Monday, October 31, 2011

October 31: The Living and the Dead

As soon as we got home from the gym tonight, trick-or-treaters began arriving at the door: zombies, a little monkey, a giraffe, a chef, the usual ghosts and skeletons, a bedazzled witch, and my favorite one so far, a fishing boat. The little boy who was the fishing boat had to make his way carefully to the doorway, as his very accurate, structural costume was almost dory-sized. Upon his arrival, he turned carefully around so that I could dump candy into a little lobster trap hatch on his aft end. I gave him a lot of candy because his costume was so creative. Also, because I went to high school with his father, who is now a boat captain. Good to see the nautical leaning and creativity is being carried on in the next generation.

Thinking about the next generation seems appropriate on this evening when I'm also thinking about generations past. This time of year, when the boundary between the living and the dead is thinnest, it's proper to both appease the spirits of the dead and honor them--as with the Hispanic holiday Day of the Dead, when families spruce up the cemeteries and have big picnics among the family headstones. Having had several friends and an uncle pass away in the past year, I've been thinking about "my dead" today, missing them and reminiscing about good times shared.

Children at my door--
ghosts, witches--while memories
rise of those passed on.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

October 30: First Snow

This has got to be one of the earliest first snowfalls (of any accumulation) that I can remember in this coastal town. However, it did not add up to the predicted 6-8 inches we were supposed to get. I'm not sure if I'm disappointed by this or not. On one hand, the first snow is always really exciting somehow; on the other, we're no doubt going to be getting plenty of snow over the next 6 months or more. The storm came with some gusty winds, which woke me up throughout the night, gave me strange dreams, and blew free our string of prayer flags on the shed, carrying our prayers to the heavens.

Our backyard this morning, Megunticook River winding through
My husband and I were entertained this morning when the snow plow went by. The kids across the street having a snowball fight were probably just as effective at scooping up the meager layer of snow in the street as the plow--but I have no doubt that the plow guy just really wanted to get out there and play around and make some noise, necessary or not.

The snow does contrast beautifully with the remaining fall leaves, reminding us that we're still in that time of seasonal transition, on the cusp between fall and winter. And, appropriately, between the living and the dead: tomorrow night is Hallowe'en (or Samhain, pagan new year), a liminal time when the wall between the living and the dead is thinnest. Thus, the arrival of ghosts and demons that continue to haunt our neighborhoods, to be appeased by treats. This snow fall was just the precursor of shifts and changes to come.

Night of first snow fall
I dreamed a new house, and owls:
transitions coming.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

October 29: Deer

Winter ducks are starting to arrive on our ponds--on Maces Pond this morning we saw 42 ring-necked ducks, 13 buffleheads, and 7 ruddy ducks. Also, many geese in fields. The waterfowl are piling up. Having nested far north of here, this is their idea of a winter getaway. At least as long as there's open water.

And tonight we're supposed to get our first winter storm--though it's yet unclear if we're going to get mostly snow or rain here on the coast. As we were driving home from errands today, my husband remarked that it felt more like late November than late October. The sky has that late fall cast, true, but some of the trees are still hanging onto their leaves, perhaps clutching their colorful foliage afghans as protection against the snow and wind to come.

As we were about to pass a farm field where we often see deer, my husband commented on how we probably wouldn't be seeing them there for a while now. Today is the first day of (firearms) hunting season (for Maine residents; for everyone else, it's Monday. For bow hunters, it's already started.) Just as he said that, I picked out the forms of two does standing together in the usual spot in the field, their gray bodies barely visible in the dying light. I hope they behave a bit more cautiously after the snow falls and deer become much easier to track. And if the snow cover lingers, I bet there will be a lot of hunters taking some time off on Monday.

Deer on a gray day--
how easily they're hidden
in this bleak landscape.

Friday, October 28, 2011

October 28: Slender Moon

I spent my day in a leadership class at Cellardoor Winery in Lincolnville, its renovated new space (what used to be an old farmhouse attached to a barn) a beautiful venue for a group get-together. We enjoyed views of a mountain in the distance (Levenseller?), lingering foliage of orange and gold, the vineyard's neat rows, vast mown fields, a pond, and a rainbow-colored line-up of Adirondack chairs. After our day's class, we then partook in a delicious wine-food pairing. At one point in the tasting session, someone from the winery mentioned "body-to-body pairing," in which you combine a complex wine with a complex food to bring out the best in each. I like that phrase for many reasons and left thinking that was somehow going to be the subject of today's haiku.
This is what I was going to write about...
But then as I was driving home past Megunticook Lake at dusk, I happened to glance to my right, across the calm water of the lake. The lake's surface was so calm, and the day so cold, that I had to remind myself that I wasn't looking at ice. Beyond the still water, blue and deep, rose the dark form of Bald Mountain, with just one house lit up in its center like a welcoming lantern. And above the mountain's smooth shape hung the slimmest slender crescent of the brand-new moon. If there had been a place to stop and pull over, I would have done so. Instead, I admired the simple, iconic beauty of the scene as best I could without driving off the road (lake on one side, mountain on the other). I'm a sucker for the moon. At least half of our artwork includes the moon in some form. So I guess it's no surprise that even after spending my day looking out on the idyllic landscape of the vineyard, I'd be most inspired by the moon.

Dusk: new moon setting.
Barely there, this slim crescent
trumps the fall vineyard.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

October 27: Snow Soon

Friends in Hope, just 10 minutes away, saw snowflakes falling this morning. Friends in Vermont shared photos of snowy fields. As I left work tonight I could feel the snow waiting in the chilled white air. The sky looked like a sheet of ice, the color of a pond before you skate on it. It probably was ice in some literal, crystalline way. There's a profound sense of stillness out there now, a big cold pause before the snow starts falling here too. It's just a matter of time. And yet, my body can't help but want to resist this quick shift toward winter, this sudden cold. Maybe I'm influenced by a book I just read set in the Everglades, but I have an urge to run away to Florida right about now...

Waiting for first snow,
for flakes to fall on green grass.
We're never ready.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

October 26: Another Eagle

Pulling into the office parking lot this morning, I stopped quick. Across the lot, at the top of a tree, was a large, dark lump. Was it a vulture? A hawk? I wished I had binoculars. But then it turned its head, the light caught on white feathers: bald eagle!

I slowly pulled into the lot, hoping that I wouldn't startle the big bird from its perch. I was able to park, open my window, and get my camera from the back seat. For over five minutes I snapped away while the eagle hung out, observing the river, preening its back feathers, looking around. Eventually I had to get to work, but the bird barely seemed to notice as I opened the car door and got out. I was able to get a few more photos before it decided to move on, slowly flapping those huge wings over to the other side of the river and disappearing into the trees. I took a deep breath full of gratitude and headed in to the office. How many people get to start their work day like that? (And most days, I even like my job too!)

Eagle hanging out.
I sit here staring, smiling,
beneath its notice.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

October 25: Just like Colorado

Looking out my office window today, a glowing golden poplar caught my eye. I was reminded of autumn aspen groves in Colorado--the almost ethereal sight of round leaves like gold coins shining against a backdrop of many straight pale tree trunks. As I was thinking this, I commented to a co-worker, "Look at that one beautiful tree out there." "I was just thinking that it reminded me of Colorado," she replied. I had to laugh. I guess once you've experienced such a sight, it resonates throughout the rest of your experiences of the natural world.
Western light reflects
on poplar leaves, reminds me
of aspens, things past.

Monday, October 24, 2011

October 24: Wood Duck

A birder friend visiting Orlando, Florida, emailed today that she gotten her first long looks at a male wood duck in breeding plumage. Her exact words were: "Holy #%&@!" Here's what he looks like, so you can understand her justifiable excitement:
Photo credit: Arjan Haverkamp for Wikimedia Commons
He's really a flamboyant bird, one of the more colorful in North America. You couldn't make that bird up if you tried, even if you went at it with crayons in a coloring book. I was one of the Maine judges for the Junior Duck Stamp contest this spring, and a lot of the young artists chose the wood duck as their subject. I think they enjoyed being able to use all those colors--so much more dramatic than the understated plumage of most waterfowl. And I just learned that the official duck stamp for 2012-13 will be a wood duck, painted by artist Joseph Hautman.

My friend suggested I write a wood duck haiku. Having spent the whole day in a not unpleasant but certainly not poetically inspiring class on volunteer management, I was happy to oblige her. (Thanks for the poetic nudge, Cathy! I hope you see more exciting bird life while you're in warmer climes.)

Holy s**t! Wood duck!
Is his gaudy plumage real?
I can't stop looking.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

October 23: Conclave of Ravens

This morning I joined a group of friends for brunch atop Ragged Mountain. We rode up the chairlift two-by-two, with bags of bagels, a box of coffee, and sundry bagel spreads, and found a spot in the sun for our picnic. The sunlit fall foliage looked brighter, the bay sparkled in the distance, and we felt fortunate to have picked such a beautiful day for our outing.

View from Ragged Mountain to Penobscot Bay, Mount Battie 
At one point I noticed a swirl of dark birds in the sky above the summit of Ragged, to our northwest. I figured they were a kettle of vultures, which live in these mountains and are often seen soaring over the ridge line. This was, after all, a perfect day to ride thermals. But they weren't vultures, they were ravens. While ravens also live in the Camden Hills, it's unusual to see such a large group of them all together, hanging out, as it were. This time of year it could be a family group, or it could be a flock of young birds gathered to spend the winter together in a little corvid conclave. They were joined by a red-tailed hawk, which didn't seem to be interacting with them in an aggressive way. Rather, the birds seemed to be enjoying the unseasonably warm morning air together, much as we all were down below on the sunny ledge.

Twelve humans observe
nine ravens, all enjoying
sunny mountaintop.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

October 22: Walk

Despite a slight cold that's left me a bit tired and achy the past few days, I eagerly participated in today's four-club Rotary marathon walk for polio. The idea was that each of the four local Rotary clubs--Rockland, Camden, West Bay (also in Camden), and Belfast would each walk a 6.25-mile leg of a route that would start at the two ends, in Rockland and Belfast, and have us meeting in the middle--conveniently located at the Whale's Tooth Pub in Lincolnville Beach. My club, West Bay, began our southbound leg at Northport Marine on Route One, after a hand-off from the Belfast club.

I drive that stretch of Route One all the time, but there's nothing like on-the-ground experience to help you notice things. Like the beautiful views of Ducktrap Mountain and the Camden Hills you get from the tops of several rises in Northport, the colorful slopes periodically lit by sun breaking through the clouds. Or all the narrow driveways that head off toward the water along that stretch. Or the number of cardinals calling from the underbrush, or scenic streams passing under the road. Businesses had popped up that I somehow hadn't yet noticed from my car. You also see first-hand what's underfoot, literally--strewn trash, roadkill, toppled street signs, how close the shoulder is to a seriously deep ravine.

There's also nothing like a shared physical endeavor to help people connect. I enjoyed several conversations with various fellow Rotarians as we walked along Route One with our red balloons. I'm relatively new to the club, so it was a good bonding experience for me. As was the camaraderie after at the Pub. People should get out and walk together in big groups more often, even if just for the pleasure of it. (Not that walking for charity is a bad thing--for every $6 we raised, 20 kids will get polio vaccinations.)

Walk for charity
but also for that cardinal,
view, conversation.

Friday, October 21, 2011

October 21: Late last night

Coming home last night from a late dinner with a friend, I was surprised to get out of my car into a summer evening. When I had left the office for an event that afternoon, the rain had just stopped and clouds were beginning to blow away eastward, revealing patches of blue sky. It wasn't until I saw the night sky at 9:45 p.m., however, that I realized what a change had taken place. Thanks to the streetlight in front of our house still being out, the view from my front lawn was beautiful: to the east, Jupiter hanging brightly over the shoulder of Mount Battie, the Pleiades a hazy cluster nearby; to the west, Milky Way running right over our roof. A warm breeze blew, shuffling the leaves on the lawn, and for a few moments I just looked up in awe. Then I unlocked the door, turned on the porch light, and said goodnight to the stars.

Easy to forget
while it's raining: all those stars,
Milky Way's bright path.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

October 20: Coots

Yesterday my birder friend Don Reimer reported seeing coots on Chickawaukie Lake in Rockland. This in itself is nothing unusual. Each fall a raft of coots, slate-grey waterbirds that are often mistaken for ducks, visits the lake until it ices over, usually hanging around into December. Part of the lake is in our Christmas Bird Count area, and most years we're out there counting coots the last Saturday before Christmas. One year we even came across a red-tailed hawk eating a coot near the public beach area of the lake. A coot is a good meal for a bird of prey, though apparently not very tasty to humans. (We debated whether or not to count that coot in our day's tally, and decided that since it had been alive earlier in the day, it was countable.)

So coots are regulars on the lake this time of year. What was remarkable about Don's report yesterday was the number of coots he observed: 615! I think the most I've ever seen at one time was 50 - 60 birds, 100 at most. I had to see this for myself. So on the way to a meeting in Rockland I stopped by the public beach parking lot. Offshore, I could see a dark mass on the water, a dense island of coots. A smaller bird could have walked across their backs. Without binoculars I had no way to really count them for myself, which would've been a challenge anyway because they were really packed together. Taking a moment to survey the scene, their behavior began to make sense to me. Perched in a nearby tree, looking right at the coot pack, was a big adult bald eagle. The coots were huddled up for security--a straggler would be fair game for the eagle.

Raft of coots afloat
till hungry hawks come, or ice
fills their wayside lake.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

October 19: Chestnut

One of my co-workers brought this into the office today:

These days, most people would not immediately recognize this as the burrs and nuts of an American chestnut, which was once the dominant tree of Appalachia. For centuries, this tree produced one of the primary mast crops that fed the deer, bears, and turkeys of the Eastern forests. Devastated by an introduced disease for which it had no immunity, this native chestnut has been reduced to small remnant stands of varying degrees of health. Here in Maine, only a handful of undiseased, mature trees remain, with a few of them found in the Midcoast. This set of burrs with nuts was apparently found on the Megunticook Golf Course in Rockport. 

The Maine Chapter of the American Chestnut Foundation, which is working to develop a blight-resistant strain of this once majestic species, calls their newsletter The Tree Urchin. One look at the burr and you can understand where the name came from. I was so drawn by this striking plant part--I'm trying not to call it a "set of nuts"!--that I immediately photographed it. I think what attracts me are the graceful leaves and smooth nuts contrasted with the crazy spiked burrs which have split so they look like muppets with their mouths open. Or cracked sea urchins. But I'm also very drawn to them as artifacts of our natural heritage that two hundred years ago would have been as recognizable to you and me as an acorn, or the non-native, not-so-edible horse chestnut that we grew up with instead. 

Passenger pigeons
once gorged on these chestnuts. Both
bird and tree now gone.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

October 18: Pines

This afternoon I walked with a friend along the Little River Community Hiking Trail that begins just off Route One at the Belfast Water District. We set out on a brief hike on this surprisingly mild day, following the trail along the edge of the Little River reservoir up to where it narrows into the river itself. Near the beginning of the trail, you get an unusual perspective on the reservoir behind the dam seeming to pour off into space, with a glimpse of its outlet into the cove beyond. It looks sort of like an infinity pool at the ocean's edge, only set among fall trees rather than fancy landscaping. (From the other side, from Route One, this dam and waterfall with adjacent red buildings are very picturesque.)

The trail hugs the water's edge, so as we walked, we flushed from the water a few flocks of mallards. In certain seasons, I can imagine the mostly-forested reservoir attracting lots of ducks. Red squirrels scolded us periodically. We heard some white-throated sparrows calling in the underbrush and were stopped in our tracks by the cackling call of a pileated woodpecker, which shortly thereafter flew in front of us across the trail deeper into the woods.

But what I enjoyed most about the trail was the pine trees. The Water District property hosts quite a few really old pines, the kind with trunks too big to get your arms around, rising so straight and tall you can almost imagine them as the King's Pines of 400 years ago--the ones they saved for masts for the royal navy. These dramatic trees were true presences in the forest, lordly beings in their own right. And they had scattered their yellow needles in a carpet along the trail, cushioning each step so that we couldn't help but walk in a hush from tree to tree.

We pass quietly
noble old pines, but squirrel
scolds, gives us away.

Monday, October 17, 2011

October 17: Bald Eagle!

Every now and then a shout will go up around our (admittedly small) office: "Bald eagle!" We'll all rush to the windows facing the Megunticook River and Mount Battie and look for the bird. Eagles fly up and down the river on a regular basis, sometimes even perching on a riverside tree nearby to watch for fish or harass ducks. Several pairs nest on Megunticook Lake, and the birds seem to use the river as a regular pathway to follow as they fly to and from the harbor.
Bald Eagle on Megunticook Lake. Photo by Roger Wickenden.
So while eagles are not uncommon around here, I still get excited to see one every time that call goes out. This morning I was in a meeting when an eagle flew past the window, then soared above the river a few times, its white head and tail shining in the sunlight. I jumped out of my seat to follow it with my eyes. I'm a sucker for big, soaring birds of prey, I guess. Or perhaps it's a holdover from when I was a kid, when seeing an eagle was a very rare thing. Even though it's fortunately much less unusual these days--eagles having made a healthy comeback in post-DDT years--the sight of one is something I hope to never take for granted.

Look! Sunlit eagle
follows river's winding path,
white feathers aglow.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

October 16: Herbs

I planted my first herb garden at the house where we lived the longest when I was growing up. I think I was about 12. My dad helped me build a hexagonal frame for it, and, surprisingly, it flourished. I remember that the key plants were parsley, sage, and thyme, with a clump of mint that grew out of control, chives, and lamb's ears, because I loved how soft and fuzzy the leaves were. I would often find our family cat lounging in the bed of thyme or chewing on the mint, and I was thrilled when my mother would occasionally add my chives to a salad.

In the years since, I've created several more herb gardens, and when I couldn't have an actual garden, tried to keep pots of herbs around the house. When we bought our current house, one of the first things I did after we moved in was to balance out a nice perennial bed that already existed on one side of the front lawn with an herb garden on the other, anchored by a lilac bush that had been a housewarming gift. Six years later, I've got fennel, a couple of different mints, parsley, sage, thyme, lavender, several clumps of chives, echinacea (ok, not really an herb, but I needed something tall), and maybe some oregano out there.

The funny thing is, I don't really do anything with these herbs. Sure, the parsley and fennel were supposedly grown for my husband to use in his cooking, but he never remembers they're there before they go to flower. But I like their unpretentious flowers. And I like the fact that the greenery of my herbs is beautiful, fragrant, and at least potentially useful. When I mow the lawn along the garden's edge and smell crushed lemon thyme or the oniony scent of chopped chives, I always smile. This afternoon I harvested a big bunch of sage and some lavender ostensibly to dry for some future purpose. But really, I just did it because I wanted to breathe in their fresh aromas, to have those scents mingling in the air of my kitchen. And to feel like my garden has produced at least this small bounty.

Handful of sage boughs
trimmed while raking leaves today--
harvest of fragrance.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

October 15: Grass

When I was a kid, going to the dump was a fascinating experience. This was back when the dump was really an open-air "dump," with everyone's trash spilling down giant, smelly mounds covered with squealing gulls. I didn't dare leave the safety of the car, but the swirling masses of gulls pulling at and fighting over various rubbish oddities certainly kept me distracted from the disgusting smell long enough for my parents to toss their trash.

Now all that's a landfill and transfer station, with big containers for recycling. While it's not as colorful as it used to be, it's not as gross, either. In fact, as I was waiting in the car this morning for my husband to empty our last bin of recyclables, I was captivated by a mound covered with tall, deep green grass. The grass rippled in waves in the brisk breeze, catching the sunlight, creating mesmerizing visual patterns. While I knew that underneath the grass moulder decades of trash, including that of my own family, what I could see there on the surface at least was beautiful.

Grass at the landfill--
our old trash feeding the roots,
rippling waves of blades.

Friday, October 14, 2011

October 14: Bird Flurry

Some days I won't see a bird at the feeders all day and then suddenly a flurry of them will arrive all at once. Several species have a tendency to travel in packs, and these mixed flocks will travel around in loose affiliation looking for food--be it in the form of feeders, berry bushes, seed-bearing grasses, or a hatch of flies. The advantage to this seemingly cooperative behavior is not so much altruism as the fact that more eyes can more efficiently find food and keep a look out for potential threats. 

Birders on the prowl will listen for chickadees and then see what else is tagging along with these vocal, gregarious little birds. Or you might hear a birder imitate the whinnying call of a screech owl, which serves the purpose of drawing in chickadees--who hope to scold and harass the owl into leaving the area--and their tagalong cohorts. Sometimes these can be interesting warblers or sparrows passing through, or more often local residents like the downy woodpecker.  

The flock that usually hits my feeders includes chickadees and titmice, and occasionally some goldfinches, a nuthatch or two, and maybe a cardinal. (I use the word "hits" deliberately, as the repetition of thumps as each bird lands on the feeder, one after another in quick succession, can sound like a minor assault on my windows.) Today's five-minute bird blast came in the form of several titmice, a few chickadees, and one female cardinal. The suddenness of this avian visitation shook me out of work mode  for a few moments, forced a break in my routine as I watched to see who might show up. And then, as quickly as they appeared, they were all gone, moving on in the rain. 

Fall rain falling fast.
Birds here, a feeding flurry,
then gone. Still, the rain.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

October 13: Ambulance

Driving down a country road in the rain past hayfields and an inert tractor, I saw flashing lights up ahead. Their red and blue were just a confusing blur through raindrops on my windshield till I drew closer. A police car and an ambulance were parked in front of an old farm house. No people in sight; the unmoving facade of the house a blank mask for whatever drama was playing out inside.

One minute you're driving along, listening to music, thinking about some task you need to finish up at work. The next... flashing lights! Emergency! A potentially life-changing event is happening to someone. I don't know who lives in that house, will probably never know what was going on. But you see an ambulance parked there accompanied by a police car--meaning, this is serious--and you can't help but think how quickly life can take a strange and urgent turn.

Lights a wet red pulse,
ambulance waits in the rain.
Alive, I drive past.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

October 12: Lingering Vultures

Soaring above the tinted trees and the river this morning were a pair of vultures, dark wings spread wide. The two raptors tilted and turned in ever-widening circles as I watched. While most hawks have headed south at this point, vultures linger on. Last year I remember seeing them into November, and they returned as early as late February this year. Pretty soon, they won't even bother to leave. Is this a sign of global warming? Or is this just the continued northern dispersal of a southern species, one that first arrived in midcoast Maine just over 30 years ago? I have a strong memory of seeing the first ones appear in the skies over Bald Mountain when I was a teenager playing tennis at the Snow Bowl courts. I'd just seen them for the first time in Florida, so it was with some surprised that I recognized them here. Vultures nest on Bald to this day.

And, if vultures are here to stay, do we have enough unfrozen dead meat around to feed this species through the winter? Unlike their black vulture cousins, turkey vultures only eat what's already dead. I recall a news story of a woman in New York who elicited complaints from her neighbor because she left steaks out on her roof to attract the vultures. What she saw as a beautiful bird others saw as a rather gruesome nuisance.

I'm not sure I'd toss meat out in my yard to attract them, but I do love to watch them soar. And there's something particularly dramatic about seeing these large, black birds circling above the blushing autumn forest.

Before they head south,
vultures glory in fall air,
fiery leaves below.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

October 11: Sumac

As I drove on an errand on this perfect, sunny autumn afternoon, stereo loud, I exclaimed to myself each time I passed a particularly stunning set of trees sporting fall colors. The garish colors matched the volume of my music and my elevated spirits. Roadside stands of sumacs in particular stood out, their long, arched pennants of leaves a deep, rich red.

If you look at the patchwork of colors that makes up a fall forest, you can often tell what species are in the mix. Poplar and birch leaves are yellow coins, maple leaves are yellow-orange-bright red hands, oak leaves are red-brown hands, beech leaves are yellow-brown flags, needles of the tamarack--the only deciduous conifer--form yellow-gold tufts. What at first glance looks like a random riot of color really reflects a certain order of things. But it's easy to overlook, amazed as we are by the breath-taking transformation of our woods, the trees' last hurrah before snow falls.

October's untamed:
red manes and tails of sumacs,
one black crow, roadside.

Monday, October 10, 2011

October 10: Hypnotizing a Chicken

My friend Janet called to see if I wanted to come over and help her hypnotize a chicken. Someone had mentioned it to her, so she'd looked it up online and thought it sounded relatively easy. How could I resist?

It was such a warm day the chickens were huddled under an overturned garden cart for shade. We lured them out by feeding them soybeans fresh from the vine and admired their plumage in the fall sunshine. Janet has several varieties of laying hen: Araucanas with exquisite black-tipped gold feathers, some other gold type with mottled plumage like an exotic partridge, black-and-white checkered Barred Rocks, and a beautiful Brahma rooster with iridescent hackles just getting his crowing voice. The "girls" are only 4-1/2 months old, so have just begun laying, their little red combs an indication that they've just reached maturity. A chicken flock is fascinating to observe: the rooster struts around keeping an eye on his harem, the hens seem to focus solely on any potential source of food, tilting their heads to look up at you as if to ask where their soybeans are. There's a definite pecking order, too, with some hens not getting a bean even if we dropped it right in front of them. 

Then there's the bevy of pretty Barred Rocks being grown for meat. These girls are a little older and bigger than the laying set. Janet decided to catch one of them for our hypnotism attempt, rather than disturb one of her layers and potentially miss out on a precious egg.  

Step One: Catch a hen.

 Step Two: Hold the hen firmly but gently on the ground, and with a stick repeatedly draw a line in the dirt with the chicken's bill as the starting point.

Step Three: Let go of the hen to see if it worked.

This is one relaxed hen.
Janet did all the work, while I documented the process in photographs. I don't think either of us anticipated that she'd actually succeed, but as you can see, we ended up with one very calm hen for about 30 seconds. She just sat there sprawled on the ground in a sort of trance, until she suddenly came to, jumped up, and ran off. Unfortunately I couldn't photograph the ensuing chaos, as I was too busy helping to catch her again. She soon rejoined her flock seemingly unaffected by the experiment, more concerned about snagging more soybeans. Perhaps her moment of focused meditation gave her some brief (h)enlightenment, but we'll never know.

Mindfully focused,
the hen falls into a trance.
Chicken mind, calm mind.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

October 9: Northern Cross

On Friday night when we returned home late from dinner, I paused outside the house to admire the clear, star-filled sky. The streetlight that usually floods the front of our house with light is out, so now, when the weather allows, we've actually been able to fully appreciate the stars.

We picked out Jupiter to the southeast over Mount Battie, its steady light distinguishing this bright planet from our brightest stars. And as I looked up over our house, a set of stars called the Northern Cross poised upright over our roof. I pointed it out to my husband, told him our house was blessed. We had just been engaged in a long dinner conversation with friends about (mostly unusual or extreme) religious beliefs and practices. "Is that some sort of story?" he asked, thinking that I was noting a Christian folk belief. "That's my story," I told him. "I just decided that."

The Northern Cross is actually encompassed by a constellation long recognized (for a millenium or so) in the Western world as Cygnus, the Swan. Its brightest star Deneb is at the top of the cross, and is one of three stars that makes up another asterism known as the Summer Triangle, along with Altair (in Aquila, the Eagle) and Vega (in Lyra, the Lyre). Deneb is also considered to be the tail of the Swan, so this bird too is headed south, pointing the way for all those living birds migrating overhead in the cloudless dark.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

October 8: Wild Geese

This morning while at the YMCA gym I happened to glance out the window just as seven geese flew past. (In my memory now I hear them honking, but I couldn't have, because I was listening to my iPod.) They were flying in a tight line northeastward, over the town transfer station's landfill which abuts the Y. It struck me that even a brief glimpse of a few geese heading out over the dump is still a stirring sight, but I'm not sure why that is. It's not like seeing a Canada goose around here is unusual: a family nested and hung out within sight of my office all summer, and local farm fields currently host flocks of dozens.

In part, I think we earth-bound humans often feel uplifted watching a large bird take flight, something we can only do in dreams or with mechanical assistance. Years ago I dreamed I was riding on the back of a large grey goose as we flew over mountains carpeted in fall colors, and I've never forgotten how that felt. Also, as autumn progresses, the sight of a bird we all identify with migration must swirl something restless within our own souls: flying geese = winter's onset. Even those of us who love winter must respond, must feel a small, unconscious tug to follow the birds and warmth, to head south. Humans originated as creatures of the heat and sun, after all.

So the honking of geese overhead in the dark in the fall is for most a sound of deep poignance. As a classical Japanese kigo or season word, migrating birds, or wataridori is a traditional indicator of fall. I know I'm far from alone in being moved to poetry by this phenomenon--one might even say it's a bit of a cliche--and yet that handful of geese flying over the dump, not even migrating yet, are what struck a chord in my heart this morning.

Seven wild geese flew
and my heart longed to follow
through the deep blue sky.

Friday, October 7, 2011

October 7: Ducktrap Harbor

One of my favorite local spots is a small town park at the tip of Howe Point, which ends at the mouth of the Ducktrap River in Lincolnville. When I was a kid, I'd come with my family to this cobble beach to pick mussels, look for crabs under the rocks, and swim in the deep waters of the river channel, jumping in and letting the tide pull me into the ocean. This was also a high school hangout, where we congregated on weekend nights, shivering as we stood around in the dark sipping cans of Bud. And it's still a place I like to come with a beach chair and a book on a free summer morning. Or this time of year, to enjoy the quiet and my memories while observing migrating waterfowl.

This morning I had the place all to myself: high tide, sun dazzling the beach, harbor dotted with ducks. I counted 54 red-breasted mergansers scattered on the harbor, as well as two green-winged teals very close to shore on the river side of the point. The green speculum on the teals' wings flashed a brilliant emerald in the morning light. A ring-billed gull squealed from the shore, as a young double-crested cormorant repeatedly dove in the river channel, bringing up small fish. A crow flew into the tree over my head, silent; two more flew low over the stones further up the beach, looking for something, anything.

View to the harbor, with Islesboro a dark line on the horizon
Sun-dazzled harbor--
ten minutes here watching ducks
sets the whole day's tone.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

October 6: First Frost

When I went out to my car for an early morning meeting, running late as usual, I was delayed even further by the unexpected task of having to scrape frost off my car windows. The lush, mown lawns in my neighborhood bore a pale sheen of frost, and the morning air felt frigid to my thin skin. Thankfully, I'd brought my geranium in the night before. Friends are scrambling to harvest one last round of vegetables, as another freeze is due tonight. And still the leaves remain on the trees, green, barely touched by color. They must know something we don't. I'm ready to haul out my Uggs and call it winter, but then I hear rumors that this weekend it's supposed to get back up into the 70s. Ah, the joys of living in Maine amid its vagaries of weather.

Before sunrise, frost--
but not yet on the pumpkin
freshly picked, uncarved.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

October 5: Leaf

A moment of beauty amid the mundane: I've just parked my car in downtown Camden, and I'm scooting around to the passenger side door so I can get out my registration and insurance card to register my car at the town office across the street. As I open the door, I notice a single, perfect, bright yellow leaf on the sidewalk,  a composite of five leaflets on one twig. The parent tree, an ash, immediately recognizable by its straight, grooved trunk, shades the village green. It's probably been there for a century or so. The leaf I find is the only yellow one visible, the only one fallen--the rest of the foliage in sight is still green and on the boughs. So I pick up the leaf offering and stash it on the front seat. Later, when I'm done with my errands and back in the car, the sight of it makes me smile.

Why this leaf fallen
when the park is still so green?
Hint of things to come...

In light of this moment and then the news tonight of the death of Steve Jobs, 56, founder of Apple, I got to thinking about mortality. A dear friend unexpectedly passed away a couple of weeks ago (he was barely older than Steve Jobs), and this quotation attributed to Steve Jobs that was going around Facebook tonight spoke to me like that single ash leaf:
‎"No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true. Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose." - Steve Jobs in 2005 after being diagnosed with cancer

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

October 4: First Tree

There's a maple tree outside my office window that's always the first to turn in fall. Today it caught my eye, the reddening leaves glistening in the rain. It's the only tree in sight that's changed color to that extent, and the vivid red is so flamboyant that it's as if the tree is showing off. Maybe that's why it's always first, because it wants to be sure to be noticed before all the other trees join suit.

Even one red tree
turns the whole forest to fall.
Who can look away?

Monday, October 3, 2011

October 3: Texture

When I left work this evening the blue sky above the rim of trees was ribbed with clouds. I was reminded of fashion magazines touting texture for fall styles: tweeds, bulky knit sweaters, wide wale corduroy, suede, and faux fur. Here we've got poufy clouds contrasting with the thin rippling lines of those ribs. The sky trying on its fall fashions, with just a flash of blue. No reds, oranges, or yellows yet.

When I left the gym later this evening, most of the sky had cleared, but Mount Battie wore a cap of thick mist.

Sky's a ribbed sweater
and mountain wears a cloud cap--
visual comfort.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

October 2: Return

After nearly two weeks away on an island I'm back home, slowly acclimatizing to "regular life" again. The dreary rain suits my mood.

I sleep in late, rise
to the sound of rain, not waves,
my head full of mist.

October 1: Trap Day

The lobstering season on Monhegan Island, where I've been hanging out for nearly two weeks, begins October 1. Monhegan lobster fishermen, of which there are nine boat captains (including two women), traditionally fish through the winter in hopes of getting a better price for their lobsters. (It also leaves their summers free to pursue other fish or other jobs.) So Saturday morning the boats all started out from the harbor laden with traps, undaunted by a pre-dawn thunderstorm and thick mist. Even from my inn I could hear the cheering from the wharf as the boats chugged out into the fog to set their 300 traps in precise locations on the ocean's floor.

It's hard to watch them go and not try to imagine what that must be like in January, hauling traps out of 45-degree water with freezing spray blowing across your bow. It's a life of hard work but a certain freedom--the ocean is your office. Or, at least the bit of ocean that surrounds the island in which the Monhegan lobster fishermen have exclusive fishing rights.
The wharf on Trap Day
Leaving the island on Trap Day is a bit daunting, as the "ferry" boats pull up to the same wharf as the fishing boats. A fishing boat can only hold so many traps at a time, so the remaining traps sit on the wharf until the boat returns to re-load. So boats are re-loading most of the morning, with the ferry having to grab a few minutes between them to get passengers and luggage on board. Passengers are funneled on board through walls of traps, while the wharf and harbor bustle around them--the true way of island life revived for another season.

Everyone chips in:
drag a trap, play some music.
This is island life.