once were, my sister and myself,
to have red squirrels forage us for nuts.
They would race down the plated bark
of the huge red pine when we appeared.
As they ran to us across the needle-fall
to leave the circle of the tree, they would
disappear in old needles colored
exactly as their backs and tails.
They vanished again when they
ran the needle-duff back to the bole.
Today I revel in this red and present
squirrel as his claws run him
up and down my oaks, red oaks.
red oak, red squirrel.
We are the patternmakers; we hunger for meaning. Where there is none, we make it up. And why not?
Barbara Kingsolver reminds me that, Memory is a complicated thing, a relative to truth, but not its twin.
Excepting my memory, of course.
The grasses gold in morning sun
have turned now strange
under coats of frozen rain.
Old pennon blades stream out
ice-caught as if in bitter wind.
Gold devolves to dun when clouds bulge down
from cold, but bow the grasses must,
and you and I know that the white root
in frozen dark is golden sunlight stored
that cares nothing for winter or for wind,
that rests now to prepare green spears
that will thrust again to fuse with light.
Time to walk against the wind. We bow to season now, and contemplate roots.
A small plane flies over a field
where the farmer finally got his corn in.
Hundreds of giant Canada geese rise,
a cloud of strong wings beat as one,
dark against gray November sky.
At first the skeins of geese unravel
all directions in their fright, then
the outskirts shift, draw toward the center
until the hundreds fly as one large
urgency of chevrons
tattered at the edges now and then,
beating dark against gray sky.
The sheer power of the wingbeats of wild geese is a living joy.
Their existence now thrives; fifty years ago they had almost disappeared. The subspecies that blesses us in MN is known as “the giant Canada goose.”
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