Monday, September 19, 2011

September 19: Caterpillar

First thing in the morning I like to look out the front window to see the sun rising up over the edge of Mount Battie, to greet the day and get a sense of what the day's weather is. This morning, the mountain was draped with clouds seemingly in the process of dissipating. Out the back window, a crisp, clear blue sky hints of another beautiful day, a perfect day for getting on a boat and heading out to Monhegan.

When I looked out the window, I noticed a woolly bear caterpillar inching across our front walk. Another creature on a journey today. It was going at a pretty good clip. I paused to watch it for a while, then went into the kitchen. A few minutes later, when I looked again, it was gone, lost somewhere in the forest of grass.

It's that time of year when woolly bears roam around eating and looking for a good place to spend the winter. I've been noticing quite a few of them recently. They'll tuck into a piece of bark or curl up under some leaves and overwinter. Similar to hibernating frogs, woolly bears produce a substance in their bodies similar to antifreeze, which helps keep them from freezing solid in the winter. Come spring, the caterpillar will spin a cocoon and later emerge as an Isabella tiger moth.

As a kid, I remember being told that woolly bear caterpillars can predict how harsh the coming winter will be. The caterpillar has black bands at either end with a rusty brown band in the middle. The more black, the worse the winter, if I remember it right. While this has been pretty much debunked by science, one thing's for sure: when you start seeing woolly bears wandering around looking for a place to hole up,  winter is right around the corner.

Not yet equinox,
but I shiver. Woolly bears
seek out winter homes.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

September 18: Wrapping it up

Tomorrow I leave for a two weeks vacation on Monhegan Island. When I return, it will be October. So this weekend I've been trying to wrap up all that stuff I need to do before I leave, which includes all my end-of-summer chores around the house and yard. The only thing written down on my to-do list was to pack, but here it is, early Sunday afternoon, and I've been bustling around all weekend taking care of things in a very satisfying fashion. Now, the house is vacuumed, plants watered, bird feeders filled, essential groceries my husband might need replaced, lawn mowed, gardens weeded (sort of), leaves raked, bushes pruned and mulched, gravel spread, work email set up with the "on vacation" reply, and laundry and dishes done.

But before I undertake the final, massive task of packing for two weeks on an island where the weather could range from just short of snow to sub-tropical, I'm taking a mindful moment on my freshly repaired and painted back porch to soak up this beautiful afternoon. I'm stepping into vacation mode just a few hours early.

The river is low right now so the water is just a quiet hush in the background, but a pileated woodpecker has been loudly calling for a while now and a pair of crows is yelling back and forth. Upriver, through the green wall of surrounding trees, I can see one red tree that's turned early. A small flock of waxwings flies over, which always brings a smile to my face. I love waxwings. A squirrel explores the edge of the lawn, while a chipmunk chips repeatedly just below, causing the squirrel to climb a tree, wave its tail like a furious little flag, and chatter back. In the distance, a lawn mower buzzes, white noise. My eyes keep closing involuntarily. Is there any calm felt so deeply as that derived from having accomplished what one set out to do, so that one can now simply rest?

How many moments
can we really say we feel
completely at peace?

PS: I may or may not post while I'm away for the next two weeks; my inn has sporadic wi fi, and I will be, after all, on vacation, focused on hanging out with friends and looking for birds... and maintaining this relaxed feeling!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

September 17: Wrong place?

Birders up and down the coast today--from the Cadillac Mountain hawk watch to Freeport Wild Bird Store--reported seeing thousands of broad-winged hawks migrating through today. Yes, thousands. As in, they needed a little hand clicker to count all the birds they were seeing fly over. There were so many raptors in the air today, pushed along by a perfect NW wind, that their flight was visible on weather radar.

Meanwhile, my birder friend Ron and I, ignorant of all this hawk action overhead, decided to go look for shorebirds at Weskeag Marsh. We saw 12 sandpipers (that's individuals, not species) and about 20 snowy egrets. That many snowy egrets is a pleasant spectacle. But it's not 1,600 broad-winged hawks, etc.! What did we see for raptors? Immediately after we got out of the car we spotted a sharp-shinned hawk circling above us. A couple of minutes after that, an adult peregrine falcon flew off its perch along the marsh's edge and soared right past us, northward. (It was either hunting or misguided.) I always love to see one of them. We also saw two vultures circling high overhead, and in the distance, a buteo that was probably a red-tailed hawk. And that's it.

I admit that I'd love to have had the experience of seeing a zillion hawks. I've attended several hawk watches and they're exciting events, even without that many birds sailing through. But Weskeag was a beautiful place to be today. The marsh grasses are starting to fade and redden, the tide was still rising up the river, angelic white egrets fluttered in the back pannes, and the blue sky was bedecked with a scattered array of clouds that looked almost unreal, like a theatrical backdrop for a particularly cheerful scene in an old-style musical. The perfect backdrop for the amazing drama that is migration. What I regret about the day is not missing all those hawks, but the fact that I didn't have my camera with me to photograph that sky.

Those hawks, too, must have
gloried in today's blue sky
beckoning them south.

Friday, September 16, 2011

September 16: Things that go bump in the night

My friend Ian, who runs long-distance races, was running in the dark last night on the back roads of Appleton, a very rural town (in which he lives on a very remote dirt road!) when he heard a pack of coyotes howling in the nearby woods. He said it certainly made him run faster. There's nothing like that primal thrill to get the adrenaline pumping.

Meanwhile, around the same time but in St. Louis, my husband was walking back to his hotel from dinner when he saw a bird fluttering against a store window. He said the poor thing was so exhausted from its struggles that he easily caught it, cupping it in his hands, and was able to release it away from buildings. He identified it as a Louisiana waterthrush, duly impressing his dinner companions.

Tonight driving home from dinner with friends in Belfast past the long dark fields alongside Route 52, we oohed and ahed at the big egg-shaped moon right next to bright Jupiter. Here and there in the roadside weeds, various eyes gleamed in the headlights, and we watched a fat raccoon waddle toward a lawn, perhaps on its way to raid someone's garbage.

You never know what's out there. Some nights my neighbors are playing music till the wee hours. Other nights I hear strange animal noises down by the river--raccoons, maybe, or flying squirrels. The dark cloak of night hides many secrets.

Cold night, rural road.
The dark turns everything wild.
Do you hear that barking?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

September 15: Singing for our supper

As I lay in bed this morning, not quite ready to get up, enjoying the hum of the crickets in the dawn, I was reminded of an article I read in a recent issue of "The New Yorker"about eating insects. Insects will need to become more culturally acceptable in this country as a source of protein, was the premise, as a renewable resource that doesn't add to greenhouse gases or take up too much space. Crickets were cited as a common delicacy in some cultures.

So I'm listening to the crickets wondering if their song would sound different to me if, after I got out of bed, I was planning to get up and have some for breakfast. Of course, the lowing of cows does't make me hungry for a steak or milk. But I also don't go out and harvest a cow myself. I'm not likely to start eating crickets anytime soon. For now I'm content to hear their song as the soothing backdrop to a misty morning on the river. But it made me think.

Mmm. Like Pavlov's dog
my lips smack at cricket's song,
my singing breakfast.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

September 14: Fiery Sun

The sun is setting behind a green screen of leaves right now, slowly sinking into a hazy horizon. On this warm evening, the sun's distorted orange orb looks like a glob of molten lava or a burble of flame surrounded by the "smoke" of the evening's diffusing mist. The edge of my world is going to catch fire. (This feeling is further reinforced by the aroma of smoke emanating from a neighbor's grill.)

Nights like this, alone,
I feel like I could combust
with the sun's last flare.  

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

September 13: Caress

When I stepped out for my run this evening, the sky was glowing with a pinkish-peach wash, the color of blushing skin. As I began running up the street, the air felt so soft, so perfectly warm against my skin, that my movements felt almost sensual. The air felt alive. I couldn't help but think to myself, despite knowing what a cliche the image is, that the warm air was caressing my flesh. I felt energized by the experience. Which I needed. It got me through my run, my mood lifted.

Sky's intimate pink,
evening warmth against my skin--
I run faster, flushed.

Monday, September 12, 2011

September 12: Houseful of Buddhas

While I am not a practicing Buddhist, I have strategically place around our house several small statues of Buddha and various bodhisattvas. One in particular, a Thai Buddha, bears a facial expression of such serene calm that I often find my eyes drawn to it in times of stress or anxiety, for its soothing influence. Others are fat and laughing, the kind one finds in Asian import shops everywhere. Those make me smile. Each one has its own mood, its own meaning for me. I'm drawn to the Buddhist emphasis on the ephemerality of life, which urges one to value the present moment and not get too attached to the world. While I haven't achieved a Buddhist detachment from the material world by any means, the core of my spiritual beliefs is to be mindful of Now. My buddhas remind me of this.

Haiku has a direct connection to Zen Buddhism, which is one of the things that sustains my interest in the form. On a site called "In the Moonlight a Worm...," sponsored by the Arts Council of England, I found this perfect explanation of the relationship:

"In Zen Buddhism there is a great enlightenment called satori, sought through many years of disciplined meditation. There are also many little flashes of enlightenment, called kensho, which are intense forms of those everyday noticings that surprise us or please us because they seem to reveal a truth, or to be exemplary, or to connect us again, momentarily, with the sense of awe. Haiku is a momentary, condensed poetic form and its special quality is that it is perfectly adapted to give the reader that little instant of kensho insight. Basho developed the haiku form so that each haiku became a little burst of awakening. It is this that is the essence of haiku, not its number of syllables."

I can't express it any better than that.

Visitors ask me,
Why so many Buddhas here?
Because life is brief...

Sunday, September 11, 2011

September 11: And life goes on

Like most people, I remember where I was ten years ago, right about this time of day. I have vivid memories that I'll never be able to shake of scenes from the Twin Towers before I couldn't bear to watch any more, and shared with the rest of the country the shock and horror long after. It's been ten years, which seems so hard to believe.

Today, the Dalai Lama exhorts us to meditate on the destructiveness of hatred, so I choose to honor the memories of all those who were lost on this tragic day by embracing the mundane events of this beautiful morning--a morning very similar to that one ten years ago. If we love the every day, we will value it. If we focus on what we value in this way, love will overcome hatred.

In my neighborhood, a conclave of house finches has invaded my bird feeder, chirping wildly. A group of titmice rasps in a nearby oak. A nuthatch beeps in the background, punctuated by the cardinal's insistent chip note. Now a blue jay's jeer, returned by another jay way down the street. The sun shines of my front step, where I sit to write this still wearing my pajamas and a sweater. My neighbor's children are playing in the street with some inflatable ball things, reminding me of scenes from my childhood on a street not too far away. "I caught it, guys!" shouts the youngest child excitedly, over and over, the one girl among a pack of boys.

My husband and I have just had our coffee and tea respectively. Later this morning, a friend is coming to repair and paint our porch. The river burbles out back. Crickets chirp, something I notice each time the birds quiet down. Later, I'll go for a run. I'll read a book. My neighbors are out on their front step intensely discussing touch football strategy. Tonight an almost full moon will rise. Life goes on. That, to me, seems like the best way to defeat the fear and hatred the terrorists hoped to invoke with their attacks. If we can find some small peace in the moment, we have overcome.

Remembering fear.
Yet still we love this flawed world--
sunshine's glare, birdsong.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

September 10: To and Fro

While enjoying beer and chips on a sunny porch with friends this afternoon, I found myself constantly distracted from the entertaining conversation by the crows. First they made a racket on one side of the river, then a group of three or four flew across the river and hung out for a while. Then they started yelling again, and one flew away with something big and yellow in its bill. They settled down and crossed the river again. Then the ruckus renewed, and they flew back to our side, one bird cawing as it flapped right over our heads. Did it want some chips? Or spy a shiny bottle cap?

Since these same crows spend a lot of time within sight of my office windows, I derive a lot of pleasure from trying to figure out what they're up to. Sometimes it's obvious, like ganging up on a hawk; other times they're just a collection of black mysteries, doing crow knows what.

The mind of a crow
isn't always thinking "food."
But who knows what else?

Friday, September 9, 2011

September 9: Lost Penguin

I seem to be internationally-inclined these days. Today a friend shared a link by which one can follow a lost emperor penguin named Happy Feet (found a bit off-course in New Zealand) back to his home in Antarctica. I've been a bit mesmerized by the computer screen since I got home, but I love that technology makes it possible for me to not only track a penguin on the other side of the planet, but to also share this experience with friends and strangers all over the world.

Meanwhile, house finches chirp querulously outside my window, eyeing the bird feeder.

I hope he makes it back home--he seems to have slowed down these past few days. So many people are watching. There's always something to amaze out there. For better or worse, I know. Today, I'll take this.

Tonight I follow
a lost Antarctic penguin,
ignore my finches.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

September 8: Lesotho

This morning in my West Bay Rotary meeting a woman involved with Qholaqhoe Mountain Connections gave us an update on a project that my club helps sponsor in Lesotho. We sponsor a child who is attending high school in a rural region of this third world country surrounded by South Africa. Almost a quarter of the people in this tiny country have AIDS, and many of the children the non-profit sponsors are AIDS orphans. She told us that some of the kids walk two hours one way to get to school, because they know that going to school and doing well is their only chance to rise above the poverty and hunger that surrounds them. Because high school is tuition-based, many children cannot attend without scholarships, instead staying home to work to help their families. The scholarship for a year of school is $250. That seems like nothing to us, but some kids who had to leave school and work were only earning the equivalent of $7.50 a year. I'm pretty sure I heard that correctly.

As I was listening to the presentation and seeing the slides of the beaming students in their crisp uniforms, I couldn't help but think of my niece attending her first full day of kindergarten today. Despite all the crazy ups and downs of the economy and our current political scene, we are still so fortunate, so privileged--and it's rather sad that it takes exposure to life in a third world country to drive that fact home for me. We take our schooling--at least through high school--for granted. We take our water for granted, while this village had just built a water containment thing that now meant the kids didn't have to walk two hours to fill gallon jugs from a creek to water their gardens. Some of the children who are orphans live with relatives or family friends, but others live alone in what was their family home. I think of some child arriving to an empty cinder block house after a two-hour walk from school, having already eaten her one meal of the day at school (maize-based mash with kale for protein). What can her dreams be? Does she have any hopes for her future? Does she dare?

I think of Lesotho and love my niece, thankful that she is one child in the world who is well-loved and well taken care of. She'll get a good education. Opportunity lies before her. She won't go hungry. And maybe when she's older, she'll help some of those, like the children of Lesotho, who are less fortunate than she. Forgive me if this all sounds a bit melodramatic. But these children are real. They're out there, millions of them.

Poor crops, hungry child.
As we harvest fall bounty,
let's not forget her.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

September 7: Nice weather... if you're a fish

For us humans, this cold rain makes for a bleak and dreary day. But as we move closer to the autumnal equinox (a.k.a. the first day of fall), these wet days replenish our rivers and streams and create the watery highways that Atlantic salmon and some trout follow to their spawning grounds.

Salmon return from the deep sea to their home river to spawn, guided miraculously by various factors--sense of taste, the earth's magnetism, currents--that are as little understood as those enabling bird migration. When they get there, there needs to be high enough water for the female fish to move upstream to appropriate habitat to make redds, the indentations in the river bed carved out with her body in which she lays eggs for male salmon to fertilize. On the Ducktrap River, where a remnant population of this endangered species lingers, some falls only a dozen or fewer redds are counted by fisheries biologists. But the fish are still hanging in there. And this rain will help them return to the river once more.

What's cold rain to us
is the way home for salmon--
a refilled river.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

September 6: Thump

Earlier this evening I was alone in the office, working late, when I was startled out of my computer-screen daze by a loud "thump" on the door. I occasionally hear those heart-breaking small thuds of a bird hitting a window of my office. I've put ultraviolet stickers on the windows most commonly hit, and that's helped, but it seems like during spring and fall migrations one or two still try to fly through glass. But this noise tonight was much louder than anything I'd heard before. That had to have been a big bird, if it even was a bird. My mind (and pulse) raced--what would I see when I went outside? One of the local blue jays I enjoy so much? The kingfisher that's been rattling up and down the river all afternoon? Nothing could have survived that loud a crash.

To my surprise and horror, a sharp-shinned hawk was fluttering on the office patio outside the door. As I instinctively moved toward it--what did I think I was going to do, hold it cupped in my hands till it recovered, like all those warblers and chickadees?--it moved away, flapping onto the lawn. It looked broken. In instant anguish, I imagined having to figure out what to do with a small but seriously injured bird of prey. But as I stepped toward it again, it flew up into the dogwood tree, and from there, almost immediately flew off toward the river. It seemed ok, flying straight and using both wings. My relief was great, though it all happened so fast, my heart is still racing even now.

Hunting hawk, intent,
hit window. My heart lifted
with it when it flew.

Monday, September 5, 2011

September 5: Neighborhood Music

Sorry, I was away for a few days. Back to the daily posts...

Tonight as we read in the cool of our living room, a house finch serenades us from a tree across the street. He sounds most jubilant. Eventually he flies to the hanging flower right outside our doorway, chirping querulously as if stopping by to say hello. Meanwhile, the young man next door is out on his back deck lazily strumming on his guitar, not really playing a song, just trying out random, pretty phrases. And across the river someone is playing a jazz album loudly enough that the clear tones of a trumpet drift through the hazy, humid air, mingling with the sound of the rushing water. A song sparrow sings now, counterpoint to the house finch. And there's the neighbor's chihuahua, it's incessant yipping adding high notes to the mix.

Each one plays its part:
House finch, river, kid's guitar,
jazz, the hazy night.

Friday, September 2, 2011

September 2: Fonts of Nature

While running today along Route 105, headed south, my attention was drawn to a view of Mount Megunticook rising craggy and forested beyond a bend in the smooth as glass Megunticook River. Only a patch of lily pads marred the river's surface. The setting sun was hitting the mountain full force, causing the tree-covered mountainside to glow with all the power of summer. The river reflected the green patterns of trees on both banks. It was a moment of perfect calm and beauty: still water, still mountain. I was so entranced I veered toward the center of the road, only realizing my distraction as a car neared.

On the opposite river bank, a slender poplar or birch curved down toward the water. The trunk and the reflected trunk formed the two arms of a K, with a straight trunk immediately to the left forming the left side. My initial, written by trees and river.

For my eyes only?
Glimpse of calm river, mountain,
signed with a tree K.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

September 1: September begins...

The air feels like September: crisp at night, brilliant blue sky during the day. The bay's a deeper blue than the sky. I had lunch on an outside patio today overlooking the ocean, feeling fortunate to have such beauty (almost) in my back yard.

A fat goldfinch fledgling hung out gorging in our window feeder, even after I pulled the car into the driveway next to it.

Around the corner tucked in between the house and the propane tank, with dead leaves stuck to its web, sits a giant mottled brown-and-white spider. It's both repellent and fascinating. More fascinating than the large spider that wouldn't leave my bathroom sink this morning.

The air already smells of leaf mold. Fern fronds are browned, curled up. Hum of the crickets has a tone that's somewhere between desperate and comforting.

The Strawberry Candy day lily has bloomed again in one last fit of summer flowering.

These in-between days,
that bittersweet edge--blue skies
and one red maple.