Sunday, October 31, 2010

October 31: Halloween Rituals

I began my Book of Days blog last November 1, hoping to maintain the discipline to post a haiku every single day for a year. And I've somehow managed to do it! This posting, my 365th, marks the last day of a full year of haiku, a full year of sitting down each day and trying to write something somewhat poetic. Now that I've accomplished my goal, I don't plan on dropping this ritual altogether--it's become a stimulating writing exercise, as well as a satisfying sort of spiritual practice, to enter this space each day--but my postings will almost certainly decrease in frequency after this one.

It's appropriate that my poetic year comes to a close on Halloween, which for many contemporary pagans is regarded as New Year's Eve in the ancient Celtic tradition of Samhain (pronounced "sow-en"). The holiday kicked off the dark half of the year (Beltane, on May 1, marked the beginning of the light half). I'm intrigued by the concept of a day marking our descent into the bleakest, darkest season as the beginning of a new year, but the concept of embracing that darkness in a celebratory way offers an admirable challenge. I imagine dancing around the ritual bonfire helped.

Now we practice different rituals, though many of these are deeply rooted in the original Samhain tradition. I've carved our pumpkin, a fruit of the season, into a Jack o'lantern--but not to ward off evil spirits so much as to attract friendly ones in the form of our neighborhood's children when they come trick-or-treating tonight. We've got bags of candy ready to appease these costumed "spirits," some of whom will be looking quite scary whether they intend to or not. And as I write, the sinking sun illuminates the red-gold leaves of the back yard maple, creating what will come as close to a bonfire as we're going to get.

It being Sunday, my husband and I are also enjoying another ritual, though not one specifically associated with Halloween: watching football. One might argue, however, that the crazy way some fans dress up for a game, with body makeup, wigs, etc., is indistinguishable from donning a Halloween costume.

Sunset, Halloween.
Light's last blaze before the ghosts
appear at our door.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

October 30: The Good Life

Thanks to Restaurant Week, my husband and I are enjoying a slice of the good life this weekend. And I'm not talking about the Nearings' version. I'm talking about staying in a luxurious inn and enjoying a three-course gourmet meal for a price that even we can afford. This is the "staycation" concept taken to its best extreme. My husband and I are currently ensconced at the Camden Harbour Inn in a lovely big corner room with a beautiful view of Camden Harbor, Shermans Point, and Mount Battie. Earlier I took a bath (while reading a book) in an old-style tub with the best view in town.

We just returned from our meal, which, if you count the amuse-bouche and intermezzo sorbet, was really five courses. (And the chocolates on our bed make a sixth.) We're now watching a movie on a big flat-screen tv from a huge comfy bed. For some people this is just how they roll. But for us, this is the good life, as good as it gets in many ways. We've never stayed overnight somewhere in our own town except for our honeymoon night, so this is also an unexpected novelty, a bit of a romantic getaway. I recommend it.

Romantic weekend:
food, oversized bed with rich
view of our own town.

Friday, October 29, 2010

October 29: Jack O'Lantern

Since we'll be away overnight tomorrow, tonight was the night to carve our Jack o'lantern. I've had a big ol' pumpkin sitting in the garden out front for a couple of weeks, looking decorous next to a pot of chrysanthemums and a Buddha statue. After work today, I hauled it out back and got to work. There's nothing like scooping goopy seeds out of a pumpkin shell to make you feel like you're really getting down and dirty. My cat helped, coming out on the porch to eat some of the pumpkin innards that were piling up. She likes zucchini, so why not pumpkin?

I carved the pumpkin in her honor. For one thing, she can be quite scary. Also, she's getting old, going on 17, so we're trying to honor her as much as we can these days. And she did help after all.

There's something about a messy creative task, like pumpkin carving or finger painting or making things with glue and glitter, that takes one back to childhood. Add in preparations for a holiday--it doesn't matter which one--and the fun really begins. I inordinately enjoyed carving my pumpkin. Makes me think I should be messy more often, might help me tap into the imagination of my inner child a bit more.

Of course those with children get the opportunity to do this every time their child wants them to sit and color or help make something with Play-doh. (Play-doh Fuzzy Pumper Barber Shop, anyone?) While I'm sure that these crafts activities come to seem like a chore sometimes for tired mothers who'd rather be getting other things done, there's nothing like being able to look at the world vicariously through the eyes of your child. I, on the other hand, being childless, get to enjoy such things in the company of my squash-loving cat. And who's to say I'm getting any less pleasure from it?

I didn't expect
my cat to enjoy eating
carved pumpkin's innards.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

October 28: Indian Summer

I had a few all-too-brief moments outside today, but from what little I experienced of the day, it seemed the epitome of Indian summer--unseasonably warm, blue sky, odd flowers blooming in otherwise dead and leaf-strewn gardens (did I see white irises in one yard?), with the late fall foliage burnished in gold, umber, russet, and bronze. All week it's been in the 60s, although we've also seen a lot of fog and rain (and even some thunder and lightning). By the weekend we're supposed to be back down in the 40s again, and the chilly slide into winter will probably begin in earnest. I already made an appointment to get my snow tires put on.

Driving around in the glow of the day, I was thinking about that phrase "Indian summer." Where did it come from? According to Wikipedia, the phrase has been used for more than two hundred years and might refer to the time of year when the native tribes would take a break from raiding colonial settlements, presumably to prepare for winter. Or, it might have meant the season when Indians harvested their corn and squash. In this part of the country, it seems a bit late to be harvesting corn, but maybe they dried it on the stalk. To complicate things, I found online an article by William Deedler, a weather historian for the National Weather Service, who has found at least one account suggesting that the phrase might actually refer to India, in which Indian summer may have described the mild period of the year when ships leaving India could carry more cargo. In any case, the connotation is a positive one--it's a time of peace or plenty. Truly, a calm, warm day like this one feels like that sort of gift.

In some European countries, this time of year is called "St. Martin's summer." In Spain and Portugal, says Wikipedia, they have big celebrations rooted in Celtic tradition in which "bonfires, roasted chestnuts, and wine have an important role." I like the sound of that.

And all this makes me now think about Indian pudding. Perhaps that's what I should make tonight to celebrate what may be our last day of Indian summer...

Landscape shifts to gold,
color of squash and pumpkins.
Indian summer.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

October 27: The Miracle of Fishes

You know how people say when it's raining, "Nice weather... if you're a duck!"? I was thinking tonight as  I drove over the Ducktrap River in a torrential downpour that it's also nice weather if you're a spawning salmon. Late fall is when Atlantic salmon--the few indigenous fish that remain--return to their natal rivers to spawn. The Ducktrap River is running high now with all this rain, so returning adult fish can more easily make their way upriver over all those shoals and stones to find the optimal gravel beds in which to make their nests or redds.

As I made my way along rain-slick Route One, I thought about this, and began to wonder how the salmon know which river to come back to. I remember reading something once about salmon being guided by their sense of smell. Maybe they simply swim along the shoreline until they smell home. Or is it a sense of taste? Nothing tastes quite like the waters of the home river. If any creature could sense that, it would be a salmon, a creature of both fresh and salt water.

According to Stephen D. McCormick of the Conte Anadromous Fish Research Center, Atlantic salmon may find their way from the feeding grounds in the North Atlantic, where they've been maturing for several years, to the right area of coastline using a magnetic or solar compass. But no one knows for sure--it's one of those mysteries of science.

Another mystery: why do Pacific salmon species die after spawning but not Atlantic salmon? Apparently the word for the type of fish that survive spawning is "iteroparous," although spawning takes such a toll on a fish's body that even Atlantic salmon don't always make it back to the sea afterward.

Rain fills the river,
spillway for spawning salmon
smelling their way home.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

October 26: Darkness

"The night is black. Black as night." --Melissa Etheridge

Tonight when I locked the office door and walked up the path to my car, I was plunged for several long moments into total darkness. It's been a long time since I've had to leave the office in that kind of dark and I was a bit startled by its sudden presence all around me. The night sky was shrouded in clouds that let no light through. And my eyes were slow to adjust after shutting off the lights in the well-lit office. Although I knew I was on the path, I couldn't see a thing and actually put my hands out in front of me to feel my way. Then I remembered that if I remotely unlocked my car, its interior light would enable me to find it in the profoundly black depths of the parking lot. It was only 6:20. In a few weeks we'll set the clocks back, and it will be this dark at 5:20. No wonder I came home tonight ready to just curl up with my cat and go to sleep.

Night's a starless cloak
lit only by the car light,
my personal moon.

Monday, October 25, 2010

October 25: On the Move

Released from the pair bonds necessary for nesting and raising young, most birds move in flocks during migration. This morning at my office I could hear a small flock of robins clucking in the trees at the edge of the lawn. Robins don't migrate far--usually a few hundred to a thousand miles or so south of where they nested--but they constantly shift around in itinerant flocks searching for food. Robins from northern Maine and Canada, sometimes even accompanied by bluebirds, will pop up here throughout the winter to feast on crabapples, winterberry, mountain ash berries, and other wholesome fruits. It doesn't mean spring's coming early. It means there's something to eat in your yard.

Later in the day a flock of a dozen or more juncos passed through, scuttling in the heaps of fallen leaves, trilling in the pines. Juncos are often accompanied by sparrows, but all I had were my lousy office binoculars, so I couldn't pick out anything but a junco in the bunch. These pert grey and white birds with pink bills will also appear intermittently throughout the winter. My grandmother used to call them "snowbirds."

A birder friend in southern Maine reported literally thousands of cormorants migrating off Biddeford Pool and Eastern Point this morning, including one single flock of 2,500 to 3,000 birds! Cormorants fly in big vees like geese, although often in much more dramatic numbers and more quietly--endless skeins of birds flapping their wings with purpose.

These crowds of feeding, flying creatures moving overhead or in the underbrush add to the overall restless and unsettled mood of this season of transitions. I find myself jumping out of my office chair, useless binoculars in hand, walking from window to window and then outside, wanting to follow the birds. Not far--just enough to get a sense of where they're going. Although as darkness closes in so early now and a chilly fog shrouds the mountaintop, heading south to warmer climes appeals to me more and more. I'm not prepared for winter.

Restless birds fly south
ahead of snow. How I long
to grow wings, follow.


Sunday, October 24, 2010

October 24: The Art of Local Food

Tonight the Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM) hosted a tasting party at Point Lookout atop Ducktrap Mountain in Northport. Point Lookout is always good for a visit because the mountaintop retreat offers a spectacular view of island-studded Penobscot Bay. And the event itself was a decadent indulgence in food, drink, and friends. In good spirits we waited in line for, well, good spirits from Maine, including Geary's and Allagash beers, Cellar Door Winery wines, and Cold River vodka (I enjoyed a blueberry-lemon vodka spritzer), and then we wandered through several rooms with tables offering delectable treats. Intense noshing interspersed with intense socializing made the two hours pass quickly.

What did I eat? A lot, so it's kind of a blur, and I don't remember who all made what. But highlights were seafood chowder from The Boathouse, duck carpaccio and beet salad from Natalie's, pumpkin and goat cheese tiramisu, apple baklava, shredded pork on sliced brioche from Lily Bistro, apple pie and caramel ice cream from Stone Fox Creamery, chili on cornbread from Home Kitchen Cafe, squash and Swiss cheese tart, an exquisite piece of tiramisu, Hope Orchard apples, samples from Heiwa Tofu, and a pastry-like ravioli from Paolina's Way. I had other things, and I missed a lot of things, but I definitely left feeling not only stuffed full of the wide range of delicacies Maine has to offer, but also satisfied to have connected with so many friends and acquaintances on such a festive occasion. "Aren't we lucky," someone said, "to live amid such wonderful food?" Mmm.

About halfway into the evening, longtime (and retiring) NRCM director Brownie Carson gave a speech as the pumpkin orange, just-past-full moon crowned the horizon over the bay. It seemed so perfectly appropriate, the Harvest Moon rising over a harvest of some of the best Maine has to offer.

Orange moon rising.
Cheese tarts, fig jam, pumpkin treats...
I'm full as the moon.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

October 23: Wind Power

After several months of taking a break from running to allow a strained back muscle to heal, I'm slowly trying to get my groove back. Slowly is the operative word, as I'm only running about a mile each time at this point, and not every day. While my back was recovering, my lack of significant aerobic activity combined with hard-hitting seasonal allergies has taken a toll on my lung capacity. Now I'm red-faced and wheezing as I jog a pitifully short distance. But, at least I'm back out there again, and I've optimistically set a goal of being able to run a 5K again by next spring.

This morning the bright sky, still-glowing trees, and lusty gusts of wind tossing up leaves encouraged me to put on my running shoes and just do it. I headed up the street, ducking my head as I ran right into the face of those energetic gusts. Fortunately, a peppy song was playing on my iPod and my legs felt strong, so I powered on into the face of the wind.

And then something cool happened. With my lungs burning from the exertion, I made my slow way up a hill, breathing through my mouth. The wind was blowing hard, and I realized that whenever I took a breath, I was inhaling the wind. It was blowing right into my mouth all the way to my lungs. It was like the wind was resuscitating me. So I opened wide and took in as much fresh air as the wind could give me. With the wind itself inside me, how could I not complete this short run successfully? I visualized the wind swirling in my lungs, in my blood, filling my body with vital energy. I think it worked.

Inspiring fall wind
gets me out the door running,
fills my mouth with air.

Note 1: The word "inspire" comes from Latin words meaning "to breathe in."
Note 2: The peppy song on my iPod, which I recommend for any workout/running mix, was "Silence" (Airscape Mix) by Delerium, featuring Sarah McLachlan. It's 8:37 minutes long, so when I'm back on my game, I should be able to run a mile while I listen to it.

Friday, October 22, 2010

October 22: Last Lupine

The Harvest Moon rises tonight, the October full moon, the light of which once enabled farmers to get in that last harvest by working into the illuminated night. My co-worker seemed to be perpetuating our connection to that agrarian past by mowing the field that is the office lawn this afternoon. Milkweed fluff churned in the brisk breeze, fallen leaves swirled in his wake, and the lawn is now corrugated with thick ridges of mown grass.

When he came in from his version of "haying," he brought us a gift: the season's last lupine. I haven't seen a lupine in flower since last June, I think, so this one was a true surprise. We wondered if it was a second round from a plant that figured it would try again, having bloomed a few weeks earlier than usual this summer. Or maybe it bloomed in response to the full moon. "Lupine" means "wolf-like," after all, so this could be the flower's way of howling at the moon.

This tall purple stalk now sits in a coffee cup on the window sill, the russets and ochres of fall foliage providing a contrasting backdrop: summer meets fall. Soon enough, our "last flower" will give way to our "first snowfall."

Out of season gift:
a single lupine blooming
under Harvest Moon.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

October 21: Error

On my way to work this morning I watched a crow fluttering near a tree trying to land. The tree was tall, with thin, bare branches. The crow attempted to perch on one of the slender boughs near the the tippy-top, but its weight made the bough instantly bend all the way downward, and the bird lost its balance. Almost upside-down, it fluttered to hang on, but the branch was just too light for it, and it eventually had to fly off before it slipped off.

It's not often you see a bird make an error of judgement like that. In some situations, that could be a fatal mistake. Perhaps this was a young bird that hadn't yet figured out weight ratios. Or, because crows are naturally curious creatures, perhaps it was just fooling around, trying to see if it could successfully land on the branch despite all appearances to the contrary. Or perhaps it was a self-test of skill, in which the perfect approach or just the right landing might have worked.

It was a breezy morning, and I like to think the wind had instilled a sense of silliness into the crow. Let's see if I can land here, I imagine it thinking. And I was lucky enough to catch the moment it tried (and failed) as I drove past.

Branch won't hold you, crow.
I wonder what you're thinking
as you slip, fly off.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

October 20: Bluebird Eggs

A friend with bluebird houses on her farm property said she opened one up to clean it out recently and found a nest inside with several eggs, some hatched and some not. The eggs were small and sky blue. We looked them up, and it seems they actually were bluebird eggs. Their condition, though, begs a narrative. Did a few birds hatch and grow up, with the other eggs being duds? Did something happen to the parent birds just after the first eggs hatched so that they couldn't brood the others? Did the parent birds just abandon the eggs after something got the first hatchlings? The life and death permutations multiply in the imagination.

But the eggs, as most eggs are, were small objets d'art: fingertip-sized, unblemished, perfectly shaped, robin's egg blue. (Robins and bluebirds are thrush relatives, so it makes sense that their eggs might be similar.) I had always thought that cavity nesters like bluebirds laid white eggs, because there's no need for camouflage it the eggs are tucked away in a hole. But a bluebird lays a blue egg, and both carry their color beautifully.
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons
Cleaning the birdhouse,
some eggs broken, others not--
past summer's drama.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

October 19: Soup

That series of inspirational books that began with Chicken Soup for the Soul and then burgeoned absurdly into all sorts of other Chicken Soup books--Chicken Soup for Christian Family Soul, Chicken Soup for Menopause, Chicken Soup for the Pet Lover's Soul, etc. was onto something: soup does make us feel better. Some scientists have even gone so far as to test the health benefits of chicken soup, proving that its ingredients do apparently help alleviate the symptoms of the common cold by reducing inflammation and a stuffy nose.

I'm not a chicken soup fan, but I can tell you that when I'm feeling kind of achey and chilled--especially this time of year when days are shorter, nights are colder, and coming home from a long day of work in the pitch dark can be kind of depressing--there's no meal that I crave more than my husband's soup with warm chunks of a heated, buttered baguette. Part of it is, of course, the tangible physical satisfaction of warming oneself from the inside out with hot liquid and hearty vegetables. But part of it is the culture of soup, the age-old image of the cauldron on the hearth full of wholesome broth and herbs, stirred all day by Grandmother and ladled out to the family at the big trestle table. It's not just soup--it's a special brew to restore one's health and good cheer--at least long enough for me to make it to bedtime feeling a little more hale and hearty.

First frost this morning,
chilling dark by 6:30.
My husband stirs soup.

Monday, October 18, 2010

October 18: One Red Tree

It's hard not to get obsessed with the various colors of the foliage this time of year. Today I'm home sick, so besides sleeping, I've mostly been hanging out at my desk doing stuff on my computer, and therefore staring out the back window a lot. I have to say, the fall colors in my own back yard are not much to speak of right now. The ash tree lost all its lovely gold leaves in the recent storm. And the rest have either faded to a dull yellow-brown or remain green.

Except for one brilliant maple down by the river. And that's what my eyes keep getting drawn to. If I look through the natural fence of near trunks, this one spectacular tree shines behind them with a color that's difficult to describe--a sort of salmony, mango red-orange-pink. It's also ideally positioned so that it's currently catching the afternoon light, which transforms each leaf into a living flame. It would seem like that one tree could transform all the green trees around it by virtue of its effervescent presence alone, color leaping like fire from one branch to the next. Even when the sun goes behind a cloud and the sky suddenly dims, this maple burns with a true inner glow. In tree language, it's shouting for joy.

Moments like this, I really wish I were a painter rather than a writer, although I'm not sure one could convey this quality of color and light with mere pigment on canvas.

Maple's jubilance
enlivens a dim day home--
I can't look away.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

October 17: Ragged Mountain Brunch

A perfect fall morning, which was lucky for a group of nine of us who'd planned to ride the Snow Bowl chairlift up Ragged Mountain to enjoy a bagel brunch at the top. With backpacks loaded up with goodies, we slowly rode the lift in pairs, enjoying the fall color that seemed to have miraculously spread over the landscape since the previous days' storm. At the top of the lift, we gathered on a ledge with our decadent spread, which included a box of Rock City coffee, orange juice, bagels of all kinds from the Bagel Cafe, cream cheese, smoked salmon, various jams (including one made from some exotic Japanese citrus), Nutella, lemon curd, some ingeniously wrapped fried (and home-grown) eggs, apples, and chocolate hazelnut espresso cake.

After such a filling moveable feast, is it any wonder that we felt the need to hike a bit further up the mountain? Our hike was short but rigorous (and a bit muddy, given that more than four inches of rain fell on Friday and Saturday), as we were on a quest for a good view. I think we found it:
View from Ragged Mt. to Mt. Megunticook and Mt. Battie
Bright red maples and some glowing yellow striped maples punctuated the evergreen forest near the summit. Colorful leaves created picturesque tableaux where they had fallen amid still-green Christmas ferns, ruddy blueberry plants, moss, and hen of the woods mushrooms. Two vultures soared overhead, and a red-tailed hawk seemed to hover motionless on a thermal. A merlin shot past. In the distance, Penobscot Bay shone like a mirror in the sunlight, and we tried to name all the islands we could see.

When we stepped out onto a broad ledge near the summit, several of us exclaimed aloud as the breathtaking, panoramic view suddenly opened before us. A few in our party were from out of town, and one of them asked, a bit surprised, if we hadn't been up there before. Oh yes, we said. Many times. But it's just as amazing each time. 
Bald Mountain from Ragged Mountain
This view, this beauty.
Gold leaf the size of my head,
whole glowing mountain.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

October 16: Belfast Poetry Festival

I spent a good part of today in Belfast as a participating poet in the Belfast Poetry Festival. This spring, I was paired with sculptor and mixed media artist Beth Henderson. She and I have spent this past summer sharing ideas and each other's work in order to produce something for the Festival. The work was hung on October 1, but everything finally came together today as various teams of poets and various kinds of artists (dancer, photographer, several painters, sculptor, glass artist, and metal artist) presented the fruits of their collaborations in four different venues around town for the Festival's Gallery Walk. The exhibit that Beth and I put together is hanging at Roots & Tendrils Gallery through October.

Beth and I realized early on that we both draw from the natural world for creative inspiration. She created several works based on images in my poems about Bald and Ragged Mountains, and I wrote or adapted poems to go with some of her pieces. Some of Beth's pieces:

Of the work she showed me, the ones that spoke to me the most featured owls, a personal favorite creature of mine ever since my mom collected owls when I was a very young child. I respond to their charisma as cool and beautiful birds, and they also resonate for me poetically as symbols of great significance in many world cultures. So in response to her owl art, I challenged myself to create a mixed media piece combining my poems, various images and icons I've collected, quotations from other writers' stories about owls, and photographs. The resulting work is called Owl Stories. I created ten different pieces, which I then strung like prayer flags and hung from a branch I found in the back yard. I think it's one of the most truly creative things I've ever accomplished.

This afternoon Beth and I talked about our collaboration, and then I read several poems to a jam-packed house. The energy was high at all the galleries, and I was reminded of the boundless creativity that we each possess. In several ways--today's Gallery Walk being one of them--I think the universe has been reminding me lately to keep tapping into that creative spirit inside me and remain open to the creativity of myself and others. Sometimes when I get too wrapped up in the more dry aspects of my professional life I shut myself off from this energy or don't make enough time for it.

Today's poem is an adaptation of one I wrote as part of Owl Stories in response to this image created by Beth:
Snowy owl waiting:
a pale stone on the tundra
with fierce yellow eyes.

Friday, October 15, 2010

October 15: Birds in the Storm

The winds and rain hit last night and continue through today, dumping at least a couple of inches of rain on the Midcoast. I've seen a few trees blown down, though nothing damaging (unless you're the tree), and my peony bed was flattened as if stepped on by an elephant. Muddy streams of water are running down the roads--apparently Barnestown Road over by the Snow Bowl is actually underwater thanks to a nearby flooded wetland. When you're driving, the water on the road swirls and fans on the paved surface under the tires of the car in front of you. It's kind of mesmerizing. And the edges of all the streets are carpeted with leaves of all colors, including a lot of green leaves that didn't even get a chance to change color before being ripped off the branches. At the office we heard several claps of thunder, which made the deluge even more dramatic.

When I arrived at the office this morning, three goldfinches, barely visible through the rain, were huddled in my bird feeders. When they left, I decided to move the feeders from an exposed window to one under the porch roof. So I emptied them of sodden seed, dried, and then refilled and reattached them in the new location. Not two minutes later, a chickadee hovered in front of the window where the feeders had been. Then another chickadee came by, fluttering in place, as if to say, "Where's our feeder?!" So I quickly moved them back to the original location. And they were quickly revisited.

This afternoon I returned after a lunch meeting to find the feeders blown onto the ground. It's been a tough day to be a hungry bird. I refilled and reattached them yet again, and chickadees and goldfinches have been braving the elements all afternoon to feed, even in the half-dark of late afternoon. As branches and boats are being tossed around by the gale, a pert little chickadee is making that dash to the feeder to grab one more seed. And of course, many wild birds out there are getting by in stormy weather without the benefit of a feeder. It makes you realize how tough these little guys really are.

Leaves scattered, sodden,
branches flung, roadways flooded.
Yet, chickadee's here.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

October 14: Fire Hose Rainbow

Every so often the Camden Fire Department tests their fire hoses on the river right outside my office. This afternoon they had several going at once--men having fun playing with hoses--and the plumes of spray were catching the light just right, forming a short, vivid rainbow. With a glowing backdrop of blue sky, reflecting water, and color-shifting foliage, this rainbow was quite a vision, even if it was man-made.
Even a rainbow
created by fire hoses
is still a rainbow.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

October 13: Emergence

I haven't been closely following all the details of the Chilean miners who have been trapped underground for nearly seven weeks, but I knew they were being rescued ahead of schedule, with the first miners emerging today. I had also read one story about a miner who included both his wife and his long-time mistress on his list of three people he was allowed to invite to the rescue staging area. His wife said she was glad he was ok, but she was definitely not going to be there. I don't know what it says about me or the media that that's one of the few personal stories I know about any of these 33 men.

While running on the treadmill at the gym tonight, I caught about ten minutes of the CNN coverage of the rescue and found it quite moving. They were in the process of bringing the 27th miner to the surface. CNN was reporting that most of the miners were in good general health and in good spirits. The mood there was appropriately celebratory. Even the news guys sounded a bit awed and excited by the whole thing. The CNN team were evaluating what sorts of perks the miners would receive. Apparently, they've already each been offered $400,000 by media for their story. They've been offered opportunities to endorse everything from mining equipment to chocolate bars to sexual enhancement vitamins (now there's an ad I'd be curious to see!) A mining tycoon is giving them each $10,000, and the government has pledged to support them till they're ready to go back to work--though I can't imagine many of them intend to go back to the mines.

It's amazing the amount of trivial information you can learn from watching tv for ten minutes, even if you're watching an important news story. And we're so used to it that even the most emotional stories leave our heads more quickly than they should. So after I got off the treadmill, I forgot about the miners. Until I left the gym, emerging tired and red-faced from the humid basement locker room into the crystal clear evening. I took a deep breath of the fresh, clear air as I stood and slowly turned under the wide open, pristine night sky. There's no way I can imagine being trapped underground for even seven hours, let alone seven weeks, but for a brief moment, I felt an elation that might have been the very, very faintest fraction of an echo of what each of those miners felt as they emerged from the capsule. Air. Space. Room to breathe. Freedom. Relief. How easy to take all this for granted. Gold Jupiter shone brightly on the horizon, and a waxing crescent moon emerged from the trees. I thought of those miners all the way home.

Look at all the stars!
33 miners emerge
under a wide sky.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

October 12: Red Zone

In football parlance, when you're in the red zone, you're within 20 yards of the opposing team's goal line, hot to score. In the language of autumn leaves in the Camden Hills, the current red zone is a strip of crimson trees on the highest visible ridge of Mount Megunticook, along the backbone of the mountain between the summit and the old landslide above Maiden's Cliff. Fall has left its strongest mark there so far--looking east from Route 105 along the river, that high, red line of trees is very distinctive. I don't know if it's the elevation or exposure that makes those trees more susceptible to phasing out of their green garb earlier than the trees on the ridge below them. But soon enough, the red zone will expand to encompass the entire forested mountainside--a touchdown on nature's terms, that gaudy display of incredible color that seems just as unbelievable year after year. I hope I never get used to it.

Autumn's carnival
is back in town: riotous,
red hot spectacle.

Monday, October 11, 2010

October 11: Back Yard Birds

This morning as I was sitting at my desk looking out upon the golden ash leaves shining in the morning sun, I noticed a bit of bird action back there, as well. Little birds were flitting and flickering among the leaves. So, still in my pajamas, I sat on my back step with my binoculars and tried to see what was moving through the yard. I hung out long enough that a leaf twirled through the air and landed on my back.

In order of quantity, here's what I observed:
Black-capped chickadee--hard to keep track of numbers, they were so active
Tufted titmouse--several moving back and forth from feeder to trees
White-breasted nuthatch--a pair hanging around the shed roof and nearby trees, occasionally on the feeder
Downy woodpecker--one female on the birch tree in the driveway, calling
Crow--one cawing down the street
The leaves are still heavy on the trees here, so I think a brown creeper may have been in that mix, too--the birds were hard to track once they got up in the leaves.

As is often the case, my favorite bird to watch was the chickadee. A small local flock seems to make the rounds a few times a day, and I always feel a little blessed when it's my feeders' turn for a visitation. These perky little birds are constantly entertaining, being both sociable and acrobatic. I watched one dangle from the end of a leaf to snap up an insect. Another landed on the lawn among the dead ferns and hopped up and down trying to catch something. All the while, they call to one another, like kids text-messaging.

I recently came up with an idea for a book I'd (jokingly) like to publish: The 100 Cutest Birds of North America. Chickadees are definitely in there. And titmice. And nuthatches. And probably the downy--our smallest woodpecker--too. Perhaps I'm a little biased toward these birds I see and enjoy every day.*

As the trees redden and leaves fall, it's somehow reassuring to know that most of those five species will likely be with me through the winter. The nuthatch may decide to head a little farther south, but the rest are locals. We're all in this together.

Small cove of my yard
harbors the local songbirds
through every season.

*Other birds I'd include: Gambel's quail, ivory gull, saw-whet owl, golden-crowned kinglet, least sandpiper, goldfinch, piping plover, puffin, yellowthroat, most other warblers, clay-colored sparrow, and Anna's hummingbird...

Sunday, October 10, 2010

October 10: Binary

Today's date is 10/10/10, which is a binary number. That much I know. Not being a computer programmer or a mathematician, I've retained little memory of how binary numbers work. But I've always had a good head for numbers, and I like it when ordinary sets of numbers--phone numbers, dates, and such--have a deeper significance. So I found an online tutorial on binary numbers and was reminded that they operate on a base 2 (hence, binary) system, while our everyday numbers are base 10. With the tutorial as a guide, I think I figured out that today's date translated from binary to everyday, digital numbers is 32+0+8+0+2+0=42. Which, according to Douglas Adams's highly entertaining Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series, is the answer to the question, What is the ultimate answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything? (Unfortunately, no one knew what the ultimate question was, exactly...)

In numerology, in which you add the digits of a significant number (for example, a birthdate) until you come up with a single number between one and nine, 1+0+1+0+1+0=3. At least one numerology website, Spiritual Numerology, says that the number three is the most playful of numbers. Was today a playful day? It had some pleasurable moments, for sure. The site also says that "writer" is a good profession if you're a three--and today my husband, a novelist, gave a great reading at the library in Kennebunkport. So that part sort of fit.

My favorite number has changed over the years, just as my favorite color has--which makes me think that such preferences have a connection to one's personality development. When I was a kid, I liked the balance of even numbers like two and four. Then, for years it was three, an odd number with a lot of symbolism. Now, it's 11, two parallel lines, neat and clean but also an interesting odd number. When I happen to look at the clock at 11:11, I take that as a sign of good luck. So it is with 10/10/10. There's a symmetry there, a pleasing pattern, that appeals to me. Today was a good day, in more ways than one (zero, one, zero, one, zero).

The power of two
is the key to today's date,
and of course, to love.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

October 9: Portland

My husband and I are spending the night in Portland in anticipation of having to be in Kennebunkport tomorrow for him to do a reading at the library there. So we're enjoying some time in Maine's biggest city, remembering what it was like to be young and living in places a little more cosmopolitan than Camden, Maine... Not that we don't love my hometown!

While Paul got a haircut at his favorite hair salon in the state, The Men's Room, I scored three awesome cashmere sweaters at Material Objects, my favorite consignment shop in the state. We had chai at Arabica and read the Portland Phoenix, learning about all the groovy events taking place around here that we were going to miss--Indigo Girls at Merrill Auditorium!--and joined the diverse crowds milling around the cobble streets and funky old brick buildings in the Old Port on a sunny Saturday on a holiday weekend. While I don't want to live here, sometimes I just need the social and cultural refreshment of visiting this small urban pocket in our largely rural state. The people-watching alone is a revelation, better than reading a fashion magazine.

For dinner we tried a fairly new Thai place near Longfellow Square called Boda: rich, Thai-style iced tea, crispy squid, skewers of figs wrapped in bacon, beef panaeng (beef with a curry and coconut milk sauce and jasmine rice), pork stuffed jalapenos, and crab fried rice.
Now we're in our room lying on the bed like beached whales, listening to traffic, sirens, and the occasional jet overhead, sated and happy from our few hours on the streets of the Port City.

City: traffic, noise,
food, coffee shops, buses, gulls,
ships, sirens, people.

Friday, October 8, 2010

October 8: Milkweed Fluff

This afternoon dark clouds rolled in on a wave of high winds, obscuring the sun. One minute crows were calmly grazing on the lawn. The next, birch trees were swaying wildly and the crows had spun into the air and sailed away. The air swirled with loose leaves that had been all ready to fall, along with what looked like snow flakes. I had heard this front coming in was supposed to bring us a chilly evening, but snow seemed a bit extreme.

I quickly realized that the answer blowing in the wind was milkweed fluff. Some of the many milkweed pods in the yard had begun to desiccate and crack open. The silken threads that carry the seeds far and wide were caught up in the strong gusts of wind and blown into the air in multiple explosions of starry white fluff--a gentle precursor of snow falls to come.

In trying to find a more scientific name for milkweed fluff, I learned some useful and interesting things. The silk seed "parachutes" are apparently waterproof. Also, they've been collected and used for centuries to stuff pillows and mattresses. During World War Two, kids amassed huge quantities of them to fill coats and life jackets for soldiers. A spinner says the fluff can be spun into a fine thread. I knew milkweed was valuable as part of the life cycle of the monarch butterfly. But who knew how useful it could be for humans? In this age of synthetic fibers, I guess such knowledge is easily lost. In any case, it seems most people just refer to milkweed fluff as "fluff."

Hard to imagine
how this snow shower of fluff
will become a field.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

October 7: Thank you, Rainbow

When one is a professional development officer for a nonprofit, responsible for raising money in this difficult economy, not every day at work is a walk in the park. Actually, some days are, literally. Some days I get to hike the land trust's preserves with donors--those are days that I love my job. But today, despite some bright points, by late afternoon I was feeling tired and discouraged. And when it started to rain yet again, that didn't boost my mood. But then, the sun suddenly came out, shining through the rain, and a brief rainbow arched over Mount Battie:
OK, granted by the time I ran outside to take this photograph it had already started to fade, so you can barely see it here. But the sight of that ephemeral band of colors, touching down in the autumn-tinted forest beyond the river and backed by a cheery blue sky, lifted my spirits. Some days that's all it takes. And some days it takes more than that, so today I feel especially fortunate. 
Yes, it's a cliche--
rainbow as symbol of hope.
But it worked for me.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

October 6: Local Color

On this dark, bleak, rainy night, I'm thankful we figured out earlier why our furnace hasn't been working for a few days. Now the heat's back on, but that's not enough to satisfy my soul. My hair's still wet. I'm wearing black. My husband's wearing black. What I really need are light and color.

There's something about the warm colors of fall that nourish the spirit as the forest begins to shut down for winter. They keep us going. Yesterday I took a few photos on sunlit Ragged Mountain of some fallen leaves and a group of bright orange, pixie-sized mushrooms. The mushrooms reminded me of one of my favorite pieces of clothing, a tangerine-colored down jacket that I wear almost year-round. I'm not sure what it says about my personality that what was once my least favorite hue--orange--is now one of those I'm most drawn to. I think the jacket's color warms me as much as the garment itself.
And favorite jacket aside, it was a cool-looking little cluster of fungi tucked amid fall's first tossed off bits of clothing. Soon enough the trees will be stark, naked, with only the remnants of their hot attire strewn riotously about. The autumn forest is a wild party.

Fall's a wild party,
one last orgy of color
leaving all naked.
Guess these leaves are inspiring--my friend Brian coincidentally posted a similar photo with his blog post today too.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

October 5: Fall Fowl

As I was leaving work tonight, ducks quacked, flying past me up the river. I felt I'd come full circle since the morning.

My day began with a huddled cluster of roadside turkeys, presumably chowing down on fallen acorns. Five turkey vultures flushed from a tree over my car, as well, their dark, bulky bodies making it easy to understand how the bird got its name. Until it starts soaring, it looks an awful lot like a turkey. Once it takes wing, though, the vulture possesses a grace that the more gangly fowl just can't muster.

On a brief morning hike with a co-worker among the beeches and maples of Ragged Mountain, I heard a flock of geese pass overhead. Though leaves shielded the birds from sight, the sound alone was stirring (though it reminded my co-worker of a skirmish he'd had this morning with his ornery rooster).

Back at the office, we found a lone Canada goose hanging out on the lawn. It let me approach quite closely, not hissing at me like a typical wild goose would. Concerned that it might be ill, despite looking well-fed and moving easily, I called Ken Bailey, Lake Warden and Executive Director of the Megunticook Watershed Association. I explained that we had acquired a pet goose at the office and were wondering if it was a happy goose or not. "Oh, it's a happy goose alright," he replied, in a tone that let me know I was in for a good story. Apparently this particular goose had been taken to Avian Haven, the bird rehabilitation facility in Freedom, because it was found weak and emaciated on Freedom Pond. The young goose had some parasites, but was quickly nursed back to good health. When the time came to release it, however, Diane and Marc of Avian Haven didn't want to take it back to Freedom Pond. The goose--as we saw at my office--had become very used to people and would not have survived long on the well-hunted pond. So the decision was made to release it on the Megunticook River, where hunting is not allowed. Ken suggested that the best thing to do would be to herd the bird back into the river. So after I hung up, I went out and walked behind the goose, which calmly allowed me to herd it across the lawn, over the bank, and into the water. Hanging out on the lawn with a goose gave me pleasant flashbacks to my childhood, when I spent a lot of time with my grandparents' pet domestic goose Max. But even Max would peck at my legs and hiss at me on occasion. This goose was very mellow. As it silently drifted upriver, I wished it luck, told it to find some fellow geese and learn how to be wild again, and went back in to work.

Near the end of the day the goose was back on the lawn, feeding in the grass at the edge of the office parking lot. A co-worker shooed it back into the river. Hopefully some other geese will come along soon, adopt this youngster into their flock, and honk some sense into it.

Once more, geese fly south.
Their honking sounds jubilant.
So why am I sad?

Monday, October 4, 2010

October 4: Spot of Red

My visual touchstone on the east side of the office today was a small patch of red maple leaves so vivid that they made surrounding red leaves on the mountainside look dull. The leaves have just begun turning here in coastal Maine, so soon this bright little foliage brush fire will soon set the whole mountain aflame. But for now, it keeps catching my eye, this bindi on the forehead of Mount Battie, this burning bush revealing the revelation of autumn.
Mountain catches fire
leaf by leaf, a slow passion.
I see red all day.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

October 3: Autumn Light

I love this time of year when the rich light enhances the changing colors of the foliage. My back yard is looking rather unkempt these days, spangled with dead leaves and fallen branches here and there from a recent storm. I need to wind up the clothesline for the season, put away the lawn furniture. While I was away, the ash tree and a few of the maples began phasing into their yellow plumage. The low sun filters through the leaves, wantonly dappling them with light. And so it begins, the bittersweet season of beauty and death...

Late afternoon light.
Gold flash of a leaf falling
into the river.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

October 2: Last Day on Monhegan

My last day on Monhegan was a brilliant one, making me feel heartsick to leave the place I love so much, even though all my friends left before me. The lobster season began this morning with fireworks and fanfare, falcons soared overhead all day, and everything gleamed in that way it does when rich autumn sunlight shines on everything that was washed clean by fog and last night's storm.
The island recedes.
Sparkling wake and swirl of gulls.
End of vacation.

Friday, October 1, 2010

October 1: Limbo

Today we weren't expecting to spend much time outside at all. A big storm was predicted. Ferries were cancelled. Trap Day--the opening day of Monhegan's lobster fishing season, which was supposed to start today--was postponed. The wharf is filled with stacks of traps piled five high, a maze of colorful wire, rope, and buoys. Half a dozen lobster boats bob in the harbor, loaded with traps, waiting for tomorrow morning.

We wandered around in the fog waiting for the rain to start so we'd have no excuse not to put away the binoculars and finally take a nap or read that long-neglected book. But instead the fog burned off and the sky brightened. We ate pizza al fresco (for about the seventh day in a row). Now the fog has moved back in and the wind has picked up. It feels like rain again. Tomorrow my friends and I are leaving the island on different boats. It's our last full day, and already that bittersweet sense of what it will be like to leave behind this idyll of birds, good friends, and incredible natural beauty has begun to take root. By tomorrow half my brain will be thinking ahead to what I need to get done when I step off the boat and head home. But today, no matter which way the weather turns and how few birds I see, I'm doing my best to be fully here.

Sun breaks through fog late.
Roar of the surf reminds us
of imminent storm.