the green of moss on an oak
three years dead

the green of greenbriar
on which a deer has grazed

the green of a bench in the woods
where vows were once exchanged

the green of garlic mustard
before it becomes too bitter

the green of ferns that have borne
the weight of snow

the green of winter wheat in the distance
when the sun comes out

the green of lichen on a rock
finding everything it needs

the green of leaves that won’t return
to a toppled witness tree

the old green of trailing arbutus
rushing into bloom for a few cold flies

Plummer’s Hollow, PA
March 17, 2024

The Turn

it starts with a zipper in the rain
that soft syllable

an oak leaning into
its impending death

you can shelter under it
as open as a book

it starts red and wrong
as an oak apple

old sapsucker holes bleeding
pale sap down a spruce

rain collecting in a hollow
atop an exposed birch root

so the tree can mainline it
like an autumn addict

mushrooms glory
in their fruiting bodies

as black drupes swell on maple-
leafed viburnum

and beechdrops’ self-fertilized flowers
hide under a twiggy bouquet

it’s a kind of spring
buried in the heart of autumn

just before antlers turn
from trees into weapons

and every leaf in the forest
goes off-script

Bullshit Walks

found in a flower
one beetle’s quota of sleep

longhorned to graze
in pastures of white

Clintonia or Solomon’s plume
and soon the black cohosh

looking up i spot a raccoon’s
wide-eyed mask

returning my gaze from the crotch
of a dying hemlock

every day has its dog
on Thursday for a long moment

i walked with a yearling bear
ahead of me on the trail

whose walk is it then
one can only wander

on the steep slope
above the railroad

i find a patch of jacks-in-the-pulpit
that the deer missed

a train hurtles past with blue
containers of stink

our daily delivery of refuse
from the megalopolis

i climb through century-old quarries
rocks shift underfoot

still settling
where mountain holly blooms

the breeze wafts ambrosia
from some reclusive azalea

i pause for breath
a vireo chirps in alarm

i stop for lunch
a hooded warbler scolds

down-trail a second-generation
mourning cloak butterfly

circles its dappled
patch of sun

territory folks defending
their stake in the sticks

while a distant cuckoo
chants her own name

gorging on tent caterpillars
and spotted lanternfly larvae

letting strangers
foster her offspring

this is the background
i can’t include in my shots

whenever i stop to snap photos
of new or bigger plants

how green is my mountain now
with so much CO2 in the air

my ankles brush against
the Aladdin lamps of pale corydalis

rising through the still-tender
hayscented ferns

and a mosquito sinks her rig
right through my hat

the sun may descend into haze
but the light’s still perfect

the mountain’s shadow stretching
across the farm valley to my east

i watch a manure spreader
ply the rows of a sterile field

growing the dead zone
out of mind in the Chesapeake

until the wind shifts
and i beat a retreat

back from my walk i turn
the garden with a fork

straining out noodley roots
of invasive brome

dry fists of dirt
crumble at the touch

Next Exit: Xanadu

one must leave the garden
of earthly delights

where it belongs in a chest
or dresser drawer

the true Beulah is more ordinary
swaying on its stalk

lure and haven for a host
of nectar-seekers

blooming quick as thought
before the trees sprout new shadows

shaped like gaywings bellwort
mayflower windflower

thin as a spindle
in the fat of the land

or massive as an old red oak
encircled by bear corn

supplicants turned parasitic
must leave their own leaves behind

diminutive towers flowering
out of the ground

till the corollas lose
their erections

and the teeth of the calyx
turn brown and drop

what would you give up
for a life of ease

the garden of earthly delights
slithers on its belly

quieting the cries of nestlings
one by one

it lives as angels do
only in the moment of contact

upside-down and electric
from a thundercloud’s dark soil

a devastating epiphany
heartwood preserved in charcoal form

as the oak grows its hollow
for wilder life


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.

that scent
of wet rhododendrons—
Pop-pop’s place


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.

One-winged wasp

for sale:

wilderness is within you my friend

assuming you have a healthy gut microbiome


we live in a time of signs and wonders

known as the present moment. a moment in which a tiger swallowtail might be bugging off but you capture it anyway in a good-enough-for-the-internet photo on your phone

E.T. was prophesy man i mean look at us now we are all extra, extra terrestrial man, just always phoning home. I guess that’s what it means to be terrestrial

a log i’ve stepped over hundreds of times was garnished today with these distinctive-looking cup fungi which i have never seen before in my life


it’s interesting to consider how much or how little work the word “natural” does in a phrase such as “natural smoke flavor added”


mayapples may not ripen until August it turns out, on extremely rare occasions when the local wildlife doesn’t get to them first

tastes may vary but to me a mayapple tastes less like an apple than something that may or may not be made with apples—like a junk-food version of an apple, with a very different texture in the mouth

not at all bitter, like wild lettuce

but nothing i’m going to make a point of seeking out the way i go after sassafras for example


when i last saw her this one-winged wasp had walked all the way up to her nest in the rafters


walking up the road after dark to look at the stars, but the road is full of winking glowworms—how can the sky compete?

The spell of the quotidian

Looking uphill

and looking downhill.

“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.)

In drought

what blooms at the dark
edge of the forest

a faded red that could also
be dropped leaves

the calling cards of drought
on a Saturday in mid-July

a monarch butterfly chrysalis
falls from the sky

with its golden ellipsis
too bitter a pill

for some young bird
still learning how to forage

blueberries ripen
cracks widen in the moss

the deer’s pelt twitches
under an endless assault of flies

as she methodically strips
a small spicebush

the sound of a humming-
bird’s small engine

skimming the five-spoked
wheels of soapwort

rises to a minor roar as he
rockets back and forth

over the beebalm patch
those alluring scarlet tongues

ready to risk desiccation
for a more urgent thirst

April Diary 29: wildflowery

This entry is part 29 of 31 in the series April Diary


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)

native bee pollinating a spring beauty

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

yellow corydalis

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

that sphagnum bottle has a haiku in it i’ll bet

April Diary 23: earthy day

This entry is part 23 of 31 in the series April Diary


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…

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