In rain and light

© Gary Joe Wolf

© Gary Joe Wolf

 

Send me a leaf

 

Send me a leaf, but from a little tree

That grows no nearer your house

Than half an hour away. For then

You will have to walk, you will get strong and I

Shall thank you for the pretty leaf.

 

—Bertolt Brecht

(Translated, from the German, by David Constantine)

 

Tonight, tonight. The streets are slicked in rain, smooth like a bathing elephant’s skin. There’s the sweetness of being alive in the wet, the beautiful feeling of washed air magically coupled with the rich wildness of fall colors. Honeyed yellows deepening to red. Marmelade. Occasional veins of magenta. Some chartreuse, even paler than usual in the street lamp glow. Leaves.

Downtown there are ashes everywhere. Not from fires, per se, but the leaves of those street trees are lit in a burning yellow, loosing halos to the earth below. They lay in crowds around the tiny squares of soil surrounded by cement. I love the young things lining sidewalks and medians, dappled in their golden leaflets, but here in my neighborhood I am lucky and rich with ancient oaks and sugar maples instead, all shimmering in chiaroscuro.

The aesthetics of rainy nights never fail to floor me. The shine, the sounds, the solitude. Tonight I walked, wearing heels from a night out, click clacking down one street to another. A skunk was out–my sole companion, glowing white as it browsed one of the area’s larger lawns. It was a quiet, quick, nonchalant creature, not remotely interested in me or a car that sped and splashed by. They die that way, thinking that they can fend off station wagons by spraying them. But this skunk just stayed on the lawn, nibbling in the headlights as I watched under my hood with hands in my pockets. Eventually I turned away, my mind in the night, my heart and soul rinsed in warm weather and beauty.

I’m riding with the trees through transition. Last week I left Allandale Farm, the place where I’ve spent the last three years of my life. In August I’d begun my new position as the horticultural manager at Flora Explora, a landscaping company that deals primarily in Chinatown and Southie properties. It’s a big change, and I’m grateful for it. Leaving the farm and taking up with Flora is giving me the opportunity to learn about botanical entrepreneurialism as well as the space to hone my landscape design skills. And it’s given me a sweeter schedule, one that leaves me feeling more solidly on my feet. I wake up remembering my dreams. I’m alive in phases, in the changing moon and lengthening nights.

This evening as I strolled I stood below a ledge-grown maple whose roots bulged hiphigh. I felt a gnarl and raised my face, my eyes climbing crevices and arms toward the canopy. I listened to the sound of leaves, green but brightening toward yellow. Fallen raindrops fell again to lower leaves and limbs. My eyes were full of light, of the chlorophyll that, come morning, will keep working until it is all shut down and captured within wood til spring’s great bud break. I looked up, my chest full of light, my mind racing with life, rushing with the knowledge of all the ecology seen and unseen before me. My heart felt like the set of Ferngully. I felt like Ferngully. It was magic, and it was a tree, and it was two blocks away, and it is October.

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.

Divine Days: A log of a Cape Ann jaunt and the return home.

Wikipedia.

When last we met I was bidding you adieu so that I could continue the lovely, long weekend that my boyfriend and I were luxuriating in. Now, a quick swing back in time.

On Friday the heavens rained upon us from the moment we left the little studio apartment we were renting to the second we entered a distant cousin’s Gloucester bed and breakfast, The Inn at Babson Court, and fell into cups of coffee and a million stories. 

It was wet enough that, again, the majority of wildlife experienced was in the perfect haddock that I had for dinner. We were surrounded by so many secrets, though, as we soaked up rain along the sea: the jellyfish, the right whales, lobsters, clams, mussels, and sharks. There were hidden tidal pools with hermit crabs, fluttering barnacles, and cities of unbelievable microscopic shapes and means of living. Even when marine life shies away from me I am awed by its certain presence. I grew up on fresh water and visited with it intimately in my youth. Saltwater, of course, is a whole different ballgame. The dead jellyfish floating in Boston Harbor, the tiny, vivacious pools in low-tide Gloucester; they thrill me again and again, even on a day spent without a view of anything marine aside from waves through a window, models of ships, and a whole lot of gulls. Continue reading

Scared of Bullfrogs? Get rich (kind of) quick!

bullfrog 1

Cue menacing “ribbit.” Credit: http://naturemappingfoundation.org/

A few months ago I wrote about some of the heebie jeebies I get from frogs. But, you know, I only blogged about it, whereas this guy, who apparently has a phobia birthed out of an experience of an Italian chasing him in early childhood with bullfrogs in his fists, took his issues with him to court. There the judiciary wound up awarding him ONE POINT SIX MILLION DOLLARS, all because he’s skeered of the springy, lurky amphibians on his property. Makes me feel a bit less silly about my own occasionally creeped-out feelings. Thanks to Donna over at http://gardenwalkgardentalk.com/ for the awesome story.

dacks

Mmmmmmountains. Credit: http://www.americanforests.org/

In other news, it’s good to be back. While I was in the Adirondacks, staying a scant handful of miles from this mountainI jumped back into Spokes and Petals rather suddenly. There was no pomp nor circumstance, simply an acted upon desire to share my boyfriend’s discovery of that still-enchanting rosy maple moth. Obviously I continue to find it tremendously difficult to write during the heat of our growing season (which lasts from march through the end of June) and, as per usual, I will keep striving to figure out ways to keep my writing honed and timely, even when my hands are black from tomato tar and my body forces me to fall asleep before nine. 

As I tend to do after some time off I will offer a quick list of semi-relevant things which I’ve done whilst not blogging:

  • I started up a medicinal herb offering at Allandale Farm, featuring the seeds, plants, and handmade products derived from over 50 of our own medicinal herbs. (I still have a lot that need a new home, so if you’re in Boston and have a bit of free soil or container space come by and give us a look.) allandale herbs A sampling of what I’ve been tending to. Clockwise from top left: resina calendula, mad-dog skullcap, lemon thyme, peppermint, lemon balm, sacred basil (tulsi), and heartsease (Johnny-jump-up). Credit: Helen Glotzer.
  • I went to Wisconsin and learned how to ride a tandem and hold on tight to the back of a cargo bike. Pictures forthcoming.
  • I also danced with my family and friend Murray to THE ZOMBIES as they played a dream-come-true show at Summerfest!!! This song was played and sung impeccably–and was the first thing to yank us all off our feet.

  • I happened upon the Paul McCartney concert at Fenway Park last week. One of my favorite moments in Boston ever: sitting on the sidewalk outside of the stadium with lots of other strangers, smiling my face off, listening to Sir Paul sing “Something,” initially accompanied by a ukulele and brushed drum before blissfully breaking into that sweeeet guitar solo that we all know by heart. Holy holy holy.
  • I started reading The World Without Us. Mindblowing!
  • Matt and I saw our first luna moths (again in the Dacks). Talk about mindblowing.
  • luna moth Photo credit: http://www.fcps.edu/

Anyway, it’s been a busy while, but I really am back and am happy, as ever, to be here.

The stuff nightmares are made of.

Today I’m editing a chapter of my book which is in part about the American Bullfrog, Rana catesbiana. It is our largest frog here in North America, impressive for its size (its hindlegs alone can grow up to ten inches long!), but especially for its appetite. In the words of Mary Cynthia Dickerson, author of The Frog Book, the bullfrog “is the green dragon of the pond,” and “will eat almost any moving object that it can swallow or partially swallow.” This includes birds, snakes, rodents, fish, young turtles, and even baby alligators. Opportunistic cannibals, they will also freely partake of the tadpoles and adults of their kind. You can see how these clawless, fangless, and venomless creatures are able to hunt so successfully in this excellent little video from National Geographic. It’s more than a little unsettling to think that if I suddenly shrank to four inches in height I would be eaten without a second thought if ever I were to wander about a pond in the summer. And judging by their treatment of birds, I’d go down tiny hair, tiny clothes, tiny shoes and all.

Quilted parking lots

The DOT Straigtens Things Out

After Erin’s lovely post I was thinking of how unfortunate it is that there are so few artists that so cleverly address urban landscapes and the wildlife (and wild plants) within. My gloominess about this didn’t last long, though, as I chanced upon the brilliant fiber work of Terese Agnew on the PBS’s Craft in America. Her segment (the last on the show, from 39:10 on) features two quilts: “Cedar Waxwings at the AT & T Parking Lot” and “The D.O.T. Straightens Things Out.” Both are wonderful pieces that deal, at least in part, with the precious tension that lies between humans and the wild world around us.

I especially love this quote, for it puts beauty and interest into one of the most common blights of the urban landscape: the parking lot.

Every fall flocks of cedar waxwings would come to the parking lot and eat berries from the trees in the median strip…and sure enough, there were hundreds and hundreds of [them]. And while I was sitting there I realized: a bird’s eye view of a parking lot is so…quiltish.

And so I thought – I’m going to make a quilt about this.

Cedar Waxwings at the AT & T Parking Lot

Doesn’t it make you want to do something wonderful with some scissors and scraps and thread? I’m abuzz with inspiration.

Watch Episode VIII: Threads on PBS. See more from Craft in America

Images thanks to The Milwaukee Public Art Museum & KPBS.

Two words for snow: Swan Song

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From jacket-free overexposure on Tuesday…

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to thick wet rabbit tracking on Wednesday.

Two mornings ago I trudged through the front door, worn out and dripping. My hair, uncombed and restless from sleep, was tangled with snow, and the tips of my long underwear were damp from shaking the shrubs out back and standing too close. I beat away the cakey wet that had compressed itself against my plaid and polyester, sank into a chair, and stretched my calves along the footrest.

Continue reading

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