Butterflies

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Butterflies

Here today and gone tomorrow. Ephemeral. Like all of us ‘poor creatures, born to die’ (as Dylan Thomas once wrote in Under Milkwood). It seems strange to look back on last summer’s photos and to remember that yes, they were here, those butterflies. Outside the window. Perching on the flowers. Showing their varied colors. Alive. Vibrant. Raising and lowering their wings.

Once upon a time, a long time ago, when I wore a grey suit and lived in a concrete, four-walled cell that they called an office, I was asked if I would edit a new journal for one of the institutions with which I was involved. ‘Sure,’ I said. ‘That would be great.’ ‘We’ll need you to submit a title and a theme,’ they said. ‘Sure,’ I said. ‘Of course I will.’

I thought about many things: titles, themes, topics, writers … Then I thought about other journals with which I had been involved in various capacities. Then I considered walking in the footsteps of the Journal of Higher Education with all of its cutting-edge articles and high-powered inspiration. I breathed a sigh of frustration, then of relief. ‘Got it,’ I said, and the Journal of Lower Expectations was born.

Alas, it was a butterfly that never spread its wings. ‘Your services will not be needed,’ came the curt reply when I submitted the title.

Think about it: a couple of years back, there were no bees in the garden: CCD (Colony Collapse Disorder). Last year, there were no birds. The feeders stood empty, and bird flu was the cry on everyone’s lips and the plague on every bird’s beak. Ephemeral. Butterflies on a rock. Australia burns and people are rescued from the beaches where they have taken refuge in the sea. Everyone, everywhere, now needs to live with lower expectations.

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Butterflies and birds and bees: will they be back next summer? Who knows? I certainly don’t. But then, I am a true agnostic. I have no scientific background worth speaking of and neither ax no knife to grind on this topic. I genuinely do not know where we are heading. But I believe least those who protest most, especially when they bluster and bluff and try to pull the cocoon of disbelief over my eyes by shouting loudly their point of view. I have eyes. I can see, even if there are no butterflies, birds, or bees to be seen. Alas: I can still see and suffer their absence.

Please
will ye no come back again?”
Poor kangaroos, kookaburras, koalas,
wallabies and platypus ducks.

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We will miss you so much if you any of you,
let alone all of you,
along with the butterflies, birds, and bees,
go AWOL.

Black and White

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Black and White

There is a moment in winter photography when the world of color turns to black and white. Color is still there, but today it travels incognito, anonymous. The world is formed by shapes, trees draping their branches, snow weighing them down, dressing them in wedding gowns for their marriage with the new year spirits that haunt sunlit, moonlit snowbanks and dance across the snow. Even the clouds exist to give a soft, quiet dramatic touch to the winter beauty that visits the garden. And yes, it will always be there, even if we are not here to see it because it will carry on without us. As for us, we are secondary, mere witnesses to winter’s beauty and the nature that surrounds us.

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Amateur photographers can sometimes capture this effect in a moment of luck (or occasional inspiration). Great painters have always known this art of the minimal. El Greco drew light from darkness, his portraits often finding their own fire and lighting up from within.  Caravaggio, too, knew the values of chiaro-oscuro, light and dark, black and white. Velasquez was the master of the spotlight that highlighted the eggs frying in the pan, the hand of the water-carrier. Goya, in his etchings [The Disasters of War, The Caprichos] and dark paintings, drew mood and anguish from this contrast between light and dark, black and white.

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My friend Geoff Slater has caught such a moment in his sketches for Scarecrow. Above he catches the precise moment when the scarecrows, male and female, reach out to each other, and beneath a Van Gogh planetary sky, dare to dream of mobility and love. The dream world: so important to us all and especially to the creative artist who dwells in each of us. Deus est in nobis, the Latin poets used to say, it is god within us. The god of black and white who transforms the world into color and light.

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Black and white, light and dark, winter trees, Clare, two scarecrows, deer and crows: labors of love that reach out and catch us unawares, blowing our hearts wide open, letting in the sun and the wind and the ever present joy of seeing things, seizing them, sizing them up, in black and white.

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Deer Dance

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Deer Dance

They came with the snow, of course. Last year there were seven, this year six of them sniffed their cautious way, step by step, into the yard. I looked out of the bedroom at 3:00 am, and there they were, standing beneath the mountain ash and reaching up to the lower branches to snaffle the berries. They also dug into the snow and ate the fruit that had fallen beneath the tree. The night was cold and dark. I didn’t want to risk the camera and have the flash or the laser beam frighten them so I just stood and watched.

Next morning, I wondered if it had all been a dream. Then I saw the dance-steps in the snow. They have been back a couple of times now and this morning Clare spotted seven, in the early morning light, ghosting their almost perfect camouflage through the trees. So now we have a couple of questions: are there two groups this year, one of six and one of seven? Or had the seventh deer from last year rejoined the group?

We think the group of six has larger deer while the group of seven has two seemingly smaller ones. But this may be a trick of moon light and shifting moon shadows. Climate change: the local deer at sixes and sevens. What would Ocho Venado, the Oaxacan / Mixtec King known as Eight Deer, think of it? Ah, a conundrum indeed. And when and if I work out any answers, I will let you know.

So sad

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So Sad

It’s so sad to see the flowers passing. They lose their color, dry up, fade. Seed pods rattle. Squirrels carry away the sunflower heads. Birds migrate. Speaking of birds, we have not seen many this year. Crows, oh yes. We have been invaded by crows. And by Blue Jays. They nest in a neighbor’s yard and have been irregular visitors. While the crows are here every day, the blue jays come sweeping in, four and five at a time, shrieking loudly.

The woodpeckers have been regular visitors, downy and hairy. Not the Greater Pileated though. I have only seen one, very small, later this summer. The chickadees have been regulars, but we have seen very few sparrows and only a couple of mourning doves. No Eastern Phoebes, a few juncos, no Grosbeaks of any kind, Evening, Rose-breasted, or Pine. And scarcely a sign of swallows, martins, night jars, cat birds, cow birds … so many friends missing and passed on. Even the yellow-bellied sapsuckers seem to have neglected us. We had robins in earlier, but just passing through, an occasional American Goldfinch … very few hawks, no starlings … an occasional nuthatch …

I can remember the washing line with sixty to seventy mourning doves hoo-hoo-hooing away. This year: two. So, something is happening. Whatever it is, I don’t like it. Where have all the birds gone? 

A couple of years back. we hardly saw a bee. This year we had bees, and hummingbirds. We also had some wonderful butterflies, the like of which I haven’t seen before. Here’s one that Clare caught, sunbathing. Rear-view, it looks quite frightening. Great orange eyes. Colored fangs. Wonderful. I want our world to heal. I want to see these wonderful creatures returning to visit us. I live in hopes to see them … but, who knows? Have we passed the turning point already? Who knows?

Wind on Water

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Wind on Water
Aneurin & Taliesen

The beaver pond, surface wind-ruffled, sparking
sunlight’s flint off grey, shaded edges of cresting waves,
silent ships, white clouds sailing in a sea-blue sky,

repeated below in mercurial waters, islands
the lily-pads, yellow with the clenched fists of flowers,
closed, screening themselves from this incessant sunshine.

Chirps of anonymous birds, hidden beneath branches,
no motes, no flies, the breeze too strong to tempt them,
fly-catchers in hiding, kingfishers cached away.

Only the great blue heron, regal, always hungry,
surveys his watery domain, patiently waiting,
yet ever-ready, disturbed, to launch into flight.

My fingers strain to capture this peace, to distill it
into words, to kidnap time, motion, scent, the gentle
touch of the wind’s paintbrush, delicate over cheeks.

Where now are the great men, Aneurin, Taliesin,
those bards who called up the salmon’s wisdom,
turning it into words, deep as ponds, subtle as streams?

They are the voices of the wilderness that once was Wales.
I am the distant echo of their song, distanced, estranged,
lost in New Brunswick’s woods, forgotten on Canadian trails.

 

 

 

Humming Birds

 

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Humming Birds

Do humming birds hum? Of course they do. Well, mine do anyway. Here is my drawing of them, humming their way across the page. Miracles of nature, they are, caught with their wings in slow motion, and listen to them as they hum. I think they are humming the ‘Song of Joy’ from Beethoven’s Ninth. They certainly are joyful creatures. And, speaking f joyful creatures, look at this photo.

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An uninvited breakfast guest, this little guy has been measuring up the picnic table on our back porch for several days now. He is having fun.

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He reminds me of my dentist, probing my mouth with his toothpick as he searches for cavities. The tiniest excuse and out comes the drill and away he goes, enlarging the hole, and digging down for his pirate treasure. I told him one day that if he found oil down there, all that drilling, I hoped he’d share it with me. I don’t think he was amused.

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Ah well, we can’t win them all. But it certainly is a busy time of year for all those little creatures preparing themselves for the winter to come. The hummingbirds have gone, incidentally, and I must make do now with drawings of them. The woodpeckers are still with us and will winter over. The geese are gathering at Mactaquac and will soon be winging their way south. The land will soon fall silent and then Fall will be over and winter with all its snowy finery will be upon us. I look forward to that too. Meanwhile, summer lingers on, but only in my memory.

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Autumnal

 

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Autumnal

Skeletal rattle of autumn trees their crisp,
leaves fallen beneath barren branches.
Rat-a-tat rap of dead bone music dries out
flowers, shakes seed pods. Summer’s end
yammers its ruby-sweet, rose-tinted world
where petalled hope and October carnival,
with its ghoulish goulash, mish-mash mix
far-fetched mismatched face. Gruesome
uniforms, fairy-faced, gauze-winged, facile.

Cadaverous danse macabre of death mask
clowns posing distorted in a hall of mirrors
for selfies. The drowned moon needs a kiss
of life. Last night, she peeped through my
window and nuzzled me. This morning my
head is full of mystery, poetry, and dreams.
I analyse them. None of them make sense.