In the house of rain, all are kin. Consider the toadstool releasing its spores when the rain comes knocking. Many of those spores drift up into the atmosphere, where they become cloud condensation nuclei and give birth to new raindrops—with moisture released by the trees. I recite this true fable to myself as I trudge through the downpour.
of wet rhododendrons—
I like how the world is textured.
Visually and aurally and in food webs and ecological niches.
The endless intricacy and beauty of it.
It’s utterly entrancing sometimes, like the best rave ever.
Whatever i tell myself, it’s never enough. Understanding begins with listening.
Right now what i’m hearing is a mosquito’s singular need, crickets calling for a mate, a truck jake-breaking down a steep grade, and an transcontinental jet’s dull eraser. Plus the steady rhythm of my own steps, descending a different mountain than my own. All this can be music if I let it.
Nuthatch, chickadee. Are the winter flocks already beginning to form?
Thunder. I rummage quickly for the poncho in my pack. The downpour feels like a rather over enthusiastic masseuse.
“Gosh, what a pretty little town!” I hear myself saying.
Fifteen seconds later, the most obnoxiously loud speedbike I’ve ever heard goes roaring through the gap and my thoughts turn murderous.
When the light is low-angled and golden, I can look back through woods where I’ve just walked and their magic and mystery remain completely unabated. But all it takes to break the spell is for the sun to go in.
What if I have it backwards, though? What if the real illusion isn’t when we intuit that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy, but when we instead let everydayness infect everything? The illusion of familiarity: that we’ve seen it all, and there’s little left to discover. The spell of the quotidian.
One thing I retain a five-year-old’s sense of wonder about, though: mysterious animal burrows in the woods. “Who lives there?” the child always wants to know—and will likely be equally entranced whether you reply elves or weasels. You’d just better be able to spin a good story about them!
Church bells to mark the start of the work day. Even God has to clock in.
Some time this afternoon, I think, wild lettuce will begin blooming on the ridgetop, where spongy moth caterpillars have killed so many oaks. In a week or two its seeds will ride the wind—traveling for miles and surviving in the soil for decades, until the next disturbance.
The future looks good for wild lettuce and its weedy ilk. There will be an accelerating number and variety of forest canopy-opening events: more insect outbreaks, freak storms, wildfire, blights… Damn, this spell of the quotidian is no joking matter!
But that’s not the only plant doing well this summer. The lowbush blueberries are having their best year in decades, and so is this native wildflower,
which has been saddled with an odd common name, cow-wheat.
Cow-wheat is a native annual hemiparasite (partially parasitic), using specialized root structures to invade the roots of its host and steal nutrients, while also performing photosynthesis. Its hosts may be several species of pine (Pinus) and poplar (Populus), as well as sugar maple (Acer saccharum), red oak (Quercus rubra), and even lowbush blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium).
So a good year for blueberries is a good year for cow-wheat, it seems.
Another native wildflower just coming into its own: poke.
The plants are so enormous, you’d be forgiven for thinking them bushes. They’re clearly good enough for some birds to nest in:
The aforelinked Wikipedia entry says
The common name “poke” is derived from puccoon, pocan, or poughkone (from an Algonquin Indian name for this plant). Berries were once used to make ink, hence the sometimes-used common name of inkberry.
Plants that are deadly poisonous but still edible if prepared properly do fascinate me, but in my view you have to be pretty damn hungry to eat poke shoots in the spring. Mom inflicted them on us a couple times when we were kids, and it’s one of very, very few foods I could barely eat. (Truly. When the parents took us to France, we ate escargot with gusto.)
Flipping rocks on the highest point on the property, I disturbed a tiny ringneck snake—the first live one I’ve seen in years. Not necessarily because they’re rare, but because they’re secretive and nocturnal. We stared at each other in shock for a long moment. Then I went for the cameraphone and the snake whipped around and shot into a burrow.
Well, that’s one burrow I know the occupant of! As with Monday’s gray fox sighting, it always feels like a great privilege to get these kinds of glimpses into the lives of Plummer’s Hollow’s shyer residents.
Wherever there are northern ringneck snakes there are salamanders—the bulk of their diet. Wherever there are salamanders, in the Appalachians, there are still functioning native forest ecosystems. And wherever there are forests, there’s wonder. (But you knew I’d say that.)
the air is always clearest on the day after a cold front blows in so my mom and i went down to Trough Creek State Park to see what sorts of spring wildflowers they might have
the redbud was at its height all along the little back roads and in the park too. always a treat to see it. we’re so lucky to live right at the northern edge of its range—it’s one of those shrubs that defines Appalachia, along with pawpaw and shadbush/serviceberry. (didn’t stop the car to snap any photos though, sorry)
after poking around the park’s usual medley of eccentric geological offerings we headed off along a trail through the adjacent state forest which had many of the same wildflower species we have in Plummer’s Hollow but some different ones as well, including bluets, early meadow rue, pussytoes, and yellow corydalis—a new one for both of us
after a mile we reached an area where the spring beauties carpeted the ground for acres. Mom commented she hadn’t seen it like that since she was a child in the 1940s, visiting relatives in Pottstown. it’s difficult to convey this in a photo of course—they’re small flowers
they also had no shortage of rue anemone:
i was taken by this sphagnum container garden:
and for sheer visual interest, rattlesnake weed is always worth a stop:
back home i went for an after-supper walk along the crest of the western ridge toward sunset. the cherries, maples and witch hazels that have just burst their buds added pointillist splashes of color to the landscape that weren’t there two days ago
just after sunset i had a short sit by the vernal pools—the smallest two of which have nearly dried up, the water that remains heaving with desperate tadpoles—to read a few poems from (CREATURE SOUNDS FADE) by Shanna Compton and they were a pretty good fit. it’s experimental poetry meaning inevitably some results will be more exciting than others but if the experiment is well conducted we can learn from it regardless
Dear April it was one of those rare mornings when both the sun and the moon were visible from my usual spot on the porch. not only that but a hermit thrush kept singing in the distance — many years we don’t hear them singing on migration. (sadly they don’t seem to nest on the mountain. we’re not high enough)
when the day starts out as beautiful as today did this time of year i’m always torn: go for a long walk or work in the garden
well today being earth day already the spring is getting away from me as usual so i figured i’d better dig in the dirt— and not fun stuff either like planting things but putting in new fence posts and moving the fence to expand the garden because (Samuel L. Jackson voice) i’ve had it with these motherfucking deer eating my motherfucking potatoes
but first to procrastinate in the best possible way: by banging out three erasure poems by ten o’clock. then outside to dig as the red-tailed hawks circled overhead and wild turkeys gobbled up on the ridge
of course digging holes on a mountaintop you have to expect to encounter a few rocks
that one gave me a good five-minute workout
i do love the smell of our heavy rocky iron-rich clay
after a couple of hours of that i headed off down-hollow to check on the wildflowers. the first rue anemones were just opening…
windflowers our annual exchange of nods
the hepaticas were blooming in profusion. “snow? what snow?”
even in the ditch with last year’s leaves this April sun
white pine fused to a hemlock tree creek voices
ya know people have a point, Appalachian hollows can look kinda creepy sometimes — a combination of long shadows and old things, half-rotted hulks and mossy leviathans
the mid-spring woods is a weird place with all these wildflowers racing to do their whole thing before the trees leaf out and they lose the sun. i love how whole communities can evolve to take advantage of such narrow temporal windows, like when a desert blooms after a rare soaking rain
spring forest the shadow of a vulture crosses my page
i’m two-thirds of the way through this Zang Di book and i’ve just found the third poem i feel as if i fully understand and it’s very good: “Scarecrow Series”
all about like effigies and doubles and the other and maybe i feel like i grok it because it’s something i happen to have given a decent amount of thought to over the years. more likely though it’s just a more straightforward less riddling poem
back up the mountain to start supper (venison casserole) then off to the other end of the property. Mom had said all the wood frogs were hatching in the vernal pools this morning and i should be able to get pictures but by the time i got there they had all buggered off to deeper spots. quite a few egg masses had been deposited in a shallow area that almost dried up completely at one point so it was great news that they’d made it to tadpole stage
sitting on the bench up there though i take another gander at the Zang Di book and find that something just clicked and now i seem to get most of his poems actually. i’ve had that happen with other somewhat difficult or arcane poets where because i think i’m a little slow on the uptake it can take me most of a collection before i learn how to read it. i’d argue that’s a good part of the fun of poetry: everyone gets to make up their own universe and they have to trust that a few readers will put in the work to understand what laws govern it
after supper more work on the fence moving project until dusk then sitting out on the porch watching a bat swoop back and forth. the hermit thrush was singing again. every day is of course earth day it’s a ridiculous thing to have to have a holiday for BUT today did feel especially earthy i have to admit
Dear April forget drunken sailors, what shall we do with a poet who can barely use a pen?
trying to write bananas on a shopping list my hand gets lost in some kind of 70s folk-rock song going na na, na na na na. i add an s and squint at the result: it might be right. fortunately it’s a nearly illegible scrawl so who can tell
weird to lose that muscle memory though
(again with the muscle memory)
(i do keep a pocket notebook in my pack for when my phone poops out)
an email from Black Lawrence Press with the subject line 50% Off All Poetry Titles! got my attention pretty quick. i wish more publishers would put their money where their mouth is about poetry month. shared the good news on Twitter and ordered three books including two i’d been meaning to get for a while, Shanna Compton’s Creature Sounds Fade and Kristy Bowen’s sex & violence, plus [ G A T E S ] by Sahir Muradi
got a notice that a book i was really excited about had arrived at the post office box (no we don’t get delivery up here) so i thought i’d walk in town for it. it was sleeting but the forecast said snow. i can dress for snow i thought
don’t know why i don’t walk into town more often, it’s a little over two miles away and Tyrone is nothing if not photogenic. i don’t even mean that ironically
the I-99 overpasses are something of a feature. LIFE’S A BLUR says the graffiti. especially from the interstate, yes
i don’t have to go to the big city for a dose of urban bleakness
i was a bit shocked to see some graffiti promoting a website that preaches violent fascist revolution. a sign of the times?
i don’t know what they did to the surface of the sidewalk on the 10th Street bridge but i think i got a contact high
it started snowing pretty hard while i was in the post office
you might think given my usual snobbishness about cliched images that i would resist the temptation to take lots of photos of blossoming trees in the snow
you’d be wrong
snow on cherry blossoms beside Reliance Bank
but the snow wasn’t the only thing making the town seem a bit surreal…
as long as we have public librarians who do quietly subversive things like commission a painting of the Lorax on the sidewalk, i tend to think we’ll be OK as a society
the new country core shop at the end of the street has slightly terrifying window displays
then there’s the salvage yard…
honesty compels me to admit that i removed some racist graffiti from this image in processing — not to try to whitewash the town’s image but because if i left an n-word in, that’s all the photo would be about, inevitably, and i just wanted to focus on the aesthetic contrast here. that said i did keep a version of the photo with the hateful word intact for documentary purposes. like, this is America. Childish Gambino got it right
BUT a single (? let’s hope) hate-filled individual not only doesn’t represent Tyrone, s/he doesn’t even represent local street artists as the adjacent overpass demonstrates. shout out to these kids whoever they are
one appears to be a fan of Gardner’s ice cream parlor
a freight came along
the advice to be sic [sic] is certainly intriguing. are there pro-Covid radicals or is this just an old-school Satanist i wonder
the fun thing about walking up the mountain while it’s snowing hard is that it gets prettier as you climb. which does kind of seem like what should happen when you climb a mountain doesn’t it
i do worry about all the wildflowers and especially the flowering fruit trees of course. above is part of our trillium patch
these are not supposed to be white trilliums, they’re wake-robins. who probably wish they could go back to sleep
i never get tired of looking at snow on hemlocks though
there was one hepatica blossom still just visible, one exposed purple petal like an outstretched tongue
some black cohosh sprouts weren’t looking too happy
but damn the hollow was purty
the witch hazels are probably feeling pretty smug about their whole blooming-in-November deal
i tried drinking my tea on the one bench along the hollow road but my umbrella wasn’t really up to the task and my primary mission was to get the mail home dry and in one piece
as long a winter as we had, there weren’t more than half a dozen snows this pretty
so i’m not entirely crazy to celebrate the beauty of it, destructive as it is
a hen turkey trotted across the road in front of me and all i got was this lousy photo
i tend to forget this forsythia is here even though it’s right across from my house—when not in bloom it just kind of blends into the woods’ edge
a photo so obligatory i sighed as i took it. poor downcast daffodils
all in all a classic onion snow. and not a surprise because the poetry bloggers i follow who live out west got it last week. looks as if we’ve gotten about five inches now
if i’d brought a larger umbrella and worn my snow boots i could’ve stayed out longer but i was happy to get home and start the book i’d hiked in town for
Italian poet Elisa Biagini’s first collection translated in full
it’s a trip
at around four in the afternoon i sometimes feel a rush of happiness and i think that’s because four o’clock was when we got home from school after walking up the mountain
today i was happy like that so i made some decaf coffee and processed all these photos because why waste a good mood on just feeling good and i admit i’m not as free of the American obsession with productivity as i might like to think
after supper i finished the erasure poem i’d been working on. the second stanza is distinctly Simic-esque. wasn’t quite sure what tied the three stanzas together until i hit on the post title: Unseasonable
my Moving Poems co-blogger Marie Craven just reminded me of this video featuring the wonderful Australian spoken-word poet Caroline Reid
Reid calls it
A playful fusion of poetry, visual art and film in which a reflective middle-aged poet discovers that life’s interruptions to writing poetry are the very substance from which poems emerge.
(Marie is planning to share more of Reid’s work on Moving Poems so keep an eye out for that)
and people are dying preventable deaths all over the world. get a grip. comfort is the enemy whether as a driver of economic exploitation and war, or at the personal level as a destroyer of health and a thief of joy
hepaticas tossing in the wind catch my eye. i kneel down to watch them then snap a photo, feeling sure there’s a haiku in there somewhere
how am i supposed to sit on something so beautiful?
but there’s a break in the rain so i’d better take it
and just enough time to read one Zang Di poem before more raindrops come. sure wish i hadn’t forgotten my goddamn umbrella
the poem happens to include something about comfort:
According to psychology, every kind of comfort is a compromise: otherwise everything you get is counterfeit.
Zang Di, “Everything is Riddles Series”
driving home from a dinner party i have a hard time staying on the road, not because i had too much to drink (one cocktail) but because the full moon is right there hanging over the ridge and i keep wanting to turn my head and look
it’s the best kind of discomfort
wanting to feel the moon on my skin blossoming pear