Posts Tagged ‘spring’

Poetry Challenge 62

January 24, 2011

Shakespeare and (not yet) spring

The signs of the season–more light lingering in the afternoon, an orange sherbet color in the late afternoon sky, the luscious greens, reds, yellows of seed catalog photos, the Fairbanks Shakespeare Theater Bardathon, the sparkle of snow now that the sun’s high enough in the sky to reflect from each crystal.  From Ocala, news of the birth of Fiddle’s newest foal, out of the stallion Shakespeare, named Bard of Avon–splay legged and already showing the high shoulders and strong haunches and just a hint of coil in the spine that can uncoil in a sprint down the track.  Not any where near spring, but far enough away from the darkest winter that we feel ourselves awaken to dream of spring.

Write about what gives you an inkling of hope, a sense of the change of season to come.  Or, like a new foal, what holds promise for the months and years ahead.  Post it in commments and I’ll add it here.

The View from Mattie’s Pillow

May 26, 2010

We’ve made the transition from breakup to summer with a mere nod to spring.  Here in the Interior, we go from bleak to blossoms suddenly as the light increases every day.  Today I noticed purple wildflowers blooming along the road where there was nothing—not even a hint of green–yesterday.  On the bank behind the house, something yellow and lavish that I planted three years ago is blooming among the rocks.  By the horse barn, I saw the first bluebells, purple in the bud, then a sweet far-sky blue as they bloom.  The leaves are almost fully out and flashing in the sun.

And there are other signs of summer.  Mosquitoes buzz the horses during the night, sometimes annoying them so much that they begin to gallop around the corral.  I’ve taken to putting their mosquito mesh blankets on them at night.  And with the mosquitoes come those mosquito-eaters, yellowjackets.  Now the heavy queens hover in the willows, along the bank, in the eaves of the greenhouse, looking for a nesting place.  Now is the time to trap them and prevent the colonies to come, but the queens don’t seem interested in our elaborately baited traps, going, instead, for tomato plants, the manure pile, or the leaves of willows.   We will need to find the nests as they’re built and spray them down in the early morning or at night when it’s cool.  Except we no longer have real night until about 1AM, for an hour or two.  A few years ago, we had the worst infestation ever.  People all across the Interior were getting stung and having allergic reactions.  I hope that we don’t go through this again. A late frost or a week of heavy rain would knock them back, but those are things not to be desired.

Meanwhile, the greenhouse is filling with tomatoes, eggplants, cucumbers, squash.  I’ve started my cutting lettuce and zukes and crookneck squash, too, and the purple broccoli, which I’m a sucker for the idea of, though I’ve not yet gotten it through the growing season.

Sam and Mattie are sleek and glossy.  Mattie always looks like she’s made of polished metal at this point in the season.  Her coat is still nearly black and it shines.  Later in summer she will bleach out to dark bay with a few dark dapples along her sides.  She also has begun to get more flecks of gray, so that she may become a dark roan at some point.

I’m much tireder this year than last, coming off an intense school year feeling so behind in my gardening and having the sense already that summer could slip right through my fingers.  I have an ambitious riding schedule set for me and Mattie and Sam (with Trish or Casey, this year).  I hope we can do it all.

I have to admit, though, that events in the world shadow my joy at summer.  As I plan to trailer my horses around town in my clunker truck, I carry the image in my mind of oil gushing into the Gulf waters, unstoppable, all the beaches and bayous I spent time in during my years in Mississippi gunked up with oil.  I want to be responsible for my little corner, to not add to the troubles of the world, but in the troubles resulting from oil, we are all implicated.  And face compromises.  To have the horse manure that nourishes the gardens of many of my “green” friends, I have to drive to the hay field, pick up the hay that has been tended by a tractor, and drive it back.  Something as earth-bound as riding a horse is also implicated in the consequences we all face as a result of using oil.  The yellowjackets, warm, dry-weather-loving, may also be a consequence of a warming planet—or they could just be in a cycle.

I don’t know the answer to this, though I know scientists at the university who throw all their mental energy into finding out.  For me, adding composted manure to last year’s greenhouse dirt, transplanting tomatoes, turning manure into the raised garden beds, and planting the seeds that can grow directly in the ground is how I deal with it.  It’s all a symbiotic system—living things: horses, plants, people—support and benefit each other.  Each time I enter that system with all its beauties, I feel renewed, a small counter to the ugliness of what’s happening in the Gulf and elsewhere.

As I finish this, I hear rain on the metal roof.  I just came in from the deck, where I moved the deck chairs under the overhang of the roof.  Off to the east, there’s already a rose color in the high clouds, and the sky to the south is slatey blue.  I could see out across the river to the flats beyond, rich with green and darker green.  The air smells sharp with new rain.  A robin sings, perhaps one of the pair that has nested on the beam above our window.  The sound of the rain is soothing, even though I don’t yet have the garden planted—we’re still a week from the last frost date here.  I’m glad to be in the Interior in summer, yellowjackets notwithstanding.

Poetry Challenge 48

May 20, 2010

We’re into leaf-out here in the interior–the leaves, still small and yellow-green, shine as they flicker in the breeze.  The wind has been stronger than usual as the ever-increasing daylight creates unstable warm air masses that move across the flats or up the river system.  The other day, I came home to find Sam in the middle of the corral staring hard at the hill behind the house, where a large spruce had fallen–luckily, along the side of the hill and not onto the house or the corral.   Yesterday, he spooked at the hose being pulled along the side of the corral.  We’re all a bit jumpy.

So write about a phobia that turned out to be nothing to worry about–or a close call (like the tree).  Let the wind blow through the poem–or have a cat run through it.

Add it as a comment and I’ll post it here.


Here’s a poem from Tim Murphrey:

Bernoullian Extacy

Scraping the ice from the pane
solidifies to my vision
the relationship between two lovers:
and the ground.
But the doubt in our courting lies
on me, an Earthbound yearning,
and I wonder if she wants
like I do, or worse.
Our union can only end in disaster.
A buzzing, as of switches being thrown,
that light, airy feeling
from my new mistress
helps to lull me into the big lie
that this may never end.
Fast, too fast! and I’m always watching,
straining to see the ground, now grown cold,
expression seldom changing,
quick, constant, moving glimpses of us sailing over,
swollen belly mocking; what was once the Earth’s
now belongs to the vespers.
She’ll have to tolerate our presence soon, as we give in
to the sinking feeling –
Our union can only end
in disaster.

Poetry Challenge 47

May 7, 2010

Birdbrain Love

All this week, a pair of robins, who I’m calling Mr. and Mrs. Hitchcock, have been flying against the window of our computer room, over and over.  The male robin perches on the railing of the stair landing to our back door, eyes the window, then flutters up to a certain spot on the glass, thumps it, then flutters back to the railing.  From there, he eyes the glass again, as if certain he can figure this out and succeed at whatever birdbrained scheme he’s up to.  Then he does it again.  Mrs. Hitchcock watches from the willow nearby, patient with his foolishness.  We think this behavior may have something to do with the nest they’re building out of last year’s fireweed and hay up on the butt of a roof beam above the window; perhaps he’s defending the nest from his own reflection in the window as he flies up to the beam.  Or not.

But it’s spring–after many false starts.  The hills are greening up as the birch and willow buds open; there’s a mist of green moving across the tree tops.

So, write about the foolishness spring brings, or love, or birds.  Post it as a comment and I’ll add the poems to this post.

The View from Mattie’s Pillow

April 28, 2010

Spring Update

Yesterday, driving down the road to the ridge, looking up at the hill ahead, I saw what I first took for snow in the trees–a hazy white area running along the side of the ridge, a softening in the dull brown of the bare branches there.  It took me a moment to realize that what I was looking at was a swath of willows growing on the side of the hill, their catkins fully bloomed from pussy willows to open thumb-sized “blossoms” of fluff and pollen.  As I drove, I noticed these patches all along the hills, and as I rounded the curve heading up the ridge, I saw the trees, their open tops hazy with fluff.  It’s not the flamboyant pinks or whites of cherry or apple blossoms; just a silvery fluff, but it will do.

And the mosquitoes are out in force, dotting Mattie and Sam’s faces, in spite of the repellent I wipe on them.  Again, this year I’ll look for a better solution for bugs, the down side of summer.

As of last night, the ice was getting punchy near the tripod in Nenana, with leads open by the river bank, but no news of the tripod moving yet.  We’re into the range of dates we picked for it to go out this year.  More on this in a later post.

School has two weeks to go.  Students and faculty alike are getting restless with our long warm spell.  My tomato seedlings wait by the window to be transplanted and to move to the greenhouse.   The horses are nearly done with shedding and are ready for something more interesting to do.

This Saturday, the Kentucky Derby, then my long-time friend Jean Anderson and I will give a reading at the Arts Association.  Somewhere in the mail, my new book from Salmon Press makes its way to me from Ireland.

There’s a lot happening–more than this, even–but for now, for the next couple of weeks, we move through the end of winter and all it means, ready to pop one day into green up, into summer, into the time that makes the Interior worth it all.

Poetry Challenge 45

April 23, 2010

Spring is silly season here in the Interior.   The snow is melting, but the ground is still frozen near enough to the surface that the grass is still brown and the leaves have not yet begun to bud.  Same news as last week, in fact.   We’re waiting for the ice to go out in Nenana, when those of us who’ve chosen the exact minute that the tripod moves and trips the clock in the watch house will be a little bit richer.   On campus, today was a holiday from classes.  Years ago, it was a clean up day, but now, it’s an occasion to drop watermelons from the eighth floor, to play mud volleyball, and generally indulge in foolishness.  We all need a break.

So how does spring–or it’s maddeningly slow approach–make you silly?  Or how does waiting for anything that takes time send you off in wild imaginary directions?   And, considering the tender feelings of those of us who haven’t yet seen green, no poems about flowers, please!

The View from Mattie’s Pillow

April 18, 2010

Still waiting for green, though the air is warm again after a few chilly days and a freak hailstorm on Thursday.   Today, a Chinook wind blew in sixty-degree weather or, at least, the mid to high fifties.   In the sun, it felt like summer though the ground is still frozen just beneath the surface and we still have half a yard full of snow.  Out on the Tanana, a lead is opening up, dark and sleek in the punchy white ice.  Nothing moving yet, just the ever-widening black patch of water.  The willows are fluffing out their catkins, pussywillows.  I think of cutting some sticks of willow for the living room, but, when I think about doing that, I’m usually on the way from one thing to another—back to the house to get the Cowboy Magic for Sam’s tail or off to the greenhouse for more four-inch pots, as I am just starting to transplant the first flat of seedlings.

Today, Trish came up to work with Sam again.  She lunged him after we took another bushel of hair out of his coat, then we brought him over to Mattie’s side of the corral—the larger flatter side that doubles as a small arena—and got out the saddle.  Sam is a professional horse.  I often think he may have been a circus horse.  He stood stock-still in the morning sun while we fussed with him.  Finally, he was saddled and Trish got on.  She walked him around the corral, getting to know him.  He moved willingly, none of the usual feet planted stubbornness he used to exhibit back in the early days.  She seemed happy, and so did he.  It should be a good summer for Sam with three of us doting on him.

As for Mattie, it may be that some of our long-running issues are becoming resolved.  She’s trotting pretty reliably at the end of the longe line now, and stood for the saddle and for mounting today—her first ride of the spring.  We headed off around the corral and she trotted, leg yielded, trotted in small circles—in short, she remembered everything and it was gratifying.

There’s almost no ice left in the corral now and the sand drained quickly.  The yard is soggy and scattered with wood chips from the firewood chopping area.  The grass is flattened and brown.  We have chickadees and juncos at the bird feeder.   I’m listening for robins and thrushes in the woods and the rattle of a woodpecker.  We’re still a long way from greenup, but I have three flats of starts to transplant: tomatoes, eggplant, cucumbers, and delicata squash.  I took them out for an afternoon in the greenhouse, and managed to transplant some of the cucumbers today into three-inch pots.

I heard a report that a friend’s spouse, out cutting wood, saw the year’s first mosquito.

Tonight, around ten thirty, a sliver of moon hung low in the sky, fuzzy through a thin layer of cloud.  With night, the chill in the air returns, but the light lingers longer in the sky now and there’s a slatey light on everything.  We could still get snow, but all our restlessness calls out for true spring followed soon by summer.

Poetry Challenge 44

April 7, 2010

I hear that it’s spring in some locations south of here.  Trish McConnell in her blog The Other End of the Leash posted some stunning photos of crocuses and daffodils.  But here in the Interior, we have piles of gray snow, melting and refreezing puddles, and lots of brown ground.  It will be a month before the first green.

So write about opposites found in one thing–winter embedded in a spring month, the dog with the cat-like traits–or how opposites are more like each other than they are different.

Send a poem as a comment and I’ll post it here.

The View from Mattie’s Pillow

March 24, 2010

Now that we’re past the equinox and into official spring, everything—light, temperatures, wind, the ground, animals, us—is changeable.  Each morning more and more light seeps into the tail end of our dreams, and light lingers on into the evening.  At mid day, the air sparkles with light and flickers with the shadows of birds flitting to the willows, birches, fireweed, brittle from last summer, rustling with last year’s seed.

At night, the temperature slips below zero, with wind, something we’re not used to after the long still nights of winter.  During the day, the sun warms the south-facing slopes and melts the crystalline structure of snow piled in the yard so that it becomes crunchy, brittle, dense from thawing and re-freezing.  The sidewalks on campus run with water in the afternoon, which freezes into thick sheets by morning, making walking precarious.

Mattie gets nervous in spring and fall.  In my narrative of her life, the spring was when she went to work as a pack mare and fell into the defensive patterns she sometimes still displays. I imagine someone sometime treated her badly, thus her ears-back attitude about anything new or unfamiliar.  In the fall, once, she was left out to fend for herself over winter, gaining a taste for wood as she survived in the wilderness south of the Alaska Range.  All this happened when she was between three and five years old—still an adolescent in horse years and very impressionable.  When the seasons change, she goes through a period when no trust we’ve established between us is certain.  She’s edgy, touchy, and would just as soon be left alone.  And in spring, after a winter of eating, sleeping, and standing looking at the valley or the road below her fence, she goes into heat again.

So, yesterday, I should have read her cues better.  I was grooming her, trying to desensitize her to some touchy spots, especially the area where the girth goes, under her chest.  Things were going peaceably until she started stamping her foot, and I left my hand under her chest, asking her to put her ears up.  Instead she reached over and grabbed the sleeve of my coat in her teeth—inexcusably bad behavior, and dangerous.

I have to admit I was frightened—whole scenarios flashed through my head—but, as far as I know, I kept my cool.  I yelled and she pulled her head away.  I untied her from the fence and backed her up, flinging the end of the rope at her till she skittered across the snow backward.  She still put her ears back and rolled her eyes at me as if she thought she was intimidating me.  I didn’t let on that she was, a little.   I unclipped the lead rope from her halter and walked away.  She stood there till I came back with the longe whip, with its long popper cord.  I snapped the whip in the air behind her, and she trotted away.  I followed and snapped it again to turn her in a new direction.  She trotted and cantered around the corral away from the snap of the whip so that I was driving her in front of me and not letting her rest.  Finally she stopped and turned to me, standing stock still, ears clearly up and pointed towards me, as if to say, “Enough.  Can we make up?”  I tucked the whip under my arm and said, “Step up,” and made a come-here gesture with my hand, a cue she knows.  She came up to me, and I took her halter.  She was a little trembly, and so was I.  Then we went on to work on the longe line, as we’ve been doing for the past couple of weeks.

I don’t have a round pen, the tool some horse trainers recommend for training young horses or for corrections like the one I was trying to give her.  Because she had transgressed on one of the cardinal rules of horse manners—don’t threaten or damage the handler—I had to respond immediately, dramatically, and fairly.  The last one is the hard part.  She was challenging my leadership in our partnership, and I needed to make clear to her that that was unacceptable.  The hard part, given how vulnerable I actually am as a human working with a thousand pound horse, is not to give in to or act out of fear, for that could lead me to act unfairly and could make the situation worse. So, while I was backing her up and making myself big and scary to her with the rope end and the popper on the longe whip, I couldn’t do anything that would hurt her or make her feel truly threatened, though I did want her to feel bossed around.  It’s a kind of acting, with serious intent.  I had to keep my wits about me not to push her over the line again while I was keeping her moving, and to, at the right moment, see when she had given up the “debate” over leadership and was ready to do what I wanted, signaled by her standing with ears up.

Coming back to horses when I did, after thirty plus years away, I have relied on reading all I can read—especially newer trends in positive horse training and horse psychology, and on listening and watching any horse person with experience that I can.  What I did with Mattie was based on reading Gincy Self Bucklin, John Lyons, Cherry Hill, Bruce Nock and others.   Yet, with a rescue horse like Mattie—and during the first heat of spring—I have to keep reminding myself never to take anything for granted.

By feeding time and then by morning, Mattie was back to her sweetest self, letting me rub the itchy spots on her face and neck.  All day, the wind gusted, and, when I came home this afternoon, she was standing by the gate, her black coat spiky where she had rolled in melting snow and dotted with pale spruce shavings.   She had her ears up.  I had my good sturdy Carhartt’s jacket on.

Poetry Challenge 42

March 16, 2010

Daylight savings time has warped the day–suddenly it seems lighter all around because here in the interior the mornings and afternoons are getting lighter fast as we add 7 minutes of light a day–an extra hour of daylight each ten days or so.   How has the returning light affected you?  What disjointedness do you notice in your day?

Write a poem in which light behaves in ways it shouldn’t or surprises you in some way.


Here’s a response from KD at KD’s Bookblog:

“Always an early riser, I still have hours of darkness as I do my first work, despite the change in the clocks. This came this morning.”

Circle of Light

The green glow of a patio lantern,
still lit but weak just before dawn,
draws no useful circle of light,
is so little that it could be
a green freckle on the skin of night,
a chink in dark armor; it could be
the wrecking light on a rocky shore
luring Thursday into the backyard,

the beacon feeding its solar self but
seeming, come full daylight, a seed,
a green sprig that will bloom again in the dark,
a gem of sunshine to last me
until Friday sails over the horizon.

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