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. 

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


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.


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.


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


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.


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!

Some bits and pieces about my book-in-progress

Cows and elm

I have a confession to make: I’m writing a book.

I have been reluctant to write about it here, due to equal parts shyness and a desire to commit myself to blogging rather than advertising. However, my friend Lisa Taylor, a poet and the mother of naturalist Kira Taylor, asked if I would participate in a Q & A for authors who have either just published a book or on the cusp of doing so. I don’t want to disappoint an old friend, and I would like to start sharing this project with those outside of my family and Facebook feed. So, here we go! Lisa, by the way, also wrote of her up-and-coming collection of poetry, Necessary Silence, as well as a novel that’s in the works. You can read her words here.

* * *

What is the working title of your book?
My current working title is “Streets of Wilderness: A Song of the Urban Wild in Twelve Parts.” A bit redundant; I’m working on it.

Where did the idea come from?
Before I started living in Boston full-time I spent a growing season in rural Maine. It was difficult to make the transition from a wooded homestead to a residential neighborhood wrought with houses, asphalt, and the incessant ebb and flow of traffic. I quickly began to feel suffocated, but found hope in the plants and animals that I saw thriving in the city, domesticated and wild alike. I began writing little things about them in this blog, mentioned to a friend that it would be interesting to turn my observations into a book, and things bloomed from there.

What genre does your book fall under?
Nature writing.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
In my dream world Jacob Feiring directs the documentary and David Attenborough narrates it. I suppose that there would also be random glamor shots of, say, Scarlet Johansson walking seductively down a street while a raccoon scurries behind her, going after a bit of pizza crust.

What is a one-sentence synopsis of your book?
A poetic exploration of a year in the urban wild.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
About twelve months.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
In writing of various wild species, landscapes, and situations one month at a time, I have adopted the format used by Aldo Leopold in his Sand County Almanac. My book is also akin to Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek for its examinations of place, natural phenomenon, and the blissful, life-quenched realities of day-to-day life. (That’s what I’d like to think, anyway!)

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
Though I’ve spent significant time in rural areas, the majority of my life has been spent in the post-industrial landscapes of Milwaukee and the brick and glass neighborhoods of Boston. After years of uneasy ennui in these cities, I finally had the realization that, in order to thrive, I had to seek out the organic among the man-made, the places in the cracks where cells were photosynthesizing, dividing, and driving new life. I found, by mindfully observing these pieces of urban life, from trees breaking concrete to coyotes moving silently through cemeteries, I became more resilient, more fascinated, more able to accept what the city brings. This book is both an ode of thanks to the tenacious things that have helped me to survive, and is also a way to keep me awake and alive with curiosity.

What else about your book might pique a reader’s interest?
People are drawn to the untamed, and because the majority of us live in cities, it is becoming increasingly common that we only experience the undomesticated through an urban lens. Humans are naturally intrigued by our surroundings and anxious to understand them. However, it can be challenging to see what is around us, either because we don’t know where to look or because what we seek is so ubiquitous that it slips by. Hopefully those interested in finding and appreciating the nature around them will enjoy this book.

When and how will it be published?

My book will be published as an e-book by an imprint of Village Earth Press, and should be out sometime this year. I will post updates as I complete it and continue to traverse the mysterious landscapes of the publishing world!

Please come again next Tuesday as Erin Therrien will be a guest blogger here, doing her own Q&A on the recently published Wild Dyes: Natural Dyeing in Wisconsin and the Upper Midwest. She writes of many dye plants that just so happen to be found in lots of North American cities.


The drawings in this post and at the site’s header are the work of Laura Grover, a prolific artist currently based just north of Portland, Maine. These illustrations are all works that Laura has done for my book. Laura is also currently working on a graphic novel about the history of her family.

January: Foxes, Open Windows, and Rain


Well, it’s been awhile. As per usual I make lots of big promises to myself to blog as often as possible and then find myself, for example, swooning over netflix reruns of Downton Abbey and procrastinating on knitting projects.

Cynically, I decided to spurn all new year’s resolutions this year, thinking that if I didn’t make the promises to myself they couldn’t be broken. However, in spite of far too many hours spent playing video games in 2013, I’ve also realized that I am capable of cleaning the apartment, maintaining something that can be truly labeled organization and not merely a semblance of, and playing things besides video games (such as AGRICOLA, the best boardgame and Christmas present a person could ask for). I am unemployed. I have plenty of time. I can keep one promise.

So, dear readers, please help me maintain this one little resolution: a heart-crossed pledge to write. A motion to write in many many motions, from the relatively flat typing that turns my hands to leaping spiders, to the mad scribbles in the moleskine, to the soon-to-come pattering of a typewriter (currently being resurrected in a wonderful Cambridge shop).

I am encouraged to write by many things, but especially by some friends of mine who have recently published books – Carrot Quinn’s Ten Thousand Miles by Freight Train, Erin Therrien’s Wild Dyes:Natural Dyeing in Wisconsin and the Upper Midwest, and Lisa Taylor’s upcoming collection of poems, Necessary Silence. It is good to have the work of these people reminding me that it is good to do something whilst sitting besides wasting time.

I am also inspired by the upsurge of ecological scenes unfolding before me both here and in my native Milwaukee, where I stayed for ten days during the turn of the year.

Some of these scenes yanking at my writerly desire are charming, like the fox that I saw running through the night beside the kite shop at Bradford Beach. Others are bizarre, such as reports of turkeys chasing down the residents of Brookline (a suburb sidled up beside Boston), and still more are blissfully unsettling, like the Reggaeton and air, 60 degrees at least, that is sighing through my open windows in this, the middle of January.

But, reader. A list is only a list. I am staring at myself and demanding more. If I seem to need nagging you may nag at me, and I ask you do so. In return you get to ask me for things. Tell me what you’d like to read about, what you’d like me to learn and investigate. If you are bored or brightened by this blog tell me, and I’ll do what I can to make it better. I’ll write, anyway, at least once every two weeks. I think that I made this promise in October but now I’m in the universe of the unemployed, leaving me hours and days and weeks to devote to sentences here and in my much greater work that I’m hoping to publish sooner than later. There will be bits of pieces of it here as time goes by, and any feedback about it will always be welcome.

Anyway, here’s a belated mason jar of champagne raised to a new year. I’ll keep my promises and hope you’ll keep coming back for more.

wild turkey!

Image credits: and

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