Sunday, July 31, 2011

her hands on the moon

her hands on the moon
belly, Ibu Robin feels
the stir of new life

Another day in the life of an American midwife in Bali. Ibu Robin is examining a young ex-pat American woman, her sensitive hands picking up the baby's position in the uterus. The young woman's mother has talked her into keeping her baby away from the Balinese father because she would lose legal rights over the child. The pregnant girl is scared to have the baby because it's "yucky, messy" and the baby is "too big" to come out. She's also afraid that she would end up ignoring her older child, like her mom did after having two babies at 16 and 18 and their father dying of an overdose. Ibu Robin reassures her that the baby is not too big and she'll be a fine mother.  

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Black Angus munching

Black Angus munching
on a dwindling bale of hay 
look up as I pass

Rain clouds moving west to east, but only a teasing spatter of rain. Brown strips of dead grass on mowed lawns. Farmers are supplementing sparse pasture grass with this year's hay bales. A small herd of Black Angus stand with their heads together around one of the big round bales, pulling out wads of hay, which dangles from their mouths like scraggly beards. Imagine living on grass. Ruminants like cattle are able to accomplish this feat by a complex process of rumination. First step, slowly masticate the mouthful of hay until it disappears into the rumen, the first compartment of the ruminant's four-compartment stomach. Later, regurgitate the semi-digested bolus and chew the cud again. Then swallow the cud and send it to the remaining stomach compartments. The cluster of Black Angus look up briefly as I pass, then go back to their bale. They must be hot in their black coats, but munching lunch is more important right now than keeping cool. After their rumen is full, they'll lie down for a nap in the shade.

Friday, July 29, 2011

snow muffles the stones

snow muffles the stones
while the taki falls free, always 
changing, always there

We wander through a lovely garden behind a large hotel in Oshino, a popular place for weddings in the summer. Now it is quiet and empty. Thick snow muffles the stones and plants like kakebuton stuffed with mulberry silk. The water in the taki murmurs in a primordial tongue as it drops between the boulders overhung with holly and cedar. The large bamboo hishaku resting on the edge of a small pool is an invitation to bend down, wash the hands and rinse the mouth, as one would do before entering a tea house or shrine. However, the coins lining the bottom of the pool signal that this is more of a wishing well than a formal tsukubai. When I sit and listen to the waterfall running freely in the midst of winter over the silver and copper coins, it seems to be ceaselessly babbling, "permanent, impermanent, permanent, impermanent."

Thursday, July 28, 2011

pink buds burst open

pink buds burst open 
into five pointed rocket 
flowers on milky stems

     Common milkweed, 
Asclepius syriaca, is such an amazing "weed," I wonder why more people don't grow this beautiful perennial in their gardens. Every part of the plant is useful.
Carl Linnaeus named the genus after Asclepius, the Greek god of healing, because of the many folk-medicinal uses for the milkweed plants. 
     The milky sap which gives milkweed its name contains latex, alkaloids and cardenolides, the plant's defenses against caterpillars, though Monarch butterflies feed on the plants despite its chemical defenses. The sap when applied externally is a natural remedy for poison ivy, clotting small wounds, treating ringworm, and removing warts and moles. 
     The shoots that come up in spring taste look and taste like asparagus when boiled. 
     The pinkish-purple pom pom flower heads that appear in early summer look like loose broccoli but taste like the shoots when boiled.
     The nectar inside the flowers can be used as a sweetener and is an important source of nectar for pollinators such as bees, wasps and butterflies. (Milkweed pollination occurs in an unusual manner. Instead of tetrads or individual grains, milkweed pollen is packed into little sacs called pollinia. When a visiting insect slips into one of the five slits in each flower, the sac attaches to the insect's feet or mouth and then gets deposited in another flower.)
     The immature follicles or seed pods that appear in late summer can be boiled and eaten whole. The immature wad of floss inside the pods when boiled is slightly sweet and looks, acts and tastes like cheese.
     The pappus or "silk" inside the mature pods is lightweight and makes an excellent insulator, better than down.
     A tea prepared from the roots is used as a diuretic for kidney stones, a laxative and an expectorant.
     The entire plant is beneficial to nearby plants, repelling some pests, especially wireworms.
     Best of all, in the fall when the pods ripen and spit open, milkweeds provide magical entertainment. Inside the follicle, the flat brown seeds are packed together in what looks like a smooth pine cone with overlapping scales. Each seed is attached to a white filament. As the silky filaments dry, they begin to expand and puff out. When a child (or young-hearted adult) blows on the dry silk, the white parachutes detach and sail away, carrying their small passengers aloft, bound for a new home.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

yellow ray flowers

yellow ray flowers
on gray-headed coneflowers droop
by nature not heat

The Compositae are having their annual family reunion in the deer meadow. It's hot and parched in this patch of prairie grass, but the cousins are out in droves, hobnobbing in the slight breeze. The Compositae are composite flowers, so-called because each flower includes two different types of flowers called florets. Many tiny florets gathered together in the center of the flower head make up the disc. On a black-eyed Susan, the dark center of the flower head is actually a cluster of small disc florets. Yellow coneflower is sometimes called gray-headed coneflower because the disc flowers are gray until the florets open and change to brown. The disc flowers of purple coneflower are bigger than those of other coneflowers. What appear to be long petals surrounding the disc are actually ray flowers, each one attached to a pistil and thus considered an individual flower. Each of the florets of a composite has the ability to produce a seed. The composite cousins are similar, yet different. Yellow coneflower's rays droop and are longer and thinner than those of black-eyed Susan, while purple coneflower's rays are larger and pinkish purple rather than yellow. Nowadays, people are familiar with purple coneflower as echinacea, widely used for its anti-viral, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-inflammatory properties. Many summer wildflowers take to the meadows in order to bask in the sunlight otherwise blocked in the woods by leaf canopies. They have adapted to the drying effects of sun and wind by having thin leaves, thick stems and deep roots to reach moisture. Even so, the ray flowers of all the composites are beginning to wither in this continuing heat and drought.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

sultry daylily

sultry daylily 
days – each fragile flower blooming
by day just one day

Grandma's frilly double orange daylilies are blooming profusely in this intense heat and humidity, bursting open in rapid succession like a fireworks display. All that work for only one glorious day, since each blossom has just one day to fulfill its primary purpose. The flower opens at sunrise and withers at sunset. If it is successfully pollinated, a seed pod will form when the flower drops off. If not, another bud on the same scape will open the next day, and this succession of flowers continues for many days. The genus name for the daylily, Hemerocallis, comes from the Greek words The genus name for the daylily, Hemerocallis, from the Greek words hÄ“mera (day) and kalos (beautiful). These perennial plants are native to China, Japan and Korea, where pinyin (yellow needles) are used in Asian cuisine. Grandma used all parts of the plant: fresh and slightly withered flowers as well as new leaf shoots in salads, dried flowers as a thickener in soups, and boiled roots in stews, while a tea made from the roots was used as a diuretic and mild laxative. I like to eat both buds and blossoms right off the plant, consuming the beautiful day.

Monday, July 25, 2011

long gray blades slowly

long gray blades slowly 
revolving in the sunset,
reaping the wind

East of the Mississippi near Bishop Hill, we pass a huge wind farm, hundreds of giant turbines spread out for miles south of the interstate highway, slowly revolving like a troupe of ballerinas all doing arabesque pirouettes. Like a three-bladed scythe, the long blades reap wind instead of grass. The kinetic energy garnered from the motion of the wind is converted into mechanical energy, which is then used to produce electricity, an alternative to coal-generated electricity. Seeing all these turbines reminds me of the wind farms we saw in many parts of the UK, like this one in Cumbria. Of course, as with anything new, controversy blows hot around wind farms, ranging from spoiling the view to the environmental impact of producing massive amounts of concrete for the footings. As a child, I remember driving from St. Louis to grandma's house in southern Illinois past mile after mile of oil derricks bobbing up and down like demented ducks, and no one objected to spoiling the view in order to suck oil out of the ground, or to the endless lines of railroad cars carrying coal from the mines out west to the cities out east.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

snow apron sliding

snow apron sliding
down the mountain to the white
water of the Sindh

After an hour's terrifying drive in a taxi through Srinagar traffic, I start seeing people harvesting grain in fields and Gujar nomads camped with their horses in open spaces. We pass through a few villages and soon we're following the Sindh River as it meanders through the valley on the way to the mountains, getting narrower and rockier as we climb higher. Our destination is Sonamarg, "the "Meadow of Gold," 81 km from Srinagar. At 2,370 m, Sonamarg is the last major point in the Kashmir valley before the road to the Zoji La pass into Ladakh and the base of a major trek along several mountain lakes. Halfway there we take a break at a rest stop, crossing a narrow bridge over the roaring whitewater, with a snow field coming down to the river. Clambering down to the rocks along the water's edge, I dangle my feet in the freezing water.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Tenby Beach, low tide

Tenby Beach, low tide,
walking through clear reflections
of stone cliff houses

After crossing the channel from Rosslare in Wexford County, Ireland, we stop at Tenby in Pembrokshire County, Wales. A sign in Welsh says the name of the town is Dinbych-y-Pysgod, which means little fortress of the fish. This was once a seaside fort overlooking a little harbor on the southwest coast of Wales. A medieval town grew up around Tenby Castle, which is now in ruins, as is a small castle on St. Catherine's Island. Several miles of clean, sandy beaches lie on either side of a promontory, a popular holiday spot. We join the crowds strolling along the north beach, enjoying the feel of water and soft sand on bare feet.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Tasman River white

Tasman River white
with glacial silt – white clouds hide
Aoraki's peak

We are hiking the trail through Hooker Valley, following the Tasman River, shallow, studded with boulders, milky white from glacial silt. Alpine flora poke up through the rocky terrain. At the head of the valley looms Aoraki, the highest peak in the Southern Alps, a shawl of white clouds spread over its snow-covered crown. An apron of white ice, the Tasman Glacier, slowly slides down the mountain. Our hike ends at a blue lake where little icebergs calved from the glacier float in the frigid water. Hot from hiking, I jump in fully clothed. Feels great!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

wild bee balm blooming

wild bee balm blooming
in the meadow, nectar for
yellow swallowtail

Monarda, also called wild bergamot, bee balm, horsemint or Oswego tea, is blooming in pinkish-lavender clumps all over the meadows and sunny swaths along the roads. The tiny tubular blossoms clustered at the tip of the stem look like a tasseled head out of a Dr. Seuss story. The flowers attract pollinators able to extract nectar and pollen from the long tubes, such as hummingbirds, butterflies and bees. My apiarist neighbor is happy that her honeybees are foraging on these pesticide-free flowers. The crushed leaves exude a spicy, fragrant oil that tastes like a slightly bitter blend of spearmint, peppermint and oregano. When my Potawatomi friend came for a visit, she was delighted to find bee balm growing in my wildflower garden. She said the plant has long been used by Native Americans as a seasoning for wild game, as well as for medicinal purposes, such as an antiseptic poultice for skin infections and minor wounds, an infusion for headaches and fevers, and a tea for mouth and throat infections. Not just a folk herb, the antimicrobial ingredient of bee balm, thymol, is used commercially as the primary active ingredient in modern mouthwash formulas. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

untying his shoes

untying his shoes,
crossing red socks under red robes,
grinning at the crowd

This is the Dalai Lama's last appearance in Chicago before flying back to India. The large public audiences have left, the formal topics have concluded. This afternoon session is for Theosophical Society member's only, an informal question and answer session. We're gathered in the front rows of the Harris Theater. The Dalai Lama appears and sits down in a wide, low seat on stage. He unties his shoes, crosses his legs and tucks his feet in red socks under his red robes. His right arm is bare. He puts the palms of his big hands together in greeting and grins at us. His expressions and gestures are all so natural, unassuming, friendly. He laughs a lot. After several questions, a man in the back asks whether he remembers his flight into exile. He sits up straighter. "March 17," he begins. "When you have a great fear, you remember every detail." On March 10, 1959, the Chinese sent troops to his summer palace in Llasa, inviting him to their camp just across the river to talk. There was fear among the Tibetans that the Chinese would try to abduct the 23-year-old Dalai Lama, who became political leader of Tibet in 1950 at the time of the Chinese invasion. The Tibetans staged demonstrations, crying, "The Chinese must go! Leave Tibet to the Tibetans!" He says, "I told them to go home, but they wanted to protect me." His aides heard three mortar shells and urged him to leave at once. "I was the one who had to make the decision to flee. I hoped that things would settle down after I left. It was 10 pm. I dressed as a common soldier carrying a rifle. I took off my glasses." He demonstrates by taking off his familiar glasses to show us that he would not be recognizable without them. He left the palace as if taking a stroll, shadowed by bodyguards. "The rifle got heavier and heavier," he recalls. "We could see the Chinese soldiers on the other side of the river. We rode horses and they were . . . " Turning to his Tibetan monk interpreter, he asks for a word. "Trotting, they were making noise and we were afraid the Chinese would hear and shoot us." But they managed to cross the Kyichu River to the protection of the Khampa guerrillas. Then another decision had to be made. Where to go? Two days after his flight, the Chinese discovered he was missing and were searching for him with planes and 50,000 troops. At first he thought to stay somewhere in Tibet, but arrow messages arrived with the news that the Chinese had dropped bombs on the Norbulingka palace, sealed the passes to Sikkim and cut the bridges to Bhutan. The only escape route left was through the mountains to India. He sent a delegation ahead to ask for asylum and was relieved when the Indians gave them permission to enter. Almost two weeks later, they arrived at the Foothills border post and entered India. He has not set foot in his homeland since. "Many years later a Chinese official asked why I say that I am a son of India. I told him two reasons. After 50 years of eating Indian rice," he says, patting his arm, "my body is Indian. And India is my spiritual heritage because Buddhism was brought to Tibet by Indian gurus." Then he adds, "For a thousand years India has integrated many religions. In India, people of different faiths live together in harmony."

crowned with cumulus

crowned with cumulus
clouds Amantani rises
above the deep lake

Amantani Island looks small beneath the towering cumulus clouds and the vast expanse of Lake Titicaca. Small it may be in diameter, 9.82 km (6.1 miles), but its highest peak, Pachatata, is 300 m (984 feet) high. Lake Titicaca at its deepest is 135 m (443 feet deep), so the entire volcanic land mass rising from the bottom of the lake could be as high as 435 m (1,427 feet), and its highest peak stands at 4,050 m (13,287 feet). With no motor vehicles on the island and only a little electricity from solar panels, the population of about 800 families live by manual labor, tilling small plots of wheat, potatoes and quinoa, tending alpaca and sheep, fishing, gathering medicinal plants, carting rocks for a paved walkway up the steep slopes, spinning and weaving and knitting. It's a quiet life and the people seem content with their ancient ways, a rare sight in this modern world. 

ag crash monument

ag crash monument,
smashed and gutted, burrowed nose 
down in a cornfield

Driving home from Chicago on Highway 71, we stop to look at the wreckage of an airplane on the corner of a cornfield just south of Norway, Illinois. The small, 1940s, two-prop passenger Beech Craft C45H N3657G SNAF-461 is burrowed nose down into the ground, smashed and gutted. It's secured to the ground with heavy chains and a coat of bright silver paint covers up the accumulated graffiti of previous years. The green memorial sign in front of the monument does not tell the story of the crash of an airplane, but rather a different kind of crash: "Dedicated to all farmers and ag-related business folks that have lived thru the 'Agricultural Crash' of the 1980s. Mervin & Phyllis Eastwold. Norwegian Implement Co." The corn in the field behind the monument stretches out in tall, green rows, acre upon acre. Ironically, the 1980s crash was likely caused by too many farmers becoming too dependent on the production of too few commodities. Not much has changed. Mile after mile, as we drive through Illinois and Iowa, all we see is corn and soybeans, interrupted from time to time by signs such as this one: "343 acres for sale, will divide." In the middle of what was once nothing but farmland, cornfields are being engulfed by acre upon acre of a new, fast-growing crop, suburban developments of gigantic single-family homes.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

rosy dawn shining

dawn's rosy face
shining through streaks of frosting, 
gathering sweetness

My granddaughter's second birthday. She is clearly enjoying the cake made by her mother. And we are enjoying watching her enjoying.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Puno feria

Puno feria – 
one man pedals a family
with his two strong legs

While we wait for Amaru to shop for food for our picnic at Lake Titicaca, I watch the parade of mototaxis and triciclos transporting people and goods to and from the feria. The passenger triciclos are cleverly designed with two seats in the front and room for purchases between the seats and the man pedaling from behind. Some of them have little awnings for shade and fancy mud flaps. Back at home I have a recumbent trike and it's all I can do to pedal myself, let alone three passengers with their big produce bags and five-gallon jugs. I would love to see this type of zero emission transportation become popular in every town in the world.

stone walls winding up

stone walls winding up
a stony hill to a small
granja made of stones

We have left the paved highway and the bus is bouncing along a dirt road that passes through fields and pastures with sheep and donkeys on one side and low hills full of stones on the other. This remote little farm with all the buildings and fences made of stone looks so isolated, but then I notice the mobile telephone tower on top of the hill and suddenly feel connected to the whole world.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Inti with seven rays

Inti with seven rays
rising on a boulder wet
with Illapu's rain

After our bus gets stuck in the mud in a cow pasture, we hike the rest of the way to the site of the Temple of the Moon on a hillside in a remote area of the Cusco region. The temple is marked by low stone walls with a lovely waterfall at the far end. After we pay our respects to the faqcha, we climb up to a group of volcanic rocks overlooking the falls. Amaru shows us a beautiful seven-rayed sun carved into one of the andesite boulders. He tells us it represents Inti, the Inka sun god, who is married to Mama Kilya, the moon goddess. We sit to meditate and it begins to rain, an auspicious sign. Illapu, the god of rain, is blessing us with his purifying waters.

rain on an empty nest

rain on an empty nest 
mother robin flits and calls
for her lost baby

A couple of days ago when I passed the robin's nest, the lone nestling was hunched down in the bottom, black eyes open, a few more feathers covering its gray skin, while the mother hopped about on the lawn looking for worms and insects. Today, dark clouds clot the sky and the wind is blowing the apple tree, tossing the nest about. The mother flits from branch to branch, clucking in distress. Holding my breath, I peek inside the nest. Empty. That baby is too young to fly. Maybe it fell out and is somewhere near? One time I found a baby bird teetering around on the ground, the parents hovering in a nearby tree, chirping. My birder friend said the parents will continue to feed the baby until it can fly. Like this mother robin, I start looking around for the missing baby, searching the grass under the tree. Nothing. Fat drops of rain begin to fall and I make a dash for cover. All day long I feel restless, remembering the empty nest. All that work, for what? But life goes on. In a few days the mother will feel an urge to gather mud and grass. She will build another neat little nest, lay more beautiful blue eggs, patiently warm them through the bare spot on her breast.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

long slender green pods

long slender green pods
full of flat seeds with two wings
to waft on the wind

This young catawba has a peculiar penchant for producing little corkscrew pods that sometimes curl around their long straight neighbors. In early summer, the prolific catawba blossoms clustered on their long stems have fallen, replaced by foot-long green seedpods dangling from the branches, each pod containing numerous seeds. As the pods mature they gradually turn purple and then brown. My sister and I used to pass a big catawba tree on the way to school and we would pretend to smoke the "lady cigars." We didn't know that it was a no-no to put them in our mouth, because they contain a mild narcotic and sedative. Perhaps that's what got us through boring school days! When the brown pods split open the seeds slip out. The seeds are long and thin and brown, with a delicate fringed wing on each end. If the seeds simply fell to the ground beneath the tree, they would have little chance of growing in the dense shade of the enormous leaves, so each seed comes equipped with wings to aid in wind dispersal. The seeds will sprout in almost any soil. Because of tree grows quickly and the wood is resistance to rot, it was long favored for fence posts and railroad ties. But don't try to eat the roots, they're poisonous!

Monday, July 11, 2011

ruffled white trumpet

ruffled white trumpet
blossoms beckon bees by day,
entice moths by night

In spring, the big round buds of the catawba burst open to reveal wadded white blossoms inside. Magically, they unfold like tissue paper origami into ruffled orchidlike blooms. By early summer, dozens of blossoms hang from each pendulous panicle. Then the catawba gets down to the business of procreation. Working round the clock, the flowers turn on double charms to attract pollinators. By day, bees are drawn by sight to the golden yellow strips and dotted magenta lines on the "landing pad" of the flower leading to the nectar in the center. Bees prefer the colors red and yellow, but they have little sense of smell. So why does the catawba exude such an intoxicating fragrance? By night, moths flock to the intensely sweet scent and thus continue the pollination process. When the flowers finally fall, they carpet the grass so thickly it looks like snow in summer. Not all of the profusion of blossoms get pollinated, but the ones that do produce extravagantly long slender green seedpods that dangle down between the huge heart-shaped leaves.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

heart-shaped green leaves sprout

heart-shaped green leaves sprout
from the lightning-blasted trunk
of the old catawba

This tall catawba bears a sinuous scar where lightning log ago seared the trunk from bottom to top. The hollowed base opens like a buttressed knave in a cathedral, harboring a mystical font surrounded by a host of heart-shaped leaves from suckers sprouting out of the damaged base. The leaves of the catawba are large, up to a foot long, providing copious shade and shelter, which makes the tree popular with birds. The catawba tree derives its name from the Catawba tribe who lived on the banks of the Catawba River, a tributary of the Wateree River in the Carolinas. The Catawba were known in their own language as the Kawahcatawbas, "the people of the river." Due to a transcription error by the botanist who first described the tree, it is also called catalpa. Another folk name for the catawba is fish bait tree, because it attracts  green and yellow caterpillars, the larva of the catalpa sphinx moth, which make excellent live bait. The caterpillars are so voracious that they can defoliate an entire tree, but it will usually recover and send up new sprouts. The catawba grows rapidly, as much as two feet a year when young, and survives in most conditions, from caterpillar infestation, poor soil, polluted cities and windswept prairies, where pioneers took the hardy trees to plant on their new homesteads. This huge specimen could be 150 years old. It stands not far from Henn Mansion, built in 1857 by Bernhardt Henn, a pioneer banker in Fairfield, Iowa, after it was founded in 1836.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

one lone baby bird

one lone baby bird
in a nest where there were once
three blue robin's eggs

Every time I've passed the apple tree, the mother robin has been sitting on her nest, perfectly filling the round opening like a domed lid on a tea cup. The gray and black feathers on her back and wings and head blend in with the branches of the tree and the grasses and mud of the nest. Only her rust-orange breast peeping above the rim of the nest signals her presence, but to most observers she would be invisible. Yesterday she was perched on the rim of the nest and I saw an open beak poking up out of the nest. As soon as she saw me she flew away, clucking her displeasure. From telephoto distance I dared a quick peak at the baby birds that must have recently hatched from the three blue eggs I had seen a week ago. But all I saw was one fuzzy baby, curled up, eyes closed. No egg shells, but the mother robin would have carried off the fragments. What happened to the other two eggs? Snakes, squirrels, mice, cats, blue jays and crows all eat bird eggs. Predators usually eat all the eggs, so this nestling was lucky to survive. I hope I didn't advertise the presence of the nest to jays or crows, because they are highly intelligent and by watching the nest I may have inadvertently led them to their next meal. This one lone nestling will not have to compete with nest mates for food, so at least it has a better chance of surviving long enough to take flight.

Friday, July 8, 2011

hollowed maple trunk

hollowed maple trunk – 
halo of sunlight pierces
the dark cavity

The trunk of this Silver Maple is completely hollow from base to the jagged edge of one limb that has fallen off, letting light stream in from top to bottom. I can easily step inside the cavity and look out the "window" left by another amputated limb. It's amazing how a tree can keep on growing when its insides are gone, but even the gnarled lichen-covered bark is sprouting new leaves below a lopped off limb.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

whitecaps on smooth stones

whitecaps on smooth stones  
a girl gazes at the waves
lapping her home

Our last day in Peru. The Pacific Ocean laps the shores of Lima and I am drawn to the water. We head to Miraflores, down the Costa Verde Road to Playa Waikiki, named by Carolos Dogny, a Peruvian sugarcane heir who returned to Lima from Hawaii in 1942 with a surfboard. However, this Waikiki beach is not composed of sugar sand but smooth stones the size of mangoes that make a knocking sound when the waves roll over them and roll them over. Just walking on these slippery, sliding stones is a challenge. Like its namesake, Playa Waikiki is a surfer's paradise. Almost everyone is suiting up, paddling out or riding the waves back in. Entering the water without a board is not easy. Most of the women in my group are just enjoying sunbathing, but one of them attempts to enter the water, gets knocked down, dragged under and battered with rocks. I have had experience with stony beaches and big waves, so I inch my way in when the waves recede, then brace as each crest hits my legs. My feet sink into the stones and I grip with my toes to keep my balance. Finally I'm far enough out to swim, but it's difficult to make any headway against the waves and I don't want to go out too far. Coming back out is as tricky as getting in. The waves want to draw me away from the shore. When I'm back on the stones, I spend the rest of the time picking them up and admiring their many colors, contours and patterns, while my friend from Chile gazes wistfully at the ocean, at the same water that touches her home.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

rabbit nibbling white

rabbit nibbling white
clover, freezes on the path,
bolts into the brush

So many cottontail rabbits this year. Maybe it's all the rain. They line the mowed edges of the gravel road, nibbling dandelions and legumes such as white clover and birdsfoot trefoil with their sharp, constantly growing incisors. In winter they will gnaw the bark off of trees. The cottontail rabbit got its name from its short, fluffy white tail. The rabbit's underbelly is also white, while the rest of its soft, silky fur is gray speckled with black tips and cinnamon red on the back of the neck and legs. The rabbit's fur is not waterproof and needs constant grooming to keep in good condition. Rabbits eyes and ears are both keen, and they can rotate those long ears to catch sounds from different directions. Normally they hop, pushing off with their strong hind legs, but when threatened they can run at speeds up to 18 miles per hour, but only for about half a mile. Sometimes they will squat and freeze in an attempt to fool a predator. Cottontails are quite prolific, producing three to six young in a litter with two or three litters a year. Their population is mainly kept in balance by foxes, skunks, coyotes, owls, hawks, snakes and dogs. We have all of these predators in our area, but the rabbits, for now, seem to be ahead of the game.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

white dandelion puff

white dandelion puff,
shriveled yellow blossom still
clinging to the seeds

To this day I love to pick a dandelion puff and blow on it to watch the seeds drift away on their little white parachutes. As children we believed that the number of times it took to blow all of the seeds off told you how many years it would be before you got married! This particular dandelion caught my attention because the dead flower was still stuck to the side of the seed head, like a comical clown's hat. All parts of this amazing plant are both beautiful and useful. The round fringed blossoms with their radiating petals look like hundreds of yellow suns as they pop up all over the green lawns. Herbalists find many medicinal uses for the blooms, leaves and the roots. My mother always had us chew the leaves as a spring tonic. These deeply serrated leaves give the dandelion its name, derived from French, dent de lion, tooth of the lion. Even the hollow stem is useful, at least to rabbits. I once watched one eat nipping the stem off at the base, hold the tube in its mouth like a straw and nibble it from one end to the other. When the yellow flower dies, it is replaced by the amazing globe of seeds, each with its tiny white star ready to launch on the wind. 

Monday, July 4, 2011

July Fourth -- blue sky

July Fourth – blue sky,
picnic, baseball, firecrackers, 
feeding honey bees 

A perfect day to celebrate Independence. Everywhere I look I see red, white and blue. Blue sky and sunshine outlining everything in white highlights. Family and friends gather for a picnic. Uncle John's special barbecue sauce on the ribs, Italian bread, red raspberry and apples in the fruit salad, cherry tomatoes, potato salad, homemade lemonade in a blue jug, cookies and cream ice cream. The grownup Little League baseball players put on gloves and pitch a white baseball around the circle. The kids and grownup kids set off bottle rockets and firecrackers in red-white-blue wrappers. Our apiarist dons her white suit and opens the white bee hives to feed the honey bees sugar water.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

spider silk entwines

spider silk entwines
nascent Queen Anne's Lace blossom,
white enshrouding white

I'm sure this bud's urge to expand will overcome the constraints of the spider silk wrapped tightly around it. The wild Queen Anne's Lace, in various stages of blooming, is popping up all along the verge of the gravel road from its carrot-like roots. Everything about Queen Anne's Lace is as beautiful as its name: the buds with their elegant green ruff, the graceful curve of the slender stem, the ferny leaves, the basket of tiny white blossoms, each like a little star swirling in a cluster galaxy, and later the beautiful brown seed heads which the goldfinches will feed on when snow covers everything else.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

farmer in a red shirt

farmer in a red shirt
making hay in a John Deere
tractor and baler

This farmer has just a few last windrows to make into giant round hay bales. But his giant John Deere baler keeps getting hung up. The farmer has to stop his giant John Deere tractor, climb down out of the cab, walk around to the back of the baler and mess around with the mechanism that allows the bales to pop out the back. A big man wearing a bright red shirt, he still looks very small and vulnerable next to the monstrous machine. Farming can be dangerous work and accidents with machinery are all too common. 

Friday, July 1, 2011

sweltering summer day

sweltering summer day  
a farmer drives backwards down 
a windrow baling hay

In a laudable act of conservation and economy, this farmer has cut the grass in the easement between the highway and his cornfield. After raking the grass into one long windrow and  allowing it to dry for a couple of hot sunny days, the farmer is out baling in 98 degree F (110 with the humidity factor). Since this is a such small area, not a big hayfield, he is making small rectangular bales, rather than the huge round bales that weigh 660-880 lbs (400-400 kg). The farmer's small Farmall tractor does not have an air-conditioned cab like the big tractors, only a large green umbrella for shade and a blue jug of water for hydration. He drives his tractor backwards, turning around in his seat to guide the baler down the windrow. This type of mobile baler, which both gathers and bales the hay, was first developed around 1940. A cylindrical corkscrew picks up the grass, sends it to an inner chamber where it is packed into bales and wrapped in heavy twine. Then the bales move up a chute and drop to the ground. Periodically the farmer, sporting a white walrus mustache, gets off his tractor to lift the 70-100 lb (32-45 kg) bales from the windrow and set them down next to the fence. I can't believe he's doing such hard labor in this heat, but farming is always tied to crop and weather conditions. Ideally, the hay is cut when the grass is tall and the seed heads are not quite mature. Once it's cut, moisture in the form of rain or humidity can spoil the hay, so there is only about a two-week window for haymaking. Farmers work in all kinds of weather and around the clock when they have to, and it's still a risky business. But this farmer is completely cheerful, stopping to answer my questions and exchange compliments about our straw hats.