Blues and yellows

iris shed

Yesterday morning I found myself listening, quite by accident, to some old piano blues. The cassette was mislabled; I’d been looking for something else, but what I found was exactly what I needed to hear. Not because I had the blues, you understand. But because those particular songs — “Mother Earth” by Memphis Slim, “You Can’t Have It All” by Sunnyland Slim, and “Cry To Me” by Professor Longhair — make me glad to be alive.

Then I went out with my camera, checking to see if the mallard’s clutch had hatched in the night. This is a duck that, in defiance of all logic, has nested in a dry field on a dry mountaintop, about 100 years above the head of the stream — probably the same one I saw checking the place out on April 24 in the company of her mate.

goldfinch flock

I went straight from the blues to the yellows: yellow irises in the shed lawn (top photo) and a flock — or is it a charm? — of goldfinches up in the field.

mallard on nest

The mallard hen was sitting perfectly motionless, as usual, trusting in her excellent camouflage, which renders her nearly invisible even from three feet away. No yellow ducklings were in evidence. Actually, with all the nest-raiding predators about, I’ll be very surprised if the nest survives the full incubation period. But if it does, it should be interesting to see what the mother does with her new family: will they walk the full mile and a half down to the river, as one of our hunter friends saw a wood duck family doing last year? Or will they try and stick it out in our stream, which, while free of snapping turtles, would seem to offer no protection from raccoons, foxes and coyotes?

mustard springhouse

When I got back to the house, the sun was just filtering down to the wild mustard patch in front of the old springhouse. So many yellows — so much sweetness and light! The only blue I found, apart from the sky, was in a few, last, faded speedwell blossoms in my garden, and in the pinhole-sized spots at the base of a caterpillar’s spines.

checkerspot caterpillar 2

But mostly what I saw was green.

21 Replies to “Blues and yellows”

  1. Dave, on my first scroll past the photo of the goldfinches my eye misread it as yellow flowers on stalks — until I stopped and scrolled back and realized these were finches, instead. Wow.

    My friend Michelle Gillett wrote a glorious poem called “Blinding the Goldfinches,” in her chapbook of the same title (available from Backwaters Press,, though the poem itself is sadly not online anywhere.)

  2. The colors this spring seem more vivid and intense than ever before. Maybe it’s just that they follow a particularly bleak and relentless winter. The contrast couldn’t be more profound.

  3. Hey, your goldfinches are different from ours! Beautiful though, on their lollipop sticks, echoing the irises. Any chance of an audio of them somewhere, I want to know if they sound similar?

  4. Y’all are too kind.

    I trust everybody spotted the duck’s eye? It probably would’ve looked yellow, too, in a stronger light.

    Rachel – Backwaters does some good stuff. I’ll keep an eye out for that.

    leslee – Do you have the album that song came from , Crawfish fiesta? I think it’s his best. Great party music.

    robin andrea – The conditions here in the northeast have also conspired to give us a particularly rich spread of flowers this year, I’d say.

    Brett – Why not? Because an over-dependence on language breeds a sense of futility.

    marly – I’ll go along with that!

    patry – You may be right, but it’s probably better if I not know or think about whether I have a distinctive style.

    Lucy – Here.

  5. Hmm. I feel left out of the music…

    We’re sorry. We have detected that you are outside of the United States. This service is currently only available to residents within the United States.

  6. Lucy – Really? I guess there is a certain consistency to finch song across species, come to think of it.

    Anonymous – Bummer. Thanks for letting me know, though – maybe I won’t do that again. Is there a better service I can use that will give free listens to everybody, I wonder?

  7. I enjoyed your walk account, photos, and miscellaneous musings, Dave. Reminds me of some of my walks!

    That springhouse looks interesting … how about some more photos of the structure? Is it still in use?

  8. Ask and ye shall receive! I blogged about it here:
    Additional photos are here:
    (I may be blogging this last photo today)

    It was last in use in the early 60s, probably. In a photo from the mid-20th century, the springhouse lawn is in use as a cow pasture. See the middle of this page.

  9. Dave, you set a standard for Paying Attention. You really are inspiring and may shake me loose yet!

    Not that that matters. I’m terribly concerned for the mallard and her babies and would have difficulty restraining myself from messing with her life, all full of good intentions. Your observant and inobtrusive eye serves her, and your writing, well.

  10. angie – Don’t be too impressed. Finding that mallard nest was a collaborative effort between my mother and me, on a morning last week on which we were counting breeding birds for science, as luck would have it. “I’ll bet she’s in that patch of goldenrod right there,” I said, taking a wild guess. It was my mother who stood looking and looking until she finally made out the pattern on the duck’s tail.

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