Saturday, December 31, 2011

December 31: New Year's Eve

We rang out the old year today by taking down the Christmas tree, carefully removing each beloved ornament, packing it away for another year. The process is always a bittersweet one for me. I love seeing the soft glow of the tree's white lights (and one string of red cardinal lights) each evening. And I enjoy the balsam fragrance of the live tree here in our living room. But it's time. Christmas has passed, needles are everywhere, and I like to begin the new year with a fresh, clean house. So down it came, and then the house-cleaning happened, and little things like filling the bird feeder. We showered and shaved. My husband is now making a salad to take to our friends' house for dinner. I've even paid my current bills, so I can start the new year debt free.

A dear friend has a ritual that the first thing that passes her lips in the new year is smoked salmon. Other friends have posted things on Facebook about grapes and black-eyed peas. The peas are lucky in some way, and apparently you're supposed to stuff your mouth with 12 grapes and then spit out the seeds. For me, I guess my ritual is to start the year in good shape, with a clean house and a clean slate.

Hard rain washes clean
yard, house, cars... washes away
the last of the year.

Friday, December 30, 2011

December 30: Snow Globe

White sky all day, like a blank sheet of paper wrapped around the landscape. Then, as if someone shook the air, big dry snowflakes began to fall all around us. It was like walking through a snow globe, hushed and quiet. Until the crows began cawing upriver. It's always something with those crows. They only allow so much stillness.

The world's a snow globe,
self-contained, fragile. Careful
not to shake too hard.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

December 29: Water flowing

Watching the river cascade over the spillway of the Seabright Dam this afternoon, a never-ending sheet of white water washing down the concrete, I began to wonder where it all comes from. We tend to think of lakes and ponds as relatively static bodies of water. But obviously Megunticook Lake and Norton's Pond, the sources of the river, replenish constantly or they'd have run dry by now from this constant outflow. Rainwater and melted snow aren't enough to keep the river brimming against the splashboards as it is now, as it always seems to be.

Where does it come from,
this river ever-flowing?
I think: hidden springs.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

December 28: Dramatic skies

At one point today a co-worker exclaimed, "Oh my god!" in a tone of voice that made me ask what was wrong. "The sky!" she replied. I'd been so focused on my computer screen that I was startled when I turned my head to look out the window. A foreboding wall of dark clouds filled the sky above the river. I wondered aloud if we should seek shelter in the basement before a tornado formed. Yes, this is late December in Maine, but it was 50 degrees today. Anything could happen out there.

A minute later the mailman showed up. He too was casting anxious looks at the sky, and commented that he half expected to see storm chasers following his truck.

The clouds eventually broke up and sun shone with a strange brightness for a while, and then gray clouds gathered again. Fortunately I stood up from my desk in time to catch a pleasingly lurid sunset. These shifting sky patterns made for a dramatic finale to the day.


I hope I never
stop being amazed by sky's
ever-changing show.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

December 27: Morning birdsong

After a mostly restful four-day holiday, this morning it was back to work. Even though I enjoy my job, it's still such a mental challenge for me to transition back into work mode after good time off. And today, already running late, I knew I'd have to shovel some snow and scrape the ice off my car before I could even get out of the driveway. So I wasn't in the highest of spirits as I trudged up the walk toward the car.

Until I heard an unexpected cacophony of bird song from my neighbors' feeders just up the street: chickadees were "dee-deeing," titmice were whistling, and goldfinches were chattering and tweeting. They sounded thrilled to be awake, alive, and (presumably) eating. How could I not be cheered? It felt like a tiny slice of spring had descended, just for a moment, onto our snow-lined street.

If you are a bird,
no matter weather, season,
morning is morning.

Monday, December 26, 2011

December 26: Cat

This is our holiday weekend visitor, an appealing tiger cat that a friend found digging through her trash a few weeks ago. She took her in, sequestered her in a spare room so as not to traumatize her own, older cats, and made a valiant attempt to find her owner by calling the shelters, posting signs, and getting her scanned for a pet chip. The cat was skinny and very hungry but otherwise healthy, and interestingly, her front paws had been declawed. Someone had cared for her once but wasn't looking for her now. 

When our friend went away for a long weekend over Christmas, we agreed to cat-sit with the option to keep. After spending five days with this anxious little cat, we don't think we can bear to send her away--especially knowing she might end up at a shelter. Other than an understandable fixation on her food dish (she meows and gets a little frantic if the center of the dish isn't covered with visible food), she's very friendly and seems to be settling in. She has even relaxed enough to play around with a catnip mouse. Right now as I type she's curled up on a pillow in the middle of the living room floor, the picture of contentment.  

We haven't named her quite yet, perhaps still a bit hesitant since our beloved old cat's passing a little over a year ago to fully commit to a new creature in our house and our lives. We lose our hearts to these short-lived animals so easily, even though we know those hearts are going to be broken over and over.

Stray cat could be wild,
her pelt an ancient pattern.
Now she shares our house.


Sunday, December 25, 2011

December 25: White Christmas

Our weekend feline visitor woke us early this Christmas morning and observed with typical nonchalance as we happily engaged in our Christmas morning rituals: stocking, then breakfast, then gifts. Outside snow fell. The perfect, magical touch.

Even now as we drive to my in-laws', the snow is beautiful and a bit mesmerizing as it flies at the car and swirls in the highway. Everywhere, the accent of white makes the landscape seem just a little more festive.

As snow sweeps over the St. George River, an eagle waits in a tree. A crow perches like a weathervane on the peak of a snow-covered barn roof. The dark, sweeping boughs of pines carry white highlights. White snow piles atop hay bales wrapped in white plastic. In another field, snow accumulates on rolled bales left spread throughout the field like hulking beasts. Tidal inlets and rivers fill to the brim with clots of ice thanks to the new moon high tide.

And then we're through the main body of the storm and the sky brightens. Our spirits are high. Soon we'll be with family, and the holiday celebrations we began with a dear friend on Christmas Eve will continue.

Snow on Christmas Day.
And a flurry of traffic
"to grandmother's house..."

Friday, December 23, 2011

December 23: Crows at Play

Early this morning as snow was falling the crows in my yard seemed pretty wound up. Perhaps they too were dreaming of a white Christmas. Three or four of them were flying from tree to tree, chasing each other, hopping around on the ground, landing on one branch together and then dispersing, and otherwise just messing around.

Apparently they're trying to make the most of the snow, because they're still at it five hours later. First I observed them walking around, checking things out along river's edge. Then they flew across to my neighbor's big flat floodplain of a lawn, where three of them tugged at a fallen branch in the snow. Another seemed to be engaged in digging up leaves from under the snow. That one then got distracted by a squirrel, which it alternately chased and was chased by for a few minutes. Meanwhile, two of the initial branch pullers had moved on to rolling in the snow side-by-side. They sort of barreled their bodies into the two inches of snow, practically touching each other, then scooped up snow with wide open beaks. At one point it looked like they were feeding it to each other. (Awww.) They rolled around next to each other for a while, literally stretched out in the patch of snow, sometimes preening or play-attacking each other.

Anyone who doubts animals' capacity for play has clearly never watched a flock of crows in freshly fallen snow. Or a dog wrangling with a new squeaky Christmas toy, or an otter sliding down a snowy hillside. Rather than debate the emotional life of animals, why not just enjoy their obvious enjoyment?

It's not for my sake
the crows play in the fresh snow,
yet I'm here smiling.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

December 22: Long, dark night

Winter Solstice: the shortest day of the year. From here on out, light will linger a little longer each afternoon. But tonight is the longest night, and it's going to be a dark one. Already the few stars still visible are hazy behind a sheen of clouds. And the moon is just over 4% full--for all practical purposes, a new moon. This plunge into the depths of darkness will make it that much more joyful to emerge into the light tomorrow, with perhaps a little snowfall to really boost our holiday spirits.

The year's longest night,
cold and dark too. Come closer,
honey. Warm me up.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

December 21: Chickens

There's something so wonderful about chickens, how they just do their own thing unencumbered by human anxieties and neuroses. They have their own set of issues, I know. But looking out and seeing chickens from a friend's flock peck away at the ground and chase each other around just like they always do, while icy rain falls and cars slide off the road all over and school release on this last day before Christmas vacation is actually delayed until the buses can safely drive kids home, is somehow a comfort. Some places, with some creatures, life just goes on regardless.

Chickens peck cold ground,
cluck softly, like usual,
no thoughts of weather.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

December 20: Snowman

This afternoon I observed an interesting meteorological phenomenon: the light of the bright orb of the setting sun was refracting upward into ice crystal-laden clouds, creating the illusion of three suns stacked on top of each other, largest on the bottom. A sun snowman! If I hadn't been zipping down Route One at the time, I'd have tried to get a photo for this seasonally appropriate vision. I guess we can still have our snowmen of sorts, even when there's no snow on the ground.

Staring at the sun
in late December gives me
visions of snowmen.

Monday, December 19, 2011

December 19: Flying Geese

Driving through town with the car stereo playing loudly, I looked up to see a flying flock of geese in silhouette against the cloudy sky overhead. I was reminded of the weaving pattern my grandmother liked so much called Flying Geese. The repeated Vs of the pattern was a common theme in the borders of her wall hangings, as a reference to her pet goose Max. A barnyard goose of the domestic variety, Max was probably too fat to ever fly. But the pattern was there, a touchstone for the potential for wild beauty. Like what I saw from my car this afternoon--the very shapes of wild geese flying enough to stir my heart and memory.

Silhouettes of geese
black against winter white sky.
Yet still I drive north.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

December 18: O Tannenbaum

At one time when I was very young, before my parents divorced, my father was a high school German teacher. For that reason I grew up with well-worn copies of Beatrix Potter's Die Geschichte Des Peterchen Hase (The Tale of Peter Rabbit) and Die Geschichte Von Den Zwei Bosen Mauschen (The Tale of Two Bad Mice). Although I also had an English version of Peter Rabbit, it was years before I knew what was up with those two mice pillaging a doll house. And the only German word I remembered from either was Puppenhaus: dollhouse--I think in part because it sounded vaguely like something I wasn't suppose to say. I did know one other German word from that early childhood time: Tannenbaum, Christmas tree. I think at one point when I was three or four I was even able to sing a line or two of the Christmas carol O Tannenbaum in German.

I've always had a fondness for that carol, perhaps because of those faint early memories. And I hum it to myself now as I admire the Christmas tree my husband and I just decorated. Its branches green truly are delightful, and now, beautifully bedecked with our many ornaments, each of which carries its own set of memories from my childhood on through our married life together.

Little house, small tree.
Boughs laden with memories.
Lights in the darkness.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

December 17: Christmas Bird Count

We start our Count at the Rockland Breakwater
Despite heavy morning snow showers and bone-chilling cold, we enjoyed a wonderful day tromping around outside with friends old and new, counting every bird in sight for the annual Thomaston-Rockland Christmas Bird Count. 

In our count section, we ended up with 50 total species (47 by our group on land, with 3 more added by a friend coming in to Rockland on the Vinalhaven ferry). Highlights included: long-tailed ducks gobbling in Rockland Harbor, a merlin zipping past the Breakwater, purple sandpipers discovered by Paul on a solo second trip out the length of the Breakwater and back, and a lesser scaup in a pond at the Samoset Resort. A red-bellied woodpecker at a feeder was a first for our Count section, I think. A raft of over 600 coots in Chickawaukie Lake was a definite high count for that species; I'm sure we were underestimating our tally for them. A soaring bald eagle reminded us of a friend no longer with us who used to join us for the Christmas Count--she was always the one to spot an eagle. We watched crows chase a red-tailed hawk. A lingering yellow-rumped warbler chased down in a swamp thicket turned out to be the only warbler seen all day in the entire Count circle. Lots of very pretty tree sparrows turned up, a bird we only see here in winter. And in the mammal department, we came upon a basking harbor seal and a swimming muskrat. The most numerous species (besides coot, of course) was Canada goose, which flocks up in great numbers on the Samoset golf course, followed by mallard and herring gull. No surprises there, but plenty of simple delight.

Yesterday's flowers; today's snow
The best moment of the whole day for me was at the very end, when in the deepening dusk I walked a short distance alone into the woods in a last ditch attempt to find a golden-crowned kinglet. I didn't find a kinglet. Instead, off in the distance, a great horned owl called. Those low, soft notes: hoo-he-hoo hooo hooo, how they carry through the cold air through stands of pines and spruce. You almost feel them as much as hear them. I stood in the trail and just listened, feeling a little shiver run through me that had nothing to do with how cold I was. The owl was beginning its evening, announcing to the creatures of forest and field below: I'm here and soon I'll be hunting. 

One owl calls at dusk.
Alone, I hear its summons,
stand still, and shiver.
Winterberries in the snow

 




Friday, December 16, 2011

December 16: Setting Moon

This morning when I raised the bedroom blind, I noticed the waning gibbous moon shining palely through the trees. We're used to seeing it rise evenings at the front of the house, over Mount Battie. Seeing it out back felt a bit like seeing someone you know in a strange context--they look familiar but a little out of place. But the moon was where it was supposed to be, following its usual arc from east to west, helping me orient myself at the start of my day.

A familiar face
looking in the back window.
Morning: setting moon.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

December 15: Transportation

Transportation is the name of my new book of poetry, my first, received this morning from the printer. And transported is how I feel to finally have a "real" book through which to share my poetry with people. The only shortfall of the book is its lack of haiku. This is the cover image, for which I am very grateful to Eric Hopkins:
Waterways in the Bay, Eric Hopkins
Eric graciously let me choose the work I wanted for my cover. This piece conveyed to me the pure joy of taking in the beauty of this landscape we inhabit, as well as the sense of motion, of flying above it all and gaining perspective--themes that I think recur in my poems, most of which are set in a similar landscape. This is one book I hope gets judged by its cover. But I hope the words hold their own, as well.

Twenty years of words,
flashy cover--at long last,
my very own book!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

December 14: Two Planets

A highlight of being outside selling Christmas trees tonight was seeing, as the evening darkened and the chill deepened, two planets shining brightly in opposite sides of the sky. High in the east rose Jupiter, king of the (Roman) gods, our largest planet. Setting low in what I think was the southwest: brilliant Venus, goddess of love, our brightest planet, the Evening Star. And just below Venus, a house crazy with Christmas lights, flashing in all its holiday color and glory, as if taunting the stars and two planets. But Venus outshone the whole earthly spectacle.

Bright goddess of love,
admired for eons, shine on.
All else will soon pass.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

December 13: Murder of Crows

My friend Ron called earlier to let me know that when he got back from some errands today, there were a couple dozen crows in his back yard, just hanging out in the trees and pecking at things in the yard. He tried cawing at them, and they didn't respond. When he played the calls of a raven, however, they anxiously flew off. But it wasn't long before they were back. What did they want?

I asked Ron if he'd looked back there to see what they might be after. Was there something dead they were scavenging? I told him to be careful, that he might find something unsavory. He promised to report back.

That was several hours ago. I haven't heard from him since...

A murder of crows.
What, or whom, do they wait for?
What else is back there?

Monday, December 12, 2011

December 12: Pretty Eggs


I received a dozen fresh eggs this morning from my friend Janet's laying hens. She's got a mixed flock, so the eggs are all different colors and shades: warm brown, porcelain white, pale blues. (Araucanas account for the blue ones, I'm told.) In the basket, they truly shine like the natural gems that they are. And the gold inside--well, you know you've got good eggs when you see those rich, gold yolks from free-range, happy, well-fed, organically raised chickens. This is truly prime bounty from a friend's farm, for which I am very grateful.

Happy, still-laying
hens translate sunshine to yolks,
which we admire, eat.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

December 11: Whiff of Skunk

Green parsley still pokes up through the dried leaves in our garden. Friends report budding forsythia. There's no snow to be seen on the ridgeline of Mount Megunticook as we roll into the two-week Christmas count-down. Our bottle of Grandpa Lundquist's Holiday Glogg waits, unopened. Our Christmas decorations are still tucked away in the shed.

But despite the askew weather, we did do some seasonal things today: we bought Christmas wrap and flannel PJs at Reny's, and then we watched a football game with a friend while enjoying moose stew next to a warm wood stove. As we left our friend's house, passing his many cords of stacked firewood, we picked up on a whiff of skunk in the cold air. Another living thing confused about what season it is. Our friend says the skunk lives under the woodshed. If the weather continues like this, that's going to be one tired skunk come spring, wishing it had had a few more days of hibernation.

Christmas lights through trees,
new flannel reindeer PJs...
and so it begins.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

December 10: Feeder Etiquette

When I'm working on the laptop on my couch, I can see the kitchen window, where we have a small window bird feeder. (I also just hung next to it a seed-covered house that I was given as a gift.) This afternoon as I'm typing away, I was distracted by a flurry of activity at the feeder, which has otherwise been fairly quiet the past few weeks. All of a sudden, three house finches, a small flock of goldfinches, and several chickadees and titmice are all jockeying for position in the feeder. Some are even landing on and pecking at the seed house.

Thrilled to have some birds to look at rather than my computer screen, I sneak out to the kitchen to get a closer look. The different behaviors among the species--the feeder etiquette (or lack thereof)--can be fascinating. Chickadees and titmice usually fly in, grab a seed, then fly off. They don't seem to mind if other birds are in the feeder, although the larger titmouse will sometimes scare off a chickadee. The house finches are usually vocal, and often in pairs. Today there's one male-female pair, and then an extra male. The two males do not want to be in the feeder together, and each time they meet, they flutter at one another till one flies off. But the funniest to watch are the goldfinches, the smallest of all. Not only are they completely brazen about going in the feeder with other birds, but if a goldfinch is in the feeder first, it opens its bill at other birds in what's clearly an aggressive gesture, driving them away. Other goldfinches are fine--four or five often cluster in and on the feeder--but a house finch and a chickadee are both scared off by a bird almost half their size.

Meanwhile, in the background, a squirrel runs along the top of the fence with its mouth stuffed full of leaves. It must be bolstering its nest up in the willow tree just over the fence in our neighbor's yard.

After about ten minutes of this activity, the birds move on, and it's been quiet ever since. I'm thankful I paid attention when I did.

Grab one seed quickly
or linger, hog the feeder.
Afternoon traffic.

Friday, December 9, 2011

December 9: Full Moon

A full moon is dramatic. A full moon hidden, revealed, and then hidden again by fringed clouds scudding over the Camden Hills is even more dramatic.

This is the Cold Moon or the Long Nights Moon, lighting up these long cold nights before the Winter Solstice.

In place of streetlight
full moon poised outside our house,
wreathed by ragged clouds.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

December 8: The Heavens

One of the blessings and curses of living in Maine is the weather. It's the number one topic of conversation around here. It's also one of our biggest entertainments, especially on days when experiences with the great outdoors are limited to what one sees out the window. Today was a perfect case in point. I was awakened in the pre-dawn by the roar of rain and wind. By the time I left the house for an early meeting, fat, wet flakes of snow had already blanketed my car. School was delayed, cars were off the road. But as I was driving to the meeting, the radio was saying that the storm had already passed through Rockland and was basically over in the Midcoast. Sure enough, in the southern sky I could see parting clouds and blue sky. For the rest of the day a sharp wind blew hard in a blue sky, blowing away what little snow had accumulated. At sunset, two big puffs of cloud sat like hot pink explosions in an otherwise clear, still-blue sky. When I left work, an almost-full moon hung high over Mount Battie, and early stars and Jupiter shone bright--a beautiful night. We got it all today. Just one of the reasons why I love this place. And yet another reason to wish I were a photographer.

Rain, wind, snow, sun, cloud:
all the elements are here.
Beauty around me.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

December 7: Self Care

Sometimes certain themes crop up often enough to make it seem the universe is trying to send a message. For me, one theme running through the past week or so (besides snowy owls) has been "self care"--that is, taking time to do something special for yourself. Taking care of yourself helps make you better able to take care of others, is the basic point.

Coming off two sick days during which I indulged in a lot of reading and even some writing, I felt like I'd been pretty good about self care. What did I know? Tonight was the annual Maine Women's Network holiday open house at a local spa, where I got a foot scrub--exfoliation and massage--and then a chair massage to soothe my aching shoulders. And all that in addition to enjoying the company of interesting women and great hors d'oeuvres (and those red velvet and chocolate truffle petites-fours!). I think I can really get into this self care thing...

The comforts of touch,
conversation, tasty food...
Pampered self: strong self.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

December 6: Cinematic moment

Still home sick, perhaps a bit feverish, I'm looking out a rain-streaked back window through bare trees to the river. The opposite bank is a low, flat floodplain plastered with wet, russet leaves. It's a stage of sorts on which not much plays out besides the antics of crows and, once in a while, a visiting yellow lab. So I was startled to suddenly see come into view a woman carrying a big blue umbrella. She was dressed in a nondescript trench coat and appeared to have very long hair. There was nothing unusual about her, really, except that in my fanciful mind that's probably watched too many movies, I had this sudden wild thought that she was a visitor who had just materialized there, perhaps a ghost, perhaps someone from the past. An enigmatic figure, in any case. But as I'm pondering this cinematic moment in my head, wondering what will happen next, I notice the familiar yellow lab rambling through the woods nearby. Woman and dog eventually trudge back up the leaf-littered hill together and out of sight. Were they really there, or just a figment of my imagination?

Rainy day still shot:
woman with blue umbrella
ponders the river.

Monday, December 5, 2011

December 5: Inside

Spent almost the entirety of today at home, inside, trying to shake--or at least begin to recuperate from--an icky virus that's been kicking me in the gut for the past week. There's nothing like an illness, even a slight one, to pull us out of our heads and remind us that we're all animals, in vulnerable, animal bodies. And sometimes our bodies force us to take some down time when our minds don't want to. But in this age of social media, hanging out at home is almost too stimulating. The never-ending string of Facebook updates leading me to a variety of fascinating weblinks, constant email both personal and from work, several rounds of Word Jong to catch up on, as well as two weeks worth of New Yorkers on my iPad, new songs I had to download from iTunes, and an animated advent calendar on my computer desktop all kept me so occupied/distracted that I never even got to the one, relaxing thing I planned to do today: read a new mystery novel (also on my iPad). The good this is that I accomplished most of these things while lounging on the couch, so I was at least resting my body if not my mind.

Sick, I retreat to
a comforting habitat:
the living room couch.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

December 4: Balsam

I spent part of today selling Christmas trees and wreaths for West Bay Rotary. Thankfully, the day was a mild one for being outside lugging trees around. Also, most people are in good spirits when picking out their tree, especially with Christmas music blasting from the boom box. One customer even turned up the volume when the Grinch song came on the radio, and another grooved to the Charlie Brown Christmas theme song.

My favorite part of my stint was when I had to replace a sold tree with one from "back stock," cutting the twine wrapped around the tree to spring free the boughs, then fluffing them up to make the tree look full and pretty. Does any scent convey the essence of Maine woods like that of balsam fir needles? And a live tree is even better than one of those little pillows from a gift shop.

Fir boughs redolent
of Maine's boreal forest.
Christmas smells like this.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

December 3: Outside

I volunteered to help at a road race this morning, and it was so cold that we were slipping in the parking lot, and bundled up in full winter regalia of puffy down coats, hats, and gloves to do the timing... and then Santa showed up! But by the time I got home, it felt warm enough to finish up some gardening work I never got to this fall. So in early December I actually spent about an hour outside fussing in my flower beds, trimming off some withered stalks. Under the dead leaves, the irises were pushing up some fresh green blades, tricked by the generally warm weather we've experienced in the past month. And on one flower a single yellow blossom lingered. I too am not fully ready to call it winter and go into dormancy.

Heavy morning frost,
yet a flower still lingers.
I'm OK with that.

Friday, December 2, 2011

December 2: Glimpse of the Moon

If you live in the Camden area, I'm sure you've driven by the Wards' house on Gould Street and seen the elaborate Christmas light display that Mr. Ward puts up each holiday season. He lost his wife this year, but his holiday enthusiasm appears to remain undimmed--for which all those who make a drive-by pilgrimage to his house each year with their kids can be grateful. Some people call it tacky, but I think its excessiveness conveys a joy that's fully in the spirit of the season.

There's the moon, peeping,
bright as all of my neighbor's
wacky Christmas stuff.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

December 1: Black Cat

A hunting cat is wholly in the moment, utterly focused on its quarry, be it a piece of string or a hapless rodent. Yet to those of us observing, it's also the epitome of grace. Nothing with four legs moves with the liquid smoothness of a cat, that beautiful, self-possessed killer. I wish I were an artist to capture that silhouette of the black cat against the dried grasses as it slowly prowled through the field outside my office this morning, oblivious to anyone watching.

Black cat in the field
stalking leaves, in the moment,
heedless of its grace.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

November 30: Three Crows

When I got back to the office after lunch, I noticed three crows forming a black triangle in a tree. A co-worker said they had just been bathing in a puddle in our parking lot, splashing a lot of water around. I wish I'd seen it. As we watched them fluff up and preen in the tree, someone leaving the office asked what we were looking at. When we pointed out the crows, he noted that his wife always tells him that according to some Native American tradition, it's good luck to see three crows together like that. We'll take it.

No ice yet. Crows bathe,
then three preen in late fall sun.
Is this warmth lucky?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

November 29: Giraffe Sky

I started off the day with low energy and ended the day in a similar place--just the biorhythms, I guess--so didn't notice much that struck a spark with me. Being tired doesn't help my creativity. But at one point I looked out the window and noticed that the clouds over Mount Battie had formed a cool patchy pattern, like the spots on a giraffe. That will have to do for today.

Sky's a blue giraffe
stretching over Mount Battie.
Brought by climate change?

Monday, November 28, 2011

November 28: Darkness

Sometimes things stated simply can sound both stupid and poetic at the same time. Take this line from a Melissa Etheridge song: "And the night is black, as black as night." It sounds like she just got lazy in the lyrics department. But when I stepped outside tonight into the cloying, murky darkness, those lines were the first thing that popped into my head.

Night comes early as we descend into the depths of dark that precede Winter Solstice. It seems near midnight when I leave work each evening. Tonight, the unseasonable warmth combined with a low cloud ceiling to convey the feeling that night was literally hanging over us, like a thick dark cloth thrown over a cage.

Night is dark and deep.
Home, I turn on all the lights,
shed this thick, black cloak.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

November 27: Breakwater, High Tide, New Moon

The title sums it up. My husband and I decided to take advantage of both a rare, work-free Sunday and relatively mild weather by getting out for a morning walk together. Our destination: the Rockland Breakwater. However, we weren't really thinking about the fact that high tide during what can still be considered the new moon might make walking the mile-long granite jetty a challenge. With about an hour still to go till full high tide, the end of the breakwater just before the lighthouse was already underwater, stranding the lighthouse as its own little island in the middle of outer Rockland Harbor. Strong winds also complicated the situation, pushing waves up over the ocean-facing side of the breakwater even at its beginning, where the wall is highest. We walked out a short distance, dodging spray, but when waves began to spread across the entire width of the wall, we decided to turn around. We weren't the only ones. The weather wasn't quite warm enough for anyone to want to risk being soaked in icy sea water, or worse, stranded on the wrong end of a flooded sea wall.


New moon, high tide, full
harbor, brimming breakwater.
We skirt the edges.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

November 26: Games

It's a good sign that I have nothing better to do tonight than watch the Stanford - Notre Dame game and learn how to play Angry Birds for the first time. I may perhaps be the last person in the country with a mobile Apple device to download some version of Angry Birds (I went with the free Rio version). In any case, I'm positively relishing the true feeling of indulgence that allows me to while away the last few hours of my day engaged in such frivolous activity. Do I care if Andrew Luck, the Stanford QB about whom people are talking Heisman Trophy, has a good game? Do I really care if I advance to the next level of catapulting cartoon birds at laughing monkeys?

As someone who always has to be doing something productive, who can't even watch a football game without, for example, reading a book or doing a crossword puzzle at the same time, allowing myself to relax like this is a positive sign. A good dinner out with friends a few hours earlier helped set the mood, for which I'm thankful. Good food, friends, and laughter can do that. Now my only responsibility tonight is this post. So forgive me for making a game out of it...

It's all fun and games
till someone loses an eye...
like those damn monkeys.

Friday, November 25, 2011

November 25: Tree lighting

Tonight Portland, Rockland, and probably many other towns are holding their tree lighting ceremonies, officially kicking off the holiday season. My husband and I are currently in a car driving home from Portland, so we're missing out. Instead we're enjoying the quotidien pageantry of headlights, taillights, and neon signs on shops from inside the warm car. And as we draw closer to Camden and anticipate a view of the Camden Hills, we're watching for something even better: tonight is the first night when Bob Oxton drives up Mount Battie to turn on the star erected on the tower. Any moment now, we're going to turn a corner and catch our first glimpse. I feel just like I did each Christmastime when I was a little kid and saw the lit star that first time.

Missed the tree lighting,
but the lit Mount Battie star
shines brightly once more.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

November 24: Thanksgiving

So much to be grateful for on this holiday of feasting, family, and football: this sparkling day, the beauty of the snow on the Camden Hills early this morning, the generosity and warmth of my husband's big family, our health, our jobs, our marriage, a table full of wonderful food including the pecan pie I lugged all the way from Houston, the two NYT crosswords my mother-in-law saved for me to do while we watched football, spending time with our sweet nephews and niece (two big, two small), a clear starry night, a warm place to stay, and things to look forward to tomorrow here in Portland...

Thankful for the stars
in a snowless sky tonight,
all I love below.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

November 23: Protection

Big wet snow falling today. I walked to work and then spent the first half hour there shoveling the walk. I also topped off the bird feeders, imagining the birds would be making their rounds often on a day like this. Within ten minutes titmice and chickadees were waiting their turns on a nearby bush whose branches were bent low to the ground by snow.

While I was shoveling, I noticed the frozen body of a woolly bear caterpillar stretched out on the sheltered cement patio, untouched by snow. It had clearly missed its chance to curl up in the shelter of some dead leaves or under a flake of tree bark. When I'd finished clearing the walk and was heading in, I decided to at least move its furry little body off the patio. But when I picked it up, it curled into a ball. It was still alive. Apparently it had enough antifreeze in its veins to survive at least the initial blast of this snow storm. Grateful that now I was potentially saving it rather than just giving it a better spot to decompose, I dropped it through the lattice so it would find protection amid the dry, snow-free leaves under the porch.

Later, while I was working at my desk, a chickadee paused on the edge of my feeder for at least five minutes, unmoving except for its alert eyes and an occasional turn of its head. It didn't seem to be in any distress. It peeped a few times, but mostly just sat there looking around, its tail scrunched up against the window, its tiny black toes clinging to the plastic edge of the feeder. Beyond, trees swayed and rocked. I think the bird just wanted a little rest somewhere dry and out of the wind. Eventually I stood up, and it quickly flew off into the woods.

Shelter from the storm--
as simple as one dead leaf.
Come out of the wind.

Bonus: link to Bob Dylan singing the opening stanzas of Shelter from the Storm. (I couldn't resist!)

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

November 22: Number fun

I just like the symmetry of today's date: 11.22.11. Not only is it a palindrome, but it also looks cool. Today is the birthday of an old friend from high school who was born 11.22.66. That's a funky set of numbers in itself, but she's been waiting 45 years for the perfect alignment of today's date. And then it will have passed until the next century...

Two twos walled by ones:
auspicious, aesthetic date.
A lucky birthday?

Monday, November 21, 2011

November 21: Winter is coming

My husband and I are reading George R. R. Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" fantasy series, of which there are now five books of an anticipated seven (or more). The first book is "A Game of Thrones," which is the title of a recently launched HBO series that we've enjoyed almost as much as the books. The central protagonist in "A Game of Thrones" is Eddard Stark, the fair-minded, strong Lord of the North in his castle Winterfell.

In the world Martin has created, the seasons follow an unpredictable pattern, with summer often lasting for years until suddenly all is plunged for an indeterminate time into deep winter. In Eddard's Northern lands, as in New England, the climate is naturally colder than the South, and wild creatures stalk dark forests. One detail I appreciate is that Winterfell would be a freezing pile of rocks if it weren't for the fact that it's heated by geothermal energy and surrounded by hot springs. As long as one can take a regular hot bath, things can't be that bad.

Each of the aristocratic families in this society has both a sigil and a motto by which they are identified and characterized. The Stark family sigil is the dire wolf, a creature which ends up playing a key role in the lives of Eddard's children. The family motto is "Winter is coming," a rather somber reminder that no matter how good things seem, the reckoning of winter could always be right around the corner. That phrase came to mind today when I stepped outside and felt instantly chilled to the bone. I'm not ready for winter yet, Eddard Stark. But ready or not, winter is coming.

Winter is coming.
Chickadees cache seeds. They know.
And leaves, they shiver.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

November 20: White Mountains

Drove home to Maine today via scenic Route 2, which winds across northern Vermont and New Hampshire. One of the highlights of the trip is traveling above the Mount Washington valley with breathtaking views across shorn farm fields to a full profile of the Presidentials. Although the sky was gloomy with clouds, the peaks were in full view. As I watched crows gleaning in a field, I wondered what they thought about a part of the landscape that was probably higher than they would willingly fly.

Mount Washington's peak
revealed, conversing with clouds.
Crows lie low below.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

November 19: Popovers

A chilly breeze blew through the parking lot when we left our hotel for breakfast... And was that a dusting of snow on Mount Mansfield? Lake Champlain, framed by the rugged ridge line of the Adirondacks beyond, was iron gray, deep and cold, its surface ruffled by the raw wind. As, shivering, I admired the view, I was reminded of my college years--the long months of walking around campus freezing yet loving the views of the Adirondacks and the Green Mountains. There's something about Vermont topography that clings to the soul despite the harshness of the elements. (Yes, harsher than Maine--at least the Maine coast, where I'm from.)

The edge was quickly taken off our morning chill when we stepped into Cafe, a favorite spot. Hot green tea with honey, oatmeal, scrambled eggs, bacon, and fresh-baked popovers with butter and jam--along with the company of old, dear friends--started the day off on just the right level of warmth.

Cold-morning breakfast:
Popover, strawberry jam,
and tea, shared with friends.

November 18: Crafts Show

Every year at this time I come to Burlington, Vermont to work at a friend's booth at Craft Vermont, the annual show for the Vermont Handcrafters. Because it's a juried show, the quality of the work is high, and because it's Vermont--as with crafts in the crafty state of Maine--it's also diverse. The booth of the glass artist I work for is near booths of a guy who makes drums out of moose and elk hide, and beautiful flutes and didgeridoos out of wood; a woman wearing shoes worthy of Lady Gaga who makes elaborate, sculptural necklaces; a minimalist landscape photographer; a quilter; a carver of hand-painted bird ornaments and decoys; a sugar house selling maple syrup and maple sugar in various forms; and a print artist who also makes jewelry--colorful, miniature landscapes on pins and earrings. It's inspiring being surrounded by all the products of so many people's creativity, even though working the show till 8pm is also a bit exhausting--thus rendering my own poetic creativity near mute for the day.

How satisfying
to stand here and pound this drum.
Boom boom. So calming.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

November 17: Drive to Vermont

Long drive from Maine to Vermont this afternoon. On I93 just outside Manchester, nearing dusk, a flying flock of birds caught my eye. Crows. A lot of them. As I sped past I looked over as best I could and realized the trees were full of them too: a large group roost right next to the highway.

Hour three of driving.
What's that? Roosting flock of crows.
Wow! Hundreds of them!

And then a bit later:

Dark, empty highway.
After five hours, almost there.
Oops! Going 90.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

November 16: Peeping Jay

This morning before work I was at my desk when a shadow crossed the window. I looked up to see a blue jay perched on the gutter right outside, seeming to look in at me with those bright eyes as if making sure I was being productive. I could see other jays moving through the trees beyond--the neighborhood flock was clearly on morning patrol.

Humans seem predisposed to ascribe meaning to such experiences. For most of us, a close encounter with any form of wildlife is a notable moment these days, almost a visitation. And that's how I felt today, even though I see those jays all the time. One jay paused and appeared to notice me, to check up on me. I felt singled out. Lucky.

Blue jay checks me out,
leaves. To her I am nothing.
But she marks my day.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

November 15: Owls out there

It's a bit early in the season, but already observers are reporting snowy owls. A friend saw two on Seal Island in Penobscot Bay recently. Birders on the Maine birding list-serv have seen them in Wells, Biddeford Pool, and other southern Maine coastal spots. There are currently two hanging out near Duxbury, MA. These multiple sightings are not typical, even in winter. So what's bringing the owls to the beach? Is Maine the Riviera for this Arctic breeder?

The cause of this owl influx is lemmings, the rodents that are a snowy owl's favorite prey on its breeding grounds. When there's an abundance of lemmings, nest success rate is higher. More owls. Come winter, when resources are more limited, owls disperse widely, with younger birds typically having to fly farther afield. They head for habitats similar to the open tundra, like dunes and bare-rock islands. Most of the birds we see here in Maine are these younger birds, recognizable by the more extensive dark patterning on the white feathers. The whiter the owl, the older it is.

I'm excited that this is looking to be a snowy owl boom year here in Maine, because odds are good that one could show up on Beech Hill. They've been seen on the blueberry barrens in the past, and I've always wanted to see one there. One of my co-workers won't be happy till he sees one perched on the sod roof of the stone hut atop the hill. But I'll take just seeing one in the fields. White owls are not just rare around here, they're really cool--almost mystically beautiful--one of those birds I always want to see. Check out these photographs and you'll understand.

Rare owl visitor--
white wings over open fields.
I long to see one.

Monday, November 14, 2011

November 14: Flying Leaves

A gust of (uncharacteristically warm) wind blew through the trees, releasing a burst of brown leaves that flew into the air like a small flock of sparrows. At first glance, I thought they were birds, until they began to drift and swirl slowly, weightlessly to the ground. Sometimes when I'm driving around these days, leaves skitter in front of my car and I almost brake, thinking they're small animals.

Animated leaves
enjoy one last fling before
landing, moldering.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

November 13: Dog at Rest

The Rose-Marie and Eijk van Otterloo Collection of 17th century Dutch and Flemish Masterworks is now showing at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, and I was fortunate enough to see this exhibit on opening night. My favorite painting in the whole collection is this one:

Gerrit Dou 
Leiden 1613–1675 
Dog at Rest, 1650 
Oil on panel 
6 ½ x 8 ½ inches (16.5 x 21.6 cm) 

Notice how small this painting is. And yet you can see every hair on the dog, feel the bark on the twigs-- the brushwork is exquisite. And there's something about this little dog, curled up but with eyes open as if waiting for the owner of that little shoe to show up any second, that makes it incredibly appealing. It's more than a still life, capturing the essence of suspended energy and holding it for more than 350 years. I love this piece, and was very grateful to be able enjoy it one more time in this new venue.

Resting Dutch puppy--
eye open for centuries
waiting for us, now.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

November 12: Big Boston Moon

We landed in Boston at 5:30 this evening, which these days feels like midnight because it's already pitch dark, and headed back to my sister's house in a taxi. As we were leaving the environs of the airport, the slightly waning gibbous moon was just rising over the water, dramatically oversized and gold. A big egg yolk moon. We couldn't remember seeing the moon in Houston. It was as if it had been hanging out up here for the past few days, waiting to make such a grand entrance for our return.

Stage lights, center: Moon.
Outshines city lights, transforms
a long taxi ride.

November 11: Souffle

As part of the ongoing sequence of fetes and festivities here in Houston, tonight we enjoyed dinner at Tony's, reportedly one of the best restaurants in the city. The company was charming--people in the South really are very warm and welcoming--and the food exquisite: sushi tuna with avocado, Caesar salad, red snapper Sheridan, and the piece de resistance, four huge Grand Marniere souffles. The souffles were carried in with some ceremony, held aloft so we could all admire them. They looked like baker's hats, only edible. I've never seen anything like them. After some oohing and aahing, the souffles were cut open and served. How to describe the experience of eating the dessert? The sugary meringue-like foam with the custard filling was an incredible treat, as this whole whirlwind trip has been. I feel so grateful for each experience my sister and I have shared together over the past two days here--I've really tried to savor each one, like each bite of an excellent dessert.

Glorious souffles
risen, baked to perfection.
Enjoy your dessert.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

November 10: River

Flew from Boston to Houston this morning with my sister. Snoozed a bit and when I awoke, there was an amazing river winding across the landscape out the plane window: S-curves and crescent-shaped ox-bows and sand bars--even the texture of waves on the water's surface was visible. This unexpected perspective on a river was mesmerizing, and I felt vaguely disappointed when we flew past it. I don't have any idea where we were or what river it was.

Seen from an airplane,
the river's a living thing
snaking through green hills.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

November 9: Fall Voices

Each morning there's a certain sequence of sounds I expect to hear. The very early morning sound of our neighbor's garbage truck groaning down the hill and braking at the corner as he heads off to his day's work. The creak of my husband's office chair as he ekes out some writing (and news reading) time before I get up. The alarm. The high-pitched yapping of our neighbor's chihuahua, which maintains the same energy and decibel level no matter if it's 6 a.m. or 11 p.m. Birds landing on the window feeder in the kitchen. The school bus at 8 a.m. on the dot, picking up the kids across the street. When the windows are open, the constant rush of the river out back... The regularity of these sounds makes even the most annoying ones somehow comforting. All is on time and as it should be.

This morning as I was getting ready for work, I heard over the sound of the shower what I thought at first was the neighbor's dog barking yet again. Then I realized the sound was a little different--less "yip yip yip" and more like a loud, murmuring conversation: the honking of geese. Their calls grew louder as they flew downriver behind the house, their bodies visible through the (mostly) bare branches. I'd been seeing a flock upriver at work this week, grazing near the Seabright Dam. Were they finally leaving? I felt a sudden pang at the thought.

But then, just as I began to write this, I looked out the window and saw the flock slowly flapping its way back upriver, where they landed just out of sight. Apparently this unseasonably warm, beautiful day has convinced them to stick around a little longer. One more day, at least.

Sounds of a morning:
geese conversing, heading south.
It must be autumn.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

November 8: Seeing Red

Late fall the landscape begins to wither and fade. While trees are still hanging onto a surprising number of leaves, they're duller, burnished browns now. Grasses are dried up, flowers gone. So as I drove to Augusta this afternoon I was surprised to see nature's most vivid color suddenly blazing forth. Red! I put on the brakes as I came upon a small blueberry barren, its brilliant crimson emphasized by remnant patches of snow lingering in a shady corner. Is there any red more breathtaking than an autumn blueberry barren?

Blueberry barrens in Hope, Ragged Mountain in background
Maybe... Heading up Route 17 I was then struck by another vision of red: amid the dried-up reeds and blown-out cattails of a small wetland, a winterberry bush shone forth, its berries glowing in the sunlight like Rudolph's nose (as seen in the traditional holiday special with Burl Ives). Further along, more clumps of berry bushes popped out, exclamations along the way.

The sun was sinking low as I returned from Augusta a few hours later, washing the trees with that last rich light of the day. The mellow brown leaves were transformed into a breathtaking coppery bronze. With trees lining both sides of the road, it was like driving through a corridor lit by a living, reddish glow, enhanced all the more by a crisp, clear blue sky backdrop containing the almost full moon. Now the winterberries blurred together into a haze of color as I drove past. The scarlet of the blueberry fields deepened. If I were an artist and tried to paint with those reds, it would look unreal, unnatural. But there I was, surrounded by them. Real life red, almost pulsing.

Before all goes white,
red appears: blueberry fields
and winterberries.

Monday, November 7, 2011

November 7: Misty Moon

Thanks to the time change, when I left work this afternoon, dusk was already falling. The waxing moon was rising over Mount Battie, slightly blurred by a frosty mist. Misty moon. I was reminded of a key scene in my favorite book, the 11th century Japanese classic The Tale of Genji (which I've referred to in several other posts-it's a poetic touchstone for me). Made restless by the beauty of the misty moon, the book's hero, Genji, sneaks around the women's wing of the royal palace looking for romance. He chances upon a mystery woman whom he overhears admiring the moon and ends up spending the night with her. That's how things happened in that time and culture.

The mystery woman is thereafter referred to as Oborozukiyo, Night of the Misty Moon. Turns out she's a princess, the crown prince's wife-to-be, and the sister of Genji's greatest political enemy. This combination of poetry and forbidden love of course makes her all the more irresistible to Genji, whose continued pursuit of her sets in motion the series of political events that eventually lead to his exile. It's one of the many romantic vignettes exquisitely captured in the book, and I've always been especially drawn to it--perhaps because I too can remember being similarly moved by the poetic beauty of the misty moon, way back in my reckless youth.

Misty moon rising:
romantic memories blur
under Genji's moon.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

October 6: Desire Lines

Every now and then in a conversation or presentation, some phrase or concept will resonate with me. This past weekend at the Juice Conference I attended a session "Connecting People to Places," about how communities can create easier ways for people to get to where they want to go by foot or by bike. Someone from Portland Trails offered several examples of how his organization has makes use of "desire lines"--the beaten-down paths we make when we commonly use a particular, informal route to get from one place to another.

Every community has these desire lines. They track our natural patterns of movement, as opposed to the routes that are laid out for us in the form of sidewalks, streets, and formal trails. If you drive around with the concept in your head, you'll start noticing them: the path that gets you from a parking lot to a street through a little section of woods; a shortcut across the park; that easy cut-across from the school to the well-traveled street.

Portland Trails takes note of these desire lines in the city and tries to make them into formal paths, to both encourage safer foot traffic and potentially transform a trampled and eroding dirt path into something more aesthetically pleasing to the community. I've just got the phrase stuck in my head because I'm a poet and am drawn to something that uses a strong word like desire to denote something so practical and (literally) grounded. The metaphorical potential is huge.

Desire lines: those paths
where human need wore its way
to what it wanted.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

October 5: Downtown falcon

After being alerted at least three times by a fellow Camden birder of various sightings of a peregrine falcon that regularly perches atop the steeple of the Baptist church, I finally saw it for myself.

This morning before 8:00 I found myself standing outside the Camden Opera House as a volunteer for a conference. Looking across the Village Green toward the church, as a small flock of pigeons circled overhead, it occurred to me that now would be the perfect time for a falcon to show up. So I kept one eye on the sky while carrying out my volunteer duties. The church clock rang eight. A silhouette of a largish bird perched atop the bank caught my eye, but no, it was a (very vocal) crow. More people passed, conference attendees, dog walkers. But I kept watching, I had faith.

And then, there it was. A pair of crows sounded the alarm as a large falcon flew overhead, its profile distinct against the blue morning sky. From its size, I'm thinking she was a female. She made a few passes. I excitedly pointed her out to a pair of random conference participants. She dipped behind the church and circled the steeple. I hoped she would perch on the steeple, but not this morning. She was there and then gone, leaving me standing there on the sidewalk with a foolish grin on my face for several minutes.

Peregrine fly-by
right here, downtown, this morning--
I finally saw it!

Friday, November 4, 2011

November 4: Cricket

Surprise visitor:
cricket behind the toilet.
Lucky for us both.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

November 2: Flies

This morning I attended a meeting in the Camden Snow Bowl lodge, an old A-frame that turns out to be the perfect habitat for those big, lazy house flies that literally come out of the woodwork this time of year. The side of the building that faces the ski slopes is all windows, and I couldn't help but notice hundreds of black specks crawling on the inside surface of the glass. When I exclaimed in horrified amazement to a staff person there, she directed my attention to a window in the opposite peak, over her office. It was covered with masses of flies, so many that they obscured the view. We joked that the place needed 20-foot strips of fly paper.

Throughout our meeting I kept catching, out of the corner of my eye, the sight of flies moving--a sensation similar to seeing stars, only they didn't go away. Luckily, most of the flies were far above us. But every now and then one would land on one of us or the table and just cling there in a slow, creepy way. I could have easily caught one with chopsticks. I kept feeling them land on my hair, whether they were there or not. The creepiness went up a notch when a big ventilation fan that had been humming loudly throughout our meeting turned off. Suddenly we could all hear the buzz of hundreds--maybe thousands--of flies...

White noise of black flies
in crawling constellations
above us: wall's gift.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

November 1: Ducktrap Salmon

One great thing about my job with Coastal Mountains Land Trust is that every now and then they let me out of the office to spend time on one of our conservation properties. Our Ducktrap River Preserve has long been one of my favorite places.

Late this afternoon a group of us gathered there around fisheries biologist Peter Ruksznis to learn some of the mysteries of salmon migration and spawning. Peter had that day carried out his survey of salmon redds in the river, and as he'd expected, he found none. This was sad, but not unexpected--five years ago, he'd also found none, and this would have been the next generation of that spawning year. However, other "cohorts," or multi-generational runs, have fortunately been more successful, making the Ducktrap the only Maine river with a natural run of Atlantic salmon. (All our other salmon rivers are currently stocked.) We also learned why the Ducktrap offers ideal habitat for salmon: 85% of it is permanently conserved, it's a consistently cool river (in part due to heavy forest overhanging much of its banks) with appropriate riffles, a bed that's the right texture for salmon nests, relatively few small-mouthed bass, which are voracious predators, and an appropriate amount of twists and turns
.

Salmon leave the Ducktrap and swim to the West coast of Greenland, to return four years later  to spawn. They find their home river by smell. I couldn't help but wonder how far out to sea a salmon can pick up the scent of its home waters, and what triggers are at work in that little fish brain to help it recognize where to go. It seems miraculous, really. We're talking about a tiny handful of fish independently returning to a tiny river on the complex coastline of Maine after swimming to Greenland and back.

Thinking about the miracle of the continued return of salmon to the river (just not this year) put the river in a new light for most of us--a light that was only enhanced by actual end-of-day sunlight falling heavily, brightly, onto the river and the surrounding tangle of forest.


Clean, chilly riffles
lit by filtered fall sunlight.
Here there be salmon.

Monday, October 31, 2011

October 31: The Living and the Dead

As soon as we got home from the gym tonight, trick-or-treaters began arriving at the door: zombies, a little monkey, a giraffe, a chef, the usual ghosts and skeletons, a bedazzled witch, and my favorite one so far, a fishing boat. The little boy who was the fishing boat had to make his way carefully to the doorway, as his very accurate, structural costume was almost dory-sized. Upon his arrival, he turned carefully around so that I could dump candy into a little lobster trap hatch on his aft end. I gave him a lot of candy because his costume was so creative. Also, because I went to high school with his father, who is now a boat captain. Good to see the nautical leaning and creativity is being carried on in the next generation.

Thinking about the next generation seems appropriate on this evening when I'm also thinking about generations past. This time of year, when the boundary between the living and the dead is thinnest, it's proper to both appease the spirits of the dead and honor them--as with the Hispanic holiday Day of the Dead, when families spruce up the cemeteries and have big picnics among the family headstones. Having had several friends and an uncle pass away in the past year, I've been thinking about "my dead" today, missing them and reminiscing about good times shared.

Children at my door--
ghosts, witches--while memories
rise of those passed on.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

October 30: First Snow

This has got to be one of the earliest first snowfalls (of any accumulation) that I can remember in this coastal town. However, it did not add up to the predicted 6-8 inches we were supposed to get. I'm not sure if I'm disappointed by this or not. On one hand, the first snow is always really exciting somehow; on the other, we're no doubt going to be getting plenty of snow over the next 6 months or more. The storm came with some gusty winds, which woke me up throughout the night, gave me strange dreams, and blew free our string of prayer flags on the shed, carrying our prayers to the heavens.

Our backyard this morning, Megunticook River winding through
My husband and I were entertained this morning when the snow plow went by. The kids across the street having a snowball fight were probably just as effective at scooping up the meager layer of snow in the street as the plow--but I have no doubt that the plow guy just really wanted to get out there and play around and make some noise, necessary or not.

The snow does contrast beautifully with the remaining fall leaves, reminding us that we're still in that time of seasonal transition, on the cusp between fall and winter. And, appropriately, between the living and the dead: tomorrow night is Hallowe'en (or Samhain, pagan new year), a liminal time when the wall between the living and the dead is thinnest. Thus, the arrival of ghosts and demons that continue to haunt our neighborhoods, to be appeased by treats. This snow fall was just the precursor of shifts and changes to come.

Night of first snow fall
I dreamed a new house, and owls:
transitions coming.





Saturday, October 29, 2011

October 29: Deer

Winter ducks are starting to arrive on our ponds--on Maces Pond this morning we saw 42 ring-necked ducks, 13 buffleheads, and 7 ruddy ducks. Also, many geese in fields. The waterfowl are piling up. Having nested far north of here, this is their idea of a winter getaway. At least as long as there's open water.

And tonight we're supposed to get our first winter storm--though it's yet unclear if we're going to get mostly snow or rain here on the coast. As we were driving home from errands today, my husband remarked that it felt more like late November than late October. The sky has that late fall cast, true, but some of the trees are still hanging onto their leaves, perhaps clutching their colorful foliage afghans as protection against the snow and wind to come.

As we were about to pass a farm field where we often see deer, my husband commented on how we probably wouldn't be seeing them there for a while now. Today is the first day of (firearms) hunting season (for Maine residents; for everyone else, it's Monday. For bow hunters, it's already started.) Just as he said that, I picked out the forms of two does standing together in the usual spot in the field, their gray bodies barely visible in the dying light. I hope they behave a bit more cautiously after the snow falls and deer become much easier to track. And if the snow cover lingers, I bet there will be a lot of hunters taking some time off on Monday.

Deer on a gray day--
how easily they're hidden
in this bleak landscape.

Friday, October 28, 2011

October 28: Slender Moon

I spent my day in a leadership class at Cellardoor Winery in Lincolnville, its renovated new space (what used to be an old farmhouse attached to a barn) a beautiful venue for a group get-together. We enjoyed views of a mountain in the distance (Levenseller?), lingering foliage of orange and gold, the vineyard's neat rows, vast mown fields, a pond, and a rainbow-colored line-up of Adirondack chairs. After our day's class, we then partook in a delicious wine-food pairing. At one point in the tasting session, someone from the winery mentioned "body-to-body pairing," in which you combine a complex wine with a complex food to bring out the best in each. I like that phrase for many reasons and left thinking that was somehow going to be the subject of today's haiku.
This is what I was going to write about...
But then as I was driving home past Megunticook Lake at dusk, I happened to glance to my right, across the calm water of the lake. The lake's surface was so calm, and the day so cold, that I had to remind myself that I wasn't looking at ice. Beyond the still water, blue and deep, rose the dark form of Bald Mountain, with just one house lit up in its center like a welcoming lantern. And above the mountain's smooth shape hung the slimmest slender crescent of the brand-new moon. If there had been a place to stop and pull over, I would have done so. Instead, I admired the simple, iconic beauty of the scene as best I could without driving off the road (lake on one side, mountain on the other). I'm a sucker for the moon. At least half of our artwork includes the moon in some form. So I guess it's no surprise that even after spending my day looking out on the idyllic landscape of the vineyard, I'd be most inspired by the moon.

Dusk: new moon setting.
Barely there, this slim crescent
trumps the fall vineyard.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

October 27: Snow Soon

Friends in Hope, just 10 minutes away, saw snowflakes falling this morning. Friends in Vermont shared photos of snowy fields. As I left work tonight I could feel the snow waiting in the chilled white air. The sky looked like a sheet of ice, the color of a pond before you skate on it. It probably was ice in some literal, crystalline way. There's a profound sense of stillness out there now, a big cold pause before the snow starts falling here too. It's just a matter of time. And yet, my body can't help but want to resist this quick shift toward winter, this sudden cold. Maybe I'm influenced by a book I just read set in the Everglades, but I have an urge to run away to Florida right about now...

Waiting for first snow,
for flakes to fall on green grass.
We're never ready.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

October 26: Another Eagle

Pulling into the office parking lot this morning, I stopped quick. Across the lot, at the top of a tree, was a large, dark lump. Was it a vulture? A hawk? I wished I had binoculars. But then it turned its head, the light caught on white feathers: bald eagle!

I slowly pulled into the lot, hoping that I wouldn't startle the big bird from its perch. I was able to park, open my window, and get my camera from the back seat. For over five minutes I snapped away while the eagle hung out, observing the river, preening its back feathers, looking around. Eventually I had to get to work, but the bird barely seemed to notice as I opened the car door and got out. I was able to get a few more photos before it decided to move on, slowly flapping those huge wings over to the other side of the river and disappearing into the trees. I took a deep breath full of gratitude and headed in to the office. How many people get to start their work day like that? (And most days, I even like my job too!)

Eagle hanging out.
I sit here staring, smiling,
beneath its notice.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

October 25: Just like Colorado

Looking out my office window today, a glowing golden poplar caught my eye. I was reminded of autumn aspen groves in Colorado--the almost ethereal sight of round leaves like gold coins shining against a backdrop of many straight pale tree trunks. As I was thinking this, I commented to a co-worker, "Look at that one beautiful tree out there." "I was just thinking that it reminded me of Colorado," she replied. I had to laugh. I guess once you've experienced such a sight, it resonates throughout the rest of your experiences of the natural world.
Western light reflects
on poplar leaves, reminds me
of aspens, things past.

Monday, October 24, 2011

October 24: Wood Duck

A birder friend visiting Orlando, Florida, emailed today that she gotten her first long looks at a male wood duck in breeding plumage. Her exact words were: "Holy #%&@!" Here's what he looks like, so you can understand her justifiable excitement:
Photo credit: Arjan Haverkamp for Wikimedia Commons
He's really a flamboyant bird, one of the more colorful in North America. You couldn't make that bird up if you tried, even if you went at it with crayons in a coloring book. I was one of the Maine judges for the Junior Duck Stamp contest this spring, and a lot of the young artists chose the wood duck as their subject. I think they enjoyed being able to use all those colors--so much more dramatic than the understated plumage of most waterfowl. And I just learned that the official duck stamp for 2012-13 will be a wood duck, painted by artist Joseph Hautman.

My friend suggested I write a wood duck haiku. Having spent the whole day in a not unpleasant but certainly not poetically inspiring class on volunteer management, I was happy to oblige her. (Thanks for the poetic nudge, Cathy! I hope you see more exciting bird life while you're in warmer climes.)

Holy s**t! Wood duck!
Is his gaudy plumage real?
I can't stop looking.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

October 23: Conclave of Ravens

This morning I joined a group of friends for brunch atop Ragged Mountain. We rode up the chairlift two-by-two, with bags of bagels, a box of coffee, and sundry bagel spreads, and found a spot in the sun for our picnic. The sunlit fall foliage looked brighter, the bay sparkled in the distance, and we felt fortunate to have picked such a beautiful day for our outing.

View from Ragged Mountain to Penobscot Bay, Mount Battie 
At one point I noticed a swirl of dark birds in the sky above the summit of Ragged, to our northwest. I figured they were a kettle of vultures, which live in these mountains and are often seen soaring over the ridge line. This was, after all, a perfect day to ride thermals. But they weren't vultures, they were ravens. While ravens also live in the Camden Hills, it's unusual to see such a large group of them all together, hanging out, as it were. This time of year it could be a family group, or it could be a flock of young birds gathered to spend the winter together in a little corvid conclave. They were joined by a red-tailed hawk, which didn't seem to be interacting with them in an aggressive way. Rather, the birds seemed to be enjoying the unseasonably warm morning air together, much as we all were down below on the sunny ledge.

Twelve humans observe
nine ravens, all enjoying
sunny mountaintop.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

October 22: Walk

Despite a slight cold that's left me a bit tired and achy the past few days, I eagerly participated in today's four-club Rotary marathon walk for polio. The idea was that each of the four local Rotary clubs--Rockland, Camden, West Bay (also in Camden), and Belfast would each walk a 6.25-mile leg of a route that would start at the two ends, in Rockland and Belfast, and have us meeting in the middle--conveniently located at the Whale's Tooth Pub in Lincolnville Beach. My club, West Bay, began our southbound leg at Northport Marine on Route One, after a hand-off from the Belfast club.

I drive that stretch of Route One all the time, but there's nothing like on-the-ground experience to help you notice things. Like the beautiful views of Ducktrap Mountain and the Camden Hills you get from the tops of several rises in Northport, the colorful slopes periodically lit by sun breaking through the clouds. Or all the narrow driveways that head off toward the water along that stretch. Or the number of cardinals calling from the underbrush, or scenic streams passing under the road. Businesses had popped up that I somehow hadn't yet noticed from my car. You also see first-hand what's underfoot, literally--strewn trash, roadkill, toppled street signs, how close the shoulder is to a seriously deep ravine.

There's also nothing like a shared physical endeavor to help people connect. I enjoyed several conversations with various fellow Rotarians as we walked along Route One with our red balloons. I'm relatively new to the club, so it was a good bonding experience for me. As was the camaraderie after at the Pub. People should get out and walk together in big groups more often, even if just for the pleasure of it. (Not that walking for charity is a bad thing--for every $6 we raised, 20 kids will get polio vaccinations.)

Walk for charity
but also for that cardinal,
view, conversation.

Friday, October 21, 2011

October 21: Late last night

Coming home last night from a late dinner with a friend, I was surprised to get out of my car into a summer evening. When I had left the office for an event that afternoon, the rain had just stopped and clouds were beginning to blow away eastward, revealing patches of blue sky. It wasn't until I saw the night sky at 9:45 p.m., however, that I realized what a change had taken place. Thanks to the streetlight in front of our house still being out, the view from my front lawn was beautiful: to the east, Jupiter hanging brightly over the shoulder of Mount Battie, the Pleiades a hazy cluster nearby; to the west, Milky Way running right over our roof. A warm breeze blew, shuffling the leaves on the lawn, and for a few moments I just looked up in awe. Then I unlocked the door, turned on the porch light, and said goodnight to the stars.

Easy to forget
while it's raining: all those stars,
Milky Way's bright path.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

October 20: Coots

Yesterday my birder friend Don Reimer reported seeing coots on Chickawaukie Lake in Rockland. This in itself is nothing unusual. Each fall a raft of coots, slate-grey waterbirds that are often mistaken for ducks, visits the lake until it ices over, usually hanging around into December. Part of the lake is in our Christmas Bird Count area, and most years we're out there counting coots the last Saturday before Christmas. One year we even came across a red-tailed hawk eating a coot near the public beach area of the lake. A coot is a good meal for a bird of prey, though apparently not very tasty to humans. (We debated whether or not to count that coot in our day's tally, and decided that since it had been alive earlier in the day, it was countable.)

So coots are regulars on the lake this time of year. What was remarkable about Don's report yesterday was the number of coots he observed: 615! I think the most I've ever seen at one time was 50 - 60 birds, 100 at most. I had to see this for myself. So on the way to a meeting in Rockland I stopped by the public beach parking lot. Offshore, I could see a dark mass on the water, a dense island of coots. A smaller bird could have walked across their backs. Without binoculars I had no way to really count them for myself, which would've been a challenge anyway because they were really packed together. Taking a moment to survey the scene, their behavior began to make sense to me. Perched in a nearby tree, looking right at the coot pack, was a big adult bald eagle. The coots were huddled up for security--a straggler would be fair game for the eagle.

Raft of coots afloat
till hungry hawks come, or ice
fills their wayside lake.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

October 19: Chestnut

One of my co-workers brought this into the office today:

These days, most people would not immediately recognize this as the burrs and nuts of an American chestnut, which was once the dominant tree of Appalachia. For centuries, this tree produced one of the primary mast crops that fed the deer, bears, and turkeys of the Eastern forests. Devastated by an introduced disease for which it had no immunity, this native chestnut has been reduced to small remnant stands of varying degrees of health. Here in Maine, only a handful of undiseased, mature trees remain, with a few of them found in the Midcoast. This set of burrs with nuts was apparently found on the Megunticook Golf Course in Rockport. 

The Maine Chapter of the American Chestnut Foundation, which is working to develop a blight-resistant strain of this once majestic species, calls their newsletter The Tree Urchin. One look at the burr and you can understand where the name came from. I was so drawn by this striking plant part--I'm trying not to call it a "set of nuts"!--that I immediately photographed it. I think what attracts me are the graceful leaves and smooth nuts contrasted with the crazy spiked burrs which have split so they look like muppets with their mouths open. Or cracked sea urchins. But I'm also very drawn to them as artifacts of our natural heritage that two hundred years ago would have been as recognizable to you and me as an acorn, or the non-native, not-so-edible horse chestnut that we grew up with instead. 

Passenger pigeons
once gorged on these chestnuts. Both
bird and tree now gone.



Tuesday, October 18, 2011

October 18: Pines

This afternoon I walked with a friend along the Little River Community Hiking Trail that begins just off Route One at the Belfast Water District. We set out on a brief hike on this surprisingly mild day, following the trail along the edge of the Little River reservoir up to where it narrows into the river itself. Near the beginning of the trail, you get an unusual perspective on the reservoir behind the dam seeming to pour off into space, with a glimpse of its outlet into the cove beyond. It looks sort of like an infinity pool at the ocean's edge, only set among fall trees rather than fancy landscaping. (From the other side, from Route One, this dam and waterfall with adjacent red buildings are very picturesque.)

The trail hugs the water's edge, so as we walked, we flushed from the water a few flocks of mallards. In certain seasons, I can imagine the mostly-forested reservoir attracting lots of ducks. Red squirrels scolded us periodically. We heard some white-throated sparrows calling in the underbrush and were stopped in our tracks by the cackling call of a pileated woodpecker, which shortly thereafter flew in front of us across the trail deeper into the woods.

But what I enjoyed most about the trail was the pine trees. The Water District property hosts quite a few really old pines, the kind with trunks too big to get your arms around, rising so straight and tall you can almost imagine them as the King's Pines of 400 years ago--the ones they saved for masts for the royal navy. These dramatic trees were true presences in the forest, lordly beings in their own right. And they had scattered their yellow needles in a carpet along the trail, cushioning each step so that we couldn't help but walk in a hush from tree to tree.

We pass quietly
noble old pines, but squirrel
scolds, gives us away.

Monday, October 17, 2011

October 17: Bald Eagle!

Every now and then a shout will go up around our (admittedly small) office: "Bald eagle!" We'll all rush to the windows facing the Megunticook River and Mount Battie and look for the bird. Eagles fly up and down the river on a regular basis, sometimes even perching on a riverside tree nearby to watch for fish or harass ducks. Several pairs nest on Megunticook Lake, and the birds seem to use the river as a regular pathway to follow as they fly to and from the harbor.
Bald Eagle on Megunticook Lake. Photo by Roger Wickenden.
So while eagles are not uncommon around here, I still get excited to see one every time that call goes out. This morning I was in a meeting when an eagle flew past the window, then soared above the river a few times, its white head and tail shining in the sunlight. I jumped out of my seat to follow it with my eyes. I'm a sucker for big, soaring birds of prey, I guess. Or perhaps it's a holdover from when I was a kid, when seeing an eagle was a very rare thing. Even though it's fortunately much less unusual these days--eagles having made a healthy comeback in post-DDT years--the sight of one is something I hope to never take for granted.

Look! Sunlit eagle
follows river's winding path,
white feathers aglow.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

October 16: Herbs

I planted my first herb garden at the house where we lived the longest when I was growing up. I think I was about 12. My dad helped me build a hexagonal frame for it, and, surprisingly, it flourished. I remember that the key plants were parsley, sage, and thyme, with a clump of mint that grew out of control, chives, and lamb's ears, because I loved how soft and fuzzy the leaves were. I would often find our family cat lounging in the bed of thyme or chewing on the mint, and I was thrilled when my mother would occasionally add my chives to a salad.

In the years since, I've created several more herb gardens, and when I couldn't have an actual garden, tried to keep pots of herbs around the house. When we bought our current house, one of the first things I did after we moved in was to balance out a nice perennial bed that already existed on one side of the front lawn with an herb garden on the other, anchored by a lilac bush that had been a housewarming gift. Six years later, I've got fennel, a couple of different mints, parsley, sage, thyme, lavender, several clumps of chives, echinacea (ok, not really an herb, but I needed something tall), and maybe some oregano out there.

The funny thing is, I don't really do anything with these herbs. Sure, the parsley and fennel were supposedly grown for my husband to use in his cooking, but he never remembers they're there before they go to flower. But I like their unpretentious flowers. And I like the fact that the greenery of my herbs is beautiful, fragrant, and at least potentially useful. When I mow the lawn along the garden's edge and smell crushed lemon thyme or the oniony scent of chopped chives, I always smile. This afternoon I harvested a big bunch of sage and some lavender ostensibly to dry for some future purpose. But really, I just did it because I wanted to breathe in their fresh aromas, to have those scents mingling in the air of my kitchen. And to feel like my garden has produced at least this small bounty.

Handful of sage boughs
trimmed while raking leaves today--
harvest of fragrance.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

October 15: Grass

When I was a kid, going to the dump was a fascinating experience. This was back when the dump was really an open-air "dump," with everyone's trash spilling down giant, smelly mounds covered with squealing gulls. I didn't dare leave the safety of the car, but the swirling masses of gulls pulling at and fighting over various rubbish oddities certainly kept me distracted from the disgusting smell long enough for my parents to toss their trash.

Now all that's a landfill and transfer station, with big containers for recycling. While it's not as colorful as it used to be, it's not as gross, either. In fact, as I was waiting in the car this morning for my husband to empty our last bin of recyclables, I was captivated by a mound covered with tall, deep green grass. The grass rippled in waves in the brisk breeze, catching the sunlight, creating mesmerizing visual patterns. While I knew that underneath the grass moulder decades of trash, including that of my own family, what I could see there on the surface at least was beautiful.

Grass at the landfill--
our old trash feeding the roots,
rippling waves of blades.