Bloom Time Stars

May 18, 2018

It’s bloom time now in Maine: forsythia, crab apple, bleeding heart, quince, bluets, dandelions, lilac (just starting), azaleas, Canada mayflowers, hyacinths…. and more, lots more.  It is hard to keep track, to keep up, to take it all in.

Amid all this bounty, the flowers that draw my particular attention this spring are the lavender-colored blooms of the common sage.  I hadn’t been very successful with sage in the past, but this year, in April, shoots sprang up from the wintered-over plant I had kept in a pot in the shelter of our sunny back porch.  By early May, flower buds had formed, and a few days later, all at once, they opened.  I cut the blooms to encourage further growth from this hardy, healthful–I want to say magical–herb.

Overnight they came,
paper thin and violet—
dragons born of sage



Between Water and Ice

April 24, 2018

The current string of three calm, beautiful days with full sun and temperatures in the sixties has changed the status of the ice on the lake from thick, unvarying white, to the fragile blue-black of “almost ice out.” Already, the air smells of water, cormorants dive in the narrow ice-free corridors, and other powerful fish-eating birds—osprey and bald eagles— that we haven’t seen since the fall circle overhead.

Through frail ice, half water,
an eagle spots, scoops its prey–
life exposed to sky.

 A bald eagle perches in an oak tree after eating a fish caught through the soft ice.

American Pussy Willow, Salix discolor

April 12, 2018

I remember loving pussy willows when I was a child.  (By pussy willows I mean not the tree, but the buds—technically catkins—when they first appear on twigs in early spring.)  I only encountered them in vases, since in North America the native tree for pussy willows Salix discolor, is one that favors a northern climate, and we lived in the south (Virginia, Kentucky, New Mexico).  I remember wanting to see pussy willows in abundance, whole trees filled with silvery silky buds.

Living in Maine, I have my wish.  Salix discolor is at home here.  I first notice the buds in middle March.  They are hardy to cold and snow, and if the temperatures stay on the low side, as they have so far this season, the buds keep their shape and their charming furriness as they slowly swell.  They are not everywhere—the tree likes wet areas with lots of sun—and I have never encountered them in the density I dreamed of as a child, but if you keep your eyes open in early April you are sure to see them.

Little bits of cloud
beaded tight along thin stems-
pussy willow buds


Pileated Woodpecker/ May-May’s First Cry of Spring

March 1, 2018

The pileated woodpecker is a large and powerful bird, with what seems to me a cumbersome name in English, both overly long and overly erudite.  A few years ago, I had the good fortune to encounter the Penobscot name for this bird—May-May—and to learn something of its significance to the ancient residents of the Dawn Land.  May-May strikes me as a more time-honored and “right” name for this charismatic bird whose ancestors shared so much time with the Dawn Land peoples.  When I encounter one, as I did yesterday morning, I always salute it as May-May, although the bird is usually too intent upon its own business to pay any obvious attention to me.

Everything about May-May is forceful: its drumming; its wuk-wuk cry to defend territory or give an alarm; its skillful, unhesitating flight even through thickly forested land.  It is a year-round resident here, but during the winter months tends to be quiet vocally. The winter is ending now.  May-May lets us know that.

At May-May’s bold cry
eyes flash open, trees awake
from root tips to sky.

Increasing Light

Feb. 13, 2018

From Groundhog Day onward the pace at which day length increases picks up exponentially  here in the northern latitudes.  (We are about 44 degrees N.)  Right now, in mid-February, we have about 10 hours of day length.  By the spring equinox, just a little over a month away, we will have two more.   Each day brings a leap forward into increasing light.  Even we humans register this.  There is plenty of snow cover and life is still spare, but small changes are afoot.

Chipmunks show their face,
deer crisscross the woods with trails–
all things sense more light.

Deer seek shelter through the height of winter in their primary wintering areas.  These  offer shelter, but usually not a lot of food.  When temperatures–and light–increase deer are more likely to venture out to secondary areas seeking food.  The deer that left the tracks in this photo bedded down nearby our house and foraged under our apple tree at dawn.  I’m sorry to have no picture to offer of the chipmunks.  I saw my first one since November two days ago.  Today, with temperatures in the upper twenties and plenty of sunshine, I’ve seen several running over the snow, tails held high.  The spring mating season normally starts in March.

Ice Storm

January 24, 2018

Studies indicate that  New England will likely experience an increasing number of ice storms in the future on account of climate change.

I think the future might be here.  By my count we have already experienced three significant “icing events” in Central Maine this winter.  Ice storms clearly present hardships for us humans, giving rise to hazardous driving conditions and power outages, but they are also hard on the wild animals.  Animals that depend on burrowing under the snow for food can find their access blocked by a steel-hard surface if the ice storm is followed by freezing temperatures.  A quarter-inch plus coating of ice on lingering seedpods, berries, etc. can make things hard for above-ground feeders too.

We had an ice storm yesterday.  It was a chill, damp, dreary day and we lost power for a while.  The weather cleared overnight, though, and today dawned bright and cold.  The entire day was beautiful, with light bouncing off each ice-gazed twig and conifer needle.

Harsh world with no food
bright with otherworldly grace-
Day after ice storm.

Roof Raking

January 11, 2018

There is a lot of snowcover right now in Maine.  A weather forecast calling for an inch or more of rain at the end of the week has inspired those of us with low-pitched roofs to get out and rake the snow down.  This helps to avoid ice dams forming on the gutters, and it lessens the weight load on the roof.  Snow saturated by rain is heavy indeed.

Before coming to Maine decades ago, I had never heard of roof raking and never seen a snow rake.  I’m all caught up on that now.

Histories of snow
cascade down with each long pull—
Back might ache tonight.