Bad Snufkin, butterfly battle, saved by the privy

mourning cloak butterflies facing off

My interior monologue: I don’t get why people still need mythic archetypes. Are we really so shallow?

Five minutes later: Let’s be honest, you’re still just a Moomintroll who longs to be Snufkin.

And that felt like a pretty solid insight, you know?

The moral of the story: Be sure to expose your children to the Moomin books—they’re pretty great.

There’s much more I could say on all of this but I’m currently (evening of June 28) chasing the sunset up a steep hillside. Which is absolutely not a metaphor for anything.

*

I understand the need for sacred theatre, i.e. ritual, around major life events—especially death, when the survivors are the most earnest in their need to behave as if a truer but less tangible reality exists in which total annihilation can be overcome or evaded somehow.

*

hot tub
laid bare in the woods
a junkie’s pale face

(via Woodrat photohaiku)

*

My interior monologue is heavily laced with sarcasm. I suppose that’s a Gen X thing. (Yes, of course you do. That’s the kind of sophisticated analysis you’re known for.)

Perfectly healthy, I’m sure.

***

“If everyone just thought like me, the world would be a better place” is a hallmark of both imperialism and fanaticism — in fact, they summon each other up, I think.

This is not idle philosophical speculation. Most left-wing revolutions turn repressive because fundamentally the revolutionaries are either too fanatical to accept that there will always be dissent, or too callous to care.

***

The forest is full of mourning cloak butterflies with pristine-looking wings: the new generation has just turned into adults. They will likely be aestivating soon, but in the meantime they’re defending territories in the woods.

I watched two mourning cloaks battling for several minutes on the side of an oak this afternoon. Since tree sap is their main source of food, perhaps this tree is especially good tasting. They used front and middle feet to bat at each other; mouthparts didn’t seem to be involved, and wings only a little. Here’s a brief video of the very end of the fight:

watch on Vimeo

***

Bushwhacking through a Pennsylvania state forest, it’s impossible to stay lost for long. My first sign that a road was near, this morning, was a hunting camp privy. As is so often the case.

At one scenic overlook, a memorial to someone who leapt to his death. I actually remember this. I was a Penn State undergrad at the time.

Someone had spray-painted “no fear” on the retaining wall-like structure:

*

I remember my parents pointing out a “lovers’ leap” place on some family trip when I was a little kid, and how baffled I was. If romance made people jump to their deaths, it struck me as something best avoided.

*

Some trails are notional—made through bushwhacking.

Some trails are roads.

Some trails are the spines of mountains.

And some Snufkins go for a wander primarily to get a new perspective on where they live.

April Diary 26: where the hermit-thrush sings in the pine trees

This entry is part 26 of 31 in the series April Diary

 

Dear April i can’t tell you what a thrill it’s been for me to listen from the morning porch to hermit thrush song, that most ethereal sound: imagine a woodwind made of crystal and inhabited by the ghost of a bell and you might get the idea

(i will never fully forgive TS Eliot for mischaracterizing hermit thrush song in “The Wasteland” which i see someone has written a paper on though as a non-academic it’s off limits to me. the quote is

Where the hermit-thrush sings in the pine trees
Drip drop drip drop drop drop drop
But there is no water

TS Eliot, “The Wasteland,” lines 356-358

which he justifies with a quote from the great ornithologist Frank Chapman in a note:

357. This is Turdus aonalaschkae pallasii, the hermit-thrush which I have heard in Quebec County. Chapman says (Handbook of Birds of Eastern North America) “it is most at home in secluded woodland and thickety retreats… Its notes are not remarkable for variety or volume, but in purity and sweetness of tone and exquisite modulation they are unequalled.” Its “water-dripping song” is justly celebrated.

but nobody but Eliot himself seems to have called it that)

they’ve never nested up here as far as we know despite occasionally attempting to set up territories as this one seems to be doing. the last time it happened, in 2020 up around the vernal ponds, i watched wood thrushes chasing him, and Mark and I thought maybe the limiting factor for us isn’t that we’re too low in elevation (1600 feet) for hermit thrushes but that we’re not high enough to exclude wood thrushes which out-compete their cousins

anyway Mark first heard this one on the 16th so he’s a persistent bugger. if our theory is correct, we may eventually get them nesting up here if wood thrush numbers continue to decline. so i should be careful what i wish for because i love wood thrushes too


putting Ripple Effect back on the shelf this morning i noticed i had another collection by Elaine Equi, 2013’s Sentences and Rain and i have absolutely no idea where it came from. must’ve picked it up secondhand somewhere

well so much for reducing the height of my current reads pile. but that’s a high-quality problem indeed. Ripple Effect was from 2007 and i was just thinking i should get one of her more recent books

i really dig the title poem:

Equi is certainly in that age-old tradition of the wise jester


well i just lost a fuck-ton of writing here because the WordPress iPhone app froze. i guess if i want to keep composing on my phone i’d better compose in Notes and paste it into the app when it’s done (i have been doing that to some extent already but not today obviously)


i stopped the car in Sinking Valley today on my way back from the Amish garden center to take a photo of our not-so-impressive mountain and captured what appears to be a UFO


putting up a deer fence, you do need to think like a deer. where they can push in, where they might be tempted to leap. if i were ever to move out west where they have mule deer instead of whitetails i’d have to start learning that stuff all over again. this is the kind of local knowledge one gathers over time. to the extent that old people can be said to be wise it’s because of stuff like this (not generally because of their politics, lord knows)

working in the garden after supper i can hear our neighbors out in theirs, a quarter mile away. well mainly the shrieks of their twin grandchildren, who are four years old and love living in the woods

there’s something really special about not only living where you grew up, but seeing and hearing other kids grow up there too. to use an old-fashioned phrase, it gladdens the heart

so i got the fence all moved and patched together and well as they say, a thing of beauty is a joy forever

also today i shot a brief video of a black rat snake pretending to be a rattlesnake which took me back to the first time i saw that, also on the powerline right-of-way, at the age of 12 or so and i thought it was a rattler ran all the way back to the house and either Mom or my older brother Steve went back with me and it was just a black snake being a jerk:

watch on Vimeo

Song Dogs

white blossoms of blavk locust floating on a stream
This entry is part 39 of 40 in the series Pandemic Year

 

Watch on Vimeo

It’s not that you’re chasing a white moth through the forest; it’s just that she happens to be flying ahead of you, right? It’s just that things come to you when you’re walking. And you to them.

An ephemeral forest pool, fed by spring rains. Here at the top of the watershed the rain doesn’t quite know where to go, so it sits for a while. Ripples on the surface show how any point can be the center of an expanding universe. I love watching them intersect and cancel each other out.

song dogs
on the trail of some
ripe panic

Ephemeroptera

still from Ephemeroptera
This entry is part 38 of 40 in the series Pandemic Year

 

Watch on Vimeo

Driving home along the river, I have to turn on the windshield wipers every mile or two because of all the mayflies, the off-white inkblots of their anonymous deaths. Imagine living one’s life in a state of arrested development, and only on your last day undergoing not one, but two radical transformations, one after the other: growing wings, breathing air, and mating just once, having gained reproductive parts in exchange for the loss of a mouth.

spring again
scheduling my first
Covid shot


Process notes

Placing two things in close proximity: that’s a poem. The shadbush and hepatica footage here came from a single walk down the hollow and back. But if only I’d had a dash cam on that drive home…

Will this be the final post in the Pandemic Year series? Probably not, but it feels as if it could be.

Pedants may think that COVID should still be written in all caps but that doesn’t seem to be how common usage has gone. In time, even the initial capital letter will come to seem too much, and it’ll end up like scuba or ok, just another word.

Exclusive

This entry is part 37 of 40 in the series Pandemic Year

 

Watch on Vimeo

I’m beginning to resent the camera for what it excludes. If I had money, I could get one of those fancy 360° cameras and greatly expand the frontiers of my frustration. If I were rich, I could give up on photography altogether and turn my poems into place-specific holograms. The words could hang in the air like contrails and brew their own bad weather.

for the maples’
flaming sexual parts
this breeze

***

Process notes

After I drafted this I remembered I had an AR app on my phone called Weird Type. Good to finally have a use for it. Also, I’m not sure whether filming that rock pile directly influenced what I wrote a little later, but it was fun to juxtapose two products of the same walk and ultimately the same train of thought.

I’m not sure how many people are aware of what flowers are, or even that trees are flowering plants, so I suppose the haiku might just seem weird and creepy. Oh well. Maples are wind-pollinated, which from a human perspective seems slightly less perverse than relying on insects to get off.

Sproing

still from Sproing
This entry is part 40 of 40 in the series Pandemic Year

 

Watch on Vimeo

File under Nonessential Life Skills: On the day before the vernal equinox, I learn the sound a dead Norway spruce limb makes when a red-tailed hawk takes off from it: a soft, wooden sproing! A little later, I listen to two ravens muttering back and forth: first about me, then about another hawk—or possibly the same one—landing in a nearby tree. The raven chasing it off makes little grunts with each labored wingbeat.

include me in your parenthesis day moon

On the equinox, I go for a hike in the Seven Mountains. There’s ice still on some of the state forest roads, and snow on north-facing slopes. I pass through a grove of one of the southern-most populations of black spruce, here where a microglacier sat during the last ice age. The trail around the bog runs with meltwater from a dozen springs, and hikers encountering each other have to step carefully as we turn away or cover our faces, saying our obligatory hellos.

unlost again the spring

***

Process notes

The problem with paying attention is that it’s somewhat incompatible with remembering to shoot video. Fortunately I remembered this great anonymous home movie, which has plenty of spruce-looking confers in it as well as other areas of overlap with the text. I looped a section of a track from one-man industrial music project ROZKOL, and for the haiku, hit upon a font called Strawberry Blossom, which I love, at least in this context.

I’m conscious of the fact that, in a series with the working title Pandemic Year, I haven’t explicitly marked the one-year anniversary of the first lockdown, but I’m inclined to think that’s not really necessary — very few viewers or readers will miss the significance of this second spring with Covid-19 and the possibility of re-opening on the horizon.

Animist

still from Animist
This entry is part 36 of 40 in the series Pandemic Year

 

Watch on Vimeo

I don’t know whether I am really an animist or simply play one in my poems. Does it matter? The poems represent reality as best as I can intuit it: every object a subject, every subject sovereign. Relationships of mutual regard.

The main thing is I like to go for long walks and write short things. And occasionally I come part-way out of myself to take a look around, like an emerging cicada stuck in its larval exoskeleton. Failed ecdysis: this is the sad state of human consciousness these days. Perhaps if we each had a spirit guide…

spring thaw
trees retrieving their reflections
from the ice

***

Process notes

I had just finished drafting the prose portion of this haibun when I shot the video, which then prompted the haiku immediately afterwards. The vulture drifting through my shot was pure serendipity.

Considering what a simple, haiga-style videopoem I had in mind, I flirted with the idea of making the whole thing on my phone before I got back from my walk, but decided it wasn’t worth sacrificing audio quality for. Also, it turns out the way I’d been pronouncing “ecdysis” was completely wrong. Good thing I thought to check an online dictionary before recording!

Temblor

Watch on Vimeo

Here’s a poem from my new collection of experimental haibun, Failed State. Long-time readers may recognize the videopoem, a earlier version of which appeared here some seven or eight years ago, under a different title, and with a briefer text. The haiku is based on an experience I had when I was an exchange student in Taiwan back in 1986.

The book is the product of a new nanopress, Via Negativa Books — i.e. me — with print-on-demand and electronic versions available through Blurb, which has a worldwide network of printers to keep shipping costs down (and give them bragging rights about a lower carbon footprint). I wrote about my decision to self-publish, and my gratitude for the filmmakers who have made adaptations from it, in a blog post on my author website. To watch some of those other films, see the book’s dedicated page, or go directly to Blurb to preview the content.

Failed State is open content, meaning that it’s licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike “copyleft” license to encourage sharing and remixing. I’m also happy to offer a free copy of the PDF to anyone willing to write a substantial review on their blog or social media (or you can just squint at the full-text preview).

Winter Den

still from Winter Den
This entry is part 33 of 40 in the series Pandemic Year

 

Watch on Vimeo

Limbs against the snow, outlined with more snow. Treetops no longer canopies but the bare nets of need. Their no-longer-rare caresses and collisions in the winter wind. The moans of the ice-bound. How tormented they’d be if they hadn’t retreated to the underworld, that silken matrix of rootlets and hyphae, to trade fermented memories of sunlight for the bones of a mouse.

winter den
a slow leak of breath
growing needles

snowy meadow
seedhead bending into
its own pit

We who cannot hibernate, isolated in our boxes of wood or brick, fight the cold any way we can. A poet posts a selfie taken by snowlight. A long-Covid survivor befriends the horse stabled beneath her apartment. The snow plowman dreams of combine harvesters bringing in the crop: a wintry mix. One of his chickens goes gaga over her egg.

cold sun
the fetal curl
of rhododendron leaves

What fever do I still need to break? I take a dose of Vitamin D with my morning outrage. Whose salt-block ignorance or black-ice tongue are we taking offense at today?

crescent moon
a snowflake’s asterisk
in my windpipe

It’s snowing right over there, on the other side of the valley, in soft syllables of Plattdeutsch. Fresh coyote tracks cross my own and I follow them back to a den under an outcrop of Tuscarora quartzite. I walk on, until the last bit of daylight has drained from the sky.

blinking
through the night forest
cell tower

house shaking
from the oil furnace
from the wind

***

Process notes

The longer I delay finishing these things, the longer they get. The delay in this case was due not to procrastination, but indecision about whether to make a haibun or a linked verse sequence with the footage and haiku I had, plus some difficulty in finding the right soundtrack. I’m not completely satisfied with the somewhat canned-sounding piece of music I ended up using here; I just needed to finish up so I could move on.

When I started making haiga with still photos at the beginning of the year, I wondered how it might impact my video-making. What I’m discovering is that, while it does scratch kind of the same itch, it’s given additional impetus to my haiku writing, so that I end up with more than enough material for both projects. The trick is remembering to shoot both video and still photos — if I’m looking for one, I’m not necessarily looking for the other.