Category Archives: Nature
I couldn’t think of anything I wanted to write about, and a poem came to mind, so I decided to do that, instead.
This is a poem that I think of in winter, always, I’m not sure why. Wendell Berry is a definitively Kentucky writer, one I saw speak a few years ago.
The Peace of Wild Things
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
– Wendell Berry
I quoted a bit of this poem yesterday, which put it in my mind, so I had to go and look it up:
The World is Too Much With Us
– William Wordsworth
I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee;
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.
And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.
I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.
– William Butler Yeats
TO make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee,—
One clover, and a bee,
The revery alone will do
If bees are few.
– Emily Dickinson
Yesterday was an interesting day. In addition to my Santa run, it was also the Great Squirrel Adventure.
About 9am I heard SOMETHING in the garage. A big thunk. An alarmingly big thunk.
I went and looked, but saw nothing.
Ten or 15 minutes later, there was another. Not as big, but still…
slave drew was out and about, but I called him.
He came home, looked around, saw nothing, and headed out to do his errands again.
About 20 minutes later, I start hearing something. In the fireplace itself. Not the chimney, the fireplace.
I texted drew this time.
“There is absolutely something in the fireplace.”
“I can hear it moving.”
“In the fireplace of just up the chimney.”
“I can hear it clearly.”
“On my way.”
While I was waiting, I got the flashlight and looked.
And saw the unmistakable fluffy tail of a squirrel, on the left side beside the grate. slave drew had laid a fire before Thanksgiving, though it was so warm we never lit it, but the logs were in there.
I called drew and told him what I knew. “There’s a squirrel in the fireplace.”
He came in with a plan. He had a dog pen and a blanket. We were going to put the cage in front of the fireplace, open the doors, and drape a blanket around it. The squirrel, he theorized, would run OUT of the fireplace, INTO the cage, drew would flip the lid closed and carry Mr. Squirrel outside.
This did not work.
Mr. Squirrel seemed fond of our fireplace, at least much fonder of it than he was of the concept of a dog pen.
Ok, new plan.
The new plan was not my favorite, in that, it required propping open the front door and letting Mr. Squirrel run for it.
My additions to the plan were, ok, but let’s block so he doesn’t run into the den, or the kitchen, or, God forbid, upstairs.
So we drape towels over openings, block them with boxes, all of that.
The dogs are outside, barking their little Scottie heads off at something, but that is the least of our worries at this moment.
I take a spot on the stairs, with a blanket in front of me, preparing.
I notice, too, that we have so many birds in the yard that if we manage to NOT have one or two fly in the open door, it’s going to be somewhat miraculous.
It did not happen, but really, talk about a Disney movie.
So, we prepare for the great squirrel run.
“Just so you know,” I say, “if the squirrel runs toward me, I *will* scream. You don’t have to do anything about it, but just fair warning. I will scream.”
“Gotcha,” he says.
Mr. Squirrel, however, is still fond of the fireplace. He’s not moving. Nope. Not him. Nuh uh. He’s good.
Crap. Crappity crap crap.
Ok, I say, I’m going to go out and whap on the side of the house with a broom and see if the noise makes him move.
What it seems to do, however, is convince Mr. Squirrel even more thoroughly that he does not want to leave the comfort of his cozy little hidey hole, because, clearly, these people are lunatics.
slave drew is alternately coaxing him and cursing at him. In German.
I’m alternately half-hiding on the stairs, and hitting the side of the house with a broom.
Mr. Squirrel has a point.
Finally, drew just starts taking all the things out of the fireplace.
The logs come out.
The kindling comes out.
Finally even the grate itself comes back, until all that’s left is Mr. Squirrel himself.
I am peering over the bannister, like a four-year-old watching for Santa, only a lot more likely to scream.
drew tries tapping the back of the fireplace with the long handle of the broom.
FINALLY, Mr. Squirrel makes a break for it.
He LEAPS out of the fireplace and runs.
And to Mr. Squirrel’s credit, had we laid out a path for him that we’d most prefer, that was the exact path he took.
Across the living room floor, running hell for leather. A left at the hall, four more feet and he’s OUT the door, another quarter second and he’s down the steps and gone.
No muss, no fuss, and he ran like a little trooper.
He was a young squirrel, probably born this summer. slave drew is going to have to put a wire cage over the top of the chimney so this doesn’t happen again. We had a bird in the fireplace in the fall.
The funniest thing was Mr. Squirrel running. Squirrels stop so often, and check things out. Mr. Squirrel did not. Mr. Squirrel RAN.
That night I thought, he’s somewhere in a tree, telling this bizarre Alice in Wonderland story.
“So, I fell down this hole and into this nice, strange, dark place. There was some wood in there, it was cool. I was exploring.
“Then these terrifying giants started tormenting me, doing these WEIRD things! They were cursing at me, and I tell you, I swear it was in German. They had a CAGE there, like I was going to just run into it. Riiiiight.”
“So what happened?” his friends ask.
“I ran, of course. Clearly, they were insane.”
Then Mr. Squirrel sagely nods his head, eats another acorn, and nods off, to dream of the Great Squirrel Adventure.
I never type that without hearing the kid’s rhyme, “Home again, home again, higgelty pig.”
My ex, Beth, and I used to disagree over the wording, she’d learned it as “diggity dog,” but it was clearly “higgelty pig.”
It was not as pretty a drive back as it was down, though it wasn’t bad. It was very windy for the first 60 miles or so, or about the first third of it.
The leaves were whipping around the highway, that last sort of rattle of Autumn saying, “No, really, I’m serious, he’s RIGHT behind me.”
It was still warm, but it didn’t look so much like fall anymore, it looked a lot more like winter.
About 30 miles from drew’s house, I saw a bald eagle snag a bird in mid-air about 20 feet in front of me.
It was certainly swooping low enough to clearly see it wasn’t a hawk. It was too big and had a white head and tail, which a hawk does not. It was also darker, rather than the buff color of a hawk.
And trust me, you do not live with slave drew and not know the difference between a red-tail hawk and a sharp shinned.
It’s size, mostly, and the feathery pantaloons the sharp shinned wears.
It was impressively enormous. drew tells me they have a six foot wing span, and this one was every bit of it.
I’ve seen bald eagles before, both in that area and elsewhere. There’s nesting ground there, so eagles are around, though I’ve seen them closer to the lake before.
We drove around another eagle nesting grounds on some trip of ours and the thing I remember most was watching one of the parents sitting on the nest as we drove along the roadway below.
He screamed at us, stood threateningly on the edge of the nest, made it VERY clear that if we dared to come anywhere close to that nest, he knew exactly what to do with those talons and the beak that tears flesh.
Had I not had a metal cage around me, I’d have been pretty intimidated, actually.
Imagine how satisfying it must have been for him as the giant red metal threat drove away and he marched back to the the continued-sanctity of his own home.
So, anyway, I saw a bald eagle, and that is always a cool thing.
I had some time this afternoon to do some catching up with emails, etc. I checked in on a friend’s cat while he’s away.
I made some lists as I drove – not texts, I really am not coordinated enough for that, scrawls on paper. I hope I can read them.
I got a couple of the items on my to-do list taken care of tonight.
I unpacked a couple of the last dining room boxes. I’m nearly to the point of deciding what goes where, and that will be nice.
And though I missed Lurker’s Day, it’s still kind of Lurker’s Weekend, so feel free to continue to lurk, or speak up and say something.
Agree with me.
Disagree with me.
Or just sit there quietly, that’s ok, too.
Those of you who might know slave drew might recognize that it’s nearly impossible to spend time with him without learning a fair amount about birds, animals, national parks, and the life of a whale. It’s his thing.
I often think, though, that I’d MUCH prefer that, if he’s going to memorize facts, they are facts about nature or animals. If he memorized facts about NASCAR or pro football, I might have to smack him. In a bad way.
So, we were in Florida in April and I routed us through a different course on the way home. Normally we’d have caught I65 at Nashville and taken it all the way back to Louisville, but we both dislike the truck traffic, so we cut through the middle of Tennessee and caught 65 north of Bowling Green.
Neither of us had ever gone that route before, and it was really lovely. It was slower, but we stopped in places we’d not have stopped and saw things we’d not have seen, so there are worse things.
I was particularly thinking about fireflies last night because one plopped himself down on some papers I was working on. He was escorted outside, where he could search for his mate in peace.
I love fireflies.
I had never seen fireflies until I moved to upstate New York when I was 20. We don’t have them in the desert. I’d also never seen a squirrel – another thing we don’t have there. Jack rabbits, snakes, scorpions, yes. Squirrels and fireflies, no.
The whole detoured route through central Tennessee and Kentucky was made worthwhile, or rather, even more worthwhile, by one single incident.
drew was driving and I was just looking out the window. It was probably about 9pm, and we had just crossed over the Kentucky state line. We were in the middle of the country, driving on some state route that was taking us through small towns, past farms and fields.
It was dark, pitch dark in fact, because it was country, an area with no street lights and only the occasional window of light visible. Farm country, too, where people go to bed and get up early.
We were driving by a field, a large one that was at least the size of a couple of city blocks, and at first I thought, “Did someone somehow string little Christmas lights all though this enormous field?”
We stopped the car and got out because it was so amazing, and rather magical.
The field was full of fireflies. Hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of fireflies.
I don’t think any single firefly was more than a foot away from another firefly. If you’d been able to cut out a cubic yard of the air above the field, I think you’d have had at least 50 or 100 fireflies in that area.
And they were blinking their little hearts out.
It’s the kind of thing that won’t show in a photo, there’s no way to really see it, except with your own eyes.
Everywhere you looked were more flashes of light than you could count, flashing on and off, moving as they flashed.
We had been in a number of amazing places on the trip, seen ancient mangrove and cypress, glades of fern, enchanting spots that made it easy to understand believing in fairies or sprites. The fireflies simply emphasized that. Flashes of light, everywhere you looked.
There were other fields on the way home, and there were a lot of fireflies in all of them, but none as full as that one, none as astonishing as that field out in central southern Kentucky.
I love fireflies.
…and the weeds won.
Well, not really. I’d call it a standoff.
(This is, btw, another repost, originally written 05/07/2009.)
I spent a couple hours this afternoon in the garden again, attested to by a stiff back. The aspirin should kick in soon, and I feel certain I’ll be able to straighten up again before dinner.
I don’t really mind the aching back, though, not really. Most things that are worthwhile require work and work often means a bit of pain. I don’t relish it, but it’s nothing I spend time worrying about, either. Part of how you know you’re alive, I think.
I also think it does a soul good to need a bath, to be dirty, not just sweaty or need my hair washed, but to have the water run brown off of my feet an arms as the smeared mud washes away. Dirt under your fingernails, even long red fingernails, is something that does a body good.
Anyway, now is the time to be pulling weeds, if you live in the Bluegrass State. We’ve had rain and more rain and then a bit more rain after that, so the ground is soft. It’s still cool enough to be outside without the heat being impossible.
In another month, the ground will be dry and the weeds will be a foot taller, and far more settled into their stolen corners of my garden. It’s a very satisfying feeling to tug hard on a weed, something that is confidently spreading its unwelcome little leaves, and have it pop out of the ground with a sudden release.
You know it won’t come back, you’ve routed it out permanently. There are others that aren’t so accommodating, you wrestle with them for a while, then give up, cutting them off at the soil line, hoping they’ll die on their own. They rarely seem to.
I prefer pulling weeds, too, to using chemicals. The problem with that is you never know exactly what you’re killing, herbicides can kill everything they touch and usually contaminate the soil for a while, too. Working in the soil is, I think, good for the spirit and spraying things from a bottle isn’t working.
It’s satisfying, too, to take stock of your garden as you poke around in it.
My white phlox is happy and will bloom soon. Iris are blooming now, along with columbine. The lilacs and azaleas have come and mostly gone, with a few straggling blossoms left to prove they were here.
Next will come the peonies, the blue star, my false indigo. Purple clematis and pink fairy roses are twining around their arbors, and the hosta has grown at tropical speed.
The garden is full of cool greens and pale yellows, the darker ones coming later in the season. The perennial geraniums and ever-blooming begonia are happy, filling out their designated spots, the Asiatic lilies and day lilies getting bigger all the time. I read somewhere that for lilies, water is the best fertilizer. In that case, they should be happy indeed.
Weeds are a nice survey of how healthy the garden is. A garden that grows good weeds is also likely to grow the plants you mean to grow, too. I am lucky to have lovely soil, thick and dark, crumbly and rich. I have worms that would make an angler envious, fat and long, revealed with every shovel of dirt that I turn over, in every hole I dig with a trowel.
I moved a caterpillar from one of the areas I was weeding to some host plants we have for them, somewhere happier for him to spin his chrysalis and return to the garden as a butterfly.
I unearthed a centipede as well, and spiders and grubs, but my general rule is, I don’t kill bugs outside, unless they’re mosquitoes and land on me, or ants that have gone too atomic in their growth. Inside, I widen my scope to flies who won’t just go back outside, ants in my kitchen, and roaches.
Once in a while a spider has to go, too, if he can’t be captured and sent outside. By and large, I point out bugs to slave drew and he carries them outside. Last night it was a lightning bug.
This winter I had a brown leaf cutter who lived in my bathroom. He wasn’t an annoying kind of bug, but he was very industrious. One day I’d see him on the vanity counter, the next somewhere in the shower. Then he’d be on the hamper in the hallway. Then on the hanging leaves of the spider plant in the hallway.
Periodically I’d scoop him up and dump him into one of the other plants in my hallway, but he had his traveling shoes on, clearly, and he never stayed anywhere long.
I haven’t seen him for a month or six weeks, so I suspect his short life ended somewhere among the leaves, but he was a pleasant enough tenant for the short term. Quiet, didn’t take up much space, never made a mess.
So, anyway, today I finished the bed I had been working on, and moved to the bed behind the pool. It’s best to do that one before the pool is open, and before the ground covers get too grown. Much harder to rake around than rake over. I got about half of it done, maybe a bit more, but it’s amazing how much difference it makes.
Now I’m sitting at my desk and writing, watching a robin in the birdbath in the back giving himself an absolutely exuberant bath.
If you garden, you tend to love robins, because they’re your companions. They hover around as you garden, silently chiding you to go in so they can descend on that newly excavated ground, dig for those fat worms, the grubs, all the other insects that hide under the ground and under the weeds.
I imagine the bathing one had his fill of bugs and worms and then decided to take a happy bath as dessert. It’s hard not to smile watching him, splashing madly, wings flapping, water flying.
I came home a year or so ago and looked out the sliding door and into the pool. The pool cover was still on, as it is now, and since it’s a mesh cover, the water will rise above it when the pool is very full, creating a very shallow pond for the birds.
There was a hawk, a sharp-shinned hawk, in fact, which is a smaller hawk, maybe half or two-thirds the size of a red tail hawk, taking a bath in the pool, the first and only time I’ve ever seen a hawk on the pool.
I stood and watched him for about two or three minutes. He was still a majestic bird, and he held himself very still, very regal. He would look around, as if checking to make sure no one was looking, then abandon himself to the bath for ten or 15 seconds, then go back to looking like the predator he is.
He did it probably six or eight times, then took off, no doubt to spread his wings on some branch and dry off.
We have nests in the yard, too. Robins seem to prefer the dogwood and crabapple in the front yard, the sparrows love the thick white pine and holly trees, and this year we have a blue jay nest in the cherry tree in the back.
The gold finches have been frequenting the thistle feeder by my window, in their best Sunday courting best, brilliant yellow males, the females a more subtle color.
The cardinals, too, love the yard, and one of the things I like is watching the cardinal pairs at the end of the day. The male perches nearby, watching, while the female pecks around on the ground, eating her dinner. He keeps out a watchful eye for anything that might pose a threat to his mate, and his call is so distinctive even I recognize it.
So, I’ve done all I’m going to do today, there’s another couple or three hours that I’ll need to do to finish the bed behind the pool. There are a few other small beds that I need to work on, too, but none of them are as pressing.
I’ll get the rest of my plants put into the ground in the next couple of weeks, and then I can spend more time enjoying my garden than I spend sweating in it. The sweating, however, will continue throughout the summer. I’ll let you know how it goes.
Waiting by John Burroughs
Serene I fold my arms and wait,
Nor care for wind, or tide, or sea:
I rave no more ‘gainst time or fate,
For lo! my own shall come to me.
I stay my haste, I make delays,
For what avails this eager pace?
I stand amid the eternal ways,
And what is mine shall know my face.
Asleep, awake, by night or day,
The friends I seek are seeking me;
No wind can drive my bark astray,
Nor change the tide of destiny.
What matter if I stand alone?
I wait with joy the coming years;
My heart shall reap where it has sown,
And garner up its fruit of tears.
The waters know their own, and draw
The brook that springs in yonder height;
So flow the good with equal law
Unto the soul of pure delight.
The floweret nodding in the wind
Is ready plighted to the bee;
And, maiden, why that look unkind?
For lo! thy lover seeketh thee.
The stars come nightly to the sky;
The tidal wave unto the sea;
Nor time, nor space, nor deep, nor high
Can keep my own away from me.
I looked this up today while I was, you guessed it, waiting.
I had to have Insight come in and move a cable line, add a phone line, and check on two remotes, which is going to involve taking the two guys up to my bedroom, wherein the closet door on which I hang my toys and the bondage table I keep leaning against a wall for effect are. That should be fun.
I don’t wait well. I dislike wasting time, and waiting seems like so much wasted time. I’d have been less annoyed had they showed up when they were supposed to, between 8am and 10am, rather than not until 10:40 or so.
I’d also have been less annoyed had one of them not said, in his opening to me, “How you doing, sweetie?”
I pointed out that sweetie was really not appropriate and Ma’am would be far more acceptable. I suspect the upstairs bedroom will only confirm what they already think, and correctly so. I am a bitch, or at least I can be a very good one when the situation seems to call for it.
In the meantime, I am sitting at my desk, where I no longer have internet for the moment, watching the birds taking gleeful baths on the pool cover, while the dragonflies tirelessly defend their little corner of the pool from all the other dragonflies, who are doing the same thing.
The puppies are outside because they’re the worst at barking at strangers, and Belle is sleeping happily in one of their pens. It’s a bit warmer outside than she needs to deal with, but the puppies are fine and will, if they get too warm, simply wade out on the pool cover and cool down.
Scottish terriers are not supposed to be water dogs, let me make that clear. They are terriers, the word coming from the Latin, “terra,” meaning earth. Earth dogs. This means they dig.
Mine, though, also appear to believe they are part otter. They wade out onto the pool cover if they’re hot and it’s an option. It’s completely safe for them, by the way, they can’t fall through, the cover is mesh and designed to support the weight of a small child.
I will occasionally look out and see one or both of them wandering over the surface of the pool, water up to their shoulders, sometimes high enough they have to tilt their head a bit to keep it out of the water.
Then they climb out and shake madly, usually followed by running around the yard with an odd little hitch in their gait, to shake out more of the water.
There’s a white sulpher butterfly, one of the small ones that’s a solid color, is flitting around the edges of the pool, too.
We’ll open the pool in the next week or two, and that will end the dragonfly dominion, alas. We didn’t open it for a couple years and the bonus was we had tons of dragonflies all summer and very very few mosquitoes. Dragonflies, it seems, are the ninja warriors of the insect world. They eat many times their weight in mosquitoes every day, as well as a lot of other small insects.
For anyone who knows slave drew, you know he is a wealth of information on most things natural. Birds, trees, some insects and animals in particular, national parks, etc.
If you haven’t met him yet, and do, you can prove this to yourself. Pick a national park in the USA, any one, and ask him, out of the blue, how large it is, and what he knows about it.
Without hesitation he will tell you that it is 250,000 acres, and remind you that, by comparison, this national park is x times larger than that, while this one is x times smaller than aforesaid park.
Ask him what bird has the longest migration, or the difference between a heron and an egret, or the best place to hang a bluebird house, and he’ll answer all those questions, too, without hesitation.
He also knows an astonishing amount about:
The Civil War
Both World Wars
Ammunition and armature in general
Specific schools of artists, including the Vienna Actionists
Rock bands of the 1960’s and 1970’s
Philosophy, particularly the depressing kind
New York City (He lived there for ten years)
You get the idea. I always was a sucker for a smart man, and he is absolutely that.
So, now both of the Insight guys have disappeared, I do not see them at their truck or in the house. Did I mention I’m bad at waiting?
As a post-script, three hours later, the Insight people left with all things that were supposed to be working apparently working. If I never post again, blame it on them.
We had a lot of rain early this morning, enough that yards were flooded, even mine, which is uncommon. Lights were down all over the city, most of them working but on a blinking red light.
Tonight the frogs are just singing their little amphibious hearts out. I can hear them where I sit, with no window open, the tv on, and a window unit A/C running not six feet from me. It’s amazing that something so small I haven’t even seen them yet this year can be that loud.
A few years ago we had cicadas. They were one of the 17-year varieties, and it was a BIG crop of them. They were everywhere in the entire region.
The zoo keepers in Cincinnati couldn’t get the animals to do tricks for their shows because they animals didn’t care about the treats anymore, there were little cicada treats everywhere.
Belle would come in with cicada carcasses in her muzzle, smacking her lips. To avoid stepping on them was rather a challenge.
Our area of the city was particularly infested. They don’t really do any harm other than being everywhere for a couple weeks, it’s not scary or potentially dangerous to your person or property, but my God, we had a LOT of them.
You could go out in the driveway and stand under the big white ash tree in the front yard, and the noise was nearly deafening. It was a low, steady, whirring hum. When you came inside, your ears almost vibrated from the sound.
For the next few years, I’d find occasional carcasses when I was planting in the garden. It always reminded me of a news story from an area of upstate New York, near where I lived. Two men had robbed a diner by threatening to throw a cicada in the hair of the waitress. She turned the money over to them.
They’re ugly and rather unworldly looking creatures, but totally harmless and less than an inch long, to be clear.
Last year, we had a rainy evening not long after we had opened the pool. We had dozens of frogs in the yard, probably hundreds, and there were a half dozen around the perimeter of the pool, hopping in the pool, hanging out on the side of the pool, generally cavorting at their own little froggie pool party.
I wanted to let the dogs out, but didn’t want them to bother the frogs, so I went out first to “chase” the frogs away. Mostly I just wanted them not to be hanging right on the apron around the pool. One frog, about the size of a walnut, was sitting on the edge, so I stepped towards it, thinking it would hop off.
It did not.
I took another step.
He didn’t move.
Finally I had to nudge him gently with my toe so he’d jump INTO to pool. I took about four steps and looked back and he had crawled back on the edge of the pool, in his former location.
At some point one says, all right, you all just sort this out yourself.
I let the dogs out. The puppies, being younger and generally more bent on getting to the farthest edge of the yard as quickly as possible, ran out past the frog, paying it and any other frogs no attention whatsoever.
Belle was behind them, and tends to poke her way out more than the pups, and she noticed the frog, but clearly didn’t know what it was.
She approached the frog, who didn’t move.
Imagine, if you will, a particularly charming illustration in a children’s book. There is the cute little Scottie with her eyebrows and beard, the upright tail and ears tilted in an angle of curiosity, approaching the little frog, on the edge of the water.
Belle got closer and closer, and the frog stayed stone still.
Until Belle actually touched it with her nose, gently, at which point the frog jumped in the pool.
Belle’s expression was one of surprise and a little bit of playfulness. The frog, thankfully, stayed in the water until the coast was clear, then went back to his prior post.
Belle had the same expression when, years ago, she was given a large balloon. She’d never seen a balloon before and I wasn’t thrilled that it had happened, I expected that the explosion when it burst would scare her.
I was quite wrong. She chased it around the room, thinking it was a ball, until it got caught somewhere and she went to bite it.
The look of surprise and delight was very similar, and she immediately went after the other balloons she was given, popping each one as quickly as she could.
Thank God she didn’t pop the frog.