July 10, 2017
Summer days in Maine aren’t always perfect, but they often are…sunny and dry with a touch of breeze and just enough warmth to create a sense of vacation-time ease. The trees and grass in their plant wisdom know that this optimal season for making sugar from sunlight does not last long and they throw themselves into the business of photosynthesis with abandon. When night falls, the warm, oxygen-rich air beckons us out under the trees. If the moon is full, as it was last night, the beauty is enough to seem uncanny. Who wouldn’t be drawn to this vibrant world of clear silver light and the velvet darkness between leaves.
Road of silver light
creatures travel in their dreams—
full moon of summer
May 26. 2017
We have had a spate of rainy days in this season when “all danger of frost is past” (or so we hope). It’s hard not to feel disappointed after having waited so long for real spring-like weather to wake to yet another day of rain and intermittent showers. At the same time, though, it’s clear that the abundant moisture has been good for the plants. The sugar maples are spreading their tender hand-shaped leaves wider and wider. The mature clumps of lady ferns extend long, graceful fronds ever higher while new individuals sprout up all around. This wet world can feel quiet and subdued, but it’s beautiful and glows with life.
Countless tiny ferns
arching over rain-soaked moss—
Green, this air I breathe.
May 8, 2017
It’s blossom time in Maine. In the woods the blooms tend to be of the not-so-showy type, packaged in pale greens and muted reds that make them—at least at a distance—hard to distinguish from the still tiny, emerging leaves in similar colors. But there is one clear exception, a tree with slender stems hung with pure white star-shaped blossoms: the serviceberry.
There are many species of serviceberry (a.k.a shadbush) native to North America. The one that charms me close to home in Maine is, I think, the Allegheny serviceberry, or smooth shadbush, a small tree whose non-shaggy trunk and long, elegant branches can take on a surprising range of colors. It’s a lovely tree that most of the year tends to go unnoticed.
Its grace, always there,
now turns visible to all–
smooth shadbush in bloom
April 26, 2017
I know that after the long winters we have in Maine, the days of spring drizzle, even when the temperature is in the fifties, are not loved. It’s April and everyone is eager for sun and real warmth, the kind of warmth when you feel genuinely comfortable—not just pretending to be ok—in sandals and short sleeves. We have had that—a little—but these past two days have been all lowering clouds and chilly rain. Bands of mist have hovered over the lake all day, and everything on land is drenched, beaded and filmed with water.
The view out my study window is gray.
I don’t deny that most of what we think of as spring color—the bright yellow of the daffodils for example—loses some of its luster in the spring drizzle. But I think some colors gain from the rain, glowing with a subtle radiance that is lost in full sunlight. This is true of the frothy scarlet of red maple flowers. The maples are at the height of their bloom now and their crowns have been gleaming in the marsh and in the hills against a backdrop of dark conifers. It is also true of the color in the hearts of the rain-swollen acorns that fell in such abundance from the red oaks last fall. This time of year, the husks of fallen acorns crack open a little, exposing a slice of rose-red flesh. In subdued light, when slick with rain, this fiery flesh can glow.
Soft gray world of rain—
Old acorns crack open now
sprouting, red with life
April 19, 2017
Although the temperatures are in the mid-forties today and decidedly not balmy, a wind has been blowing since mid-morning and that has been enough to break up and sink the last of the lingering sheets of fragile ice on the lake. Ice out!
Every year just before ice out, the stretches of ice—granular from repeated thawing and freezing—become thin and porous, allowing the lake water to seep into the grainy matrix. At this stage, the watery ice absorbs virtually all the sunlight that falls on it and appears almost perfectly black. This black ice has a nubbly texture, with some sharp angles mixed in. It is completely different from the smooth, clear black ice that sometimes forms in a sudden cold snap in late fall. It can be hauntingly beautiful.
Spring black ice is short lived, lasting no more than a week. This year the black ice appeared in the seventy-degree warmth of Easter Sunday and ended this afternoon. At one point during this three-day window, a flock of migrating ducks landed on a narrow margin of open water near the shore. They cruised and dove, seemingly unfazed by the still closed nature of most of the lake.
Orange mergansers glide
down a thread of open lake
by dark plains of ice
April 2, 2017
Yesterday’s April Fools snowstorm put down seven inches of wet snow on top of a still thick and stubbornly persistent snow cover. While the daytime temperatures here are reaching into the high thirties and forties and tree buds are certainly beginning to swell, it still looks a whole lot like winter.
Except for one thing: pussy willow buds.
I spotted some in a low, wet patch of land near our house. Silvery and soft, they are a very early spring flower, appearing this year ahead of the crocuses which need more snow to melt before they can make a showing. It’s true that pussy willow buds are not flowers in the customary sense of the word. They don’t have petals or the female reproductive parts. The buds are the flowers of male plants of some willow species. Over time the bud matures in the warmth secured by its kitten-soft covering and opens to become a miniature bottlebrush of pale green stamens. Anyone who has ever brought home a spray of pussy willow, filled a jam jar or vase with water, and set the spray out to admire for a week or two knows of this stage of pussy willow maturation, and of the dusting of yellow pollen that appears as if by magic at the base of the jar. The opened flowers of the pussy willow have their charm, but there are enough pictures and stories from northern countries to make it clear that it is the first soft silver buds–the ones just appearing now–that bring us humans joy.
I too want to sleep
beneath a fuzzy cover of
pussy willow fur
March 20, 2017
It’s true that the start of spring can seem pretty subtle here in Maine, but the steadily increasing light and off-again, on-again rise in temperature have an inescapable impact on everything alive. It might look a lot like winter out there, but it’s not. Spring is here, it’s just quiet, taking place unobserved under bark or skin, as sap rises or an animal’s hormones shift. At this point, spring is more something felt than observed, but if you look closely you can see small signs of it. Buds are already swelling on the maples. Jackets are not always needed, and yesterday a slim stoat zipped over the snow outside my window in a coat that was mostly pure winter white, but that showed on the back a trace of summer caramel coloring.
Everything says “Now!”
Beamed back from melting snow fields,
twelve hours of sunlight