Monday, February 28, 2011

trekking to Dhumpas

trekking to Dhumpas –
tray of red chilies
drying in the warm spring sun

Nepalis love chilies and they grow them everywhere they can. This beautiful tray, its blue border complementing the shiny red of the peppers, is just sitting on a bamboo bench by the side of the trail on our way to Dhumpas in the Annapurna range.

ice encasing snow

ice encasing snow –
glazed, pendulous, crackled –
reflecting rainbows
On the banks of Pilgrim Creek, porous snow glistens with a thin coating of ice. A veneer of fantastically crackled ice with lacy edges lines the shady side of the creek. Shields of snow bordered with ice perch precariously on logs protruding from the running water. In shallow pools the ice forms a curvaceous melange of transparent bubbles. Icicles with bulbous tips hang from every branch, dead leaf, seed pod and bud. Wherever the sun shines on the ice it sparks little glints of red and gold, transforming every dull object into a wonder.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

from Ashinoko

from Ashinoko
through a screen of blanched branches
Fujisan rises white
This striking view of Fujisan from Ashinoko could be the subject of one of Hokusai’s ukiyo-e woodblock prints –- the snow-capped cone floating serenely in the distance contrasting with bare white branches in the foreground.

mist falling on snow

mist falling on snow –
wild geese huddle near the shore
or perch on slick ice

Cold fog and mist in the morning. Even the Canada Geese with their insulating down look cold, or hunkering down on the slick shelf of ice or huddling close to shore, unperturbed by a Siamese cat trotting past. In the evening, lightning, thunder and freezing rain. Geese all gone.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

farm pond half frozen

farm pond half frozen –
wild geese swim and stand on ice –
reflect in water

More snow last night, and with low temperatures and humidity the snow forms into hard, glittering columns. Today the temperature warms a bit, but still well below freezing, and the snow comes down as tiny white pellets and transparent ice needles. On Cattail Pond a large flock of Canada Geese swim in the open water or stand on the edge of the thin ice, their dark forms reflected in the blue-grey water. When I stop, the geese in the water swim to the ice, the larger ganders flapping their wings in an aggressive display.

Friday, February 25, 2011

late winter snowfall

late winter snowfall
wild geese gone, two crows on ice,
two ducks dip and dive

Scent of snow on the north wind yesterday. By evening the Canada Geese have flown from the iced-over pond. All night the wind blew, dropping half a foot of snow, plastering the north side of trees, piling cotton balls on every bush, leaving fantastic snow sculptures hanging from branches. Today two crows stand in the exact middle of the frozen pond, stark black on white. Of course they fly away when I approach. On another pond, half free of ice and that half covered with snow, two ducks dip and dive. Our gray tabby accompanies me for a walk in the woods, stepping carefully in my footsteps. When we get to the little brook, he balks at the water's edge so I have to catch him and ferry him across.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

portrait of the writer

portrait of the writer
as a young man wrapped
in a burgundy blanket
dreaming stories

Portrait of my son, Noah. He is in Idaho, I am in Iowa, but we communicate through Skype. I can see the stories forming behind his eyes. His blog inspired me to start my blog

pond iced over again

pond iced over again –
confined to shore the wild geese
browse on dead grasses

The Canada Geese are still hanging around Cattail Pond, even though it has completely iced over again and they are no longer able to feed from silt at the bottom of the pond. They stay close to the shore, browsing on seeds and dead grasses. With their black heads and white chinstraps they look like they’re wearing helmets. The gander stands guard while his mate bends her long neck, grasps a blade of grass with her bill and tears it off with a jerk. Amazing that these wild geese mate for life and can live more than two decades.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

from a balcony

from a balcony
of a mosque in Srinagar
with inlaid ceilings
a young girl and old woman
peer at me as I pass by

This wooden mosque was built by the Persian who converted the Buddhists in Kashmir to Islam. The mosque is small, green and ornately decorated, with inlaid ceilings and wood carvings. I am allowed to climb a couple of steps and peak into the inner chamber, all crystal and gold. The chinar trees here must be 150 feet tall and 15 feet around, the upper limbs white. An old woman and a little girl peer down at me from a balcony as I pass by. The little girl, head bare, stares at me with a serious expression, but the woman, hair covered with a white scarf, smiles at me with her dark eyes.

black ice on the pond

black ice on the pond –
wild geese swim in a circle
of open water

A freeze last night laid down a skin of thin, black ice. The thin ice forms vertical crystals that reflect less light, making it appear black. The Canada geese have not moved on. This morning they are swimming in a circle of water kept open by their swimming. In the afternoon it rains, the thin ice melts and the geese are joined on the shore by a few scavenging crows.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

late winter -- wild geese

late winter – wild geese
on the ice-free pond resting
before flying north

Not all of the small farm ponds are ice-free, but on these late winter days, wherever they are half or fully open, you will see Canada Geese. They come in low, circle and land on the frigid water. They swim about or stand on the edge of the ice, thin and riddled with holes. They dabble in shallows or climb up on the banks, plucking at dead grasses. They land in fallow corn fields, scrounging for leftover seed. After they have rested and refueled, they fly on, north by east, in pairs and columns and shifting Vs, their arched wings pumping up and down slowly, steadily, gracefully.

Monday, February 21, 2011

in the lyrical

in the lyrical
third movement the chapel bat
swoops with the music

For our final performance of Beethoven’s Symphony Number Nine, the choir of 120 singers was seated in half of the balcony while the Southeast Iowa Orchestra and four soloists filled the stage of the Iowa Wesleyan College Chapel. Three of the four movements of the famous Ninth are often loud and sometimes dissonant. However, during the quiet, lyrical third movement, a bat began swooping around the auditorium, flying gracefully in time to the music, over the audience, the orchestra and the singers. No one shrieked and the musicians kept playing. Toward the end of that movement, the bat flew up to the highest point of the ceiling and disappeared. Maybe it went to put on earplugs before the rousing finale. I like to call this unrehearsed part of the program BAThoven!

chilly wind, black squirrel

chilly wind, black squirrel,
tail covering its back, gnawing
black locust seed pods

I don’t remember ever seeing a black squirrel when I was growing up in the Midwest, but now they are fairly common in southeast Iowa. This one, busily gnawing on a black locust pod to get at the seeds, is using its tail as an overcoat against the cold wind. The calligraphy of black tree branches and the curving lines of the black squirrel and black locust pod look like a Japanese sumi-e painting.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

dark blue mamma clouds

dark blue mamma clouds
pendulous udders 
blushing pink at dawn

Hovering low in the west at dawn, these mamma clouds looks like the fierce Boreas with his cheeks puffed out, not the gentle Zephyr. The lobe of pendulous clouds forms the face of a lion, ready to roar and spit sleet or hail. However, these udder-like clouds are not harbingers of stormy weather, as some claim, but tend to trail after storms. Sure enough, as the bumpy blanket quickly moves on, the sky clears and the first rays of sunrise pour out from the east, bathing the blue bulges in rosy light. 
          Yet after midnight I am awakened with a jolt by a bolt of bright white light that penetrates my closed eyelids. A moment later, boom! Ah, lightning and thunder, must be Zeus making a dramatic entrance. The rain comes down hard, carving deep grooves in the gravel road, filling the creek to overflowing.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

islands of snow foam

islands of snow foam,
scalloped, peaked, pocked – pond ice pitted,
fissured, floating free

The snow has retreated into islands on shaded hills and in culverts. Some patches look like platters of whipped cream, covered with peaks and depressions. Others look like the mirror image of altocumulus clouds, puffy and scalloped. The ice on the pond is dull and grey, fractured and full of small holes with radiating cracks. Around the perimeter the ice has shrunk back from the banks, leaving a narrow rim of open water, so that the entire sheet of ice has become an ice floe. It looks like the map of an unexplored island, with lakes and streams and tributaries of rivers running down to the sea.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Pilgrim Creek full, fast

Pilgrim Creek full, fast –
on the trail snow turned to slush
oak galls gnawed by squirrels

The remaining snow on the trail has softened into white slush. Pilgrim Creek runs fast and full. Some trees growing low on the bank are surrounded by brown water. Even the little side creeks, often dry or just a step wide, are running high with little waterfalls at every drop or log jam. Oak galls on the path, their orange insides exposed, show evidence of being gnawed by squirrels. The squirrels must be desperate to eat such bitter fare.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Mississippi ice

Mississippi ice
half gone – bald eagles soaring
and diving for fish

A few miles from home we see a pair of bald eagles right by the road. The one sitting on a fence post flaps its wings, each as long as the bird is tall, but does not fly away. The other, standing on some small prey, just gives us the eagle eye. At the Mississippi River in Burlington we see many eagles by the beautiful new bridge built after the Great Flood of 1993, when water rose to the bed of the old bridge and the auditorium looked like an island in the river. Now the river is half free of ice. Some eagles sit on the ice, others are soaring and diving for fish, so striking with their white head and tail, black body and wings.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

fog envelopes snow

fog envelopes snow
black trees, orange buffalo grass
in an empty field

Snow is melting but the ground remains frozen. Icy water stands in pools in depressions or runs downhill into ice-clogged creeks. Moisture rises into the warmer air during the day, cools at night and condenses as fog that lasts until late morning. The wetness darkens tree bark, deepens the orange of buffalo grass, illuminates the interlacing remnants of snow. Everything appears closer, a bit out of focus, softer yet more intense, more intimate. Even the long-gone bison are there, just beyond that line of trees, hidden in the fog.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

late winter -- Fujisan

late winter –- Fujisan
under a white kasa framed
by open shoji
Fujisan looks like a lady carrying a white paper kasa to protect her face from the sun. The dark mountain half-covered with snow, the dark pines in front of the house, and the shoji with hinoki frames covered with white washi create a sublime contrast of dark and light.

Monday, February 14, 2011

drifts blackened by dirt

drifts blackened by dirt – 
black crows peck at corn stubble 
black on black and white

The snow is melting rapidly. Wherever the ground has been tilled, the dark earth warms faster than meadows or woods. The corn and soybean fields look like patchwork quilts of black and white. Wind blows the exposed dirt onto the snow drifts along the edges of the fields, heightening the contrast of dark and light. A cluster of crows peck at the corn stubble, black on black on white.

Valentine's Day snow

Valentine’s Day snow –
heart of Pilgrim Creek breaks
open, flowing free
14 February 2010, fluffy clusters falling gently all morning. Our neighbors are out for a walk, how romantic on Valentine’s Day. I take the path down to Pilgrim Creek, snow up to the tops of my boots, snow lying thick along the dark tree limbs, plastered against the north side of trunks, caught in the crotch of branches, piled like a tea cozy on top of a bird nest. The creek has become a path for deer, their neat hoof prints piercing the snow, leaving heart-shaped impressions. Here and there the ice has broken open, the dark water running clear and swift, one break magically shaped like a heart.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

down from Birethanti

down from Birethanti
along the Modi Khola –
blue bowl with brown eggs 

On the last day of our trek we walk down from the Annapurna mountains to Birethanti, along the beautiful Modi Khola. While we wait for our taxi, we sit in the shade of a little tea house. On the table, this blue bowl with brown eggs. Annapurna means “full of food.” This bowl of eggs says it all, the blue sky over the mountains, the brown faces of the children we passed on the trail, the ubiquitous meals of dahl bhat and the mountains themselves, food for the soul.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Machhapuchhre peak

Machhapuchhre peak
through a gap – fish tail glowing
rosy in the dawn

Last night at Sauryribazar we heard a dog barking for hours. Later Yuba tells us that it was a big mountain dog from Tibet because it had a deep bark. It is the first disturbance since we began our trek. As Lama says, “no bus, no truck, no motorcycle, no yak.” I rise at 5 and walk down to the thatch tea house to wait for the sun’s rays to strike Machhapuchhre, which I can see through a gap in the Annapurna range. We are on the wrong side of the mountain for the sun to fully illuminate the entire peak, but the fish tail clearly reflects the rosy light of dawn. I sit and meditate until I get too cold.

Friday, February 11, 2011

dead finch in the snow

dead finch in the snow
resting on a bed of white
feet pointing skyward

This winter has been hard on all wild creatures, large and small. When I step into the summer sleeping porch to get a better view of a line of cat tracks in the snow, I find this goldfinch lying upside down on the ledge outside the window. I fear that the poor little bird did not expire from the cold but from a blow to the head when it flew into the window. We purposefully do not wash the glass so that it will be less deceptively transparent, but even so, some birds do collide, a reminder that we impact our environment just by inhabiting the same space as natives.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

snow, sand and stardust

snow, sand and stardust
swirl and curve into patterns
new, new, ever new

Entranced by patterns, I marvel at the infinite creativity displayed by the play of wind and water, dark matter and dark energy, on particles, from snow to sand, waves to rocks, solar systems to galaxies, and all the intricate patterns seen with the inner eye.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

cold cloudless morning

cold cloudless morning –
Fujisan red veiled in white –-
fire sleeping inside
One of my favorite prints by Hokusai, Hodogaya on the Tokaido Road, is often called “Red Fuji.” I used to think the artist took liberty with the color of the mountain. But when I first saw Fujisan on a cold, cloudless morning, red veiled in white, I realized that red is the mountain’s true color. Hiking on the mountain, I slogged through loose brick-red volcanic rock. The frothy scoria looks like little dark red sponges. The red is due to weathering of the basalt layer, which was most recently laid down 10,000 years ago. Fujisan last erupted in 1707-08, so she is not considered an active volcano. But in Japan, nothing is certain.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

three does in deep snow

three does in the snow
foraging – one peers through glass
as our cats stare back

The deer step gingerly, sinking up to their knees in the deep snow, searching for anything edible, a challenge in these conditions. Like other ruminants, deer have no top front teeth, so they use their bottom teeth and top gums to grasp and nip. One of these does strips bark from a tree. The smallest one leaps the low fence, nibbles birdseed from under the feeder, then peers curiously through the window. Our two cats, napping on the sun porch, wake up, freeze and stare back.

Monday, February 7, 2011

fat white flakes falling

fat white flakes falling
on plowed shoulders where flocks of
dark-eyed juncos peck
at grass, flurry up, flashing
white sides of tails and bellies

No wild turkeys in the fields since the blizzard, but after the plow scraped of the snow from the shoulders of the roads, flocks of juncos gather to peck at grass and gravel. With their dark gray backs they are nearly invisible against the barren ground, but when I pass they fly up in a flurry, flashing the white sides of their tails and white bellies.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

a cave of blue snow

a cave of blue snow
shelters remains of wildflowers –
rabbit tracks pass by

A soft, light snow fell in the night, cloaking the ice shields, deepening the drifts, filling up the gullies, and blurring the tracks of animals, yet the dried stalks of wildflowers still hold up their heads.

Fujisan at sunset

Fujisan at sunset
capped by a fish-shaped pink cloud
surfing the jetstream

During a magical sunset, this lens-shaped cloud forms and transforms in shape and color directly over the peak of Fujisan. Like a fish with a pink body and white tail, it hovers in the same spot during the entire sunset. I keep vigil over its lovely shape-shifting from small pinkish blur to large pink fish to small gray smudge until I can no longer see it in the dark. 
          This saucer-shaped cloud, sometimes mistaken for a UFO, is an altocumulus lenticularis, which forms at the crest of waves in the moist airstream above raised ground such as a hill or mountain peak. Unlike most clouds that drift along with the wind, these stay in the same position as long as the airstream remains fixed.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

wind scours snow from fields

wind scours snow from fields,
burnishing the ice beneath
into silver shields

The wind continues to blow snow for a couple of days after the blizzard. Fine powder streams off the curvaceous lips of snow at the edges of fallow fields. The flat fields look like pools of molten silver and the sun shining on these ice shields is blinding. The tops of dry plants poking up reveal the depth of the snow in the deep gullies between the fields and the road. Snow, wind, ice, sun, dead plants and clods of dirt are transformed into a magical diorama.

Friday, February 4, 2011

white bowls carved by wind

white bowls carved by wind
surround each tree – little shelves
of snow stuck to trunks

All the trees in the woods are surrounded by white bowls. Just above the bowl, a little shelf of snow clings to the trunk. It looks as if the pile of snow around the base of the tree shrunk and separated, leaving a bowl below and the peak of the pile stuck to the trunk just above, white and spongy like a shelf mushroom.

white tipis surround

white tipis surround
every stem poking through snow
back lit by low sun

The sun has been shining all day, softening the snow. Around every stem sticking up through the snow there is a little white tipi. The low sun casts long shadows, highlighting the little peaks, sending tree shadows sledding downhill.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

winter-brown goldfinch

winter-brown goldfinch
knocking seeds from dry wildflowers
to peck from the snow

A small flock of goldfinches in their winter-brown feathers are hopping onto the stems of dry grasses and wildflowers poking up from the drifts, knocking the seeds onto the snow and then hopping down to peck them up. They don't seem to notice me watching from a few feet away. Nothing else moves anywhere in this expanse of white and cold. I reflect on what a good thing it is to leave our yard not mowed, so the birds can harvest the seeds when the ground is covered in two feet of snow.

road knee-deep in snow

road knee-deep in snow –
no car tracks, only one squirrel,
a few deer and me
The afternoon after the blizzard we are still snowed in. Brian’s truck transmission broke and Bill from Seven Hills won’t be able to get by to plow until evening. I plow my way to the mailbox, one and a half miles, through snow just below my knees. Hard work in the cold wind, but beautiful – no car tracks, hardly any animal tracks, just a pristine expanse of snow and curvaceous drifts. Every tree nestles in a little hollow well surrounded by a white bowl.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

drifts cover the gate

drifts cover the gate,
redbirds first to the feeder,
woodpecker pecks first

Before dawn on the morning after the blizzard we open the door to the entry to discover that the outside door, not tightly closed, had blown open and the shoe rack is covered with snow. Outside, drifts almost completely cover the three-foot gate. When the sky begins to lighten, the redbirds are the first at the feeder. A downy woodpecker clings to the side of a shagbark hickory nearby, feathers fluffed, head turning constantly. After the cardinals have cleared the snow from a corner of the feeder, the woodpecker flies in, scaring off the other birds, picks up one black oil sunflower seed at a time, and flies back to the tree to peck it open. All the birds, including chickadees and titmice, take turns at the access hole, according to their pecking order. As soon as one bird flies away, another takes its place.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

a blizzard hurls gusts

a blizzard hurls gusts
of snow outside my window –
sends redbirds tumbling

Historical Blizzard, up to two feet of snow expected with temperatures dropping to 10 below and wind chill as low as minus 40. It started yesterday with sleet that froze as soon as it touched any surface, so now snow skates across ice. High winds are driving the fine white pellets horizontally across flat spaces, piling it into drifts in depressions. A redbird just blew, not flew, past, tumbling as the wind whirled. Stocked with firewood, food, water and kerosene lanterns, we are not going anywhere for two days.