Tuesday, July 31, 2012

July 31: Pollen

Last week I endured a battery of allergy tests. I thought I was done with all that when I was a kid, when my entire back reacted to almost everything on the scratch test and I had to get allergy shots for years. They seemed to work for a while, and most people with chronic allergies grow less sensitive as they get older.

Alas, not I. (I blame global climate change.) Hence, the day at the allergy doctor's office, where, once more, my back (and arms, this time) reacted to just about everything except a few things the shots seemed to have taken care of: no molds this time around, no trees except ash, no feathers. (Of course one of the biggest trees in my back yard, hanging right over the house, is an ash.) The usual trigger flowers--goldenrod, ragweed--plus "mixed grasses" and sagebrush (sagebrush?!) were also high on the list, along with good ol' cats and dogs, and that ubiquitous allegen, dust. Seriously, who isn't allergic to dust?

After being shown a video on how to dust-proof my bedroom (short answer: get rich, replace all your linens with hypoallergenic ones made by the video's sponsor, install an air conditioner, and hire a cleaning lady to properly clean your bedroom once a week as recommended because who has time for that?), I was given some new prescriptions and sent on my merry way. Oh yes, and I'm supposed to keep the cat out of the bedroom. Or get rid of her. Obviously, the doctor doesn't have a cat. I've lived with cats my entire life, so I'm going to work harder on avoiding the goldenrod instead. Because there's not much of that around when one is out in the field hiking or birding...

But I got some good new drugs out of the visit, and a renewed respect for pollen. We can't see it, yet it has the ability to make our lives truly miserable. At least the cat purrs and cuddles with you. Pollen just hangs in the air, insidious, waiting for that chance to enter your nasal passages...

So today working in my flower garden it was with no small horror that I looked down to see my left arm smeared with gold pollen. Big grainy pollen, gold as saffron, a beautiful color. Must have been from the day lilies. I seem to still be breathing just fine, so apparently it wasn't anything I'm allergic to... yet.

On my tan wrist, smear
of gold pollen, fairy dust,
a forbidden kiss.

Monday, July 30, 2012

July 30: Black holes

As I was driving home, the NPR announcer was saying, "Black holes suck up a LOT." Cue the  astronomer: "Black holes are the Las Vegas of the universe--what happens in a black hole stays in a black hole." An analogy about eating a lot and then burping followed. Who says deep space science isn't accessible to the average person?

My personal response: after I stopped laughing, this news blurb not only made me feel really hungry, but also now the song "Hotel California" is replaying on an infinite loop in my head...

Thinking of black holes,
I find myself wondering
what's on for supper.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

July 29: Blueberries

Tonight I know I'll be dreaming of blueberries. Even now I can still see them in my mind, piles of the blue-red berries cascading off the winnower in a never-ending stream...

Coastal Mountains Land Trust, for which I work, runs an organic blueberry farm at its Beech Hill Preserve in Rockport. For about a month in the middle of each summer, we harvest the fruit to sell; the blueberry sales thus support the upkeep of the preserve, a popular place to hike and observe nature (it's on the Maine Birding Trail too--stop #31!). Although today was my day off, I don't often get to spend time at the hill when the blueberry harvest is going on. That's not my department. So I volunteered to work at the farm stand for the day just to be a small part of one of our more exciting and enjoyable projects.

Mostly I sold quarts of berries to preserve visitors while the farm workers winnowed. Our winnower is a behemoth of a machine that sucks in boxes of blueberries just as they were raked in the fields, with all the twigs, leaves, unripe berries, and other detritus, and spits out whole, clean blueberries at the other end. Here's a photo of me helping out a few years ago with the end of the winnowing process, quality-checking the final products (i.e. removing the rejects by hand) as the berries roll past one last time into waiting boxes:
In the photo above it doesn't look like there are a lot of berries there, but that's only because they had to slow the process way down for me, a non-professional, so I could more thoroughly pick out the unwanted berries that made it through the winnowing process and properly meet our quality standards. The farm workers--today a team of young women who have worked for us for several summers and really know what they're doing--can pick through a full conveyor belt of berries moving at a very fast speed while talking on their cell phones. The end result is quarts of super-clean berries of very high quality. What you don't see are the buckets and bins full of the reject berries and other material, twigs and little green berries and squished berries that stain everything--the machine, the workers, the floor, the boxes--purple.

To occupy myself today when not selling quarts, chatting with preserve visitors, or replenishing quarts from the winnower, I picked through several buckets full of the rejected berries, etc. to get myself a full quart. It took me most of the afternoon, and my fingers are now stained a deep purple. I'm literally marked by the experience. But I've got more fresh berries in the refrigerator, ample reward for today's work on the farm. 

Fingers tattooed blue.
Rolling berries, more berries,
when I close my eyes.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

July 28: Katydid

We left the porch light on when we went out last night, and upon our return, discovered dozens of  moths, flies, and other winged creatures flitting around our front door. Among them, clinging to the screen, was one leaf-green katydid, a beautiful, graceful insect. We tried to catch it so that I could get a closer look, but it jumped away into the jungle of lilies alongside the porch. The voice of the katydid is a familiar part of the summer twilight insect chorus--I've definitely heard many more than I've seen. 

Here's a katydid that looks very similar to last night's visitor, albeit a species from India pretending to be a leaf:
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons (Vishalsh521)
I remember feeling quite envious when my best friend Katy, who lived across the street from me when I was five, told me that there was an insect named after her--the katydid--which even sang her name. But then I realized it was OK because one of my mother's childhood nicknames for me was Cricket, so I had an "insect name" too. Now I learn, while looking for a photo of a katydid, that katydids, though they look a lot like grasshoppers, are most closely related to crickets and are called bush crickets in Great Britain. If only I'd known that at age five; it might have sparked a career in entomology. (I also learned that katydid species as a group are referred to as tettigoniids. Try to use that word in a sentence today!)

Under the porch light
green katydid shines brightly
amid dusty moths.

Friday, July 27, 2012

July 27: Late afternoon calm

Young crows do go on so. Lately I've been hearing their whining caws all day long. Even now, on an otherwise quiet Friday afternoon as I sit on my back step, work week done, and enjoy the sunlit leaves, rollicking songs of goldfinches, and the shining ribbon of the river trickling merrily past, I can hear the crows just upriver, yelling. What do crows want? I'm guessing food and companionship, in that order. Are we so different?

Leaf-filtered sunlight,
bright river flowing in peace--
why do the crows whine?

July 26: On the road

Driving through rural western Maine this afternoon on our way to Brownfield for a Greg Brown concert at Stone Mountain Arts Center, I couldn't help but try to capture some vignettes of what I was seeing out the window as we drove along... 
In old roadside plots,
marble gravestones, names worn smooth,
still tended with care.
Faded red garage--
only the bare shell remains
and some scrap inside.
Hex sign on plywood
protecting those who live in
that rusty trailer.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

July 25: Small dramas

Recently when I commented on a "dramatic" cloud bank, my little niece asked me what "dramatic" meant. I told her that it's when something makes us say, "Oh, look at that!"

Last evening as we were going into Hannaford to get groceries--does it get any more mundane than that?--we looked up to see these amazing clouds massing over the store, illuminated by the setting sun. The photo doesn't do justice to this meteorological display. Neither does the setting, but perhaps the juxtaposition was what made it all the more dramatic at the time.

Another moment: looking over my garden, I noticed this lipstick-red, exotic-looking flower blooming between the echinacea and sage: 
A friend had given me these bulbs last summer, but I thought they were a one-season glory. I hadn't realized any had grown back this year until this flower appeared in full bloom right outside my front door. I don't even remember what it's called, but catching sight of it so unexpectedly provided another one of the small dramas that punctuated my day.

Don't forget to stop
and really look at the clouds,
the bright red flower.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

July 24: Morning ritual

Although I love mornings--the light, the birdsong, the promise of the day ahead--I'm not a "morning person." I just wasn't made that way. So I try to follow a morning ritual, of sorts, to help me ease into the day calmly: a word game on my iPad, the daily New York Times crossword puzzle, my usual bowl of cereal (sharing the milk at the bottom of the bowl with the cat), perhaps an early round of the flower beds dead-heading the day lilies. Then, with everything in order, I step out into the rest of my day...

Slow start--dove's soft coo,
cereal with fresh berries,
a crossword puzzle.

Monday, July 23, 2012

July 23: Ice cream

This is the first post I've written in four days, because I've been on an island with my six-year-old niece. The combination of an intermittent wi fi link out there and having to focus all my energy on a small, active person prevented posts, though there were certainly many poetic moments. They will have to remain in my memory for now.

Tonight my poet friend Elizabeth and I met for our monthly poetry session so we could both feel like writers again for a few hours. To prepare for our scheduled time of intense sharing and discussion, we enjoyed drinks and dinner al fresco at a hip bistro near my writing studio, and after dinner, walked to a riverside ice cream stand for dessert.

I had to laugh, because my niece's favorite thing about spending the weekend with me on the island was that I let her get an ice cream for dessert after lunch and dinner every day. She ended up eating five ice cream cones in three days. So you'd think I'd have had enough ice cream. But there's something about walking the sidewalks of our hometown on a warm summer evening that made getting an ice cream cone the natural activity, somehow helping us transition perfectly from the mode of enjoying dinner out with a friend to a serious discussion of each other's writing.

Ice cream cone in hand
I'm in a child's state of mind--
open, word-ready.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

July 19: Four crows

Leaving work after a long day I looked up to see four crows hanging out in the snag at the end of the parking lot. That dead tree is popular with birds. I've seen eagles, ospreys, blue jays, and flycatchers all perch there at one time or another, as well as a singing rose-breasted grosbeak and a winter flock of Bohemian waxwings. The crows are regulars. I thought they'd fly as I walked over and got into my car, but they remained, hanging out, as if resting after a hard day of loud cawing, stalking blueberries, and riding the gusts over the river and Mount Battie.
Four crows, all at rest--
the way a long day should end,
rocked by a cool breeze.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

July 18: Reminder

Hundreds of people from the community gathered together today under a big tent in the hot sun at the Ragged Mountain Recreation Area to celebrate the life of Ken Bailey, a man who did it all: he was a loyal husband and father, Vietnam vet, editor and columnist of the local paper, owner of the town shoe store, policeman, fireman, Rotarian, Maine guide, avid hunter and fisherman, executive director of the Megunticook Watershed Association, and lake warden on Megunticook Lake and Nortons Pond. He had a kind word for everyone, and his life was an inspiration. He loved life and outlived his cancer prognosis by about four years, engaged and alert to the very end.

I stood in the shade of a spruce tree while family and close friends recounted their favorite memories of Ken. Up the mountainside a raven croaked several times, distracting me for a moment. As I briefly shifted my attention, I could hear a goldfinch twitter and dip overhead. It struck me how here below we were all thinking about mortality, grieving a loss in our human community, while up in the sky the birds continue to fly and sing: life goes on. Beautiful things still happen, even when we aren't open to recognizing them.

Above the mourners
goldfinches flit and chatter 
in the bright sunshine.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

July 17: Morning fog

We awoke to a morning dampened by mist, bird song muted by opaque curtains of fog draped over the trees.

Are they near or far?
How strange the crows sound, unseen
in the morning fog.

Monday, July 16, 2012

July 16: Roadside, Crow

Wildflowers flourished along the Vermont roadside as I headed home this morning. I was impressed with the lush growth of flora; the verge beyond the paved shoulder is often mown flat. Here and there amid the cornflowers, black-eyed Susans, and Queen Anne's lace would appear a single crow, standing just the right distance from the speeding cars, almost obscured by the tall weeds. Perhaps the road's edge is a good spot for gleaning bugs or to await road kill. I didn't see any other birds until somewhere in New Hampshire, when I counted four vultures soaring over the highway.

Just by chance the crow
poses prettily with the
roadside wildflowers. 

July 15: Child's play

We spent some time today catching up with an old friend from college and her sweet, tow-headed, three-year-old son Henry. The morning's activities included a lovely plein air brunch, a romp on the capitol lawn, and a visit to two different farms. Henry got to feed goats, pat a sheep, admire some rabbits, a small, white-faced calf, and a donkey, slurp a maple creamee (Vermont's version of soft-serve), and sit on two tractors (one defunct antique, one modern and working). Amazing how little boys are drawn to large machinery at such a young age, as if they were born knowing how to make that "vroom vroom" sound.

Under the child's feet
as he runs for the tractor,
tiny pink flowers.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

July 14: Misty mountains

Visiting a dear friend in Vermont, my second favorite state to spend time in. The feeling I get when I cross the bridge on I-89 outside Lebanon, NH, into Vermont, is very similar to the little thrill I get crossing the Piscataqua River Bridge to return home to Maine: this is a place I belong. These cornfields and rolling green hills and the roiling White River and road cuts of schist that I studied in college geology classes, they are familiar and loved. I'm particularly fond of Montpelier, with its gold-domed Capitol, historic buildings, funky shops, views of the Green Mountains, and a river running through it. So today I'm in one of my happy places with one of my closest friends.
As if in a dream--
distant mountains in a haze
beckon me onward.

Friday, July 13, 2012

July 13: Pre-dawn

I'm not a morning person, so the wee hours of the day are always a revelation to me. Unfortunately, things weighing on my mind have left me wide awake at a ridiculously early hour. It's too bad, really, that this isn't a natural habit for me, as this is a wonderful time of day--watching the pale sky slowly brighten and deepen into blue as the song sparrow sings from the still-dark trees and crows stir upriver, breaking the peace in our otherwise quiet neighborhood...

Pre-dawn, crows yelling--
what is there to shout about?
The day's still so young.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

July 12: Summer clouds

During this idyllic spell of summer weather, the clouds have been spectacular--big, fluffy cumulus clouds that roll across the sky's blue canvas, adding texture and dimension to its bright expanse without lingering too long, blocking the sun, or releasing any rain.
Beech Nut, the sod-roofed stone hut on Beech Hill Preserve, and clouds
Clouds amass above the Megunticook River, as viewed from my office
Blue screen, white brushstrokes--
a folding Japanese screen,
"Sky with clouds and birds."

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

July 11: Chimney swifts

Another perfect summer evening. Sat outside at a local bistro, alone, sipping a cocktail, periodically looking up to admire the expanse of blue sky. Eventually the chittering of chimney swifts filled the air--my energetic dining companions.

This sky, it's flawless,
till swifts fly all over it.
Then, it comes alive.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

July 10: Beech Hill kind of afternoon

Today was one of those days I truly loved my job: enjoyed a business lunch on the sunny outside deck of the Waterfront on Camden Harbor, spent a couple of hours in the office, then led a group up Beech Hill in Rockport for the rest of my afternoon. If you have to work, what better way to enjoy a perfect summer day here in midcoast Maine?

Here's how this idyllic day looked from up there:
View of Penobscot Bay from Beech Hill 
View of Ragged Mountain from the road
Historic sod-roofed stone hut at top of Beech Hill
Follow sparrow song
through fields of sunlit lilies
all the way to sky.

Monday, July 9, 2012

July 9: Perfume of the leaves

With hours left of sunlight and blue sky after work today, my husband and I walked into town. On the way we passed under a huge tree, its boughs hanging down all around us like an umbrella. We realized when we were under this green umbrella that the tree was flowering, the cloying but sweet perfume filling the air. It stopped us in our tracks. Dozens of bees hummed amid the leaves, tucked up in the fragrant blossoms. 

The leaves and bark of the tree made me think it was some kind of aspen or cottonwood, although I couldn't find it in any of my books. Most native aspens have a long, drooping flower like a tassel, but not our aromatic tree, which abounded with small, subtle, creamy white flowers. If we hadn't smelled them, we probably wouldn't have even noticed that the tree was flowering under its leafy green canopy.

Perfume of the leaves
and hum of bees draws us in--
summer seduction.

Later: After I posted this, a persevering reader sent me several options for what kind of tree this might have been. He got it in three: American Basswood. Thank you, Kirk Betts! Here's a photo from Wikipedia:
American Basswood
I particularly enjoy that it turned out to be a basswood, which is also known as a linden tree here in the United States. The origin of my surname "Lindquist" is "linden," so I've always thought of lindens as a sort of family emblem--even if I can't recognize one when I see it!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

July 8: Flowering

Suddenly, my garden is full of blooming flowers again! This mid-summer wave of flowering, amid the chaos of unweeded greenery that is the front yard, brings some of my favorites: the sunset-purple clematis climbing the porch railing, a succession of day lilies in orange, red, pink, and more orange, and the tall, cardinal-red bee balm that attracts hummingbirds. And soon, the bright purple stars of echinacea will join in, as well. 

Midsummer again--
orange lilies open for 
their day in the sun. 


Saturday, July 7, 2012

July 7: Old mill

My husband and I have a new writing room: a rented office/studio space in the renovated Knox Woolen Mill building in the heart of downtown Camden. Our windows are directly over one of the dams that used to be part of the millworks. In fact, the controls to the dam itself are located in a corner of our studio, with a little sign indicating how long it takes to raise or lower the dam. Since we've gotten a lot of rain, the river is still running high. The drop over the dam is substantial, creating a vigorously churning waterfall that will serve us effectively as a white noise machine when we're hard at work.

The big windows of our third floor studio frame an interesting view. On the other side of the river sits the part of the old mill that was converted to condominiums, several of which boast nice decks. A mature oak tree grows up through a hole cut into one deck, its leafy branches blocking a view of Mount Battie which we will undoubtedly enjoy come winter. If you lean out the window, the mill's smokestack rises high into blue sky above the mill buildings and the fast-moving river. On the mill pond of calm water behind the dam, a family of geese hangs out amid the reeds. And on Saturday mornings and Wednesday afternoons, the Camden Farmers' Market is visible through the trees in the mill parking lot.

When I was five, we lived for a while with my great-grandmother in her apartment across the street from the mill. It was still very much a working mill then, and I remember hearing the daily whistles for lunchtimes and shift changes, as well as the machinery clacking away day and night. I had to walk past the mill to get to kindergarten, and I always hurried over the dark, turbulent river as it flowed beneath the mill and under the street on its way to the harbor. Thanks to my great-grandmother's vivid warnings, I could imagine all too well what would happen to me if I fell in. Now my studio overlooks that very stretch of river. Hopefully it will once again spark my imagination.

White water: white noise.
I lose my thoughts in the falls,
river of childhood.
View of the old mill buildings from a neighboring office

Friday, July 6, 2012

July 6: Fireflies

Because of the fog, Fourth of July fireworks were postponed until last night here in Camden. It being my niece's birthday, we spent the evening with my family at the lake instead.

While cruising around the lake in my brother-in-law's boat--outpacing some dragonflies and otherwise making the most of sunset's golden glow at the end of a long, hot day--we came upon a boat full of guys setting off their own fireworks. Nothing fancy, just colored lights fired into the air with a satisfying "bang," but enough to entertain my nieces, ages three and six. Now that purchase of fireworks is legal in Maine, I have a feeling we'll be seeing more these modest "neighborhood" displays on various holidays. Setting off fireworks over a lake seemed the perfect way to enjoy them, and it certainly lit up our twilight boat ride, adding that extra burst of fun to make a little girl's sixth birthday even more special.

As we were heading for home down the long dirt road from the camp, the woods showcased the best fireworks show of the summer: fireflies! A dark grove of spruce trees was particularly illuminated by dozens of blinking, flashing creatures, inspiring one to make wishes as if on falling stars come to earth. As kids my best friend and I used to catch a jar full and bring them into the tent with us whenever we were "camping out" in the back yard. I remember how mystified I was each morning when the magical living lights of the night before turned out to be rather plain-looking black insects.

Driving back into Camden, we passed the fireworks traffic heading out of town. We had missed the big fireworks show over the harbor. But we were graced with some spectacular glimpses of the rising moon, a lopsided orange balloon slowly rising above the hayfields, that made me shout out loud in the car.

Fireflies, orange moon
rising over the harbor--
summer's brief pleasures.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

July 5: Found poem

Like Proust's madeleine, sometimes unexpected, extremely prosaic things will trigger a flood of poetic thoughts and reveries. Today I was validating our CCR registration, a mind-numbingly bureaucratic process on the computer. (Don't ask me what CCR stands for; our government loves acronyms! It has something to do with making sure the land trust I work for is properly registered in the right system to receive government grants.) Where's the poetry in that? The last step of registering myself as a user for our account was to set up a series of five security questions, questions such as...

What was your childhood nickname?
What is the name of your favorite childhood friend?
What street did you live on in third grade?
What was the name of your first stuffed animal?
What was the last name of your third grade teacher?
What is the street number of the house you grew up in?
What was your high school mascot?
On what street did your best friend in high school live?
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
What is your favorite fruit?
What is your favorite fragrance?
What time of day were you born?

When I came back to the present from my little trip down memory lane, I found myself wondering if the office worker tasked with making up these questions enjoyed coming up with them as much as I did trying to answer (all of) them (in my head).

Even government
red tape can have the power
to inspire poems.  

(And here's something perhaps even more prosaic: I wrote this blog entry while downloading Adobe Dreamweaver CS6 onto my computer. Who says we can't fit poetry into our mundane and busy lives?)

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

July 3: Knee high by the 4th of July

"Knee high by the 4th of July" refers to the height one's corn should be by now, if I'm remembering right. For me, it referred to the height of the grass in my backyard before I finally mowed it this evening. Each summer I seem to go longer before mowing, enjoying the various phases of flowers--first the little violets and forget-me-nots, later the daisies and hawkweed. At this point, the flowers had been subsumed by ferns and tall, feathery grasses, and I decided I wanted a cleaner look. Also, I wanted to be able to sit in my backyard without succumbing to an asthma attack from breathing all that grass-dust.

It felt a bit like mowing a hay field, except no bird's nests or baby rabbits were harmed in the process--though I half expected some creature to startle up in front of the mower. I did mow a blue jay feather, which felt wrong somehow, but disturbed nothing else larger than a moth. Still, the neighborhood flicker is calling over and over now, as if in alarm.

Good old sweaty work--
lawn so high it's like haying.
I should have a scythe.

Monday, July 2, 2012

July 2: Rumblings

Sometimes it's challenging to determine what's internal and what's external, leading to the mind-bending conclusion that my digestive system and the sky full of towering gray storm clouds are both parts of some grand, rumbling whole...

Summer afternoon--
is that my stomach growling
or rolling thunder?

Sunday, July 1, 2012

July 1: Summer night

This morning, still in pajamas, I water the hanging plants, letting the dewy grass wet my bare feet. The neighborhood is quiet except for one robin singing from the coolness of the trees...

There was more action out there last night after twilight crept in and the heavy burden of hot, humid air lifted slightly: pack of kids playing volleyball in the neighbors' back yard grew louder as it grew darker and harder to see the ball. Streetlights came on. Cats came out to prowl the sidewalks and yards. Our cat, staying cool in the kitchen window, was fascinated by cats howling at each other in the street in front of our house. We joined her at the window, watching as the two cats made unearthly noises, circled each other, and then seemed to reach a standoff--after which, one cat rolled submissively in the gravel, the other stalked off to huddle under my car. Above the lawn, a firefly blinked on and off like a warning beacon.

But now another unusually hot day is underway. The buds of the day lilies swell. A squirrel performs its morning ablutions on the fence post in full view of a window where the cat often sits. She can't be bothered to come see. In the shadowy living room, she's scratching at a patch of sun on the floor as if it were a living thing, as if to draw it closer.

Is it love or war?
Two cats made loud by heat, dark,
face off in the street.