Land Journal: August 2012

Every morning when I am at home I get up shortly before sunrise and spend a little while outside, watching the sun come up and the new day come alive. I walk the 400 feet up to a small pond and go for a swim. When I get back inside I write in what I call my "Pond Journal" a little about what I saw, heard and felt. I decided to put that journal up here to share with a wider world what I have written since I see this, like photograpy, as a way of bringing back a record of my observations of the natural world.

On August 26 I moved from Worthington, Massachusetts to Foster, Rhode Island. I continue to write but my writing has taken a different direction, less condusive to daily posts. So, for now I am closing the Pond Journal, leaving it as a story of my time in Worthington. Stay tuned for new directions in the future.

August 25, 2012: Late Summer

Still humid summer air, not quite warm but not cool either. Blue-gray clouds blend into a blue-gray sky, making it hard to tell what is cloud and what is sky. As the light gets brighter it reveals high streaky feathery clouds, seemingly radiating out across the sky from the east, not thick enough to fully cover the sky but enough to mute the blue. A small pink patch develops at the eastern horizon, slowly gets brighter and turns more orange. When this patch lifts away from the horizon I know the sun has risen but it takes a while before anything sun-shaped is visible. Slowly the disc of the sun takes shape and a huge halo forms around it, encircling most of the eastern sky. Aside from some crows cawing off in the distance the birds seem slow to call this morning. I can hear them fluttering in the sunflowers and see them flying high overhead. Even before sunrise a hummingbird drinks hungrily from the flowers while a bee nearby gathers from other flowers. A duck goes rocketing by low over the field, heading east. At the pond, standing on the end of the dock, it looks like a long ways down to the water. The pond has dropped nearly two feet from its spring high. A frog paddles his way through the pond weed. The lily pads ride up and down over the waves I make while swimming. When I get out the waves slowly dissipate and the pond returns to stillness, until some other unseen creature creates more small ripples.

August 23, 2012: Birds in Flight

A lone bird flies across the sky in the early morning light, calling as he goes. Then silence except for the endless thrum of the insects. Closer to sunrise the swallows suddenly appear above the field, probably searching for insects to eat. The air is hazy with humidity and the sun comes up a summery orange. Just at sunrise a hummingbird comes buzzing through the flowers. High, sweeping, feathery cirrus clouds stretch out across the sky, each cloud with its own arcing, curling sense of motion. The place where the sun rises now moves south by about half the diameter of the sun every day. Not much, but it quickly adds up over time as we move towards the fall equinox. However, today feels like another slow, hazy summer morning.

August 22, 2012: Still Air, Racing Clouds

Cool and clear, except for some high, thin, scattered clouds. Before sunrise, birds fly over the field silhouetted black against the blue sky. A deep calm. The sun arrives, pouring down warmth, light, and energy. As often happens, the first light of the sun stirs up a brief gentle breeze, just enough to set the sunflowers into motion. Stillness returns. Birds fly over the field sunlit, and their calls drift through the air: phoebe and bluejay, crow and swallow. A woodpecker hammers in the distance and a hummingbird buzzes from flower to flower. The air is still down here at ground level but the clouds are racing by: feathery clouds far away, high up in the sky, riding the jetstream as it races off to the northeast.

August 21, 2012: Change and Calm

More summer-like temperatures have returned, along with scattered clouds; thickest in the east and southeast where they come together to form a solid wall of clouds; breaking up into just scattered clouds overhead and to the northwest. The first light from the sun turns the highest clouds pale pink and the next lower clouds white, while the lowest clouds are a lovely soft, dark gray. Above everything is a sky turning from the slate gray of dawn to the deep blue of a late summer morning. A light breeze blows from the west or northwest, almost more of a gentle flow of air than a breeze since it rarely gets strong enough to even stir the leaves on the trees. My mind wants to overlay onto what I see a sense of impending change, of anticipation: the imminence of the change of seasons overlaid with the changes in my life as I get ready to move. But looking deeper I realize that the land itself is deeply calm; the calm that comes of simply being what it is right now. Plants are growing, flowers are blooming and fading, seasons are indeed changing as they have countless times before. Woven all through this are traces of the past and hints of the future, but what truly matters is what is right now, without anticipation or regret since the land can feel neither.

August 20, 2012: Sunflowers

It’s a second morning that feels cool enough to be fall but summer is not gone yet. The swallows continue to fly over the field; the insects never stop with their vibrating drone; the leaves on the trees are still the luxuriant deep green of summer; and the sun is warm, at least when it stays ahead of clouds pushing up from the south. Everything looks sharp and clear in the cool morning air: the trees in the distance but even more so the sunflowers and other plants a few feet away, which seem almost unbelievably bright and crisp and detailed. The sunflowers are the very nature of organic growth made visible: their wonderful strong curving hairy stalks, big floppy leaves on arcing stems, and the rich textures of the bright yellow flower petals, curving and twisting around the huge seed heads. I can see why painters love sunflowers, and the animals seem to love the sunflowers too as there are sparrows and goldfinches and hummingbirds and bees and butterflies all flying from flower to flower in the sunlight.

August 19, 2012: Reverberations of Stillness

Big round drops of dew on the short grass shine in the first light of day. The tall grass stands black against a deep blue sky as Venus fades away above the trees. The air seems to reverberate with stillness as the sun gets ready to rise. A goldfinch flying over the field plunges towards the sunflowers, its wings tucked in, as if overcome by the morning, and then remembers its wings just in time and continues its up and down flight across the field. In the first sunlight the dew is so thick and white that it looks almost like frost, which is appropriate since the almost cold air carries what feels like the first hints of fall.

August 18, 2012: Soft Morning

A lovely soft morning: soft gray clouds overhead, soft fog rising up out of the valley, soft rain coming to an end followed by the delicate sound of water dripping from the trees, the birds calling softly, and the cloud-softened light of the sun as the day begins. While not as dramatic as a sunny morning there is something quite beautiful about a morning like this: the land feels wrapped in a gentle blanket of clouds bringing life-giving moisture. A cool, soft breeze blows from the west. The swallows are swooping and circling and weaving through the air above the field.

August 17, 2012: Math and Summer’s Progress

You can follow the sun’s progress below the horizon from the light it casts on some thin clouds just above the horizon. The light on the clouds gets brighter as the sun gets closer to rising, but it also slides to the right, to the south, as the sun moves diagonally towards rising, sliding right past the places where it rose last month and last week. The official time of sunrise today is 6am, 45 minutes later than it rose on the summer solstice back in June: summer is passing. But the swallows are still sweeping through the air above the field, the goldenrod are blooming, and a heavy dew sparkling on the grass presages a fine day. A warbler of some variety flits from goldenrod to goldenrod, his breast nearly the same shade of yellow as the flowers. The perfect web of an orb weaver spider, stretched between the flowers, curves through space like some elegant mathematical, topological surface, as if carefully calculated by a hugely complex set of equations. One of the greatest beauties of nature is it’s ability to create such complexity simply as the outcome of organic processes.

August 16, 2012: Cloud Drama

Low, puffy, gray clouds are sliding to the south under higher gray clouds that appear to be still. The high clouds are towering puffy stacked masses and their tops turn white in the first light of day just as the low clouds become large, dark and threatening. But the dark clouds pass with just a few distant rumbles of thunder and behind them for a brief time there’s a big patch of blue sky. Down at ground level, underneath all this cloud drama, everything feels calm. The insects are droning away; there’s only an occasional light breeze; and the birds take up their calls as the day gets brighter. Somewhere behind all the clouds off to the east the sun has risen. A hawk flying low and silent over the field is a reminder that calm can be deceptive, especially for smaller creatures, but he’s gone in a few moments and the morning continues.

August 15, 2012: Hard, Steady Rain

There are no insects or bird calls to hear this morning. Instead there’s the steady thrumming beat of heavy rain falling on wet leaves and grass, and the more crackly sound of it coming down hard on the surface of the pond. A patch of ferns in a small clearing seems to glow slightly amidst the murky darkness of the forest all around. Coming back out from under the trees the field seems to glow in the same way, the brightness startling after the dim light of the forest. The mist occasionally lifts to reveal the ridge off to the east but there will be no sunrise to see this morning. Instead the clouds are turned from gray to bright white and back again in an instant by a flash of lightning arcing across the sky; followed by the slow, crackling roar of thunder rolling across the hilltop. There’ll be no swimming this morning but I’m about as wet as I would have been anyway after walking in the rain. A skunk ambling about in the rain, his broad white stripe fortunately very visible in the dim light, causes me to change direction.

August 14, 2012: Mackerel Sky

What’s known as a mackerel sky: lots of tiny puffy white clouds packed closely together with just thin strands of blue sky in-between, like a great school of fish swimming over my head across the sky. Low in the east the clouds are thin enough for the sun to shine through, it’s light muted and softened. Watching the sunrise I feel like I am plunging forward, riding the earth as it spins me eastward, dropping the horizon down below the sun and turning this side of the earth into the light for another day. A grasshopper clings to a white flower in the garden in the first light of the day while a hummingbird buzzes frenetically from flower to flower, in the usual hummingbird way. Birds chatter back and forth over the steady drone of the insects.

August 13, 2012: The Moon and Venus

The crescent moon floats high overhead in a slate blue sky while nearby Venus, the last morning “star,” slowly fades away. Scattered clouds low in the east turn a rosy purple edged in gold; then fade to light gray edged in white just before sunrise. As the sun comes over the horizon it sends brilliant shots of light through holes in a small cloud before climbing into a strip of blue sky, then slipping behind another cloud that never fully hides it, and then finally climbing up into clear sky, its light sparkling on the dewy grass. A gentle gust of cool northwest wind elicits a murmur of shivering leaves from the trees. Venus is lost in the daylight now and the moon is only just visible. A fat green insect sits in the sun on a cluster of Queen Anne’s Lace. His antennae, sticking straight out in front of him, are as long as his body, and his angular back legs are even longer. He raises his antennae from horizontal to vertical, possibly because he senses me watching him, so I leave him to enjoy the sun and continue on my way to the pond for my morning swim.

August 12, 2012: Fog Green

The flowers seem to glow in the fog-softened light. The leaves on the fog-wrapped trees are such a dark green they look almost black at times, while the green leaves on goldenrods are almost as vibrant and bright as their yellow flowers. In-between it seems like every possible shade of green is somewhere on this green-draped, fog-wrapped landscape. Then everything goes a few shades darker moments before light rain begins to fall from the warm, still air. Even after the rain stops falling the sound of it continue in the forest, although it mostly seems to be falling from higher leaves to lower leaves as I can’t feel it down at the forest floor. Every lily pad is bright green and covered with bulging, shiny, round drops of water and the smooth surface of the pond reflects the smooth gray fog overhead.

August 11, 2012: Gray and Soft

The nearly featureless ceiling of gray overhead is so low the clouds occasionally move through rather than over the trees. More clouds are drifting down the valley like a slow misty river. The morning might be called gloomy but there is also a softness to it and the air is rich with the smell of wet earth and plants. For the first time in a couple of months I can hear the river rushing by down in the valley. The birds seem a bit slow to get going this morning but once going are as active as ever. The frogs, however, are keeping very quiet. Maybe they have been astonished into silence by the nearly two inches of rain that fell yesterday. A small shrew follows well-traveled paths through the grass, near a large rock that I suspect he may shelter under. He seems oblivious to the world above as he makes his rustling way through the grass.

August 10, 2012: Weather to Make the Insects Happy

Still, warm, humid air lies like a muffling blanket across the land this morning. Low, heavy clouds slide slowly by, just clearing the hilltops. Every once in a while a gap opens up to reveal scattered clouds high above and the half moon far, far beyond. Even more rarely the low sun finds a gap to shine through, glowing orange-yellow, its light dulled by the thick humid air. It’s weather to make insects happy and they are filling the air with a steady buzzing, vibrating hum. Huge dragonflies roam about above the field, flying in their prehistoric way: their nearly transparent wings vibrating in concert to allow them to dart and hover and turn in place. Clouds of some sort of tiny flying insect are swirling about just above the pond water. A pair of indigo buntings flit about amongst the tall stands of goldenrod, the male a rich deep blue, the female clad in warm soft browns.

August 9, 2012: Fog Light

The half moon is bright in blue sky overhead but it’s foggy all around down below. The fog seems to hug the ground, as if it has risen up from below rather than coming down from the sky. Before sunrise the fog near the eastern horizon turns bright peach-pink, the color slowly becoming brighter but more concentrated as the sun gets closer to rising. The trees along the far ridge appear out of the mist and turn dark against the brightness beyond. Then the sun comes up shining brilliant yellow-orange through pale yellow-white fog, as if the sun has drawn the color out of the fog and back to itself. As the sun climbs up into the sky the fog follows along behind, hiding the far ridge once again, and lifting up from the ground across the field to hang in the treetops. Birds flying overhead look black against the bright foggy sky above but a goldfinch on the ground stands out soft bright yellow against the wet green grass.

August 7, 2012: Still Sounds

The grass, wet with dew, is cold against my feet, and the air is cool over my skin. The insects are quiet in the cool air so there is not the steady drone of their noises filling the morning. Instead individual sounds seem to drift across the landscape in the still air: a crow cawing a couple of times far off in the distance, a barred owl hooting away to the north, a red squirrel chirring briefly in the woods up at the head of the field, followed by a woodpecker drumming away on a tree in the woods off to the west. As the sun comes up the smaller birds start chattering back and forth across the field, the dew starts to dry off the grass, and as the air warms up a little the insects start to drone and vibrate a bit more in the background. Through it all the frogs keep up their steady, croaking conversation down in the pond.

August 6, 2012: After the Rain

Showers of water droplets rain down from the trees. The grass and leaves and flowers glisten with moisture from last night’s rain. At the edge of the forest a big spider web hangs in space, each strand strung with glistening drops of water. The sky is clearing and the air feels drier than it has recently. A gentle west wind feels almost cool at times. The leaves on the trees are the deep dark green of full summer, rich with chlorophyll, as the trees make full use of the summer warmth and sunlight. At the pond, amongst all the big saucer and even salad plate size frogs there’s a small frog, maybe an inch and a half across. A few weeks ago it was probably still a tadpole.

August 4, 2012: Sunrise, Moonset

The sky is clear overhead but so humid down at ground level that it’s almost foggy. A white haze hangs in the air over the field. The eastern sky turned rose pink before the sun rose, bright orange-yellow; while the west the bright white moon was setting in a pale blue sky.

August 3, 2012: Textures and Patterns

Complex layers of clouds: white and gray overhead, orange and gold in the east. Lots of blue overhead too, but in the east the clouds occasionally thin just enough for the sun to be barely discernable as a soft glowing circle. The air over the field is once again still and hazy with humidity. My eyes keep getting drawn upward to the varied and every-changing patterns in the sky: puffy clouds sharply defined against the blue; a great swath of tiny cloud-balls, packed together like the lily pads on the pond; even broad areas of softer, smoother clouds. Watching the textures and patterns above makes me more aware of the textures and patterns down on earth: the rough bark of a tree, the smooth arcing verticals of the cattails, even the tiny flowers that make up the goldenrod and Queen Anne’s lace, that so beautifully hedge the path around the field.

August 2, 2012: A Humid Morning

A humid, still morning. The air seems to vibrate with the buzzing drone of some type of insect; quieter than cicadas but with a quality that seems to resonate across the field. The sun rises as a fuzzy, glowing orange ball shining through the clouds and then vanishes behind thicker clouds just above the horizon. Only much latter does it climb above the clouds into clear sky as the clouds also fade away, but the sunlight still has a hazy quality to it from all the humidity. More goldenrod are blooming giving the whole field a golden-yellow cast. The big thistle by the path to the pond is now eight feet tall! The burdocks nearby, with their funny round spiky burs, are also getting large, and lavender “florets” are developing on the burs.

August 1, 2012: Softer Sounds

Monochromatic gray clouds cover the sky from horizon to horizon. The light is dull and muted even after I know the sun has risen, somewhere beyond the clouds. The soft light brings out the lovely colors and textures of the wet meadow: the yellow and pink and purple and white flowers, and the endless shades and textures of green. A few birds are calling here and there this morning, but rising up from the field is the humming and buzzing and chirping of various insects. I’m sure they’ve been making their noises all summer, but until now the dawn chorus of bird songs has drowned them out. It’s almost just a background hum of sound: easy to miss when the birds, raucous by comparison, are going full throttle, as they were during mating and nesting season. It’s August now, and summer is changing.

Go to July 2012