Monday, January 31, 2011

January 31: Holly Flowers

When we think of holly, we think of holly berries. Shiny green spiky leaves and red berries for the holidays. But holly flowers?
During the holiday season I clipped a sprig of holly (to be truthful, I hijacked it off a shrub on the grounds of a church) and put it in a vase to add to the festive decor in my kitchen. Almost two months later, the sprig's leaves are still green, its berries not yet dried up or fallen. It's been around long enough to blend into the background so that I hardly notice it any more, but I happened to glance at it this morning. A clump of white caught my eye. Worried that it might be getting moldy after all this time of just hanging out in a vase of unchanged water in my kitchen, I looked more closely. Not mold. Flowers! Little tiny white flowers!

Being a flowering plant, holly obviously has to produce flowers at some point, but I've never noticed them. And no wonder, given that they're almost microscopic. I felt as if I'd discovered a whole new life form.

Few will ever see
this modest holly flower
bloomed in my kitchen.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

January 29: Up on the Roof

Today I gritted my teeth and finally did something that's needed doing for the past several weeks: I shoveled the snow off our roof. Since most of our roof is near-flat, it accumulated a lot of snow in these past few storms. So even though we had it replaced when we moved in almost six years ago, it seemed prudent to get up there and ease its burden a bit.

The more steeply pitched roof on the front of our house is visible from the lawn, and I could see actual drifts. (It's amazing what a difference it makes to insulate your attic better.) But because of its low pitch, the entire rear half of the building was virtually invisible. So while we've gotten a lot of snow in the past month or more, I was still surprised at how much of it was hanging out up there.

Once I figured out how and where to place the ladder, awkwardly hauling the ridiculously heavy thing through waist-deep snow drifts, it was simply a matter of scrambling onto the entryway roof, and from there to the pitch of the main roof. And then it was simply a matter of hanging my body as far as I could off that edge to shovel the front bits. By the time I got all that done, I was soaked. Then I had the entire playing field-sized flatter roof to do. This took a very long time. Hours, in fact. I estimate that I shoveled over a ton of snow, easily, off that roof. I shoveled off so much snow that I had to shovel the driveway and back walkway all over again after I came down--snow dumped off the roof had piled up there deeper than that from the last storm.

Physically challenging as all this was, I did manage to experience a few moments that made me smile, besides the moment when I'd finally hacked away at a 3-inch ice dam for long enough to knock it over the eaves. From that perspective, I was on level with the birds. Kinglets flew through the yard, and it sounded like they were right next to me, in the maple that hangs slightly over the back roof. Later, a downy woodpecker called repeatedly, as if in response to my repeated knock-knock-knocking on that block of ice with my shovel. And as big fluffy snowflakes began to fall--something beautiful but slightly disheartening given the task I was engaged in--a nearby titmouse loudly whistled his spring love song, "Peter, Peter!" I had a thought that in the spring, if my husband would haul the ladder for me (he's away this weekend, lest you think he's a slacker), it would be cool to go up there and lie down under the maple branches and see what flies through the yard at eye-level.

I don't belong here.
Snowy roof elevates me
among the kinglets.

Monday, January 17, 2011

January 17: Haikubes on Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Birthday

For Christmas my sister gave me Haikubes, a set of 61 six-sided dice with short words or phrases etched on their faces in black and two dice with phrases on the faces in red. You're supposed to roll them all, and the red-lettered dice set the theme for your haiku. Today, my first time trying out Haikubes, I rolled A VISION FOR and OUR WORLD. That struck me as thematically appropriate for a holiday celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday.

The words on the other dice are supposed to inform the resulting poem. Fortunately among the many words--obey, swimming, dripping, finally, this, us, what, so not, I, baby, embraced, etc.--are some blanks to enable a little creative latitude.  Still, it took me about 20 minutes to come up with something, anything, and the resulting haiku is probably a bit more bleak and negative than I would have created if left to my own devices:

This still so screwed up:
war touches every surface.
What shines for us next?

What interests me is how a fixed but random set of words like this (or the ever-popular Magnetic Poetry sets, for example) begins to tell its own little stories. Like these, face-up now on my desk: swimming, dripping, salty, fathom. Or these: girl, room, charm, body, embraced, hot, limbs, glorious. Or these: war, dead, screwed, hellbent, so not. The thematic dice then help guide the tone for pulling out and following the most appropriate of the stories. If I'd rolled A DREAM ABOUT and MY ROMANTIC LIFE, you can imagine I'd have gravitated toward different word choices!

While I prefer creating my own haiku, sometimes working within the strictures of an exercise like this can free your mind in unusual ways or take your imagination to new places. (Even your imagination can get in a rut sometimes.) For that same reason I like to periodically play with formal poetry--to write a rhyming sonnet, for example, or a poem with a set number of lines per stanza or syllables per line. The act of fitting into the rules can lead to some surprising adjustments that often result in something more interesting than the same old "free verse."

January 16: View from the Chairlift

Recently I participated in a team-building exercise in which nine of us had two illustrations each that together made up an eighteen-page sequence. Looking only at our own two pictures and then describing them to the group, we had to lay them face-down on the floor in what we thought was the correct order. The end result was a pictorial narrative that began with a view of Earth from space and ended with the face of a chicken from the cover of a book being read by a kid on a cruise ship (with many other steps in-between). The goal was obviously to develop communication skills as a group, but the fun of it was in the unexpected perspective shift that telescoped (actually, "microscoped" would be more appropriate) from something literally universal down to the most minute detail.

I was reminded of that exercise while riding the chair lift at the Camden Snow Bowl. The view of the snow-covered Camden Hills on the way up Ragged Mountain is spectacular, especially the near view of craggy Bald Mountain. I kept looking over my shoulder, wanting to take it all in. I love living in such a beautiful place. About half-way up, however, I heard a high-pitched noise that I first dismissed as the chairlift pulley running through the tower. But it really sounded like a golden-crowned kinglet. And sure enough, I heard it again as a tiny bird flew into a nearby tree. As it landed below my dangling skis, its crown flared brightly. In that one instant, my attention shifted from the mountains to the tiny head feathers of a bird smaller than a chickadee--each sight breath-taking in its own way.

Mountains surround me,
but the kinglet's bright gold crown
is what draws my eye.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

January 15: Shadows on the Snow

As I sat at my desk writing this morning, my attention was diverted by something small darting back and forth outside the window. It took me awhile to figure out what it was, because it was moving fast, and, it turns out, wasn't truly tangible. I was seeing shadows on the snow of a nuthatch moving quickly and with agility among the boughs of a tree hanging over the back yard.

As I watched more intentionally, more shadows flickered across the snow. A flock of bright-throated goldfinches passed through, then a handful of chickadees flew back and forth from the bird feeder on the other side of the house. A chickadee landed right in front of me on the porch rail outside my office window and then flew up to grab something off the gutter--some frozen insect carcass, perhaps? A pair of blue jays made their presence known. Then a downy woodpecker flew in to explore a tree trunk. A small flock of starlings, a species I've never seen in our yard before, cast large shadows as they perched for a moment in our big maple tree. All this activity happened in the space of about half an hour. As the sunlight has raised the air temperature, the birds have clearly been making the most of their daylight time.

Not long after, I even had the privilege of watching a pair of crows chase a red-tailed hawk through the air space above my yard. Imagine how much I'd have missed if I'd never bothered to look up when those shadows first caught my eye.

Shadows on the snow:
a moment's activity,
a flurry of birds.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

January 9: Oranges

Some days I just find myself craving a particular color. This morning I was drawn to orange--orange undershirt, some clementines with my cereal for breakfast, orange gloves as I headed out to soak up some sunlight. The need was stimulated, I'm sure, by my constant need for more warmth this time of year, as well as the mood boost the color offers when contrasted with the pale dirty snow out my window. It's a color that catches and embodies light, connoting Florida citrus and sunshine. Perhaps my body craves more Vitamin C to help me shed once and for all a niggling cold, and this attraction to orange is a way of getting me to ingest some healthful fruit.

The sight of tulips in my window near the fruit bowl helped satisfy my longing for this color, albeit not as tangibly as those clementines, which I devoured. 

And I've been fixating on a section of our prayer flag garland that sports five tangerine-colored pennants in a row, the only repetition in a string of 48. If I could translate those symbols, perhaps there's something I need to be learning there...

Fruit and flowers glow
in kitchen's weak, winter light.
Outside, dirty snow.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

January 8: Sunset

Yesterday's sunset was so breath-taking here in the Midcoast that in addition to my own photograph, I saw at least four other images of it posted by friends on Facebook. It filled the sky with wide swaths of purple, pink, and gold, a visually dramatic end to a day we'd thought to see snow. Sequestered as I was in a classroom in Belfast, focused on my first session of the intensive Midcoast Leadership Academy, I was surprised to emerge at day's end to a glowing sky empty of snowflakes. As I pulled out of UM's Hutchinson Center onto Route 3, my head swirling with information on group dynamics, communication styles, and personality types, I decided I needed a distraction. So instead of turning right to head home, I turned left to head into the sunset. Pulling over in a suitable spot, I took this photo through my windshield:
Route Three, Belfast
The scene reminded me of the moody works of Belfast painter Linden Frederick--that beauty amid the mundane yet poignant artifacts of the rural Maine roadside landscape: bus headlights, red glow of taillights, utility poles, stark trees with glimpse of a snowy field, farmhouse with attached barn beyond. An ordinary place caught in an extraordinary moment. 

Headlights tiny sparks
beneath that glorious sky.
We all pause, look up.