Thursday, October 25, 2012

on a golden pond

on a golden pond
pink and white water lilies
float among round green pads

How Jack planted water lilies in the pond across the road, I do not know. I imagine him diving bottom up like a duck and carefully tucking the roots into the soft mud. Every year the lilies send up pale umbilical stems from their muddy womb. When the ovoid buds breach the surface of the water, they unfold into a fanfare of pristine pink and white petals floating among round green pads. 
          Jack left us in June and now Toni lives alone by the little water lily pond. In September we had a memorial for Jack in the midst of an especially long Indian Summer, replete with a festival of gold and copper leaves. Two water lilies -- one white, one pink -- continued to bloom among leaves like verdigris medallions strewn on molten gold, a veritable Autumn Monet. 
          Today, a cold, wet, windy front moved in, dropping the temperatures from summer to winter in a few hours. The last two lily blossoms are gone, though the green pads still float among brown oak leaves on the rain-dented surface, maintaining a tenuous connection between the dark mud and the gray light.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

the little black horse

the little black horse
looks on as three big horses
browse in his pasture

The little black horse is back in his pasture after his summer vacation, perhaps part of a petting zoo tour. I call him Cocao Bean and I really don't want to know his real name. This is his third year in the little pasture on the edge of town, wedged between the Little League baseball fields, the roller rink, a veterinarian and the wetlands nature preserve. Every day in late summer I kept watching for him, sometimes thinking I saw his small dark form, but it always turns out to be a clump of weeds or a pair of tires along the far fence.
          Finally, he shows up in September and I'm ecstatic to see that he has company again. Not a big black bull, like that first winter. Not a pair of Jersey cows, like the second winter, before they disappeared and Cocao Bean was sadly left alone for many months. This year it's three actual horses. At first the big horses stick together and Cocao Bean follows them at a distance, like a younger kid who wants to be part of the gang of older boys.

After a week I notice that Cocao Bean is following one of the horses at a distance. The other two horses, who stick together, appear to be American Quarter horses, but the one the little black horse has chosen looks like a Clydesdale, with feathered white feet and white face. These big draft horses are known for their docile nature and Cocao Bean seems to be saying, "Please, may I be your buddy?"

Not long after, Cocao Bean and Clyde are inseparable.

Even when the Clydesdale grazes side-by-side with the other two Quarter horses, Cocao Bean "heels" Clyde like a friendly dog.

A few days ago I spot the gang hanging out under some overhanging trees, a bit of protection from the rain, though Cocao Bean's coat is soaked.

Cocao Bean is so small he could easily stand under Clyde's belly, where he wouldn't get wet. Bedraggled as he is, he still looks happy to be close to his best buddy.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Liberty wears the moon

Liberty wears the moon
crescent above her golden
crown of sun rays

After a day of rain, the setting sun first turned the departing cumulus clouds into nursery rhyme pink and blue.

Then dramatic copper and bronze rolls above a golden dome.

And finally, after paying Lady Liberty a visit, the bright crescent moon slid down into a bank of black clouds.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

ghostly silhouettes

ghostly silhouettes
after rain and wind, dark leaf
stains on bare pavement

Two solid days and nights of much-needed rain, accompanied by stiff wind that rips the colorful autumn leaves from the trees and harries them along the ground. Oak and maple leaves, plastered to the pavement by the rain, seep their pigments into the porous concrete. Then the wild wind blows them away, leaving dark silhouettes, ephemeral artwork.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

migrants on Fox River

migrants on Fox River --
geese sleeping on the gravel bar,
white egrets fishing

On the way home from Chicago, we stop at the Fox River to take a gander at the slalom race course. The water is way down, so the course is barely recognizable from previous whitewater races.
          We walk downriver on a gravel spit, one of many elevated by the drought. A small colony of Great White Egrets are fishing along the far river bank, standing stock still or slowly stalking prey on their gangly black legs, sinuous necks curved, sharp yellow beaks poised to spear. One egret seems to notice my presence and takes off downriver, its neck retracted in flight.
          I am so engrossed in watching the elusive egrets that at first I don't notice a flock of Canada Geese sleeping on a gravel bar between me and the white herons. With their black heads tucked into their backs, their rounded gray and white forms blend in with the gray and white rocks. At the upriver end of the bar, I spy a lone gander standing guard, eyeing me as I move back upstream. He makes a little warning sound and some of the sleepy heads suddenly pop up and stare at me, but no one seems inclined to move from their warm spot in the afternoon sun.
          Today we're migrants on the Fox River -- Great White Egrets, Canada Geese and a couple of curious humans -- all heading south.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

a gray toad squatting

a gray toad squatting
on the cold metal hose coupling-- 
strange place for a nap

Getting ready for winter, making sure the water is turned off at the garden hoses. Surprise! A mottled gray toad, perfectly camouflaged, is squatting on top of the cold metal coupling. Strange place for a nap. Feet tucked under, eyes half closed, the toad is too sleepy to move when I approach for a closer look. 
          Later, I look up frogs and toads of Iowa, but none of the photographs or descriptions seem to match our little napper. Anyone know what kind of toad this is?

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

stretched out on the road

stretched out on the road, 
is that a rope or a snake
coiling into a knot?

It looks like a thick, braided rope, about a yard long, lying on the road ahead. But I have seen this illusion before, so I approach with caution. The "rope" begins to bend a little along its length and then a head rises up at one end.

However, I do not run away screaming, "Snake! Snake!" I have seen this kind of snake before, on this very road, so I recognize it as a nonvenomous milk snake, not its venomous look-alike, the coral snake.

As a child I learned the little rhyme used to tell friend from foe: "Red touch yellow, kills a fellow; red touch black, venom lack." This snake has a pattern of rust red bands bordered in black, alternating with yellowish white bands, so it's harmless. The darker coloration shows that it's an adult milk snake. It certainly doesn't look anything like the deadly coral snake, which sports a pattern of bright red rings bordered in yellow, alternating with black rings. 

The milk snake is usually nocturnal, so I'm surprised to see it out in broad daylight. Stretched out in the middle of the gravel road, its camouflage is useless, and I'm concerned that it might get run over. With a long stick I attempt to shoo it away, but instead of running away the snake rears up and strikes, missing me by a long shot. "Well, if that's the way you're going to be," I tell the snake, "I'll just go on my way." When I return from my walk, no sign of snake. 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Mama hated Fall


Mama hated Fall—
said it made her melancholy,
all the trees losing their leaves,

She was staring half-blind
out the window of the cubicle
she shared with an empty bed
on the other side of the curtain

where her last roommate
muttered and moaned,
refused to eat,
and stopped breathing—

at the very moment the first blood
red leaf on the sugar maple
fell in a fluttering spiral
onto the cropped grass.

From mama’s worn recliner
she couldn’t see the scarlet
oak still holding on
to every one of its stiff spiky leaves

until the first day of spring
when the old tree at last
dropped its tough unyielding

She couldn’t see because
she chose to close her eyes
on the Ides of March and missed
the final end of Fall.

Her still-dark curly hair arrayed like
a crown of oak leaves,
and the shape of her slack mouth,
an opening bud.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

harvest time -- the farmer

harvest time -- the farmer
in his automated combine 
all day into night

Early October, day after day of clear weather, perfect for harvesting the big fields of corn and soybeans. The sound of a combine draws me to the field north of our meadow. An almost impenetrable thicket of wild plum, hedge apples, wild grapes and poison ivy runs along the fence line, but I find a narrow deer path at the corner where the fence ends. A pelt of brown soybean plants still covers most of the acreage, but the ground around the perimeter looks like it's been sheared with clippers.
          Here comes the combine over the hill. It looks like a gigantic insect with a red body perched above a wide row of black teeth. The whirring blades slice off the dry plants, separate the golden beans from the stems and leaves, and spew out a cloud of chaff. Now I can make out the figure of the farmer sitting inside the glass cab.
          At the corner, a few yards from where I'm standing, the machine comes to a stop, the engine shuts down, the maw of teeth lifts up, and the farmer climbs down from the cab. Wearing a blue shirt and blue jeans, he looks very small next to his enormous combine. I'm wondering if something broke, but the farmer walks over to me, smiling, shakes my hand and introduces himself. Though we've been sharing a fence for many years, this is the first time I've met our farmer neighbor.
          Merlin Miller hails from a family of farmers. His father, Dale, owns a farm on Queenscup and his son Eric has a farm on Redwood, just down the road from Merlin. He says they used to farm our meadow, but the area where our house is located was all pasture. He recalls that all of this area, a thousand acres, was inherited by a lady who lives in a big green house over on the highway, but by the time she died, it had all been sold off.
          "Did you get much of a soybean crop this year, with the drought?" I ask.
          "A little thin, but so dry we won't have to dry it. On the other hand, the beans are as hard as rocks and they're breaking the steel teeth on the thresher. I have to replace 10 or 15 a day, so it kind of evens out. We've got 2,200 acres around here, all soybeans this year, but we've got corn over in Van Buren County that did pretty good, 'cause they got more rain."
          "You must have to be pretty optimistic to be a farmer."
          His smile gets bigger. "It's like the Cubs, you know, there's always next year."
          He sweeps his hand along the cleared perimeter and says, "I left plenty of beans for the deer. Do you see many of them?"
          "A few, but they can't eat that much in a big field, can they?"
          "We figure they cost us about $15,000 a year. I've seen herds of 30 or 40 out in the field. Once I found a pair of antlers locked together. And another time I saw where a pair of bucks were fighting, dragging each other this way and that."
          "Are you a hunter?"
          "No, but they sure have increased over the years. When I was young, if we saw a deer, we'd go home and talk about it. Now, if we don't see a deer, it's something to talk about." 
          "I guess they don't have many natural predators left," I say. "All the cougars and most of the coyotes are gone. Now it's just cars and guns." 
          The logo on Merlin's shirt says "Southeast Iowa Diesel" and he tells me that he runs a diesel repair shop, and he also helps his wife with her store in town, "Kim's Kottage."
          "We have a lot of fun," he says.
          I ask him what it's like to harvest with such a big machine. He says his 300 horse power Case cost $300,000 and he trades it in every three years. It has different threshers for corn and beans. "The thing practically runs itself," he says. "The GPS tells it where to go better than I could."
          "So what do you do?"
          "I get on the mike when it's time to unload the beans and Eric meets me with the pickup and hopper. He drives alongside with the hopper under the chute while the combine keeps going."
          Merlin's son, Eric, comes walking up the field from the east, maybe wondering why his father stopped harvesting.
          "I've got to get back to work," Merlin says, shaking my hand again. The two of them confer for a minute and then they both climb into the cab, turn on the engine, lower the thresher and start down the row in a cloud of dust.
          When I go to bed that night, I can still hear the combine buzzing away. By morning the entire field is bare and our cars are completely covered with fine brown dust.