Toad ghosts, literary butterflies, and coyotes

Dearest Readers,

I hope you hadn’t lost any faith if you visited Spokes and Petals yesterday to find a lapse in my Thoreauvian record. I was thinking of him, and you, and this, but had to go straight from work to a delightful burrito place by North Station to wish a friend safe Irish travels, and by the time I got home it was to bed with me. I listened and looked, though, and here’s what I found:

August 5th:

tiger swallowtail

Tiger Swallowtails. Source.

Almost enough yellow butterflies (grown from a lovage cradle) to make up a Marquez novel.

Wispy ghosts that ran like tiny soot sprites in the ancient root cellar, “the peach pit,” at work. As I walked through to get one thing or another the sprites would flutter fast and strangely, swinging under pallets piled with seeding trays, gasoline, and clutter. Despite my disbelief in such things I froze, wondering what spirits I’d seen. Because obviously they were spirits, and apparently ones that were a part of the Boston ecology. They kept moving, scattering below old wood, as I proceeded, cautiously, through the cellar. Finally I considered that if I looked ahead of my step I would see whatever supernatural being was there before it snuck out of sight. So I squatted and looked and found a “penny frog,” which is not a frog at all but actually a toadlet. (Toadlet: one of the most unexpected darlings of the English language.)  Not spirits after all. Oh well.

toadlet

A type of toadlet, on loan from Colorado Parks & Wildlife.

Rabbits; eastern cottontails. More rabbits than you could shake a stick at. Rabbits devouring the sacred basil I grew from seed, the dahlias that sprang there from their jellyfish tubers, and, shockingly, the bark that wraps the life within the Roxbury Russet sapling that I planted in May. The Victory Gardens have been taken over this year by the velveteen things, colored in shades of brush and ambling around without a fear, perfectly exemplifying the need for more carnivores in the urban landscape..!

August 6th:

dragonfly - eastern amberiwing (Perithemis tenera)

Eastern Amberwing, on loan from Glenn Corbiere

Dragonflies, spun and encrusted in amber, turquoise, emerald and ebony. Lace and wire, spots and eyes and darning needles. They glide over the potted perennials out back, perch on bags of garden soil, and hover, hunting, on thin woody branches.

Galansoga, one of the most impressive of the weeds, is blooming and setting off its seed throughout the farm, blending in trickily with the shape and structure of the sacred basil leaves in the herb patch.

I found evidence of mice in the kitchen and heard them scratching around after midnight. Between them and the tree-chewing rabbits you’d think it was November.

Lastly, I wasn’t lucky enough to see this, but my friend and coworker Itzi saw a coyote cross the road on the edge of the city. Its head was down, she said, as if it was trying to be as clandestine as possible.

coyotebus

Unfortunately I didn’t see this guy, either. Source

Summersweet.

ruby-spice-summersweet-86946

Today was Summersweet:

Clethra alnifolia, ‘Ruby Spice’,

Sweet Pepperbush,

Abloom like a bottle brush. Pink and white sorbet. The scent, a customer said, like lilacs;

a fragrance so oiled and heavy in its syrup and nectar

that it recalled May, but thicker

than those heady scents that devour the senses in spring

leaving only the shades of twilight that strike the eye sweetly.

Summersweet, Pepperbush: drinking hole of bees and butterflies,

hunting terrain for eastern amberwings.

Summersweet in the weight of August, its fragrance arresting walkers in their paths,

stopped and turning, searching for the scent that brought them honey and brought them

pink.

Caws, lilts, and the thrumming piano strings of a far-off August

Today was another beautiful day, filled with hazy blues and, once the air cleared, long, smooth clouds heralding in the gloaming. I have to come clean, though. Rather than observing any creature aside from Matt (and, fleetingly, one of the snails–Queequeg–in the terrarium), the animals that I really spent time with today were the Kaijus at the Saturday matinee.

pacific rim kaiju

What I did experience in the real live neighborhood was a crow crowing and a kid yelling back, “caw caw Caw CAW CAW CAAAW CAW!!!”

There were also the underwater pipings of bluejays and pretty adorable sights of house sparrows squatting on the thick cable just outside the kitchen window. One would fly out of sight to the roof, then another, and another. But they wouldn’t do it at once, instead keeping a choreographed cadence to their movement, with three seconds between one take off and the next. 

Because I don’t have much to say about my own observations of nature today (though I could write A Lot about the day’s chores and successful thrift shopping, as well as a a two-thumbs-up review of Pacific Rim), I figured I’d look up an August 3rd of Thoreau’s. So, here you have it: ecstatically Thoreauvian thoughts from the man himself.

young thoreau

August 3, 1852

The Hypericum sarothra appears to be out.

12 m. At the east window. –A temperate noon. I hear a cricket creak in the shade; also the sound of a distant piano. The music reminds me of imagined heroic ages; it suggests such ideas of human life and the field which the earth affords as the few noblest passages of poetry.Those few interrupted strains which reach me through the trees suggest the same thoughts and aspirations that all melody by whatever else had appreciated, had ever done. I am affected. What coloring variously fair & intense our life admits of! How a thought will mould & paint it! Impressed by some vague vision as it were, elevated into a more glorious sphere of life, we no longer know this, we can deny its existence. We say we are enchanted, perhaps. But what I am impressed by is the fact that this enchantment is no delusion. So far as truth is concerned it is a fact such as what we call our actual existence, but it is a far higher & more glorious fact. It is evidence of such a sphere, of such possibilities. It is truth & reality that affect me. A thrumming of piano strings beyond the gardens & through the elms, at length the melody steals into my being, I know not when it began to occupy me. By some fortunate coincidence of thought or circumstance I am attuned to the universe, I am fitted to hear, my being moves in a sphere of melody. my fancy and imagination are excited to an inconceivable degree. This is no longer the dull earth on which I stood – It is possible to live a grander life here; already the steed is stamping – the knights are prancing; Already our thoughts bid a proud farewell to the so called actual life & its humble glories. Now this is the verdict of a soul in health. But the soul diseased says that its own vision  life alone is true & sane.

Of course, no man was ever made so truly generous, was so expanded by any vile draught, but that he might be equally and more expanded by imbibing a saner and
wholesomer draught than ever he has swallowed. There is a wine that does not intoxicate; there is a pure juice of the grape, and unfermented. What kind of draught is that which the aspirant soul imbibes?

Day two: the iridescent, the wire singer, the soft leaved

cricket

A cricket. Source.

I have Fridays off, meaning that this day of fish fries often finds me lounging in sheets til eleven, reading, writing, perusing, and, best of all, sleeping. While I woke up a bit before eight this morning I proceeded to spend the day lolling about, doing computer work and leisurely cleaning the pantries in anticipation of high summer harvests. (There was also a lot of solo dancing brought on by the excellent summer mix that came in the mail from Mandy.) I didn’t get out except to take a fifteen minute promenade around our long block, and even that I didn’t do until day was done.

My partner Matt and I left the house around 6:30, joining an early evening communion of neighborly dogwalkers, clustered, porch-perching teenagers, and sweet, slow-strolling couples. Dogday cicadas were simmering their rattled measures, and the breeze ran gently through the Acers, oaks, and elms around us.

As we turned the first corner we found grackles, large to the point of near portliness, quietly pasturing the lawn at the Baptist College. I admired their girth and especially the iridescence that I had to be patient to see; their feathers, impossibly black, reward the eye with an oil puddle’s shine only when caught perfectly by the sun. When the light did touch them I gazed as a royal cerulean and silken, emerald green moved down their necks and along their wings.

grackle

Audubon’s (rather more rural) grackles. Source.

We continued walking, arguing over titles for real and imagined books, spied upon by a holstein-dappled cat and one thousand things we didn’t have the means or gumption to see. Turning a penultimate corner home, the air singing “Wild is the Wind” to my mind, I heard a bright theme and looked up. There I found a thick wire and a silhouetted cardinal’s crest. It stayed a moment before loping beyond an enkianthus shrub. It resumed its singing there, invisibly coloring the atmosphere red.

As I stepped from the street to the curb that brought me home I found a mullein rosette. August finds  many Verbascum thapsus specimens over five feet high and beginning to burst with chandeliers made up of hundreds of tiny, yolk-colored blossoms. This little plant, however, was a yearling. Instead of striving toward height and bloom it spends the summer concentrating on growing, pushing a taproot into the ground and unfurling new, soft leaves from a star-shaped center.

mullein

Common mullein. Source.

It’s night, now, and the lack of a streetlamp outside this window brings a darkness nearly as black as the grackle’s wing. I hear the springs of porch doors creaking, the glide of wheels on streets, the deep pulse of cricket chants, and the sawing chirps of katydids. It’s a good night for listening.

The Thoreauvian Challenge

thoreau

I invite any and all of you to join me in the Thoreauvian Challenge; a dare to keep a daily record of the August wilderness around us. You can do so online (on wordpress, facebook, twitter, wherever), privately (in letters, journals, your brain), or verbally.

If you choose to accept, write (or speak, or think) some sentences or paragraphs or syllables on what you encounter within your daily doings. These should be centered around interactions with the non-human as much as possible.

The goal is to be a medium. An open jar. To consider oneself as an accomplice–a breathing, locomotive, blood-pumping part within a home, a neighborhood, an ecosystem.

fireflies

So, I’ll start. 1 August, 2013:

I biked to work and introduced the summer camp kids to some medicinal herbs. We discussed the hedgehoggish appearance of echinacea; borage’s cucumber flavor; the stickiness of calendula; the gentle flannel of mullein. 

A hedgehog in a fieldechinacea hedgehog

Hedgehog vs. Echinacea

I found a tiger swallowtail butterfly trapped in the ceiling of a greenhouse. It beat itself against the opaque glass and seemed unable to differentiate it from air. I got a broom to try to shoo it away but was waylaid by customers.

There were so many honey- and bumblebees in the catmint. Orange aphids sucked on potted swamp milkweed and I killed them–the aphids, the color of butterfly weed blooms–between my thumb and first finger.

Falling asleep as I write. More tomorrow!

%d bloggers like this: