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.

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MudSong Four: The shadows have their seasons, too

Beech buds. Source.

Beech buds. Source.

 

Penumbrae
— John Updike

The shadows have their seasons, too.
The feathery web the budding maples
cast down upon the sullen lawn

bears but a faint relation to
high summer’s umbrageous weight
and tunnellike continuum—

black leached from green, deep pools
wherein a globe of gnats revolves
as airy as an astrolabe.

The thinning shade of autumn is
an inherited Oriental,
red worn to pink, nap worn to thread.

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MudSong Two: It was snowing / And it was going to snow.

 

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird
— Wallace Stevens

I
Among twenty snowy mountains,
The only moving thing
Was the eye of the blackbird.

II
I was of three minds,
Like a tree
In which there are three blackbirds.

III
The blackbird whirled in the autumn winds.
It was a small part of the pantomime.

IV
A man and a woman
Are one.
A man and a woman and a blackbird
Are one.

V
I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendoes,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.

VI
Icicles filled the long window
With barbaric glass.
The shadow of the blackbird
Crossed it, to and fro.
The mood
Traced in the shadow
An indecipherable cause.

VII
O thin men of Haddam,
Why do you imagine golden birds?
Do you not see how the blackbird
Walks around the feet
Of the women about you?

VIII
I know noble accents
And lucid, inescapable rhythms;
But I know, too,
That the blackbird is involved
In what I know.

IX
When the blackbird flew out of sight,
It marked the edge
Of one of many circles.

X
At the sight of blackbirds
Flying in a green light,
Even the bawds of euphony
Would cry out sharply.

XI
He rode over Connecticut
In a glass coach.
Once, a fear pierced him,
In that he mistook
The shadow of his equipage
For blackbirds.

XII
The river is moving.
The blackbird must be flying.

XIII
It was evening all afternoon.
It was snowing
And it was going to snow.
The blackbird sat
In the cedar-limbs.

 

 

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. 

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!

Two words for snow: Swan Song

Image

From jacket-free overexposure on Tuesday…

Image

to thick wet rabbit tracking on Wednesday.

Two mornings ago I trudged through the front door, worn out and dripping. My hair, uncombed and restless from sleep, was tangled with snow, and the tips of my long underwear were damp from shaking the shrubs out back and standing too close. I beat away the cakey wet that had compressed itself against my plaid and polyester, sank into a chair, and stretched my calves along the footrest.

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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

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