The birds of summer, and the aliens.

Belted Kingfisher

Belted Kingfisher Perched, by Kalen Malueg

I turned 29 two days ago and allowed myself to spend most of my time celebrating and zero time blogging. I’ve also spent a lot of time thinking about two good friends who are working on bringing a little baby into the world, a tiny bundle with limbs, toes, fingers and eyes, currently tucked inside of one of them but in position to be popping out anytime in the next few days. LIFE. LIFE IS CRAZY. And yes, I did just drink up a bit of a carafe of the house red at Santarpio’s over a brilliantly multi-cheesed pizza but, wow, you don’t need to be tipsy to consider the wild possibilities within every single wilderness. Like a baby in a uterus waiting to blossom out into the air, away from a life lived within fluid heat, a body lived within a woman, to quake and crack and squeeze out into a world of wind and breeze and bad jokes and optimism and everything grim. Life.

Briefly:

20th A belted kingfisher! It was perched along the little dog house that my boss made into a duck house. We no longer have ducks but their home continues to float along the pond. This is the first creature that I’ve seen using it, and I crept up lose to the bird when I realized its beak was way too wonderful to be anything but a kingfisher’s. It flew off shortly after I began stepping toward it, landing in a pondside tree and twittering a rattle at me and whatever else nearby.

21 The barn swallow that keeps clutching the wire above the bike rack, greeting me in silence as I pedal into work.

22 The anniversary of my birth. I spent a lot if time sweeping and breathing in heaven knows what. Dust mites! The remains of dust mites! Pieces of parking lot that blow in the screens and open doors! A lot of dirt. Dark lungs.

23 The drive-by-botanizing has lately been taken over by goldenrod. Everywhere. That margarine-colored golden assemblage of roadside blossoms strikes up in the most unexpected places. This includes random parking lots and sidewalk pockets.

24 I drank my morning genmaicha whilst watching a show in which Stephen Hawking discussed a fraction of the possibilities regarding life–and, terrifyingly, intelligent life–elsewhere in the universe. I also saw a beautiful mallow on a street corner. As I photographed it a man with a heavily scraped face suggested that he, Matt, and I go into crime together. Shoplifting, he suggested, adding that our movie star looks would help get the job done right. “We’ll think about it!”, we said. mallow

Random mallow by yours, truly.

Looks and Gazes

purslane

Common Purslane (Portulaca oleracea). Source: Wikipedia

I gazed at starlings pecking across the grass beside motorous Washinton Street, next door to Forest Hills Station. It’s always my favorite place to watch the little, iridescent things. They skitter around, bright-eyed and yellow-beaked, grazing in the grass like rabbits.

At work a tiny toad scampered between our feet as we weeded purslane from pea gravel. I watched a red-tailed hawk glide down the sky.

Then there were the humans. A beggar on Mass Ave who could imitate a duck to perfection. The sweet teller who complimented Kira and I on our braids, hers French, mine Swedish. Roofers in life-saving suspenders kicking debris from concrete-colored shingles. Lastly, the operator within the bulldozer knocking out a building of dust along the Neoponset. I’d never know of the deconstruction if not for the lone spectators draped over the Fairmount bridge every morning, staring wistfully at the shovel as it hit the walls and ceilings, the metal and brick and plastic, while someone from below would hose down the dusty din with the arching water of a fireman’s truck.

Saturday Silflay

watership down

A robin pranced around the skullcap patch.

I cut a bouquet of hydrangeas and found a cricket, its antennae at least as long as its narrow, translucent body.

A mockingbird again snacked in the elderberry.

Half a dozen rabbits enjoying a good silflay throughout the gardens and slim meadows of the Fens.

Also, I don’t want to be too redundant, but I somehow woke, right around four thirty, without a bit of cricket, katydid, or conehead in my ear. Was it too cold? Or were they merely weary?

The velvet, breezy, bizarre din of wings

katydid

Common True Katydid, courtesy of bugguide.net.

In the day the cicadas continue to drone on, offering their squeaking moans at once and for hours, turning the neighborhood to hazy, humid white noise that surrounds and fills you completely–your ears, your clothes, your skin, your gut.

In the night, however, I keep waking, wondering about the racket pulsing around me. It takes a few seconds before I realize and remember: crickets. Fascinatingly loud, percussive and choral, they strew the night with rhythms. Their steady, nearly flute-like notes carry the background as the various katydid soloists rasp at the air. One common true katydid claws KAY TEE DID with his forewings, another one answers, KAY TEE DID, usually with a touch of overlap, a little bit higher or lower than the first. Their cousins, the sword-bearing coneheads, tst-tst-tst through the night, starting at twilight, and broad-winged bush katydids start their tzeet-tzeet quietly before letting them go unleashed, roaring loudly into the night. 

And now, lists.

squirrel

Marvelous squirrel on loan from Maximo Alaez

Wednesday: 

The blue heron billowing across the sky in the morning.

An osprey, flying above us as we greeted a friend just returned home. Never thought I’d see one of them in Boston, but there it was, its wings bending like elbows as it traveled toward the Arboretum or toward the sea. Apparently sightings of them aren’t quite so rare as I’d thought.

I picked several pounds of elderberries at the garden and in-between the branches found a mockingbird giving me a Look.

Thursday:

While brushing my teeth I crept into the kitchen to find the crazed squirrel that’s been trying to live indoors for the last few months. It scratched at the metal screen and hardly moved as I shooed and cussed it away. It finally left when I really got in its face, waving my toothbrush around like a fourth-rate wand.

Friday:

I thought that Moby Dick, my beloved snail of nearly two years, was dead, but then Matt pointed out that he/she wasn’t. As a reward for its liveliness I offered it a thick twig chartreuse with lichen.

The wilderness without and within

house sparrow

The majority of the nature experienced today was tangled in all of the wild hormones within, riling my uterus and, you know, my outlook on all things. 

There were also the house sparrows at work, hopping and cocking their inchy heads, going after a gummy on the floor and the birdseed on display. I fought them without violence, clapping my hands and ineffectively kicking away the gummy which moved slow, sticking with tenacity to the cement floor.

I also found some funky, Mardi Gras costume-wearing, mantis-like creature in the sacred basil during the morning harvest. And I was sucked on by mosquitoes. Lastly, I found a cabbage moth in the greenhouse and a green caterpillar, dead and composed halfway of orange slime, also in the sacred basil. Amazing that so much life, death, and violence can exist within the juicy branches of such a holy plant.

Points North Ahoy!

cormorant

I’m on a little getaway with the boo so I’m probably going to keep pretty quiet on the blog front for the next few days. I kept a count in my mind of what I found yesterday, but fell asleep (this time during “Shark Week”–hoorah for airbnb cable!!) before I could jot it down. So a day late:

Boston:

Even more tiger swallowtails, gliding from one hydrangea to the next.

Gloucester:

Cormorants, three deep. “Hunters,” said Matt.

A million gulls. We kept thinking that we were hearing abandoned kids or fighting drunks but, in all but one occasion outside the police station, they were always birds, crying and calling and moaning in that weird, gullish way.

Plenty of common milkweed in parking lots and front yards. Not a monarch to be seen, but plenty of bright orange aphids.

A deer just standing around in the tree trunks on the outskirts of town.

Clam shells everywhere.

Mussels and clams IN MY FACE at the best seafood joint in town, Causeway. Mmm.

A crazy story from Mike, the guy sitting next to us at Causeway, about a right whale in the Marblehead cove that sidles his backyard. The whale was his neighbor for a week.

Also other stuff having little to do with things nonhuman, like the iconic sculpture of the Gloucester fisherman and his eyes that make me want to cry and also make me want to live better and also make me want to write more poems and Finally finish Moby Dick.

fisherman memorial face

See you in a few days!

The List

Catbird
Rabbits half the size of my fist
An invisible redtail
Jousting mockingbirds in the elderberry
A tiger swallowtail flying some stories up into pine trees
An unbelievably big bumblebee; a queen?

Also, on the domesticated side of things:
Buds on passionflower vine
Lemon cucumber sprawling
Hops cones massive
Swamp milkweed planted

Toad ghosts, literary butterflies, and coyotes

Dearest Readers,

I hope you hadn’t lost any faith if you visited Spokes and Petals yesterday to find a lapse in my Thoreauvian record. I was thinking of him, and you, and this, but had to go straight from work to a delightful burrito place by North Station to wish a friend safe Irish travels, and by the time I got home it was to bed with me. I listened and looked, though, and here’s what I found:

August 5th:

tiger swallowtail

Tiger Swallowtails. Source.

Almost enough yellow butterflies (grown from a lovage cradle) to make up a Marquez novel.

Wispy ghosts that ran like tiny soot sprites in the ancient root cellar, “the peach pit,” at work. As I walked through to get one thing or another the sprites would flutter fast and strangely, swinging under pallets piled with seeding trays, gasoline, and clutter. Despite my disbelief in such things I froze, wondering what spirits I’d seen. Because obviously they were spirits, and apparently ones that were a part of the Boston ecology. They kept moving, scattering below old wood, as I proceeded, cautiously, through the cellar. Finally I considered that if I looked ahead of my step I would see whatever supernatural being was there before it snuck out of sight. So I squatted and looked and found a “penny frog,” which is not a frog at all but actually a toadlet. (Toadlet: one of the most unexpected darlings of the English language.)  Not spirits after all. Oh well.

toadlet

A type of toadlet, on loan from Colorado Parks & Wildlife.

Rabbits; eastern cottontails. More rabbits than you could shake a stick at. Rabbits devouring the sacred basil I grew from seed, the dahlias that sprang there from their jellyfish tubers, and, shockingly, the bark that wraps the life within the Roxbury Russet sapling that I planted in May. The Victory Gardens have been taken over this year by the velveteen things, colored in shades of brush and ambling around without a fear, perfectly exemplifying the need for more carnivores in the urban landscape..!

August 6th:

dragonfly - eastern amberiwing (Perithemis tenera)

Eastern Amberwing, on loan from Glenn Corbiere

Dragonflies, spun and encrusted in amber, turquoise, emerald and ebony. Lace and wire, spots and eyes and darning needles. They glide over the potted perennials out back, perch on bags of garden soil, and hover, hunting, on thin woody branches.

Galansoga, one of the most impressive of the weeds, is blooming and setting off its seed throughout the farm, blending in trickily with the shape and structure of the sacred basil leaves in the herb patch.

I found evidence of mice in the kitchen and heard them scratching around after midnight. Between them and the tree-chewing rabbits you’d think it was November.

Lastly, I wasn’t lucky enough to see this, but my friend and coworker Itzi saw a coyote cross the road on the edge of the city. Its head was down, she said, as if it was trying to be as clandestine as possible.

coyotebus

Unfortunately I didn’t see this guy, either. Source

Summersweet.

ruby-spice-summersweet-86946

Today was Summersweet:

Clethra alnifolia, ‘Ruby Spice’,

Sweet Pepperbush,

Abloom like a bottle brush. Pink and white sorbet. The scent, a customer said, like lilacs;

a fragrance so oiled and heavy in its syrup and nectar

that it recalled May, but thicker

than those heady scents that devour the senses in spring

leaving only the shades of twilight that strike the eye sweetly.

Summersweet, Pepperbush: drinking hole of bees and butterflies,

hunting terrain for eastern amberwings.

Summersweet in the weight of August, its fragrance arresting walkers in their paths,

stopped and turning, searching for the scent that brought them honey and brought them

pink.

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

cricket

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.

grackle

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.

mullein

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.

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