Saturday, July 31, 2010

July 31: Loon Call

Most mornings I hear a loon calling as it flies north over the house. The river out back is much too shallow and rocky here to accommodate a loon--they need a certain amount of open water to get up enough speed to take flight--so these early calls are from a loon in transit. Does the bird have a dawn fishing ritual in Camden Harbor? Wherever it goes each day, we're lucky enough to live in its flight path as it presumably returns to the lake.

It always gives me a little thrill to hear that tremolo as I go through my morning ablutions. Although we live in a dense neighborhood just a mile from downtown Camden, this flight song of the loon is our own call of the wild, hinting of remoter places. For just a few moments I look out at the craggy face of Mount Battie and imagine that I'm spending this golden summer at an old sporting camp in the North Woods wilderness, with a sunny deck overlooking a lake full of trout and loons that know how to properly greet the day.

Loon's dawn reveille.
Clean morning air promises
perfect summer day.

Friday, July 30, 2010

July 30: Loon Chick

This evening we spent time with my four-year-old niece, who is staying with my parents for the weekend. We had dinner al fresco in the back yard, and then Fiona and I decided to sit on the dock and watch the river. Water bugs skittered across the surface, and Fiona was excited to see a couple of small fish slip past us underwater. As my husband got his fly rod ready to do a little casting before sunset, we all noticed the loon family in the middle of the river: two adults with one fuzzy brown chick between them. They seemed to be teaching it how to fish. Fiona looked through binoculars at them, but I'm not sure she knows how to use them well enough to see the birds. My mother tried to explain to her how loon calls are different depending on where they are, that the place, not the bird, determines what they sound like. I think that too was beyond Fiona's interest and comprehension at this point, but we'll make a birder out of her yet!

Fish began jumping as sunset burnished the clouds. Fiona was impressed with Uncle Paul's dragonfly fly. She'd probably have been even more impressed if he'd caught something with it. Four ducks that I think were wood ducks flew past. A beaver slowly made its way upriver, as it does every evening, a silver vee trailing behind it. And the loons drifted upriver too, still fishing. My dad built a small fire in the fire pit, and we all stayed outside in the growing dark, past Fiona's bedtime.  

Loon chick with parents--
family night on the river.
I watch with my niece.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

July 29: Restless

A restless breeze blows through the leaves this evening, washing away the remaining traces of today's heat and humidity. While the cooler air is refreshing, there's an edge to it that hints of fall, and I'm not ready for that yet. It's still July for two more days, and I want to continue to absorb as much summer sunlight and warmth as I can--a sort of solar recharge for the cooler months that I know are coming. So this wind makes me a little anxious and on edge, like being faced with an unwanted conflict. It cascades through the trees in a rising rush of sound, indistinguishable from the flowing river. On our after-dinner walk around the block, my hair whipped across my face and waving branches flung themselves in our path. The wind is just toying with us now, but already we can glimpse the faint gleam of its wintry teeth. This is the kind of night when I find myself awake at some odd, early hour unable to fall back asleep, just lying there trying to still my mind and block out the noise of the wind swirling through the yard, crashing against the house. Nights like this I can relate in some weird way to those pampered Victorian maidens who had a fear of "drafts."

As evening descends
wind rises like a flood tide
through shivering oaks.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

July 28: Deer

I rode to work this morning with a co-worker, and as we pulled into the office parking lot, she exclaimed, "A deer!" A doe was dashing down the dam access road from our parking lot, tail flashing, though she was shielded in part by trees between us and the river. We could see enough of her to follow her progress until she went off the road and down an overgrown embankment. Then she disappeared. Even though we'd moved up to the office porch for a clearer view and would have seen her had she made her way into the woods on the other side of the office, she'd vanished completely. This was a large doe, too. She was probably right there in front of us, watching our every move with those predator-wary eyes. Amazing how a big wild animal like that can slip out of sight so quickly and without a sound.

I think this is the same doe that has visited the office in summers past, a couple of times with a very young, spotted fawn. I've taken photos of her standing right outside my office window. Another neighbor I'm always pleased to catch a glimpse of, however fleeting. It's partly that fleetness that's keeping her alive, after all.

Summer doe grazes
in ferny fields, in daylight,
yet always wary.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

July 27: Crickets

My mother's nickname for me growing up was Cricket, so I think that just gave me a natural affinity for the insect, which I still enjoy observing in my yard. When I was a kid I made a little box out of toothpicks so I could keep a pet cricket like I had read that the Japanese do. I wasn't sure what to feed it, so I gave it little bits of bologna, which I'm pretty sure it didn't eat. I only kept it for a day and then freed the poor thing because it wouldn't make its cricket noises for me.

When they start "singing" loudly enough to really take notice, that's a sign that summer's reached its peak. This afternoon I was sitting at my desk, just sitting and thinking, and I suddenly really noticed the sound of crickets. There's supposed to be some formula you can use to figure out how warm it is from how rapid the cricket's chirps are, but all I know is that it's a hot afternoon and the individual chirps produced by the crickets' wings are coming fast, blending together to create a rising hum. We get used to hearing it in the background on days like this, but it really is a beautiful chorus of sorts when you take a moment to listen.

The hum of crickets
awakens me from daydreams.
Summer is passing.

Monday, July 26, 2010

July 26: Golden Glow

I confess, I love goldenrod. Just look at it! I love the golden glow it brings to the lush fields of high summer, that rich sunny color hinting of the maturity of the season. (And green and gold are such a vivid combination. No wonder so many sports teams use it, including my grad school alma mater, University of Oregon). 

I love how its appearance signals the arrival of my favorite time of year, late summer into fall, when above these burnished fields, birds will soon migrate south once more, the very air humming with their restless spirit. Goldenrod's height and hue make it seem as if Mother Nature put all her remaining flower power into firing up this late bloomer of the year. 

As with many flowers, goldenrod gets more intriguing the closer you look at its little starry florets. Its a complex plant, and there are actually dozens of species of goldenrod, guaranteeing hours of field study to figure them all out. 

Unfortunately for me, I'm quite allergic to goldenrod. I know they say that it's not really goldenrod people are allergic to, it's the ragweed that blooms at the same time. But no, I've been tested, I'm allergic to ragweed and goldenrod. Which is why today my voice is hoarse and I'm squinting at the screen because my contacts are a bit gummy. But none of that dims the joy I feel when I look out the window at those glowing golden sprays, offset perfectly by the reddening leaves of the dogwood and the Queen Anne's lace (see yesterday's post), with the river shining in the background.

Does anyone doubt
gold is the color of joy
in this rich season?

Sunday, July 25, 2010

July 25: Queen Anne's Lace

This time of year roadsides and lawns are graced with tall stalks of Queen Anne's lace, a common wildflower that always speaks to me of high summer. As my husband and I went for a walk through the neighborhood before dinner tonight, the pale, filigreed faces followed us the whole way. It's not a flashy weed like the black-eyed Susan or tiger lily, but its delicate beauty always invites a closer look.

As a kid, I was always a bit wary of Queen Anne's lace because at the center of each cluster of white blossoms is one dark purple one that always made me look twice to be sure it wasn't a spider. I've never been fond of spiders. But now I'm kind of fascinated by this little quirk in a familiar flower. Legend has it that that spot represents a drop of Queen Anne's blood that fell after she pricked her finger while making lace. Stories aside, I wonder what its real purpose is in nature. Perhaps it serves as some sort of beacon to pollinating bees, who can see ultraviolet colors that are invisible to us--that frilly white face with the one dark spot might look completely different to a bee's eyes.

Queen Anne's lace is also known as wild carrot and it's what our garden carrot was cultivated from. If you let your carrots bloom, this relationship becomes apparent in the similarity of the flowers. Queen Anne's lace root is edible, like a carrot, but you want to be very sure you know you're eating the right plant, because it bears a striking similarity to poison hemlock. You'd only live to make that mistake once.

For such a dainty flower, this one is tougher than it looks. Its sturdy stem can be very difficult to pick, and may even irritate some people's skin. I personally prefer to enjoy "free range" Queen Anne's lace, each blossom a perfect little floral galaxy shining amid the universe of the summer fields.

Summer offering--
field of graceful, frothy lace,
delicate but strong.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

July 24: "Mmm, doughnuts." quote Homer Simpson.

Every weekend Farmers Fare in Rockport taunts me with Facebook reminders that Saturday is doughnut day, with fresh doughnuts from Tracey's Bakery in Northport arriving at 10 a.m. They post photos. Their description makes them sound almost healthy--made with organic sugar and flour, local eggs, and Cabot Creamery butter, fried in safflower oil. This rainy morning seemed like a doughnut-worthy day, so I succumbed to temptation. Luckily my husband was gracious enough to help me fulfill my craving by driving to Farmers Fare at 10:00 on the dot and getting me some.

This is what he brought back for me:
The big one on the left is obviously a glazed doughnut, and the smaller one is cream-filled. They were both exquisite. Enjoying them with my husband this morning reminded me of when I was a kid and my father used to bring home a box of Dunkin' Donuts' Munchkins every Sunday morning. (I loved the chocolate honey-dipped.) As an adult who tries to lead a healthy lifestyle, I don't eat doughnuts as a rule, but for ones like those pictured above, I make an exception. And it's always worth it. Now I just need to fight the urge to make this a regular Saturday morning ritual. I suppose I could always alternate Farmers Fare doughnuts with a sticky bun from Home Kitchen Cafe in Rockland... 

And soon enough, I'll be looking like Homer Simpson.

Rainy Saturday--
homemade doughnuts for breakfast
with husband and cat.

Friday, July 23, 2010

July 23: Bully

The song sparrow that visits my little window feeder at work has shown himself to be somewhat of a bully. He gets right in the feeder, kicks all the seed around, chows down for awhile, and if, say, a chickadee flutters nearby wanting to join the feeding fun, he won't let it perch. The chickadees and goldfinches, both slightly smaller birds, are forced to take their turns when the sparrow is busy singing at one of his special spots, which include the dogwood tree, the porch railing, and a post in the parking lot. Fortunately he sings often and all day.

I'm fond of this sparrow, despite his territorial behavior. He visits throughout the day, often pausing on the window sill to look in at me. He's a regular, a neighbor. Sometimes I'll even see him around with his mate, so maybe his hogging the feeder is just a hormonal phase while they're nesting. He really makes a mess, too, scattering seed bits and empty hulls all over the ground and hollowing trenches in the filled feeder. The daintier chickadees are probably counting the days till he migrates.

Sparrow's assertive,
a feeder bully, seed hog.
And yet, when he sings...

Thursday, July 22, 2010

July 22: Background Noise

Thunder rocked and rolled through the neighborhood last night for much longer than I had expected--a true summer thunderstorm, with the fireworks of frequent lightning flashes, as well. Even our old, semi-deaf cat, who has never been weather sensitive, seemed startled by some particularly loud thunderclaps. It sounded as if an ogre were up on Mount Battie bowling a few of those big glacial erratics over the talus slope. It went on so long that I almost grew used to the rumbling as I read into the evening.

Tonight we've got background noise of a different sort, as the guy who lives across the river mows his lawn past dark. I just finished mowing my own lawn about an hour ago, having been thwarted at the task yesterday by the rainstorm, so I don't hold it against him. I've never gotten a good look at exactly what kind of lawn is over there, but it must be big, because he mows often and for a long time, and on a riding mower. So the drone of a lawn mower is a near constant during the warmer months. Before dusk fell in earnest, the mower's whine was complemented by the sharp whistles of our neighborhood cardinal, who decided to end his day with some fanfare.

Even with the mower going, I can still hear the trickle and flow of the river on its meandering way into the harbor. That's a constant. As is the undercurrent of cricket song, that gentle thrum in the soft July air. And just now, the querulous honking of a lone goose heading upriver to join its family on the lake.

Last evening, thunder.
Tonight, crickets' hum outlasts
the lawnmower's drone.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

July 21: Characters

My alma mater Middlebury College posted a video today called Postcard from the Chinese School. In this short clip, various students at Middlebury's Chinese School respond to the question, "What is your favorite Chinese character?" (They reply in Chinese, of course, since all summer language students sign a "no English" agreement while they're there.) One young woman responded that she liked a particular character for the word "rice," "because when you write it, it's beautiful, like stars or fireworks."

I appreciated her aesthetic approach to her answer and, seeing the character, understand its appeal. It got me thinking about how we write our letters and which ones are my favorite. Back in second grade when we were learning cursive writing, I liked the capital Q best, because of its graceful curves and curls, like a big 2, a slender swan, or a curling wave rolling across the lines of the paper.

Also, that letter seemed the most unlike its non-cursive counterpart, thus perpetuating my belief that learning this new form of hand-writing was a bit like learning a secret code. (This was around the same time I began reading the Nancy Drew mystery series.) Also, Q in general is an unusual letter--a one-tile, 10-pointer in Scrabble--and it's part of my last name, Lindquist. I've always enjoyed having an odd letter in my name. 

Of course we don't write in cursive anymore, so I never get to practice my flowing Q. It's probably just as well, because even my ordinary hand-writing has devolved over the years to near illegibility. But it fascinates me to think of the letters we write as characters like the Chinese symbol above, as little pictures--like the open mouth of O or the sinuous snake of S. 

My friend Brian Willson, who designs fonts based on old handwriting, must think about this as he meticulously designs and creates a new font. He's not just drawing lines, he's creating a little piece of art for each letter. And I bet he has a favorite letter in each of his fonts, like the funky capital G in Texas Hero that looks like it would be fun to write but also looks a bit like a little sailboat heeled over in a strong wind or a long-petalled flower.

A was aleph was
once the shape of an ox head.
It still bears its horns.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

July 20: Tired

A long, draining work day ended just over an hour ago, and it was calming to step out of the office into the cool evening air and watch a family of geese--the young indistinguishable now from the adults--drifting on the river. I was about to type "quietly drifting," but actually one goose was honking rather loudly, at a nearby swimmer, I believe. But honking aside, it was a soothing scene. I felt like jumping in to join them in the warm water. But then it probably wouldn't have been so calm.

Afloat together:
family of geese waiting
for evening to fall.

Monday, July 19, 2010

July 19: Wild Kingdom

I bet if you polled a group of nature lovers / conservation professionals about my age or older, you'd find that the majority of them watched "Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom" as a kid. Marlin Perkins and his trusty sidekick Jim were always tracking down wily wild animals on the savannah of Africa, shooting them with tranquilizer guns, and in the process, somehow doing something beneficial for science and nature. My grandmother semi-jokingly referred to it as the "torture torture show." I was simply happy to see cool wild animals up close on the screen.

The thing about watching nature shows like that is that you get the impression wild animals are lurking around every corner, just waiting to be chased and tranquilized, or at least observed through binoculars. When you get out into the woods on your own, however, you realize that most days seeing a red squirrel or the hind end of a deer might be about as exciting as it gets.

Today my director and I were walking a property with some donors--one of those situations when you want a place to be at its best. While we weren't so lucky as to have a bull moose walk through the field or a bald eagle soar past, Mother Nature didn't completely let us down. A red-tailed hawk circled overhead, then called dramatically. At our feet, we found two ruddy turkey feathers. Further along the trail, we came across turkey tracks in what was once mud, and then, the crescents of deer prints. And to crown the moment, a hermit thrush's lilting song rose from the trees. Nothing extraordinary, but the value of the place as wildlife habitat was validated. The donors were delighted; the animals had done their jobs well, even though the hawk was the only one we actually saw.

Deer tracks in the mud
and two feathers, patterned fans
telling wild stories.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

July 18: Summer Songs

My husband and I went for a long hike today on Mount Megunticook in Camden Hills State Park. We wanted to get outside together on this beautiful day, get some exercise, and enjoy the views from on high, but we were surprised by how many birds were singing in the shady mixed forest through which winds the Ridge and Jack Williams Trails. We started off at the Maiden's Cliff trailhead, and as we began the climb up to the ridge line, heard what I thought was a scarlet tanager. Because he wasn't singing his full song, it wasn't till we had completed the entire hike and returned miles later to that same place when we confirmed that it was indeed a tanager (he finally gave his characteristic "chick burr" call) and then we were even able to find the vivid red bird gleaning bugs among the oak leaves overhead.

My favorite birdsong in these summer woods is that of the hermit thrush: angelic notes tumbling down from the trees, clear and haunting in the lush forest air. We passed several singing thrushes, to our delight, as well as another Maine forest favorite, a winter wren, whose lovely, complex song goes on and on, seemingly rising out of the trees themselves.

Although we expected to hear black-throated green warblers, which seem to sing all summer, we were surprised to hear several black-throated blue warblers and a Blackburnian warbler. When I commented on how unusual that seemed, my husband suggested that that's what I should write about for today's haiku. Ever the dutiful wife, I did so:

On the mountainside,
height of day, height of summer:
warbler still singing.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

July 17: First Swim

This afternoon I attended my 25th high school reunion (Camden-Rockport High School, Class of '85!) at rustic Beaver Lodge on the shores of Alford Lake in Hope. On this hot summer day, the venue encouraged swimming. Fortunately several of us were armed and ready with bathing suits. We always were a fun-loving bunch.

You would think that given how hot the summer has been that I'd have been swimming many times by now, but I'm not a big swimmer. I'm kind of squirrelly about getting water in my ears, and I'm not a strong swimmer, strictly breast stroke. But peer pressure usually works well on me, and when a group of my former classmates decided to hike down to the beach, I put on my suit and joined them.

Even then I might have been content to simply stand in the water for a while to cool off. My friends Shannon, who competes in master swimming races and triathlons, and Sarah, who was on our high school swim team, headed across the lake with strong speedy strokes. I slowly waded in up to my waist, that crucial point at which you pretty much have to fully immerse, and then gave myself over to the lake's embrace.

The water was comfortable and clear, no pond weeds dragging at my ankles or submerged rocks to worry about. I picked a buoy not far away as my goal and headed for it with my slow and steady breast stroke. And then I treaded water for awhile, to take in the landscape. I had been so distracted with the busy-ness of the roped off little beach with children splashing around my legs that I hadn't paid attention to the vista visible from the lake shore. Across the lake on one side rose Hatchet Mountain, and on the other, the distinct, lumpy ridgeline of Ragged Mountain. The hills wore their hazy green shawls of mid-July, and the opposite shore of the lake below them wasn't marred by too many camps or docks. My heart lifted at the sight. Ah, to be alive on such a summer day in the company of fun and decent people I grew up with, living a good life that I never could have imagined 25 years ago in a place of great beauty--my home.

Jump into the lake,
into mountains reflected--
reflecting on home.

Friday, July 16, 2010

July 16: Into the Wild Blue Yonder

You know when you're driving, and the topography is such that it looks like at the top of the hill before you there's nothing but blue sky ahead? Have you ever had the feeling that it would be kind of cool to just launch your car into the air like a plane when you reached the top? I don't mean a tragic Thelma and Louise kind of thing, I mean more like a flying car...

Back road, driving fast.
At the top of the hill: sky.
I fly into it.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

July 15: Chipmunk

Another sultry summer day. Yet instead of lounging on a breezy beach in my bikini (ha!), I was at my desk all day. Our office is not air-conditioned, so our only cooling comes from personal fans at our desks and an open front door if there's a slight breeze. This morning something caught my eye out my office door, and I turned to spy a chipmunk making its way over the threshold. Alert to every movement, it almost ran out when I turned, but then decided I was apparently harmless and came further inside.

We had to deal with getting a squirrel out of the office basement this spring, and I've witnessed firsthand the chaos that ensues when a cat brings a live chipmunk into the house. So I shooed it out for the first of what became many times today.

This afternoon someone arrived for a meeting as the chipmunk was attempting another foray inside. I pointed it out, and she described how her husband was trapping chipmunks in their barn, where the little guys were stuffing their cheeks with the food they put out for their barn cat. Instead of chasing the rodents, the cat seemed intimidated by them. Her husband sprayed each chipmunk with green paint before releasing it a few miles away. He has now caught 21 chipmunks with no repeats!

I'm not sure what the attraction of our office was for this chipmunk. Maybe it smelled the bag of birdseed I keep just inside the door, or maybe it liked the feeling of the cool linoleum on its feet. Or maybe it was interested in land conservation. In any case, our cute, perky little visitor was a diversion on a busy day.

Hot day. Open door
tempts a chipmunk to visit.
The outside comes in.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

July 14: Tastes Like Summer

I had the good fortune to be chosen for a focus group to critique some new menu choices and the overall service experience of Natalie's, the fine restaurant that is part of the Camden Harbour Inn. Ten of us sat down for lunch today, and three-and-a-half hours later, we got up from the table, replete.

Here's what I ate, in order:
  • A Pemaquid oyster covered with lemon air, a sort of creamy foam
  • Perfectly charred pieces of squid with Aleppo chilis, fat fava beans, a coil of fettuccine-like pasta, and olive oil
  • Haricot vert (green bean) and Boston lettuce salad with basil and red wine vinegar and creme fraiche dressing
  • Chilled lobster gazpacho with pieces of heirloom squash and a Parmesan cracker on top
  • Tender chunk of halibut in artichoke barigoule (a broth) on top of a big flat ravioli with tomato
  • Three mouth-watering pieces of rare lamb loin in a natural jus
  • For dessert, fresh peaches three ways: blistered, crepe, and sorbet (served on a block of slate)
When I ate my first mouthful of the haricot vert salad, I whispered to the woman next to me that it tasted like summer, it was so fresh, green, and garden-y. After the next course, the gazpacho, a woman at the other end of the table declared that it tasted like summer. In reality, the whole meal tasted like summer, if just because the ingredients were seasonal, fresh, and beautifully presented in a simple but somehow luxurious way. Everything was exquisite. And there we all were on a steamy July afternoon, enjoying the best food around, talking about food and what we like in a restaurant while behind us Camden Harbor and Mount Battie emerged from the fog. For a few hours I felt like I was on a mini summer vacation from work, from my every day life. It was sweet (and savory). (And the service was excellent, as always.) 

And five hours later I'm home eating a bowl of Frosted Mini Wheats for supper. 

Mouthful of summer:
green beans, lettuce, and basil,
with a harbor view. 

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

July 13: Summer Fog

This afternoon from the summit of Beech Hill you wouldn't have known there was a panoramic ocean view. Inland, you could enjoy the beauty of the Camden Hills just fine, but the bay was completely hidden behind a thick bank of fog. The southeast-facing fields rolled into woods which faded into a wall of white. I felt sorry for people from away who were missing out on what I consider one of the best bay views in the area. On the other hand, fog has a way of making a landscape more intimate by highlighting the foreground and hiding the distraction of what surrounds it. The wildflower-spangled sod roof of Beech Nut, the historic hut that crowns Beech Hill, was highly visible in all its midsummer glory, for example, as were the damp stones of its walls.

Fog mutes, distorts, and obscures the landscape in disorienting but interesting ways. Driving back to the office, I observed a small island of green rising from a sea of mist and cloud--a peak of Mount Megunticook floating within the fog. Later, in the day's last light, I was driving back from a meeting in Searsport and marveled to see the big rolls of hay wrapped in plastic looming under fog's wet shroud like guardians of the fields or strange, organic monoliths loosely arrayed throughout the mown rows. And even as I drove through patches where it appeared to be clear all around me, a blank, swirling backdrop rose in the distance where rolling green mountains should be.

Mountains disappear.
Hay bales form shadowy ranks
within fog's embrace.

Monday, July 12, 2010

July 12: Blue Jays and Blueberries

This afternoon I was still working in my office when our director left for home. We had the door open so the faint breeze could help dissipate the heat in our non-air-conditioned space, and I could hear him talking to someone outside. It sounded like he was telling them to go away. Curious, I went to the doorway. I expected to see a stray dog, but he was apparently alone, so I asked him whom he had been talking to. "The blue jays," he said. "They're eating our blueberries!" He then proceeded to bang some things together to scare them further off across the parking lot.

I realized then that I had been hearing the racket of blue jays outside for a good part of the afternoon without being consciously aware of what I was hearing. The jays are regular visitors, and this time of year they're always kvetching and caviling around the office in their family groups. I'd grown used to them, I guess, and had blocked the noise while I was working. They were especially excited this afternoon because they'd found an edible treasure trove--the high bush blueberries right outside our office doorway were finally ripening.

Actually, I don't think today was the first day they had discovered the berries. I think they've had their beady black eyes on them all along, just waiting for the peak moment to raid the blueberry patch. Today was the day. Thanks to the commotion, now we knew, too. After they flew off, a co-worker and I went out and picked a bowlful, missing enough berries, I'm sure, to keep the jays happy. After we went back inside, not a minute passed before I heard a jay back in the dogwood next to the berry bushes. These birds are not stupid. They keep an eye on everything.

Blue skies in July,
blue jays in the blueberries--
all as it should be.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

July 11: Four Crows

As I started up the road on my run this morning, four crows stood together before me on the pavement. Although I couldn't see anything with my weak human eyes, something was clearly interesting them in the street. One bird was whining, probably a young bird, and I wondered if it was being given some sort of lesson. As I got closer, they hopped over to the sidewalk, still in my path. Twice more they moved just ahead of me before flying off with some complaining into the trees.

I thought of augury, the ancient Roman method of prophecy, and wondered what it meant to be confronted by four crows. The version of the traditional crow counting rhyme that I learned as a kid says, "Three crows a wedding, four a birth." While I know several pregnant young women, none are imminently due. Perhaps those crows represented the birth of a new idea, which I could use right now as I map out my August natural history column for the local paper and try to create something for the Belfast Poetry Festival with my assigned artist partner, the sculptor Beth Henderson.

If you look up the number four in numerology references, it is a positive number. So many things come in fours: four directions, four winds, four seasons, four quarters of the year, etc. Four sides creates a solid square. As I thought about them, I couldn't help but imagine those four crows together in the road as four pips on a playing card. The four of spades, a card denoting action.

Such are the things that go through my head to distract me while I run. My poet side gets the best of me, wants to read a hidden meaning in everything I see. But, to paraphrase Freud, sometimes four crows hanging out are just four crows hanging out. On my return, I passed the place where the black birds had flown into the trees. From within the dense foliage came several caws, alerting the neighborhood that the person who had seemed to chase them up the street before was back. They didn't seem overly alarmed, though. Studies have shown that crows recognize people very well, and I'm sure these crows knew me as harmless. They quieted down again by the time I got to my door.

Four crows in the road
form a square society,
no one else needed.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

July 10: Gulls and Clouds

My mother and I went to Belfast this morning to check out the arts and crafts show on the harbor. Rain was forecast for the afternoon, so we figured early would be best. We timed it well, checked out the entire show, watched some kids play on the "beach" near the park, and even did a little shopping in downtown Belfast. While having lunch, I happened to look out the window. Between buildings I could see a wall of dark rain clouds settling over the river and harbor. They looked truly ominous. But where we were, the sun still beat down on the sidewalks and street. Its mid-afternoon rays hit the dozens of gulls that had been stirred off the roof of the old Stinson sardine plant down by the water. As the gulls swirled in the air above the river, with the glowering clouds as backdrop, they shone in the undiminished light. Made tiny by the distance, they almost sparkled, like when you're dizzy and see stars. And then, a few minutes later, the light dimmed and the rain poured down.

Last light before rain
ignites the gulls swirling high,
 each a rising spark.

Friday, July 9, 2010

July 9: Hot Cat

Several years ago my husband and I were visiting Saguaro National Park in Arizona. Because it was about 100 degrees outside, we watched for birds at the feeders from inside the air-conditioned comfort of the visitors' center. While there, we observed a ground squirrel doing a strange thing under the feeders. It was lying splayed out flat on the ground, all four limbs completely outstretched, looking like it had been squashed. We wondered if it was ok. It eventually got up and ran off, as squirrels do, and we eventually came across the educational sign explaining that this is how overheated ground squirrels in the Sonoran desert cool off, by transferring their body heat into the ground.

The past few hot days my cat has been doing something similar. She's been (thankfully) shunning our warm laps and instead stretching out along the cool flat surfaces of a countertop or hardwood floor. It must be tough to be covered with fur in the middle of a steamy summer. First thing in the morning, though, and she's right back in her patch of sun at the front door. Domestic cats originated in the heat of the African deserts, after all. So she's clearly dealing with the heat just fine, in her way.

As we all do. A co-worker brought in a box of popsicles for us to share today. Another co-worker goes for a swim on her lunch break. I moved my exercise mat out to the back yard this evening so I could stretch under the shade of the leaves and feel the cool evening air on my skin. I let the cat out onto the porch where she seemed content to just lie there and look around. Then wisps of fog began to blow in off the water, moving fast overhead. And just like that, it wasn't hot anymore, so the cat and I came inside. So far, though, she's still avoiding my lap. (Uh oh, I spoke to soon... here she is...)

These long, sultry days
cat remembers ancestral
roots, Egypt's desert.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

July 8: Grief

This morning I learned that a dear friend passed away last night. It would be disrespectful of both my love for this unique man and his family and the depth of my own sadness for that to be the subject of a blog posting--I simply state that fact to put into context a poem for a day, an otherwise typical work day full of meetings and busy-ness, that was muted by supressed grief (and also many good memories).

We go on--osprey
cries, berries ripen, Red Sox
play another game.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

July 7: In the Road

On my afternoon slog, I passed a red poppy lying in the road, flattened. I hadn't passed red poppies in any gardens as I  slowly made my way around the block, so it must have been carried at least a short distance before being tossed away. Sometimes seeing such a simple thing inspires entire, complex narratives in my head. Perhaps it fell out of a larger bouquet being carried to a sick neighbor. Or a guy stole it from someone's lawn and was going to bring it to his girlfriend, but as they were talking on their cell phones they got into an argument and he decided not to give it to her after all. Or a group of teens pulled it out of a random garden for some unknowable reason...

Poppy in the road--
someone carried it awhile
then let it fall here.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

July 6: Embers of Vesuvius

On this sweltering day it seems only appropriate that my favorite (cultivated) day lily, the beautifully named Embers of Vesuvius, is erupting into bloom in our front yard. My husband and I chose this rich orange flower from among the many offerings at Sue Shaw's famous day lily garden in Camden in part because of its color, but mostly because of its irresistible, poetic name. (For the same reasons, we also have a two-toned pink lily named Strawberry Candy that looks good enough to eat.) So it always makes us happy when we see that fiery glow amid the garden's greenery each summer. The petals itself are a bit over-sized, creating a fire-breathing monster of a lily that's as hot and orange as the Dutch World Cup soccer team. (Hup Holland Hup! With all my Dutch in-laws, I was very excited when the Netherlands made it into the finals today.)

An Italian heat.
Embers of Vesuvius
flicker in the yard.

Monday, July 5, 2010

July 5: Heat

It's a hot one here in New England, and I'm sitting in the shade at the river's edge while my husband fishes from a kayak just offshore. Birds sing all around us, trills and hums, and a loon just drifted by. Another loon sits on her eggs in the floating nest tethered just off their usual nesting island, where in past years the shifting water level has led to nest failure. Periodically a wind chime that sounds a bit like a cow bell rocks in the light breeze, or a bass jumps close to shore, the ripples slowly spreading outward. A lazy day, a holiday. A chipmunk just meandered under my chair and legs as if it hadn't a care in the world.

I'm ostensibly reading biologist Bernd Heinrich's book Summer World: A Season of Bounty as I sit here, but mostly I'm just listening to the birds and watching light play on the water. It's almost too hot to read--my brain just wants a siesta.

Heinrich says, "Summer is a time of green, urgency, lots of love lost and found. It is the most intense time of year, when the natural world of the northern hemisphere is almost suddenly populated with billions of animals awakening from dormancy, and billions more arriving from the tropics. Almost overnight there is a wild orgy of courting, mating, and rearing young. The main order of business in summer is reproduction."

For purposes of this book, "summer" is the period from May through October (the other six months of the year are beautifully covered in his book Winter World). Clearly at this point of the season I think we've moved beyond orgy into the rearing young phase, at least judging by the languorous mood prevailing today. There's more simple play happening than fooling around, in other words. (Cole Porter's lyrics to "Too Darn Hot" spring to mind.) A juvenile sparrow just chased a chickadee around a pine tree. And a few hours south of Maine, my niece's fourth birthday party just began, an all-girl, princess extravaganza. Yesterday my other niece, who turned one on the Solstice, took her first steps, and must've been so excited about it that she stayed up all night long, according to my weary sister. Rearing young is exhausting work--you won't catch me doing it--but it's an essential part of the cycle of life, the mature, summer part. Baby birds are busting out all over now, and adults fly urgently to and fro with beaks full of food. It's the season of bounty and new life, always something new to see, always something new to gather for the memory stores.

Afternoon heat rides
birdsong, trees' green reflections--
my skin's wet with it.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

July 4: Baptism

This morning my husband and I drove to Scarborough to attend the baptism of our niece and nephew; Paul had been asked to be the godfather of his sister's son. As a non-Catholic with no sense of the sequence of events at a mass, let alone knowledge of the responses, I spent most of the service keeping an eye on our active niece (though I did take a long moment to say a non-denominational prayer for my best friend's father, who's critically ill). Undaunted by the silence of dozens of people in the pews around her, she grabbed a hymnal and began "reading" from it aloud. Then she tossed the hymnal aside and began perusing "Spot Bakes a Cake" and a Sesame Street ABC book with the same intensity. For some reason this struck me as a wonderful juxtaposition--images of Grover and Big Bird alongside the reading of the day's homily and the singing of "America the Beautiful." And all being taken in by an angelic-looking two-year-old with wild curly dark hair wearing a long white fancy baptism dress. The only point in the service in which she got at all upset was when she was dunked into the baptismal font, but even that passed quickly.

After lunch and family time, my husband and I decided to stop at Scarborough Marsh for a little birding. The tide was high and the humid air clung to our skin. Throughout the marsh, willets--large sandpipers that breed there--flew back and forth, white wing patches flashing, crying, "Pe-will-willet, pe-will-willet!" Their noise seemed rather alarmist, as the marsh was otherwise placid: slack tide brimming at the edges, still air humming with insects, little other bird activity. I'm not sure how this connects at all to the morning's baptism, except that both experiences involved water, and I did briefly give thought to what it must feel like for a young willet to step into the water for the first time, committing itself to a life of marsh mud, tidal waters, and salt-fragrant air. I bet it cries out in alarm too, before acceptance.

Life-giving water
baptizes both bird and child--
high tide, blessed font.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

July 3: Phoebes in the Trees

After finishing what I can hardly even call a run (one-mile, doctor-prescribed sort of rehab stint as I repair a back muscle), I stretched and did my strengthening exercises on the back lawn. Primarily solar-powered, I spent much of my time just lying on my mat admiring the patterns of leaves overhead and recharging in the morning light. Birds sang--blue jay, phoebe, song sparrow. A waxwing and what I think was a flicker passed silently overhead. An osprey's high-pitched calls carrying from Camden Harbor punctuated the calm. I savor such moments with my regimen completed and some time to fully relax and enjoy what's in front of me. For a few moments, at least, I feel strong and serene.

In this mood of mellow alertness, my mind sees everything as aesthetic, as something to note. Two phoebes darting overhead like living shadows amid the oak leaves, tails wagging, is not an unusual sighting. But because I observed them while happily lying on my back under the perfect blue sky of the first day of a long weekend, they seemed like something special--the ordinary transformed simply by the mood of the observer. Two phoebes, clearly a mated pair, fly-catching together on a summer morning. And nothing required of me but to lie there absorbing sun and watch them.

As I type this, one of those phoebes has perched on my clothesline, as if to assert that it's today's haiku inspiration, and a robin sings his cheery song somewhere down by the river. I have a feeling this is going to be a wonderful day to be alive. But aren't they all?

Phoebes in the trees,
sunlight, and nearby, ocean--
a day to savor.

Friday, July 2, 2010

July 2: Wood Lily

This afternoon I had lunch with an old college roommate whom I hadn't seen for twenty years. After lunch we walked up Beech Hill so I could show off "what I do" and hopefully spot the black vulture that my friend Brian photographed there this morning. As we made our way up the trail where it skirts the blueberry fields, I was a bit startled to see patches of fully blue, ripe blueberries. From the road up to the summit of the hill, the view of the blueberry fields broadened, with a wide backdrop of ocean and islands, from Monhegan to our far right panning left over Vinalhaven, North Haven, Isle Au Haut, Mount Desert, all the way to the knob of Blue Hill back on the mainland. And behind us, the beautiful green carpeted curves of the Camden Hills undulated through the countryside on one of those afternoons when I felt particularly grateful that this is my home.

A towhee chinked in the bushes, and a silent Savannah sparrow flitted across the path. And in the fields wildflowers were blooming among the blueberry plants, including a Beech Hill specialty, the wood lily. The wood lily is an uncommon wildflower found scattered throughout the preserve's open fields. Beech Hill is the only place I know to find it. Despite preserve guidelines asking people not to pick native vegetation, every year there are always a few idiots who can't resist or who mistake it for the more common roadside variety day lily. "What's this beautiful flower?" they ask. Something you shouldn't have picked, we want to reply. Each flower is a rare and precious thing, a work of art.

The bright orange flower is a sort of flag that the blueberries are ripening, as it always seems to blossom just before the berries are ready. By the time of the harvest, the fields have erupted with lilies. I saw just a few lilies here and there on the hill today, the petals like flames amid the waving grass and other wildflowers. I think I may even have seen one raising its head on the sod roof of Beech Nut. Soon I know more will be brightening the fields, signaling to humans, birds, and animals that it's berry time.

Watchfire of July--
flame of the wood lily licks
the ripening fields.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

July 1: Resurrected Chickadee

Talking to a co-worker today I heard a thud behind me. "I think a bird just hit the window," she said. My heart thudded and sank.

Something about our office windows seems to invite bird strikes. I've tried taping falcon silhouettes on the glass and hanging strings from the tops of the window frames. What's worked best has been a strip of blue flagging taped the length of the window to at least create movement and a bit of three-dimensionality so the bird doesn't see sky where there's really only hard glass. The window the bird hit today didn't have blue flagging, but I thought it was safe because my little bird feeder is stuck to the middle of it. Apparently that wasn't enough of a distraction.

Dreading what I would find, I went outside. On the ground, wings and head askew, was a chickadee. It's almost always a chickadee for some reason, though the windows have also stunned or killed a red-eyed vireo, a yellowthroat, titmice, and a song sparrow. I gently cupped the bird in the grass and smoothed its wings, trying to assess the damage. Its bill was agape as it panted, in shock. I knew my holding it would only panic it more, so I placed it in the shade under a bush and hoped for the best. It couldn't raise its head, so I worried it would soon die, but a little later I looked out the window to check on it, and while it was still where I'd left it, its head was up and beak shut. About ten minutes later as I left for an appointment, I checked one last time. A song sparrow was hopping toward it. What was that about? Did it see the smaller bird as a territorial invader or was it simply curious? Whatever the case, I was relieved to see the chickadee respond by flying away. It seemed to be ok, because it quickly disappeared into the trees to live a little longer.

Glass an illusion
of sky, tricking chickadees
into the hard truth.