August 26, 2014

Going, going, gone too soon...

It's the last Tuesday in August, and dismayed, I ask myself where summer has gone, or rather where it is going to so swiftly.  This sweet and shaggy month is almost over, and its last dusty, golden days are something special, something to be cherished and carefully committed to memory.

As in other years, whole forests of frowsy clover are in bloom, and waist high stands of Goldenrod and Queen Anne's Lace buzz with intoxicated bumblebees.  Wildflowers sometimes wear fritillary crowns and most are sporting grasshopper brooches.

We haunt windy fields looking for Monarch butterflies and their offspring, always hoping to find gloriously striped children arrayed like royalty and clinging to the underside of milkweed leaves. There has been only a single Monarch butterfly in the air over the Two Hundred Acre Wood in the last week or two, but we continue to look for them at every opportunity.

In the field below the big hill, last year's milkweed pods drape themselves across their younger kin with insouciance or lean against the old rail fence like weary travelers.  I never tire of looking at their thousand and one textures and the muted variegation of their earthy hues. Who knew that gray and brown came in so many delightful shades?

Yesterday afternoon, two wild turkeys crossed the lane in front of us.  The proud mothers shepherded their unruly offspring before them like little brown sheep, administering a gentle peck here and a nudge there to keep their inquisitive (and garrulous) children moving.  The two families jogged along at a fine rate, and their appearance was so unexpected that I didn't have a chance to snap a photo.

August 24, 2014

Sunday - Saying Yes to the World

Not just animals and plants, then, but tumbling waterfalls and dry riverbeds, gusts of wind, compost piles and cumulus clouds, freshly painted houses (as well as houses abandoned and sometimes haunted), rusting automobiles, feathers, granite cliffs and grains of sand, tax forms, dormant volcanoes, bays and bayous made wretched by pollutants, snowdrifts, shed antlers, diamonds, and daikon radishes, all are expressive, sometimes eloquent and hence participant in the mystery of language. Our own chatter erupts in response to the abundant articulations of the world: human speech is simply our part of a much broader conversation.

It follows that the myriad things are also listening, or attending, to various signs and gestures around them. Indeed, when we are at ease in our animal flesh, we will sometimes feel we are being listened to, or sensed, by the earthly surroundings. And so we take deeper care with our speaking, mindful that our sounds may carry more than a merely human meaning and resonance. This care -- this full-bodied alertness -- is the ancient, ancestral source of all word magic. It is the practice of attention to the uncanny power that lives in our spoken phrases to touch and sometimes transform the tenor of the world's unfolding.
David Abram, Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology

August 23, 2014

Bird on the Wire

Red-shouldered hawk (Buteo lineatus

August 22, 2014

Friday Ramble - A Harvest of Bees

It's that time again.  Goldenrod is in bloom everywhere in the Lanark highlands, and almost every waving stand of the splendid yellow stuff is filled with frantically buzzing, intoxicated bumblebees.  Dusted from stem to fuzzy stern with gold, the little flyers are like comets or shooting stars as they zoom from flower to flower, trailing pollen behind them like showers of stardust.   Flowering goldenrod makes my eyes water, and it gives me the sniffles, but it also gives me bumblebees in season, and so, I tolerate it.  I've had a "pash" for bumbles and their culture ever since I can remember.

Their flight patterns are erratic and almost too swift to be captured with a lens, but it is always a treat to watch bumble girls lurching from bloom to bloom and kicking up their heels like chorus dancers. Now and then, I manage to capture an acceptable photo, but it doesn't happen often.

Early mornings are something completely different, for the cooler nights in late summer slow bumblebees right down. Being cold blooded (or poikilothermic), they don't maintain a constant internal body temperature and must warm up in order for their flight apparatus to function.  It's not unusual to find scores of bumbles drowsing among goldenrod clusters at first light and barely moving at all.  A little warmth and sunlight on their flight muscles, and they're off and foraging again.

Watching bumble girls cavort in the goldenrod this week, I thought about the fact that they live for a single summer.  It made their songs and their obvious pleasure in gathering their daily bread a poignant and beautiful thing.

August 21, 2014

Thursday Poem - Directions (Excerpt)

The best time is late afternoon
when the sun strobes through
the columns of trees as you are hiking up,
and when you find an agreeable rock
to sit on, you will be able to see
the light pouring down into the woods
and breaking into the shapes and tones
of things and you will hear nothing
but a sprig of birdsong or the leafy
falling of a cone or nut through the trees,
and if this is your day you might even
spot a hare or feel the wing-beats of geese
driving overhead toward some destination.

But it is hard to speak of these things
how the voices of light enter the body
and begin to recite their stories
how the earth holds us painfully against
its breast made of humus and brambles
how we who will soon be gone regard
the entities that continue to return
greener than ever, spring water flowing
through a meadow and the shadows of clouds
passing over the hills and the ground
where we stand in the tremble of thought
taking the vast outside into ourselves.

Billy Collins

August 20, 2014

Wordless Wednesday - The Painted Lady

American Painted Lady (Vanessa virginiensis)

August 19, 2014

The Times They Are a-Changin

Can it be?  Awakening on a late August morning, she realizes that the air outside her bedroom window is cooler than it has been in some long time.  The early light filtering through the wooden shutters is paler, has a different character, cast and slant. Days seem much shorter now than they were only a few weeks ago, and there is simply no question about itsummer is packing its bags, and autumn is on the way.

The higher branches of elderly maples on the upper ridges of the Two Hundred Acre Wood are tipped here and there with scarlet.  Virginia creepers have already turned a deep pleasing crimson, and sumac leaves along the road are acquiring a rosy cast.  As Himself, Spencer and I potter along together on morning walks, the first acorns, nuts, cones and falling leaves drift languidly into our path like little boats.  There is a whiff of spice in the air from wild woodland organics going to seed.

On woodland potterings, there is an earthy abundance of color on which to feast our eyes.  Stands of milkweed along our old rail fences are going vivid rust and burgundy, neighboring roadside foliage providing contrasts in gold, silver and dusty gray.  Rural scenes are fringed in ochery amber and saffron as far as the eye can see, and between August thunder storms, the rolling vistas are set off gloriously by fluffy clouds and brilliant blue skies.

Morning and evening skies are filled with proclaiming geese traveling between cornfields and the river, and wild turkey clans gabble in nearby woodland clearings as they forage for acorns, fallen apples and hickory nuts on the forest floor.  Approach their banquet place, and the birds scatter in all directions, chattering like squirrels and protesting our thoughtless interruption.

Starlings and swallows are congregating on telephone lines in long dancing skeins.  As we tried (and failed) to count them a few days ago, a solitary heron flew over our heads and landed silently in a nearby pond.  In only a few weeks, they (and the butterflies) will have departed for warmer climes and a more reliable food supply.  Summer is a fleeting thing this far north, and Bob Dylan had it rightthe times, they are a-changin.