May 27, 2011

"i thank you God for most this amazing"

i thank You God for most this amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun's birthday; this is the birth
day of life and love and wings; and of the gay
great happening ilimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any - lifted from the no
of all nothing - human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)
 -- by e. e. cummings

May 22, 2011

For My Father

You were never much of a hunter. Pheasants, yes. Squirrels and chipmunks, I suppose, when you were younger. But you never came home from a weekend away with a buck in the bed of your truck, because you never had much interest in deer season opener and you owned a sedan. I imagine some people from other places can hardly conceive of a Midwestern man without a shotgun over his mantle, a closet full of blaze-orange jackets, a copy of Field and Stream next to the john. And yet when I think of you, I do see an outdoorsman. I see you paying attention to landscapes, to the clouds. I see you teaching me to love the world.


The remainder and revised version of this essay will appear in Literary Mama's summer 2014 edition. 
Click on over to read the rest.

May 20, 2011

Plant Literate #4: Tarda Tulip

I love the way Gustavus Adolphus College lives on top of a hill. I love its river valley, its view of the fog that lifts off the moving water in the morning, its wide skies. I love the highest pane of the highest window on the highest floor of Old Main, especially at dusk. I love its crab apple trees. I love its open lawns. I love its sidewalks. And even more than these, I love the friendships I formed as I strolled those sidewalks, reclined on those lawns, studied under those trees, stared out from that window, and hiked up and down that hill toward or away from that valley the four years I was a student there. Gustavus gave me an education, yes. But it also gave me friends who are as bright and assured and open as flowers. We see each other less now than we did then, but when we reunite, it is always always spring.

Some of them joined me for a picnic last night among the thousands of tulips that are up at the Arb. Don't get me wrong: I can point out a tulip. Almost every Minnesotan can. But it is an easy recognition, like looking at a passing woman's smile and deciding she is kind. You do not know her name unless you ask. You do not remember her name unless she is somehow different from all the other names, all the other kind faces. So when you do ask and remember and meet up again and become friends and support each other and know without much conversation that you will always be a part of each other's lives, you have found something that is no longer a tulip, five letters, pink or purple or orange or red. You have found a tarda tulip. A tulip that grows star-shaped. A tulip that is an open-palmed hand. You walk up to them, these flowers, your own arms extended, and you know you have found blooms that will glow in each season of your life.

May 18, 2011

Sniff This

The blossoms, that is.
Not my husband.  :)  It is HEAVEN here, folks. Hope you're getting outside.

May 15, 2011

My (Almost-Tragic) Hail Story

This is a scene from last Monday.

Hubs and I are giddy. It is 88', and humid, the kind of humid you complain about in June, July, and August, but in May, it is all good, baby, in fact it is down right sublime. "Give me more of this stuff!" I yell out at the edge of the deck--I am perched there, reveling in the sensation of sweat--and the words fly back at me atop hot, fat wind. See, along with the humidity, the 7:00 night is cooking up a whole mix of tight, angry air. Dark clouds are rising higher and higher along the south skyline. It's storm weather.

Yet this doesn't bother us. Anything severe usually comes our way from the northwest, and we simply cannot stay in on such a summer-like night. So we pull on shorts and t-shirts, strap into sandals, and hop on our bikes.

For the record, I do look back and up over my shoulder more than once. I notice it: the clouds aren't just dark. They're a kind of a pink-orange black. One of us says, "Are you sure this is safe?" but the fact that we aren't doesn't deter us. IT IS HOT. Have I mentioned that? We are, for all practical purposes, on a different planet.

That's when we see heat lightning. We're biking into sea-blue skies. We're cruising away from the storm into a perfect evening, and yet shocks of electricity start dropping miles from any storm cloud. I'm in awe, not scared, completely present. Like some crazywoman. And right as I start to sense the true wildness in the air, G calls out, "Em! Did you see that?"

I hadn't, but no sooner do I say so, than a penny-sized piece of hail pings in front of me off the cement. 

We don't know how we have so miscalculated the direction of the storm, but as another piece drops, and then another, we understand that to turn back now means certain pongs and pangs all along our precious heads, so simultaneously we both yell, "Go! Bike for your life!" and we hot-pedal it to the old train bridge we both know is up ahead.

We are underneath the bridge for no more than one minute before the hail turns from penny-sized to golfball, then from golfball to clementine. At first we stand several feet from the edge, listening to the whaps and bams of the ice snapping small branches and hitting the bridge's top. But then we move back, toward the middle, because though the concrete structure we are standing in is long, a tunnel, the wind now is fierce and cold, and it starts to propel the hail and rain all the way through. My darling, sweet, manly husband wraps me in his arms and blocks my body as best he can, but we are quickly dripping, quickly shivering, and just as we'd been this whole time, still giggling from our bellies, reckless and ridiculous, yes, but laughing laughing like we are twelve years old.

The hail only lasts for five minutes. When it stops, chunks of busted ice cover the trail, and larger, unbroken pieces dot the grasses like transparent Easter eggs. The rain quickly transitions from blinding to steady to mist, and by the time I gather a few purple spring beauties along the tunnel's edge that have survived the pummeling (like us), the storm has completely passed. 

We laugh. We kiss. G picks up a few ice eggs and flings them at the tunnel wall, easily entertained by their fantastic splatterings.

And then we bike home. Hail is everywhere, huge pieces that are still melting on roadsides fifteen minutes later. And those clouds? From the back-end (an accurate description this time), they are gargantuan, something out of a myth, a roiling gray monster octopus that keeps showing me his behind-the-head eye. 

I realize we are no longer laughing. Our throats are already stretched from looking up, our mouths just open.

A revised version of this essay will be published in the 
July 2012 issue of Birmingham Arts Journal under the title "Octopus Eye."

May 10, 2011

Bird Ballad #1: Red-Winged Blackbird

And, yes, if you were wondering, my last post did allude to a certain avian creature and a certain call, namely the red-winged blackbird, specifically this conk-la-reeee sound:

Lang Elliott - Red-winged Blackbird .mp3
Found at bee mp3 search engine

All of which, of course, connects to a certain list.

You should have seen me there on that grassy knoll, trying to block out every other sound, listening listening listening to these few notes like they were a secret code to some all-important riddle I would later need to answer. Who knows! Maybe they are.

May 9, 2011

Lowry Nature Center

Nothing gets me like a nice day's walk through wooded hills, so when I took my first true-spring tour around the Lowry Nature Center acreage last Friday, I was beside myself with delight. Have you been here? If you're a southwestern Minneapolis metro dweller and you just shook your head no, you have a drive to make, friend, and a set of trails to explore. I mean it.

As a part of the Carver Park Reserve and Three Rivers Park District, the Lowry Nature Center's 250 acres include eight miles of trails, habitats that vary from hardwood forests to tamarack bogs, and a diverse array of wildlife. During my afternoon walk, I was most impressed by the birds. At one point--after I sat down beside a sunny pond and was quiet--I had a white crane fishing for dinner on my left, two Canadian geese touching beaks on my right, five wood ducks flitting nervously atop the water, any number of marsh wrens and black-capped chickadees leaping from one limb to the next behind me, and a red-winged blackbird singing out conk-la-reeee! in the oak branches right above my head. The constant chirping and trilling and tweeting was extraordinary, was an undeniable reminder that spring has arrived with a voice all its own.

The spring ephemerals are up, too: spring beauties on the Oak Trail, hepatica on the Aspen Trail, and on the Tamarack, whole stretches of forest floor green with the beginnings of cutleaf toothwort. Don't worry; that last one sounds pretty awful to me, too, but I promise it's not. Its little teeth-petals are a perfect bright-white, and the only infection it will give is a healthy one: appreciation, a wild contagion that will spread straight through you.

May 5, 2011

Plant Literate #3: Forsythia

Here is one of my sixty before sixty goals: to have someone name a flowering plant Foremily.

When I was two I would have been drawn to forsythia. Always, always, always I have loved effusions of blossoms. They transport me somewhere magical, and it's an especially potent trip here in Minnesota because these colorful displays come off of months of white. But I've never known it's name. Never known anything about it except for it's beauty. Now I know these things: this variety is called the Northern Sun, it was introduced by the U of M specifically for colder climate cultivation in 1982, and it's thriving here now, in spite of those 30' nights. Also, I know that someday I will plant one or ten of these in my yard, and herald its spring blooms with my whole heart.

May 3, 2011

Amateur Naturalist

Sometimes I feel like an idiot. How has it taken me twenty-nine years to learn that the sometimes tall/ sometimes short/ sometimes bushy plant that is always green but is not an evergreen tree that lined our yard when I was nine is called arborvitae? How do I not know the differences between petunias and pansies? Why can't I classify that bird call if I have heard it all my life? Shame, ladies and gentlemen, swells up.

But then--thankfully, because where would I be if the other side of my inner-voice wasn't encouraging and gentle?--I start to write down the names of plants and animals I can name, that I hold in the store of my memories: garter snake, blackbird, robin, mourning dove, bullfrog, salamander, eastern cottontail, white-tailed deer, muskrat, porcupine, cardinal, bluejay, crow, black-capped chickadee, blue heron, lilac, snowdrop, striped and siberian squill, maple, oak, birch, pine, weeping willow, crab apple, chipmunk, grey squirrel, striped skunk, goldenrod, black-eyed susan, tulip, rose, geranium, hydrangea, bleeding heart, mum, fern, philodendron, water lily, clover, carrot, rhubarb, strawberry, raspberry, cattails, milkweed, painted turtle, mallard, trumpeter swan, Canadian goose, red fox, coyote, timberwolf, lynx, wild turkey, dandelion, sumac, poison ivy, poison oak, cricket, grasshopper, woodtick, mosquito, black fly, boxelder bug, bald eagle, loon, trout, trout lily, sunfish, catfish, carp, crappie, bullhead, bass, walleye, daddylong legs, monarch butterfly, dragonfly, raccoon, pheasant, hawk, bison, black bear, agate, granite.

And then I think, too: if I lived in Texas or Florida or New Mexico, I might be impressed with this list. Or maybe not. I might think, Why, that girl is a bit of a naturalist. Or maybe not. Some people learn the Latin names for things like others learn Spanish.

But I think for today--since I am trying--I'll rest on this thought, a type of bullfrog chorus: Good for her.
 Good for me. 
And onward.

How about you, wonderful-dear-and-genius readers?
What parts of the natural world do you know by name?