The Sun-Drenched Gift of White Pines

August 21, 2019

After a spate of muggy weather, yesterday was beautiful with abundant sunshine and calm, dry air–warm, but not too hot.  These pleasant conditions seem to draw a particular smell from mature white pines, and the inevitable coppery blanket of fallen needles at their base.  The smell is strong, bracing, but also very soothing.  On days like yesterday it’s good to head out into a pine-studded woods, if you can.  Even better if that woods neighbors a lake.

What mind does not calm
at water’s gentle lapping,
scent of sun-washed pines?

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August’s Different Pace

August 12, 2019

There is something deeply peaceful about August in Maine.  The frenzy of life at solstice time—all growth and reproduction—is behind us.  As the days grow noticeably shorter, the tempo of the plant and animal world seems to slow to a simple, quiet concentration on fruition.  Even the air seems more mature in a good sort of way—calmer and less subject to sudden gusty changes.

August’s reign of peace—
plump tomatoes, hum of bees,
foam of Queen Anne’s lace.

Skimming Above Clear Water

August 1, 2019

In terms of the environment, it has been a difficult summer for our corner of central Maine.  For example, many huge red oaks, some seventy feet tall, were defoliated by caterpillars in May, and in June began dropping a rain of tiny acorns they no longer had the energy to grow to maturity.

In such times, I have become hyper-alert to evidence of the tears and strains on the web of life: How will the chipmunks, their numbers already lowered by the toll of heavy icing last winter, fare without a solid crop of acorns?  Are the freshwater mussel populations decreasing as the quality of the lake water changes?

By the same token, signs of environmental health make the heart sing. This morning when I went down to the lake, I accidentally surprised a painted turtle that had been sunning on a rock.  Watching through the water as the turtle raced away, its short legs striding a half inch above the brown lake bottom, was a treat. The small fish in the area were less sensitive to my presence and continued peacefully feeding around the rocks near the shore. Later, in the same spot, I found male dragonflies, slaty skimmers, on the hunt, defending their shoreline territories.  While slaty skimmers are hardy, any dragonfly is considered to be an “indicator species,” pointing to a level of health in the aquatic environments they depend on in their lifecycle.

Clear water, sunlit–
shy fish graze among the rocks
skimmers on patrol

Familiar Bluets

July 10, 2019

There’s no question about it, a lot of insect species cause humans trouble and suffering.  In the midst of trying to avoid these pests (deer ticks and browntail moth caterpillars are at the top of my list) and, in ways safe for the rest of living world, do battle against them, it’s easy to forget about the non-noxious kinds.  These too are present, often in large numbers.  Many are doing things we humans appreciate—pollinating plants and feeding on harmful insects–and some are surprisingly beautiful.  Among the “good-guy” insects, I’m partial to the Familiar bluet.  It’s a damselfly that spends most of its life in larval form foraging on the beds of lakes and slow-moving streams, not attracting much human notice, but come the warm weather it takes to the air, all the while still voraciously consuming small pesky insects, and seeking a mate. The male of the species is brightly colored.  Coming across a crowd of these damselflies, hovering just inches above the warm lake water or perched on the leaves of a protruding water plant, sparks in me a feeling of insect joy.

Bodies light as air
bluer even than the sky—
sunlit damselflies.

Heavy Rain and the End of Lilac Season

June 11, 2019

Like a lot of people, I enjoy occasional rainy days towards the start of summer.  The green of the oaks, maples, ashes and birches is still new and in the diffused light of a rainy day it takes on a quiet radiance.

But we live in a time of climate change, brought about by us humans.  Extraordinary downpours–such as the one that came through last night and this morning–are increasingly common in Maine.  They are creating more problems for our already challenged lakes, occasioning heavy runoffs that contribute to algae blooms, and fish-threatening low oxygen levels.

In such a season, we feel the need for action and hope…and maybe  a little forgiveness.

Struck by too hard rain
last lilacs open, scatter
soft benedictions

An Equinox Eve Encounter

March 20, 2019

It is indeed a cold start to spring this year, as it was two years ago.  Despite the daily trickle of snowmelt, the ground is still covered in layers of crusted snow.

The light is, however, spring-like and bountiful.  The sun does not set until almost seven now, so yesterday I took advantage of the longer day to enjoy an early evening stroll.  The hard snowpack and a pair of snowshoes on my feet made moving through the woods without a groomed trail easy. It turned out there were things to see.

Equinox twilight—
a hare bounds: white woods, white fur,
hint of caramel.

 

I wasn’t skilled or quick enough to photograph the snowshoe hare I saw yesterday.  That individual had a tad more summer-coat, light-brown streaking in its fur than this beautiful “deep winter” hare captured in a public domain photo.  https://www.publicdomainpictures.net/en/view-image.php?image=212388&picture=snowshoe-hare

It Starts with a Sound

March 13, 2019

In Maine spring starts modestly, but beautifully, with the sound of water on the move.  It’s not that winter doesn’t have its days of thaw—opportunities for slush and black ice—but they’re not sustained. They don’t mark the start of transition into an entirely different landscape, one based on the liquid rather than the crystalline form of water, a landscape rich with the sound of flow.

Streaming from the eaves
splashing onto pools of ice—
snowmelt and sunlight.