Friday, August 31, 2012

August 31: Anticipation

This morning I took one look out the window and brought my raincoat to work. The sky glowered, lowered, and fell. Rain and clouds. But mid-afternoon, it seems to be sweeping through. Patches of blue and brightness appear. And it's such a relief, because tonight is not only a full moon, but the Blue Moon, the second full moon of the month. An auspicious moon. Just knowing it's up there isn't enough; I want to look the moon full in the face.

Coincidentally, fireworks will also brighten Camden Harbor tonight, to kick off the start of the Camden Windjammer Festival. If the skies clear, we'll be able to watch the full moon rise over the masts of the tall ships as fireworks burst in celebration.

Kids eager for fireworks,
but I await
tonight's blue moon.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

August 30: Finding water

Family legend has it that my great-great-aunt Gladys (no longer with us but whom I remember fondly from childhood) was a dowser. She was one of those people who used a split branch of (usually) witch-hazel to find water. If you needed to dig a well, Aunt Glad was the one to call. She had the inner sense--one might even call it a power--to divine where the water was. I was always a bit disappointed that I didn't inherit the ability.

I was thinking of this when I heard the osprey keening this morning. We live on a river and often hear an osprey as it's following the water's course between lake and harbor. I realized that while I might not be able to help anyone plan where to drill their well, I do know how to tell when I'm close to a larger body of surface water: I just listen for the osprey.

Around here that's a no-brainer, but once years ago, hiking in the Cascades of Oregon, I remember being startled to hear an osprey crying overhead. I was surrounded by forest of Douglas firs on a trail that seemed to wind endlessly through the mountains. The shining white bird seemed so out of place in the setting that I worried I had heatstroke and was hallucinating an angel. But sure enough, the trail very soon began to follow the shore of a small lake--I should have realized the osprey was there for a reason.

There's a river out here,
reminds the osprey.
Come outside.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

August 29: Hurricane

No, there's no hurricane here. Barely a breeze to rustle the shining green birch leaves out my window. It's a perfectly still, calm, beautifully sunny late summer afternoon. Crickets are humming, a stalk of goldenrod sways under the weight of a bee. A kettle of vultures soars gracefully above the river, tilting in the updraft, spiraling ever higher into the bright blue sky.

That's why it seems surreal to think of Hurricane Isaac, thousands of miles to the south, battering Louisiana with torrential rains, high winds, flooding, and power outages. Unless you've got loved ones in the storm's path or have Southern roots, it's so easy in this quiet little pocket of the world to forget that elsewhere things aren't going so well. Not that we shouldn't enjoy these halcyon days. But we should also be grateful, really savor them. And keep in our thoughts those whose homes and lives are in danger right now.

It's been such a wonderful summer here in Maine--so unusually sunny and warm. Conversations about the weather all repeat the same belief that we're going to pay for this perfect season somewhere down the line--with a big storm, a long winter, something bad. We can't help thinking that way. Such old-style Puritanism is bred into us as New Englanders. And at some point, we will get horrible weather, some disaster like Hurricane Irene a year ago in Vermont, so we're always right in the end. But really, we all know that Nature brings what she brings, regardless of what we deserve. And we weather it the best we can.

So calm this morning
vultures had to flap, awkward
in early thermals.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

August 28: At the hair salon

Got a trim and some grey hair maintenance (i.e. highlights) this morning at the hair salon. There's something so soothingly sensual about the whole process--the invigorating head massage with the shampoo, the maternal comfort of the hairdresser combing out my tangles, the warmth of the hair dryer as she runs her fingers through my smooth-for-now hair. Not the type to chat away with my hairdresser as if she were my confessor, I just sit there and relax, eyes closed, calmly gathering myself for the start of another work day.

On the back of my neck
blow dryer's hot breath--
haircut on a chilly day.

Monday, August 27, 2012

August 27: Sea, food

My husband and I walked into town to play tourist yesterday and ended up sitting on the deck at the Waterfront Restaurant for a mid-afternoon snack so that we could enjoy the harbor and mountain views. Sun shone on the bobbing masts, rippled across the water's surface, and revealed the stony ledges of Mount Battie, which looms over the head of the harbor. All day I've been craving seafood, but our favorite sushi place was closed, so we had to make do with French fries and blueberry sorbet instead.

A long walk to the harbor--
now I'm craving
sushi for supper.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

August 26: Coyotes

Last night was the perfect night for a party. One of my Land Trust's board members, Gray, and I threw one at Beech Nut, a historic sod-roofed stone hut atop Beech Hill in Rockport, in the middle of our 295-acre preserve there. The party hosts were the lucky winners of the Land Trust's Raffle this spring; first prize was this party. The clear blue sky and mild temps were perfect for a gathering like this. We could see across the bay all the way to the mountains of Acadia NP, and inland, the Camden Hills glowed as the sun set among them.

After sunset, as the pink in the sky deepened and spread, the guests headed down the hill, leaving the two of us to clean up in the growing dark. (The hut has no electricity.) At one point I was out on the verandah dumping ice when I heard a siren. I watched to see if the lights of the police car were visible below. Suddenly the wail of the siren seemed to multiply. It took me a second to realize that a pack of coyotes had joined their voices to the siren chorus. I called Gray outside to hear it. She was startled by how close they were and by how many there seemed to be. I could pick out puppy yips and full howls, probably a mixed family group. Such a stirring, chilling sound rising from the forest at the base of the hill. The coyotes had made their presence known.

I was reminded how once, in a mountain canyon of Arizona, a fighter jet flew low up the canyon in some kind of maneuver and set off all the coyotes that had heretofore been invisible around me. I was also reminded of a recent conversation at Bread Loaf, where I've often heard coyotes, about how eastern coyotes pack up more than western ones because they have more wolf genes. The person I was talking to brought up the relatively recent incident of a woman being attacked and killed by a coyote pack in Nova Scotia.

As we left the hill and drove off last night, we were stopped by a police car--one of 12, I was told later. The cop told us to keep our eyes open for a guy in shorts and a t-shirt. No, he wasn't armed or dangerous, just on the lam. Nonetheless, as we drove past the coyote-filled woods, I know I'd have felt safer with all those "song dogs" than with one human fugitive.

They can't resist singing along
with the sirens--
coyotes revealed.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

August 25: Vireos

For most of the summer the red-eyed vireo's rollicking song has been playing in the background, his warbled, "Here I am. Where are you?" a constant projection from the trees. Because this particular vireo species sings for most of the summer, he provides a non-stop soundtrack to the season, a soundtrack at first accompanied by warblers, orioles, tanagers, robins, and other songbirds, but gradually dwindling down to a handful of goldfinches, chickadees, and titmice providing occasional back-up chorus.

This morning I didn't hear the song, I heard only a vireo's repeated call, a distinctive sort-of whine, almost a complaint. Now the only birds singing in the big oak next-door are the usual flock of goldfinches, probably chattering about which feeder they're going to descend upon next.

No longer singing
even the vireo protests
as summer draws to an end.

Friday, August 24, 2012

August 24: Still summer

The nip of fall may be creeping into the morning air, and the song of the crickets may be slowing down to a more languorous, late summer pitch, but summer still holds sway. On this blue sky morning I'm still wearing tank top and flip flops, wishing I could be outside at play rather than at work--because we all know this won't last.

Still fresh blueberries
on my cereal, still
hummingbirds in the bee balm.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

August 23: Summer's ending, or Do we just need some rain?

Already dead leaves
pile up on the back porch,
crackle underfoot.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

August 22: Acorns?

I keep hearing things falling through the trees out back, and had assumed they were acorns but then I realized it was too early for acorns. They don't drop till fall, when the mast crops provide protein-rich sustenance for bears, turkeys, and deer that helps fatten them up to survive the winter. So what's making all that noise? Are the squirrels getting a head start on this year's crop, or are they knocking other things down as they fling themselves through the branches?

Random artillery in the trees--
I thought it was acorns
but it's too early.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

August 21: Echinacea

Sometimes going away for even a short time can be disorienting, as if you were transported to a different world, a different cycle of time. You come home almost surprised nothing has changed, half-expecting that not only you were being affected by your experiences but everything else in your life too.

Only away three days--
so why am I surprised
the echinacea's still in bloom?

Monday, August 20, 2012

August 20: Migrating butterflies

During my two-day visit at the Bread Loaf Writers Conference this weekend, haiku was a recurring theme. An old Bread Loaf poet friend, Peter Newton, is now writing only "short form" poetry, as well as serving as editor for the website He encouraged me to attend a craft workshop led by Patrick Donnelly on incorporating the Japanese aesthetic into one's writing, which served to further steep me in haiku and other Japanese poem forms. Then I had the good fortune to meet Jane Hirschfield, who is well known for her Japanese short poem translations and whose short work (available as an e-book only) "The Heart of Haiku" has been extremely inspiring for me. All this has hopefully reinvigorated my energy for this blog, and encouraged me to shake up my haiku somewhat by being looser with the syllabics, focusing more on content and aesthetic. From here on out, my haiku won't necessarily follow the 5-7-5 syllabic structure, though I haven't given up on that entirely!

All that said, while lying on the lawn in the sun at Bread Loaf this morning, I was struck by how many monarch butterflies were flitting about. I tried to describe to a friend how you can tell if a particular monarch is male or female (the males have a special gland visible on one of the wing stripes), but none landed close enough for me to show him this cool lepidopteran party trick.

Migrating monarchs
flitting too high
to tell male from female.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

August 19: Hay fields

I've spent many summer weeks of my life here at Bread Loaf in the heart of the Green Mountains of Vermont, as a Middlebury undergrad (this is Midd's "mountain campus"), at the School of English graduate program, and at the Writers Conference, most of them when I was in my twenties. The sun shines brightly this morning on the vast mown lawns and the uncut hay fields that surround the campus, and I can't help but lose myself in reverie over the many memorable experiences I've enjoyed in these fields. Like riding with about ten other people crammed into an old Mercedes in the middle of the night "on safari," randomly driving through the tall grass while blasting weird music. Or clowning on the "Robert Frost Rock" in the middle of one field, a rock where he'd once been photographed. Or sweet summer kisses. Or long walks picking wildflowers with my best friend. Or watching bluebird fledglings forage in the weeds...

Amid timothy,
uncut goldenrod, reside
fields of memories.

August 18: Bread Loaf Writers Conference

I'm visiting the Bread Load Writers Conference, where I worked many summers in my youth, for a weekend. This incredible place, centered on an old inn nestled in the Green Mountains, is one of those magic, timeless spaces where all experience, even ordinary ones, are somehow transformed. I've reconnected with old friends and already experienced some wonderful readings by the faculty writers. For a writer, there's nothing more invigorating and inspiring than being steeped in the writing life like this, in such a beautiful setting, even if just for two days. Conversations about haiku while looking out on the sunlit hayfields where Robert Frost once walked... Waitstaff in feathered boas and fezzes... A reading from her memoir by a dominatrix... Seeing the stars clear and bright over the silhouette of Bread Loaf Mountain as I walk back to my room... All part of the Bread Loaf experience.

I don't have the words
to describe so many words
so beautifully read.
A couple of the Bread Loaf dorms

Front porch of the Bread Loaf main building, The Inn

Friday, August 17, 2012

August 17: Rider on the storm

Late night, caffeinated drive to Portland through, first, torrential hail, then a straight downpour, all mixed with ground fog, thunder and lightning the whole way, and one deer crossing the road.

Turn up the music
to drown out the sound of hail
drumming on the car.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

August 16: Thunder

Awakened in the middle of the night by a very loud thunderclap, followed by more rumblings and the rush of a downpour. I say "middle of the night" but the sky was lightening and I had no real idea what time it was. The clock seemed to say 5:00 a.m.-ish (I can barely see without my contacts in), so after I got up and unplugged my computer (my one conditioned response to a thunderstorm), I was able to crawl back in bed and fall asleep for a little while longer. The cat seemed utterly unconcerned. Which I find interesting, because some loud noises do get her attention--she'll at least look up when a motorcycle goes by, for example. And just now she reacted a bit spastically to the honkings of a flock of geese flying over, anxiously rushing to the window to see what the clamor was. But thunderstorms apparently don't faze her.

Ah, to be a cat
and be able to sleep through
thunder, anything.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

August 15: Braid

One of the goals of growing out my hair for the past months has been to braid it once more. In college and for quite a few years after I often wore my hair in one long braid down my back. This morning it was finally (almost) long enough to do so again. The end result wasn't pretty, and fell apart before day's end, but it's getting there. It occurred to me that it's been 13, 14 years or more since I've been able to braid my hair like that, since back in the first years when I was dating my now-husband.

Braiding my wet hair--
remember how young we were
when last I did this.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

August 14: Party sunset

I love the kind of party when, as the sun is setting over a distant hazy ridge, just a burning hot pink sliver above the horizon, everyone there rushes over excitedly to watch it sink. And meanwhile dozens of hummingbirds buzz around us, getting in those last sips of nectar before bedtime. Everyone leaves happy.

End of the party--
buzz of voices at sunset,
buzzing hummingbirds.

Monday, August 13, 2012

August 13: Summer afternoon

I'm standing on the edge of lawn and field looking up at the green slopes of Ragged Mountain. At the lawn's edge, blooming gladioli stand at glorious attention, and faces of tiger lilies peer through greenery. Hummingbirds chatter and buzz around the flower beds. Goldfinches rise and dip over the fields, singing non-stop, swarming the seed feeders. Overhead, birch trees against a blue sky. Butterflies flit in little circles around me, and in the distance, a family of bluebirds gathers on a branch. Tomorrow night we're having a party here, and at this moment, I can't imagine a more perfect place to be.

Butterflies, bluebirds,
birdsong--is this a set for
a Disney movie?

Sunday, August 12, 2012

August 12: Sunday morning

Another quiet, misty morning on the coast of Maine, one of those mornings when I just want to stay in bed and listen to the noises of the neighborhood awakening...

Wakened by ospreys,
neighbor's singing and strumming.
Now, "shh" of rainfall. 

Saturday, August 11, 2012

August 11: Time of one's own

I can't even remember when I've last enjoyed a day with absolutely no commitments. And I certainly can't remember when I last woke up feeling relieved to see fog and grey skies out the window; now I can sit around and read all day if I feel like it and not feel guilty about squandering a sunny day or neglecting my lawn and garden.

I can curl up with the cat and tackle the enormous stack of books that has been growing rampantly on my bedside table. Or maybe I'll work on some poems. Or I can just sit here on the back porch with my crossword puzzle, while ospreys squeal nearby on the river, squirrels fling themselves through the oak tree, and the cardinal chips on the neighbor's feeder, announcing his imminent arrival on mine. It's my day.

(Well, actually, it's also my mother's day, it being her birthday. And I know she too is doing whatever she feels like today--antiquing with my dad, dinner out tonight--the way a birthday should be. Happy birthday, Mom, my one faithful reader!)

Crickets sing while I
simply sit here, absorb fog,
feel my breathing slow.

Friday, August 10, 2012

August 10: Funeral

A character in a book I read recently complained that funerals should never take place on beautiful days, that the sun and blue sky merely taunt those who are in mourning. This foggy morning thus seemed well suited for attending a funeral, the soft focus appropriate for introspection and reflections on mortality. I was surprised after arriving in this muted mood, then, to find myself spending much of the service laughing. The deceased, whom I'd never met (I was there to support the widow, whom I know through work), was apparently quite the comedian, and the stories his family shared--they were laughing loudest--along with video clips of him hamming it up, allowed a good-spirited humor to keep at bay feelings of sadness and loss. The foggy landscape took on a different tenor on the drive home.

No gloom in this fog--
rather, goldenrod glowing,
candles in a dream.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

August 9: Signs

Signs fascinate me with their often unwitting poetic potential. Wherever I'm driving I pay attention to signs--decorative to crude, whimsical to downright weird. For a while I kept a running list of names of hair salons, which seem particularly prone to awful puns. Driving today on Route 17 I was inspired by one particular sign for a bottle redemption center, seen shortly before the sign for S & M Radiator.
"Rapid Redemption"--
Is grace really as easy
as returning cans?

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

August 8: Dirt roads

This past weekend up at Baxter my husband and I were talking about how one of the reasons mountains are such sacred spaces is because they have the power to create their own weather. As I was driving down the long, winding dirt road to my sister and brother-in-law's camp tonight, I was struck with this similar thought:

A dirt road creates
its own weather: dust storms flare
behind every car.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

August 7: Nostalgia

My husband asked me yesterday if I ever have nostalgic thoughts. What poet could honestly answer "no"? This time of year, as the start of the Bread Loaf Writers Conference approaches in the Green Mountains of Vermont, my thoughts often drift to the eight summers that I attended the conference, seven of them as part of the administrative "social" staff. I was in my twenties. Those two weeks spent with fellow poets, many of whom became close friends, living, breathing, eating, talking, writing, listening to, and reading poetry, surrounded by inspiring, well-known poets and other writers, in an idyllic mountain setting, were truly a highlight of my young life. We stayed up late, drank too much, danced in the barn, frolicked through hay fields, wished on falling stars while huddled around a bonfire, caught fireflies, skinny-dipped, and, most of all, were fueled by excellent lectures, readings, and workshops that kept me going as a poet for the rest of the year. Ah, those August days (and nights) on the mountain...

Kissing in a field--
what could be more innocent
on a summer night?

August 4, 5, & 6: Baxter State Park

Spent three days in Baxter State Park, primarily at South Branch Pond Campground in the northeast corner of the park, so that I could lead a session on journaling and haiku for the ten cool kids in the Maine Youth Wilderness Leadership Program. As preparation for my session, I wrote a few myself to share so that they could see how they themselves might be inspired by the breathtaking natural surroundings. (And because I wanted them to focus on the concept of capturing a moment in a creative way, rather than the traditional syllabic structure, the following haiku do not follow the strict syllabic form as the other haiku I've written here do.)

In addition to (literally) soaking up the beauty of the pond, surrounding mountains, and lush woods of northern Maine, we hiked a six-mile trail following Howe Brook up a cleft of Traveler Mountain. This mossy, cobbled stream wends its way through water-carved pools and potholes, cascading over smooth ledges and down steep shelves--a perfect place for trailside swimming on a hot day. Frogs sang us to sleep, and the waning gibbous moon lit the trees outside our lean-to all night long.
South Branch Pond, looking south
Already August
and only now
my first swim of the summer.

Mountains embrace the pond--
wide, pebbled bowl,
tiny swimmers within.

These two fishing loons,
almost as loud
as the splashing swimmers.

Two loons surface near shore,
calmly ignore us all.
They own this pond.

Drumming across the pond,
a single woodpecker--
how loud!

A white noise machine,
wind drowns out
all human voices.

One of the many falls and pools of Howe Brook.

Friday, August 3, 2012

August 3: Squid

The cat, who was previously very occupied with licking her catnip mouse in the living room, jumped up and dashed into the kitchen meowing querulously, as if she knew that my husband was about to haul out a bag of squid to clean in the sink for dinner. Cats seem able to preternaturally sense the presence of seafood. Our former cat would be in the kitchen waiting if we just talked about having shrimp for dinner. And they have such a sense of entitlement about it, too--we end up having to offer up bits of squid just to placate this demanding creature, this small feline goddess with the great power to read, and sway, our minds.

Ears up, tail wagging,
our cat patiently awaits
her squid offering.

August 2: Late night drive

Driving home late from a Lucinda Williams concert in Portland, half-asleep in the car, the edges of our night world made even blurrier by fog...

A flare in the night--
cigarette tossed from a car
In the foggy dark.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

August 1: First day of August

A new month begins, summer creeps ever onward. After a rainy morning, I felt fortunate to stand in the sun this afternoon on a creaky old dock on a pond in Morrill, surrounded by purple pickerelweed flowers waving above the water's surface and darting dragonflies. We could see little fish swimming in the shallow water around the dock. A kingfisher rattled in the distance. And after we hiked through the pines back up the trail, we finally heard a loon call--not a cry of alarm, but that simple call of a loon declaring its presence on the small, bright pond.

Now August begins.
From the lily-choked pond, loon
calls forth the new month.