have this dance? cross this line? have more? call you? take this book home? ask you a question?
What do these May I questions evoke in you? Who do you see asking each question? Is it ever you? Is it never you?
Is May I polite or argumentative? Is it neither? What is it then?
Are these questions hard for you to answer or easy or mindless or annoying?
May I dream
The next five photographs are of two tulip poplars. The first three are of a tulip poplar I recently discovered a mere half mile from the one I have been watching for years, the one that is slowly, graciously dying and is the subject of the final two of these five photographs. After photograph three and before photograph four is a paragraph from one of my favorite books of all time, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, by Annie Dillard.
“A tree stands there, accumulating deadwood, mute and rigid as an obelisk, but secretly it seethes, it spits, sucks, and stretches; it heaves up tons and hurls them out in a green, fringed fling. No person taps this free power, the dynamo in the tulip tree pumps out ever more tulip tree, and it runs on rain and air.” (Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, by Annie Dillard)
And that gingko note, the very word, prehistory, makes me laugh, a bit joylessly. The fact we hold anything before we humans were is, semantically, as not. Perhaps we will begin to read epochal signs a little more humbly. Before we were is was. Will we, singlehandedly, bring it all down along with us?
I love the look of that title. Why? Something about its rhythm — visual and aural. I like to write numbers when they include the number 4. I even try to pay bills (I still pay bills with checks) on a date that includes the number 4 in it so that I can write the number 4. Why? Is it a self centeredness because my birthdate is on the 4th day of the month? Why? I keep coming back to its aesthetic. I like the look of the numeral 4. But, the new wrinkle today is that I also keep looking up at the title and liking it a lot. And it is not numerals. And it is not just fours (4s), but two twenties. Not twenties. But twenty and twenty, side by side. Twenty twenty. Four fourteen. I wish I understood musical notation, 4/4 means something? Is that four four time or four quarter time? I should research that, certainly I have time these days, and the sources for searching here at my fingertips-tap tap tap. Or maybe it’s in math, with four quarters summed equals one; 4/4ths equals 1. And then there is the way the word four forms on one’s lips. Like a kiss.
So I like that last thought. It is friendly. It is pleasant. Saying four is like a kiss.
Or or, it is like when surprised. Oh, I say. Oh! I like to be surprised. A surprise introduces me to something new. Something I haven’t already textured with anticipation, colored with expectation. Something that will bring me to a new place. Oh! Four! Oh! Saying four is like being surprised. Or, or it is like realizing alternatives. Or. Or. Four. Or. And it IS rhythmic. Four. Foot. Four footed forging forward, fording oh fording river floors, forging onward.
Twenty twenty! Now that is another look another sound. Plenty of birds, come to think of it, start their songs or their calls with “twe”. Short e twe or long e twe. It is audible overhead as in treetops, on rooftops, atop utility poles and antennas the mockingbird, the redwing blackbird, the cardinal, the titmouse, the robin, the rose breasted grosbeak, the carolina wren, the yellow warbler,the other warbler, and the other warbler, the song sparrow, even the house sparrow.
I will leave the numbers and marvel over twigs. The variety of size I have watched enter the shrub I see from my desk is amusing. The robins prevailed and they are building their nest in this shrub. (I pray that they continue to spot and chase the blue jays when they try to poke their noses into the construction site, and the house sparrows as well.) Twice I have seen dangling from the beak of a robin, when he or she pauses on the porch rail before diving into the shrub an 18 or 24 (!!!) inch strand of some kind of grass. The first one was brought in and partly woven into the forming nest, with about eight inches left streaming outside. The second one seems to have been fully woven, no tail from it. And in between these and other slightly less dramatic grasses, the robins carry in small clumps of probably desiccated leaves or shorter grasses encased in dirt. I believe these must be for daubing the nest, securing it. I keep hoping to take a picture, but they do not rest long on the railing and so my phone-camera is always too late to make the picture. At a later time, if I can without calling forth the lurking predators, I will try to get a photograph of the built nest from closer up, and without the visual disruption of the screen in my window. It will illustrate a future blog post. Meanwhile, I will add here a photograph of the cherry-plum tree out front. I love that its saplings are growing around the now fully dead original trunk, and its saplings for the past two years have provided small, edible plums (cherry-plums) that I, neighborhood kids, and, notably, diverse birds have enjoyed eating in the summer. Right now I offer their buds for your viewing.
The wind outside right now is a howler. I can only trust that those robins have anchored their nest effectively. I wonder how many other nests are within my sight if only I knew the angle from which to look. Does that happen to you? You look for something, see nothing, turn a twelve degree angle, a four degree angle, and whoosh! There it is. You move another couple of degrees and it disappears. The wonder of optics.
One final sentence: I titled this 4 14 2020 because I thought that to be today’s date, but it is not, it is tomorrow’s date. This goof adds a whole new level of questions about the source of my penchant for 4.
I sit at my desk watching the still bare but just begun-budding weeping birch branches waving, blowing. I am listening to the blue jays and sparrows muttering in the trees’ higher branches, and in the shrubs out front. Beginning at 6:45 AM, when I opened wider the blind, and nearly nonstop until about an hour ago a pair of robins were sharing trilling time with anyone who would listen. I would, and did. It’s been a song-filled day today, even though I have not set one foot beyond the edges of the back and front porches. In fact, except to bring in the mail (front porch–mail basket hangs on the front door handle) and deposit in their bin the recyclable cat food cans (back porch–bin reachable by merely leaning over the side railing), I have not trod beyond the sills of the doors. The weather is most conducive to this internality of my day today.
I hope this finds you holding your own amidst this pandemic. I know for many of us it is easier than for others of us and for others we have not met. A friend has just lost a nephew. My friend cannot go to her sister’s to comfort her in the loss of her son. Her sister cannot go to her son-who-was-but-is-no-longer. My sister is experiencing her own new loss alone in her newly single-resident house. My friend’s brother fell prey to the virus, and recovered, but alone in his apartment, and continues solitary and, for all his life a waiter, currently unemployed and uncompensated, with bills due to arrive.
And yet the nests are being constructed in trees and shrubs around here everywhere. And yet, in fact, two days ago I watched an adult mourning dove caring for a juvenile mourning dove, poking food into the young one’s mouth, keeping close. And this morning three juvenile turkeys strolled down the sidewalk in front of our house, took a left into the driveway and strode into first our neighbor’s backyard, and then, cutting through the stand of arbor vitae, into ours. Cringe if you need to, but I, I was delighted.
Now I am warned time and again about how anywhere, be it my back yard or Massachusetts Avenue in Harvard Square, with turkeys, they hold court. In other words, mind them, kind of like my parents told me to do as a child, mind them my parents. Sometimes I did, sometimes… However, this time, yes, I will. I mind them, the turkeys, as to obey and I mind them as be attentive watch my back and in fact be still. Maria, the tuxedo cat here at home, was less cautious and growled low and treacherously through the bedroom window overlooking the backyard, which was open just a bit. Her growl remained low and private, and they ignored her. They pecked among the dropped seeds under the stand of bird feeders, convened very briefly (I was reminded “stand up” meetings at work. For me, a distant past, for some of you a month or so ago, and likely again in a month or so) and cut back through the arbor vitae to our neighbors’ backyard and to horizons east.
How the absence of us has freed the neighbors whose homes are, of necessity, single tree tops, pockets of thickets, small stands of woods, and utility corridors. I would like that they could hold fast to some of the new spaces they’ve had a chance to explore.
I know I have nay-sayers among my readers, so I will not rave on. I’ll leave you with a fragment of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s:
“To a Skylark”
Better than all measures Of delightful sound, Better than all treasures That in books are found, Thy skill to poet were, thou scorner of the ground!
Teach me half the gladness That thy brain must know, Such harmonious madness From my lips would flow The world should listen then, as I am listening now
Today, in the midst, was, nevertheless, utterly beautiful. Sun light clear, a winter clear bouncing off white snow here in Massachusetts, white snow that is melting rather quickly in the sun/40+ degree temperatures, but not disappearing under the tread of multiple feet, multiple vehicles, because they are few, few. I walked from my house to downtown to return two books to the library (into the outside box, of course, untouched for awhile by human hands–gloved or ungloved), and to a coffee shop that I like to sit in, but of course cannot right now, but I could and did buy a dark roast and a freshly baked oatmeal chocolate chip cookie. I walked in the middle of usually busy streets just because I could. I also walked along a couple of the multiple canals that define the city of Lowell, Massachusetts. Spring has begun here.
And like March’s coincident budding trees and melting snow, the waters, too, continue their patterns (and thank God they do!), flowing a steady wash over dams and obstructions. Two days ago I saw a pair of very effective beaver dams making small rapids along the local rail trail, today it was the Western Canal and Upper Pawtucket Street Canal pouring into the Hamilton Canal. I love that you can hear water flow even before you see it, including that of a lazy river, even that — the sound in that case, I find, is an absence of sound, as if the air above the water body holds its breath until it reaches the next shore.
And now I am home typing this out at my desk, and might note that the shrub out front that had so far been cased out by cardinals and robins (and glanced at sidelong by hopeful bluejays), has also been checked out by a pair of house finches, while the cardinals and robins still flit in and around and out. Such an important decision, the infants’ nest. Oh boy! Who will choose it? Will any? I watch daily, holding my breath.
Once again, I offer no profundity, and am soon to close and send this out. But may I just share along with my hopes that this posting finds you healthy, learning new and wonderful ways to be inside your homes, and happy to know that in fact we are alive and the earth, created, I believe, by God as, I believe, was all else, runs without us, and can only delight if we only care; may I just share two more photos.
Thank you for reading this reportage of a day in my life. May you find reason to celebrate in yours. May you have cause to celebrate.
One more thing, here is a poem: Counting-out Rhyme by Edna St. Vincent Millay
Silver bark of beech, and sallow Bark of yellow birch and yellow Twig of willow.
Stripe of green in moosewood maple, Colour seen in leaf of apple Bark of popple*.
Wood of popple pale as moonbeam, Wood of oak for yoke and barn-beam, Wood of hornbeam.
Silver bark of beech, and hollow Stem of elder, tall and yellow Twig of willow.
*she uses popple here in an archaic sense, as poplar Edna St. Vincent Millay’s poetry, in my mind, runs the gamut from elegant and heart stopping to a bit overwrought. But I think she actually felt language and enables me to as well.
It is a beautiful day outside today, March 15th, 2020. For some reason, I have not found a reason to wander in it. Yesterday I did. Yesterday I walked 8 miles. Today, I sit; I read; I drink coffee; I notice that I had better trim the front shrubs soon, very soon, because as I sat here at my desk looking out, I observed a cardinal pair exploring the evergreen shrub in which they had nested last year. In case they choose it again, I want to have finished trimming and its neighbor before they begin to build and so not scare them away from the home they were making. Today would be a good day to do it. It is currently 2:37 PM. There is time.
And I did, it is 4:47 and I trimmed one of two shrubs I thought I would accomplish today. I use hand loppers. I don’t like the electric thing that screams as it slices. As a result, there is not defined shape on our shrubs. It waves in the manner of my lopping focus and strength. I dare not share a picture of the shrub. It is not shapeless, but neither shapely. I’m ashamed to admit, I also have a blister on the base of my left index finger. Oh the places we can antagonize on our bodies. Just hope the cardinals will wait another day or two.
And now it is Friday March 20th, and the warnings to stay physically apart from others grow more urgent each day, and so since Tuesday I am obeying. I bicycled on Wednesday, but trying for remoteness not on the rail trail, which would have been beautiful. And, true to these times, while most of this week the temperatures were in the 40s, today it is supposed to reach 70, and tomorrow 40s again. I want to note the temperature progression so far today — I woke and it was 70, that was at 7:00. Half an hour later it was down to 38. But by 10:30 it was 43. And now, at noon it is 49. The patterns are intriguing to watch if only they weren’t so portentous.
What are you doing? What were you doing five minutes ago? Where? What will you do for the rest of this day? Tomorrow?
I feel at a remove. I am safe, and well, and not likely to be personally reached by the virus as long as I take care. But how many people who I or you know, and how many who we don’t know, but who exist nonetheless, are standing at the fore are breathing infested air just by being where they unavoidably are, or just by being where they choose to be in order to help. May we never forget to care, may we never deny the imbalance of life from community to community on this earth. May this bring out the best in us.
This is all I have to say today. It does not engender any relevant pictures, so I am attaching two disparate recent sunny day photographs. A duck I spied on the Merrimack River, and the shadows of my sister and me as we walked up the Kosciusko Bridge just last week.
By the way, now robins are inspecting the shrub directly in front of my window. They have nested there as well as have cardinals. We will see which choose the site, if either. A bluejay streaks by occasionally, which is a concern for any nesting birds of smaller or equal physical aspect to them. I will follow this saga, and report in the future. Final note, as I was typing the previous sentence, the cardinals stopped by again. Perhaps there will be two nests in the one shrub? One can only hope.
Having not written in awhile, I was coming home from breakfast with my friend, Eunice, and remembered it is February still, even though we have passed by February 28th. It is that once every four years anomaly (except if the year is not divisible by 4, like 1700), February 29th. Once upon a time I had a boyfriend whose birthday was February 29th. Would he age more slowly than I, I wondered at the time, lo those many decades ago, when I was 18 and he 19? I guess I can keep wondering, because last I saw him I was 23 and he 24 (or 8?) On February 29th, 1912 La Piedra Movediza (“moving or shifting stone”), a balancing rock high above Tandil, Buenos Aires Province, Argentina fell from where it had perched. It had weighed about 300 tons, and not only did it balance on the face of a high hill, but also, it rocked from morning to evening slowly enough to be imperceptible to the eye, but if one placed a breakable object, say a bottle, under the bottom of the rock, it would be found smashed later in the day. Oh, the facts we can yank from the ether these days of e- everything.
Earlier this week, I was pedaling my orange Fuji Absolute hybrid bicycle. It was gorgeous out, warm, windless, sunny. But it was February! I am disturbed by these many warm days that have stippled the 2020 calendar already. So when the cold winds blew in Tuesday or Wednesday, I smiled as I shivered and re-donned my center-of-winter heavy wool jacket (see said me and said jacket in photo left). There is so much troubling going on, I need seasonableness. But this is my relationship to seasons, thus, my sense of seasonableness. In two decades, as the shift we have been experiencing for many decades already, but generally noticing for four decades, as it becomes entrenched in its trending toward extremes of all weather systems, all storm types, a person aware of weather may believe that a plethora Carolina Wrens in December in northern Massachusetts are as it should be, and the absence of Juncos is not an absence because they have not been seen, cold weather birds as they are, and barely cold as Massachusetts may be on February 29th, 2040. But, as it goes, if the earth still goes, I, based on genetics, may still be here to feel this, old though I already am. I may no longer need my center-of-winter wool jacket; I may no longer even need my end-of-winter lighter weight wool jacket. I fear this. You?
Back to the bicycle. It is serving me well. We talk, it is not my Bianchi my ride of 22 years, but it is my Fuji. We talk so that we can become more comfortable with each other. The other day I nearly head over heeled over a fire hydrant that the Fuji balked at, and I know the Bianchi would have readily sidled by. But, hmm, I am assessing blame on an aluminum and other light minerals product, and, I was just going to say, that is anthropomorphizing. And on most levels it is. BUT! But, also are not these same minerals within the body the hands of which are typing these words? Not to worry, I will not be writing a sequel to Toy Story(ies). Because I know the balker was the rider, seeing she was about to descend a short (maybe 10 feet), steep dirt and asphalt decline (at least 5%) that ended in (1) a bright red fire hydrant and (2) a curved granite curb and (3) an immediately potholed street, and choosing to descend before taking her physical bearings. So the Fuji was only wheels responding to feet on pedals, and hands gripping grips and not brakes. Split seconds! Feet leapt to dirt/asphalt, and mineral rich fingers to brake lever! Skidded to a sloppy stop short of the hydrant, and short of a header.
How is your 2020? So far I have low hopes. So far Eunice has high hopes. You?
Here is a poem by Linda Pastan. Its title is something I never experienced, but is something I was once:
To a Daughter Leaving Home
When I taught you at eight to ride a bicycle, loping along beside you as you wobbled away on two round wheels, my own mouth rounding in surprise when you pulled ahead down the curved path of a park, I kept waiting for the thud of your crash as I sprinted to catch up, while you grew smaller, more breakable with distance, pumping, pumping for your life, screaming with laughter, the hair flapping behind you like a handkerchief waving goodbye.
Linda Pastan (1932-)
You know, I was going to end with Linda Pastan’s poem above. But then, I was looking through some books on my bookshelf and found in a book called Poetry in Motion, comprising 100 poems that graced the walls and trains of the NYC MTA, this poem by Robert Frost, which if you think about it, kind of speaks to the other end of the life of the girl that Linda Pastan watched grow up and away, to the end I find myself in now:
For every parcel I stoop down to seize I lose some other off my arms and knees, And the whole pile is slipping, bottles, buns– Extremes too hard to comprehend at once, Yet nothing I should care to leave behind. With all I have told with, hand and mind And heart, if need be, I will do my best To keep their building balanced at my breast. I crouch down to prevent them as they fall; Then sit down in the middle of them all. I had to drop the armful in the road. And try to stack them in a better load.
I am beginning this post on January 20th, 2020, the day, this year, on which Martin Luther King Jr. is being honored. His actual date of birth was January 15th. I would like to open with part of a quote from a speech he made in 1967: “I’m talking about a strong, demanding love. For I have seen too much hate…on faces…to want to hate, myself, because every time I see it, I know that it does something to [our] faces and [our] personalities, and I say to myself that hate is too great a burden to bear. I have decided to love.”
May I live by this.
If you are with me at anytime and I am not doing so, please call me out on it.
This month, since the new year began, we have had a Cooper’s Hawk residing in and every so often calling out from the top reaches of the arbor vitae that divides our property from our neighbor’s. As a result, not too many local little birds have been visiting the feeders hanging, full and available in our back yard. It has been quite silent!! No squabbling sparrows, scolding blue jays, chattering titmice, nor bossy chickadees. No tittering goldfinches. No morning calling cardinals, nor mourning doves. No periodic honks from the downy woodpeckers. Not a single visiting mockingbird. No twittering carolina wrens. I have really missed them all. But this morning, as I ate my breakfast, many of the crowd came back! Sparrows aplenty, mr and ms cardinal, a family of goldfinches, boisterous blue jays, and a plucky carolina wren. Ahh, what a morning it is. 10 degrees farenheit, sun brilliant, bouncing rays off yesterday’s snowfall, feeders shivering under the landings, feedings, and flying offs of a crowd of songbirds. I love this. Now the year 2020 has begun!
I am guessing the Cooper’s hawk has gone for a visit elsewhere for a spell, and will be back. Hawk is as welcome as any other. Just, you know, give those little guys wiggle room each day, please. Thanks!
I am back from a noon tour of the back yard. A junco came by! This makes me happy, because over and above all the other rarely appearing avifauna, I’d spotted no juncos since this year and decade began, none, in fact, since before Christmas. I fear their absence, because their presence assures that winter will be here, and they arrived late this year, causing me trepidation, and they have been fewer in number, and then to be absent these three weeks. I worried had the Cooper’s found them particularly delectable, or had they departed for northern climes when January days soared to 60+ degrees farenheit? I do not have an answer for either conjecture, but I do have the delight of seeing one today, so winter is still here, and I, for one, am happy. Extinctions are occurring, may they slow down. May we slow down our consumption and let the earth’s resources rest, breathe, replenish.