Friday, April 19, 2024

Friday Ramble - Cloaked in Spring

Mourning Cloak or Camberwell Beauty
(Nymphalis antiopa)

The first 'cloaks' of the season have hatched out, and Beau and I were happy when several flew right by our noses on a recent morning walk. The little dears alighted on nearby tree trunks, perched on stones along the trail, rested on the glossy metal of parked cars to warm their wings in the early sunlight. Perhaps spring has truly arrived? Their appearance in the woods is usually a good indication.

I was a little worried about their food supply until I remembered their diet is mainly tree sap, particularly that of maples, poplars, oaks and birches. The butterflies also 'mud-puddle', a feeding process in which they take in nutrients from damp soil, compost and decaying organic matter in the woods, sometimes gathering in groups to do do. 

Groups of butterflies are called kaleidoscopes, but a coterie of cloaks dining together in a lovely patch of wet mud ought to be called a puddle. A banquet of cloaks would be a fine expression too. Whatever one calls them, our early hatching purple wonders have no need for spring wildflowers.

The Mourning Cloak hibernates and is freeze tolerant, sleeping through the winter in trees and actually freezing when temperatures plummet. In winter, the cells in its body are flooded with proteins and sugars to control the formation of ice crystals, and Nymphalis antiopa can survive temperatures to -60 ⁰C (-76⁰F). During hot summers, the butterfly enters a second hibernation (aestivation), awakening when temperatures moderate in autumn. One has to love a butterfly with such elegant survival strategies.

Also known as the Camberwell Beauty in Britain, the species is one of the longest living butterfly species on the planet, and it is certainly one of the most powerful fliers, capable of flying long distances and sometimes found far from its range.

I always forget how beautiful "cloaks" are when they are viewed from other angles. The butterfly is lovely with its dark plummy purple wings open wide, displaying a row of bright blue spots along the back edge and yellow fringes, but this member of the tortoiseshell (or anglewing) family is equally exquisite when seen with its wings folded.

Every year I am enchanted all over again when I encounter a specimen of Nymphalis antiopa in profile, my attention held by its iridescence and complex overlapping scale structure. There is much to be learned from looking at the great wide world from a slightly different angle, and there are always surprises.

And so it begins... I wish my departed love was here to witness the earth coming to life again. This was his favorite season, and he so loved these butterflies.

Thursday, April 18, 2024

Thursday Poem - Mornings At Blackwater Pond

For years, every morning,
I drank from Blackwater Pond.
It was flavored with oak leaves and also, 
no doubt, the feet of ducks.

And always it assuaged me
from the dry bowl of the very far past.

What I want to say is
that the past is the past,
and the present is what your life is,
and you are capable
of choosing what that will be,
darling citizen.

So come to the pond,
or the river of your imagination,
or the harbor of your longing,
and put your lips to the world.

And live
your life.

Mary Oliver, from Red Bird

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Going for Gold

After several rainy days (and migraine headaches), it was lovely to round a corner yesterday morning on our way back from the first walk of the day and discover that a neighbor's magnificent trumpet daffodils were in full, riotous, golden bloom. The corner of her garden looked like a display of lighted candles, and the sight was breathtaking.

In the park, the overstory was full of amorous birds singing their hearts out. Trout lilies and Dutchman's breeches were rising through last autumn's fallen leaves, and the first tiny bloodroot and hepatica leaves were up.  Our favorite trail through the woods was dappled with tiny, fuzzy red maple flowers, and the pollen tickled my nose. I sneezed.

We (Beau and I) can hardly believe our eyes and our good fortune. On morning walks, we stop every few feet to stare at the riches around us, and with all the splendor along the way, it is a wonder we ever find our way home again. 

The gnarly old crabapple in the front yard is wearing magenta buds, and the day lilies in the garden behind the house are already a few inches  high. When I pulled the draperies closed last night, the alder buckthorn along the fence was bare. This morning it is sporting thousands of miniscule green leaves.

Introduced to North America from Europe a few centuries ago, the alder buckthorn (Frangula alnus) is an invasive species here, and by rights it ought to be removed from my garden, but that is not going to happen. I love its glossy leaves. The flowers are valuable sources of nectar for bees, and the berries provide nourishment for winter birds. The needs of bugs and birds come first around here, and they always will. I prune the little tree vigorously from time to time and try to keep it in line.

Repairs on the crumbling chimney of the little blue house are supposed to begin today. Bricks in good condition will be mortared back into place and a few replaced entirely, then a fetching new metal cap set in place. I am going to miss the present arrangement, most of all, the crooked little tin hat sitting up there now. It has such character.

While the work is in progress, there will be much thumping and clattering on the roof, but that is quite all right. Everything may change if a weather front moves in from the Gatineau hills across the river, but skies are clear this morning. So far, so good. 

Monday, April 15, 2024

Sequestered, week 208(CCVIII)

Trout lily and Dutchman's breeches

Sunday, April 14, 2024

Sunday, Saying Yes to the World

I believe that the ability of human beings to be creative depends fundamentally on the health and well-being of our biosphere, the few kilometres of air, water, and soil that surround our planet like the skin of an apple. Quite simply, they are the physical and spiritual bases of our lives, and the only source of materials and tools that enable us to express our responses to questions and feelings about ultimate things. Creation and creativity are inextricably linked.

Freeman Patterson

Saturday, April 13, 2024

Friday, April 12, 2024

Friday Ramble - Bloom

Sunlight, blue skies and fluffy clouds overhead, birdsong in the overstory, avian courtship rites and nest building everywhere - the village is opening out and greening up before our eyes as Beau and I ramble about and peer into hedgerows.

Spring does not make a quiet entrance this far north - she comes over the hill with an exuberant bound, reaches out with a twiggy hand, and everything bursts into bloom. When we went off to the park a few mornings ago, the first narcissus of the season were blooming in a sheltered, sunny alcove, and we both did a little dance. These were the Poet's daffodil (Narcissus poeticus), often identified as the narcissus of ancient times and one of my favorite spring bloomers.

How can this week's word be anything except bloom? The modern word comes to us through the Middle English blo or blome, and Old English blowan meaning to open up and flower lavishly, to glow with health and well-being, to be as dewy and flushed with sunlight as a garden tulip or an early blooming orchid in a wild and wooded place. It all begins with the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) roots bhel-, bhol-, bhlē- bhlō-. In that ancient tongue which is the reconstructed common ancestor of all modern European languages, they mean to grow, swell or unfold, to leaf out or come into flower, to flourish and thrive.

Perhaps a better word for this week would be sex, because that is what springtime's lush colors, alluring fragrances, velvet textures and warbling ballads are about - Mother Earth's madcap dance of exuberance, fertility and fruitfulness. Every species on the planet seems focused on perpetuating its own heady genetic brew, and the collective pleasure in being alive is almost tangible.

Forsaking appointed chores, we potter around in the garden, wander about in village thickets, stare into trees and contemplate the blue sky for long intervals. It's simply a matter of blooming wherever one happens to be planted. Beau is already a master of that splendid art, and his silly old mum is working on it.

Thursday, April 11, 2024

Thursday Poem - Swiftly

Swiftly the years, beyond recall,
Solemn the stillness of this fair morning.
I will clothe myself in spring clothing,
And visit the slopes of the Eastern Hill.
By the mountain stream a mist hovers,
Hovers a moment, then scatters.
There comes a wind blowing from the south
That brushes the fields of new corn.

T'ao Ch'ien (translation by Arthur Waley)

Reginald H. Blyth thought T'ao Ch'ien's creation was the finest poem ever written. We are still several weeks away from seeing new corn, but for me, the eight lines are the essence of April and springtime.

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Tuesday, April 09, 2024

Spring Has Sprung?

One day there is snow, and we are pottering around in boots and winter gear. The next day, we are clad in capris, short sleeves, and sandals. Temperatures are well above freezing, skies are blue, and dazzling sunlight turns everything in sight golden.

Starlings are donning their summer plumage, and a pair of crows is building a nest in the big pine behind the little blue house. At intervals, the birds take a break from flying in and out of the old tree with nesting materials, sing their pleasure in the season, preen each other, do a little dancing and execute brief "flurry flights" over their territory.

My garlic is poking tender green nubbins out of the earth, and the mojito mint is already sending up tendrils, ditto the English lavender, lemon balm and sage. I spent an hour or so working in the veggie patch yesterday, and I did it in short sleeves. Beau spent the afternoon on the sun deck toasting his tummy.

When the first purple crocus buds appeared in my neighbor's garden a few days ago, I felt like kneeling down and kissing them. Given the damp and my elderly knees, that probably would not have been a good idea, but I considered it, albeit briefly.

Hallelujah! Maybe, just maybe, spring has sprung.

Monday, April 08, 2024

Sunday, April 07, 2024

Sunday, Saying Yes to the World

I breathe in the soft, saturated exhalations of cedar trees and salmonberry bushes, fireweed and wood fern, marsh hawks and meadow voles, marten and harbor seal and blacktail deer. I breathe in the same particles of air that made songs in the throats of hermit thrushes and gave voices to humpback whales, the same particles of air that lifted the wings of bald eagles and buzzed in the flight of hummingbirds, the same particles of air that rushed over the sea in storms, whirled in high mountain snows, whistled across the poles, and whispered through lush equatorial gardens…air that has passed continually through life on earth. I breathe it in, pass it on, share it in equal measure with billions of other living things, endlessly, infinitely.

Richard Nelson, The Island Within

Saturday, April 06, 2024

Friday, April 05, 2024

Friday Ramble - Patience

As I started off on the Friday ramble this week, the word that came to mind was patience, although I have already written a ramble on that word.

This week's offering has its roots in the Middle English pacient, the Middle French patient and the Latin word pati, all meaning to undergo something, to get through, or put up with something and do it with grace and dignity - no whining, screaming or going completely off one's nut. It's a fine old word, but it's not a word for wimps and sissies. True patience is fierce stuff, and it is anything but limp, indecisive or docile. Sometimes, it requires serious attitude, bags of forbearance and not a little cussing.

By now, the north should be carpeted in wildflowers, but a storm this week brought subzero temperatures, snow and bitterly cold winds, and the white stuff is staying around, at least for now. There will be no blooming in the woodland for a week or two, and there are times when I think springtime will never come.

What is one to do??? I pick up my camera, sometimes my notebook and pen, brew a pot of tea, pummel bread, stir up fiery curries, go walkabout with Beau, curl up in my favorite chair with a good book. I just breathe, in and out, in and out, in and out.

For some reason, the exquisite keyboard sonatas of Domenico Scarlatti and the Bach preludes tuck everything back into place, and so does anything by Antonio Vivaldi. In recent weeks I have also been listening to the creations of Corelli, Gabrieli and Purcell. When my spirits need a lift, I always seem to go for baroque.

Snow or no snow, we wrap up and head out, look at the sun rising or setting somewhere, watch frozen cattails rattling their bones along the shore of the river. We listen to the wind in the bare trees, lean against fences and watch last autumn's desiccated leaves whirl through the air like confetti. We cling to the fragile hope that the snow will disappear and springtime will show up any day now.

This morning's image is a bloodroot bloom from last year's wanderings around this time. In early spring, they are the first wildflowers emerge from the earth and dead leaves of my favorite place, and they glow like little suns in the woods. Colonies of sanguinaria canadensis always leave me breathless when I encounter them, and I am looking forward to seeing them again. Until then, I cultivate patience and remember.

Thursday, April 04, 2024

Thursday Poem - An April Night

The moon comes up o'er the deeps of the woods,
And the long, low dingles that hide in the hills,
Where the ancient beeches are moist with buds
Over the pools and the whimpering rills;

And with her the mists, like dryads that creep
From their oaks, or the spirits of pine-hid springs,
Who hold, while the eyes of the world are asleep,
With the wind on the hills their gay revellings.

Down on the marshlands with flicker and glow
Wanders Will-o'-the-Wisp through the night,
Seeking for witch-gold lost long ago
By the glimmer of goblin lantern-light.

The night is a sorceress, dusk-eyed and dear,
Akin to all eerie and elfin things,
Who weaves about us in meadow and mere
The spell of a hundred vanished Springs.

Lucy Maud Montgomery

Tuesday, April 02, 2024

Alight From Within

The world is pearly grey, and there is rain in the forecast, but rumors of snowfall rather than rainfall persist. We watch skies, listen to local news broadcasts and monitor online networks for updates on the weather fronts heading our way from places further west and north. Rain would be a blessing, but it was rather a dry winter, so precipitation of any kind would be a fine thing, and that includes snow.

In the kitchen, coffee is in progress and the fragrance of freshly ground espresso beans tickles my freckled nose.  The sound of Mozart's opera The Magic Flute fills the air, and as I lurch about and froth milk for the morning cuppa, I find myself thinking of bird catchers, enchanted flutes, silver bells, and the Queen of the Night.

Mozart's opera is grand stuff, but something more is needed this morning, something that invokes springtime and summons sunlight into this (so far) dreary day. A pot of tulips in red and creamy yellow is the perfect response to such weather. Alight from within, the velvety blooms are jeweled lanterns in the window, and they glow.

Monday, April 01, 2024

Sunday, March 31, 2024

Saturday, March 30, 2024

Friday, March 29, 2024

Friday Ramble - Atomy

The word atomy comes to us from the Middle English attome, the Latin atomus and the Greek atomos: a- (not) plus -tomos (divided), tomos hailing from the Indo-European temnein meaning to cut. Kindred words (of course) are atom, atomism and atomic, anatomy, contemplate, diatom, dichotomy, epitome and tome which now refers to a book or a volume of reading material, but once meant simply something cut or carved from a larger entity. Synonyms include corpuscle, mote, particle, speck, molecule and grain, as in "a grain of sand" or "a grain of sugar".

An atomy is a tiny part of something, a minute particle. Atoms were once held by science to be the smallest possible units of the known physical universe: dense, central, positively charged nuclei circled by electrons whirling around in ecstatic orbit. Complete within themselves, they were thought to be irreducible and indivisible except for constrained processes of removal or transfer or the exchange of component electrons.

Physicists now think the much smaller quark may be the fundamental element of creation. Named after a nonsense word coined by James Joyce in his novel Finnegan's Wake, quarks come in six eccentric flavors: up, down, charm, strange, bottom and top. Up and down quarks bond together to form composite particles called hadrons, the most stable being the protons and neutrons resting in the heart of atoms. Other quark pairs (charm/strange, top/bottom) have no function in our universe as we know it, but they had an important role to play as it was coming into being. Wonder of wonders, everything is in constant motion, these other quark pairs becoming up and down quarks as they decay and taking their rightful place within atoms.

Atomies come to mind when I awaken to grey, springtime skies, to rain on the roof beating staccato time without reference to meter or metronome, to a puckish wind capering in the eaves and ruffling tiny green leaves in the garden like tangy decks of playing cards, to drifting fog wrapping the old trees, rooflines and chimneys in the village.

Each and every drop beyond my windows is an atomy, a minute, complete world teeming with vibrant life, a whole magical universe looking up and smiling at this ungainly creature bent over in wonder with a camera in her hand. I don't think I will ever get a handle on using my macro lens to its full potential, but it is teaching me how to look at the world in new ways, and that is a fine old thing.

Thursday, March 28, 2024

Thursday Poem - You Can't Be Too Careful

Spring storm and hail of ice cubes
pummels my town and no other.
There was a time when townspeople
would call this fall the wrath of God
or work of witches. A lower profile
may have saved some crones
renowned for bitter herbs, odd dames
you went to in the woods for troubles.
But some would go on being busybodies
and scolds dragged out, dunked, drowned
or hung like limp, forgotten fruit
from gallows trees. Scarecrows and
cautionary tales. And truly the crows
flee from our town screaming
blue murder, scarier than a siren.
Even in these enlightened times,
some of us still go warily,
keeping secret our wild simples,
asking nothing for our quirky blessings.

Dolores Stewart Riccio
(from The Nature of Things)

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Reaching for the Light

Siberian squill (Scilla siberica
One day, there are deep snowdrifts in the garden, and the next day, the the snow has disappeared into the good dark earth.

Suddenly, tiny flowers are springing up everywhere, reaching for the light over their fragile heads. Grasses thrust themselves out of puddles in the park, and a few ducks paddle up and down the little stream among the trees.  Everywhere, there is birdsong, every feathered singer in the overstory declaring its delight in the season.

On morning walks, we (Beau and I) look for sprouting bloodroot, trout lilies and daffodils in the woods, and we rejoice whenever we see a tiny green leaf lifting its head from the moist, crumbly soil and desiccated leaves.

It will be a week or two before there are many spring bloomers in the woods, but there are already a few tiny purple squill flowering in last autumn's tattered residue on the forest floor, and we were happy to discover them on a recent ramble.

Sometimes, we thought winter would never end, and there are days when we still think that. On balmier days though, we can hardly believe our good fortune. Every sunbeam and every tiny bloom is a gift.

Monday, March 25, 2024

Sunday, March 24, 2024

Sunday, Saying Yes to the World

When tea becomes ritual, it takes its place at the heart of our ability to see greatness in small things. Where is beauty to be found? In great things that, like everything else, are doomed to die, or in small things that aspire to nothing, yet know how to set a jewel of infinity in a single moment.

 Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog

Saturday, March 23, 2024

Friday, March 22, 2024

Friday Ramble - Still Cold

It is cold this morning, almost -20 (Celsius) with the wind chill factored into the equation. Beyond our windows are clouds and a forlorn copse of skeletal oaks, maples and ashes trying to put out leaves, catkins and flowers. Alas, the tree people have a long way to go before they leaf out, but they are working on it.

In the street, the north wind cavorts in gutters, ruffles dead leaves and other detritus like playing cards. It eases around the corner of the little blue house in the village and sets the copper wind bells on the deck in exuberant motion. So ardent is the wind's caress that sometimes the bells are almost parallel to the ground.

Trees in the park are still bare, and low mist swirls around them, puckishly revealing a curving branch here, a burl there, a tangle of vines somewhere else. We can almost hear the earth breathing in and out. Most eloquent of all are the empty spaces where trees have expired and gone to earth. The stumps serve as nurseries for tiny saplings that will grow tall and one day take the place of their fallen elders in the woodland, a hopeful state of affairs if there ever was one.

On the way home from our walk, a few robins sing, and a woodpecker (probably a pileated from the volume of its hammering) drives its formidable beak into an old birch. Now and again, he or she pauses, takes a few deep breaths and gives an unfettered laugh that carries for quite a distance. Even a bird in the mirk, it seems, knows the value of taking a break from its work now and again, just breathing in and out for a minute or two and giving voice to a cackle of raucous amusement.

I can't see either the caroling robins or my whomping woodpecker, but that is all right. Their voices are welcome musical elements in a morning that is all about the nebulous, the mysterious, the magical and unseen. Beau and I love our early morning rambles, and we always return home refreshed and hopeful.

In the kitchen, coffee is in progress and and a little Mozart (The Magic Flute) fills the air, but something more is needed. Miracle of miracles, crocus are blooming in the protected southern corner of a neighbor's garden, and I can see them from the window. The little dears are lit from within, and I swear, they could light up the whole village.

Thursday, March 21, 2024

Thursday Poem - Wage Peace

Wage peace with your breath.

Breathe in firemen and rubble,
breathe out whole buildings and flocks of
red wing blackbirds.

Breathe in terrorists
and breathe out sleeping children and
freshly mown fields.

Breathe in confusion and breathe out
maple trees.

Breathe in the fallen and breathe out
lifelong friendships intact.

Wage peace with your listening: hearing
sirens, pray loud.

Remember your tools: flower seeds,
clothes pins, clean rivers.

Make soup.

Play music, memorize the words for
thank you in three languages.
Learn to knit, and make a hat.

Think of chaos as dancing raspberries,
imagine grief
as the outbreath of beauty
or the gesture of fish.

Swim for the other side.

Wage peace.

Never has the world seemed so fresh and

Have a cup of tea... and rejoice.

Act as if armistice has already arrived.
Celebrate today.

Judyth Hill