Tuesday, September 1, 2015

belly deep in the pond

belly deep in the pond
a herd of cattle cool off, 
all except one

First day of school, but the weather says it's still summer, hot and humid. A herd of beef cattle stand belly deep in a farm pond, cooling off; except for one lone cow still grazing nearby. One of the black whiteface cows looks over at me as if to say, "Come on in, the water's fine." However, I prefer the reservoir, just over the hill, a bit less muddy. The pond is a typical Iowa farm pond, dug into the orange-red clay that can be seen around the edge. The heavy clay holds the water in the pond, but when the bottom is stirred up by cattle it makes a fine silt in the water. Not so much fun for swimming, but still, that clay is some of the finest clay in the world for building. The thick walls of our house are made with this clay, dug from the site and mixed with straw.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

studded with fuzzy

studded with fuzzy
ripe fruit the pliant peach limbs 
arch down to hands' reach

With no late frost and a lot of rain, our old peach tree outdid herself this year. Every branch bears dozens of blushing golden globes covered with baby-soft fuzz. Many of them have fallen to the ground, where deer, squirrels and raccoons have been feasting on the sweet fruits. Some of the peaches still on the tree show signs of bird pecking or bug boring. Of course, we do not spray our trees with toxic pesticides, so we accept a certain amount of loss. But there are plenty left whole.

The branches are so heavily laden that they hang down over the protective wire cage, low enough that we don't have to use a ladder to harvest the entire crop. More than a few of the warm juicy peaches go into our mouths while we collect and place them in wicker laundry baskets.

We gather four baskets full, probably the equivalent of four bushels. Because a lot of them are already quite soft and ripe, I spend several days slicing and putting them into plastic quart bags for the freezer. Well, the freezer on top of our Sunfrost refrigerator is already packed almost full with frozen aronia berries. So I start giving away dozens of peaches to family and friends. Someone asks, "How many peach trees do you have?" I hold up one finger.

And there's still a superabundance. My son suggests we buy a separate freezer. What a good idea! I find one at Best Buy, an 8.5 cubic foot upright Danby that will just fit between our washer and dryer. It's on sale and they'll deliver it for free. What a deal. Now I've filled all of the bins in the bottom of the refrigerator with peaches, hoping they'll keep until the new freezer arrives. We'll certainly have plenty for the rest of the year, and maybe even the year after. What a joy to grow your fruit and eat it too, though really, the credit for this bounty goes entirely to Mother Nature.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

rain on shadow lake

rain on shadow lake
glistens roots, rocks, bark, black glove
on the wooden bridge

My friend has just had a liver transplant, a kind of rebirth, and I am here to help take care of him during his recovery. But I also need to take care of myself, and that means submersing in nature. I walk to a little lake tucked away among houses in this big city of Charlotte. At the entrance, a sign says "SHADOWLAKE." I look at the letters and see "SHAD" "OWL" "AKE." This is going to be interesting -- river fish stuck in a lake, a bird of the night and ake, which means "bright" in Japanese.

The lake is surrounded on two sides by houses, but there is a public picnic area on one side and a bridge that leads to a wooded path on another side. As I walk toward the bridge, I pass by a tall clump of goldenrod. It's raining lightly and I notice a number of elongated insects hanging underneath the sunny panicles, like women in bright embroidered kimonos sheltering from the rain.

As I cross the bridge I'm startled to see a crumpled, shiny black vinyl glove shed by a human hand, perhaps symbolic of my friend shedding his old liver.

On the far side of the bridge the path turns and runs through a wooded area, providing me with a little shelter from the rain and many delightful surprises.

A black root that looks like a turkey foot. Turkey, symbol of thanksgiving for a successful harvest, peaceful coexistence with friends and neighbors, and the renewal of family connections.

The rocks in this area are hard and black, perhaps from the transformation of lava into rock. But this one sports a wide white quartz stripe, yin and yang, harmonious coexistence of opposites. 

A sycamore with an owl face staring back at me from the peeling bark. Owl is a symbol of wisdom, insight and foresight.

The Green Man, ancient symbol of rebirth and renewal.

A vine in the form of a snake, another symbol of rebirth, healing, rejuvenation.

A butterfly shaped scar on a tree trunk, and of course the butterfly is yet another symbol of rebirth and transformation.

A strange silvery green mat of moss on the floor of the woods is as close as I get to seeing a shad, but if it's there, it's the fish that fed the American founders, so it must be a symbol of nurturance. With these auspicious signs, I turn back to the house where my friend is welcoming his new liver to a renewed life together. May they both live long and prosper!

Saturday, August 1, 2015

purple clusters curving

purple clusters curving
branches to the ground -- bumper
crop of aronia

For a week I've been harvesting aronia berries. Nothing on the bushes last year, due to drought. But this year, with all the rain, we have a bumper crop. The 20 foot tall branches are bent to the ground with heavy clusters of purple-black berries. This makes collecting the plump berries easy. I can easily reach the low-hanging clusters and then I pull the pliable branches down to reach the ones further up. Still, it takes many of hours of patient branch wrangling and berry picking.

Now that the work of producing berries is finished, the leaves are already turning orange and falling off. After a rainstorm, the low-lying berries are covered in mud. Some of them fell off and are floating in puddles, so at least they aren't muddy!

I've counted as many as 32 berries in one cluster. I can usually pull a whole cluster off in one hand and drop them into a bucket, but sometimes my palm is not quite big enough.

The seedless berries are easy to process, just wash and pick off the stems. This year, because I have a bigger freezer, I froze 28 quart bags of berries. Aronia, commonly known as chokeberries, are quite tart when eaten out of hand. But when added to cereal or a smoothie with a little honey or maple syrup, they taste like blueberries. The dark purple, almost black color protects the berries from ultraviolet radiation, and the antioxidants, which are among the highest of any plant, are also good for us humans.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

pierced by meadow cat's tails

pierced by meadow cat's tails
Queen Anne's lace regally wears
a crown of golden wands

Meadows make for interesting interactions among its multifarious inhabitants. Here, the umbel of a wild carrot looks like a white lace parasol adorned with rabbit ears. The golden wands are the seed heads of meadow cat's tail, also commonly called Timothy grass. Rabbits, of course, love carrots, and the root of Daucus carota smells like carrot and is edible when young. Wild carrot looks a lot like poison hemlock, but the carrot smell is one way to distinguish the two, though who's going to dig up a possibly deadly plant to smell the root! In fact, D. carota is the great-grandmother of our domestic carrot.

A spider has left a silken veil on the topmost tips of the basket of bracts enclosing a bud. From this interwoven cup, we see why wild carrot is also called bird's nest. The fine hairs on the solid stem are another way to distinguish it from poison hemlock.

This bud, hanging head down, reveals the twelve rays of spiky bracts fanning out from the base of the blossom. They look as sharp as the thorns of honey locust but are actually quite soft.

Sometimes the flowers on the rim of the unfolding umbel blush a delicate pink.

This emerging blossom sports pink on the tips of the bracts, like fingernail polish.

The three-pronged bracts beneath the umbel spread out as the umbel swells from concave bud to convex blossom.

In the heart of the fully blossomed umbel sits a tiny red flower, designed to attract insects for the purpose of propagation. The spot of red is supposed to represent a drop of blood from when Queen Anne pricked her finger on a needle while making lace. If you place the white flower in a bowl of water with red food coloring, as we did in a grade school experiment, the plant will draw up the water and the flower will turn red. I wonder why the plant doesn't make the whole flower red to attract more insects. Too much of a good thing?

Perhaps this insect is drawn to the red heart, and as it walks across the dense lacy carpet, its feet may pollinate the tiny white flowers.

The leaves are also lacy, but chemicals in the leaves can cause a skin rash. A good defense for a pretty flower, and probably why the plant is not eaten by deer.

Sometimes the blossoms look like snowflakes falling in summer.

When the flower goes to seed, it folds inward, encased in the spiky protective bracts. Finally, the seed head falls off the stem and becomes a tumbleweed, flying with the wind, carrying its progeny to new frontiers.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

curving back on air

curving back on air
bindweed shoots beyond seed head
searching for connection

Down by the mailboxes I notice a bindweed vine wrapped around a seed head of some plant I don't recognize. The vine, grown beyond the top of the dry stalk, has launched into the air, its recurving tendrils seeking something else to embrace.

Five days later, the vine is shooting sideways past its launch pad, pulling the seed head with it. The tendrils curl back on themselves, grasping at air.

Another six days and the vine has fallen over in an arch, the seed head bending down with it. Soon the seeking tendrils will touch a low growing plant and bind the vine back to the ground. All that work, for what?

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

curving back on white

curving back on white
plumes, green smoke spiraling down
over the night lake

One of the first fireworks to go off looks like a question mark rising over the dark line of trees along the east side of Pleasant Lake. But what is the question?

Independence Day falls on a Saturday this year, so fireworks in Fairfield are happening on the actual Fourth of July. Some years the event is moved to a different date, to suit work schedules, I guess. I don't think the city planners feel like John Adams, who refused for the rest of his life to attend celebrations on the 4th, because the Declaration of Independence was signed on the 2nd of July, though it was adopted on the 4th.

Last year the show was rained out, so this year we are getting a double dose, some with colors I've never seen before -- turquoise, lavender, orange.

We find space on the grass in a clearing on the north end of the lake, in the midst of a small gathering of like-minded people avoiding the crowded beach on the south end.

We cheer at each unique pattern of cascading plumes and points.

A light breeze keeps the mosquitoes away.

And maybe the smoke drifting our way across the lake from the incendiary explosions.

Some of the displays look like abstract paintings.

And some look like photographs of supernovae or colliding galaxies.

And some are signs of light, appearing for a heartbeat in the blackness, mysterious answer to an unfathomable question.