Fuyugomori 冬籠りin November

November 12, 2019

Last night the wintery weather that has been making news in Chicago and much of the mid-West reached us here in Maine.  The National Weather Service reports it to be “an air mass that’s more typical of January than mid-November.”

Today, as what is left of the freezing rain and snow pass through and we brace for record-setting levels of cold to follow, we find ourselves plunged into a short-term, Central Maine version of what in haiku tradition is known as fuyugomori, winter seclusion. This seasonal word (kigo) refers to the retreat to a warm and sheltered place that both humans and animals in cold climates make during the winter months. In Maine, with schools and many public offices closed, most meetings and events canceled, and plenty of ice on the roads, a retreat to a short “winter seclusion” makes good sense.

While fuyugomori generally refers to the behavior of humans and animals, it can be used of the winter dormancy of plants as well. I feel a concern for the trees here in Maine–the tall oaks, maples, ashes, pines, etc.—that suddenly in mid-November need to cope with deep winter conditions.

Ice and cold; each tree
drops its life into its roots—
world turned monochrome.


Hard Frost

November 6, 2019

As we enter November, we encounter the end of autumn.  The maples and ash trees have all shed their leaves.  Even the oaks are mostly bare, with just a sampling of russet-brown foliage clinging to their stout branches.  Mornings are bracingly cold.  Roofs, lawns, and woodland leaf litter start the day glazed with a killing frost.

It is a clean, pure, yet spare time of year.

November sunrise—
Worlds of tiny crystals gleam
then vanish to air.

Brown Deer, Red Leaves

October 11, 2019

Yesterday morning two young white-tailed deer, fawns born this spring now sporting thick coats of solid brown, were foraging in the woods near our house.  They seemed to spend as much time playing as browsing and soon ran off, one chasing the other.  Their mother was nowhere in sight.

I had the sense that the pair were still unafraid, innocent of the constant state of alarm that whitetail deer seem to experience instinctively. Certainly, they had no way of knowing of the hunt that will commence in a few weeks, or the hardships of the long winter that will follow.

The pair of young deer had been browsing on high ground.  Later, I went down to walk the narrow trail that follows the lake shore.  This is a path made by deer, sometimes cleared of dead branches by humans, and used by many creatures.  There was no sign the deer had been there recently.

Dotting the thin trail
as though deer had left footprints—
maple leaves, blood red.


Nearing the Equinox

We are close to the equinox, the official start of fall.  For the most part, the leaves haven’t changed yet.  Only the ash trees are beginning to take on their characteristic bronze color, and individual leaves here and there in the maples and Virginia creepers have flamed red.  That said, all the leaves in the woods seem somehow ready for this change of season, the coming of leaf fall.  They have gone through almost five months of rampant, sun-fueled life, working had to make sugars for their tree while insects and arachnids, molds and nematodes, etc. pursue their destinies within and around them. Storms, droughts and munching herbivores also have their impact.

Like most of my fellow humans, I’m drawn to the perceived beauty of a “perfect” fall leaf, uniform in color, with unblemished shape and surface.  But they truly are a rarity and there is so much else to read in the leaves this time of year.

As rust tints the ash
forest leaves tell stories of
lives not theirs alone.

Back-lit birch leaves telling tales.

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?

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