Sunday, July 31, 2011

July 31: Pesce Luna

My husband, a friend, and I chartered a pelagic trip today with John Drury of Greens Island and his boat Fluke. The day was perfect, seas calm, sun bright. Hundreds of Wilson's storm-petrels danced around the boat. We visited great cormorant nesting colonies harangued by bald eagles, watched shining white gannets dive. A parasitic jaeger chased down terns, engaging in relentless but thrilling aerial combats to steal their fish. Puffins buzzed past, carrying fish to young in burrows on Seal Island. We came upon a raft of at least 50 greater shearwaters just hanging out together, completely unfazed by the boat. Porpoises leapt, dorsal fins catching the light above the water's smooth surface.

I think the highlight of this beautiful day exploring the waters and islands of Penobscot Bay, however, was the ocean sunfish. John had slowed the boat down so we could get closer to a jaeger sitting on the water. As I watched the bird through my binoculars, I noticed a floppy fin emerge from the water behind it. The jaeger flew off, momentarily distracting us, but when I pointed out the fin, we moved closer to check it out.

The ocean sunfish or mola mola is one weird-looking fish. It's difficult to tell which way is up--it looks like a giant head with floppy little fins. John told us that in Spanish it's called a pesce luna, a moonfish. Given its round shape and pale form in the water, that makes more sense than "sunfish." The fish lolled in plain sight, submerged briefly, then resurfaced a little farther away. John worried that there might be something wrong with it, as its responses seemed a bit slow. I'm not sure how you could tell if there was really something wrong with a creature that looks so strange. The only other one I've ever seen before behaved in this same way, although that time I wasn't so fortunate as to be so close.

The pesce luna was truly fascinating. It made my day.

Sunfish, pale moon face,
you roll your ocean secrets
through the bay's dark depths.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

July 30: Yellow Jackets

My husband unwittingly discovered that yellow jackets are nesting in the upper part of our shed. We go in and out of the shed all the time, so we're finding it difficult to conceive how that many wasps could have moved in so quickly. In a single day, they've made the shed their own, angrily descending upon whomever tries to enter. Unfortunately, there's no way to reclaim our shed without killing the yellow jackets. Neither of us is willing to get stung repeatedly every time we go out there for the rest of the summer. And it's not like you can relocate a wasps' nest.

Sorry, wasps, your end
is near. We know you're only
doing what wasps do.

Friday, July 29, 2011

July 29: Scarlet Tanager

A friend has wanted to see a scarlet tanager for a long time, so this morning we embarked on a tanager quest. I knew there was at least one hanging out on the Ducktrap River Preserve this spring, so I suggested we go back there, though I had no idea if he'd still be hanging around singing. As it turned out, I was surprised by how many birds were still singing. We heard at least half a dozen Blackburnian warblers squeaking way above our heads in the old hemlocks. A family of four white-breasted nuthatches flew to a nearby tree trunk and foraged, the young pausing now and then to beg, the adults still giving in to the impulse to feed them. A hermit thrush's flute song rose from within a stand of pines, and goldfinches twittered overhead.

As we paused among the shade of the hemlocks on a ridge above the river, trying to actually see one of the Blackburnians, my ears picked up on a distant, raspy warble. A tanager! It sounded like he was on the other side of the river, in dense woods, but as we listened, he seemed to come a bit closer. We decided to head down the slope to the river in hopes of catching a glimpse of this brilliant red bird.

The river was beautiful in the morning sun, its mossy banks a bright, verdant green, the water low in this dry season and tea-colored due to tannins from the surrounding hemlocks. Water bugs skipped around on its surface, while tiny fish--were they salmon parr?--darted in shaded shallows. We sat on a big rock and listened. Tantalizingly close, the tanager sang over and over. Another tanager farther up river answered him. They sang back and forth for a while, the sound shifting as they flew to different perches. But we never saw either one.

No matter. My friend and I agreed it was time well spent in the company of each other, the river, and the birds singing around us. And on our hike out, an ovenbird--a notoriously hard-to-see warbler--popped up and gave us a quick glimpse. You don't always find what you go looking for, but sometimes what you do discover is just as meaningful.

She survived cancer.
Tanager's riverside song
seems blessing enough.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

July 28: End of Day

As I type this, a cardinal is vigorously whistling, "TEW too TEW too TEW too" outside the kitchen window, coming by for his end of the day feeder visit. Out the other kitchen window, the female hummingbird samples the bee balm blossoms, as we've watched her do for the past several nights as we've sat at the table eating dinner. She'll dip into a red flower or two, withdraw, then turn and hover right in front of the window, looking in at us. I don't know if she sees her reflection, finds us fascinating, wants us to find her fascinating (which we do, of course), or what.

The sinking sun, in a slightly different place than it was this time of night a month ago, or even a week ago, shines through a tapestry of green onto the river. The river itself is a mere thread of murmuring water at this point in summer, but there's enough water there to cast a glare where the sunlight hits it. That patch of light seems like an ephemeral fragment of summer, caught shining for just a few blessed moments, flashing like a signal mirror an urgent message about time and the river flowing...

River catches light
but can't hold it, keeps flowing.
Sun goes on setting.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

July 27: Illusions

Back in the 1930s my grandmother had a beau who would take her flying in an open cockpit plane. She said it was the most amazing experience flying through clouds, reaching out expecting something tangible, perhaps silky gossamer threads, but, surprisingly, feeling only moist nothingness instead.

Clouds can have a real solidity. They form shapes and move with a purpose, sentient beings of air. This morning when I arrived at work, two big balls of clouds hung over the trees across the river. They seemed to possess a heft: cloud breasts, perhaps, or giant fluffy footballs. But really, they carried no more weight than their accumulated volume of water vapor. Very large illusions. You can't touch this:

They oppress the trees
with their weight that is no weight--
great balls of water.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

July 26: Wherever love is...

While we were driving home tonight from my husband's reading in Castine, me half asleep in the passenger seat, I couldn't help but notice a young couple perched very close to one another on a guardrail along the side of the road. This wasn't a scenic country road with a view of a field glittering with fireflies. It was Route 1A, and we'd just crossed the bridge from Bucksport to Verona Island. But they couldn't see the river from where they were perched, or even the lit-up riverside walls of historic Fort Knox. On this foggy, chilly evening, not even stars were visible. Just cars moving quickly past on their way to someplace else. But who needs someplace else when you have each other? 

A guardrail in fog--
comfortable seat for two
if they are in love.

Interestingly, around the corner about half a mile down the road we came upon the romantic sight of the Penobscot Narrows Bridge, its funky array of cables lit up in the night fog, the red lights shining beacons atop the two bridge towers. Imagine this image shrouded in fog:
from Wikimedia Commons

Monday, July 25, 2011

July 25: Carrots

In my favorite book ever, "The Tale of Genji," which was written about 1,000 years ago in Heian-era Japan, the high-born characters celebrate the Iris Festival in the fifth month. A part of this festival involved an iris root contest, to see who could find the most interestingly-shaped root. They would even send love poems to each other attached to unusual iris roots. I thought of this today as I was pulling carrots at our CSA farm in Lincolnville. Our farmer had grown four different types of carrot, and one of them seemed to specialize in twisted, multi-pronged roots. After I got them all home and washed, I thought they made a poetic picture:

The weird ones at the bottom look like legs. One looks like a peace sign or a wishbone. And there's one on the upper right that has a little knob at the top, like the head of an armless doll...

If I were to write a poem on carefully chosen paper such as in "The Tale of Genji" and send it to my husband attached to one of these carrots, it would read:

This carrot's odd roots,
twinned, nourished well in rich soil,
make me think of us.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

July 24: The Zen of Running Downhill

As I get older, running gets more challenging. There's always something that hurts, cellulite bounces on once-lean thighs, asthmatic lungs ache. I used to feel like a graceful thoroughbred when I ran, a race horse. For years I ran competitively, and it's hard to let go of that desire to go faster, to be in the lead. Now I feel like a plodding draft horse. But still I do it, still I love the forward motion, knowing that my body parts all still move, if a little less smoothly than they used to.

While I'm slower and shorter of breath now, I try to retain good form. Even when I'm struggling, at least I can still look like I know what I'm doing. The thing I was always best at was running down hills. When I was in 7th grade a coach taught me how to run downhill as a strategy--how to just let go and not resist the forward momentum. If you don't hold back, you go faster. Most runners leaned back on the downhills, trying to stay in control, and that's where I would pass them.

On my current running route, there's a long downhill just before I turn back onto my street to head into the "home stretch." That's when I feel my best, just letting go, letting my legs carry me down the hill, for a moment feeling like I did back in 7th grade: invincible. Those are the moments that keep me going.

How to run downhill:
"let all go dear so comes love"
Nothing else matters.

*Line 2 from a poem by e. e. cummings that begins "Let it go..."

Saturday, July 23, 2011

July 23: Camden Daylily Garden

Here's how Susan Shaw advertised today's Camden Daylily Open Garden at her house around the corner: "Where can you find the Loch Ness Monster and a Laughing Giraffe at the same place, same time? Your Dream Lover? Would you like a Pathway to Peace?" Names of things have always captivated me. Those of day lilies are sheer poetry:
Strawberry Fields Forever
Age of Aquarius
Wrapped in Gold
Angel's Sigh
Band of Gypsies
Polynesian Love Song
Fire Agate
Cosmic Struggle
Exclusively Subversive
Wineberry Candy
Forestlake Ragamuffin
Velvet Widow
Hush Little Baby
Lemon Cream Truffle
Blueberry Breakfast
Jurassic Butterfly
Love Over Gold
Wisest of Wizards
Pinch of Lavender
Bowl of Cherries

And the range of colors! Words cannot do these flowers--or this garden--justice. So here are some pictures (with apologies for the poor formatting; I can't figure out how to place photos where I want them in this program):
Blueberry Breakfast
Cosmic Struggle

Fire Agate
Pinch of Lavender

Wineberry Candy

Their names are poems,
but words can't convey lilies'
glorious colors.

Friday, July 22, 2011

July 22: Panting Crow

Yeah, it's hot. Everyone's talking about it. I personally love these few steamy days we get each summer, given how many weeks (months, really) of too-cold weather we get the rest of the year. Besides, sweating can be a cleansing experience. That's why they have saunas and sweat lodges.

Birds don't sweat. Like dogs, they pant to cool off. Stopping at the grocery store today, I noticed a crow hopping around the parking lot, beak wide open. A tough day to be a black bird walking around on asphalt.

Black crow on blacktop,
panting in this heat. It could
fly off to some shade...

Thursday, July 21, 2011

July 21: Creature Comfort

Last night as I lay reading in my spartan little bedroom under the eaves of the Monhegan House, enjoying the sounds of surf and foghorn so close, I was surprised to suddenly hear a "meow" from the other side of my window. My room, after all, was on the top (fourth) floor! But sure enough, I pulled back the curtain, and on the other side of the screen was my favorite island cat. I slid the screen back so she could come in, and she settled down on the bed with me until I got up to brush my teeth. Then, mindful that she's not allowed in the inn and that she does have an owner out there who might be wondering where she is, I carried her downstairs and put her out the front door.

About 15 minutes later, she was back. I let her in again, worried that if I didn't she'd be stuck out there on the roof. She settled in again until I got up one last time. Again, I put her out the front door to go to her proper home. But just as I was dozing off, she returned. This time I let her in and didn't get up till morning. She slept on the bed with me all night long, curled up on my arm most of that time.

In addition to the crazy novelty of having a cat show up at my fourth floor window, this experience touched me deeply. I still grieve for my beloved cat who passed away this past winter, to the point that I still can't imagine replacing her. But for one night, I was comforted by this little cat. I'd like to think she singled me out, that she knew I needed her company, but truth is that my window is closest to the fire escape, which she must have scaled to get to the top floor window ledge in the first place.

When I ran into her owner today, I mentioned to him that his cat had been sleeping around the night before. (Carrying her downstairs to sneak her out the front door early this morning felt amusingly illicit!) He said that she's been known to do that, but that he never worries about her. He said she scales scaffolding all the time, and one time climbed up on someone's roof and scratched at their skylight to be let in.

Even in this heat
I can still appreciate
a cat's warm comfort.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

July 20: Beach Glass

I'm not a beach glass collector, although every now and then I will pick up an unusual piece when I'm at a beach. This morning I wandered down to Lobster Cove just to see how it looks this month, like stopping in at a dear friend's house. The marsh there is blooming with wild roses, vetch, morning glories, buttercups, and wild mustard. Scarlet pimpernel pokes up from amid beach stones. Little red desiccated bodies of crabs lie on dark sand between redolent piles of seaweed, smoothed stones, and shells. And the occasional piece of sea glass, although Fish Beach offers up much more by way of variety and quantity (given its proximity to the granite jetty where islanders traditionally break their glass). What caught my eye today was a largish sea-worn piece of white (once, clear) glass with a raised G in the center. It seemed significant, but I couldn't ascribe any meaning to it while I carried it around. I couldn't even think of anyone I know with G as an initial. So instead I thought of G words associated with my day: glass, gentle, golden, green growing, glare, good, grateful, grackle, golden-crowned kinglet, gift.

Beach glass with a G--
what is its significance?
That it has none? Good.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

July 19: Dessert

I'm on vacation this week and spending three days of my time off on Monhegan. Besides being a place of great natural beauty and scenic charm, the island is home to The Novelty, makers of some of the best pizza in Maine. So in true holiday mode, I ate a whole 10" pizza (sausage and spinach) myself for dinner. Then, in an impetuous mood--hey, I'm on vacation!--I bought a big whoopie pie and a can of Porkslap beer for dessert. The dessert of champions. The meal was an excellent one and fueled well my post-dinner walk to Fish and Swim Beaches and then up to the lighthouse to watch the village, Manana, and the sea beyond glow under the setting sun.

When it comes to food,
sometimes what brings the most joy
trumps what's healthier.

Don't those pigs look happy?!

Monday, July 18, 2011

July 18: License Plate

I was stopped behind a big Chevy Silverado this morning, black with red trim and designs covering the back window and tailgate that looked like the tattoos on Mike Tyson's face. The trailer hitch was a custom chrome piece that near as I could tell was a bare ass. I'm not sure if it was meant to be suggestive or insulting. Clearly, this was a manly man's truck. Because of the back window decal, I couldn't see the driver, but I quickly formed an image of a burly young guy wearing a Harley-Davidson muscle tee to show off the barbed wire tattoo around his left bicep.

So I had to smile when I noticed that his license plate was one of those new pink ones to support breast cancer awareness. Here's a guy who carefully maintains a tough image via his truck, and yet he cares enough about women's health that he paid extra for that pink license plate, set off nicely by a license plate holder that looks like a heavy-linked chain. There's a story there. And I'm sure it's a touching one that would break some of the stereotypes I'd so quickly formed about the unseen driver ahead of me. (Like the fact that I automatically assumed it was a man... I've certainly known women who would drive a truck like that.)

Even the tough guy
stopped here in the monster truck
cares about his mom.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

July 17: Watering the Lawn

Guests visiting from Vermont were the perfect impetus for us to play tourist with them and enjoy this summer day to the utmost. We took in the arts and crafts show in Harbor Park in Camden this morning, drove into the countryside to hit Morse's Sauerkraut for lunch and treats, spent several hours reading, swimming, and canoeing at my sister and brother-in-law's camp on a lake, enjoyed dinner and sunset over the St. George River at The Slipway in Thomaston, then visited the historic lime kilns on Rockport harbor. When we finally got home, everyone settled in to watch the Red Sox game while I watered the flowers. There's something very meditative about standing in the dark, hose in hand, spraying the greenery, nurturing those sun-parched leaves and roots.

Watering at night,
hose on "shower." Thirsty lawn,
here's a heavy dew.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

July 16: Hawk Family

Driving down a dirt road through the woods ("15 MPH Dust!") to check out for the first time my sister and brother-in-law's new lakeside camp this afternoon, I was thrilled to see a broad-winged hawk fly across the road in front of me. It was followed by two more, which looked by their plumage to be youngsters. They perched together up in a big pine.

The camp is perfect, the kind you want your kids to spend all their summers in so that they grow up remembering their childhood as a series of sunny weeks of loon calls, the thrum of small motorboats, the slam of screen doors; of padding through pine needles in bare feet or running down the wooden dock to jump off into the cool embrace of the lake; of tipping the canoe, eating hot dogs, playing card games after dark, and seeing stars reflected in the water...

As I went for my first swim of the summer and then read in the sun in an Adirondack chair on the big porch, I visualized all this for my two nieces' future.

Hawk with two fledglings--
I always see signs in things:
my sister, her girls.

Friday, July 15, 2011

July 15: Nesting Dove

One of my co-workers said he had a surprise to show me on our Beech Hill Preserve, and I asked if it was something related to birds. Of course, he said. So today when we were all up at Beech Nut to celebrate the Land Trust's 25th anniversary, I got to see what it was:
Mourning Dove
The stewardship team had been repainting some trim on the restored old stone hut, and this dove on her nest was tucked away under the eaves at the back of the building, nestled into the stones. She's very well camouflaged. Even the nest resembles bits of the hut's sod roof. 

Apparently she flew off when they first started working near the nest (which contains four eggs), but quickly returned and then just hunkered down and endured their presence. They got within a few feet of her--and at one point, her mate--but she didn't budge. She must have realized they meant no harm. Around the corner, up near the roof beams, is a phoebe nest full of nestlings. This hut which was never a home to any human--it was built as a day-use tea hut in 1914--is at least providing a safe place for birds to nest. Which is really what the preserve is all about.

Still as a field stone,
dove makes her nest on the rocks.
Her black eyes watch me.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

July 14: Why did the turkeys cross the road?

A friend and I enjoyed a lovely lunch today at Cellardoor Winery. We ate our sandwiches out on the sunny deck overlooking the young vineyards and distant farm fields, sipped our complimentary glass of wine with  pleasure (we passed up doing the full wine tasting in the middle of a work day). It felt so decadent, wine with lunch! We talked and laughed for a couple of hours, savoring the break, imagining we were in Tuscany. I think for a little while we felt like the other patrons there, all clearly visitors on summer holiday.

As I was speeding along Youngtown Road on my way back to the office, trying to get my head back into work mode, I was forced to brake quickly as I crested a hill. Crossing the road in front of me were a mother turkey and one, small poult. In no hurry, they dawdled their way into the underbrush on the other side. Slow down, they were telling me. You move too fast. Got to make the moment last...

Turkeys in the road
force me to slow down, regain
my prandial calm.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

July 13: Waxing Moon, Swelling Music

On Monday, I'm driving on Route 52 in that rich, late summer afternoon light, clouds billowing on the horizon, music blasting. This is my home territory, these farmhouses and fields familiar and beautiful. I slow along the shore of Megunticook Lake, Bald Mountain rising blue and hazy beyond. Several people are jumping off a dock on one of the lake's islands, and teenagers in skimpy bathing suits are poised on the roadside ledges in the same spot we used to swim from when we were that age. The road rises up the hill, a steep wall of rock to my left surmounted by verdant pines. I crest the hill, spot the faint gibbous moon in the still bright summer sky. Below me, lush farm fields and forest. I love this song. In a few days the moon will be full. I'm almost home.

Fast car, loud music.
Happy to see the pale moon
and all this bright green.

(Song: "Truly (Wise Buddha Mix)" by Delerium)

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

July 12: Celebration

I walked home from work exultant this afternoon, having landed a big grant for an important land conservation project on Ragged Mountain. Not only did my grant make the cut in a highly competitive funding round, but we got the full amount we asked for, which doesn't often happen these days. My hard work had paid off in a most satisfying way, giving the project a big boost.

So in an uplifted mood I strolled the short, wildflower-lined stretch of road along the river to my house. And in an uplifted mood I heard the piercing cry of an osprey. I looked up and there it was, soaring in lazy circles way above Mount Battie, chirping loudly. I felt attuned to its mood; I think it was calling out into the hazy summer sky simply for the sheer thrill of being a bird in flight. A big bird with strong wings and a beautiful, fish-filled bay stretching out below.

High as the osprey
wheeling above Mount Battie,
I want to shout too.

Monday, July 11, 2011

July 11: Bamboo

A friend in Lincolnville, whom I visited this afternoon, has a rather eclectic gardening sense. He's built his house in a clearing surrounded by spruces, and various plants are flowering seemingly at random amid the indigenous greenery: ornamental grasses pop up amid mossy stumps, delicate little Japanese maples stand here and there amid daisies and ferns, and bamboo plants with variegated leaves lean over the driveway. Out back a small pool hosts a few lily pads, another features a plastic reptile of the Loch Ness monster type. A stone-paved labyrinth spirals behind the deck, a bit overgrown but still magical.

A series of planks forms a sort of bridge toward a lush patch of boreal wetland. Along the way, one thatch of fancy grass with broad, drooping blades looks, as my friend says, like the hair of a Dr. Seuss character. Or a crazy nest waiting for a dinosaur egg. Wild partridgeberry with tiny twinned blossoms creeps close to the ground alongside more bamboo, a different species. These particular bamboo plants sprouted from clippings from another plant elsewhere in the yard. Walking on the bridge with a bamboo plant on either side of us, my friend points out several baby bamboo plants that have sprung up in a rough line between them, as if they two plants are trying to reconnect through these offshoots. I couldn't help but think of the Chinese folk tale about the Weaver Girl and the Cowherd, lovers who became two stars separated by the Milky Way, only allowed to meet one night each summer in early July.

Cut from the same plant,
bamboo roots send out new shoots,
try to reconnect.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

July 10: Remnants of the Past

One of the reasons why I was hurrying down Old County Road this afternoon was to get to Port Clyde to catch a boat. The other reason was because I was passing the Rockland landfill, a strikingly odiferous zone. That strange stretch of road also features several creepy limestone quarries filled with opaque dark water (that more than one car has ended up in), a few houses whose residents hopefully have no sense of smell, some ATV trail crossings, and all that's left of what must once have been several farmhouses: well-spaced clumps of lilac bushes, honeysuckles, purple phlox, and big patches of day lilies that once graced some long-gone dooryards. One patch of lilies so abounded with big orange blooms that if it hadn't been for the smell, I might have even paused to take a photo.

Near the smelly dump,
explosion of day lilies.
This was once a farm.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Measuring the Miles

As I continue to recover from an injury, when I run these days I need all the motivation I can get. Often it's my iPod shuffle, which drowns out the sound of my labored breathing and shuffling steps and impels me forward with peppy beats. (Favorite running tunes at the moment: Kanye West's "Stronger" and Delerium's "Silence" featuring Sarah MacLachlan.)

But some days I want to be distracted by bird song. In the spring, this is my chance to see what's back singing in the neighborhood. This time of year, it's to see what's still singing. By keeping track of the birds I see or hear during my run, my mind is (mostly) distracted from the toll exacted by the physical activity. To really help myself focus outward, I try to see how many total species I can tally in a run, which requires listening with care. It sometimes even determines which of my usual loops I will take. One loop almost always nets a house wren. The other usually guarantees a vulture or two.

When I get home, I figure out the average number of bird species per mile. Since my distance doesn't vary a whole lot, this can be a decent measure of bird activity. My high count for a run of three miles was 24 species, yielding an average of eight birds per mile.

This morning I was ready to run right after the rain stopped, ideal conditions: the air felt fresh and clear, birds livened up as the sun burned off lingering clouds, and as I began to overheat, trees refreshed me with sprays of loosened rain. I heard mostly the usual neighborhood species: titmouse, blue jay, goldfinch, red-eyed vireo, cardinal, yellowthroat, catbird. A highlight was an unexpected black-throated blue warbler singing in the woods near my office. It was a good run.

I measure my pace:
three-mile run, 24 birds--
good to go slowly.

Friday, July 8, 2011

July 8: Blue Jay Feather

Wandering through my back yard this afternoon, I came upon a blue jay feather in the grass, bright blue with black barring, a pretty thing. A family of blue jays lives nearby--I often see one perched on a particular branch over the back yard, and even more often, hear them. To find one of their feathers, so neat and intact, seems like a gift. Perhaps it was given in exchange for the ripe cherry tomatoes I've been lining up for the jays on a stump under their favorite tree.

The blue of a blue jay's feather is not a result of pigment, as with many colored feathers. Rather, it's caused by the way light refracts through the barbs of the feather. If you flip over a jay feather or hold it up to the light, it looks dark grey. So the blue, which so defines this brash, beautiful bird, is in a sense a mirage.

Blue sky, blue feather--
a gift given or molted?
Flight path souvenir.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

July 7: Patch of Sun

I love this hot summer weather, luxuriate in the heat of sunlight on my bare arms, want to roll around like a cat in that patch of sun on my office floor. A set of windows faces west in my office, so the light streams in these afternoons. Heliotrope and purple and yellow vetch blossoms fill the horizon above the sills. Other than boughs waving in a light breeze, the only thing moving out there on this steamy afternoon are goldfinches visiting my feeder, chattering in the distance. A female goldfinch just paused here, her gold breast glowing, the color of sunlight--which of course has no color, but I imagine sunlight made visible to be just that color. She carries with her a patch of sun. She embodies this summer heat.

I watch a goldfinch
from this sultry patch of sun,
both of us glowing.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

July 6: Strawberries

We get many of our summer vegetables from a local farmer, and for a little extra, we can go out to the farm and pick our own strawberries. The bleak, rainy weather of late spring and early summer delayed the berries a few weeks, but now these ripe red jewels are shining from beneath healthy leaves. I picked three quarts today to eat fresh, eating a few as I moved down the rows. The sun beat down, and surrounding the gardens, thick grass waved in fields amid vetch, day lilies, and black-eyed susans. A phoebe watched from the wire fence. Does anything taste more like summer than a sun-warmed, perfectly ripe strawberry?

I like to accessorize to coordinate with my fruit
Here's tonight's dessert:
mouthful of a summer's day--
fruit, garden, fields, sun.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

July 5: Red-eyed Vireo

As summer progresses and we finally feel the heat here in Maine, we hear less birdsong. Most birds have nested and even fledged young by now, so there's no biological reason to sing unless you're trying for another nest: no need to advertise for a mate, no territory to defend. While a few birds still join in the dawn chorus or add their voices to the robin's evensong, it's generally a lot quieter out there than a month ago. Except for one bird, which seems to sing non-stop all day and all summer long: the red-eyed vireo.

Red-eyed vireo photographed by my friend Brian Willson
I can hear him now out back. He sounds like this. To me, he sounds like the long, lazy days of summer.

One day in May 1952 Louise de Kiriline Lawrence decided to follow one red-eyed vireo for a whole day. The bird sang for a total of ten out of almost 14 hours. And she counted--he sang 22,197 songs! (This is recounted in Donald Kroodsma's The Singing Life of Birds if you're interested in reading more.)

While the songs can get a bit repetitive by day's end, there's something truly lovely about the tone and cadence of the vireo's singing. A red-eyed vireo song is robin-like, a rapid series of chirrups. He sounds like he's asking a question and then answering it, over and over, a slightly different question each time: "Where are you? Here I am. Who are you? A vireo." He's got a lot to say. Kroodsma thinks that the males will sing as long as there are females out there willing to mate (vireos may have multiple broods in a season). So if the vireos are any measure, the trees in our neighborhood are quite the summer pick-up joint.

Lucky for our ears,
vireo's incessant song
is also pretty.

Monday, July 4, 2011

July 4: Read, White, and Blue

I had thought that today's holiday was going to be bleak and rainy, so I'm delighted to be writing this from a lawn chair in my sunny back yard as heavy mist and clouds rapidly shift eastward over the mountain.

Now I can spend at least the morning (before the predicted afternoon thunderstorm rolls in) hanging out in this very chair reading a book, one of my favorite summer activities. As I sit here now, the river rushes behind me, the sound of wind in the trees. The local cardinal just paused at the feeder. The neighbor's cat is sprawled next to my chair, visiting. And I'm surrounded by a family of titmice, one adult whistling, a flock of young wheezing in the lower branches all around. From the cacophony, they had a very successful nest. Other birds make their presence known: blue jay, goldfinch, robin, song sparrow, catbird, crow, yellowthroat down on the riverbank. 

Last night's rain shines on the glossy leaves of the rhododendron. A lawnmower drones in the distance. The sky brightens even more. I've got a big mug of green tea at hand and a new mystery book ready on my iPad (Steve Hamilton, Misery Bay). And a day ahead of me of complete freedom to do whatever I most enjoy.

To quote a found poem, the words of which were written by a young boy in 1939 and which I've heard Pete Seeger sing: "He will just do nothing at all. He will just sit there in the noonday sun."

Day off: a good book, 
blue sky, birdsong in the trees.
I don't need fireworks. 

Sunday, July 3, 2011

July 3: Nesting Dreams

In order to once more reimpose some discipline on my creative life (which, ironically, seems to make me more productive), I'm going to revive my poetry blog and try to keep it up if not daily than as close to daily as I can make it. The result each day may not be a haiku, but it will be something as close to poetry as I can get it. Feedback of any kind, please, will also help make it feel worthwhile--to know someone other than my mother is reading this. (That doesn't mean you can't provide feedback, Mom!)


I woke in the dim pre-dawn and couldn't fall back asleep, so I lay still and listened to the ethereal song of a distant robin harmonizing with the river rushing outside the open bedroom window. When I fell back asleep, I had a strange series of dreams, in the first of which I woke up, went out into the kitchen, and noticed all this stuff piled up by the back door--someone was trying to rob us. Before I could get upset, though, I realized that some of the furniture there was not at all familiar so I must be dreaming. Then I fell "back" asleep. Still in the dream, I woke again and told my husband all about this weird dream I'd just had. And fell "back" asleep again. And woke again to another scenario--I don't even recall what--that I realized was too surreal to be true. Finally I woke up for real.

Dreaming within dreams is not an uncommon experience for me. "Do I wake or sleep?" asked Keats in "Ode to a Nightingale. Maybe the robin's song inspired this most recent sequence. I'm reminded of the ancient Chinese Taoist philosopher Zhuangzi who famously woke from a dream about being a butterfly questioning whether he was a man who'd dreamt he was a butterfly or was a butterfly dreaming he was a man.

Robin's dreamlike song
lulls me to sleep. Or was I
already dreaming?