Thursday, March 23, 2017

When phenology becomes dry stuff

It's gone now and, while it was here, I neglected to take a picture. Last night must have brought a very brief and unusual snow shower. As SiSi and I took our (very) early morning walk, I noticed that the drive was covered with spots. Not a light, fine coating as I'm used to seeing, as if someone had dusted the drive with flour. No, these were polka dots. In all the time I've lived in snow country, about 95% of my life, I don't recall ever seeing anything like it. The snow shower must have been the equivalent of a small, intense thunder storm with those big, splashy raindrops.

yesterday's "wet spot"
yesterday's "wet spot"
Photo by J. Harrington

We need more precipitation to help speed up our Spring green-up. The "wet spot" behind the house, which usually has enough early Spring water to attract a duck or goose or two is absolutely dry. Again, in all the time we've lived here, I don't recall seeing a Spring as dry as it is right now. If I'm reading the table correctly, we're about 3 inches below average for year-to-date precipitation. That helps explain why much of East Central Minnesota is currently under moderate grass fire danger.

"wet spot" late April 2014
"wet spot" late April 2014
Photo by J. Harrington

The next several days are forecast to bring several periods or rain, plus warmer temperatures. That will get us to the point where, as my grandmother used to say, if you hold still, you can hear the buds bursting. Time for me to pick up the pace getting my fly-fishing gear organized, or what passes for that. Soon it will be April, which brings us National Poetry Month and the return of what's blooming by month and color at Minnesota Wildflowers. I'm still fiddling around with trying to organize a list of insect hatches and wildflowers blooming. There are so many of the latter and I haven't yet discovered the "most common" to use as indicators. Not a bad problem to have, I suppose.

READING AN ANTHOLOGY OF CHINESE POEMS OF THE SUNG DYNASTY, I PAUSE TO ADMIRE THE LENGTH AND CLARITY OF THEIR TITLES


By Billy Collins


It seems these poets have nothing
up their ample sleeves
they turn over so many cards so early,
telling us before the first line
whether it is wet or dry,
night or day, the season the man is standing in,
even how much he has had to drink.

Maybe it is autumn and he is looking at a sparrow.
Maybe it is snowing on a town with a beautiful name.

"Viewing Peonies at the Temple of Good Fortune
on a Cloudy Afternoon" is one of Sun Tung Po's.
"Dipping Water from the River and Simmering Tea"
is another one, or just
"On a Boat, Awake at Night."

And Lu Yu takes the simple rice cake with
"In a Boat on a Summer Evening
I Heard the Cry of a Waterbird.
It Was Very Sad and Seemed To Be Saying
My Woman Is Cruel—Moved, I Wrote This Poem."

There is no iron turnstile to push against here
as with headings like "Vortex on a String,"
"The Horn of Neurosis," or whatever.
No confusingly inscribed welcome mat to puzzle over.

Instead, "I Walk Out on a Summer Morning
to the Sound of Birds and a Waterfall"
is a beaded curtain brushing over my shoulders.

And "Ten Days of Spring Rain Have Kept Me Indoors"
is a servant who shows me into the room
where a poet with a thin beard
is sitting on a mat with a jug of wine
whispering something about clouds and cold wind,
about sickness and the loss of friends.

How easy he has made it for me to enter here,
to sit down in a corner,
cross my legs like his, and listen.

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