I walk around the house in the summer twilight
letting in the insect orchestra
katydids run scales in the tree tops
crickets, the violins of summer
carry the tune from tree and field and bush
an owl makes its first exploratory sounding
of the evening, three solitary hoots—no reply
the night rhythm begins
Warm August air pushes through the hammock
mosquitoes whine by my ankles
and through a hole in the canopy
I watch bats shadow puppet
against a column of darkening sky
I strain to catch the thread of each vibration
each pattern, rhythm, pitch
a unique life cycle
a specific niche filled
a gorgeous tapestry of sound
It’s carnival this time of year
no sooner has one reveler bowed out
than the next chorus crowds in from the wings
the belligerent rise and fall of the dog day cicadas
makes way for the ululations of the grey tree frogs
at high noon the meadow shimmered
with the stridulation of grasshoppers
and now young coyotes yip and howl
as they prowl the long grasses
Sunlight creeps into the garden once more
illuminating tomatoes tear-dropped with dew
songbirds and crows take to the stage
and under the stone in the wall
the constant cricket sings.
Faintly he hears the bleat of Mr. Dollar’s goats from up the road.
No chance of a nice fat one trit-trotting across his bridge.
Troll must settle for devouring, with his unblinking eyes,
the beer swilling teenagers wielding spray cans,
the solitary Sunday morning fisherman,
the motionless heron gazing into the slow eddies for young trout.
In spring he feasts his eyes on the surge of brown flood water
muscling its way downstream,
and gorges on backyard debris—broken deckchairs, bicycle tires, chicken wire
In summer he drinks in the swallows swirling in the fly-riddled air
and the young ones peeping from their nests
tucked under the bridge’s metal struts
In fall he savors the acorns and maple helicopters
tossed into the current by kids hanging over the railings,
and the flocks of Canada geese settling into the marsh at twilight
And in winter the old troll digests the slow trickle under ice,
and the eagle perched in bare branches with one eye on the open water,
the other on the motionless figure watching from under the bridge.
The air is warm as blood,
buzzing with the vibrations of mating cicadas.
A swarm of red ants scurry
over the slats of the deck chair
that has not been moved since my father last sat in it;
this is now their territory.
Whilst he slumbered
under the green canopy of the walnut tree
they crept, antennae quivering, into his world.
Soon fertile eggs clustered
in a coral of larvae under the armrests.
Workers foraged relentlessly
from the lawn to the deck chair to feed their queen,
right under my father’s oblivious arse.
Did his brain search so diligently for words
to describe the scene in front of him?
Or did he simply accept if for a seamless whole
and himself embroidered into a corner of it—all of a piece?
I brought him a cup of coffee, thinking he’d linger,
beguiled by the natural world he once loved; but no.
Maybe the ants crept up his pant leg
or the swoop of a red-bellied woodpecker
jolted him out of his being
and sent him shuffling inside for a spoon of sugar.
It’s been a busy but rewarding season. My parents came from Ireland to visit and experience glorious summer weather and the constant circus of wildlife that surrounds our house in New York’s Hudson Valley. I celebrated my 50th birthday in my wild but fruitful garden, surrounded by family and friends. My wonderful daughter and mother helped me cook up a feast with lots of tasty local produce. Every day I marveled at my daughter’s artistic skills–painting, writing, embroidering. I watched my youngest son find grace and joy with each new physical skill he mastered. My eldest son’s summer was one long celebration of friends and freedom after four diligent years of high school. Taking him to college we got to explore two new amazing cities and states, Seattle, Washington and Portland, Oregon. In between times, I interviewed fascinating and talented artisans for Dirt magazine. And I’ve been out and about with my notebook and camera, making the most of the long beautiful days. I hope you’ve all enjoyed the season as much as I have. –Your health! Melissa
Columbia River Gorge
Multinomah Falls, OR
Mt. Hood, Oregon
Sunrise through wildfire smoke over Mosier bluff, OR
Amazing how the tiniest thorn
can distract you–
that pulse point of pain
on the index finger
a sharp reminder
each time you pick up the pen,
the spoon, the book
of the briefest encounter
with a wineberry bush,
your hand snaking
into the undergrowth
to pluck the plumb berry.
And now you’ve dug
into the pad of your finger
with an old pin,
exposing the culprit
and teasing it out of the flesh.
You marvel how
such a sliver could cause
till it lies
on the palm of your hand.
The orb of light crests the ridge,
I stand facing her at the high point of the meadow,
my back to the full sinking moon,
and my heart leaps as always.
Planting the souls of my feet on damp earth
I stretch up, drawing in that healing energy,
letting go of the knotted muscles, the clenched jaw,
calming my agitated heart and restless head.
The amphitheater fills with birdsong,
setting the tone for my morning spiritual.
Feathery grasses burnished with dew
echo the colors of the sun’s rays.
I breathe cool air full of green and swaying life.
A flock of cedar waxwings flit across the blue dome,
A rufous-sided towhee shrills a benediction.
I listen and bask and absorb and hum with the earth.
My body sways, finding its center
acknowledge the power within
and fueling it with the sacred moment:
this is my choir, my cathedral, my communion.
I pick a small posy of wildflowers.
The scent of dried yarrow and lady’s bedstraw
will be the memory incense
to conjure up this temple moment.
On the summer solstice I was playing hooky on Montauk Point, Long Island, New York. Thanks to the remnants of tropical storm Bill, the morning of June 21st brought thunderstorms and overcast skies. But June 22nd was a very different story.