Wednesday, February 24, 2016

songbirds bolt away

songbirds bolt away
when I fill the seed feeders
all but one blind sparrow

Goldfinches, house finches and sparrows on the sunflower seed tubes, cardinals on the seed cake, woodpeckers on the suet cakes, a nuthatch on the peanut ball, juncos on the ground. But when I approach to refill the feeders with black-oil sunflower seeds and suet cakes, all the songbirds take off in a panic. One little brown job is still sitting on the bed of sunflower seed husks under the bench, its little head darting from side to side, but not flying away, even when I climb up on the bench to reach the seed cake feeder. I step down and peer at this solitary bird. From the stripes on its breast and the dark beak, it looks like a song sparrow. But its eyes appear to be squeezed shut. Oh, the poor little bird must be blind!

When I come back with my camera, the little song sparrow is still on the ground, though it has moved away from the bench. Finally, hearing the sound of my feet on the leaves, the bird takes off. I watch as it flies up along the slanted roof until it hits the shingles, then descends to land near the fence. I leave it in peace. Inside the sunroom, I recognize my blind bird among the other birds as it slowly flutters straight up to one of the tube feeders. It lands awkwardly on one of the perches and fends off a goldfinch who tries to chase it off. So perhaps it can see a bit, with one eye. How did the sparrow become blinded? Maybe another bird pecked its eye? Miraculously, this intrepid song sparrow manages to survive.

I wonder if its song will be even sweeter for being blind, like the blind harpist I saw in Peru, bending his ear to the strings and playing a love song with his sensitive fingers.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

delicate dusting

delicate dusting
of snow on a heart-shaped log --
from dead tree to fire

Powdery snow started falling last night, five inches today by the time we make the slow drive into town for Valentine's Day brunch at ILA: Hot chocolate topped with whipped cream and cinnamon followed by triple cheese omelette served with roasted red potatoes and a biscuit. A strip of blackboard runs around the wall by the booths, with little glass cups full of colored chalk and an eraser with "Martha and Douglas" in red paint on the wooden back. While we wait for our meal, I draw a big pink heart filled with spirals. 
          Back home, I haul in another load of wood while John shovels snow from the walkway. Hands red, I sit in front of the rekindled fire in the wood stove to warm up. Staring at the mesmerizing flames, I remark that most people associate fire with the color red, but wood flames are orange or yellow, sometimes blue. John, an electrical engineer, starts talking about black-body radiation and how the spectrum of colors emitted by a hot body range from infrared to ultraviolet as the temperature increases. Yes, I've noticed that blue flames are a lot hotter than orange or yellow. But what about other colors? 
          I remember my father, a chemist, throwing "magic powder" into the fireplace to make multi-colored flames. Of course, he then had to kill the magic (or transmute it into a different kind of magic) by explaining that the powder was made of minerals that emit specific colors when heated: green for boron, blue for copper, purple for potassium. In fact, as I learned in high school chemistry class, all minerals can be identified by the colors they emit when subjected to the flame test, though you don't want to be anywhere near magnesium when it's lit!
          More childhood memories leap up with the flames in the wood stove. Cutting out heart shapes from folded red construction paper and pasting them on white paper doilies. Decorating a shoe box with pink crepe paper and red hearts, with a slot in the top for the small commercial one-sided cards with the funny pictures and sayings like "I love you Deer-ly," I'm Nuts about you," "We'd make a Peach of a Pear." Counting how many cards I got compared with the number of students in my coed class (always far fewer). Collecting tiny pastel heart-shaped sugar candies inscribed with Luv U, Smile, Be Mine.
          Strange, how Valentine's Day, a day of giving red roses, chocolates and romantic greeting cards, derived from a martyred Christian saint. Saint Valentine was probably one of two priests named Valentinus who were put to death on February 14 by Emperor Claudius in different years during the 3rd century AD. The story goes that one of the imprisoned priests wrote a letter to the jailer's daughter, signing it, "From your Valentine." The reason for his death? It seems the emperor forbade young men to marry because single men made better soldiers. But Valentine continued to marry young couples, perhaps wishing to promote sanctified procreation over war. And what did he receive for putting God before emperor? The age-old story of life on Earth: love before death. 

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Quarter to Midnight

Quarter to Midnight

No one is awake
when the coyotes take up howling
on the next hill north, or maybe the next,
it’s hard to tell in this frigid air,
minute ice crystals hovering around the humpback
moon transmitting sound farther
than the towering thunderheads of summer.

I say no one is awake
but what I really mean is no other human,
for certainly the trio of coyotes are awake,
the lead singer sliding up the scale,
the second and then the third joining the fugue.
Also the mouse scurrying back and forth
under the snow-capped hummocks,
the barred owl coasting away from a dead
snag, the gray tabby greeting me at the door
but not stepping out, the ghost 
spider climbing along the edge
of the lampshade as I turn the light
back on to write these words 
before they slip away
into the ebb and flow of silence,
which never sleeps.

Monday, February 1, 2016

runnels in the snow

runnels in the snow
a mouse crisscrosses the paths
of a rabbit, a cat

Reading the map of tracks in the subliming snow, I can see where each creature was going, but not when. A mouse's curvy furrow, alternating with oval prints like beads on a string,  crosses a rabbit's long lozenges, a cat's blue roses. None of the prints lie on top of any others in this busy crossroads. All these comings and goings, witnessed only by a lone oak leaf, sticking up like a flag.