Things that fall from the sky

One of the many Elecampane (Inula helenium) plants that I started from seed last year, now blooming in Boston.

One of the many Elecampane (Inula helenium) plants that I started from seed last year, now blooming in Boston.

 

I began this post from my steamy bedroom a few nights ago, in the aftermath of the neighborhood’s Roman candle blasts and even louder late night party cackles. Summer, that grand doozy of a season, had spent the whole week sitting on this city, stifling everything and exhausting me as I did anything. I’d go for days in a wilt before some kind soul would grant me a blessing spun with lemon, lime, or watermelon. Naked water sat within me uselessly, my body stubbornly refusing hydration as it tsk-ed me for having such a lousy electrolyte balance.  All was irate and fecund and full of color.

Arthur broke the everlasting sweat with his billions of raindrops, and now I can sit here in the backyard, an umbrella stretched over my little patch of sleepy, breezy afternoon, and feel pleasant and not at all sunstruck.

As I last wrote, June was a month of herbs. I taught several classes at Herbstalk, Allandale, and the Fenway Victory Gardens (of which there is YouTube proof). Herbstalk was especially amazing. I sold hundreds of plants and talked myself hoarse while trading ideas, tips, and techniques for growing and using healing plants with folks from all over the northeast.

Farmside, I sowed tulsi and am now watching it flower tinily, enjoying its fruity, spicy, sacred self as it wafts around the garden center and through the greenhouse.

 

The lovage and elder umbels in my victory garden.

The lovage and elder umbels of my victory garden.

 

In my own garden everything is amazing, or at least vigorous and vivacious. My favorite part at present are the umbels. Those beautiful wheels of infinitesimal blossoms are anchoring the space in the white of elder, the chartreuse of lovage, and the firm red (lightened with sweet little pale centers) of ornamental yarrow. I also had valerian, started from seed and glorious in its tiny blushing blooms, but something—rabbits, I’m sure—trampled it and now it’s tenaciously starting over again, about six inches tall after its towering 48, photosynthesizing and fattening sleepytime roots for the winter and fall.

I’m possibly busier than I’ve ever been before between the farm, landscaping, beekeeping, gardening, and general around-the-house-ing. And occasional socializing. And very infrequent resting. The living madness of my schedule has kept me from seeking out too much wildlife as of late, but I’m seeing tons of it incidentally which, really, is what I prefer.

The best bit of wilderness that I’ve lately encountered fell from the sky, tumbling suddenly into a tray of pots being carried by a coworker. It was a tiny, scowling, perfect fledgling of a swallow. The little bird, only slightly tousled, looked at us as we ogled and oohed, admiring its jaded gaze and amazing wings. Its wings were clearly its best feature. They were  so clearly those of a barn swallow—dark and beautifully preened in an almost violet, parallel tilt that met elegantly in a point.

The tiny thing was clearly startled and shook slightly but its stare was steadfast, so fierce for such a miniature thing. Eventually we set the tray down on the ground, or started to before, without warning, the bird took flight. Its downy self, so squat and crabby, was instantly gorgeous as it flew through the wide open air, taking a pretty, curved path to its nest along the garage. What a pretty Independence Day.

Tiny swallow staredown

Tiny swallow staredown

 

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MudSong 29: In the lawn

Anagramming
—Sally Bliumis Dunn

Silent, the word

lifting off, only
its letters

in the white air
of the page, swirl,

rearrange,
then brighten

as though at dawn,
a flock of robins,

struggling to gather
in the wind;

anagram’s answer
lands on the lawn,

brown heads lowered
into thin green blades.

For burrowing worms,
they listen .

 

"Robins" by Leslie White, used with permission from the artist.

“Robins” by Leslie White, used with permission from the artist.

MudSong 28: Dapple-dawn-drawn

The Windhover
By Gerard Manley Hopkins

To Christ our Lord

I caught this morning morning’s minion, king-
    dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
    Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
    As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
    Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird, – the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!
Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
    Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!
   No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
    Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermilion.
American Kestrel: adult female taking flight. © William Jobes, PA, September 2008

American Kestrel: adult female taking flight. © William Jobes, PA, September 2008

MudSongs 24 & 25: Lush with collision

Birdsong
—Joanie Mackowski

Bustle and caw. Recall the green heat
rising from the new minted earth, granite

and basalt, proto-continents shuffling
and stacking the deck, first shadows flung

from the ultraviolet haze. A fern
uncurls from the swamp, the microscopic furnace

of replication warms the world, one
becoming two, two four: exponential blossom.

Lush with collision, the teacup balance
of x and y, cells like balloons

escaping into the sky—then the dumbstruck
hour, unmoored by a river,

a first fish creeps to the land to marvel
at the monstrous buds of its toes. And stars

grow feet and walk across the years, into these dozing,
ordinary days, climbing the spine’s winding

stair, where crickets yawn and history spins.

 

Still Life with Three Bird's Nests by Vincent van Gogh (on his 161st birthday).

Still Life with Three Bird’s Nests by Vincent van Gogh (on his 161st birthday).

 

What birds plunge through is not the intimate space
—Rainer Maria Rilke (Translated by Stephen Mitchell)

What birds plunge through is not the intimate space
in which you see all forms intensified.
(Out in the Open, you would be denied
your self, would disappear into that vastness.)

Space reaches from us and construes the world:
to know a tree, in its true element,
throw inner space around it, from that pure
abundance in you. Surround it with restraint.
It has no limits. Not till it is held
in your renouncing is it truly there.

MudSongs 22 & 23: Dear, dark dapple of plush!

 

Two poems by Mary Oliver. 

White Owl Flies Into and Out of the Field

Coming down out of the freezing sky
with its depths of light,
like an angel, or a Buddha with wings,
it was beautiful, and accurate,
striking the snow and whatever was there
with a force that left the imprint
of the tips of its wings — five feet apart —
and the grabbing thrust of its feet,
and the indentation of what had been running
through the white valleys of the snow —
and then it rose, gracefully,
and flew back to the frozen marshes
to lurk there, like a little lighthouse,
in the blue shadows —
so I thought:
maybe death isn’t darkness, after all,
but so much light wrapping itself around us —
as soft as feathers —
that we are instantly weary of looking, and looking,
and shut our eyes, not without amazement,
and let ourselves be carried,
as through the translucence of mica,
to the river that is without the least dapple or shadow,
that is nothing but light — scalding, aortal light —
in which we are washed and washed
out of our bones.

 

 

Little Owl Who Lives in the Orchard

His beak could open a bottle,
and his eyes – when he lifts their soft lids –
go on reading something
just beyond your shoulder –
Blake, maybe,
or the Book of Revelation.

Never mind that he eats only
the black-smocked crickets,
and the dragonflies if they happen
to be out late over the ponds, and of course
the occasional festal mouse.
Never mind that he is only a memo
from the offices of fear –

it’s not size but surge that tells us
when we’re in touch with something real,
and when I hear him in the orchard
fluttering
down the little aluminum
ladder of his scream –
when I see his wings open, like two black ferns,

a flurry of palpitations
as cold as sleet
rackets across the marshlands
of my heart
like a wild spring day.

Somewhere in the universe,
in the gallery of important things,
the babyish owl, ruffled and rakish,
sits on its pedestal.
Dear, dark dapple of plush!
A message, reads the label,
from that mysterious conglomerate:
Oblivion and Co.
The hooked head stares
from its house of dark, feathery lace.
It could be a valentine.

Related owlish posts: Snowy Owls: a graceful poem in flightNews & CuriositiesMudSongs Seven & Eight: O, she says.

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. 

News and curiosities

From the arctic descending, manifested in both weather and white, yellow-eyed owls, to recent discoveries and new ways of thinking on extinction, there’s a lot to read, watch, and listen to out there. Here are some recent gems that I’ve come across.

 

 

Jonathan Rosen’s New Yorker essay on how the passenger pigeon became extinct (which also serves as a review of Joel Greenberg’s newest, A Feathered River Across the Sky: The Passenger Pigeon’s Flight to Extinction), is brilliant. The New Yorker published two fantastic (and deeply troubling) articles on extinction last month; the first on extinction’s history, the second on its present and future. Rosen’s piece, is in a similar vein, but in microcosm. All three articles are important, moving works which emphasize the need to be more creative and thoughtful in the ways by which we attempt to “save” the species with whom we share our earthly habitats.

 

 

WNPR produced a wonderful story on searching for snowy owls. The byline: “From Harry Potter’s Hedwig to the owl of Athena, there’s something magical about owls.” Irresistible. You can read and listen (as well as view some wonderful owl images) here.

 

climate2

The weather on January 8, 2014. Source.

 

I’ve been finding some pretty awesome articles & websites on Twitter lately. (No, I don’t just tweet about Downton Abbey.) This, from @rahmstorf, head of Earth System Analysis at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, is The Climate Reanalyzer. Go to this website and see in real-time color how the climate is changing before our eyes.

climate1

What the weather is on average on January 8th. Source.

 

For more up-to-date news and such you can always visit me on Twitter and Facebook.

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