Tuesday, January 31, 2012

double transparent

double transparent 
glass reflects a distorted 
stone courthouse facade

A myopic image of the county courthouse, doubled, distorted, appears to reside inside the window, but turn around and there the stone building stands, singular, unbending. 

Monday, January 30, 2012

snow shadows untouched

snow shadows untouched
by sun's fingers, riddled with 
holes, slowly shrinking

Unseasonably warm. Only a few holdout patches of snow, protected from the reach of the sun's fingers by tree trunks, logs, creek bank, but pocked and shrinking. One little splotch looks like a face crying, "Help! I'm melting!" The ice on the creek is also riddled with holes, sinking below a thin layer of melt water, while underneath, the free-flowing current tunnels like a mole through the frangible ice.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

little horse alone

little horse alone
again, twin bull companions
vanished with the snow

The day before yesterday I stopped to visit the three companions in the little pasture on the outskirts of town. The miniature black horse was grazing by the fence while the twin bulls were lying in the grass nearby. When I approached the bulls got up and eyed me a little skittishly. I didn't have any apples, so I picked some long grass and held it over the wire fence. That got their attention and they all came right up to the barrier. One of the bulls stayed back a bit but the other one nosed and licked the grass with his big pink tongue. The horse seemed to know how to be hand fed and took several offerings. When the horse moved away, both of the bulls nuzzled their little friend.
          Yesterday the sun melted most of the snow in the field. I saw the little black horse all alone, no sign of the twin bulls. She was walking slowly with her head down, not held high as she used to do when she ambled through the pasture with her brown friends. Horses and cows are both herd animals, so I feel sorry for the little black horse, once again alone. Sorry, too, for the fate of the departed bulls. 

Saturday, January 28, 2012

that mysterious

that mysterious
something that puts together
syllables and words

Mahasaraswati Day, Day of Total Knowledge. It's late January. In the early morning I creep into town on black ice to listen to a lady talk about Mahasaraswati, goddess of knowledge, science, arts and music. She says, "Maha means great, sara means pure silence of a still lake, swa means the Self, and ti means the dynamism of silence. Mahasaraswati is silence in motion, the flow of total knowledge."
          As she speaks I picture the painting of Mahasaraswati propped on a bookcase in my study, a spirit painting made by Mangku Liyer, a Balinese shaman-priest. Memory takes me back to the summer of 2001. I have just arrived in Bali, visiting my friend Robin Lim, and she takes me to an odalan celebrating the birthday of a temple in Nyuh Kuning, where Mangku Liyer is performing some of the ceremonies. Robin introduces me as a "mantra meditator" and he immediately invites me to visit him. 
          Some days later Robin takes me with her to his home in Ubud. She wants him to make a charm to protect her from a black witch. Mangku Liyer is sitting cross-legged on a mat outside his room. He is a tiny man with a big grin that reveals some missing teeth. After we visit for awhile, he shows me his spirit paintings. He says the images come to him in a vision and they have great spiritual powers.
          I am immediately drawn to one of Mahasaraswati. Unlike the Indian depictions I have seen of her wearing a white sari, she is dressed in Balinese temple attire and her peacock looks more like a turkey, but she has that same serene smile. I tell him that I write and paint, and he says it would be good for me to have this painting. Then he shows me another painting he thinks will help in my meditation practice. It is a strange figure of a man. After I gaze at it for a few moments, he asks me what I feel about it. 
          "The man has four legs," I reply, "so he is well grounded. His hands are pressed together in anjuli mudra, so he is full of devotion. His eyes are in his chest, so he sees with his heart, rather than his head. He has three flames in place of a head, representing the knower, the process of knowing and the known. His crown chakra is very well developed, and his physical body is surrounded by a wide aura of subtle energy."
          "Exactly," Mangku Liyer says, with an even bigger grin. He says the money for the paintings will allow his granddaughter to finish school, which makes me happy to know that the goddess of total knowledge is taking care of this girl's education. Mankgu Liyer arranges to have the paintings framed in carved wood and delivered to me in a cardboard case for carrying on the airplane, something I would never be allowed to do a few months later.
          Now the two paintings reside side by side in my home, their presence a reminder that the deepest knowledge comes from that silent place within.

Friday, January 27, 2012

blades of sunlight pierce

blades of sunlight pierce
dark pines, carving snow into
fantastic sculptures

Snow piled alongside the road winding up the hill from the river to Sensei's house has been sculpted by the slanting rays of the sun into fanciful shapes. This one looks like a grinning gremlin carrying a gnome with a peaked white cap on his shoulders.

A chameleon perched on top of a white rock.

A white bear clasping a pine branch.

A man in a snowsuit with a shovel on his shoulder stands beside his snow sculpture of an enormous white owl. 

An old woman feeding her dogs.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

cloaked by freezing fog

cloaked by freezing fog
dark apparitions hover --
memory of trees

Opening the gate this morning, I am wrapped in a pale blue muffler of freezing fog. A pair of white tails bounds into the woods, vanishing in a heartbeat, slashes of bright white swallowed by fuliginous white. The frozen lake gets a second coat of freezing fog, flocking every branch and vine. The blurred forms of dark pines along the shore seem like the mere memory of trees, phantoms floating between white and white. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

lone sundog follows

lone sundog follows
its master, guarding the sun
from dark cloud demons

Whenever I see a combination of clouds and sunset, I race to the highest hill for the show. This evening the sky fills with inky feathers of cirrus uncinus clouds, blown into lovely curves by high winds. Just above the horizon the sun dips into a gap between two layers of ice-crystal clouds and the refracted light creates a single parhelia, a mock sun that looks like a piece of rainbow dipped in gold. On the same level as the sun, the sundog appears to be separated by a hand's width held at arm's length. Like a faithful dog, the sundog brings up the rear, guarding its master from dark cloud demons hovering above.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

angels with fiberglass

angels with fiberglass
hair streaming in the wind high
above mortal heads

At noon a fleet of solemn cumulus barges sails slowly across the sky, followed by a sprightly chorus of cirrofibratus angels trailing their fiberglass hair in streamers as they zoom across the azure dome, driven by a force we earth-bound mortals cannot feel.

Monday, January 23, 2012

crepuscular rays

crepuscular rays
fanning through holes in blue clouds
touch snow-filled furrows

White sunbeams shining through holes in blue stratocumulus clouds fan out like reflections of the snow-filled furrows radiating from a line of bare black trees. It's all perspective. The rays of sunlight are actually equidistant but appear to diverge from behind the clouds, in the same way that the parallel furrows seem to widen as they get nearer. I am grateful for this illusion of expansion, so much more interesting than lines that never meet.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

in a snowy pasture

in a snowy pasture
little black horse, two brown bulls
graze on clumps of grass

As soon as it gets light, the three companions emerge from a little red shed to forage until dark on clumps of grass poking up through patches of snow in the dappled pasture. When I approach from the road, the little black horse, standing knee deep in the snow, looks up first. Then the twin bulls stop grazing and turn their heads in my direction. They've grown quite a bit since last summer. The miniature horse looks just the same except for a thicker coat. As the three continue to gaze at me, I can't tell whether they're just curious or fearful. After a long moment of examination, the black horse walks rather quickly over to one of the brown bulls and stops near his protective flank. I leave my offering of three red apples just inside the fence and return the way I came.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

under the neon

under the neon
Shaiko Sushi sign, black lacquer
plate glows pink blue green

On a Friday evening in January, Shaiko Sushi is packed with diners. Our small Midwestern town, population 9,500, offers a surprisingly wide range of ethnic restaurants, from  Mexican to Chinese, Indian, Thai, Middle Eastern and Japanese. Shaiko Sushi is the newest establishment, a hole-in-the-wall with a few tables and stools along the bar, where diners can watch a basketball game on the big screen TV. In the tiny kitchen the chef creates culinary works of art that are both exquisite and delicious, like this plate of makizushi. Even though it's way below freezing outside, a small vestibule keeps out the cold air, while the happy, laughing customers and delectable food warm the inside.

Friday, January 20, 2012

sitting on her hope

sitting on her hope
chest at age sixteen, filled with

My father must have been full of hope for me when he made me a hope chest for my sixteenth birthday. For months he worked on it. Drawing the design. Selecting the wide tiger cherry lumber. Cutting and planing the planks. Carving the design of flowers representing my heritage: Irish shamrock, Scots thistle, English rose, Missouri sunflower. Carving the inscription on the front: Viva Carole Lee Craver. Jigsawing the drop border. Dovetailing the panels together. Attaching the brass handles. Sanding, polishing and shellacking the exterior until it was as smooth as my face. When it was finally finished, he said, "With age, cherry will turn darker, but that's part of its beauty."
          It came to me empty. It was supposed to be filled with things I would need for my marriage. Slowly the empty hope chest got filled, with patchwork quilts from my grandmothers and great-grandmother, linen napkins and tablecloths from my mother, embroidered cotton pillowcases and crocheted afghans from my aunts, my own baby quilt made by the ladies of my mother's sewing circle. And they all got used for my own family of three sons, except the pink baby quilt which eventually got passed on to my granddaughter. Later, most of them found their way back into the hope chest, wrapped up with tissue paper and lavender sachets. They're still there, patiently waiting. 

Thursday, January 19, 2012

bitter wind -- white sun

bitter wind -- white sun 
masked by undulating cloud 
rolls mirroring snow

The sun pales, sapped by bitter wind (wind chill -12 F, -24.4 C) and masked by opaque waves of white and gray cloudlets (altocumulus opacus undulatus). Despite the cold and wind, I take a moment to admire the perlescent sun glowing through wavy white rolls of clouds above a stage of sparkling snow.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

locust tree toppled

locust tree toppled
across the creek, thorny bridge
for little feet

In its meanderings Pilgrim Creek carves a sinuous path through the woods, piling sand, mud and debris on one side, undercutting the earth on the opposite side. The roots of trees on the edge of the bank find themselves dangling in the air. Eventually they lose their hold and the tree topples across the creek. Small woodland creatures often use the trunks as natural bridges, but I do not think any of them will venture across the double trunk of this honey locust, bristling with long sharp spikes. During last spring's flooding, the tree speared leaves and twigs on its thorns, camouflaging but not completely concealing the danger. 
          People who canoe call a tree that has fallen across or into the water a "strainer," something to be avoided. It's dangerous because the force of water flowing through the colander of branches will hold a canoe or a person against the tree. The best thing to do if this happens is to get out of the boat and pull yourself over the strainer or get on top of it and sit there. You'll be easier to find sitting on top rather than floating down the stream. Pilgrim Creek is too small for paddling, but you certainly wouldn't want to get caught on a strainer like this, since climbing or sitting on a thorn tree would be extremely uncomfortable!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

green ice on the creek

green ice on the creek,
stranger than silver ice bubbles
or green tea ice cream

Freezing rain followed by snow and strong winds. Pilgrim Creek is bedecked with ribbons and bows of green ice, frozen blue-green algae. Strangely beautiful, but most likely toxic.
          Many streams contain some form of algae. A certain amount is not damaging but large amounts, algae blooms, can be detrimental. Blue-green algae is an organism that has characteristics of both a plant and a bacteria, called cyanobacteria. When algae die and decompose they consume large amounts of oxygen which causes an oxygen deficiency. Cyanobacteria thrive in an oxygen-deprived environment and release harmful substances which are toxic to mammals, birds and fish. They also block sunlight, harming other water plants by interrupting the photosynthesis process.
          The algae's toxins can sicken people. Contact with the water can cause skin or respiratory irritation, and drinking it can cause diarrhea, nausea, cramps, jaundice and vomiting. Dogs exposed to the toxins in the water can become ill almost immediately, with drooling, vomiting, staggering and convulsions. A number of dogs have died as a result of playing in water with blue-green algae blooms.
          Of course, right now the algae is frozen. But even so, it poses a danger for all the wildlife who walk through the creek and drink its water. I see tracks of deer, fox, rabbits, raccoons, opossums, squirrels, wild turkey and other birds all over the snow covering the creek, especially around holes where the ice has melted. 
          The main cause of excess algae growth here is nutrients from the run-off of chemical fertilizers used on crops. Would that farmers would use a safe and natural alternative!

Monday, January 16, 2012

a heart full of grace

a heart full of grace,
a soul generated by love --
you can serve and be great

"Everybody can be great. Because everybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don't have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don't have to know Einstein's theory of relativity to serve. You don't have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love. And you can be that servant . . . ." ~ Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

At the climax of his "I have a dream" speech, King, the final speaker at the March on Washington in 1963, raises his arm on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and calls for deliverance with the words from an old spiritual hymn: "Free at last! Free at last! Thank God almighty, we are free at last!"

We are so fortunate that great people like King come along at the right time when they are needed, and their rightness and greatness just keep on growing with the passing of time.

Speaking of carrying on his work, King advised: "Remember, celebrate, act a day on, not a day off!"

Sunday, January 15, 2012

silver ice bubbles

silver ice bubbles
curve through deer and rabbit prints
on the creek's soft snow

Two days after the blizzard, the snow is softening on Pilgrim Creek, stamped with the imprints of deer and rabbits. A narrow ribbon of ice bubbles looks like a necklace of silver pearls on white velvet.