Friday, February 14, 2014

chocolate kisses

chocolate kisses
on cheesecake on a doily
on a red rose plate

We encounter this beautiful cheesecake at New Pioneer Coop, our favorite place to shop and eat when we're in Iowa City. 

The cakes in the display case are all works of art, carefully decorated by hand, making it hard to choose, but one particular cheesecake, smothered with chocolate kisses, "takes the cake" as a Valentine's present for each other. 

The girl behind the counter removes it from the glass shelf and places it lovingly with its white paper doily in a small white paper box with a cellophane lid, an appropriate frame for a work of art. 
          At home, I place the confection on a china plate decorated with red roses and place it lovingly in the center of our dining table, surrounded by red beeswax hearts. When I finally bring myself to break the cheesecake's perfect symmetry with a knife, it has just the right smooth texture and subtle not-too-sweet taste, and the dark chocolate is both rich and delicate. Where there is such sweet and simple pleasure, love flourishes.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

layers of snow slide

layers of snow slide
down the derelict window, 
creating beauty 
where before there was only
peeling paint and rust

The old van is slowly sinking into the ground, its once-shiny paint blackened from tree sap, spotted by bird droppings and corroded with rust. A defunct vehicle, it serves the function of a storage shed, but to me it is still an eyesore and I avoid looking at it.
          One day this winter I walk by and am startled to see striking abstract designs created by layers of snow parting from each other on the back window and peeling paint of the tailgate. Humbly, I say, "Hail to the Master Artist!"

icicles hanging

icicles hanging
from a red and white octagon --
Winter, STOP!

I know there are places in the world where snow never ends and places where snow is never seen, but here in the heartland of America, winter is capricious. Sometimes, no snow, sometimes snow comes and melts and piles up again, and sometimes snow lasts all winter. 
          I don't mind snow, especially squeaky, sparkly powder, but I am not fond of ice, especially on roads. But this year was the coldest in nearly two decades, with repeated arctic blasts sending temperatures plunging to double digits below zero F. "Polar vortex," they call it, and after weekly rounds for several months, we are more than ready for winter to simply STOP! 
          However, it was so cold on Groundhog Day that our local woodchuck stayed firmly in his subterranean nest and refused to emerge to see whether he even had a shadow, so we can only assume that we still have six more weeks of winter to endure. 
          On the other hand, I have been seeing flocks of robins flying through the bare trees and goldfinches are molting from winter olive drab to sunflower summer yellow. Like all things in nature, nothing lasts forever, not even the darkest, coldest winter. Right now, a robin sitting on the branch of our cherry tree is singing: "Cheerily, cheer up, cheer up, cheerily, cheer up!"

lines imprinted on snow

lines imprinted on snow --
scrawling scribbles of bird feet,
wing feather brush strokes,
dot-dash deer tracks, squirrel lozenges --
white on white calligraphy

Every day I go out to the yard to read the news -- the record of foot prints imprinted on the canvas of snow. 

Deer leave dot-dash strokes where their heart-shaped hooves punch and drag in long lines, out from the woods, across the open space to the corner of the fence where I leave apples, and into the trees again. 

A squirrel, descending from a tree trunk, hops in a triple pattern of an oval above two little lozenges, stopping at a spot to dig under the snow for hickory nuts. 

Ground-feeding birds meander in complicated curves as they search for seesds dropped by other birds flying away from the bird feeders.

This pattern of bird tracks looks like a caricature of a spider monkey.

And this combination of bird feet and wing brush strokes looks like a bas-relief of a mythical dragon or the skeleton of an extinct pterodactyl.

Today, with temperatures finally climbing above freezing after many weeks, the crisp white-on-white calligraphy is blurring as the crystalline surface softens into a more impressionistic painting.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

belly deep in snow

belly deep in snow,
wearing a crown of burrs, yet 
happy horse with new friends

Through the coldest, snowiest winter in eighteen years, I continue to keep my daily vigil for the little black horse as I pass the pasture on the edge of town. Alone since last summer, he rarely ventures far from the red barn or the shelter of trees along one fence line. Even in a blizzard I would see him, black back coated white, nuzzling for grass beneath the snow.
          He was separated from his last companions as the result of a divorce. Not for the first time, he found himself alone. One year, he kept company with a big black bull. The next year, his buddies were two brown calves. And finally, three actual horses joined him in the little pasture and he became quite attached to the gentle, big-footed Clydesdale. When they vanished, I grieved for him once more and prayed that he be gifted with at least one pasture mate.
          A few days ago, in the midst of another snowstorm, I suddenly see not one, not two, not three, but four new four-leggeds in the pasture with the little black horse, and I start shouting for joy. This time, his new friends are two chestnut horses, a brown and white piebald pony and a little gray donkey.
          Cocoa Bean stands belly deep in snowdrifts, looking legless, yet his short legs manage to plow a wide furrow as he follows the others. Despite his nose powdered with powdery snow and his mane tangled with burrs, he seems utterly happy to have company, and I am ecstatically delighted that my prayer has been answered.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

tree cemetery

tree cemetery --
white oaks, black walnuts laid out 
in rows, snow shrouded

The felled trees started showing up a couple of weeks ago, just a few, laid side by side among the frozen cow paddies in a pasture by the road. Then more each day, two long rows of limbless trunks, felled in the woods and hauled out by a yellow machine with wheels encased in chains. After last night's snowstorm, the fallen timber lie shrouded in white, like corpses waiting for burial. It makes me sad to witness the demise of so many trees by the hand of man.

          From the little public park that was once a Christmas tree farm, I pass the log hauler, parked like a guard at the entrance to the tree cemetery. Walking between the long rows, I count 165 trees, mostly white oak with a few black walnuts. 

          These logged trees will be sold for lumber, perhaps turned into furniture. Hopefully, the farmer will replant trees rather than turning the forest into yet another field of GMO corn or soybeans to feed cattle. That would be sad indeed. This area was once savannah, a mixture of tall prairie grasses interspersed with white oaks. But when the settlers came, they felled the trees and plowed the land. Now the topsoil, once three feet (one meter) deep, held together by the massive root system of native grasses, has eroded and lost its natural biodiversity and fertility.
          Pacing off the trunks, I calculate an average of 30 feet (10 meters) long by 3 feet (1 meter) wide. I squat to count the growth rings on one of the largest oaks; this elder is over 100 years old. Most of the trees are clean to the core, though some show signs of fungal rot, and I find myself assigning names to these aberrant patterns.



Dragon Egg Hatching






Bad Hair Day

Sad Face

          The graphic sad face on this oak mutely speaks for the trees, and for me.