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Saturday, January 21, 2012

Stark Shadowy Tonic


In late summer you are Yellow Crownbeard by name-
     a colony of green and gold.
In winter, Stickweed-
    dry remnants, swaying in the cold air, seed heads chattering.
Why do you stay?
What do you want to tell us?
Do you bring knowledge and understanding to those who appreciate you?
Do you hold a cure for our physical aches?
Are you a metaphor still standing for something unknown in the human world?
I don’t know you but I see you, and I see how you change.
Your once radiant beauty becomes a stark, shadowy tonic.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Disperse Their Seeds, Vigorously

Walking slowly but still 20 steps ahead of my young son, I led the way down the wide trail.  We wore two layers apiece and caps today as the cool winds of autumn circled around us.  He meandered from side to side as the undergrowth dictated.  A smooth, well-trod path was just as alluring as the patch of  waving grasses, jungle-like from his vantage point.
We share a curiosity that makes walking in the woods a slow, inquisitive jaunt.   Every leaf, pine cone, flower and fern is susceptible to our inspection and play.  Yes, we play.  The pine cones gets kicked, the sink holes gets plugged with sticks, the turkey feathers ends up in hat bands, and the acorns get tossed back at the trees from which they fell.

In this wonderful spirit of fun and discovery we happened upon a magical puffball colony.  Merely a gentle shoe-tap released wispy clouds of  spore dust like little puffing steam engines.  Imagine the mystery this brings to a two year old. And imagine the wealth of natural lessons these little wonders afford an instructive daddy. I kept it brief, this time, saying "these are little plants that puff out their baby seeds."  And then we commenced to helping them disperse their seeds, vigorously.  As language builds, so too will the length of the lessons.  Some day, I'll show how this very fungus can be cooked and eaten, if taken at the right time of its life.  Perhaps we'll talk about the mighty, distant volcanoes who similarly puff great plumes of smoke and ash.  But today we kept it simple and simple as a smoke-puffing little round "plant" can be to a two year old.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Privilege We Shared

We spent a cool afternoon in the Virginia foothills. A visit to The Homeplace, a part of my wife's history;  now part of our family's history.  The rural county is our son's namesake. Grayson is a land of beautiful hills, valleys, and creeks.

We traveled with my sister and her boyfriend on a farewell roadtrip.  They will be living in another country soon.  We will wish them well and be comforted by the excitement we hold for their future.  But it isn't easy to say goodbye.

As we walked the quiet sites of past goodbyes, thinking of the changes we face, we found ourselves face to face with a living and breathing model of change.  The archetype of transformation.  Curled under the shelter of a fading milkweed leaf, hung the caterpillar in preparation for its trip to a new world.

We didn't discuss the symbolism.  We simply acknowledged the beauty and the privilege we shared as witnesses.

Monday, September 5, 2011

But With Cooler Evenings

I didn't catch the Cardinal Flower in all of its brilliance this year. But thankfully I noticed it the other day, as it stood scarlet over the drying creekbed.
I walked down to that corner of the low back yard this evening, after a gentle rain shower, to photograph this late summer beauty.
Late summer is here. As the ruby petals of Lobelia cardinalis continue to fall, and their hummingbird friends begin making plans for long southward flights, I take a deep breath of anticipated fresh air. September in the Piedmont of North Carolina is still very much summer, but with cooler evenings, when we can finally open the windows and fall asleep to the pleasant hum of the night creatures.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Limbs, Knocked Down

As I was cleaning up the many tree limbs, knocked down by the winds of Hurricane Irene, my thoughts swirled. I was a bit frustrated that I had to spend my weekend cleaning up the mess. Then I was thankful that it wasn't any worse. Then saddened for the folks who had lost friends and family. Then accepted it as part of life. Then acknowledged that nature cleans house every now and then, as it has forever past.
Then amused that I got my trees pruned for free as a result of some butterfly who stirred the air on the other side of the world (that's how it happens, right?).
Then really amused to think how the news media and associated sponsors owe a debt of gratitude to that quiet foreign butterfly. Then reminded how the citizens of whole cities, states, and countries are brought closer together by the shared misery, curiosity, sensationalism and fear, generated by natural disasters (and by those of us who write about them).

So as I picked up the pieces, I thought about the wind and rain swirling on to the next community-another reminder that we all breathe the same air, drink the same water, and live on the same borrowed land and borrowed time.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Blue Wiggle Sneak

We sat on the boulder pitching pebbles into the calm river. Actually, little Gray did all the pitching, while I did the retrieving. Upon returning from my third trip down to the water to re-supply, I saw a blue wiggle sneak up behind my son. Little Gray never saw a thing, he just kept making rings appear on the water. I began to realize that every time I got up to get more rocks, the tiny skink would scurry away down the side of the rock, and by the time I returned he was back, inching ever so close to my son's shadow. I laughed quietly and finally pointed out the curious critter. Gray pointed and smiled like he knew it was there the whole time; then he resumed his practice.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

An Almost Biblical Plague

The 13 year cicadas (Brood XIII) emerged this summer in many parts of the US. We have them here in NC. As we've visited different parts of the state this spring and summer, we've noticed different concentrations of the bug eyed bugs. Sometimes they sounded like a cool sci-fi soundtrack in the distance, while other times the noise was akin to the more grating rhythmic clatter-buzz commonly associated with the cyclic wonders. There was one memorable day when we ventured to the Eno River in Durham for a splash. But the brood was so thick and loud, almost unbearably so, that we had to shorten our stay and head for home. The frequency was bad enough to make my teeth hurt. No cliche. On that day I could imagine an almost biblical plague of cicadas. What would I do if we had to endure a full summer of the mind-numbing distraction? We would adapt or go crazy (probably a combination of both).
I immediately slipped into naturalist mode to develop some coping mechanisms. So here is my non-scientific list of silver-linings should you find yourself deep in the heart of a cicada crisis:

1. More cicadas equals more food (for fish, birds, cats, and children who visit science museums)
2. The holes, from whence the cicadas emerged, serve a variety of purposes (aerate the soil, mitigate storm-water runoff, save the ants and worms some work and energy, provide one more opportunity for my little boy to stick his fingers into something)
3. The noise can compete with, sometimes even trump the loudspeaker music blaring from your neighbor's half-deaf teenage rebel son's window (car or bedroom).
4. Of course everyone knows the thrill a young sister gets when she discovers the spooky cicada exoskeleton you quietly perched on her shoulder.
5. The uneaten remains return to the soil to complete the circle of life (great opportunity to introduce this concept to children (or naive friends), thus convincing them that anything bad is actually good and essential to life!)

Well that list should get you started. For now, since the cicadas have not yet emerged within a 5 mile radius of my house, I'll enjoy the peace and quiet. If I need to experience any of the items on the list, I know where to find them.