Thursday, January 31, 2013

January 31: Roar

This morning I awoke to a roar outside that made me think for a brief instant that I was back in my usual bedroom on Monhegan hearing the sound of the surf pounding the island's rocky shore. Instead, gale force winds and driving rain engulfed the house with a loud, malevolent energy, flinging branches. Lights flickered. The river, wild with storm water, added its own white noise to the scene.

A co-worker's child told him the trees blowing outside their house this morning looked like "angry hair."

A few hours later, however, all is calm. Big patches of blue sky shine behind breaking clouds. The trees barely stir, and the temperature is almost the same outside as it is in. Ah, the vagaries of the weather in New England.

Roar of the sea familiar
outside my bedroom window.
I wish I were back there.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

January 30: Budding

So strangely warm today that the crusty snow was sublimating into puffs of mist that drifted across the road like ghostly tumbleweeds. A dense fog settled over the dripping trees. Not a great day to be outside. But inside, our amaryllis slowly opens into slightly erotic hot-red buds, twin points of brightness.

Foggy evening.
Bright amaryllis buds
stretch toward the window.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

January 29: Micro-moments

I read this at today:

"In her new book Love 2.0: How Our Supreme Emotion Affects Everything We Feel, Think, Do, and Become, the psychologist Barbara Fredrickson offers a radically new conception of love.
Fredrickson, a leading researcher of positive emotions at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, presents scientific evidence to argue that love is not what we think it is. It is not a long-lasting, continually present emotion that sustains a marriage; it is not the yearning and passion that characterizes young love; and it is not the blood-tie of kinship.
Rather, it is what she calls a 'micro-moment of positivity resonance.' She means that love is a connection, characterized by a flood of positive emotions, which you share with another person—any other person—whom you happen to connect with in the course of your day. You can experience these micro-moments with your romantic partner, child, or close friend. But you can also fall in love, however momentarily, with less likely candidates, like a stranger on the street, a colleague at work, or an attendant at a grocery store. Louis Armstrong put it best in 'It's a Wonderful World' when he sang, 'I see friends shaking hands, sayin 'how do you do?' / They're really sayin', 'I love you.'"

You can read the whole article here. I'm not sure I agree with the overall premise of the piece--especially as I see further down my Facebook stream a photo of a couple I know who were childhood sweethearts and still going strong, celebrating their 47th anniversary today. But the concept of a "micro-moment of positivity resonance" struck me as a real experience, akin to the moment that often inspires haiku--that ephemeral burst of perception and mood the poem tries to capture. So as I look back on my day, I'm trying to think of a moment when I felt something like this "micro-moment of positivity resonance." This is what I came up with.

Back to work after a sick day.
A co-worker tells me
he missed me. 

Monday, January 28, 2013

January 28: Two goldfinches

Home sick today I spent almost the entire time on the couch, reading and napping with the cat stretched out alongside me. When I first got up, I had the good fortune to catch sight of an eagle flying upriver, white tail flared like a flag. It paused in the backyard until chased off by crows. That drama past, the rest of my day was occasionally brightened by the appearance of two goldfinches at the window feeder, taking their time each visit to chow down on the black oil sunflower seed.
Two finches feeding,
unaware of the impact
of their presence.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

January 27: A little heat

After a weekend spent largely outside--shorefront birding and protesting on the streets of Portland yesterday and birding some more on wind-swept Scarborough Marsh this morning--I arrived home tonight feeling permanently chilled to the bone, muscles sore from being tensed for so long against the cold. Flannel pajamas and a heavy sweater are helping to finally warm my core, but the best moment of the evening so far has been washing some dishes, immersing my hands in that hot, soapy water. Perhaps a bath will follow dinner.

Washing dishes,
rough hands in hot water,
I sigh deeply.

January 26: Roadside hawks

With the hard crusty snow making it a challenge for birds of prey to hunt for rodents, more hawks and owls are visible perched in trees along road edges, watching for birds and rodents to emerge on the open edges. As I drove to Portland yesterday to join the tar sands oil pipeline protest, I counted two perched red-tails and one in flight being harassed by crows. On the way back north later that afternoon, I first saw two red-tails together in one tree, then a Bald Eagle flew over the road behind a flock of ducks, and then two more perched red-tails.
Fields of frozen snow.
As I speed past, hungry hawks
eye the roadside.

Friday, January 25, 2013

January 25: Duck wing

We were gathered at the window observing robins and waxwings foraging in the berry bushes down by the river, excited to see signs of life and color on this bone-chillingly cold day. Groups of black ducks flew upriver as we watched, moving quickly in small flocks of four or five--dark ducks with pale wing linings. We kept expecting to see an eagle at some point following behind--the reason for their flight--but we never did. I happened to be following one duck with my binoculars when the light caught the speculum--that patch of color--on its wing: such an indescribable, vivid blue-green. A millisecond later the color disappeared with a wingbeat as the duck flew on.

Fast-flying duck flashes
a breath-taking green.
Don't get attached to things.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

January 24: Another cold night

The temperature atop Mt. Washington yesterday, with wind chill, was -85 degrees. While my day began at a balmy -2, it only improved to 9 degrees by day's end. In the car headlights as I pulled into my driveway, I could see the rhododendron's leaves curled up in tight rolls against the cold, frozen fingers of green. And during those brief seconds as I ran between car and house, I could only pick out a couple of stars, as if they too were seeking refuge on this frigid night.

Even the waxing moon
shrinks from this cold
behind a veil of frost.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

January 23: 0 Degrees

Yesterday it was so cold that my brain was frozen. So, no post. Today it's even colder, but somehow seeing this in my car this morning inspired me:

Zero degrees--
a single cold egg
in an owl's January nest.

Monday, January 21, 2013

January 21: Gulls at the dump

Spent a perfect morning birding with a friend at Reid State Park. Cold, but little wind, bright sun, blue skies, birds bobbing in the waves. I even saw a longed-for life bird, a Dovekie, actively feeding very close to shore.

But no day of birding is complete without a stop at the local dump. So after our beach outing, the natural next stop was the Bath Landfill--to study gulls, of course. Thanks to a couple of nearby eagles, the gulls were all aswirl. Watching hundreds of white birds circling en masse above my head was a truly mesmerizing experience, akin to watching a snow storm in car headlights. Look closely at this photo. At a cursory glance, it looks like empty blue sky, but see all those tiny white specks? Those are gulls!

A dump worker referred to them as "dump ducks" and probably thought we were crazy. But there's no better place to observe gulls. Despite the great numbers of birds, we only picked out two unusual gulls amid the swirling swarm: a Glaucous and an Iceland Gull, both white-winged species. But standing there watching all those moving, shifting birds, I felt a true awe--similar to the feeling of looking up at a night sky strewn with stars.

Mesmerized by gulls. Photo by Derek Lovitch.

Gulls at the dump--
surprised to feel such awe
while surrounded by trash.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

January 20: Blown by the wind

A mound of twigs and leaves, perhaps a fallen squirrel's nest, sits on the snow in my neighbor's back yard. As I peer at it, trying to figure out exactly what it is, a large brown oak leaf skitters across the snow. The leaf pauses until the next gust. When I next look out, it's gone, blown in the river, undoubtedly on its way to being swept downstream.

Oak leaf blowing
across the snow.
Sometimes I feel like that.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

January 19: The Men's Room

My husband is getting his hair cut at a place in Portland especially for men. Frankly, this place is a lot more fun than where I get my hair cut. Free beer, pool table, leather couch with widescreen TV playing sports, good alt rock on the sound system, a cute wandering dog, hot 30-something guys with facial hair coming and going... A thin woman all in black with long blonde hair is cutting my husband's hair, making him laugh. And you can buy a cigar on your way out.
Fashion mags tell me short hair is coming back for women.
Comforts of the hair salon.
Some days I want
to cut it all off.

Friday, January 18, 2013

January 18: Ducks flying upriver

Startled by whistling wings
of ducks flying
up the frozen river.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

January 17: Before dawn

Some mornings I wake up ridiculously early and can't fall back asleep...

Hour before dawn--
cat still curled in sleep,
crow's caw in the dark.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

January 16: Snow falls all day

Quietly but without stop the snow fell, a constant backdrop all day long through my office windows as I assiduously typed away at some grant applications. The dreaminess of the scene--the pure white flakes once again restoring the beauty of winter, mesmerizing in their continuous falling, falling--lulled me into memories of younger days when walking hand-in-hand on a snowy night was romantic, and winter camping was a regular weekend activity.

I don't remember cold.
Back then, I think snow sizzled
on my bare skin.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

January 15: Nine squirrels

My husband noticed them first: a bunch of gray squirrels disporting themselves in the trees behind the neighbor's house. The leafless branches made them particularly visible as they flung themselves from limb to skinny limb. We tried to count, "Four, five... no, six..." We ended up at nine. Three or four would be chasing each other in a line, slinking rapidly along a branch and up a trunk. Without knowing a male from a female gray squirrel, we had no way of knowing what sorts of social interactions were going on, what hormones were wafting unseen through those bare trees. Was this a bachelor party? A gang? Girls' day out? A singles mixer? Or perhaps the squirrels were, like us, simply enjoying being out of their nests and active in the warmer air of this January thaw.

Nine gray squirrels in trees--
I'm overcome with an urge
to fling myself into the air.

Monday, January 14, 2013

January 14: Thaw

The usual January Thaw is upon us, but it's difficult not to read into the melting snow, oozing mud, and prematurely budding shrubbery something more ominous. Global climate change is the giant elephant sitting in the middle of the room that is our planet. So we can't simply enjoy this brief reprieve from the bitter cold of last week, because we've lost our sense of what's normal anymore. Our climate compass needle is spinning wildly, even as the North Star poises above my house just as it always has. Even the simple love song of the chickadee gives me pause. I know chickadees sometimes sing in winter, but I couldn't help but feel anxious for some reason when I heard one sing today.

Chickadee's premature song--
is it the thought of love
or bad timing that concerns me?

Sunday, January 13, 2013

January 13: Wet enough for a duck

The view from inside looked bleak, foggy. As he stepped out the front door, my husband mused, "I wonder how wet it is out here." We had barely talken two steps on our walk into town for brunch when we both laughed. A drake Mallard stood there right in front of us, about to make his way across the street, hundreds of yards away from the river. On this day that felt more like mid-March than January, I guess it was wet enough for him to take a little stroll away from the water.
Why did the duck cross the road?

When we got to town, we had brunch at a restaurant on the waterfront. The inner harbor was brimming full, a just-past-new-moon high tide, the waters still and calm. Curtis Island in the outer harbor was muted by fog and looked farther away than it really was. As we ate, we watched a single coot meander among the empty floats and cocooned windjammers. A loon surfaced with a sea urchin in its bill. Along the public landing, the very air felt laden with moisture, our wet breath making clouds each time we exhaled.

Morning of mist, tides,
ducks pacing wet streets.
Our bodies contain oceans.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

January 12: Scent of the sea

Walking toward the entrance to the gym this morning, I took a deep breath--the damp, unseasonably warm air held that salt scent of the sea. Camden's a harbor town, but sometimes you can forget if the water's not right in front of you. But today's air circulation pattern was carrying that moist ocean air right into the YMCA parking lot, along with the cries of nearby gulls. For a few seconds, an image of waves lapping rockweed-bedecked stones flashed through my head. Then I stepped inside.

Sea air in my lungs,
I'm ionized
for my indoor run.

Friday, January 11, 2013

January 11: Green

Maybe it's being surrounded all day long by the snow and bare branches, maybe I need more vegetables in my diet, but whatever the reason, I've been craving particular shades of green lately. Friends in Georgia reported seeing a female Painted Bunting, which, unlike the gaudy male, sports a range of plumage tending to lime green. I felt such envy and longing upon hearing about it.

Female Painted Bunting.
Photo by Dan Pancamo, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Thinking about female Painted Buntings reminded me of how much I like Chestnut-sided Warblers in fall plumage. Normally very bright birds, with a chestnut streak on the flank, a black-and-white facial pattern, and a gold crown, in fall they're a much more subtle but very distinctive shade of green:
Chestnut-sided Warbler by Louis Agassiz Fuertes, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
From bottom to top: fall adult; first year male; spring male.

Then this afternoon a friend birding in Mexico shared a photograph of a Slaty Vireo, a bird I now would love to see in real life. This painting doesn't do justice to the beautiful contrast of the green and gray plumage:
Slaty Vireo, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

My eyes must crave citrus and lime. Alas, there are no budding spring leaves unfurling anywhere nearby, no female buntings kicking around. So, short of wearing my favorite green sweater, I think the best I can do to satisfy this need is to either make myself a cocktail with a lime garnish or start planning our trip to Florida in March. Or both.

Only January
and already my eyes seek
the greens of spring.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

January 10: Crows in the pines

Sitting in a meeting late afternoon, I sensed a shadow passing by an office window near me that looks out onto a small wooded park. Subtly turning my head, I realized that the shadow was a crow flying into a tall pine. Followed by another crow, and another. A group of crows--a family? a small winter flock?--was heading for the shelter of the boughs to roost for the night.

I was reminded of a section of Wallace Stevens' poem "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird":

Icicles filled the long window 
With barbaric glass. 
The shadow of the blackbird 
Crossed it, to and fro. 
The mood 
Traced in the shadow 
An indecipherable cause.

Shadow of a crow.
My mood shifts
with my attention.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

January 9: Rainy night

Church clock's lit face
a dim substitute
for the cloud-shrouded moon.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

January 8: Landslide

Many years, even decades, ago, there was a landslide up on the north end of the Mount Megunticook ridge line. I don't remember it happening, but growing up it was always very noticeable from a distance: it left a long stony scar down the upper slope. Over the years the slide's path has been slowly filling in as trees have grown in around it, so the visual impact has lessened. But I noticed today that the old scar is more visible right now while it's covered in snow and the trees are bare of leaves.

Landslide highlighted by snow.
Even old scars
still remind us of loss.

Monday, January 7, 2013

January 7: Illumination

Another Monday back in the office, with another week ahead of numbers to juggle, memos to write, meetings to coordinate. The cold feels like it's settled into my bones, rendering me bleak and partly cloudy myself. But as I was driving back from an errand, snowy Mount Battie rose up ahead of me, its radiant presence glowing in the late afternoon sun with an almost ethereal light.

Confronted by such beauty,
the spirit rallies.
At least until darkness.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

January 6: Beach

Out birding with a friend along the coast south of Portland. The morning began with snow showers, but most of the day was graced with blue sky and the glare of sun on the water. At Dyer Point in Cape Elizabeth, where long lines of rocks stretch into the sea, we watched colorful Harlequin Ducks bob in the surf and Purple Sandpipers crowd onto rockweed-adorned ledges exposed by the tide. At Two Lights State Park, more ducks, some Razorbills, a kittiwake flying off in the distant shimmer.

At Higgins Beach the ebbing tide revealed a long sandy beach. Some dogs romped after a ball, and a man tried to launch a big yellow box kite into the sea breeze. As my friend scanned the waves for birds, I had the sudden impulse to walk on the sand all the way out to the water's edge. I was reminded how last year about this time I experienced such calm joy walking the warm sands of a beach on Florida's Atlantic coast, past fishermen, surfers, and standing flocks of terns. For a few minutes today, even in Maine's chilly sunlight, I felt that same happy peace.

Expanse of sand and sea--
the mind opens
to let in peace.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

January 5: Flow

Mesmerized by the play of blue shadows, shadows of trees swaying in the chill wind, over the unmarred snow in the backyard...

Shadows sway on snow,
echo river's currents.
Change is a constant.

Friday, January 4, 2013

January 4: Red-bellied Woodpecker

This morning when I got to work, the trees were birdy. A small flock of juncos flitted and twittered near my car, the usual feeder birds were queuing up in the bushes, one nuthatch spiraled head-first down a birch trunk, and a pair of jays watched with bright eyes. From inside my office I watched with binoculars, hoping to see something interesting turn up--more redpolls, perhaps, or an errant sparrow.

As I stood there in the center of the room, one of the jays landed in a feeder. Usually I shoo them off because they're too big for the feeders, and they eat too much. But I hadn't seen a jay here for awhile, so decided to let it eat in peace. Their blue plumage (which isn't really blue, but that's another story) looks so pretty in contrast with the white snow.

Soon the second jay passed overhead, moving from a nearby tree to the edge of the roof over my feeders. But instead of another jay at a feeder, a Red-Bellied Woodpecker suddenly appeared.

Red-bellied Woodpecker (male).
Photo by Ken Thomas via Wikimedia Commons.
He stayed eating bird seed not only long enough for me to yell to my co-workers to come see but also for them to actually watch him for a few seconds. Then he flew off into the trees, moving upriver. He didn't return, but it's good to know there's still one in the neighborhood. This southern species has made an amazing incursion into Maine in the past eight to ten years or so. Before that, to see one here at all was unusual. Now they're hanging out through the winter, popping up in my own yard, their chirring call becoming so familiar that a couple nights ago I dreamed I heard one.

Should I expect all my dreams
to become as real
as this visiting woodpecker?

Thursday, January 3, 2013

January 3: Cold

My car thermometer read 4 degrees F when I left for an early morning meeting. I think it got up to 10 at its peak.

We move fast to stay warm,
our breathing visible,
our thoughts hidden.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

January 2: Flash Mob

While on the phone at my office this afternoon, I took a sudden, momentary break in my conversation so I could yell to my co-workers to come quick and look out the window. The trees outside our office were suddenly filled with crows! At least a hundred of them, just hanging out in the branches, cawing, shifting from branch to branch, tree to tree, as more flew in from all directions, some of them standing around together in the road. They weren't mobbing anything, didn't appear to have any purpose; they were just there.

And then they were gone.

About ten minutes later I looked out as they flew back over the office, all those black silhouettes against a blue sky, the whole swirling flock flapping away over Mount Battie and beyond, undoubtedly en route to an evening roost. I ran outside to try to catch a photo but was too late.

Visited by crows.
After, the rest of the day
felt somehow different.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

January 1, 2013: First birds

At the start of each new year, I like to keep track of the first birds I see. When I got up, a crow flew through the backyard, sweeping past like a shadow against the snow. Nothing new there. Later, on a long snowshoe hike at the Ducktrap River Preserve, through sheltering hemlocks whose snowy boughs filtered sunlight onto snow patterned with snowshoe hare tracks, we only had one new species: Black-capped Chickadee. Back home, a swirl of Herring Gulls. And one goldfinch singing unseen in the neighbor's arbor vitae. And that was all. (It probably didn't help that my little window feeders were soaking in the sink, awaiting a cleaning and refill.)

If I'd really been trying, I'd have headed for the harbor or some other open water. Several birders posted observations of ducks on the Maine birding list-serv today. But I like to see what comes to me for the first day of the year, as some kind of portent. To see/hear those familiar birds might be auspicious for a year ahead full of good friends, for example. Or perhaps sustained pleasure of what I enjoyed in the year newly past.

Year's first birds appear
in stark black and white:
crows against snow, chickadees.

Ducktrap River from the Backcountry Ski Trail