Land Journal: April 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.

April 30, 2012: Cool Morning

It’s just a little below freezing and the grass is crunchy underfoot. I can hear a small creature rustling in the forest leaf litter: probably a robin looking for insects to eat. The sky is a rich deep blue, except off to the east where there are a few thin clouds; nowhere near enough to hide the sun as it comes up. A small quaking aspen, growing near the edge of the field, catches the light of the sun while the field is still in shadow. Its leaves glow with what seems like an inner light. It feels like leaf growth has slowed down quite a bit during the recent days of cooler weather. Many of the paper birches still have just a haze of tiny green leaves. Some of the red maples are still just leafing out and even on the ones that are further long the leaves are still a deep burgundy red. Two robins are vigorously defending “their” hemlock from a blue jay. I think I saw one of them pull the tail of the blue jay while they were in flight. A patch of small ferns is coming up in the forest; the tiny fiddleheads uncurling to reveal small leaves.

April 29, 2012: Morning at the Earthdance Quarry Pond

I’m writing from beside the quarry pond at Earthdance, 11 miles north of my home and about 200 feet higher in elevation. It’s a still, cold morning. The hammering of a woodpecker reverberates through the forest. It’s an irregular and uneven hammering, so he is likely looking for insects rather than a mate. Two peepers keep up their steady call from near the pond. They are looking for mates. The summer’s tree canopy has started to fill out but the leaves are still small enough that I can see through them to the blue sky beyond, turning rosy off to the east. A crow flies by, high above the trees, followed much later by a great blue heron. The first sunlight catches the tops of the trees standing high above the western side of the pond. The bright treetops are reflected in the pond below, glowing against the still dark water. Slowly the light makes its way down, catching more and more of the treetops, until the sun comes up over the ridge on the other side of the valley.

April 28, 2012: Fluttering Leaves

There sky is a clear, deep blue and it’s a little below freezing; rather chilly for the end of April. A light west-northwest wind is stirring the leaves. Every once in a while it gets strong enough to rustle the leaves; a very summery sound despite the cold. Amidst the sweet sounds of the birds calling I can hear the river down in the valley. When the breeze gets stronger the red maple next to me creaks gently. The sunlit beech leaves vibrate gently in the wind and then return to stillness. Every day they get a little larger and more able to move in the wind. Some of the maple leaves have gotten large enough to flutter gently in the wind. The oak leaves, just recently emerged, are still beautiful miniatures of what they will become in a few weeks. The pond, after warming up quite a bit, is back down to just above 50 degrees (10 C): a clear, sharp cold when I dive in, but not so cold that I can’t swim for a little while and then come out and stand in the sun.

April 27, 2012: Wind, Leaves and Racing Clouds

A gusty northwest wind is blowing and a gray, cloud-filled sky is sending down passing showers of cold rain. Some light spots off to the east hint at the possibility of sunlight but so far the sun has remained hidden. The wind rushes through the new leaves, shaking and testing them. The movement of the trees in the wind feels more chaotic than it did when it was just bare branches swaying back and forth. Now each part of the tree appears to respond more on its own, as the wind finds its way through, shaking the leaves and branches like the waters on a storm-blown lake. Some time after sunrise, light finds its way under the clouds from somewhere off to the east, lighting up the lowest parts of the clouds. Larger and larger patches of blue sky are racing by overhead. I keep looking for the sun to find a hole to shine through. I can see it’s there indirectly from the bright white cloud tops visible around the patches of blue sky, and then finally there are some brief bursts of direct sunlight, through gaps in the racing clouds. A red squirrel pokes his head around a tree to look at me and then races up to a branch overhead and chatters down at me. A crow comes sliding along above the tree-tops, riding the wind.

April 26, 2012: Clear and Bright

Another clear, frosty morning. Mist is sliding effortlessly across the smooth, dark surface of the pond, without any apparent wind to move it. The leaves on the trees around the pond are completely motionless, as if frozen into stillness by the calm of the morning. The sounds of the birds and the red squirrels seem as clear and bright and sharp as the air and the sunlight. The tiny leaves on a cluster of young birch trees seems similarly sharp and bright. The sunlight shinning on and through them picks out every detail, down to the slight curl to one side or the other made by the tip of each leaf. The young maple leaves are more languid, hanging down softly from the branches; and the oak leaves, which have just emerged in the last couple of days, have almost no structure to them at all and hang nearly straight down. The rhododendron leaves are as smooth, bright, stiff and shiny as ever. A sparrow shakes the leaves of a bush next to the pond. Amazing how much shaking one small bird can make by hopping from branch to branch. Swimming in the pond starts ripples that radiate away from me, looking as smooth as polished metal in motion. They turn the clear sharp reflection of the trees around the pond into a sort of linear impressionist painting, made up of fine horizontal strokes that get thinner and thinner as the ripples get further away, until the smoothness and returns and the “perfect” reflection reforms.

April 25, 2012: Life Everywhere

The grass is white with frost. The sky is a deep rich cloudless blue. I can see my breath in the air, lit up by the newly risen sun. A red squirrel seems surprised by my presence but unsure of what to make of me. He’s down low on a big double-trunked hemlock a few feet from me, and he keeps moving around in short bursts and then stopping to chirr and vibrate his body while he looks at me. His coat is glossy in the sunlight. Hundreds of tiny insects of some variety are crawling around on the twigs and leaves at my feet. They appear to have wings, which they open and vibrate regularly, but I never see them fly. One small twig might have a dozen of these little creatures on it, all crawling around. At the pond, getting ready to dive in, I see a small turtle swim by below me. He surfaces to breath and then submerges again and swims slowly away. The surface of the pond is covered with pollen, more truly the stuff of life than any of the crawling, flying, running or swimming creatures I have seen this morning.

April 24, 2012: After the Rain

Everything is drenched from all the rain but there is lots of blue sky overhead this morning. A low bank of dense gray clouds rises up just a little above the horizon to the east, and there are thick clouds off to the north and west, but overhead small, puffy clouds are drifting to the northeast across a blue sky. Not long before sunrise most of the clouds are dark gray, but a few clouds, a little higher than others, suddenly turn a delicate peachy-pink, looking all the more brilliant amidst the surrounding gray clouds. It takes a little while for the sun to climb up over the low clouds in the east but when it does the new leaves, damp from the rain, glow gloriously, vibrantly green in the morning light. Only a few trees have yet to leaf out and many are covered in a thick green cloak of spring green. The sun slips in and out of the clouds; it’s warmth welcome on this cool morning. At the pond a thin skim of mist hangs just above the water’s surface, sliding quickly north as a breeze blows over the pond, all but invisible until I see it from water level and the sun’s light catches it. While I am swimming, a red-winged blackbird lands just a few feet from me on a log. His red and yellow wing patches look almost iridescent against his glossy black feathers. At least three are calling from around the edges of the pond and two appear to be debating who is going to get nesting rights to a particular patch of low bushes and cattails.

April 23, 2012: Steady Rain

In the last day and a half over 2¼” of very welcome rain has fallen and it is still coming down now. It’s a fine steady rain; the sort of rain that can keep falling hour after hour, as it has. I can hear the river rushing by down in the valley. When the rain started, the night before last, the trees offered some protection: the ground was dry under the trees while it was wet everywhere else. Now every tree branch is drenched in water so rain that lands on the branches runs down until I can collect somewhere and then it falls as big drops that fall heavily, almost pounding on the ground below. The trees do offer some protection from the cold northeast wind that comes by occasionally, but of course the wind gusts shake down a cascade of rain from the branches overhead. Shinning drops of water hang down from the branches and leaves. The pines are especially beautiful because each pine needle has a little drop of water at the end, so the whole tree glistens even in the rain-dimmed morning light. The pond has come up four or five inches since the rain started. So many raindrops are falling on the water that I have to look closely to see the individual circles left by each raindrop. Waves of rain move down the surface of the pond. The 57 degree pond water feels almost warm relative to the 40 degree air, when I go for my morning swim.

April 22, 2012: A Lovely Rain

It rained last night; the first really substantial rain we’ve gotten in many weeks. Everything is wonderfully damp: drops of water hang from the ends of branches and the tips of the grass. The green of the new leaves looks even more vibrant than it did yesterday. Clouds still fill much of the sky but there are also patches of blue opening up. The air is cooler than it was yesterday – the rain came with a cold front – and every once in a while a breeze comes by and stirs the leaves, but for the most part the air is still. I’d call it a quiet morning except that with all the birds around it is hardly quiet! Maybe peaceful would be a better word. The sun rises behind the clouds but soon finds a small gap to shine through. The damp new leaves glow as the sunlight shines on and through them. A robin lands in a tree nearby with a long strand of something in her beak, silhouetted against the sky, most likely destined for a nest in the hemlock above me. There is something hopeful about the robin’s nest-building and about a cluster of small birches and aspens growing nearby, six to eight feet tall, filled with tiny new green leaves. They are thin and frail now but have what they need inside them, when combined with fertile soil and sunlight to feed them, to grow and thrive; become tall and strong and old. All around the pond now the trees are cloaked in gloriously green new leaves.

April 21, 2012: Green!

About 45 minutes before sunrise the morning bird calls mix with the sounds of the spring peepers, whose chorus fills the night air. Off in the distance a barred owl calls. It’s somewhere between light and dark: light enough to see even things that are far away but a flat dim light that conceals many details, not through lack of light to see by but because form and texture get lost. With the visual world muted, the world of sounds takes over. A red squirrel, red-winged blackbirds, woodpeckers, mosquitoes, spring peepers, phoebes, a barred owl; all sending their sounds out across the landscape. Low gray clouds fill the sky from horizon to horizon. For a brief moment a lighter, warmer spot hints at where the sun will come up, but the sun will be hidden in the clouds when it rises. As daylight slowly fills the landscape it feels like there is green everywhere I look. Every possible shade of green seems to be represented but the wonderful light green of new leaves shines the brightest. The leaves on the maples are getting thick enough that the branches are starting to disappear amidst the green. The leaves on a young birch tree are no more than half an inch long but they are deeply ribbed in a v-shaped pattern; every detail of which is exquisitely sharp and precise. The beech leaves have a similar v-shaped ribbing but the details are softened by a white fuzz the covers the leaves. The aspen leaves are smooth and round. The pine boughs are green and brush across my skin in the same lovely soft way that they always do. The magnolia does not have any green leaves yet. Instead it is covered in huge, exuberantly bright pink flowers.

April 20, 2012: New Leaves

The ground is wet with a heavy dew. At the tip of each blade of grass is a tiny jewel-like drop of water sparkling in the sunlight. It looks as if the ground is covered with a forest of tiny lights, like some magical land. It’s much warmer than yesterday and aside from some scattered clouds off to the east and south, the sky is clear. The sun creeps quietly across the land, slowly finding its way into each pocket of cool pre-dawn light and filling it with warm sunlight. Thin strands of spider-web silk catch the light and feel very summery. Leaves are appearing on more trees every day. The long pointed buds on the beech trees are finally opening up, and looking up I can see the first hints of green on some of the paper birches. This warms my heart as even the sun cannot. The big trees maintain a strong presence on the land throughout the winter: their big solid trunks and fine tracery of branches are a major part of the winter landscape. The small saplings almost vanish during the winter. All they are is a few twigs sticking up from the forest floor. Now, as they start to leaf out, they take on a stronger presence, filling the forest under-story with green and taking on individual character through their leaves.

April 19, 2012: Details

The grass is crunchy underfoot from a light frost. High clouds radiate out from the east in great brush strokes sweeping across half the sky. Near the horizon the clouds are thick enough so the sun is just visible as a general bright spot as it rises. Higher up the, stretching across the sky overhead, the clouds are thin and feathery, as if the brush that made them barely had any paint left on it. It definitely feels cool this morning, especially with the sun’s light muted by the clouds. There are birds everywhere: flying, perching, calling, and singing; small and large: from tiny songbirds to two great lumbering pileated woodpeckers making their way across the field with slow, slightly disjointed wing-beats. At my feet there is a rich pattern of dead grass, leaves and plant stalks, all woven together. The tangled web of dead grass is especially beautiful. Well after sunrise a barred owl adds his voice to the rich blending of details that surround me this morning. As the sun climbs above the thicker clouds its soft light comes streaming across the field and the new grass almost seems to glow. With each new detail I see my heart seems to open up a little more and let go of a few more worries. But I am getting cold and it is time to go for a quick swim.

April 18, 2012: Stillness

It’s quite a bit cooler this morning than it’s been the last few days, but it’s not cool enough for there to be frost. Some clouds off to the east mute the sun’s light, but sometimes it finds a thin spot and warm light comes flooding across the land for a few moments. High wispy clouds float by, scattered across the sky, but there are also large patches of deep blue overhead. A scattered grouping of dead plant stalks stands pointing up at the sky. The leaves and flowers that once adorned them have long since been stripped away. They stand as bare stalks: a field of lines, each rising up to a point, like a steel wires stuck in the ground. All lean in somewhat the same direction but each at its own angle and each with slightly different curves and bends; lit up by the sun when it finds a gap in the clouds. Every once in a while a breeze comes by and sets them into motion and then the breeze passes and they return to stillness. Observing these natural patterns helps me find more stillness in my own heart but it can be hard to let go of the worries that cloud my inner world all too often. A quick dip in the pond helps bring me to the present; swimming slowly on my back looking up at the delicate patterns in the lacy wispy clouds floating overhead. Looking back from the dock, the new green on the trees is resplendent seen reflected in the pond against the blue sky and white clouds beyond.

April 17, 2012: Transformations

The sound of the wind has changed! A gusty northwest wind is blowing through the trees this morning and even though the leaves are still small, they have changed the noise the wind makes. The sound is somehow softer: suffused with rustling leaves rather wind roaring through bare branches. The wind has also brought somewhat cooler air, but it still feels warm in the sun. The sky is clear except for a few tiny wispy clouds drifting by: a glorious spring morning. The transformation of the forest continues. The shapes of the trees are slowly being softened by the growing leaves and there is wonderful mix of colors. The paper birches have not yet started to leaf out so they are still white against the blue sky. The new leaves on the sugar maples are brilliant green. The red maples still have red catkins on them so that adds shades of red to the landscape. One red maple has both red catkins and green leaves on it and so is lovely mix of colors all on its own. High above the trees a hawk goes sliding across the sky, lit up from below by the sun.

April 16, 2012: Enjoying What Is

Leaves that yesterday were all wrinkled and still opening up after being stuff tightly inside the buds have today become smooth. They are still small and have much growing to do before they will be their full summer selves. Seen from a distance trees that looked bare yesterday have a green softness to them today, but the branch structure is still beautifully visible through the green. Other trees still look bare. Not for long. Along with the welcome signs of spring, like the trees leafing out, the mosquitoes have also returned, much to the delight, I’m sure, of the insect eating birds. The morning has the damp, hazy warmth of a summer morning that will become a blazing hot summer day. No longer is it “chilly” in the morning; now it is the cool of the day before it gets hot. The warmth and humidity, I’m sure, makes the mosquitoes happy. I can’t control what I might not like, such as the heat and mosquitoes, any more than I can control what I love, such as the new green of trees leafing out, so my goal is to simply be fully present to what each day has to offer, enjoying what is and letting go of what might bother me or what I might long for. When I start drawing too many mosquitoes to me I can always dive into the pond. In the meantime, tiny drops of dew on the grass are sparkling in the sun.

April 15, 2012: Transformation

It rained overnight, not much, but enough to leave everything damp and water dripping off the trees. A little more rain falls just at sunrise, but large patches of blue sky are opening up in the clouds and not long after sunrise the sun is shining down brightly, lighting up the trees along the western edge of the field. It is startlingly warm this morning, just over 50 degrees (10 C) at sunrise. There are the new leaves on the maple trees. What a glorious day! We have reached that amazing time when the forest transforms, in just a few days, from winter to summer. The spare, subtle browns and grays of the winter forest transform into the exuberant leafy green of summer. The wonderful structure of the trees, which has been exposed to the world all winter, becomes hidden beneath a sea of wonderful green leaves. The transformation is so dramatic that in each season I find it hard to imagine what the forest looks like in the other season. Walking amongst the trees this morning I can see the transformation underway. On some trees the buds are still tight and hard, little changed in outward appearance from the way they’ve looked for the last five months. On other trees the buds have just burst open, revealing tightly packed balls of green. And on some trees the leave are unfolding like flowers opening up; tiny and very wrinkled, with hints of red from the buds, but overall the brilliant green of spring. They feel like babies, newly welcomed into the world, slowly unfolding and revealing themselves.

April 14, 2012: Peace

There’s a gentle peace to this morning: bird calls seem to envelop the landscape like a beautiful blanket of sound reaching far off in every direction, the calls and songs of so many different birds floating through the still air. I am trying to find the doors that will allow me to more fully take this peace into my own heart. My mind has built thought patterns and walls of worry that block out, or block in, the peace that my heart seeks to breathe in and breathe out like the air. My ingrained thought patterns lead me down the path of believing that I can control things that are beyond control, which adds to my worry as my mind gets wrapped up in what it thinks I should be doing to control what it does not want to accept is beyond control. Oh what tangled paths our mind can find! But it is still a beautiful morning. The sun is shining down from a blue sky, casting its warm light freely over the land. A brief exploration of the woods across the road reminds me of the vast realms that are waiting for me if I can break away from the well worn thought paths that wall me in. Diving into the pond lets me, at least for a little while, let go off all this and simply enjoy the feeling of cool water sliding past me. Climbing out, I realize as well that I sometimes worry about what I am missing or will miss, but in so doing I am in fact missing that very moment! Letting go of this worry, at least momentarily, I notice that maple leaves are starting to push out and open up on some of the saplings at the edge of the field. Looking across the field, I see the bright green of new leaves shining forth from one of the larger trees. Spring is truly here.

April 13, 2012: Waves

A heavy frost has left the grass is crunchy underfoot. A scattered band of puffy purplish-gray clouds is drifting slowly south, riding the cold air that brought the clearing sky and the promise of a sunny day. Near where the sun will rise the clouds are edged in gold and just before sunrise a vertical bar of light extends up into the sky above where the sun is about to rise. Sunrise! The frost glitters in the first light of the sun. The light shining across the frost-whitened grass brings out the texture in the land. The low, wet ground along the small stream that flows out of the pond is bumpy and irregular and has a tundra-like feel to it. As the ground rises towards the field it rolls gently, forming long horizontal ridges like waves in the ocean. Each wave crest is lit up but the sunlight and each valley is still in shadow. Closer to me, on the near side of the stream, the dominant pattern is the long horizontal lines of dead plant stalks, flattened down to the ground and white with frost. The stalks tend to lie down parallel to each other, forming sweeping flowing lines that weave across the land as if tracing the lines of flow of an invisible river. The surface of the pond seems exceptionally still, perfectly reflecting the trees and birds, until I dive in and send ripples rolling down the pond. Looking back at these ripples as I get out, the surface of the pond has a silvery quality to it, the smooth shiny ripples slowly rolling away, leaving the surface smooth and calm once again.

April 12, 2012: Life All Around

Expecting to wake up to a cloud-filled sky, I instead wake up to see the half moon shining down from amongst just scattered clouds. A low bank of clouds along the eastern horizon is not thick enough to hide the sun but does diffuse and soften its light for a few minutes as the sun rises, until it finds a clearer patch of sky. Hearing a noise at my feet I look down and see a little patch of ground heaving up and down gently, accompanied by a noise that sounds like tearing roots. The movement slowly travels away from me, stopping and starting, the grass wiggling as the ground shifts. It must be a mole or some similar creature, slowly chewing his way through the earth. The sun’s light means nothing to him, but I expect he appreciates the warmth the sun imparts to the soil. The birds seem especially lively this morning, living out their lives in the air while the mole lives out his underground. There is so much life in the world and each living being has its own path, and yet our paths are constantly weaving together. I briefly cross paths with the turtles, cattails, and salamanders, entering their world as I take a quick swim in the pond.

April 11, 2012: Bird Life

The half moon is faintly visible, shining through a thin layer of clouds, sinking towards the trees to the west. The clouds to the east are dense and dark; completely hiding the sun as it rises. However, the sun’s light does find its way to some clouds higher in the sky, turning them white and also revealing that there is quite a bit of blue sky overhead; between the small white clouds that are scattered across much of the sky and obscured just a bit by a thin veil of clouds that dissipates not long after sunrise. A while after rising, the sun reveals itself as a bright spot shining through a slit between denser clouds, not casting enough light to create shadows but at least showing that it is there. The morning is still but somewhat chilly; not quite cold enough for a frost but certainly not warm. The birds don’t seem to mind. They are calling all around and flying about their morning business. Various woodpeckers are demonstrating their prowess at drumming on trees, trying to attract potential mates. From the sounds of it we have at least three species around. There is the unmistakable, slow heavy drumming of a couple of pileated woodpeckers. In another direction there is a much faster, softer hammering, almost one continuous sound, rather like a sewing machine running fast. Then there is at least one more in-between speed of hammering coming from various directions. A pileated woodpecker lands in a birch tree near me and then moves on to the big maples. At the pond, as I am leaving after taking my morning dip, I hear the splash of two ducks landing on the water. I think they are common mergansers. Then a great blue heron comes into land, dropping down on its huge wings to land along the side of the pond. I slip off into the woods to leave the pond to the birds.

April 10, 2012: Uncertain Weather

The sun came up this morning as a diffuse glowing patch in gray clouds that cover most of the eastern and northern sky. There are some hints of blue overhead and to the south and west, but it’s a cloudy, muted blue. However, down on the ground there are more and more patches of green appearing amidst the browns and tans that still dominate much of the landscape. In addition to the new grass, various other small green life is pushing up through last year’s dead grass and plant stalks. Green leaves are coming out as well on a few of the smaller bushes and trees, but not yet on the big trees. The morning is a mix of gloom and calm. The clouds feel gloomy and stormy, but the sun is warm despite the clouds and there’s just a very light breeze; the birds are singing all around and green is spreading across the landscape. The morning’s uncertainty reflects the larger uncertainty of spring. We are somewhere between winter and summer, and elements of both are present in the land and the day.

April 9, 2012: Stormy Weather

Heavy gray clouds are ripping across the sky from the west-northwest; bringing with them light rain showers that rattle on the dried leaves and weeds. Wind is pouring over the hilltop and through the trees, in cold, raw gusts. Fewer birds are calling this morning but there are still some. The birds that are most present this morning are the larger, more aggressive species like starlings, crows, and blue jays. Their energy matches the energy of the weather. The smaller birds are probably hunkered down against the gathering storm. A flock of starlings comes flying across the field, floating through the air, rising and falling lightly in buoyant flight that takes them to one of the big maples, where they land together. Later they fly back, landing in a big red maple by the pond. The water below them is textured by the rain and wind. Somehow swimming through this water seems to wash my worries away, at least for a few minutes.

April 8, 2012: Morning Sounds

It’s a still morning. As the sun gets ready to rise gray clouds fill the sky, with just a couple of tiny gaps off to the north. Some small creature is stirring beneath the dead leaves and weeds, making a quiet rustling sound. A pileated woodpecker is being much less retiring. He’s found a particularly resonant tree to hammer on and he’s making a sound rather like handfuls of nuts being dropped from high above onto a large and very noisy shed roof. Even the crows sound subtle in comparison, flying by high above and cawing occasionally. Aside from the creature in the grass and the many birds, the only sound I can hear this morning is the far off sound of water rushing down the river in the valley. By a little after sunrise, what had been just a couple of small gaps in the clouds have become great patches of blue sky with puffy clouds scattered across them. The sun is still hidden in dense gray clouds off to the east but it is shining on the small puffy clouds overhead, turning them a brilliant white, as if to say: "I’m here, you just can’t see me directly quite yet, but soon."

April 7, 2012: The Forest at Sunrise

A great blue heron flew by just as the sun was rising; lit up by the sun while the land was still in shadow. After flapping his wings for a while in slow, steady beats, he went into a long glide, his wings motionless; a beautiful visualization of flight. Three tiny clouds also came drifting by together right around sunrise; not much for cloud cover but more than we have had in five days. It’s lovely watching the first sunlight shining on the trees. The warm, low-angle light brings out the forms of the trees. Even growing in the open, the birches seem to send up a long, curving trunk with all the small branches concentrated at the top. The sugar maples send up a strong central trunk with lots of long, upward reaching side branches, each side branch rather like an entire birch tree. The red maples split into multiple trunks right at ground level and then the trunks all send out smaller side branches. Each tree is following its own genetic instructions but also responding to the local conditions. Two hawks flying silently through the forest, stopped frequently to perch and look around. Hunting. Striking to see but also slightly menacing.

April 6, 2012: Interwoven Songs

Another clear, still morning, but a bit colder than yesterday. It got down into the high 20’s last night. I can see my breath and there was a skim of ice on the chickens and ducks’ outdoor water basin. This morning’s tapestry of bird calls seems especially beautiful; the songs of a dozen or more different species all weaving together to form one larger pattern*. Some birds keep up a steady rhythm, forming the ground of softer, subtler colors – blues and greens and even some browns – other birds come in and out, adding an endless variety of other colors. The drumming of various woodpeckers adds a more emphatic element: red or yellow maybe, like the reds and yellows of their feathers. This is not a tapestry in the traditional sense of a carefully composed pictorial scene. Rather this is an abstract weaving together of a multitude of glorious colors, all coming together to form one endlessly changing, never-ending, woven composition in sound. The dead leaves, weeds and grasses pressed down flat by the winter’s snows forms another abstract pattern in a subtler color range. Thin blades of green grass are starting to push up through that composition. [*With thanks to Norton Juster, whose book The Phantom Tollbooth first planted in my head the idea of sound as a weaving.]

April 5, 2012: Frost

Another clear, calm morning after a windy day yesterday. The temperature dropped just below freezing last night and there’s a light coating of frost this morning. It brings out the beauty in last year’s dead, brown leaves; coating them in delicate white and giving them a fine white outline. Waiting for the sun to rise, I watch the general lightness in the east slowly coalesce into a more focused bright area right along the horizon. Some lightness starts to show through the trees as well. In one small area the edges of the treetops start to glow and at about the same time, down low in the trees, a first glowing pinprick of light appears. Slowly the pinprick grows and spreads through the trees: glowing patches interwoven with the bare trees, slowly climbing towards the treetops. Finally, the curving edge of the sun creeps up over the trees and climbs into the sky, as the sun is revealed in all its glowing glory. The frost on the leaves glitters before melting away.

April 4, 2012: Birds and Birches

It’s another clear, blue, cloudless morning, quite a bit warmer than yesterday but with stirrings of a northwest wind. Gusts come through, setting the trees into motion, and then pass on, leaving stillness in their wake. Watching the small birds; most fly with direction and purpose but one tiny bird seems to fling himself across the sky with gay abandon: flying fast but in great sweeping, bounding curves; closing his wings for long stretches and continuing to shoot through the air. Two tall birches grow at the edge of the field in a place where they get the first light of the rising sun. Their white bark is brilliant against the blue sky and the smaller twigs take on a warm, reddish hue for a little while after sunrise. The lower trunks are smooth and strong and rise up in gentle, flowing curves. The upper branches are more angular and a bit scraggly. They remind me of the mountains and the far north where small scraggly birches are one of the last trees before treeline and the open tundra. Two small yellow birds, goldfinches maybe, perch high in one of the trees: yellow birds and white birches against a deep blue sky. At the pond, looking down into the water from the dock, I see a small turtle swimming along just above the bottom.

April 3, 2012: Clear, Cold Air

The sun rose this morning into a truly cloudless sky; the damp, cloudy weather of recent days having been swept away by a vigorous northwest wind that blew through yesterday, bringing in dry but much colder air. The temperature is below freezing this morning and the grass is crunchy underfoot. There seems to be a particularly diverse range of birds calling this morning, with many more musical songs mixed in, weaving together to form a wonderful morning tapestry of sound. I think at least part of the reason for the diversity is simply because sound carries further in the dry, still air. Mixed into the tapestry is a great horned owl; his deep hooting call carrying across the valley. Closer by, the woods by the pond seems to be rustling with activity this morning: there are small birds everywhere. The trees around the pond are reflected in perfect detail in the water, every branch sharp against the deep silvery blue sky. Somehow the reflections of the trees seem taller than the trees themselves; stretching tall and far down into the pond.

April 2, 2012: Societies of Birds

It’s another cool, damp morning. Low gray clouds are sliding slowly to the south-southwest, letting fall an occasional raindrop and every once in a while a light, passing shower. The raindrops and small and make delicate circles on the surface of the pond. The birds don’t seem to mind the rain; they are busy as ever, going about their lives. Watching them feels like looking in on a complicated society that I only slightly understand. Each species has its own place and habits. The sparrows seem happiest in lower bushes and trees with a dozen of their brethren within a few feet, all constantly chattering. The blue jays are soloist, flying from treetop to treetop with their loud, raucous call. The robins are somewhere in-between, sometimes appearing to be in groups and other times alone or in pairs. They seem happiest low down, often hopping about slowly on the grass. All of these birds also seem to be local, living out their lives, at least in this season, within a few acres of fields and woods. The crow and the ducks that fly by high overhead look like the might cover half the county in one morning. The owl hooting off in the distance leads a more secret life: rarely seen and just tipping us of to his presence by his calls from deep in the woods.

Looking out now from inside, a heavier rain shower is passing through and the rain seems to be turning to snow, but the sun is also starting to break through.

Twenty minutes later and now the rain and snow are gone and the sun is shining down from a great patch of blue sky that stretches across half the sky.

April 1, 2012: Quiet Waiting

The whole eastern sky is lit up with a pale peach light that slowly fades away as the sun rises behind the clouds. The edge of the clouds can’t be far away since the sunlight was able to slip in underneath, but the only clear sky I can see is way off to the north and northeast, and maybe a little off to the southeast where the hills are lower and I can see further, through the trees. The rest of the sky is covered with a solid layer of clouds. There are long bands of white in the clouds, running north and south, and in-between are long bands of an odd blue-gray color. There’s no wind at all and the clouds are just drifting ever so slowly eastward. The trees and bushes that were starting to leaf out and bloom feel like they have slowed down or even stopped. There was a light frost last night and for the last week or so the weather has been cooler and more normal for spring in this area. This morning there is a feeling of quiet waiting; not urgent anticipatory waiting but just a calm, quiet that waits for the slow turning of the day and the seasons. The plants are waiting for warmer weather. The day feels like it is waiting for the coming rain. The one thing that is definitely not waiting are the birds! They are as active as ever. Two Canada geese add to the morning chorus by honking loudly as they come in to land on the pond.

Go to March 2012