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.

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.

Art, Craft, and the Coywolf

Lacy

While poking around WordPress for posts having to do with coyotes, I came across this piece on Janice Wright Cheney at::soulexposed::. Cheney has done some awesome work regarding coywolves, those creatures which are the offspring of the ever-wandering coyote and Canada’s eastern wolf. (A very great many of the coyotes of the east coast fit that bill.)  As she explains in this Archive 7 profile, she took wolf taxidermy forms (the mannequins upon which tanned hides are mounted), and covered “the creatures in cloth and dressed them in the furs of other animals, including coyote pelts. It’s as if they’re trying to pass themselves off as something that they’re not. They’re like little old ladies, but they’re dangerous.” I very much enjoy seeing coywolves approached in such a beautiful, thoughtful, and unique way.

Cheney has other pieces focusing on animals, and her profile describes how this work concentrates on and explores “the idea of vermin — creatures that are not wanted. Bear, coyote, rat, insects, they are all intruders on human territory, and Cheney is fascinated by the casual violence we condone in the name of wildlife encroaching on human-claimed territory.” All of these animals – even the bear – are living things that can be happened upon in the urban landscape. May our interactions and dealings with them be as nuanced and imaginative as Cheney’s.

Anatomy of a Spring Morning

It’s been a little while, but I’m back because the birds are.

In my neighborhood the mourning doves are in the branches of street trees, softly moaning and ooh-OOOOH-ing. Blue jays gurgle and jeer, and the grackles readle-eak, chitip and chaw. (I’ve heard grackles’ calls described as “nails on the chalkboard of hell.” That may be, but they make up for the screechings with their exceptional intelligence and lovely, iridescent plumage.) Meanwhile, the song of the cardinal, as robust and bright as paint, saturates the morning. There is also my favorite, the robin. I sit and listen to one outside the window as he hollers his cheerily, cheer up, cheer up, cheerily, cheer up. I luxuriate, I sink in. Winter, even the barely half a winter that hesitatingly lingered over us for a few months, becomes more of a strange and sketchy memory every day.

The city’s pinioned residents are in one sense back, coloring in the morning with beauty and song, but they were never really gone. The doves, shaped as beautifully as 18th century cursive, the robins and jays – each one of these birds was here for the whole haul of winter. So, how is it that we’re only just beginning to hear them now?

The answer, it turns out, lies in the pituitary gland. In humans, that pea-sized gland moderates the thyroid and converts food into energy, along with a litany of other essential tasks. The bird’s pituitary gland is just as fundamental to its survival and, in the greater scheme of things, also makes a spring morning what it is.

As days lengthen and allow for more sunlight to penetrate the earth, prodding crocuses out of hiding and gracing the landscape with purples and fecundity, the light hits cells in birds’ brains which flicker certain genes to attention. These genes coddle the thyroid into activity with hormones, which knock down yet another domino by stimulating the tiny pituitary. In turn, this gland produces more hormones called gonadotrophins which, as one may guess, have a little something to do with the testes. Specifically, they prompt them to grow. This growth forces males to remember why the phrase is not just “and the bees,” and they suddenly start singing earnestly and fervently, whistling away the hours with a lusty abandon.

In the non-migrating bird’s winter, time is spent searching for food, conserving energy, and surviving. During that time these birds, with the exception of anomalies such as song sparrows and chickadees, simply lack the physiological drive to do something as superfluous as singing. In the spring, however, they devote a large part of their waking hours to performing and courting, all in a lead-up to the annual traditions of the laying of eggs and tending of young. While January and February can be incredibly trying with their cold temperatures, monochromatic atmospheres, and the stolid absence of song, it all becomes worthwhile when the birds remember how to make their melodies, and we are once again allowed to experience the sweetness and hardworking musicalities of their small and skilled throats.

What birds are you hearing? Have they been around all winter, or are they just beginning to return?

Image credits, from top: birdsandblooms.com, emc.maricopa.edu, and cardinalbird.org

Brad Pitt can have his Oscar – I’ll take The Versatile Blogger Award

Hello, dear readers! I took a little bit of a break from the blog – and the internet at large – last week. It was a much-needed reprieve, and opened up plenty of time to see Rachel Ries and Anaïs Mitchell at Club Passim (Amazing, Amazing, Amazing – I’m completely in love with them both). I also read a book (a whole book!), knit up a few afghan squares, and enjoyed some delightful walks in the woods.

During my internet fast I was delighted and honored to receive a nomination for “The Versatile Blogger Award” from Kevin, the Nitty Gritty Dirty Man of the garden blog realm. Hoorah! Kevin’s blog is wonderful – anyone with a penchant for plants, alliteration, fantastic photographs and soil-smudged story-telling should take his blog for a spin. I’m flattered that he chose to single my blog out.

I shall pay it forward by hollering at a few of my own favorite reads. But first, I offer some secrets, as I’m bound to do by the rules.

Continue reading

Coyote comes to town

I am happily returned to Boston. While I dearly miss my friends and family out west, it has been wonderful to settle back into my life here. My days have been filled with naps, delicious food cooked by Matt, and walks filled with snow and one lone, charming coyote, relaxing in an overgrown lot a few blocks away from our house.

I am very familiar with the calls of these animals – their yipping, whooping, siren sounds have kept me awake and rapt through long nights on New England farmlands. However, I’d never actually seen one, and was quite shocked and fascinated when I did. The discovery has led me to consider what a prime habitat this corner of Boston offers – there are wooded lots, sumptuous dumpsters, and a medley of squirrels, rabbits, and small rodents like mice, moles, voles and rats.

Ancient American mythlore portrays Coyote as both creator and fool, and contemporary opinions of the animal are similarly nuanced. Whole websites are devoted to shooting, trapping, and poisoning coyotes, and there are videos of them being killed on Youtube. While they are infamous sheep eaters and are thus considered a threat on many livestock farms, coyotes present few dangers in urban and suburban living, where they may fit nicely into ecological niches as a nontoxic form of rodent control. It is unfortunately true that they will attack roaming cats and small dogs, but this can be avoided by keeping your animals indoors if coyotes are a potential threat. (Side note: the threat posed by coyotes is dwarfed by traffic mortality, which kills 5.4 million cats annually.)

Here in our cat-less Hyde Park household, the knowledge that we are cohabbing with coyotes just makes for a little extra intrigue while walking and a few double takes whenever sirens are heard at night.

***

Coyote drawing by artist Susan Fox. Tracking sketches from Good Shepherd Farm Alapacas.

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.

OMG

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: