This entry is part 34 of 91 in the series Toward Noon: 3verses


When it died, the porcupine
leaked its fluids onto the snow
like a junker car.

I turn it over
with a stick: no sign
of a wound.

Startled up from the forest floor,
sixteen doves go whistling
into the snow squall.


This entry is part 4 of 91 in the series Toward Noon: 3verses


The sound of porcupine teeth
in the oak’s crown,
as lethal as mistletoe.

Ahead of me on the path,
the tracks of three deer
braiding and unbraiding.

I reach inside my coat
and find a twig. It’s happening
sooner than I thought.

Animal mindfulness

We posted an extra essay on my mom’s website this month. Since she originally wrote it for the June issue of the Pennsylvania Game News, it’s filled with summertime stories. Her subject: the about-face in scientific thinking about how non-human animals think and feel.

For almost half my life, treating wild creatures as thinking beings was scorned as anthropomorphizing them. Most scientists considered them to be little more than thoughtless robots. They neglected the study of animal minds because they didn’t believe that they could tell the difference between automatic, unthinking responses on the part of animals from possible behavior that showed an ability to make choices in what they do.

In school, students learned that it was unscientific to ask what an animal thinks or feels. If they were so bold as to ask, they were “actively discouraged, ridiculed, and treated with open hostility” as Donald R. Griffin wrote in his ground-breaking book Animal Thinking back in 1984. A renowned bat biologist, his previous book, in 1981, The Question of Animal Awareness, had been the subject of widespread derision. Still, he was able to give many examples of seemingly thoughtful wild creatures who, when they were confronted with new problems, acted creatively to solve them.

The writings of Griffin and other scientists, interested in what Griffin called cognitive ethology, have encouraged some scientists to study learning in vertebrate and invertebrate animals. They have been bolstered by the work of neurobiologists, who study the brains of animals and have made some amazing discoveries, most notably the fact that an animal that has loops between its thalamus and its forebrain is a conscious thinker. Birds and mammals, including humans, have these loops. So too do reptiles, although their loops are minimal.

Read the rest.

As an aside, I reprocessed an old porcupine photo for the article. It’s taken me many years to learn the simple truth that being slightly out-of-focus isn’t always a bad thing for a photo:


Not to mention the importance of proper light levels, color balance, etc. Here’s what I did with the same photo back in 2007:


Ladybugs, houseflies and porcupines

I don’t look at my video stats very often, so I had no idea until tonight that the most-watched videopoem I’ve ever made is also my longest: “Fly Away Home,” for a poem I wrote called “Harlequin Ladybird,” has been played 915 times, despite being over five minutes long.

As I note on Vimeo, it’s as much a music video as it is a videopoem. I imagine the music (by Polish composer efiel on Jamendo) has a lot to do with its relative popularity. One thing I don’t mention in the notes is that I subsequently realized the last phrase of the poem — “small, bad heart” — was involuntarily plagiarized from Louise Glück. Which isn’t a big enough deal to make me want to take down the video altogether, but it will certainly keep me from ever adding it to a print collection.

In second place, with 648 plays, is the video I made with my translation of Lorca’s “Gacela of Unforeseen Love,” starring a housefly.

I chalk that up to the popularity of Lorca and searches for that poem by name. It also helps that both videos have been up for almost two years. In two more years, I imagine my videos for poems by Emily Dickinson, Pablo Neruda and Gabriela Mistral will lead the pack.

Just to keep this in perspective, my most popular video upload of any kind is “Argument with a Porcupine,” which has been viewed 129,806 times on YouTube.

And just to keep that in perspective, I call your attention to “Porcupine who thinks he is a puppy!“: 2,474,271 views. Which may not have anything to do with poetry, but warms my heart nonetheless. Hurrah for porcupines!

Link roundup: Advice for writers, Planned Parenthood, public radio poetry, treeblogging and the King of the Porcupines

Austin Kleon: “How to Steal Like an Artist (And 9 Other Things Nobody Told Me)”
I usually hate advice posts, but this one is gold. For example:

There was a video going around the internet last year of Rainn Wilson, the guy who plays Dwight on The Office. He was talking about creative block, and he said this thing that drove me nuts, because I feel like it’s a license for so many people to put off making things: “If you don’t know who you are or what you’re about or what you believe in it’s really pretty impossible to be creative.”

If I waited to know “who I was” or “what I was about” before I started “being creative”, well, I’d still be sitting around trying to figure myself out instead of making things. In my experience, it’s in the act of making things that we figure out who we are.

Marly Youmans: “The House of Words (no. 11): One writer’s lessons”
The most popular post in Marly’s on-going series to date. I particularly liked this part:

Every book purchase says you want to read a certain writer and that the publisher should have confidence in him or her. In the case of poetry, a modicum of readers voting this way may even mean that a house decides to retain its poetry line rather than jettisoning it.

The comment thread for that post is also well worth reading.

Busily Seeking… Continual Change: “The Perils of Planned Parenthood”
A very different — and, I would argue, crucial — perspective on “choice,” Planned Parenthood and legislative priorities.

North Country Public Radio: “One April”
Wow, this public radio station’s web manager is doing NaPoWriMo! And they’re good poems, too. Yet another reason to move to the Adirondacks.

Call for Submissions: Festival of the Trees 59 with Spirit Whispers
For Festival 59 our host Suzanne of the Spirit Whispers blog asks, how do trees inspire you?

Watch on YouYube
via Peaceful Societies: “Lepcha Magazine Provides a Cultural Feast”

Snow forest

snow on witch hazel

I set out this morning before the snow stopped, eager to take full advantage of the silence that settles over the land when a major winter storm falls on the weekend. This was the first I’d worn snowshoes in a couple of years, and I began with enthusiasm, despite the fact that I sank in nearly a foot with every step. Progress was slow. My own breath moved more quickly than I did, and I was soon almost out of it.

I’d almost forgotten what a deep, dry snow was like. From time to time my footsteps set off shockwaves, quiet little booms accompanied by a sudden settling of all the snow within a few yards’ radius. Sometimes this was enough to shake the snow loose from a nearby laurel bush, the waxy green leaves springing up and throwing off their white straitjackets. Before long my calves were aching, and my glasses kept steaming up and then freezing. I finally took them off and put them in my pocket, and did most of the rest of the hike half-blind: up to the top of the watershed, through the spruce grove and out to the Far Field, alone with the sound of my exertion.

Or nearly alone. The downy woodpeckers were out and about, and a pair of cardinals foraged in one thicket. On the ridgetop not far from its den tree I crossed a porcupine trail — an almost-tunnel through the snow — and wondered whether it had been going out or returning home. Twenty minutes later, on the lower trail back from the Far Field, I had my answer.

porcupine in a blizzard

This was shot hurriedly in dim light through a zoom lens, and then magnified further through digital zooming. But I really only took the picture to make sure of what I was looking at, especially with my glasses so fogged up. Had it not been for the location on a thin branch, I might’ve dismissed it as an unusually messy squirrel’s nest. It sat motionless with its head tucked against its belly as the snow sifted in through its forest of quills.

Questions for the Porcupine


do the sapless twigs of winter
taste any different on the tree
you’ve just girdled,
this waste of a pine?
Its whited branches light
the grove like candles,
like candelsticks.
But you with your poor eyesight
must favor the dark: hollows & cavities,
the undersides of things,
unchewed bark.
This pine was unwise to arm itself
with such soft & succulent spines.
It did nothing but hiss
like a gnawed-on road-salted tire.
Slow destroyer,
do you ever pass
those bleached roads in the air
& long for salt?

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