Friday, September 27, 2013


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Wild as the wind

We release the birds on the equinox.

It is a day of tossing winds, a fresh coolness blessed by a scintillating flood of warm, golden light.

Evidence of the acreage's history as a farm shows up in rusted implements grown over by grasses. Old pasture. Empty barn, tumbledown fences.

And then there are the outside enclosures, where the rehab birds gain the strength to fly away.

Black wings circle overhead. A crow who had been released a week earlier is coming back to the enclosure to look for food. On this equinox, he is still in limbo, in transition between two longer living fully within the world of humans but not yet entirely committed to the world of crows.

We gather in a circle by the lake. Girl children in gaily colored jackets take turns positioning themselves around the small basket cages set on the ground. One cage at a time, the girls lift the unfastened tops.

The House Sparrows zip off into the trees quick as a thought, and sit preening their gray feathers.

The American Robins fly off in three different directions, trailing their characteristic, chuckling whistle.

The mourning doves whir slowly over the heads of the onlookers. They seem confused by this sudden change in circumstance. One lands on a lady's shoulder. Another touches down on the large camera lens of a man photographing the event. These are shooed gently on until they flap up into a nearby tree.

But one mourning dove--cage open to the sky, urged to fly--would not leave.

She was not ready.

I lift the gossamer milkweed seeds into the wind and set them free. They float over the grasses and tiny, bee-buzzed asters; catching on withered stalks or unfurling indefinitely for all I know, all the way into November, where they will freeze hard to the ground until winter's scouring hammer cracks them open. Thus tested, they will wait in the dark, in the ice, in the cold. Until they are ready.

The hours unspool in the wind and air as the planet spins beneath our feet. Twelve hours of light, twelve hours of darkness.

Seeds harvested. Seeds planted.

I think of this poem. And I wonder: Is it time?

How did it escape me that we were walking in Eden
plucking ripe apples on the equinox
one foot in darkness, the other in light
strolling down a country road in the Days of Awe?

How did I fail to faint with wonder
when our sister the snake waited for us
halfway across the road, stubborn in her staying power
seeking the safety of the grass only when we'd passed?

When will I learn that life is like a dream
full of strange and curious wisdom, wild as the wind
and just as liable to slip through our fingers
when attention wanders from the precious present?

When will I remember that no one sees it all?
We need one another to make the dream real,
to rise up in joy and in power, rubbing
against one another until we shed our skins.

—Joan Borysenko, Ph.D.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Harvest on a stick

The state fair is a big deal in Minnesota. I've been going most every year for my entire life. I went there with Lee one hot August afternoon, and a week later, on an even hotter afternoon, with my friend Tracy, who accompanied me to the International Cat Video Festival at the fair grandstand. (We agreed afterward that cat videos, like chocolate, are best enjoyed in small quantities.)

The fair is ten days of first-rate on a stick, mini donuts, cotton candy and caramel apples...grandstand shows with fireworks...carnival rides...barns full of prize cows, pigs, rabbits and sit-down diners...crop art, crafts, 4H and displays up the ying-yang. By no means does this definition sum up the fair, either. It is more than a place, more than an is like a theme park of surreal encounters, only it is all so very Midwestern and realer than dirt.

Just to give you an idea...the interactive bed bug display featured an actual dead bed bug encased in plastic for reference purposes, along with a mattress with strategically placed fake bugs so that you could see where they typically lurk in hotel rooms, plus two gentlemen standing by to answer any bed-bug-related questions one might have. As it turns out, they knew a lot about bed bugs, but were flummoxed by the concept of cat videos.

Anyway. Given that Minnesota is an "agriculture state," the Agriculture Building is the heart of the fair. One of its excellent, old-timey traditions is showcasing prize-winning corn, flowers, apples, honey, things baked with apples, things baked with honey, and so on. (I own an awesome cookbook written by Minnesota's most famous blue-ribbon baker, Marjorie Johnson--over the years, she has won 1,000 blue ribbons for her pies, coffee cakes, cookies, bars, rolls, breads, the Pillsbury Bake-Off, you name it. So far, I have made her Sour Cream Coffeecake, Frosted Brownies and Walnut Sandwich Cookies, all delicious. Only 97 recipes to go!)

This year, because of the ongoing bee crisis, the Ag Building had especially extensive displays on native and honey bees as well as cases of cozy things made with honey. I don't know about you, but I love looking at a prize-winning baked good. It puts my imagination into overdrive, just thinking how good it must have tasted to win that ribbon. Plus, it is all just so kitschy-quaint-Americana-charming, sometimes you feel like you just stepped out of your Studebaker with your Betty Grable hairdo into the year 1948.

I could write a lot about the fair, but seeing it is so much more interesting than anything I have to say.




Monday, September 9, 2013

A pocketful of acorns

You know the way nature documentaries dazzle you with images of bird migrations that seem to span continents, and flickering shoals of synchronized fish, and vast, galloping herds of wild antelopes? How your witnessing heart swells and tries to recalibrate its beat, in an effort to be part of it all, the sheer exuberance of the-earth-our-home? 

Maybe another language has a word made just for this feeling; but in English, one would begin with the word Joy...then add Awe and Wonder and Gratitude, and certainly Love. 

Well. Living in a city, I see only small pieces of that immense sky. Bits of woodlands, patches of prairie, wetlands flanked by highways, lakes reshaped by human agency. No vast spaces teeming with wild creatures. Wildness, yes; no wilderness.

But I do see acorns. 

This, I've decided, is the time of the acorn moon, a fruiting year. In the park-that-used-to-be-oak-savanna, they crunch and roll underfoot, strewn across my path where they tumbled from their parent trees. Acorns wearing rough, prickly caps pulled down low over their smooth hazel faces. Acorn pairs and clusters, cracked-shell acorns, acorns with small holes gnawed by grub or beetle, ghosts of acorns in tannins imprinted on the walkways.

And they lay not in miserly hundreds, but in thousands, hundreds of thousands...mounds. Heaped about in glorious plenitude, grown to propagate and nurture what they will: squirrel, white-tailed deer, duck. Pheasant. Wild turkey, Blue Jay. Woodpecker, mouse, bear. (Plus, pigs; at least in England. Now, if I had a pig....)

Through the metaphoric lens of the acorn, I get a sense of the hugeness of the wild world, its utter and splendid generosity. Nature does not play small. 

If I lived my life on the same grand scale, what would it look like? Because I am itching to open it up, to growgrowgrow. I long to hitch a ride on wildness's back, become one of its children, become one with its daily miracles. They go on all the time, is what I'm saying, whether or not we notice. Right now: miracle! Every moment. It is astonishing how many of them that I have taken for granted, how many nearly all of us take for granted.

Maybe I could have inferred nature's quiet yet immense doings from observing one autumn, or even one acorn; but that is reasoning, and what I am talking about is belonging to this wildness, not being outside of it, because I'm through with that. Finding where it lives in me and singing it back, the wonder song, through the rhythm of my heart, my breath; the dilation of these pupils, prickling of this skin, rushing of blood, the spring of muscle and tendon.

Letting this belonging change me, carry me somewhere deeper, stronger, brighter and darker. Because I get the feeling that I am seeing and feeling only the smallest bit of what is there to be seen and felt.

Now, right now, the bones of the woods and bluffs thrust forth from the withering masses of high summer's green, the way a face angles from youth into age. 

Again and again. The crunch of acorns under my feet. Sweet chirping of crickets singing me to sleep. Young-feathered eagles circling over flowing river and wide grasses in search of rabbits, fishes, voles.

Red-tailed hawks perched on light poles along the highway, the spinning down of summer in the crucible of September and all the millions of things I don't see, but that call me to shake off this worn-out illusion of separation, if I can. To come home to here.

I load up my pocket with acorns for the oak-less squirrels living in our silver maple. We are entering the time of feasting.

What is the world? What is it for? 
It is an art. It is the best of all possible art, a finite picture of the infinite. Assess it like prose, like poetry, like architecture, sculpture, painting, dance, delta blues, opera, tragedy, comedy, romance, epic. Assess it like you would a Faberge egg, like a gunfight, like a musical, like a snowflake, like a death, a birth, a triumph, a love story, a tornado, a smile, a heartbreak, a sweater, a hunger pain, a desire, a fulfillment, a desert, a waterfall, a song, a race, a frog, a play, a song, a marriage, a consummation, a thirst quenched.
Assess it like that. And when you're done, find an ant and have him assess the cathedrals of Europe. 

Photos: Caponi Art Park, Eagan, MN. 
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