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Reflections on a Beaver Pond

Friday, March 31, 2017

I've loved this beaver pond and the beavers who made it for a long, long time. 
I've loved it since the dog was young, shiny, musclebound and springy, and given to standing up on any tree with a squirrel in it

and leaping up to trot smartly down the trunk of every fallen tree just to flaunt his good balance

like the Little Cat-Dog he is.

I've loved that pond since Phoebe was an ectomorphic elf

all angles and gangles, the grace and beauty still coalescing, revealing itself in bursts

Since Liam was swallowed by his bargain basement screaming yellow Lands End coat, just a tyke in rumpled jeans

given to believing that a fawn's jaw found glimmering in a stream

was that of a young hadrosaur which after all ate plants, and these were clearly plant-processing molars, right?

To which I replied, "Absolutely." And who was I to burst his Jurassic bubble? 

You've heard of grand dams. It was the grandest of dams, huge and bulwarked with logs no ordinary wet rodent could hope to lug.

The damage was everywhere. 

And so was the wonder. 

Logging roads led up into the woods from the pond

and the beavers trudged them night and day, turning thick woods into a place fit for sun, saplings and grouse

and the velvet cups of mullein.

But they didn't stop at the main dam; no; they built three tiers just beneath. Sub-ponds. Spas. Who knows. They had Dean's Fork thoroughly dealt with.

We'd marvel at each fresh innovation, wonder at the nature of their plan,
 and imagine the fish and newts and turtles beneath the surface. 

Kingfishers rattled there; wood ducks paddled nervously and burst off the surface, squealing, always taking my breath away. Frogs of five species quacked and peeped and snored.

And the dog was young and funny,  dashing in to grab leaf-boats launched upstream as they twirled by.

Yes, there's a story here, a song cycle, really, and I'll have more next time.

Meet Tilda SixButtons

Saturday, March 25, 2017


 Hey. That helmet's too big for you. And you're wearing it backerds.

 Oops. I know. I'll go around to the front end.

What in the Sam Hill are you doing there, little chipmunk?

I am giving your son's bike helmet a thorough licking. Mlem mlem mlem mlem.

It seems he left some salt on it.

Mlem mlem mlem. There's even some inside! Let me just reach...

Oop! I'd better not get too carried away here. Is that a hawk?

I don't think it's a hawk. I think it's just a crow. Still. Crows. Snrk!  Not to be trusted.

I'm going to scamper down and get some rootlets to eat.

I think I just figured out why you're craving salt and rootlets, Missy.  You're looking a wee bit thick in the dirndl for so early in spring. Spring chipmunks are supposed to be thin. And I see you've got the table set for six.

Well, you set a new standard for nosy, Madame Photographer. If you didn't toss sunflower hearts and peanuts out here every day, I might take offense. You don't have to know all my secrets. And is it necessary to broadcast them to thousands of people? Honestly.

I could get huffy.

Instead I will lick the salt off my hands.

Back and forth, clean the wrist pads.

And a quick mflflfmmmmfff around the gumline and we're done.

Thank you for documenting my every move. I'm sure your readers will find it enlightening. You have blackened the chipmunk name in your blog. It is time you presented us in a better light. Yes, Uncle Bob takes a goldfinch now and then, and everyone's still talking about the time he dragged a whole mourning dove down the burrow. But life is life and nature is nature. We are omnivores. And most of the time there is no one tossing peanuts to us.

True that. Thank you, Miss Tilda SixButtons, for this little photo salon.  You are very photogenic! Good luck with the litter.

A Walk at the Equinox

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

I didn't mean to mark the vernal equinox. I just got up early and headed out, as I do most mornings, because that's all I really want to do any more--go out. I go out into the fields and find my friends.

You can look at the time stamp on this photo of the moon setting and there it is, 6:29 AM March 20, 2017. At the exact moment of the vernal equinox, I was standing in the driveway with the rising sun before me and the setting moon off to the south. And I thought, man, it doesn't get any better than this, that sun throwing pink and tangerine around to the east and the moon slipping down in sherbert lavender, way over there, to the south. What is it doing over there? Will you look at that! So I took a photo of it, not knowing that I was recording the equinox moonset, the exact moment of the day that night is equal.

And that's how I know there is something watching over me, something rich in magic. It guides me like a Tickle Bee, so I show up for the moments I need to experience. 

7:19 AM, March 20. The meadow is aglow. I know the cloud cover will soon coalesce and close over again. That's mornings in March, and one reason I get up and out. If I'm to have only one audience with the sun, let it be as it rises.

I also get out because I need to get my poo-mail. Bobcat, very fresh. Oh yes, very fresh and shiny.

Wild turkey, fresh, too. There's corn nearby, so there are deer and turkey and bobcats too.

I walked another 20 minutes and found some deer, but they caught my scent first and all I saw was white flags waving and the tha-dunk of heavy hooves on duff. I much prefer to spot them first. 

I see this older buck most mornings. I haven't named him, but I know him to see him. He is one to stand still and watch me from behind the trees. He is very savvy, and knows how to duck behind trunks and drop below slopes to avoid being seen. By now it was 6:50 and I was well into my morning.

I lingered around the far haymeadow, the one with the sweeping curves, for another hour or so, watching whatever came my way. By now the sun had that quality of coming from under a low lid. I knew it would soon disappear for the day, as it seems to always do in an Ohio Valley winter. But for now, this first day of spring, it was raking across the greening winter wheat, and I was soaking up as much as I could.

Laughing, crazy, over the field came two pileated woodpeckers, one passing like a bullet through budding branches. I love how these big birds fly, powering so hard, then gliding, wings closed to their startlingly light bodies, cutting the air like the head of a javelin. Reveling, I know, in the surety of their passage, propelled by a few powerful wingbeats, then cut loose to coast.


I know they must enjoy themselves because they laugh the whole way. I thought about the one road-killed pileated I'd picked up, fresh, and I remember it was like picking up a plastic beer stein. It's got you fooled, looking like it would be heavy as leaded glass. I remember thinking, "Why, there's nothing at all to it. It's all wing, a little muscle holding them together."

By 8:01 I had walked all the way back home to find Pinky and Flag just visible out in the pale little bluestem, that's fading so fast with spring sun. Look closely, and click on the photos to see them well.

Their coats are fading, too, soon to drop and be replaced with summer red. I am looking forward to that.

I messed around back at the house, getting ready to go to town to run a bunch of errands, to reprovision after being gone for a week. Chet needed a vet visit, too. So I packed him in the car and headed out the driveway, only to find a bundle of black and white rags snuffling around in the meadow. I turned around by the mailbox and headed right back to the studio for my big camera. I will not miss playing with a skunk. My errands could wait.

I've been playing with skunks lately. There are so many skunks this year.  This makes me happy, as I adore them. I asked Phoebe why there might be an overabundance of skunks this spring. Her eyes flew open wide and not missing a beat she answered "Cicadas!" I knew then that the magic passes through this child, too, straight from the equinox moon and into her marvelous mind.  This one who, when she was about 6, pulled me out to see a silvery checkerspot butterfly because it was "diffwent fwom the pearl cwescent." Yes, of course, she's got it. Turkeys, bobcats, skunks...all bred and raised on the great bounty of periodical cicadas that rose up and then rained down on us with clattering wings last spring. 

Skunks are peaceful creatures. They eat when they're hungry. They don't look at their watches. 

Skunks don't have to be wary. Their weapons are always ready.

And yet all they want to do is dig and eat and find other skunks to mate with. The last thing they want to do is stink the place up. I respect skunks, but I don't fear them at all.

I creep closer, staying low. Soon enough the skunk comes to, sensing me near. Smelling me, most likely, for they don't use their eyes much, and they seem not to pay much attention to soft footfalls drawing near. He sniffed the air.

And he looked right at me. Please click on the photo, and admire the white base of each tail hair, something I hadn't seen before. He's fancy!

And with that, he trundled into the nearby woods, wanting only to celebrate the Equinox alone. Not even knowing what I was celebrating, I'd done the same.

Get out there. It's all waiting for you.

Gone Crepuscular

Saturday, March 11, 2017


I've been taking lots of photos of the forsythia, as nights in the 20's threaten to brown its gold. It's an old bush, and plagued with some disease that makes great warty knots in its branches. I trim the sick branches out, trying to save it, so it winds up looking kind of scraggly and peaked. It's the only ornamental plant that was in our yard when we bought the place in November 1992. (We got rid of the mound of Japanese honeysuckle next to the garage). I guess I'm attached to it.

Along about sunset I get restless. If there are scattered clouds there is no keeping me inside. I'll put something in a slow oven for dinner and head out, big camera bumping my hip. This March 10 was colder than a welldigger's a-s, a stiff wind blowing too. I pulled out the big Michelin Man down parka, ear warmers and a hat, too. 

But oh, the light. The Tuscan skies. I cannot stay away from the sweeping lines of this hayfield in the evening. They set me free.

The Three Graces (Auxiliary) are three tulip trees that were somehow left along a fenceline to grow straight and tall, as tulips will. I noticed for the first time this evening that the rightmost tree is not doing well; it's got more dead and dying branches than live ones. I feel ya, girl.

I'm not sure what I'll do if that one goes down. I'll adapt, I expect. What else is there?

And the moon rose over an open field, a little pink veil over her face, as if the cloud were reaching down to play peekaboo. That evening sky just got moreso.

I didn't expect the woodcocks (there are three in this field) to be peenting and displaying on this frigid blustery night, but their show went on, if a bit more erratically than usual. I love trying to find them as they peent in the grass, before they go up on the long twittery loop de loop.

I like this field, too, because I can practice my deer stalking. It has some strategically placed rises that let me get pretty close to deer without their knowing I'm there. I've been known to drop to my belly and crawl up to peep over a rise. Hard to do with the big camera but worth it. This doe and fawn could smell me but they couldn't figure out where I was. The fawn had been injured, perhaps going under a barbed-wire fence, and had big bare patches on its back. It moved OK, which made me think the patches probably weren't road-burn; it probably hadn't been dragged under a car.  This doe reminds me a lot of Jolene in build and face, but she's not in as good condition as my supermodel.

This is how a deer runs when she wants to hide. She puts her head down and keeps her tail down and sort of scrabbles down low to the earth. I don't get to see this behavior much, because most of the time the deer spot me first. Their flags go up and they bound high and pretty, telling me I've been seen. This doe doesn't know where I am, but she's caught my scent and knows I'm around, so she scuttles to the nearest cover.

I've been trying to figure out why walking in the dark seems to calm me. Why I love to be out until the skunks come out. Why I adore walking and listening, deep in the woods, in the pitch dark night. Why it's so hard to come back into the light and the warmth, when that's what my kind ought to crave.

 And I have figured it out. It's because, when it's that dark, I have no choice but to be completely present, in the moment. If I am not present, I will trip over a skunk, and we don't want that. So I have to dump all the pointless and damaging thoughts that just get in my way and bring me down.  And I get to turn my senses up to 11, including that sixth sense that tells me when I'm near something alive and furtive.

I also like being out where I know no other humans would want to go. I like knowing I'm going to run into deer, skunks, rabbits, or maybe even a fox before I'll run into a human.  

I think I will make an excellent hermit. 

This wide woods road is perfect for nightwalking. I can see just enough to stay on it. I can tell by the crunch of the leaves if I'm near one side or the other. 

The trouble light goes on at the old farmhouse, which is empty, but is getting all new everything. It makes me glad to see it not rot away but rise again. I'm grateful to my seldom-seen neighbors for that.

The moon climbs in the eastern sky.  The woodcocks have mostly quit for the night. I remember that I should be serving dinner.

And on the western horizon, the sun winks a bloodshot eye at me. It's been watching me all along.

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