Sunday, January 27, 2013

golden pollen grains

golden pollen grains
scattered on a tulip petal --
not by any bee

Freezing rain. Gray and gloomy. Home bound all day. The only spot of color, two tulips with petals like flames, blooming in a blue and white pot. A week ago, just two fat green buds. Today, their lovely goblet shapes are splayed and drooping. A few grains of golden pollen lie scattered on a petal's landing pad. The pollen-laden pistils drying up. The stamens, sticky but untouched by pollinators. The bees are also home bound, iced in, sipping last summer's honey, dreaming of nectar.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

blue tents on blue ice

blue tents on blue ice --
two cold fishermen waiting
for hungry fish to bite

It's a cold, windy Saturday in January. Temperatures fluctuated quite a lot this month, from frigid to spring-like, but even so the ice on the farm ponds has stayed thick enough (at least 4 inches) to support ice fishing. When I pass by Osage Pond, I spot a couple of bright blue tents set up in the middle of the pond. These are portable fishing shelters for protection from the weather, but at least two of the fishermen are outside. Inside the ice house, ice anglers can sit on two padded swivel seats with backrests to watch their fishing lines, dropped through a hole in the ice about the size of two fists, for signs of a nibble. On Iowa farm ponds the fish are bluegills, which tend to congregate near the bottom, but when they do take the bait, the fishing action is fast.
          I call out the usual question, "Any luck?"
         "Not yet!"

Sunday, January 13, 2013

two squirrels, orange and black

two squirrels, orange and black,
nibbling seeds shed by a dead 
black locust tree

When I go out to get a load of wood after dark, I'm surprised to find frilly flakes filling the air and coating the ground. By morning, temperatures have plummeted into the teens (11 F/-11 C), turning the snow into tiny pellets like sugar sprinkles on frosting. Back to normal January weather. 
          A magnificent whitetail buck bolts across the road when I drive into town, carrying his crown of antlers held high. The gravel road is slick with patches of ice under the snow. Around the last steep turn, a car has slid off the road, missing a couple of big trees and plowing over a retaining wall, but stopping short of the pond.
          On campus, I stop to watch a pair of squirrels busily nibbling black locust pods, holding the long, flat, curved pods between their paws and delicately extracting the shiny brown seeds. The fox squirrel, sitting at the base of the tree, ignores my presence, but the black squirrel, who was perched on a knob of the tree, is skittish. It scoots down the trunk and runs to the edge of the pile of locust pods to eat at its "flight distance" from my perceived threat. 
          Sadly, the big black locust tree is dead, perhaps a victim of last summer's drought. The bark is peeling off the trunk, but its bumper crop of seeds, those not eaten by squirrels or deer, will sprout in the spring, and those not mowed down may find a safe nook where they can grow.
          Tonight the crescent moon looks like the golden grin of the Cheshire cat. But it's too cold to stand outside for long, admiring our cousin as she slowly slips into the black arms of the trees.

Friday, January 11, 2013

paper whites blooming

paper whites blooming
in the sunroom -- outside, rain
falling on old snow

January thaw, that's normal, but rain in January? My friend says, nothing's normal anymore. But I say, paper whites blooming in January, that's normal. That is, if you've set the bulbs on wet black river stones in a handmade pot in a sunny window in December, as I do every year. Yesterday, the spear tip buds bulged with blossoms about to burst into the light. Today the delicate fragrance of the tiny white blooms perfumes the whole house, bringing a touch of Spring into Winter's domain.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

a fallen oak, stripped

a fallen oak, stripped 
of its outer bark, reveals 
its inner beauty

On the edge of the cliff cut into the hill by the meandering creek, an oak tree with a branching trunk has fallen across the path, broken off partway up the main trunk. I have a choice of bushwhacking through the thorny gooseberries and multiflora rose brambles or crawling through the maze of sharp twigs. I clamber through the twigs, noting the number of oak galls clinging like wrinkled brown fruit to the leafless branches. The tree looks naked, pink under its stripped bark, yet the blue lichens and black fungal markings adorning the pink and russet inner bark look like miniature abstract paintings. 
          The day that I pass through the fallen oak is 6 January, the Feast of Epiphany, celebrating the visit of the three Magi bearing gifts to baby Jesus. In the Writer's Almanac by Garrison Keilor, I had just read about James Joyce's short story "The Dead," which is set at an Epiphany feast. Joyce defines epiphany as the "revelation of the the soul of the whatness of a thing," the moment when "the soul of the commonest object . . . seems to us radiant." For me, the dead tree lying across my path brings the gifts of its inner essence, grace and radiant beauty.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

thin ice on the creek

thin ice on the creek --
at dusk an owl swoops silently
from tree to tree

The sun is sitting on the rim of the hill, but in the little valley where the creek meanders the bright orb has already disappeared. As I crunch through the remains of snow and frozen leaves on the path, I spook an owl from its vigil at the top of an oak. It swoops silently upstream a little ways and perches in another tree, watching me warily. Since I am moving in that direction, it keeps hopscotching from one treetop to another, staying just far enough ahead that I can't get it in my viewfinder. Finally, it stays put, but in the gathering gloom it's too dark to get a decent photo. The owl that got away, I think ruefully. 
          It got up to 52 F/11 C this afternoon. The soft snow is perforated by blades of green grass, but the ice on the creek has not yet started to melt. What little water was left after last summer's drought froze into plates suspended above pockets in the creek bed, studded with fallen leaves and shattered where deer have stepped on it. One strange ice formation looks like a hawk with an open beak about to catch the rabbit that didn't get away.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

January thaw

January thaw --
deer hoof prints & fallen leaves
sinking through snow foam

January thaw, early this year. Wild geese flying north. Wild turkeys feeding on fallen corn in the thawing fields. Last year's blizzard withering under spring-like warmth. Snow plastered on the north side of trees, gone. Snow on the ground, fragile frozen foam, pierced by deer hooves, carved by the dark warmth of fallen leaves and twigs, curling around clumps of grass and moss, forming strange, heart-shaped masks. Snow on the erratic boulder receding, snow melt dripping down the stoic face.