An invitation; or, the surrendering to the sweetness of sounds

Central Park. Source: The Central Park Facebook page.

Winter in Central Park. Source.

 

I wanted this winter. I did snow dances in my mind, longing for a season of magical decadence a la Phillip Pullman or Mark Helprin. There would be skiing, snowshoeing, tracking, hours in the woods, pots of piping tea.

We’ve been graced with it all. There’s been snow like cake, like sugar, like flecks of starlings swinging. I’ve celebrated it.

I’ve also been inside. A lot. The hours spent in the neighborhood, unable to leave because of bald tires and bad roads, have lent themselves to reams of metaphors, research logs, and seed schedules. Wool’s been spun, literally and figuratively. The piles of photographs and shoes and sweaters in my closet have been swept up and tidied. I’ve been trapping mice, or attempting to, devastated over the tiny broken bodies but unwilling to attempt live traps in the bitter cold.

More than anything my hands have been perched over letters and letting them go in rushes. Fingers form the botanical and pinyin names of Chinese herbs. They jot the number of days it takes for a seed to grow girthy enough to be plucked from a nursery and transplanted into the yawning earth.

I flutter and fret, hover and strike, stacking syllables into prose and roaming for words better than those already chosen. The more I write the more deeply I fall in love with the craft and practice.

Perhaps paradoxically, the more I sit the happier I am to not be a full-time writer. Chairs and the sedentary get me twitching after awhile. My mind is worked to exhaustion and I long for the feeling of a shovel in my hand and a garden of possibility before me. (A real garden, not one in metaphor.)

2nd Murmur no. 23, 2006 (Richard Barnes / Foley Gallery)
Starlings. 2nd Murmur no. 23, 2006 (Richard Barnes / Foley Gallery)

Now, on this last day of February, my sitting days are about to end. Beginning next week I’ll be back at the farm, my life returning to the old, familiar cycles of sowing, transplanting, harvesting and selling.

In my mind, winter ends after this weekend. It’s already begun being ushered out by the cardinals and blue jays singing in the morning. I love the cold blue of these days as they are warmed with song, where even the house sparrows are lovely to listen to. Any bird sound makes me feel lighter and alive and longing to shed another layer.

Because of the sweet madness of March, marked by all the plans and work and the water and warm muscle that fuels it, I’m going to concentrate on poetry for a while. There won’t be as much time for the prose of blogging (especially given all of the other writing I’m doing; the editing of my book, being a contributing writer for Herbstalk, and more). And, I love poetry. I pick it apart like a buzzard. I gulp down what I love and stay away from everything else.

So please join me in a month of poems. The theme: birds. The alternative theme? Anything mud-luscious and everything puddle-wonderful. There’s a lot of glorious and fecund poetry out there about the transformation of seasons that we’re all just starting to witness or about to. If you have a poem that you especially love, be it your own or another’s, please share it in the comments, on the S & P Facebook page, or on twitter, hashtag #MudSongs.

To quote Tegan and Sarah: here comes the rush.

To explore the physical sounds of a spring morning, please visit Anatomy of a Spring Morning from the Spokes and Petals archives. 

Discoveries & Fascinations

In winter it can seem as if one’s surroundings are asleep and lifeless and devoid of inspiration. Not so! There’s life all over—at this very moment a gorgeous,  auburn cardinal is perched in profile outside my window, its crest brightly transparent against the sun. You can go outside to find this life, and you can also take a look in some curious internet nooks.

 

An adult female robin. Source.

An adult female robin. Source.

I’m always quoting and linking to The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, one of the very best authorities in the US on birds. Recently I came across this excellent question from a winter birder: why on earth are there twelve robins in my yard in January? Read the illuminating response here.

 

The seemingly benign squiggle in this video is brought to you by a terrifyingly fantastic article from Scientific American’s blog The Artful Amoeba. In it, Jennifer Frazer examines spirochetes, the bacteria that wreak havoc on sufferers of Lyme disease and syphilis. (Note: while Lyme has traditionally been thought of as a disease of rural places, it is increasingly acknowledged that it can be contracted in cities such as Boston.) While I am scared speechless of Lyme, an epidemic that has affected far too many of my friends, family, and acquaintances, I have been fascinated by its tenacious brilliance ever since reading about its pathology in Healing Lyme Naturally. I appreciate Frazer’s view of spirochetes as amazing micro-organisms. I’m also a firm proponent of knowing one’s enemy, whether we’re talking garden pests or human diseases. Knowledge is power, especially on the microscopic level.

 

tyrone

A new piece from The New Yorker documents how Berkeley scientist Tyrone Hayes has been intimidated and blackmailed by Syngenta, a massive agricultural chemical company, for over a decade. This article sharply illustrates how industry and government no longer allow science to “speak for itself,” instead weighing it down by bales of red tape, propaganda, and bad guy stratagems that make the villains in Captain Planet look like weenies.

 

In more arboreal news, plans to create a square mile of urban forest in Detroit’s lower east side are moving forward . I welcome the beginning of a new chapter of the ever-unfurling experiment that is 21st-century Detroit.

 

timberrattler

While researching a little sentence in a facebook post I came upon this little gem of an article from the Milton Patch. It chronicles tactics used by Boston area snakes to survive the winter. One of those overwintering critters is this thing of orange beauty, the Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus).

 

greenheronFINAL

Lastly, two tidbits shared with me by my dear friend Mal. First an awesome comic by Maki Naro about the ingenuity of the green heron, one of our most elegant urban birds. (Click for larger image.)

And this, a poem by Issa:

 

O snail

Climb Mount Fuji,

But slowly, slowly!

My Life as a Turkey

A west coast wild turkey. Source.

A west coast wild turkey. Source.

 

I created just a handful of resolutions this year and I think that they are all pretty attainable. Writing more is, as ever, one of them, but when I was mulling over what else to improve upon embracing the wild turkey wasn’t exactly at the top of my list.

This was before I spent New Year’s afternoon having a lazy, prolonged brunch of soda bread and butter with two of my favorite ladies from Milwaukee–Kat, mentioned in the last post, and Erin, who was a guest-blogger in 2013. We were sitting around discussing creatures we have known when Kat asked if I’d seen My Life as a Wild Turkey. I laughed and said no–it sounded like some coming-of-age comedy starring Steve Carell. But Kat insisted I find it. “This guy becomes a turkey mother!” she said. “The birds have their own language!” she added.

It’s impossible for me to say no to any episode of Nature, much less one that purportedly proves that turkeys can talk. So I made a note to watch it and told a few turkey tales of my own.

An amazing shot of a Boston bird by @Treasure_MA.

An amazing shot of a Boston bird by Nick Wilson, aka @Treasure_MA. More wonderful images of our urban turkeys here (with an invitation to submit your own!).

 

In my first draft of this post I mused that I didn’t know why I hadn’t written more about wild turkeys in the past few years, but now I understand their absence perfectly. In my full-time country farmer days I had some negative experiences with domesticated turkeys which I allowed to foolishly color my appreciation of their cousins. This confession leaves me feeling like Ben Franklin’s summation of the bald eagle: a creature of “bad moral character.” My prejudice was completely uncalled for; anyone that’s worked on an animal farm, or visited one, or ever learned anything about domesticated creatures, knows that intelligence is not something typically selected for in the barnyard. The turkey you had for dinner in November was likely the member of a variety honed for its pure white feathers and capacity for girth. Unless you chose your bird meticulously from a Portlandia episode it wasn’t prized for its high-functioning brain or, for that matter, given a healthy, sunny, non-stressful place to live.

But Wild turkeys. They’re fascinating. And, despite my lousy experiences with their watered-down cousins, they’ve manged to have a hold on me ever since I moved to New England in 2003. There I had friends who told me of the gaggles roaming their lawns and driveways, jogging and strutting through the grass like the Maine State Dinosaur. They sounded bizarre and wonderful and I longed to see some of my own. Eventually I did, but only briefly from car windows while riding shotgun.

The first time that I truly saw them I was on a bike trip in southeastern Wisconsin. I’d been pedaling along, lost in the aimless bliss of a long ride, when suddenly we met.

Wild turkeys are one of those creatures that really embody the eastern woodlands, and I saw them not for the resemblance to their agricultural relations but rather for that forest within. Their feathers, scalloped like mushrooms and smooth like a leaf-littered floor, were the colors of venerable bark and marked in an iridescence like foxfire or beetle shell. Their beaded eyes took in everything–us, the steel curves of our bikes, the roadside knit in prairie remnants and field weeds. The flock was about 15 deep, pecking and wandering in the autumn air. The  sun gilt on the tips of the soybean fields we sidled complimented the catching prisms, like petrified wood, wrapped within the wings and tails. I was starstruck.

Looking back, I recognize my time with those Waukesha, Wisconsin turkeys as one of those mystical first time experiences; a sudden, happenstance meeting between two species which for one was illuminating and, for the other, utterly ordinary. (But, you never know. Maybe I really blew those turkeys’ minds with my over-packed messenger bag and bright, red, long-gone bike.)

* * *

Here in Boston I see turkeys fairly often. They’ll walk down the sidewalk, along the river, around the hospital. But my favorite interactions with them occur while working in my clients’ gardens. Most recently I’ve enjoyed watching them wander a sweeping Brookline property. I was pruning a Siberian cypress with a friend when I found a Tom standing on a  small cliff that bordered the backyard. An exploratory group of hens surrounded him at distances. They’d cock their heads, lift a tenuous leg, and let it go along with their neck, streamlining their upper bodies for the epicurean rapture of some succulent slug or morbidly obese grub. Gazing at them I was tickled with the exhilaration of being allowed to observe another living thing. You see, turkeys let you really look at them. Unlike many creatures who are easily put off by humans, they’ll kindly allow you to keep an eye on them as long as you also keep your distance. This is a gift that I accept readily and enjoyably, watching their strangely wonderful forms swagger around the city.

 

Or, if you’re Joe Hutto, you can just snuggle with a turkey and it’s no big deal. Source.

 

If you’re interested in learning about turkeys, visit The National Wild Turkey Federation. And if you want to hear a deliciously cautionary tale as to why you should never, ever feed a wild animal*,  do yourself a favor and listen to one of the best This American Life stories of all time, all about Tom, the psycho killer of Martha’s Vineyard.

As for “My Life as a Turkey,” it’s wonderfully thoughtful and thought-provoking.  If you’re on the fence about whether to want to watch a few dozen minutes about a guy hanging out with a bunch of large birds, just think: this is a man obsessed. Joe Hutto raises the turkeys from scratch and, once they’re old enough to venture into the wild, follows them through backwoods Florida. He rarely leaves his property for fear that something could happen to the precious brood. Hutto learns how to coo the language of the jakes and jennys and finds love and brotherhood in the little flock. And…he’s a man; a human who seemingly longs to transform himself wholly into one of the surprisingly elegant and innately wild birds that he so admires. Aren’t you curious to see what happens to a grown man who attempts to fully integrate himself into a gaggle of woodland turkeys? Answer: Yes, yes you are. So watch, enjoy, and tell me what you think.

A second request: the next time that you see a wild turkey, or some other bird that you take for granted and make assumptions about, consider who that creature really is. How does it operate? Does it get by? Consider whether you really have any idea what this living being is all about. It may appear undeniably silly, but the bird before (or above) you may also be able to teach you something about themselves, their environment, and how you tie into all of it.

Wild Turkey by John James Audubon. Source.

Wild Turkey by John James Audubon. Source.

 

* Don’t worry, you can still have a bird feeder. Just not a turkey feeder. Seriously, don’t make a turkey feeder.

%d bloggers like this: