Friday, September 28, 2012

Indian Summer

Indian Summer --
wild plum leaves russet beneath 
a cottonball sky

Indian Summer, the sunny, colorful hiatus between Summer green and Winter gray. Puffball altocumulus clouds punctuate an intensely blue sky, contrasting with the vivid fall foliage. Even the poison ivy looks gorgeous decked out in brilliant burgundy, copper and gold.

The secret of this magic leaf transformation is that the leaves don't actually "turn" red or orange or yellow, they just lose their green, like this shagbark hickory leaf, which is gradually going from green to yellow.

These oak leaves have red polish on their "finger nails."

Several pigment colors are in the leaves all along: green chlorophyll, red anthocyanin and yellow caratenoid. In summer the leaves are busy putting light together with water and carbon dioxide to produce oxygen and glucose. Photosynthesis takes place with the help of chlorophyll, and the predominance of this green pigment hides the red and yellow. This sumac leaf is experiencing chlorophyll withdrawal.

When the days get shorter, there's not enough light for photosynthesis, so plants stop taking up water and eating light and prepare to live through the winter on stored sugar. As the green chlorophyll fades from the leaves, the underlying pigments appear. When there's more anthocyanin, the leaves appears red, like these compound staghorn sumac leaves.

More caratenoid, and the leaf appears yellow, as seen in this compound shagbark hickory leaf.

A mixture of anthocyanin and caratenoid results in orange, as shown in this compound buckeye leaf. 

Anthocyanins require light, so the sunnier the days, the brighter the red foliage. It's also interesting to notice that trees, like this maple, often turn red from the top down, since the leaves at the top receive more sunlight.

All this fanfare of brilliant color is the last hurrah of the leaves. Deciduous plants prepare for the little death of winter by shedding their leaves. They do this by shutting off the water supply so that the leaf stem dries up, gradually loses its grip and falls. In a light breeze the trees appear to be "raining" red, orange or yellow leaves.

When our heart stops ticking and the body loses its grip, wouldn't it be lovely if we went out in a shout of glorious colors?

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Crossing

The Crossing

Kneeling backwards on the maroon
horsehair sofa, hard as a church pew
and stinking of Grandpa’s cigars,
the girl rests her hands lightly
on the arched spine, her bare knees
stippled by the stiff cushion.

Immersed in the "Wreck of the Ole ‘97 Train"
frozen inside the burl oak frame.
The wagon rushing the crossing, the split rail,
the lurching locomotive, the rearing horse.
The last pages of the story

She studies the signs. The hat in midair,
the girl’s bare feet,
the horse’s white teeth,
the buckling black smoke,
and the two crosses --
the broken tie under the unhitched rail 
and the leaning telephone pole.

The second hand on the Seth Thomas clock
stops at 5:54 while she gallops
through spawning fields of . . .
What if the reins break?
What if the horse bolts?
What if the engineer can’t clear the train?

Worlds of time for questions.
Is he falling or jumping out of the cab?
Why are the yellow windows empty?
Why is the girl wearing a white dress?
All the faces, even the horse,
turned away or hidden.

She makes herself small and climbs into
the cornfield, past the rooster foot roots,
under the broken barbwire, over the catback road,
the only thing moving.
She touches the girl’s hand
thrown out to brace her fall. It is warm.

Beyond the crossing she sees
a yellow window in a white house,
a woman setting the table,
three empty chairs,
the kitchen door,

The aroma of Grandma’s pie
rattles the frame.
Hatless man, windblown boy,
barefoot girl, white horse,
ghostly engineer, invisible passengers,
all fall into the rhubarb.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

frost whitens the grass

frost whitens the grass,
 fog veils the golden bean field,
mist wisps rise from the pond

On the first morning of autumn, grass lawns glimmer white with a coating of frost, a thin layer of fog hovers just above the golden soybean fields and tendrils of mist rise from the farm ponds. Overnight the temperature dropped to near freezing, 37 F/2.7 C. Fortunately,  when we let the cats in, we felt how cold the evening air was and brought the jade plant inside to its winter home on the sun porch. 
          I have not seen our hummingbirds at the sugar water feeder for several days, so I assume they've begun their incredible migration south, though last year one hung around until it was really quite cold. 
          Last night we debated about whether to start a fire in the wood stove. But the house, with its thick clay/straw walls and limestone floors, held the heat gathered from the sun porch and stayed a comfortable 60 F/15.5 C. However, I did put the wool comforter on the bed. 
          I can't get enough of this beautiful season of chilly nights and crisp, sunny days, going for long rambles in the woods, reveling in the contrast of red on green leaves, the saturated orange sunsets and the pink sunrises.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

autumn equinox

autumn equinox --
beetles browse on goldenrod
and bursting milkweed pods

Bright, sunny day, with a bit of a breeze bending the tassels of goldenrod, blowing the silken parachutes of milkweed seeds out of their pods. Gold and black beetles do double-decker duty, sipping nectar from blossoms and reproducing at the same time, while red and black beetles suck sap from ripe milkweed pods. Autumn equinox -- for one rounding of the earth around the sun, day and night share equal time. While the air balances between the last heat of summer and the first chill of winter, every living creature prepares for the long, cold darkness.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

life's too short to drive

life's too short to drive
boring cars so get a torch
red Kabinenroller

Otherwise known as a 1956 Messerschmitt, this 3-wheel, 1-cylinder, 10 hp, 2 1/2 seater is definitely not boring, but then again, the exhaust is awfully smelly when you're stopped in traffic. Still, it can go 56 miles per hour and gets 75-90 miles per gallon.

One hundred and sixty vintage vehicles participated in this year's show, held around the town square. My favorites are the oldest ones from the 1920s, '30s and '40s. They all have such graceful lines.

1923 Ford Bucket T, with a snazzy paint and upholstery job.

1928 Ford Sedan with a big smile.

1929 Ford Model A Coupe with a rumble seat in the rear.

Another Ford Model A Coupe with beautiful wheels and hood ornament.

1929 Ford Roadster Pickup and Al Smith for President sign.

1932 Chevy 4-door Sedan. The spare wheel is too handsome to hide.

1933 Willys 77 Coupe. The entire front end opens . . .

. . . revealing a pristine engine.

1937 Ford 4-door. The front doors open forward, the rear doors backwards.

Another from 1937, a Chevrolet Sedan. The two-part hood opens sideways and the doors open backwards.

1939 Chrysler Royale with a prominent  "nose" above that grin.

1940 Chevrolet Coupe Streetrod with a voluptuous grille.

1946 Chevrolet Pickup Truck with a winged hood.

1949 Chevrolet One-ton Pickup, repainted with an original Forest Green.

1953 Ford F100 Pickup with Custom Cab in another original color, Torch Red.

1951 Studebaker Pickup with modern pinstripes.

1951 Studebaker Pickup in need of a paint job.

1947 Pontiac Streamliner with bullet holes in the window. No boredom here! But it needs a paint job.

1954 Mercury Sun Valley. The rear wheels are nearly hidden under "skirts" and the spare tire inside its own cover is mounted on the trunk.

They still make horse-drawn buggies the way they did 150 years ago and they still work just fine.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Meskwaki dancers

Meskwaki dancers
with eagle feathers, jingle cones,
rattles, ribbons, fur,
porcupine quills, stone pipes, beaded
moccasins beat to the drum

The Brown Otter Song and Dance Group from the Meskwaki Settlement community near Tama, Iowa, performing the Friendship Dance at the Sondheim Center in Fairfield, Iowa. They are wearing traditional costumes decorated with bead work, ribbons and feathers.

The Meskwaki, the Red Earth People, are one of the Algonquin-speaking tribes that originated in the Eastern woodlands around the St. Lawrence Seaway and the Great Lakes. In the 1600s they were pushed west into what is now Michigan and Wisconsin by the Iroquois. After battling the French they moved to the Mississippi River region. By 1848 all of the tribes west of the Mississippi had been removed by the United States government to reservations further west, except the Meskwaki. In 1856 the newly-formed state of Iowa ("this is the place") gave them permission to stay as long as they lived in peace, purchased land using only friendly means and not by seeking government help, pay taxes on purchased land and obey all state laws. In 1857 the Meskwaki purchased the first eighty acres along the Iowa River, where the present Pow Wow grounds are located. Today the Meskwaki Settlement includes more than 8,000 acres.

Harlan Brown sings a traditional dance song while beating his drum.

Eagle Dancer, wearing an eagle feather bustle and headdress and carrying a gourd rattle and redstone peace pipe, bends low during the Pipe Dance.

Grass Dancer's ribbons and beaded bands swirl as he dances the Grass Dance with eagle feather fan and hoop.

Men and women face each other during the Harvest Dance, then trade sides back and forth as they "walk the rows," harvesting corn, beans and squash.

Moving in a sacred circle, the dancers perform their tribal Meskwaki Dance. The young girl wears rows of silver jingle cones on her skirt and high-top beaded moccasins, while the woman wears a skirt bordered with traditional ribbon applique in a vine design.

The men show off their footwork during the Victory/Veteran's Dance. Many Meskwaki and other Native American tribes proudly served in the U.S. Armed Forces and during World War II eight Meskwaki soldiers served as code-talkers.