Tuesday, January 31, 2012

January 31: Snow falling

A light snow has been falling through most of this last day of January. I can still see it falling, the swirling flakes illuminated within the column of light cast by a streetlight, a thin dusting of the purest white layering my car. Such a slow snowfall with so little accumulation--this is no storm, nothing truly dangerous, but the spirits of winter at their most benevolent, bringing us a taste of what can sometimes be a quiet and beautiful season. No doubt at some point a snow plow will come rumbling through to scrape the streets. But for now it's soothing to simply watch the mesmerizing flakes tumble through the light, then move back into the dark and fall to the frozen earth.

This dusting of snow--
tomorrow cat prints will bloom
across the white lawn.

Monday, January 30, 2012

January 30: Birch in the headlights

As I drove away from my office tonight, having just been dazzled by the vision of the waxing moon, Jupiter, and Venus all crowded together big and bright in the western sky, the sweep of my headlights briefly caught a young birch tree. As this many-trunked little tree loomed out of the dark before me, I was brought instantly back to earth. The tree looked like a stark white witch's hand with long, grasping fingers reaching up into the dark sky, the planet-riddled night.

White birch on dark night--
cold hand reaching for the stars,
and the cold moon too.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

January 29: A Poem by Anne Porter

I heard an Anne Porter poem, "Winter Twilight," read by Garrison Keillor on "The Writer's Almanac" several days ago, and I can't get it out of my head. I think it resonates so strongly because it's very close to my own sensibility and aesthetic; without at all meaning to sound full of myself, I feel like I could have written that poem. All winter I've been looking up at the squirrel dreys (nests) wondering how to turn those big clumps of leaves into something poetic. And she did it so naturally, so perfectly. I think I would have enjoyed talking with her about her craft, although much of her poetry takes a more religious turn than my own. Alas, she passed away well before I had the chance to meet her, but I was fortunate enough to stay in her house once.

Anne Porter was the wife of the artist Fairfield Porter, whose work I much admire. In 2008 I attended Art Week, a retreat held on Great Spruce Head Island, which is still owned by the Porter family, on the other side of Penobscot Bay. A handful of artists and one other writer and I spent a wonderful week in what had been Anne and Fairfield's house, inspired by Anne's poetry (read by her niece Anina, who runs the retreat), Fairfield's art (including a painting of the great room where we spent most of our time, looking utterly unchanged, as well as the family of dragons he painted on the upper walls of that same great room), and brother Eliot's photography (his color bird photography was some of the first and best of its kind).

Ah, that's what I wish
I'd said about dreys, the moon.
But grateful she did.

January 28: Gulls and bagpipes

Walking the sidewalks of Portland waiting for my husband to finish up with an appointment, I could swear I heard the sound of live bagpipes playing "Scotland the Brave." Sure enough, as I got closer to the little park near Middle and Exchange Streets, the sound grew louder, until I could see a young man, standing behind a bench with a jar in front of him, playing the pipes. The music swelled and resonated in the space between the city buildings--bagpipes are not quiet instruments--yet people just walked on by, hardly giving him a second glance. Maybe he plays out there every day. I'm one-quarter Scottish via my paternal grandmother, so hearing this traditional Scottish tune always stirs my genes. I listened from about a block away, enjoying this unusual and not unpleasant din on the Portland streets. As he finished up, a flock of gulls flew overhead, giving voice as gulls do. As the last wailing notes of the pipes faded away in the chilly, late afternoon air, the gulls' cries seemed to prolong them in strange accompaniment.

He began another song, but I had to go meet my husband. I came back later when I had some cash on me, hoping to leave some money in his jar, but he was gone. Perhaps the bagpipes are too much even for the shoppers and street denizens of the Old Port. Or perhaps he'd played his repertoire. We were hit up for money three times as we walked around for an hour or so, but the piper was the only one I would have paid.

One wailing bagpipe
and a flock of crying gulls--
music amid noise.

Friday, January 27, 2012

January 27: Distortion

Driving home from a movie on a dark and stormy night, watching lights distort in the rain streaming down the car windows:

Streetlight flowering
through raindrops on the windshield,
then all dark again.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

January 26: Conjunction

Last night as I left work the waxing crescent moon was upturned to catch bright Venus hovering just above. The pairing of two such distinctive and radiant heavenly bodies was striking. I can easily imagine how such a conjunction might have inspired a story or two back in the days when both were associated with deities. Was the goddess of love sparring with the moon goddess over a mortal love interest? Were they conspiring together on some celestial plot?

Lofty mythology aside, the image that came to me when I first noticed them was of that cup and ball game we had when we were kids, the one where you had to catch a ball in a wooden cup that you held by a handle. I imagined Venus having bounced off the curved edge of the moon into outer space, now on her rebound. Will the moon catch her? Or will she go slipping past into the dark, fringed edge of trees and out of sight?

Moon and Venus close
enough to spark ideas
in the cold night sky.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

January 25: Turkeys in the woods

Hiking on Ragged Mountain this morning, we followed several lines of turkey tracks up a dirt road. Judging from the tracks, which proceeded straight up the road, these were determined turkeys who knew where they were going, no wandering out of line or straying into the woods. We saw no actual turkeys (though we did flush a grouse), just their tracks and scat--what they left behind.

Later, tromping around on the snowy crust in the woods, we came upon a fungus known as turkey tail looking particularly colorful against the snow, much as actual turkey feathers would have. This clump is barely larger than the size of one turkey track:

These colorful, layered fans are only a small part of the entire fungus, with most of the organism hidden within the bark of the tree on which it's living. Also, I think it's a little unusual to see a turkey tail in "full bloom" surrounded by snow, just as it would be to see a tom turkey fanning his tail this time of year. As with the birds and the simple etchings of their tracks, what we're seeing is not the whole story. 

Written on the snow:
beginnings of wild stories
about wild turkeys.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

January 24: Cat in the house

Our new cat Rooney is settling in. Ironically, we think that boarding her while we were away last week has helped. While she seemed to enjoy her three-story cat condo with its view of the ocean and several bird feeders, as well as the cat-devoted staff at the feline boarding home, she seemed even happier to be back in her home of only a month. Because she was a stray prior to moving in, perhaps she wasn't sure she was going to be coming back here. But now that she's back, she's finding special places around the house to curl up, including Paul's lap, or the back of the couch in the living room. She has little conversations with us. She's become one of the family, learning our routines. Once more a little animal inhabits our house.

No longer empty,
this house where a cat awaits
our nightly return.

Monday, January 23, 2012

January 23: Return

After our week relaxing in Florida, it was difficult to wake up this morning not only to go back to work, but also to venture out into the ice and snow that had nicely accumulated while we were away. I was cheered by a small flock of robins glimpsed on a berry bush. But when I arrived at my office, I was irrationally saddened to see that one of my bird feeders had blown off the window and was buried in snow. Moving from one habitat to another, vastly different one feels like a form of culture shock, making me wonder if, as an animal, I'm truly suited for this cold place where I was born.

In the snowy bush,
dark robins from Newfoundland
more at home than I.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

January 22: Babies on the plane

On the first leg of our flight home, I was trying to read my new Nevada Barr book (signed by her wonderful self yesterday at Bookmania! in Stuart, FL), as well as follow the first half of the AFC championship game (go Pats!) on my husband's iPad. Unfortunately, we were sandwiched between two rows of families traveling with babies. One baby was quiet, but the other shrieked with a piercing cry throughout the flight at a decibel level even the music in my earphones couldn't drown out. I realized what it must feel like to live in an osprey's nest.

Not an osprey's cry
but close enough to make me
long for the ocean.

Friday, January 20, 2012

January 20: Beach

Thanks to the miracles of modern technology, I'm writing this on the beach--a white sand beach littered with shells and washed by a vigorous, turquoise-waved surf. Some guys were actually surfing earlier, and several are out here fishing. I've been reading a book in the sun while occasionally lifting the binoculars to check out a passing bird. Paul tallied our 100th species this morning. Pelicans sail by, as do small flocks of royal terns. Ruddy turnstones pick along the water's edge, and sanderlings run before the foam. Ring-billed gulls wait near people eating, hoping for a handout. Earlier, a group of dolphins swam past, paralleling the shore. I get up now and then for periodic knee-deep forays into the surf to feel that tug of the water pulling the sand from beneath my feet and tumbling shells. I found a perfect moon snail shell. I can't remember such a peaceful day in many months. Meanwhile, we've learned of a big snowstorm back home.

Lullaby of surf,
sun, and seabirds. For now, mine,
though I'm made of snow.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

January 19: More white birds

We drove across southern Florida today, from the Gulf Coast to Hutchinson Island on the Atlantic, taking a route that meandered through agricultural fields south of Lake Okeechobee. The profuse bird life along the roads, canals, and fields surprised us. At one point, leaving a town, I noticed with some disgust what looked like white plastic bags and other trash carelessly strewn across an embankment. As we got closer, I realized with great relief that it was not trash but dozens of white wading birds: ibis, snowy egret, cattle egret, great egret, wood stork...

Glad they're not litter--
many white egrets scattered
along the roadside.

January 17: Magnificent

(I apologize for these tardy, out-of-order postings... But, hey, I'm on vacation!)

The ABC Islands east of the arc of the Marco Island bridge feature rookeries that host thousands of magnificent frigatebirds. We had seen one of these distinctive angular black birds fly over Togertail Beach on the island, and a couple more as we cruised an overbuilt neighborhood looking for some of the remaining burrowing owl burrows (we found one lone burrow, fenced off in a vacant lot). But when we pulled off at a little boat launch area near the bridge, facing the nesting islands, we spotted a few more of these coastal beauties. And then, a lot more! Suddenly it seemed like dozens of frigatebirds were sailing overhead in the blue sky, eyeing the turquoise waters below, their long tails streaming behind them--a magnificent sight indeed.

Expecting nothing,
we're speechless when the sky fills
with avian kites.

January 16: Roosting ibises

Our first full day of birding in Florida was rich. We tallied over 60 species at three sites: Green Cay Wetlands, Wakodahatchee Wetlands, and Loxahatchee NWR (for "wetlands" read "beautifully constructed wastewater treatment ponds with boardwalk access.") Highlights for us included unanticipated sightings of several painted buntings, three soras--normally shy little bird--two sets of mating herons (surrounded by birder paparazzi shamelessly clicking away at each moment of copulation), one roseate spoonbill described as "the rock star of the place" by a non-birding visitor, some gators, gaudy purple gallinules, nesting anhingas, and very close looks at almost every wading bird we'd hoped to see.

We visited Loxahatchee at day's end, enjoying the cypress swamp boardwalk, and then walking out into the Marsh Trails, where you get a true sense of this place as a remnant of the northern Everglades. The "river of grass" stretched as far as we could see, but we focused on a wet marshy area right at the trailhead. There, snipes fed amid herons, ducks, and ibises, and one alligator lurked just beneath the water's surface, only its eyes visible. As the sun sank lower, the numbers of white ibises began to increase. Birds kept flying in to join the expanding huddle. Dozens of ibises were lined up along a path bordering the marsh area, eventually flying in to join the crowd as even more came from parts unknown, their wings afire in the late light.

Roosting ibises
with red faces, red curved bills--
unlikely angels.

January 18: Sunset over the Gulf

We've been in Florida for four days now and as of this afternoon, I hadn't been to a real beach (I don't count the tidal flats of Marco Island as proper beach, though it did make for excellent shorebird habitat). So after a wonderful day spent with our host exploring Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary--one of Florida's best birding spots--and stocking up on fresh fruit and avocados for a late lunch, we finally got to the beach. We accessed the beach north of Naples Pier and were surprised by how quiet it was on this still warm afternoon. A mixed flock of shorebirds huddled nearby, while sanderlings and a few willets fed in the edge of the surf. I walked barefoot in the soft white sand, stooping to collect colorful shells as squadrons of pelicans flew past. Aah...

As the sun sank lower and the sky began to garner some color, we noticed that a throng had at last gathered down the beach for the daily ritual of seeing the sun sink into the watery bed of the Gulf. While hazy clouds muted the finale, it was still a perfect way to end our latest day in paradise. As we left, shells jingled in our pockets, and the ever-constant waves continued to lap the shore beneath the rosy clouds.

Let us go now, watch
the old sun set, birds feeding:
ancient rituals.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

January 15: Perspective

I love to pore over topo maps, trying to visualize the three-dimensional reality on the ground of the two-dimensional symbols on a piece of paper. I thought of the experience of map-reading this morning as we flew into Atlanta. With clear sunny skies, I could see every building and topographical feature below, with the skyscrapers of the city center looming on the horizon. I entertained myself in trying to decipher what I was looking down on. A gravel pit was an easy one, but what was that bare hill, almost a butte, that looked like it had been scraped off for some reason? For that matter, what was the black mound sided with what looked like solar panels? It being Sunday and the South, the large building surrounded by cars and what might be construed as a steeple had to be a church. The big flat institutional building with fields and an oval track out back was clearly a school. Sewage treatment plants are fairly easy to pick out. The intricate streets of all the housing developments, lined with big look-a-like houses, fascinated me. Some had pools and tennis courts, some didn't. If I had to live in that one there, I decided, I'd be in that house at the end of that cul de sac surrounded by woods. Not near the pool, but quieter, less crammed in. Some developments were separated from obvious construction sites/gravel pits by just a fringe of trees. I wondered if you noticed the proximity if you lived there. Just before the airport, we flew low over several industrial buildings with rows of semi trailers backed up to loading docks, then a post office with a lot full of identical mail trucks. Then a patch of raw red earth--future runway space?--and then we touched down.

From air, perspective:
all those lives below, people
filling the landscape.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

January 14: Playoffs

We're sitting on our king-size bed in our generic room in the Portland Airport Hilton, watching football playoff games. Just saw the 49ers upset the Saints, and now the Big Game is on: Patriots vs. Broncos! Early tomorrow morning we fly to Florida, but for now, we're very focused on New England. Go Pats!

Anyplace is home
when the Patriots are on,
even this hotel.

Friday, January 13, 2012

January 13: Up on the Roof

I happened to look up at my snow-covered roof this afternoon and noticed a pattern of animal tracks. I'd never noticed animal tracks on the roof before. Frankly, I was a bit surprised, as this fall we'd had several tree limbs cut back that used to overhang the house. Some critter--I was imagining a squirrel--had either made a really big leap from the old maple tree (a flying squirrel?) or somehow scaled the building. The line of tracks seemed to begin somewhere at the back of the house, come over the peak to a certain point near the front of the roof, and then return, furrowing a big V in the snow.

When I moved closer to see if I could get any sense of what kind of animal had made the tracks, I noticed something else up there, something grey and lumpy lying under the eave. My first panicked thought was that some animal had been killed up there and now I'd have to go remove a corpse from my roof. But I soon realized that I was looking at part of a bee's nest, a big chunk of paper cells. Where had that come from? Had the mystery animal brought it there, or had it found it on the underside of the eaves? Is there something to eat in a winter bee's nest? What kind of animal would eat it? What all had been happening up on the roof?

Story in the snow:
tracks on the roof... a bee's nest...
You figure it out!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

January 12: Snow, of course

What else is anyone talking about today? We finally got the big storm we were supposed to get, with heavy wet snow flakes turning into icy, face-stinging pellets by day's end. Driving was treacherous. Just walking up to my front door was treacherous when I slipped and almost fell. I had to shovel my way into the driveway, and now wet garments drape all the heating vents. It's a typical Maine winter snow storm. Now it feels like a typical Maine winter. It only took till the second week of January. But it makes me all the more thankful I'm off to Florida in a few days.

Snow heavy with ice.
As Frost said, "Ice would suffice."
He meant the world's end.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

January 11: Icing in

The patch of water behind the Seabright Dam on the Megunticook River--the very patch of water that I can see from my office--has been contracting and expanding through our various freezes and thaws this winter. Every morning I scan the river before heading inside. It hasn't iced in completely, yet, but it's close, such a small strip of water remaining that even the little buffleheads have flown upstream to where there's more open water to paddle around in. And tonight's cold and snowstorm might be all it needs to ice over all the way across, linking the two banks, stilling the water visible to me above the dam. Even below the dam, rushing water falls almost unseen under a wide, rippled curtain of ice. Slowly the world turns static and white. The water molecules lock together. And grow still.

No ice-skating yet.
River's icy door closes
slowly this winter.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

January 10: More Moon

Tonight during a guided discussion for women leaders at a restaurant on Rockland Harbor, the buzz of conversation was suddenly halted. "Look out the window!" the session leader exclaimed. "The moon!" We all craned our necks to catch a glimpse of the big gold moon slowly crowning above a cloud. The chatter grew louder in our excitement over witnessing such a sight. I wondered if a roomful of men would have had the same response.

We admire the moon,
most of us women thinking
that it's a goddess.

Monday, January 9, 2012

January 9: Wolf Moon

The January full moon was traditionally referred to as the Wolf Moon among some native tribes, presumably because this time of year you'd hear hungry wolves howling in the night forest, perhaps circling the village. While that name carries a slightly menacing tone, there's nothing scary about tonight's moon rising over Mount Battie and Camden Harbor. The moon has only been up for a few hours, and already many friends on Facebook have posted photos and exclaimed on its beauty. In town this evening I was struck by how its misty glow transformed even the town smokestack into the stuff of poetry. Around here, we notice a bright, beautiful full moon, and allow ourselves to be affected by the sight. Maybe to the point of wanting to howl ourselves...

Fat, full moon, Wolf Moon--
such power to transfix us
with your glowing eye.

January 8: Duck and Cover

My dad was very anxious to report to me an avian drama playing out at their house. Three bald eagles--two adults and one younger bird--were repeatedly diving at a little duck swimming around in the partially open water of the river in front of their house. One of the eagles would swoop down, and the duck would dive underwater to escape. It would stay under for a while, but when it finally popped up for air, another eagle would attack again. My dad theorized that they were trying to exhaust the duck to the point at which one of them could catch it. Its compatriots waited on the ice and in a tree, no doubt prepared to battle the hunter for the eventual prey. Diving underwater was the duck's only hope for survival, as out of water, it would have indeed become a sitting duck, an easy mark.

The tactic paid off. The eagles moved on for easier prey, and the duck lived to see another day.

Three eagles, one duck.
Sometimes the odds mean nothing:
lucky duck escaped.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

January 7: Off

Last night my husband and I were the first on the scene of an odd car accident (not that there's such a thing as a "normal" one). As we drove along, it took both of us a moment to realize what we were seeing: a car tilted completely sideways, leaning up against a tree at a 90-degree angle. We could see the tracks in the greasy slush showing clearly how it had crossed lanes, slid off the road, then flipped. If not for the trees, it probably would've been upside-down.

My first comment was something like, "Wow, that's quite a slide." It wasn't till a few seconds later, when Paul asked if we should turn around, that I think it sank in for both of us that we were driving past what might be a serious crash. It was such an unexpected, extraordinary sight that it took that extended double-take for us to comprehend what we were seeing.

We approached the car with some trepidation, not knowing what we'd find. The car was silent. It seemed very strange to be confronted by the entire undercarriage, facing us like a wall. As Paul tried to see if anyone was in the vehicle--not easy when the accessible windows are all up in the air--I called the police. No one had reported an accident. And with some relief, we determined that no one was in the car, just the car keys in the ignition and a bunch of PBR cans floating around the interior. We did make out footprints running down the side of the road, which a policeman was still following after we gave our report and finally continued on home. We'll probably never know the rest of the story, but the surreal experience certainly inspired us to make up a few possibilities between us.

What are we seeing?
Fresh skid marks, flipped car roadside--
someone's strange story.

Friday, January 6, 2012

January 6: Letter from the Moon

I had trouble falling asleep last night, which was unexpected because I've been sleeping between 10-12 hours a night lately thanks to being sick. As I was wandering around the house at 1:00 a.m., wide-awake, I became aware that it was really bright outside. No wonder I couldn't sleep: the waxing gibbous moon was beginning its descent behind the bare limbs of the backyard. Moonlight flickered on the river's surface, and the whole yard looked silvery pale, almost eerie. I peered out the back window, hoping to see some animal activity, some sign of life moving in the night besides myself... nothing but light.

The interior of the house was fully illuminated, as well. A white square of light glowed atop a small table in the living room. Without my glasses, for a moment I perceived this as a solid, paper-like object--an envelope, perhaps--until I realized it was just a lunar illusion, a trick of moonlight.

If only I could
open the moon's bright letter
cast on the table.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

January 5: Black duck

Still sick, still home, still spending a lot of my time just looking out the window, this morning I watched a single black duck make its way up the river against the current, edging around the newly developed fringes of ice on the banks, poking among the exposed stones and in the eddies. It hung out within view for a while, a dark silhouette in churning grey water framed by the sepia tones of the leaf-strewn banks and bare trees above. Then it was gone. Only the trees, dead leaves, and pale, expressionless sky remain. And me, here at the window.

Ice on the river.
Lone black duck skirts the edges,
too soon out of sight.

January 4: Honey

When one has a cold, fewer things are more soothing than a steaming hot mug of tea with honey. As I squeezed the Beech Hill honey, the viscous golden fluid swirling through the hot water, it felt like I was adding a dose of living gold, a bit of sweet, magic medicine drawn from the summer goldenrod, blueberries, and asters on the hill's lovely fields.

A dose of honey,
summer distilled, what I need
for a winter cold.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

January 3: Dreams and synchronicity

This one's a bit arcane. Last night I dreamed I was editing a document for my director. He had a word in the document, "nouses," that I questioned him about. I thought he was trying to write the plural of the French word "nous" or "we." Remember, this is a dream, so the fact that that doesn't make sense is beside the point. We ended up agreeing that it should be "nouveaux," which also makes no sense. Shortly thereafter I woke up with these strange words echoing in my head.

After my morning ablutions, I checked my email. I'm signed up for wordsmith.org's A.Word.A.Day. Each week has a different theme, and in honor of the new year, this week's theme is words that begin with the "new" sound. Yesterday's word was "numinous," and today's was "noosphere," which means "the sum of human knowledge, thought, and culture." I realized as I read today's entry that although I hadn't taken much note of yesterday's word or the week's word theme, something had clearly registered in my subconscious. And thus I dream about nouses and nouveaux and awaken to noosphere, a delightful synchronicity of sounds to wrap my mind around.

Each dream, the mind's new--
blank slate for the noosphere
to noodle anew.

Monday, January 2, 2012

January 2: First birds

I like to keep track of the first birds I see each year, although I confess that at the start of this year, I haven't yet put in an effort to see any particular birds. With that disclaimer of my laziness, here's what I've got for the first two days of 2012:

1. Rock pigeon--flock seen swirling above the Smoke Stack Grill before the start of yesterday's road race
2. American crow--seen flying overhead while running the race
3. Herring gull--ditto
4. Mallard--heard quacking in the nearby Megunticook River during the last mile of the race

Today all I saw in the back yard were crows in the trees and gulls overhead. Nothing on the feeder. Nothing singing in the neighborhood. One of my resolutions is to bird more this year, and in that respect, I haven't set myself a very good example thus far. Thankfully, I'm not embarking on a Big Year--that's when you set out to see as many bird species as possible in a certain geographic region within a calendar year. A recent movie of this name, starring Owen Wilson, Steve Martin, and Jack Black, portrays well the zany obsessiveness of this quest. Anyone looking at my "year list" at this stage, however, would clearly understand that I'm not going for any records!

An everyday bird,
but I don't tire of watching
the crow, its antics.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

January 1, 2012: Starting off on the right foot

My friend Ron has been running, and I've been slowly getting back into running form thanks to a patient physical therapist, so we decided to run the Set the Pace 5K together in Camden today. Getting up on the first morning of the year and running a road race seemed like a good way to literally set the pace for the year--facing a physical challenge in the company of friends.

The first year I ran this in 2009, it was 0 degrees at best and my legs felt like lead. This year couldn't have started off on a more beautiful note: blue skies, 40s, no wind, bright sun. Perfect running weather. My original goal was just to finish, but as we got underway, that shifted to finishing with Ron in sight, and then to finishing ahead of a young woman running in a pink skirt and knee socks (not that I had anything against her fashion sense, or her--she was just a very visible target). I did all those things, my body still feels intact, and I even won a prize in the post-race raffle. I have a good feeling about 2012...

Just body and breath,
road beneath my feet, blue sky.
I can still do this.