November 2008


Video link

I went out turkey-stalking this morning, armed only with a camera. Half-way along the old woods road to the Far Field, I found three sets of tracks. The snow was beginning to melt in the strong sunlight, but these looked very fresh. I put the camera on video setting as I approached the last bend.

And there they were. They started running as soon as they saw me. It wasn’t the best view I’ve ever had of wild turkeys by a long shot, but for once I had my camera with me. I was only sorry they didn’t fly. They’re intriguing enough on the ground — there’s definitely still a bit of the dinosaur about them — but when a flock of turkeys takes to the air, it’s a heart-stopping experience. One never expects something so large to fly so well. Maybe I’ll be lucky enough to catch that on film someday. (Yes, I know — some of you in the suburbs, where turkeys are never hunted, get much better views.)

turkey scratching

When I got to where they’d been, the ground was all scratched up. They’ve spent most of the autumn down in the valley gleaning corn, as usual, but now that turkey season is safely over, the turkeys have moved back up on the mountain. Unlike their domestic cousins, wild turkeys are extremely canny birds. We do allow turkey hunting on our land, but many years go by without a single bird being taken. If our friends are any indication, turkey hunters are a pretty dedicated lot, but sometimes I suspect they’re just looking for an excuse to spend a fine autumn day out in the woods.

wild turkey tracks

The snow was just right for tracking: neither too wet or too dry, too deep or too thin. I crossed paths with ruffed grouse, raccoon, deer, squirrel, and a couple species of mice. But the best find of the morning had to be the very graphic remains of someone else’s Thanksgiving feast — almost certainly a red-tailed hawk’s, judging by the size of the wingprints. Here’s a slideshow of the struggle, in the order I think it unfolded. (Those with slow connections can access the set here.)

As I waited for a shadow to move off the remains of the squirrel, I could hear the twittering of a mixed winter flock of songbirds drawing near. The hawk’s leftovers won’t be going to waste, I think. As for me, I was just grateful for this photographic bounty to share with y’all. Happy Thanksgiving to everyone who celebrates it, and thanks for reading. I don’t know if it makes sense, logically or theologically, for an agnostic to feel blessed, but I’ve never claimed to be a logical person. All I know is my blessings are too many to count.

truck tires tracks in snow

 

If you think you don’t have the skills or software to make something for Postal Poetry, think again. The online image editor Picnik is free and easy to use. You can upload an image and add some text in a matter of minutes. And Jean says the latest version of Picasa has a really easy text tool, as well. You can find many other free options by doing a search for “online image editing.”

Watch on Vimeo.

This is without a doubt the Undiscovery Channel’s finest production to date, and possibly the most gripping, action-packed 6 minutes and 14 seconds of film you will ever see.

Actually, all kidding aside, this is the closest I’ve ever been to a pocupine while it was feeding. Usually they’re at least thirty feet off the ground, and most often it’s after dark, so all I see is a fuzzy silhouette against the stars accompanied by the sound of chewing. This one, which currently resides in the crawlspace under my house, for some reason late this afternoon decided to snack on the ornamental cherry in front of my porch — only the second time that tree has been chewed on by a porcupine, I think. I discovered it there when I stepped outside to toss an apple core into the weeds.

There was barely enough light to shoot; you can see how darkness is falling in the last couple minutes of the video. A minute in, you can hear the clacking of teeth as the suddenly alarmed porcupine finally notices me standing there. And then it decides I’m harmless — not that very many things can harm a porcupine — and goes back to feeding. The camera’s memory card only allows a little over three minutes of video, so I had to go in and unload the first part before filming the second part, hence the break in the action part-way through.

Porcupines always remind me of something Tove Jansson, the great Finnish children’s author and artist, might’ve dreamed up. It’s gratifying to know that we still share the earth with such creatures. And as regular readers of this blog know, I feel a certain affinity for porcupines: fellow loners who really, really like trees.

Don’t forget to submit tree-related links to the Festival of the Trees by November 29 for inclusion in the December 1 edition at A Neotropical Savanna. See here for details.

stepping out

Winter has come early, it seems. The ground has frozen solid in the unusually cold weather, and instead of November rains we’re getting snow — or, this afternoon, sleet. Long blue shadows remind us that the sun is as low now as it will be in late January.

bootprint

But it takes some intermittent thawing — or an admixture of ice — to seal the snow cover to the ground. The first snows still lie lightly on the grass and leaves, and can walk away in the tread of a boot, exposing the year’s unfinished business. I get impatient for the pristine midwinter desert. It’s like starting to explore some wild-looking rock outcroppings in a city park, and finding them in use as shelters for a homeless encampment.

Maybe things are better that way, though, all mixed up and impure. Last week I heard the flute-like calls of tundra swans over the roar of the well driller, and it brought me back to the present, standing on the powerline right-of-way on a cold and overcast morning, feeling suddenly that all the broken pieces fit together just the way they were. Everything belongs! It’s a useful illusion to nurture this time of year when our physical separation from the land is brought into such sharp relief, and the cold — not to mention the currently dire economic news — makes us crave comfort foods and fellowship and sentimentalized family holidays.

No Hunting

What if, instead, we were to take the inhuman harshness as a teacher? What if we were to say no to extra comforts and conveniences, no to the random urge, no to commodification? The mere thought is enough to make me shiver. Somewhere one still needs to hear that primal Yes.

This entry is part 5 of 15 in the series Ridge and Valley: an exchange of poems

Villagers attending church, by Walter Sanders
Villagers attending church, by Walter Sanders

 

Dear Dave,

Lamar sits in his wheelchair
at the back of the church: Parkinson’s

propped in his lap like a toddler, bad baby
who crawls on this old man’s chest, pulls

his tired white head to the side
and whispers in his ear about lungs

falling in on themselves. Our minister reads
the words of the Psalmist, who assures us

about the place of the righteous and the wicked.
Lamar’s labored breathing lingers, rests

like a shawl on the shoulders of those of us
who sit in the next to last row. We can’t help

but wonder where the breath of God is, and why
a good man is treated so wickedly.

Todd Davis

in response to a photo by Pete McGregor

Walls rattle like a threshing machine,
the floor heaves — no place to land
among the tight-packed
mass of mendicants.
A pigeon watches the feeding
from the safety of a roof, first
with one orange eye
& then the other:
these are thieves & nest predators.
Their outlandish beaks are studded
with egg teeth, but unlike chicks
they show no sign they’ll ever
grow feathers. To them, perhaps,
the earth is still all egg.
What makes them holy?
They drop onto their clawed
forelimbs & crawl, brown
fur against the dirt, as if
it never occurred to them to fly.

For the Read Write Poem prompt, “(not) following the rules.” Other responses are here.

I wonder sometimes about the flag people. Not the ones who hang out the American or Confederate flags — though I wonder about them sometimes too — but the ones whose flags signal more personal allegiances: flowers, or songbirds, or autumn leaves. I don’t think they’re making a political statement, though I suppose it’s possible. It’s not a hippie thing. The only statement I think they’re making is, “Yay spring!” or “Yay autumn!” as the case may be.

I can’t see myself ever following suit — it’s not really my style, and besides, if I hung out a flag, it couldn’t not make a statement. I’m the kind of anarchist who would sooner burn a black flag then follow it, so that option’s out. But I think I know what I would put on a flag, should I ever get the urge to drape one off my porch: a dandelion.

Every spring when I was a kid, we gathered dandelion greens from the lawn. For a week or two before the flower stalks appeared, their bitterness was still bearable, even pleasant, as long as they were boiled with bits of bacon and dressed with salt and vinegar. We’d go out picking after a rain so we wouldn’t have to clean them much. It was work to separate out all the tiny blades of grass, but the novelty of gathering food from the lawn never wore off.

Years later, a Swedish naturalist came to visit, a man who specialized in dandelion taxonomy, among other things. Our common birds filled him with delight; he got a look of utter transport every time an American robin sang. And he kept falling to his knees at unexpected junctures, because the dandelions were in bloom. Where we saw constellations of familiar suns, he kept finding brand new genotypes.

Once when I was drunk on dandelion wine at a raucous party in a house where I had lived the year before, a giant of an ex-marine grabbed me by the throat and threw me against the wall. My glasses flew off. All that giddy gold in my veins flash-froze. A friend came over and won my release with a tap on the giant’s shoulder and an ear-splitting grin, but by then I was sober, and the house had ceased to resemble any home I knew.

A few hours later, I ran into some people from the party. Why hadn’t I raised a finger in self-defense, they wanted to know, and all I could say was, it wasn’t in me. I had felt too good; every muscle had been relaxed. When dandelions get good and pollinated, they fall prostrate among the grass: lawnmowers won’t touch them, except on the lowest setting. And by the time they straighten up again, they’re ready for whatever might come their way. Their newly spherical heads have the power to transform blows into catalysts of wonder and delight — not to mention regeneration.

On second thought, who needs a flag? Maybe I should design a personal coat of arms.

The child-soldier never blinks —
he can’t. His eyelids were cut off
three days after his capture
because he refused to open them.
So instead he must weep without ceasing,
which makes his vision blurry.
Those running shapes —
are they men, women, goats?
His comrades put him on point
& he’s learned to spray bullets
at whatever he needs to see.
His face never stops twitching,
even in his sleep. The cloth he pulls
over his eyes trembles all night
like the surface of some teeming pool
on which newly emerged mosquitoes
rest, too light to sink,
feet splayed as if on the skin
of their first blood meal,
waiting for their wings to dry & harden.