Saturday, March 31, 2012

still life with green oranges

still life with green oranges,
pineapple and three bottles
of Mexican beer

I imagine Gauguin or Matisse painting this still life -- a shiny aluminum pan piled with green oranges, one ripe pineapple and three bottles of Mexican beer arranged carefully against an orange wall and table on a street in Playa del Carmen.

Friday, March 30, 2012

a pair of gold bells

a pair of gold bells
in the white church tower below
the moon, above balloons 

Our first night in Playa del Carmen, we walk the main street, a pedestrian street running parallel to the beach. At one end, near the ferry dock, we pass a beautiful little church, Nuestra Senora del Carmen, with its twin golden bells lit up in the white triple arched tower. A wedding is underway inside, while outside a balloon seller hawks his wares and the veiled moon looks down on the white sand beach, the white church and the wide street full of people.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

wads of wool roving

wads of wool roving
undulate across the sky
in voluptuous waves

Late March, for a breathtaking half hour the entire dome of the sky is covered with billowing blue-gray clouds rising and falling in waves. Altostratus undulatus form when the air above and below the cloud layer is moving at different speeds and directions, pulling, twisting and shearing the clouds into intricate, fast-changing patterns. Sometimes it looks as if the waves crest over the tops of trees, but this ocean of clouds is too high to be affected by mere landlubbers.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

gold fringed white blossoms

gold fringed white blossoms
clustered on the wands of wild 
plum -- sweet scent of spring

In March dense thickets of wild plums in bloom brighten the open margins between woods and road and along stream banks. Each delicate five-petaled flower supports a thick fringe of golden anthers on long white filaments, and every single blossom exudes an intoxicating fragrance that attracts pollinators and people alike. The masses of snow-white blossoms announce that spring is springing.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

cotton candy pink

cotton candy pink
blooms pop from bare black branches,
beacon for long-tongue bees

This tree should really be called pinkbud or magenta bud, but redbud is easier to say and conveys the feeling of a tree burning with bright flames covering its curving, charcoal branches. The Eastern Redbud, native to eastern and parts of midwestern United States, puts on a vivid display in early spring when the showy flowers pop out from the bare branches and even the trunk of the small, spreading tree. The tubular, two-tone blossoms, cotton candy pink and maraschino cherry, are pollinated by long-tongue bees such as carpenter bees. It is a favorite ornamental tree in urban areas, but it is even more of a delightful surprise to see it flashing among still-dormant oaks, hickories, maples and elms in the woods and on the banks of rivers.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

she wears a violin

she wears a violin,
a flute, and tulip colors
on a mint green bike

Birds of a feather flock together to flaunt their colorful springtime plumage and make music. Instant bonding takes place when Moon Love, an opera singer who dresses for the role every day, meets Phoebe, the goddess of the Moon, who dresses like a bouquet of tulips and plays a handmade violin with a rabbit head. Phoebe rides off on her equally colorful bike, and every day after that, Moon can be heard crying, "Where is my Phoebe?"

Saturday, March 24, 2012

young face, ancient eyes

young face, ancient eyes,
a girl in a Disney dress 
leans on her father's back

In the lobby of Hotel Alhambra, a man holding a baby on his shoulder chats with the hotel clerk. The lettering on his white shirt reads "Excellence Playa Mujeres Mexico." His daughter, wearing a Disney princess, stands with upraised hand and downcast eyes, as regal as the first ruler of the Maya.

Friday, March 23, 2012

faerie hankies

faerie hankies glow
lacy white in the meadow
on a foggy morn

Every day I pass the same patch of wildflowers, blind to the invisible spider webs ensconced on the dead stalks. This morning the fog reveals their secret, outlining the delicate strands with sparkling dewdrops so that the silken cups glow like little lanterns in the dim light. As children, we called them faerie hankies, secretive and ethereal, or granny's doilies, like the white lace doilies that decorated every surface in our grandmother's house.
          The spider that weaves this sheet web is even more invisible than its web. About the size of a sesame seed, with black and white striped legs, it hangs upside down between two horizontal sheets, the upper one thicker than the lower one, with the whole contraption suspended from vertical threads of silk. The spider waits in the empty space between the capture net and its own safety net. When a flying insect bumbles into the tangled obstacle course, it tumbles down on the concave mat and gets caught by the spider waiting below.
          When I return home in the afternoon, the sun has burned away the fog and the faerie hankies have vanished. But now that I know where to look, I am able to spot the tiny spider, seemingly suspended in midair between the dead stalks.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

sugar sand, silver

sugar sand, silver
waves, brown pelicans diving,
blue and yellow ferries

Our first sight of the beach at Xaman Ha' (Maya for "waters of the north") is on a cloudy afternoon in early March. Xaman Ha', renamed Playa del Carmen by the Spanish, was originally a small fishing village and rest stop for travelers from the great Mayan cities to the island of Cozumel. Today, Playa is a busy balneario, a seaside resort on the Caribbean coast in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo. It's a popular tourist city, though not as crowded as CancĂșn. We're staying in Alhambra Hotel, right on the beach, so naturally the first thing I do is walk in the lapping waves, laugh at the antics of brown pelicans diving for fish, and watch the blue and yellow Cozumel ferries pulling in and out of the dock.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

with tattered black wings

with tattered black wings
a carpenter bee slowly 
circles a low green leaf

While pulling out dead stalks from the bed by our front door, I spot a carpenter bee on a silver dollar leaf close to the ground. The fuzzy golden vest above the metallic black body shows that it's a docile, stingless male. When I stoop to take a closeup, he just continues walking slowly in circles around the leaf. 
          This bee's ancestors have done a lot of damage to our house by boring holes in the cedar boards. They're so loud you can actually hear them gnawing away at the wood, and they leave little piles of sawdust beneath their work sites. I've spent quite a few hours high up on a ladder patching the holes. However, this particular bee's shiny black wings are so tattered, I think his flying days may be over, so I leave him to his solitary earthbound journey.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

a carpet of pink

a carpet of pink
petals beneath the Saucer
Magnolia's out flung arms

On the Spring Equinox, a magnificent Saucer Magnolia, covered with a froth of pink blossoms, puts on a grand display of the beauty of spring. The fragile flowers, blown by the wind, drift down like pink snow, carpeting the grass with pink petals. This ornamental tree, which originated in China, is also called Tulip Magnolia because of the vase-like shape of the flowers before they fully open. The strange spell of hot weather in early March has given the Magnolias in our area a rare chance to come into full bloom, and the air all around the tree is filled with the sweet scent. Many a spring, the blossoms open only to turn brown during a late frost.
          Scientists say that Magnolia blossoms are some of the most primitive of flowers. If you look at the center of the petals, you will see what looks like a red tassel. A closer look at this reproductive structure reveals many curled stigma. When fertilized, the stigma develop into an aggregate fruit like a blackberry, except Magnolia fruits are hard and dry rather than soft and juicy. The seed head looks quite exotic, like a turban with bright red beads popping out from a cone of curved pouches. The leaves, which begin to appear as the blossoms drop, are wide, pointed at the tip, deep green and quite leathery, turning a golden brown when they in turn fall, smothering anything that attempts to grow beneath the tree. Even so, one can see why the Magnolia is a favorite ornamental specimen tree.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

hidden behind

hidden behind
the daffodil's yellow trumpet,
a crab spider lurking

When I left for the Yucatan at 3:30 am in early March, the thermometer read 15 F (-9 C) and the frozen landscape consisted of dead brown grass and bare branches. When I returned ten days later, it was 86 F (30 C), hotter than the tropics, with green shoots of grass and early spring flowers all abloom.
          Today I sit under a pin oak beside a coterie of daffodils to take a portrait. With ruffled yellow trumpets held above the six pointed petals that form the perianth, they look like Renaissance ladies with golden crowns and white ruffs. I choose one and bring the camera as close as I can to capture the graceful shapes emerging from the daffodil's yellow corona: the three semi-circular lobes of the stigma at the end of the style and the pollen-encrusted anthers.
          That's when I notice a small black bug crawling up one of the columnar filaments. The next instant, a brown crab spider, lying in ambush, darts out from behind the corona, brandishing its long forelegs as if to say, "That's MY bug, back off!" We play a little game of hide and seek as I try to get a close-up of the spider. Meanwhile, the little black bug wanders off along the ruffled edge of the daffodil's corona. Just as quickly as it appeared, the spider dives out of sight. Game over, back to business.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Irish moss climbs up

Irish moss climbs up
the trunk of a twisted tree
at Castle Archdale

The grounds of Castle Archdale, once a large estate in County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland, is now a county park. The once carefully tended gardens have gone wild, unwinding centuries of domestication. Perhaps St. Patrick rested under this ancient tree with its twisted limbs covered with moss. But I rather imagine he missed catching a glimpse of the Good People flitting through the lush greenery.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

melt holes on Jack's Pond

melt holes on Jack's Pond
fuzzy around the edges
where snow meets ice

We're getting more snow in March than we have all winter. Snowfall all day and into the night, changing from slanting clumps to floating feather flakes to tiny pellets. It's a world of black and white. The ice holes on Jack's Pond look like fuzzy black caterpillars. A diorama of white mastodons curves along the black wire holding the bamboo fence together. A snow serpent undulates along the top of the steel bike rack. And white icing lines the fractal limbs of a Black Locust.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

miniature landscapes

miniature landscapes
drawn with number two pencil
line the walls of Bill's Room

ICON Gallery has a new installation in the upstairs gallery, Bill's Room. It's lined with miniature landscapes of suns, moons, water, clouds and trees, all slowly and carefully drawn with number two pencil by the artist and gallery owner, Bill Teeple.
          "Ever since I opened ICON," Bill says, "I've been so busy with art shows and classes that I haven't taken the time to do my own art. For a long time now, I've been wanting to have my own studio right here in the gallery so I have a place to work."
          Bill's Room is in the back of the building, up a short, open staircase. A shoji screen separates the room from the main gallery. In the middle of the room he's constructed a two-tatami-mat platform with a low Japanese-style table held together with wooden pegs. A slanted drawing board rests in the middle of the table, bracketed by handmade blank books and a case of drawing pencils.
          "I want to get a zabuton to sit on," he says. He starts to walk onto the platform, then stops. "I guess I'd better take my shoes off." 
          Bill sits zazen style, picks up a yellow mechanical pencil and makes tiny marks on the drawing in progress. Immediately his attention is totally drawn into the creative process. Each miniature drawing takes an untold number of hours. The result is soft and luminous, an invitation to go deep into another world.
          In sharp contrast to the pencil drawings, two of Bill's colorful abstract paintings occupy their own space on two of the four walls. A pair of gigantic speakers masquerading as sculptures emit soft music. The delicate and dazzling art work, the wabi sabi art table, the flowing music, and the serenity of Bill absorbed in creativity envelopes everyone who enters this magical space.

Friday, March 2, 2012

early March surprise

early March surprise
snowfall coats the north face of
everything standing still

Early March, that adolescent time between Winter and Spring, one moment throwing a tantrum, the next moment a warm hug. The day begins mildly enough, gray sky, just above freezing. Mid-morning, big blobs of wet snow pelting sideways. A girl in white tights and a puffy red jacket scurries by under a purple umbrella. Trees, plastered white on the north side, look like skeletons. A tree peony wears a crown capped with ermine. By mid-afternoon, it's warming up and the snow turns to sleet and slush. Wind blows the heavy, wet snow off the branches, splattering and riddling the granular crystals on the ground. The white icing on trees, poles and buildings sags and sinks like sinuous white snakes.