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 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 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.

MudSong Seventeen: With ice clinging fast to their wings

A Multitude of Birds
—by Ron McFarland

Sing now the desperate dance of small birds.
Sing where the quail collect after snowfall,
the mud-gutted borders of roads where the last
hard grains of wheat lay heaped with the gravel.

Sing the wren’s last colorless song,
the solitary vireo’s slow cold slur
by the roadside sifting old brown bags
for crusts or breadcrumbs, or perhaps

among the shards of bright green glass
a sip of wine, a claret deep as blood.
Sing then the cunning of sparrows which look
like nothing but dark little rocks,

for they will endure, and the starling
whose song is the echo of anything,
and the waxwing, gregarious feeders.
Sing warblers and blackbirds perched on the edge

of winter with ice clinging fast
to their wings, with plentiful seed
lying deep, with songs frozen hard into words,
sing now the desperate dance of small birds.

 

A robin, wrens, bullfinches, blue tits and other birds sheltering in a snow storm; a flock of sparrows roosting in a winter landscape (a pair) each by Harry Bright.

A robin, wrens, bullfinches, blue tits and other birds sheltering in a snow storm; a flock of sparrows roosting in a winter landscape (a pair) each, by Harry Bright.

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!

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