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.

News and Gratitude

If you’ve been following Spokes and Petals for awhile, you know that I really have a thing for skunks.

Happily, they occupied the front page of the NYT’s Science Times last week, along with some of their mammalian partners in chemical warfare. Natalie Angier writes… Continue reading

Lawless foraging and garbage pail skunks

A northern dusky salamander, found in Manhattan. © Damon Winter/The New York Times

A medley of recent news offerings on urban ecology:

A story from Chicago’s WBBM fleshes out the city’s spike in skunk population. The author writes that the combination of habitat destruction and recent flooding (which forces them out of their burrows) have led to more and more skunks seeking the urban cornucopia and shelter found in alleyway trash cans.

Two July articles from the New York Times describe other curiosities and realities of city life. The first is about prohibiting foraging in the city’s parks. Maria Hernandez, the director of horticulture for the Central Park Conservancy, says that “If people decide that they want to make their salads out of our plants, then we’re not going to have any chipmunks.” On the contrary, when speaking of Japanese knotweed (Polygonum cuspinatum), Leda Meredith, the author of “The Locavore’s Handbook,” suggests that “You’re almost doing the ecosystem in the park a favor by harvesting” it, as plants such as knotweed are invasive (in this case noxious), and choke out the rest of the landscape.

The second New York Times article is about two scientists studying urban evolution in NYC. Excerpt:

White-footed mice, stranded on isolated urban islands, are evolving to adapt to urban stress. Fish in the Hudson have evolved to cope with poisons in the water. Native ants find refuge in the median strips on Broadway. And more familiar urban organisms, like bedbugs, rats and bacteria, also mutate and change in response to the pressures of the metropolis. In short, the process of evolution is responding to New York and other cities the way it has responded to countless environmental changes over the past few billion years. Life adapts.

Japanese Knotweed

A smell in the morning, a dancer in darkness

The last few mornings I’ve been waking up, groggy with mixed feelings of pleasant comfort and a scrunched up nose, slowly realizing that I am smelling a skunk.


Skunks, also known as polecats, are amazingly cute. Whichever one (or more than one?! Could we have a den of wee skunks, reminiscent of the bashful Flower?) is haunting my door has as of yet gone unseen, and since it is nocturnal and I am positively not so, there’s a pretty decent chance that we won’t be making eye contact anytime soon. It did fill my dreams, though. In my sleep it came to me as the perfect cartoony live action skunk – it really had long claws for digging up grubs and the like, but it also smiled. And spoke, perhaps? More than anything I remember it’s grin which, though kitschy, was disarmingly sincere.

I used to work at an educational farm in central Massachusetts. One night I woke up and couldn’t fall back asleep, so I went for a walk to see what I could see. As I approached the visitors’ center I was mystified by a white smoke that was drifting in a beautiful, spooky way around the perennials and welcome signs. My middle-of-the-night self stared, devoid of reason, wondering if it was a holy spirit or a high and dry will-o’-the-wisp. It turned out, however, to be a skunk, frolicking around, seemingly just enjoying the quarter moon and the deep summer darkness.

Another encounter with a skunk at this same farm was on a walk home from the sugar bush with my dear friend Jessica. We were heading for a hayfield in the early gloaming when we saw something dancing amid the golden stubs of mowed grass. We wondered what this creature could be, moving like a fierce butterfly, like someone singing on a dancefloor. The skunk, in its black union suit and long stripes, was leaping and spinning like a contra dancer, and as I watched I felt a rooted sweetness. It was like hearing someone sing in the shower.

For a song that You can sing in the shower, featuring axes, adorable lumberjack styles, and fem-in-ine polecats, click here. Satisfaction guaranteed.

%d bloggers like this: