Friday, February 27, 2015

on the white palette


on the white palette
of fresh snow, impressions of tracks,
a charcoal stick

Late February snowstorm, just enough to color the ground white. On the smooth palette left by the Volvo on the gravel driveway, small animal tracks are scattered like an Impressionist painting, blue on blue. One black twig, partially buried, as if the artist dropped the charcoal stick used to incise the pattern.


The impressions are a melange of bird and rabbit tracks.


The rabbit tracks look like a pair of ovals followed by a butterfly print. Next to the rabbit tracks, a bird has landed, its feet making a pair of exclamation marks and its wing leaving brush marks on the snow.


A bird hopping one way, a rabbit crossing its path the other direction.


A pair of bird wings look like two fans.


Here a bird brushed just one wing in between hops.


Where the snow has been churned up, birds have been scratching for grit, necessary for digestion for birds that eat their seeds whole. Tough tummies!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

moving day in Pisaq


moving day in Pisaq--
baskets, plastic chair, an easel
on a red trike truck

After reading an article in Grist about the cargo bike revolution coming, I remembered all the cargo trikes I've seen in my travels. So-called underdeveloped countries have been using this means of transportation for a long time. 
          This photo was taken in Pisaq, Peru. The baskets are often carried on the back, like a backpack. The plastic chair, well, at least it's only one small token of "civilization." I THINK that's an easel at the front, but maybe it's a plow?

Thursday, February 19, 2015

on the yellow line



on the yellow line
a hawk on its back, one wing 
flying in the wind

Another road kill, lying exactly on the yellow median line. A large bird, one wing flapping in the wind. I can't bear the thought of it being smashed by thoughtless drivers, so I turn around and go back, parking in a farmer's drive a little ways from the bird. I retrieve an empty cardboard box from the back seat, just the right size for a small body, and walk along the narrow grassy shoulder of the highway. Looking both ways to make sure no vehicles are coming from either direction, I cross to the downed bird. 
          It's a redtailed hawk, lying on its back, wings spread wide as if in flight, one leg extended. I pick it up by the foot and lay it on its back in the box. It just fits -- only the tip of the red tail sticks up a bit. It's below freezing but the bird is not frozen stiff, so the collision must have happened quite recently. As I walk back to my car, a couple of trucks veer to the other lane, giving me and my box a wide birth.
          Back home, I lay the hawk on the snow for a memorial photograph. A little blood leaks from its beak onto the snow. Was it hit in the head? When I turn it over, there's a bloody patch on its back. I'm sure this is the same hawk I've seen many times on that stretch of the road, sitting on a telephone wire or on top of a telephone post, watching for a mouse or a rabbit to run by in the grass. The hawk was probably diving for its dinner and didn't even see the vehicle approaching from behind.
          I won't be able to bury the bird until the ground thaws in the spring, but it will stay frozen in its cardboard coffin until then. I tuck the tail in and fold the flaps on top of each other all the way around. To keep raccoons from tearing open the box, I place it inside a plastic storage container with a snap on lid and leave it in a sheltered corner of the house.
          Standing there, looking at the plastic box, I suddenly remember a young girl who used to collect dead animals and bury them. One time, she brought home a baby turtle she caught in the lake across the street from her house and put it in the fish pond in the back yard, where she kept the little fish she caught. The next day, all the fish were lying belly up, with a half moon hole on one side. It turned out that the cute little turtle with the long snout was a snapping turtle and it had taken a bite out of each fish. She buried them in the back of the yard, under a tree, each with a little stone marker.
          Then one day in winter she and her girlfriend were walking along the frozen creek when they found a dead bird with beautiful blue feathers. Because the ground was frozen she couldn't bury it, but her friend told her that her older brother said you could preserve a dead body with salt. It was such a beautiful bird, so she wanted to put it in a beautiful coffin. She found just what she was looking for in her mother's closet, a plastic Chinese jewelry box with a dragon on the lid, exactly the right size. She salted the bird with canning salt and wrapped it in the white silk handkerchief that was inside the box. Then she put the box back on the shelf in the closet. A week later, her mother tracked down the source of the stench. The girl begged her mother to put the bird in the freezer, but by this time the bluebird was not only stinky but wormy and her angry mother threw the corpse in the trash.
          Now you know why I can't bear to leave a dead bird on the highway.

below the fractal


below the fractal
pond ice a fallen shagbark 
hickory leaf suspended

February is often the coldest month of the year in these parts. Temperatures plummeted last night to below 0 F (-20 C). The ice on Jack's Pond across the road has frozen and thawed and frozen again in fractal patterns. The convoluted ice ridges hold a skiff of snow like etched frosted glass. 
          Just below the surface, a shagbark hickory leaf is held in suspension, its three lobes spread out like an airplane. During the last thaw the dark brown leaf drew more heat from the sun, melting and smoothing the ice surrounding it, creating a dark halo around the dead leaf.
          The first year we lived here, the pond froze overnight, the ice as smooth and transparent as glass. The black water beneath it looked like the night sky without stars. We walked on the frozen water. 
          Just below the surface, we saw something huge and dark -- a snapping turtle, its shell as long as my arm and nearly as wide. We stopped and stood above the turtle, separated only by a shield of ice. Was it dead? 
          But no, the turtle was moving its legs, swimming ever so slowly. How could it breathe, with ice sealing off the air? The turtle held its pointy snout upright like a snorkel, so perhaps it was breathing a thin layer of air trapped under the ice. 
          This common snapping turtle could live for a hundred years. It's got that thick shell for protection and a powerful beak for snapping both prey and predators, and it's obviously able to survive in frigid ponds without hibernating. 
          Years have passed, but I still see that turtle, suspended below the ice -- moving, alive.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

on the calligraphy


on the calligraphy
of black limbs against snow
a red stamp -- feathered!

So many birds flocking to the feeders, but it's the redbirds that catch the eye, like a red signature stamp placed in the corner of a black ink calligraphy on white mulberry paper. This Cardinal has been pecking at the snow in the crotch of the cherry tree, his beak frosted like a baby eating ice cream.


Outside the windows with the hanging feeders, it looks like a busy airport. Birds fly in and out, waiting their turn to land. Many of them perch in the goumi bush, laden now with fat clumps of snow instead of red berries, which the redbirds like to eat in summer.


This fellow is all puffed up, trying to keep warm in the frigid air. He's clutching two snowballs, so you'd think his feet would be freezing. But a note from Bird Note (www.birdnote.org) explains why birds' feet don't freeze:
          Birds' feet are little more than bone, sinew and scale, with very few nerves. In addition, a miraculous adaptation called rete mirabile (wonderful network) is responsible for keeping their feet from freezing. A fine netlike pattern of arteries that carries warm blood from the bird's heart is interwoven with the veins carrying cold blood from the feet and legs. This interweaving warms the cold blood in these veins before it reaches the bird's heart and keeps the bird's legs and feet warm.
          I wonder, is that how hobbit feet stay warm without boots?


This male is losing a feather from his wing. Better get it checked out before he's cleared for the next flight!

the cracked and faded


the cracked and faded
stop sign did not stop the snow
driving down the hill

More snow. Unstoppable in its driven descent. Plastering trunks and posts. In between bouts, the sun comes out, revealing what the snow has wrought.


Curving back Big Bluestem grass.


Bowing cedar boughs (is that a happy face?)


Bending twigs (stretched out like a snow caterpillar).


Gilding Silver Dollar seeds.


Making snow puppets (an old aunt or a queen ant?).


Undulating under shadows.


Burdening (sometimes breaking) branches.


Flocking fuzzy buds.


Brushing white on black.


Carving ice sculptures.


Casting snow sculptures.


And snow on squirrel sculptures!

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

sundog comet cloud


sundog comet cloud --
ice above, ice below
a foot of fresh snow

Late afternoon after a two-day ice and snowstorm, I'm walking back from the mailbox, looking down at the road, stepping around patches of ice laid bare by the snow plow. Some impulse urges me to take my eyes off the road and look up above the snow-covered trees. Cotton fiber clouds float high in the sky. I turn around to get a 360 degree view, and there's a mock sun. Only one, to the left of the sun. This sundog has a long, fluffy tail. Or perhaps the parhelia is really a rainbow comet spewing ice crystals as it follows the setting sun.


Like a rainbow arc, these baby rainbows are the result of refracted light. In the case of parhelia, sunlight passing through hexagonal plate-like ice crystals gets bent 22 degrees before it reaches our eyes. If the flat crystal faces are oriented horizontally, we see sundogs; if they are randomly oriented, we see a halo.


The black and white scenery after the snowfall has a stark beauty, but the brightly colored spot overhead creates a cheerful contrast.