Poetry: 81/365

At art school in France twenty years ago, I studied with the poet Gustaf Sobin. I still have the slim red composition book from that class. He was the first writing mentor who inspired me; the first writer I’d encountered who was so deft at teaching craft. One day he forgot an appointment to go over my work, and later left a note of apology in the most fantastic handwriting, signed, “with ashes on my head, Gustaf.”

Tonight I found this poem that held echoes of the day. We’d gone for a walk and found the eagle atop a telephone pole with his prey, a helpless duck. The eagle plucked and plucked with his sharp beak, feathers falling like big flakes of snow. The duck, black with blood, shuddered, then went limp. We were uncomfortably close. The eagle took off, dead duck in his talons. I kneeled on the pavement, collected black feathers streaked with iridescent blue.

 

Intrigue In The Trees
by JOHN BREHM

Often I wonder:
Is the earth trying to get
rid of us, shake us off,
drown us, scorch us
to nothingness?
To save itself and all other
creatures slated for extinction?
The trees around here
seem friendly enough —
stoic, philosophically inclined
toward nonjudgmental
awareness and giving
in their branchings
perfect examples
of one thing becoming two
and remaining one —
but who knows
what they really feel?
Just last night I was walking
to my favorite cafe,
the Laughing Goat,
when I saw a flock of crows
circling raincloudy sky,
arguing, speaking strangely,
suddenly alight on
a maple tree, dozens of them
closing down their wings
like arrogant, ill-tempered
magistrates. Some kind
of consultation
was happening there,
some plan unfolding
(animals think we’re crazy
for thinking they can’t think),
and everybody was looking up,
looking up and watching.

 

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Building: 71/365

Wings Spread

We’re on eagle watch every day around here. Sometimes all we have to do is look up in the sky, and there they are. Chris is the dedicated one, photographing them every morning and every evening. He even went out during the storm two nights ago to see how the nest was faring.

The eagles have been working on two nests, one in a tall pine in a new location, and the one pictured here, in the original woods not far from their old nest. Initially it looked like they would take up residence in the pine, but over the last few weeks it’s become clear they’ve chosen the nest in the woods.

The eagles spent so much time and energy creating two structures (and Chris suspects a third, a ground nest in the marsh), but they may only end up using one. It struck me as a metaphor for writing, the investment of time and energy. Building and building, uncertain of the outcome. That’s how I’m feeling right now; I’m putting in the hours, but I can’t be sure how it’s all going to turn out.

Birdwatching: 50/365

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“You cannot share your life with a dog… or a cat, and not know perfectly well that animals have personalities and minds and feelings.”

 Jane Goodall

Chris continues to faithfully track the eagles and document their progress. They’ve left the woods and taken up residence in a tall pine on a street nearby. He’s captured photos of them with their talons full of reeds and one with a wishbone-shaped branch in her beak culled from their former tree. This photo is one of my favorites, the expression of joy on the bird’s face, so distinctly different from the expressions of distress in my post two weeks ago.

The eagles are working hard to build the new nest themselves. Eagles can be bullies and often overtake the nest of a hawk or osprey, capitalizing on the hard work of another bird, as they did with the nest in the woods. It seems they aren’t taking chances this time. They astutely scouted out a stronger tree and are building from scratch.

The same day Chris captured this photo of the eagle in her new home, he tracked them back to the woods that evening, to their original tree. This struck me as profound, the pair perched precisely where their first nest had been, where their egg had fallen. What does this say about their internal life, their grief and rituals, their connectedness to their unborn offspring and former home, their resiliency, their intelligence?

As much as I love spotting them in the sky, I wouldn’t be able to contemplate their behavior if it weren’t for Chris’ passion and keen eye. I’m grateful to him for capturing the story as it unfolds, for the privilege of being able to study wildlife behavior up close, to observe them as they cope like any of the rest of us with happenstance, the changing weather, the things we can control and the things we can’t.

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Updates: 44/365

I’m not very good with numbers. Or dates. They’re just not something I pay attention to unless I have to. So it took 43 posts before I noticed – before my sister noticed actually – that last night’s post had a date stamp of March 3, not March 2. It never occurred to me that the blog’s timezone defaults to London time (UTC +0). So I figured out how to update the timezone setting, but it means all my posts from 1 through 43 that were published in the evening are stamped with the wrong date. It wouldn’t bother me so much except that this is a daily practice, and though I haven’t missed a day, the date stamp says different. I’m wondering if there’s any way it can be fixed…

For anyone who read my post Reverence a few days back, I’m happy to report that I spotted one of the eagles this morning swooping over our yard. When Chris went to investigate, he found them with branches in their beaks, rebuilding. Chris had some of his photos featured by the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and has officially earned the new nickname Bird Nerd. He captured this photo this morning of a great horned owl who resides in the same woods as the eagles. Birds are wondrous creatures, aren’t they?

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Reverence: 37/365

 

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A storm rolled in at midnight, lighting up the bedroom. Big cracks of thunder. The wind coming off the water gusted over the roof like it might tear it off. It was enough to wake Isabella, but she wasn’t bothered by it.

I thought of the eagles in their nest in the patch of woods a block away. How they must be hunkered deep protecting their new eggs. The sway of those high branches, the rain pelting tucked wings. What a night to endure high up in a tree. I thought of the three squirrels who dwell in the thick hollowed out branch of our backyard maple. And the small birds, the woodpeckers, cardinals, blue jays and robins, who frequent our feeder. I lay listening to the storm wishing them all safe refuge. I think about us all being made of the same life force embodied in different physical forms. I think about it as a family value, unspoken but understood among the three of us, a deep respect, a reverence for all life. I think less about instilling this value in my daughter and more about the way she instilled this in me with her birth, her very existence.

In the course of writing this post this morning, alternately doing dishes and sitting slumped at the computer indian-style, breastfeeding the two-year old in my lap while my hands fly across the keyboard, I see the eagle swooping, soaring from the window. I scoop up Isabella and run barefoot and jacketless in pajamas out the back door onto the wet deck to get a better look. There she is, soaring against the new blue sky. I call to Chris who’s upstairs, “Get the camera, they’re putting on a show!” He dresses and rushes out, walks up to the woods with the camera.

He returns a half hour later with the news that the nest is gone, and with it their two new eggs. The spectacular swoop and soar from the woods to our house and back again is one of distress. Chris says, “She’s screeching. She’s beside herself.” Isabella is in my lap, our cheeks pressed together as we watch the eagle fly low and straight over us. “Do you see that?” I say. “The mama eagle is flying.” And she says, “Eagle! We have to give her food!” She has the right idea, wanting to help in some way. But as with so much of life, all we can do is watch, pay attention, and with reverence, bear witness.

Photo credit goes to my nature-loving husband, Chris Bousquet, who can name all the birds and plants and trees. 

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