The dark seedhead of a black-eyed susan
grows over windless hours into the bright
tall shako of a palace guard which
sifts slowly out of sky. Each crystal flake
falls into place so dark can yield to white.
It’s that white time and past. Equinox is near.
An eagle graced our place,
a strong adult,
white head, long gold beak,
cruised the pond,
beat wide black wings
to cup the sky,
spread prime feather tips
against a remnant mist.
Below him, wild turkeys
brocaded leafless brush,
blue heads down.
A few graced moments are our portion. Share them as you can.
Three metates, three manos,
Three women of Spruce House
kneel before maize, go
hand to hand with flour corn kernels.
They have waited for shade.
Three voices bounce like birds
off the living rock above their heads,
Three laughs, three little grimaces
at the notions of men.
They have swept out the hollows for flour,
Which grows behind the metates.
Muscles stand in six forearms.
White corn flour is thrown to the east,
Blue flour blesses west,
Yellow and red thrown north, thrown south.
The sound of stone against stone,
Of sibilant kernels shushing between.
Corn is always the gift, is still
The maiden of the dance.
The bird voices quiet a moment.
The stones do not stop.
The row of three metates, each with its mano, is part of Spruce House, a cliff dwelling at Mesa Verde. To see the wear in the stones is to see the good labor of years by maiden, mother and crone. This place was lived in from about 1200 to 1300 AD. It connects to Chaco Canyon.
Lichen-shapes etched into
red Navajo sandstone curve
toward meaning, drop hints, allude.
These rock-eating pioneers
are half as old as living stone.
Lichen colors edge toward green, toward white,
here melt downward into gold, crust
and paint in black as shadow deep as time.
The redrock sandstone of Utah is fossilized sand dunes from way back. The lichens that grow upon it are very old. Some lichens in Antarctica may be among the oldest living organisms. Symbiosis lives!
In slickrock country, a tall blue heron
walks the center shallows
of the young Escalante River
in cottonwood shade. One by one
he pulls up his feet, drips,
bends his backward knees and steps
deliberately as a spirit-hunting priest.
In this green and tender dusk
the dorsal fins of little trout spark water
that gleams in heron’s eye.
The great blue heron is a New World species, breeds mostly in North America, and winters in northern South America, the Galapagos and the Caribbean islands. Their distribution is among the widest in the hemisphere; they are found wherever there is wadeable water to hunt. Like us, Great Blues will eat anything they can swallow. Like us, they show many aspects: dancer, killer, parent, clown, trigger and essence of deep time.
The Escalante River flows in south Utah, through the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. It is a gorgeous land whose edges I have touched.
As I round a curve
a red horse rises from a snowy field,
red as strong as burgundy.
In silent snort his nose puffs white,
his flanks quiver and he's lost
to the long curve.
At the turnoff
Cardinal swoops up
past the windshield.
The red fox runs
across the pond
white snow warmed.
Often earth presents us with daily themes. Here, yesterday, it was red animals on snow. Jung called this “synchronicity.” We only pretend to grasp causality, and haven't a clue why events cluster in this way. And that's fine. Relish mystery.
Life lives in circles, and events are always disappearing around the curve. Events are brief. Driving a car on a curving road is as seminal a metaphor for our time as a panning camera. Be as aware of the many ways our lives travel curves. Begin with the planet's year and the wheeling of the galaxy. Then zoom in to the personal.
Beneath closed doors
The paws of kittens stretch, implore.
They reach as far as forelegs can
when legs are kitten short.
The paws turn over, implore,
show black pads, white claws.
At no age can cats abide latched doors,
It’s an affront to hunters’ will
to chase unconfined and catch
whatever prey is here today:
A stockinged foot, a wiggling toe,
unwary fingers pushed
back in answer underneath the door.
We have two new black girl kittens who can’t stand closed doors. We are blessed with surplus smiles every day. Two older male cats are coming slowly to enjoy them, but with some measure of dignity.
A little room made of sandstone,
made of fossil sand dunes
that were so deep—miles, some say,
so heavy that
pulled by Earth’s dense core,
they squeezed themselves
together into stone, which
epochs later, almost yesterday,
Old Puebloans shaped into ashlar
and laid them up with mortar into walls.
This little stone room of sand dune once,
I think, rang with childrens’ laughs,
and maybe parents’ too,
for on one wall is a niche,
a deep shelf up off the floor,
empty now ten centuries.
Its tree-branch lintel still
holds up the hollow.
On the earth floor is a metate
with its mano for preparing corn.
Rocks record much. I wonder if
within some alignment of quartz sand grains
in these old walls still softly sings
a mother’s lullaby, and the shush
of corn between mano and metate.
The ruins at Aztec, New Mexico, were named that by mistake in the 19th century. Most of these little rooms were not lived in, it seems—we don’t know why. Most do not have a niche in them. But some do, and I think they were lived in. This room certainly had a presence—nothing spooky, just human.
All day a cold wind sounds,
bludgeons the ear with winter gray,
springs tears to eyes,
sprays twigs of oaks
all across downed leaves.
Trees barren of all but branches
roar as if full green
in the cold harp of Boreas.
Now and then kernels of snow
whirl on air grown thick with need, then
riding wind the horns of geese
wedged in flight against the wind,
I see these contrary geese pushing north
and admire them with each fiber shivering.
What is it that we admire about contraries? Sisyphus rolls his boulder up the hill forever, Prometheus regrows his liver for Zeus’s eagle to devour, and we continue to admire spitting into the wind, if it is done with élan. Apparently, in the face of the Fates, attitude is everything.
Trust the Spanish to leave the bell tower
after crushing the rebellion in 1694.
Taos churchyard remains true,
the Sangre de Christos stay mountain blue
until the sunset bleeds, pueblo doors still
painted as fallen sky-stone.
Grave upon grave here, tightly spaced,
as if the place itself remembers
more reasons for bells.
This place contains memory as it contains the dust of those who lived them. The Spanish, like all Europeans, were vicious in suppressing revolt, but no more so than the Americans when they bought New Mexico hundreds of years later. But the Taos Puebloans have abided here for over a thousand years.
Moon-sliver rides low a cold clear sky,
grows wider as she leans
above silhouetted trees,
early to bed and early to rise
for this young Moon
with her lean arms spread in the curve
that will soon wax strong
and bright with Earthshine,
as she has done and will
for almost forever
as her light rolls around old Sol.
Such a pleasure to see moon and stars, after a surfeit of clouds. Clear is our Northern tradeoff for cold, and we welcome it (at first, anyway).
They call this country Basin and Range,
but from distance all the basins disappear,
all that sagebrush, all that saltbush,
all that dry-wash gravel, lizards, tough life,
utterly lost, vanished,
and from a peak, all that can be seen
is serried mountain ranges
darkening one shade of blue
with the width of each basin unseen.
Distance is blue in the human eye and in the heart, both in time and in space.
Eyes wander out the window
wishing for some color,
half-convinced this gray will stay,
when Ms. Pileated Woodpecker
flaps in black-white, black-white,
her crest aflame and backlit
by sun leaned low and south
as we all await Solstice
and our promised longer days.
I tempt myself to wish for more,
but greed’s contrary to the season
or should be, and I am graced with flame
and black and white descended
from clawed and feathered therapods
alive ten feet in front of me.
Mr. Pileated has a red mustache; Ms. wears black instead. She thinks there’s such a thing as too flamboyant. I admire the strong claws on those hitching woodpecker feet. It is amazing to live on an Earth where wishes are meet and met.
Solstice near but
here no flake of snow,
but finally cold enough to keep
hard the few hard bits that sift
from passing gray.
Bless the sun and bless it twice
for lighting these short days
that end too soon,
but Hey! Solstice’s near,
almost here, but here
no flake of snow.
Well, if it isn’t white, it isn’t white. Pity the poor perennials, which are being stressed. And pity the dug-down toads, who must dig lower when rudely wakened by descending ice crystals. Our wish for snow/ice crystals above the surface is reversed as the frostline plumbs the depths. We northerners can readily find some winter thing to whine about—that’s why so many Minnesotans winter in Arizona and Florida; they can handle the cold, but have gotten tired of the interminable whining.
It is a land of thorns and dry,
a land of narrow leaves,
and right here
below this cinder cone,
a land volcano black, burnt bleak.
Then all unlooked a shrub
from romance, seedheads all
pink flowing plumes in breeze,
a living antidote for thorns,
filaments delicate and tender
as wingtip prints in snow
where an owl lifted with its prey.
This excellent plant is called Apache plume. The photos were taken at 8,000’, in northern Arizona.
Long ago, the Light of the sun shone on earth.
Then Dark came and took Light away.
The people and plants and animals
didn't have Light to help them.
They all said, "Don't take Light away!
We need Light, and we need you, too.
If we don't have Light, we won't see anything!"
yelled the plants and people and animals.
Dark got sad and went away.
Then Light came back.
The people and plants and animals were really happy.
They wanted to pay Light back for helping them,
they should make Light happy.
So the people and plants and animals
all made a Party for Light.
By Mee Yang, age 8, from Mounds Park World Cultures School, St. Paul, MN.
Recycled from 12.22.2000
This long night solstice sky is filled with fires
that burn through air so cold
on this small northern place
of tilted Earth, air so cold
it carries echoes of the void,
the heatless absolute of space,
Yet these ancient stars
are the memories of fires
that burned long before eyes
ever tilted up to them
and thought of light.
Recycled from 2003
When I walk back with the newspaper
I stop, struck with the beauty
of a pheasant’s sign in light snow.
Perfect four-toed tracks in one ruled line,
no left, no right, both feet aligned
as I once imagined the tracks of Indians
in my Last of the Mohicans days
a thousand years ago. Hawkeye’s
moccasins in perfect sequence,
Chingachook’s just behind,
barely stirring grass so light they fell.
Snow would not melt beneath them.
I would try it on the way to school.
My line was never ruled, not by
that boy’s unruly feet. Today, looking
back along the pheasant trail and mine,
I smile, for mine is very like a bird’s, but
it is the lovely out-toed spraddle of a duck.
I wish you all a Merry Christmas. Light is returning to the world—take it on faith. We have just a smidgen of snow, but we do have all the cold we could ask for. Thank you all. Morning Earth will resume Jan. 3, 2005.