Lookout

You have to drive quite a ways to escape the sound of traffic. In the end, though, there’s no getting around it: you have to get out and walk. I follow an almost vanished trail to a high point called Penn Lookout where the scenic vista long since grew in. I have the former picnic area all to myself. It’s too far from the road. When I snap a photo of the low light through the trees, the camera shutter startles in the silence.

fall colors
a yellowjacket’s
unsteady flight

Stargaze

Never having believed in happiness, it occurs to me, might have had something to do with why i never actively pursued it. If it showed up regardless, well and good, but in general, day-to-day contentment seemed enough. And you know, maybe it is. For far too many around the world, it’s an unattainable dream.

But what about love, Dave?

And you call yourself a poet!

Pleiades
syncopating
crickets

Lonesome Water Revisited

homage to Roy Helton

All the while i sat watching the rocks, a spider was right behind me mending her web, knowing i offered protection from the birds. You’re never as alone as you think. I hear water trickling underground, remember that fateful drink and grin. It’s not so lonesome i could cry. And when i do, it’s just to talk back to coyotes, or that family of barred owls who hoot like chimpanzees. When the sun goes down, the hollow turns strange. Jumping mice dance in the moonlight. A whippoorwill clears his throat three times before he launches into his diatribe. Corpses of trees glow with foxfire and flying squirrels whistle high and thin like ghosts—whose ghosts, one can never be sure. Once i found a green stone that had been worked, given an edge that could still scrape a hide. It fit so easily into my hand. It took all my willpower to put it back into its hole. The original owner might not be done with it yet.

three-toed root—
they’re saying my name
in Raven

Star attraction

If I ran a movie review site, nothing would get more than one star. Movies would compete for fractions of a star.

Times are lean. We could run out of stars.

No one could afford to live under such a dark sky. They’d go mad with loneliness.

I saw another fireball the other night. Spend time under the stars and you see things: fish, a bull, a hunter, you name it. It’s so liberating to realize thanks to modern astronomy that the universe isn’t about us.

That said, there is a gas giant in my guest bedroom. My older brother can’t help his stature or intestinal difficulties. In his religion, everyone gets their own universe someday—a classic Ponzi scheme if you ask me. But what if it’s true?

I think the opposite is more likely the case: everything is drifting farther and farther apart, into an ever emptier void. You can already see it happening. People have that distance in their eyes.

the high inhuman
shriek of a dying rabbit
4th quarter moon

(via Twitter)

***

Finally got a good look at the pair of red-breasted nuthatches who’ve been hanging out in the spruce grove all year, according to my younger brother, and presumably nesting. Like the red squirrel i got a good look at yesterday, they were right near Dad’s grave. The spot is beginning to feel a bit magical, I have to say. Currently there’s a bit of fresh rain-water in the reflecting rock. I’m sitting on the bench listening to the stuttering calls of Linne’s cicadas, “a steady pulsating rattle sounding like a saltshaker” as the Songs of Insects website puts it. They outnumber dog-day cicadas now, of which I’m hearing just two—that buzz-saw whine. I’m also hearing what sound like falling acorns, a very hopeful sign.

***

In my poetry i want to write about nature without breathlessness. Don’t know whether i always succeed. Sharing new poetry on social media is an essential part of my probably Quixotic quest to normalize talking about wildflower sightings and wildlife encounters in the same way people post about the latest books or movies they’ve consumed.

I suppose in time I’ll end up creating a personal iconography of favourite species and other natural phenomena, licensed by the ubiquity of the smart phone and modern search engines—hardly any reference is too obscure anymore. For all that the internet has diminished attention spans, it does still expand access to layers of context that previously would’ve escaped all but the most knowledgeable of readers.

***

Successful ideologies are those that promise more than they can deliver. That way their adherents are never forced to answer for their beliefs. Evangelical conservatism may soon be dead as a political force because its adherents actually achieved one of their main goals, and everyone else is horrified.

***

Somewhere in the world right now a 90-pound weakling is sitting beside a hotel pool writing an epic novel and a 300-pound man in a tiny basement apartment is sweating over a haiku.

Wild things

So I’m standing here watering my garden, and a female hummingbird flies in and takes a shower in the spray, three feet away from my hand.

*

Many hours later, I flush two ruffed grouse. Together. For the first time in years—since West Nile Virus began decimating them about 15 years ago. Last winter I thought it likely that there were only two grouse on our entire, two-and-a-half mile long end of the mountain. Now there seem to be at least five. Perhaps they’re staging a comeback.

Two unusual wildlife sightings in one day! I’m a lucky man.

***

As long as I live, I’ll never forget the sight of hundreds of university students walking past a low-hanging oak limb on which an adult male red-tailed hawk was ripping apart a gray squirrel, and not one of them so much as slowing down to watch. And that was at least ten years before the rise of smart phones. It was around that time I realized that nothing I would recognise as poetry will ever reach a mass audience in this distracted age.

***

What if my next poetry collection included all my voices, not just a few of them? Perhaps it would be an unreadable mishmash. But if there’s a uniform focus or addressee, it might work. Hmm.

Maybe I should also be a little less concerned about what an audience might prefer until closer to the end of the project? Behave less like a craftsman or entertainer and more like an artist? I don’t know about that. It challenges my populist instincts.

But you’re talking about wild words. The wild is not and will never be popular. See above.

***

Suspense

You are waiting for the next thing to be popular so you can admit how much you’ve come to loathe the last thing. But with this economy, who knows whether there will even be a next thing? That last thing might be the last thing ever, in which case you will someday come to miss it with all the fervent conviction of nostalgia.

tea for two
the ant holding a crumb
above her head

Ragged claws

On a day of incomparable beauty the past wells up within me and I am grateful for the kindness of shadows. The sun is bright but not hot; it feels like autumn. An indigo bunting lets spill its usual headlong song, but this late in the season and up in the woods, most likely it’s already on the move.

using the phone
as a mirror — how little
sky it holds

*

where the oak split off from its lost half open mouthed

***

Re-reading Prufrock, as one does. The line “There will be time, there will be time” catches me right in the feels. Also “I should have been a pair of ragged claws / Scuttling across the floors of silent seas” is excellent. The whole poem strikes just the right balance between repetition and surprise. Still fun on the tongue. Five stars, would read again.

***

The literature is riddled with absences.
David Graeber and David Wengrow, The Dawn of Everything

***

The difference between what you tell yourself about what you’re doing and your true motivations can be a fruitful place to explore, but too much self knowledge isn’t always advantageous. Lying to myself about my true motivations was absolutely key to quitting tobacco back when I was in my mid 30s, for example. I didn’t admit to myself that I’d actually quit for years.

moon-eyed—
one cloud
at a time

Insurgent, portentative

I’m walking past ranks of even-aged red pines with a native broadleaf forest rising in the understory to a height of some thirty feet now: a visually striking natural insurgency against the industrial monoculture. Molting birds skulk through the dense foliage while a hermit thrush still sings just up the hill. A very small brown and white feather floats down.

*

If i didn’t know that these mushrooms were poisonous, would I still find them repulsive? Yeah, probably. The death angel looks delicious — which apparently it is. Then it dissolves your liver.

*

One of those days when even the rocks sweat and the biting insects form clouds dense enough to block the sun, and here I am circling a bog. My addiction to walking is beginning to seem nearly pathological, even to myself. But here’s the thing: I’m having a blast.

Oh what a lovely breeze!

Say, are those storm clouds?

hemlock sapling
bound in red surveyor’s tape
how hot it is

*

Why would I slog through a buggy bog, you ask? That’s where the prettiest mud is.

***

Portentative

sky face says meh
to the white noise

of our anti
bodies of work

squeezing whole lives
into a few hours before sleep

while six-legged leaves
chant half the night

sky face acquires
a round cloud mouth

the moonlight denies
ever knowing the moon

the lives we’re missing bloat like corpses
as species dwindle

sky face is just the void
with better branding

Dry, high

dry high
the crisp new air
filling my lungs

*

Haiku says start with what’s in front of you in the real world, however you define that. Of course haiku are born of the literary imagination like any other poetry, but they tend not to be found by staring at the blank page or screen. They’re small enough for all but the most memory-challenged people to carry in their heads, so they’re best when composed in the head. That’s why haiku as a practice goes so well with walking.

I have a very strong feeling I’ve said all this before. It’s got that pre-masticated texture…

dust hanging
above the gravel road
leaves gone gray

***

It’s a spectacular evening in Plummer’s Hollow. The katydids are doing their contrapuntal thing against a background of tree crickets and field crickets of all kinds. This is one of my favourite natural soundscapes in the world; something that truly makes living here special. Having spent time in urban and suburban areas that lack this, I know not to take it for granted. I’m in such a good mood, I deleted half my haiku output from this morning.

There’s certainly a frisson of pleasure in uncreating bad poems. But it’s nothing like the sheer joy of knowing—or at least strongly suspecting—that you’ve just written something true and original and quite possibly even good. That’s like a hit you keep going back for.

***

warm wind coming from
where the crescent moon
wearing a very small halo
sinks into a bed of trees

a screech owl quavers
down the scale three times
and trills in concert with the insects
their intricate variations
on a theme of throb

in the dark bulk of the barn
some small thing stirs
makes a clatter and all the hair
on the back of my neck
stands at attention

a meteor draws a brief line
under Cassiopeia
my bare arms are somehow
irresistible to moths
tube-tongues palpating my skin
in the darkness
a sensation i’ll remember
on my death bed

Trickle of a creek

I looked up from digging potatoes this morning and saw this:

rising sun shining on raindrops beaded on a wire fence, with one pole bean tendril looping up

The world can really take your breath away sometimes.

***

I’ve been picking a lot of berries lately, including two trips to a highbush blueberry bog, regular pickings of the blackberries in our old fields, and fistfuls of trailside lowbush blueberries and huckleberries on the ridgetop. There’s a strange intimacy to the act of picking berries, which I tried to bring out in a short series of haiku. (See Woodrat Photohaiku for the accompanying photos.)

*

swamp forest
hugging the bucket
of blueberries

*

blackberry patch
the secret beds
made by deer

*

blueberry woods
a five-legged beetle
takes to the air

*

snagged by thorns
the closeness required
to get free

***

The tiny ants that eat ripe blueberries and the tiny spiders that pray upon them might make a good haiku in more skilled hands than mine. Or even by me on another day. For now, it’s the one that got away. (It was this short, honest!)

*

spiderantiberry

*

crowzaic

***

chance of light
rain in the next hour
glass house

***

The one that doesn’t look like the others: treasured or thought lucky in some cultures, hated and feared in others. It’s all so arbitrary.

***

the
asp
i
ration
bites
me
back

***

“You went for a walk in the rain?”

I never quite know how to answer these questions. But how about this: Any walk is better than no walk, and I own a sturdy umbrella. And since the umbrella keeps off midges and mosquitoes better than anything else, in many ways a walk down the hollow on a humid evening is far more relaxing in the rain.

***

sun atop
the tall tulip polar
trickle of a creek

***

where is the bear?
the bear is any
where a bear can
bear to be
which is every
where you ain’t

***

A well-done parody is also an homage.

The reverse may also be true: an homage that goes all in can become indistinguishable from parody.

***

8:35 PM. Just went to retrieve my cap and put my hand on a Carolina wren already settled in to roost. The alarm was mutual.