These are my picks from the first 61 haiku at the new/old photoblog. They’re all in response to photos from January-March 2008, and seem to make a half-decent sequence, especially with the line-breaks removed.
a shining pile of deer guts — I want to pick out all the hairs
kernals of sun through the holes in the old corncrib
in the spotlight’s glare, the dark sky dissolves into snowflakes
foggy woods: the sassafras follows a crooked route to the sky
around the stalks where bees hummed in August, sparkles on the snow
January, and the vernal pond is capped by green ice
dead locust bark: fungal white, algal green, alive between the cracks
inside the deer fence, the 200-year-old white oak isn’t stirring
mares’ tails — interrupting my reverie, a sharp-shinned hawk
damp with snowmelt, the oak log’s colors are so bright, I have to touch it
through a handprint on the fogged-up window, icicles, sunrise
fresh snow: a boil on the black birch looks good enough to lick
beside the woods road, a single stalk of grass pointing toward town
no less grotesque for being spindly — south roof icicles
the silence seems deepest beside the oak with a huge round opening
fog drifts through branches locked under a coat of ice
dried seedheads get to bloom a second time — icy meadow
far below freezing, the pond ice grows a quilt of downy hoarfrost
snow melts to show the mountain’s true skin, salamander-slick
drifted snow — a doe follows the bootprints as far as she can
snowy right-of-way: weed stalks stipple the mountain laurel’s shadow
snow-bound woods: root hairs on a toppled tree are the only gossamer
I remember every place I’ve seen that amber — moon in eclipse
the snow’s so deep, any arrangement of sticks seems significant
the winter barn: a faint smell of summer from an open door
milkweed silk has frozen in mid-spill — snowy field
in the snow under an impaled rag of a leaf, something squeaks
Hunger Moon snow: skinny shadows lead to thorny trunks
deep in the woods, the setting sun fingers two witch hazels
fleshy leaves ideal for the indoor desert face the snow
only the hawk’s inner eyelids have fallen shut, white, white
such a presence — the snow all around it is flecked with black
their calls must’ve changed: no hint of Canada now in these local geese
forty blackbirds gurgle and creak in the ash tree — spring snow
melted except where the giant snowblower blew, a phantom road
Whenever I have to bang out a bunch of haiku, I like to read from the masters for inspiration. I’ve been avoiding translations which I suspect to be very good, such as Robert Hass’ The Essential Haiku, because I’m afraid they will make me lazy. The best way to read Japanese haiku, as far as I’m concerned, is with the aid of a literal English translation by someone like Harold G. Henderson or R. H. Blyth, so I’ll be forced to refer to the Japanese text and, if present, the syllable-by-syllable interpretation. I’ve forgotten most of the Japanese I studied in college, but at least I remember the basics, such as how the grammar works and how to use a kanji dictionary. Attempting to translate poetry is one of the best ways I know to fully engage with it. Today I thought I’d preserve not just my attempts, but also some of the thoughts that got me there.
Yosa Buson (1716-1783) is generally considered one of the four greatest writers of what we now call haiku (the others being Basho, Issa, and Shiki), and he was a brilliant painter and sketch artist to boot. Though ambiguity has always been prized in Japanese poetry, Buson took it to the limit in some of his haiku. Others, of course, are entirely straightforward. Here are a few of each.
Nashi no hana tsuki no fumiyomu onna ari
The blossoming pear—
a woman reads a letter
in the moonlight.
Is it live, or is it metaphor? Other translators tend to make this a bit more instrumental and say “by moonlight,” but the grammatical structure suggests that letter-reading woman is to moon as blossom is to pear tree.
Shigi tôku kuwa sugusu mizu no uneri kana
A distant snipe.
Rinsing off the hoe,
how the water quakes!
The association here may be with the circling, diving courtship display of a common snipe (Gallinago gallinago) at dusk, or simply its zig-zag flight when flushed. The verb uneru means to undulate, meander, surge, swell, roll, etc.
Kura narabu ura wa tsubame no kayoi michi
Behind the warehouse row,
a road busy with the back-and-forth
of barn swallows.
This is Hirundo rustica gutturalis, a different subspecies but substantially the same bird familiar to Europeans and North Americans.
Yado kase to katan nage dasu fubuki kana
“A night’s lodging!”
and the sword thrown down—
a gust of snow.
Buson really makes the little words work hard. The Japanese particle to attributes the opening phrase to someone — we’re left to imagine who — while at the same time introducing the down-thrown-sword gust of snow.
Me ni ureshi koi gimi no sen mashiro nari
As utterly blank as it is,
I can’t stop looking
at my lover’s fan.
The archaic mashiro means “pure white,” but the contrast with the norm — brightly painted fans — is clearly in play here. And though we might not share the premodern Japanese attraction to pure white skin, our fashion photography suggests we still understand the sexiness of a blank expression.
Enma-Ô no kuchi ya botan o hakan to su
The King of Hell’s mouth:
peony petals ready
to be spat out.
The King of Hell in popular East Asian Buddhist iconography is always shown with an angry, open mouth. Is Buson looking at a statue of Enma-Ô and imagining a peony, or vice versa? I picture an aged, pink peony blossom in a state of partial collapse.
Kujira ochite iyo-iyo takaki o age kana
The diving whale—
how its tail keeps going
Iyo-iyo means both “increasingly” and “at last.” There’s probably a better way of conveying that dual sense in English than what I’ve gone with here.
Kari yoroi ware ni najimaru samusa kana
Fitting the borrowed
armor to my body—
Christ it’s cold!
The last line is not, of course, a literal translation of samusa kana, but in modern colloquial American English, it’s hard to imagine exclaiming about the cold without deploying at least a mild curse.
Sakura chiru nawashiro mizu ya hoshizuki yo
in the rice-seedling water,
moon and stars.
Another conjunction that’s not entirely a metaphor, but could be if you wanted.
Ichi gyô no kari ya hayama ni tsuki o in su
All in one line, the wild geese,
and the moon in the foothills
for a seal.
Nature as calligraphic painting.
Asa giri ya e ni kaku yume no hito dôri
the road full of people from
a painter’s dream.
Fog, mist, haze: the East Asian landscape painter’s way of collapsing time and distance.
Tsurigane ni tomarite nemuru kochô kana
On the temple’s
a butterfly sleeps.
“Bell” is of course entirely inadequate. The English word conjures up a clanging or tolling thing with a clapper, nothing like the booming bronze behemoth meant here. Tomarite — “stopping,” “lodging” — seems redundant in translation.
This butterfly is the Buson equivalent of Basho’s ancient ponderous frog. So many interpretations, so much weighty critical analysis! How can it possibly sleep?
Utsutsu naki tsumami gokoro no kochô kana
Not quite real,
this sensation of pinching—
This haiku is notoriously hard to pin down: is the sensation one that a human feels, holding a butterfly by the wings, or is it — as the grammar seems to suggest — the butterfly who feels this not-quite-real sensation? Personally, I favor a third view: that the sensation is the experience of a human on whose finger a butterfly has landed. Butterflies can cling quite tightly — I don’t think it would be a stretch to use the verb tsumamu for that — and when they then begin to mine the grooves in your finger for salt with their long proboscis, the sensation is very strange indeed.
Asa kaze no ka o fukimiyoru kemushi kana
play in the hair
of a caterpillar.
As with the temple-bell butterfly haiku, there’s an extra verb here (miyoru, “can be seen”) that really doesn’t need to be translated. Even without it, the poem is all about perspective.
Kin byô no usu mono wa dare ka aki no kaze
Whose thin clothes
still decorate the gold screen?
Painted on the screen, one wonders, or draped over it? I think this is another haiku that merges world and painting. Autumn wind typically conveys loneliness in Japanese poetry.
Shira ume ni akuru yo bakari to nari ni keri
(final deathbed poem)
The night almost past,
through the white plum blossoms
a glimpse of dawn.
Buson in fact died before dawn, so this glimpse, too, is an artist’s vision, poised between dream and metaphor.
I’ve been writing an ass-load of haiku in the last two days, for the simple reason that I’ve never been very good at repetitive tasks. When I decided not to renew payment on my premium account at Shutterchance, where I’ve kept a photoblog for the past two years, I knew I’d have to move all the posts to a new site one by one or else let the archives go. My enthusiasm for photoblogging has gradually waned, giving way to a newer enthusiasm for video, and it didn’t make sense to keep paying almost $70 a year when I could move the blog to vianegativa.us and pay nothing other than the time and effort to move it (Shutterchance provides no export script). The only reason to stay on there would be for the very active community, which I’ve neglected for months, and the links and visibility, which I don’t care too much about since I’m not selling my photos. (Though getting more than 15,000 hits on a single post was an undeniable thrill, which I’ve never come close to equalling here. People on the internet sure do like to look at pretty pictures.)
The premium account expires on January 3, after which only the 30 most recent posts will still be visible. There are 245 posts in all. So three days ago, I decided to get started, found a slick, free photoblog theme for WordPress, and started moving photos into new-old posts, making sure to match the original posting dates for whatever absurd purposes of archival fidelity.
And after about fifteen photos, I began to slip up. When faced with any repetitive task, such as stuffing envelopes or driving an automobile, my mind soon starts to wander, and the results aren’t pretty. So to make things more interesting, I decided to start writing haiku — or at least, haiku-like things — to replace the original captions. I might run out of steam on that before I get through all 245, but we’ll see.
I was originally going to wait to blog about this until the move was complete, but I figure a few people might want to pick up the RSS feed now and follow along. This time I’m calling it Woodrat Photoblog, with the tag-line, “a midden of images from a Pennsylvania mountaintop.” The theme is a little slow-loading, but I really dig how the text appears when you mouse-over the photos on the archival pages. Check out, for example, the haiku category page. It’s cool the way it strips out my line breaks in the mouse-over view and makes the haiku appear in a single line. As for the new title and description: if you’re wondering what a woodrat or a midden is, see the About page.
I didn’t have the name for it
in English: lumpy fruit soft
as thin leather, knobbed with
the biggest outie I’d ever seen.
She took it back, sliced it in half,
& handed me one of the hemispheres
together with a Western spoon. Kezuro wa ne, oishii desu yo,
she said, speaking slow & smiling
as if to a child. That first seedy,
pulpy spoonful tasted like
it could have been any fruit.
I remember the brush of her fingers
on mine, & how it suddenly became
difficult to meet her gaze.
I placed the empty skin cup
upside-down on the table & fumbled
for my dictionary. Pomegranate,
I said, handing it over with my finger
on the word. Her brows knit
as she sampled the unfamiliar syllables.
I still have it, that little red dictionary
bound in thin fake leather.
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In truth, immediately i didn’t understand the essence. But after re-reading all at once became clear.
Welcome to the 42nd edition of the Festival of the Trees! When I announced this edition on the coordinating blog, I joked that I felt a little like the Once-ler, the hermit-like narrator of Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax, who gives the boy a tree seed to plant at the end of the book. I’ve been saying for years that I felt we needed to be focusing on reforestation as a society, but did anyone listen? No, they did not. Until now.
Suddenly, tree planting is hot. This month in Copenhagen, world leaders will assemble to try and hammer out a new climate change agreement, and forest preservation is front and center. Deforestation has been estimated to account for around 20 percent of CO2 emissions worldwide — more than the cumulative total from cars and trucks. Countries from the global South are angling for compensation in return for halting or reversing deforestation, but even developed countries like the United States are seeing a renewed interest in restoring forested landscapes. As Science Dailyreports, “Across the U.S. as a whole, approximately 50 percent of the warming that has occurred since 1950 is due to land use changes (usually in the form of clearing forest for crops or cities) rather than to the emission of greenhouse gases.” That’s a quote from a planning expert named Brian Stone, who “recommends slowing what he terms the ‘green loss effect’ through the planting of millions of trees in urbanized areas and through the protection and regeneration of global forests outside of urbanized regions.”
Nobel Peace Prize Winner Wangari Maathai, founder of the Green Belt Movement, wrote back in August:
Scientists predict that as the temperature rises, soils in the tropics will dry up. Trees and forests could die off on a vast scale, and fresh water will be less available. The rivers leaving Kenya’s Mau forest, which replenish many lakes, including those essential to the tourism industry, are drying up. Where government policies are inadequate, communities hungry for agricultural land degrade forests, exacerbating the negative impacts of climate change.
The world hopes that in Copenhagen, governments will be guided by the realities of available scientific evidence, and act accordingly. I welcome the development of new incentive mechanisms, such as reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD), which should also address degradation of agricultural land. REDD would compensate developing countries for environmental services provided by indigenous forests left standing.
Other mechanisms have been proposed and should be considered, including an “emergency fund” by the Prince of Wales’ Rainforest Project, which would provide payments from public and private sources to countries that protect their rainforests.
On carbon markets, a lot is yet to be learned. The Green Belt Movement is implementing pilot projects with both the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) and voluntary carbon credit schemes, the experience of which is valuable. It’s important that such markets serve the forests, conserve biodiversity and improve the livelihoods of communities.
Public education is also essential. In 2006, the Green Belt Movement partnered with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Prince Albert II of Monaco, and the World Agroforestry Centre to launch the Billion Tree Campaign. In March 2009 we passed the three billion mark for new trees planted by governments, organizations, communities, the private sector, and individuals. Our new goal is planting of an additional seven billion trees by the end of 2009 — roughly equal to what the human population will be then.
Of course, trees and forests are far more than just carbon sinks and preservers of fresh water supplies. To begin with, their sheer aesthetic impact on the human psyche cannot be minimized. Rambling Woods blog presents an unusually comprehensive post on fall foliage, including the transcript for a National Public Radio story from the end of October about how deciduous leaves fall (it turns out they’re actually pushed), as well as precise directions for how to preserve colored leaves. Leslee at 3rd House Journal writes about the “Conservation of Color” in language taken straight from the biology of deciduous trees — but in a fully lyrical, satisfying, short poem. To her, the trees promise
curatives for sharp tongues,
faintness of heart, muddlement,
sensitivity to cold and darkening days.
Jade at Arboreality shows us “Black Cottonwood in Autumn Gold,” a striking sight. At A DC Birding Blog, John watches the sky for red clouds of berries, sign of the winged, shining, flameleaf, or dwarf sumac, A.K.A. Rhus copallinum. Another D.C. blog, The Natural Capital, advises Washingtonians to look for “Witch Hazel, the Last Flowers of the Year.” In addition to the ornamental Asian species, which flowers in the winter, there is apparently native, fall-blooming Hamamelis virginiana in Rock Creek Park.
Witch hazel is also the subject of a post this month at Connecticut-based Hill-Stead’s Nature Blog, whose proprietor sent along a link to post on Sassafras, as well. Both posts blend the personal with the scientific and folkloric into brief but comprehensive posts — tree-blogging at is best, if I may say so. They do have a bit of an unfair advantage with the witch hazel, though: Hill-Stead is right up the road from “the witch hazel capital of the world.”
At Yips and Howls, a species account of the western larch by Elizabeth Enslin mixes the personal with the scientific, while Florida panhandle-based writer Beth Westmark is revisiting Sequoia National Park.
The Ella Bay wilderness in far northern Queensland is home to endangered cassowaries, among other treasures, and it seems the giant, flightless birds are there in part due to a rich diversity of fruiting rainforest trees, according to the blog Ella Bay Forever. Russ Constable not only took great photos but also consulted with three different scientists in the identification and ecological significance of the fruits gathered on just one walk along the beach.
From the island of Oahu in Hawaii this month came word of a hanging potato tree — or so blogger Sarala dubbed it at first. She figured it might be a non-native species, and so it was: Kigelia africana, or sausage tree, native to West Africa. “The island of Oahu seems to have trouble taking care of its native species,” she notes.
Wildlife biologist Ellen Snyder blogged a species sketch of the eastern hemlock at Spicebush Log, drawing attention not only to its identifying characteristics but also to its role in the ecosystem and the threat it faces from an invasive insect pest, the woolly adelgid. Unfortunately, this a threat we’re all too familiar with here in central Pennsylvania.
A New York Times article, “Building with Whole Trees,” by Anne Raver, describes forester and architect Roald Gunderson’s unique approach to building with whole, unmilled trees, often painstakingly shaped into arches while still alive, a process taking years. Most foresters look at the woods with an eye shaped by industrial monoculture, the predominant mindset of forestry schools in agricultural colleges across North America. But the best foresters — such as those employed by mountain villages in Switzerland — are really gardeners, and Gunderson is clearly in this camp. If the Times article is any indication, Gunderson’s homes are beautiful, too.
Here at Via Negativa this month, I blogged about a more typical, destructive approach to timbering on a neighbor’s land — high-grading. On a more positive note, I also shared a photo and short poem about wild apples.
Sometimes, apparently catastrophic die-offs of trees are simply part of the natural cycle, and I hope the climate change mitigation planners recognize this. At the aptly named blog under the ponderosas, Jennifer presents “Reason 645 why my blog readership is so low” — her penchant for telling the unpalatable truth about ponderosa pine forests. They’re fire adapted. They’re meant to burn. “The lodgepole forest is dead; long live the lodgepole forest,” she intones.
But the threats to trees by greedy humans seem never-ending. This month I was incensed to learn that sandalwood trees are under attack from smugglers. “How do we protect these trees?” asks Chennai-based blogger Arati. “Maybe each one of us can do our bit by not patronizing sandalwood products, be they in soaps, powders, oils or perfumes.”
In another post at Trees, Plants and more, Arati wonders about the logic of planting lines of trees from a single species. “If a disease struck one tree would it not strike all others on the same road? Does this not compartmentalize the ecological diversity of the area?” Good question. There’s clearly more to this tree-planting business than meets the eye.
Pablo at Roundrock Journal is taking a decidedly laissez-faire approach to planting trees in his Missouri woods, scattering bald cypress seeds in likely spots around streams and draws in hopes that the next flood will deposit them in optimal locations for sprouting.
Greenspade blog shares tips on planting trees for energy efficiency around your house, but local ecologist takes it a step further, delving into the question of which street trees to plant from an ecosystem standpoint.
Large stature trees — like red oak, London plane tree, or sweetgum — do interfere with overhead wires, but they also provide greater ecosystem benefits than do small stature trees: they sequester (store) more carbon, filter more particulate matter from the air, and intercept more rainfall via leaves, trunk, and soil (and slow runoff into storm drains). And, because of their larger crown spread and evapotranspiration capacity, larger trees cool larger areas of surrounding air (cooling nearby infrastructure and buildings, too).
This is no ordinary blog post; Georgia has done some of the research herself and has the data to back up her claims. Everyone with an interest in urban landscapes needs to read this essay.
In addition to the many more obvious values of urban trees (aesthetics, cleaner air, shade), their penchant for making leaf prints on concrete sidewalks can turn an otherwise ordinary stroll through the ‘hood into a magical thing. Neighborhood Nature takes a close and thorough look.
On his North Carolina mountaintop, Christopher C. wakes up one morning to find that a tall black locust tree has split and is threatening to crush a nearby apple. This is a situation I know all too well: the black locusts around the houses here on our Pennsylvania mountaintop have constantly calved limbs over the years. Great as black locusts are for fence posts and for forest restoration projects, they do not make good yard trees!
Crackskull Bob unwinds from watching the Sunday morning talking heads by sketching a broken tree, while the wonderfully cracked artist Christoph Niemann at Abstract City, a New York Times blog, shapes real leaves into a Shel Silversteinian form of biodiversity. His new “finds” include such rarities as Rod-Blogojevich’s-Hair Tree and Eighties-Jeans Tree.
Trees appeal to all kinds of artists, it seems. Withering leaves on the ground inspire UK blogger Suzi Smith, who uses walnut ink to reproduce the “sludgy colours” in her haiku calligraphy.
Photoblogger Catherine Kennedy shares a couple shots of Achray Forest, which is part of the Queen Elizabeth Forest Park in the Trossachs, in Scotland. Just west of Edinburgh, Crafty Green Poet reports on a walk through the Almondell County Park’s ancient woodland, notable for its very old birch trees.
I confess I didn’t realize that Dutch elm disease was a problem in Europe, too, but in a “meeting with a remarkable tree,” the Oxford Elm, British blogger Tony comments that large old elm trees have become scarce “as 80% of Elms succumbed to Dutch Elm disease. Dutch Elm disease has been with us for centuries but in the 1960s a virulent strain arrived on these shores from North America. Some 20 million trees were killed.”
Ashley Peace in Sheffield, England shares a photo-essay on Autumn in Millstone’s Wood, where the ground lies thick in fallen beech leaves.
Arati from Chennai sent along one other post late in the month, reporting on a local Free the Tree campaign: groups of people get together, in this case organized by Arati herself, to remove the hundreds of nails pounded into roadside trees over the years to hold advertisements. The volunteers then fill the wounds with a mixture of soil and turmeric paste to help them heal. I had known that turmeric is considered something of a heal-all for humans, but hadn’t realized it works on trees, too.
Novelist and poet Marly Youmans is someone who’s spent a lot of time thinking about what trees and humans have in common. She sent along the link to some of her recent treeish poems in the online journal Mezzo Cammin: “The Foliate Head,” and “The Throne of Psyche,” which begins,
A soul’s mysterious as any tree–
It drives a root as deadly low as hell,
It stretches peaceful branches heaven-high,
It harvests light with leaves of memory.
The last submission I received for this month’s festival returns us, once again, to the theme of tree-planting. A post at Nature’s Whispers captures the solemnity, the pathos, and the unintended humor of a tree-planting ceremony to honor two stillborn children.
We had told my 3 year old daughter that today we would be planting a tree. As we all know, the world revolves around every toddler so my daughter obviously understood that to mean that she would be doing the planting. She picked up our precious sapling and flung it around like a majorette twirls her mace before plonking it unceremoniously into the hole, upside down. I heard my intake of breath as my heart rested in my mouth and I gasped ‘be gentle’. It all turned out all right in the end, the tree was planted. My daughter helped pack the earth around the roots with her hands, as she did on the days her sisters were buried. You’ve got to love that girl, I’m sure she was born a healer.
Thanks to everyone for sending in links and restoring my faith in the long-term viability of this blog carnival! The next edition of the Festival of the Trees will appear at xenogere on January 1, 2010. Email your links to Jason — jason[at]xenogere[dot]com — by December 30.
By the way, if you want to be sure not to miss Festival deadlines and new editions, consider subscribing to the coordinating blog via email. We’re also on Twitter now, and of course the blog has an RSS feed, but nothing beats an emailed reminder.