Monday, December 14, 2015

A gifting season

The neighborhood's covered with melting sleet. Tree tops are swirling in the wind. Chickadees are exploring the new sunflower seed feeder, the one that replaced an open tray feeder that filled with snow, or sleet, as the case may be. Woodpeckers, pileated, red bellied, downy and hairy are piling in on the suet feeders. I found out about the American Swedish Institute Winter Solstice celebration too late. Tickets are sold out. Maybe next year I'll remember to start to look before Thanksgiving, although there don't seem to be as many celebrations announced this year as I remember from years past (when I also failed to look early enough).

pileated woodpecker
pileated woodpecker
Photo by J. Harrington

Not all is doom and gloom and disappointment by any means, although the cloudy, raw weather is starting to wear. The tree is decorated. The house is full of Christmas cookies, not all of which make it out the door to others. Presents are slowly accumulating under the tree and shopping lists are getting shortened. In case some of you need a reminder of what snow looks like, confer immediately below.

red bellied woodpecker
red bellied woodpecker
Photo by J. Harrington

'Tis even a season when serendipity occasionally strikes. A few weeks ago, I started reading North Shore: a Natural History of Minnesota's Superior Coast. It's extremely well written and full of pleasant surprises, including a major piece of writing on how sugar maple trees became and remain such a significant component of the mixed forest "up North." I'm particularly delighted with this discovery since, as part of a writing class I took a year or so ago, I had finished a first draft of an extended prose poem/memoir about maple syrup candy at Christmas. It needed some additional insights on the natural history of sugar maple trees. I found them in the "Highlands" section of North Shore. My lack of botany skills and training had been a hindrance at finding the information I needed and wanted. Luck eventually dropped that information right into my lap, once again confirming that "no amount of planning will ever replace dumb luck." Now I've run out of excuses and finishing a final draft can go near the top of my list of New Year's resolutions. In the interim, the weather we're "enjoying" might be what the scientists were referencing when they said global warming would make Minnesota's Winter weather like present day Missouri's. At least it doesn't look like we'll lose our sugar maples.

sugar maples in Autumn
sugar maples in Autumn
Photo by J. Harrington

What It Looks Like To Us and the Words We Use

By Ada Limón 

All these great barns out here in the outskirts,
black creosote boards knee-deep in the bluegrass.
They look so beautifully abandoned, even in use.
You say they look like arks after the sea’s
dried up, I say they look like pirate ships,
and I think of that walk in the valley where
J said, You don’t believe in God? And I said,
No. I believe in this connection we all have
to nature, to each other, to the universe.
And she said, Yeah, God. And how we stood there,
low beasts among the white oaks, Spanish moss,
and spider webs, obsidian shards stuck in our pockets,
woodpecker flurry, and I refused to call it so.
So instead, we looked up at the unruly sky,
its clouds in simple animal shapes we could name
though we knew they were really just clouds—
disorderly, and marvelous, and ours.


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