Land Journal: July 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.

July 30, 2012: Thick, Quiet Fog

The calm and stillness that only a thick fog can bring. The trees around the edge of the field are vague gray forms, where they are visible at all. Muffled bird calls float through the still air. The gloriously tangled and riotous grass and flowers are silhouetted against the featureless white fog beyond. A sumac tree nearby is brilliant green against the dark, shrouded trees beyond. The sun is a bright white disc that slowly emerges from the gray fog, and before long vanishes back into it again.

July 27, 2012: Summer Birds

Gray clouds fill the eastern sky. For a while some big patches of blue were opening up to the west and then they filled in with gray clouds too. The air is still, warm and humid after yesterday afternoon’s thunderstorms, and feels more summer-like than many recent mornings. The birds are quieter than earlier in the summer but they are still a very present part of the summer community of life here: a brilliant yellow goldfinch flying down and to land on a stalk of grass, bending the grass down; a pair of hummingbirds stopping briefly in a bush near the house, the male’s resplendent with his ruby-red throat and both with their iridescent green backs and wings; a small flock of ducks flying up from the pond, circling away and then coming back one by one and landing at the far end of the pond; and the swallows continuing their aerial dance above the field; such beautiful fliers.

July 26, 2012: Rain and Surprises

A still morning, with a great sweep of multi-textured gray clouds filling the sky. The swallows flying high overhead look tiny against the grandness of the mottled and feathery, rough irregular clouds. Slowly this gives way to lower, textureless gray clouds that bring with them gentle rain showers, at first barely hard enough to be called rain. At the pond I surprise an otter. I expect some of the frogs had become his breakfast. He swims out into the pond and watches me for a while from under a fallen log before disappearing underwater; to where then I cannot tell. Walking around the edge of the field I see a coyote not far away and freeze until he darts off into the nearby woods. Steadier rain starts coming down as I come inside. The sparrows seem to enjoy the rain if the increase in their calls is anything to go by.

July 25, 2012: Wind, Earth and Water

A gloriously clear, cool, cloudless morning, with a gently wind behind it, blowing down from the northwest. The sunlit grass sways in the breeze and then returns to stillness in the calms between the breezes. The aspen leaves, so good at fluttering in the wind, create a little fireworks show of sparkling leaves when the wind catches them. The wind flowing over and around me as I stand on a rock reminds me of this lovely boundary we live at, our feet planted on the solid earth while the flowing air moves around and over us, as we move through it. The pond water is a thicker fluid than the air but also glorious to move through. The sweet fresh air is most lovely to breathe in and out.

July 24, 2012: After Thunderstorms

Thunderstorms rumbled through last night dropping ¼ inch of much needed rain. This morning, the sky high overhead is clearing but the air just above the field is hazy with humidity: enough to soften the outlines of the trees without hiding them. Mist is drifting through the forest on the other side of the valley, creating an every-changing scene of mist-wreathed trees. While the sun is still hidden in clouds off to the east its rays catch the hazy mist high above the field and create faint “God beams” radiating out across the sky. Then the sun climbs up out of the clouds and its warm soft light spreads across the field. The flowers are radiant in the misty light and the wet leaves shine; water droplets on the ends of the hemlock boughs sparkle.

July 23, 2012: Soft Rain

Passing showers of soft rain falling from gray clouds. Mist drifts up out of the valley and across the field, turning the green trees into grey shrouded shadows. Then the mist lifts and in the distance I can see long gray streamers of rain curving down from distant clouds. Gaps in the gray clouds reveal white clouds beyond, lit up by the sun, and occasionally even patches of blue sky beyond all the clouds. Far from muffling sounds, the songs of the birds and the croaking of the frogs seems to carry across the land this morning, filling the damp air. The water level in the pond is about 16 or 17 inches down from its spring high point and the fields could use water as well, so we’ll hope more rain is on the way.

July 22, 2012: Grass Sculpture

A clear, cool morning, but not as cool as yesterday and not quite as clear either: scattered, feathery cirrus clouds suggest a possible change in the weather. But for now the sun is shining warmly over the fields. One of the many varieties of grass in the field has developed wonderful seed heads. The center of the head is compact and shaped rather like the catkins on the cattails but of course much smaller. Sticking out all around this head are tiny granules, each much smaller than a grain of rice, suspended on the ends of very fine, 1/8 inch long hairs. So, the central head is surrounded by a diaphanous shell of suspended granules, like some tiny modernists sculpture. Shaking the grass sets loose a smoke-like cloud of pollen that drifts away on the breeze. One particular kind of flying insect clearly finds something interesting on these seed heads because they go from one to the next, burrowing down inside to get at something, and occasionally letting loose a small cloud of pollen. Almost certainly, they also carry some of the pollen from one seed head to another.

July 21, 2012: Golden Mist; Summer’s Progress

The clouds departed overnight leaving a clear blue sky and weather cool enough to be early fall, when we should be heading into the hottest weeks of summer. I’m sure the heat will return. A light mist floats over the ground, turning golden in the sunlight while the grass and flowers shine white with a heavy dew. The wet grass is cold underfoot. The summer solstice is a month past and the sun has started to drift back to the south but there is plenty of summer left. An amazing profusion of birds still make their home here but the dawn chorus is a bit quieter than it was back in the spring and early summer, in the bird’’s mating and nesting season. A great blue heron flew by a little after sunrise and perched briefly in the top of one of the big sugar maples, an unusual place for a great blue, usually most at home standing knee deep in a pond watching for frogs and tadpoles to eat.

July 20, 2012: Clouds and Life

Layer on layer of dense, silvery metallic clouds are pressing down, containing the world this morning. But under those clouds there is lots of life: birds are flying high overhead and low amongst the grass and flowers; a cool, sweet breeze is blowing; blackberries are ripening; and bees are collecting sweet nectar. A frog went racing by underwater, a few pumps of his legs sending him flying along until he stopped suddenly and poked his eyes back up through the surface to look around. Even the clouds have their own life: they are constantly changing, forming new textures and patterns: smooth and rough, ropey and streaked, in endless shades of silver-gray.

July 19, 2012: Still Morning

The air is completely still this morning; there’s not even a hint of a breeze to stir the grass, but it’s cooler than it has been the last few mornings. Gray clouds fill the sky from horizon to horizon but every once in a long while a tiny window on blue sky passes by, hinting at sunny skies not far away. Just before sunrise, off in the north and northeast, the sky low along the horizon turned bright peach, so the sunlight was slipping through somewhere up that way. The subdued light of the cloudy sky adds to the feeling of stillness. But the Goldenrod are blooming everywhere now, amidst the floods of Queen Anne’s Lace, and a couple of Blue Lettuce flowers adds just a hint of blue to the wonderfully panoply of wildflowers.

July 18, 2012: Archipelago of Clouds

Another still, warm, humid morning. Every once in a while a breeze comes by and stirs the trees in one spot or another making a sound like a small forest stream, but then the breeze dies away and the air returns to stillness. It’s as if the humidity has thickened the air until the breeze can barely stir it, and as soon as the breezes stops the air freezes back into immobility. Overhead, at sunrise, most of the sky was clear except for one area in the east where clouds lay scattered across the sky like granite islands scattered in an archipelago across some distant sea, with passages wide and narrow between the islands, coves with hidden beaches awaiting exploration, and hilltops waiting to be climbed for the view out across the islands. Unlike granite islands this archipelago was constantly evolving into new configurations, all lit up by the sun from below the horizon, until by sunrise most of the clouds had faded away, leaving one cloud for the sun to hide behind briefly and then rise a second time as it climbed above this last cloud, which then slipped below the horizon. After sunrise more clouds started showing up across the sky but none in such lovely archipelagoes.

July 17, 2012: Wildflower Meadow

A humid, still morning; already warm in the sun even just after sunrise. It’s going to be a hot day. The west sloping part of the top of the field, where the grass is turning gold, is rich with wildflowers. From a distance what stands out are the big white flower clusters of Queen Anne’s Lace, standing tall above the grass and scattered liberally about like sugar on a bundt cake. The Goldenrod, just starting to bloom, adds patches of bright yellow haze, and down in amongst the grass and flowers are the big yellow blossoms of the Black-eyed Susans. Bending down to look through the grass towards the horizon, the mix of grasses and flowers makes for a wonderfully varied and complex pattern against the sky.

July 16, 2012: After the Rain

After yesterday’s welcome rain there is a lovely west wind blowing this morning, shaking showers of water droplets down from the trees. The greens of the wet leaves look especially rich and bright this morning in the hazy, warm summer sunlight. Scattered white and yellow flowers dot the field, and in the drier area up near the top the grass is starting to turn golden. The level of the pond continues to fall slowly but the rain cleared the water just a little. Still, from below looking up the water is a rich yellow-brown; the color of a pond rich in biological activity.

July 15, 2012: The Heat of Summer

Standing still on a small boulder; waiting for the sun to rise; listening to the birds. A barred owl calls in the distance while a woodpecker drums away closer by. The air is hazy with humidity and completely still: even the six-foot tall grass that moves in the slightest breeze is motionless this morning. The heart and heat of summer have arrived. A couple of days ago at the pond, in the heat of the day, I got a good look at a couple of tadpoles. One had started to develop hind legs and was using the legs as well as his tail to propel himself. The other might have had the very tiniest start of legs; I couldn’t be sure. Soon enough they will be full-fledged frogs.

July 14, 2012: Rain, Wind and Clouds

Rain! Just a passing shower, not even enough to wet the ground under the trees, but every little bit is welcome and the sky is filled with gray clouds so maybe more will come. The clouds are in grand tumult, looking in places if they are boiling, except that everything is frozen in place, only changing ever so slowly. This despite the west wind that is blowing down at ground level and tossing around the birds that are trying to fly this morning. Even a great blue heron had to angle into the wind a bit and work to stay on course. By an hour after sunrise calm had returned, the wind was gone, and young swallows were sitting on the power lines.

July 13, 2012: An Unusual Sunrise

Before sunrise clouds in the east turned pale peach and rose-pink well above the horizon, but looked quite dark and heavy enough down low to hide the sun. And then it rose, bright red, the color of hot metal; its light dulled by the clouds but its outline crisp as on a clear day, leaving the sense that there were no clouds, just a strange alien glowing red planet coming up over the horizon. The clouds created a slight horizontal banding across its surface, making it look like this strange planet had its own sort of atmosphere akin to but quite different from the earth’s. Slowly as it rose higher it turned orange and then finally the proper yellow of our sun. The birds and frog seemed not at all troubled by this and went on with their morning as usual.

July 11, 2012: Space

A still, peaceful summer morning. Everything seems clear and bright: the brilliant sun coming up over the trees; the half-moon high overhead; the flowers down amongst the grass, still covered in dew; the frogs floating in the pond, their eyes shining in the sunlight; and most off all the trees rising up around the field and the pond, creating such a wonderful three-dimensional natural space. Watching the birds I try to imagine how they perceive and move through this three-dimensional space, unbound as they are from the gravity-enforced, two-dimensional plane we as humans move in. We are like snails on a rock at the bottom of the water looking up at the fish flashing by overhead. And yet our minds can take us on journeys our bodies cannot: swooping through a gap in the trees to glide out over the valley dropping away below us, or swooping through a gap in our perceptions to find a new way of seeing things.

July 10, 2012: Summer’s Progress

The temperature dropped down to 52.9°F (11.6°C) this morning, surprisingly cool for almost the middle of July. It feels more like fall or spring, but the animals and plants are all saying summer is progressing towards it’s height: the blueberries and raspberries are ripening; the thistles are starting to bloom; I think the young swallows have left the nest but they might just have been tucked down in the nest while the parents gather food. The leaves on the trees have taken on the deep green of full summer; the bright green of spring is now long past. Soon the heat of summer will return.

July 9, 2012: Nature’s Sounds

The air feels filled with the sounds of nature this morning: birds, frogs, bumblebees, the gentle splashing of tadpoles, and the soft murmur of the wind in the trees; all spreading off into the distance and on around the world, blanketing the world in sound. I can hear in my mind the whistle of the desert winds out west, the waves crashing on the Pacific Coast, the rushing rivers of the Himalayas, the wild bird cries of tropical birds, and the crash of ice falling from glaciers in the far north. The deepest sound, felt rather than heard, is the slow spinning of the earth itself, bringing the sun up across the sky here in western Massachusetts and sending the moon down towards the horizon and on off to lands further west.

July 8, 2012: Deep Stillness

The air is cool this morning but the sun is warm. The moon, now five days past full, is bright in the deep blue sky overhead. Sunrise brings a very slight breeze but even so there is a sense of deep stillness to the morning. Spring with its almost daily changes is past. Fall is still a couple of months away. The calm of full summer enfolds the land. At a deeper level I’m feeling connected to the timeless stillness of nature; the sense that the trees have grown as they do, the birds flown as they do, and the flowers bloomed as they do since long before I was born and long before humans walked the earth, and will do so long after we are all gone. This sense of stillness is not dependant on the seasons. Indeed the cycle of the seasons is another manifestation of the same deep stillness, if we can see it.

July 7, 2012: Deepening Summer

Thick clouds along the eastern horizon hide the sun until well after sunrise, but while the sun is climbing up behind the clouds gaps in the clouds turn peach and brilliant gold, and beams of light radiate out across the sky. Warm breezes blow across the field from the west. An owl calls off in the distance. Two birds, one chasing the other, roar past me; the wind over their wings making an amazing amount of noise. The water in the pond is up to 75 degrees and the water level is around nine inches lower than the high point back in the spring when we were getting so much rain. The pond water has a shiny bluish sheen on the surface in places, which I am pretty certain is a sign of the rich organic activity happening down below. When the sun does finally find a gap in the clouds to shine through, it is a lovely soft filtered light that reaches me on the edge of the pond.

July 6, 2012: Frogs

Purple and orange clouds dissolving before sunrise, leaving the sun to come up into a clear blue, cloudless sky. A brilliant white moon setting over the trees to the west. The air feels almost cool this morning. At the pond there seem to be frogs everywhere floating amongst the lily pads. Some are relatively small and could sit on my hand with their legs tucked in close. Others, big and fat, would fill both of my hands. Watching them swim slowly through the water I can see one of the key reasons for their big back legs and feet. A gentle push with these legs and feet sends them sliding through the water most effectively. Their front feet get used to push lily pads and other things out of the way, reminding me of how I use my hands for the same purpose when swimming in the pond. I just wish I could experience what it is like to swim with back legs as powerful and effective as a frog’s legs!

July 5, 2012: Society of Birds

A warm, still morning. White mist filled the low parts of the field before sunrise but it was gone almost as soon as the sun rose; before the sunlight ever got to it directly. A complex and diverse society of birds makes these fields and woods their home in the summer months. This morning I saw the brilliant orange flashes of a Baltimore oriole flying high in the trees near the pond, listened to its flute-like warbling call, and saw its wonderful hanging nest suspended in a tree 40 feet or so above the ground. Nearby I thought I saw a hummingbird zipping through the trees looking for flowers. At the pond the red-winged blackbird looks as brilliant as ever in his black coat accented with red and just a little yellow, and he continues to vigorously defend his territory from other red-winged blackbirds, as he has since he arrived in the spring. Around sunrise a large flock of birds flew off to the northeast, the usual direction for some reason, but I also saw a smaller flock of birds heading the other direction.

July 4, 2012: Moisture

The land is enveloped in moisture this morning: white shreds of mist are drifting across the field and the air is dense with humidity. Water is dripping from the trees and silvery water droplets on the grass reflect the gray clouds overhead. The tall grass in the unmowed areas is been bent over into big sweeping curves by the weight of the moisture. The land itself feels soft this morning: softened by the life-giving water that fell from the sky.

July 3, 2012: Sweet Songs

The sun came up through a low bank of clouds, slowly appearing through the clouds before climbing above them into a clear blue summer sky. With a sudden rush of wings a flock of birds flew low overhead and raced off across the field. From all directions comes the lovely sweet sound of birds singing. Even the cawing of the crows sounds beautiful this morning amidst the softer songs of the smaller birds. Along the path to the pond a few primroses are blooming: yellow flowers standing tall amidst the other greenery.

July 2, 2012: Heavy Dew; Young, Growing Birds

The grass is wet with dew and cool underfoot. Clouds in the east delayed the sunrise a bit but while the clouds were hiding the sun they were also edged in brilliant gold. Tall, bright yellow black-eyed susans are pushing up through the dense greenery near the edges of the field. Three young barn swallows peek out over the top of the nest, waiting patiently for their parents to return with food. In a few weeks they will be flying and in a few months they will be ready to fly all the way to Central or South America for the winter.

July 1, 2012: Summer Creatures

A hazy summer sunrise; a light, cool west wind. Watching a bird perch on a flower reminded me just how light and delicate are these creatures we see racing across the sky and darting amongst the trees. Then a bug, his tiny wings flashing in the sun, perched on the end of blade of grass, reminded me that even a small bird is huge and heavy when seen in the right perspective. At the pond, a massive, fat bullfrog floats in the pond, his yellow throat ballooning out each time he lets loose with one of his deep, vibrating croaks; as his eyes sparkle in the sunlight.

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