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The Minimal

 

I study the lives on a leaf: the little
Sleepers, numb nudgers in cold dimensions,
Beetles in caves, newts, stone-deaf fishes,
Lice tethered to long limp subterranean weeds,
Squirmers in bogs,
And bacterial creepers
Wriggling through wounds
Like elvers in ponds,
Their wan mouths kissing the warm sutures,
Cleaning and caressing,
Creeping and healing.

–Theodore Roethke

Grand sweeps of earth and sky, far-spreading efflorescence, looming sunset, onrushing deluge—these immediately and effortlessly entrance, in part for a confluence of setting, lighting and vantage not commonly so favorable.

Yet do much less, so much less …
Well, less is more …

–Robert Browning

 

And all the while, beneath nose and toes there presents an almost fractal infinity of lush sights and other sensations, needing only the narrowing of diffuse attention to spring into focus. Thus a new-reborn lupine—engaging enough already to the engaged eye—offers up a five-carat drop of hoarded dew,

closer inspection of which [double-click image to expand] reveals half the world, the sky above, the observer’s head, the sun that brings all of these things together and to life:

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour

–William Blake

 

As spring burgeons forth, with the New England mercury still bouncing erratically, it is a good time to become intimate with some perhaps familiar but under-examined corner of a facet of the Indra’s web of living complexity. Crop, crop again, sharpen the focus, let the mundane be a window into the extraordinary. Thus, where an artificed puddle in a copied cavity freezes over slowly by night and drusy rime is polished away by dawn’s warmth, a patchy mirror shows bright above

and murky below

and between, a delicate and evanescent (as are all things) exemplar of the self-organization that underlies all:

And having seen close and clear, we are perhaps readier to absorb and be absorbed into the flat-lit, pastel-toned and geometrical simplicity of a snowy vignette

 

without impatience for glories soon enough to reappear:

 

Ware tada taru wo shiru:  What we have is… enough.

 

 

 

Separation is illusion

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Two planets meeting face to face,
One to the other cried “How sweet
If endlessly we might embrace,
And here for ever stay! how sweet
If Heaven a little might relent,
And leave our light in one light blent!”

But through that longing to dissolve
In one, the parting summons sounded.
Immutably the stars revolve,
By changeless orbits each is bounded;
Eternal union is a dream,
And severance the world’s law supreme.

–Muhammad Iqbal

 

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Overhead the albatross hangs motionless upon the air
And deep beneath the rolling waves in labyrinths of coral caves
The echo of a distant tide comes willowing across the sand
And everything is green and submarine

And no one showed us to the land
And no one knows the wheres or whys
But something stirs and something tries
And starts to climb towards the light

–Roger Waters

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The Return of the Son of Nothing

The sun also rises!

 

 

Keep calm and carry on…

 

 

A box without hinges, key, or lid,
Yet golden treasure within is hid.

 

 

Forasmuch as all passeth, so ariseth all anew
Be of humours mild and hope abounding
And note well, who multiply division
Art chaff before That which unites
Accordingly illumined
In all times and climes
Need none aspire alone

 

 

They will come back—come back again—as long as the red Earth rolls.
He never wasted a leaf or a tree. Do you think He would squander souls?

 

 

As a year prime (if neither choice, select nor standard)
Surrenders to one less odd and betimes more even
May attractors abdicate their strangeness
While you, yours and theirs
Enjoy being alike factor and beneficiary
Of a progressive return to peace and plenty.

 

 

Ukiyo-e

 

Spirit and flesh limn each other

 

 

Bashō might have caught

In his net of three short lines

This torrent of trills

 

 

Pulling in the edges

Attadīpā viharatha

 

The world so vast
  tangled, hungry
  and I so small

I take this place for mine
  for so long we both

And on its eminence
  I make my castle
  my puddle
  my world

 

Here be dragons

Here be dragonlets

 

They come from the sky
  hunt over my pool
  return to the sky

I wait

They come from the meadows
  mate over my pool
  leave many small selves

My brethren

We come from the water
  from hunting the water
  take our seat in the sky

 

Self-containment

Continent

 

Where do I begin and the world end?

What line shall we draw?

Me, and the water
  me, and the leaf
  me, and my aura

Nine-tenths below
  toes grasping fluid ground
  skin chewing mists
  tongue spearing life from the sky

I breathe the atoms of this ocean
  bathe in the warmth of a far flame

I eat and drink and eat again
  until one day eaten
  become other eyes skin tongue
  and again
  and back to earth and air
  and one day, an old star dying and a new one born

Where do I begin?  Where begins the great wet world?

 

 

Ichor and ambrosia

Ichor and ambrosia

 

From siege perilous
  the aspirant goes forth
  bright sword, numinous corps
  guided by dream
  stomach empty, chest full

Faces the beast, himself
  returns victorious (or not)
  brings wisdom to his tribe
  glory to his line

From warm dark earth
  go I forth
  black-daggered, alone
  the dance of she-fellows my lode
  to beauty blind

Face down gale and beak
  wend home, panniers dusty-gilt
  crop of liquid light
  to feed my family

We are all heroes

 

 

Ouroboros

Ouroboros

 

You seem so… steady

I change

Grow too large
  for myself

But we are granted room
  and what I must cast off
  I take back within me
  to sinew the leap
  fletch the bolt
  clear the vision
  steady the change

 

 

Equipoise

 

See me without fear
  I am but a small thing, a metaphor, a legendary caution
  yet well-crafted for my rôle:
  taste air, drink sun, hunt meadow and pool, abide in earth

Curved, a bow; straight, the arrow

My tail I do not bite
  rather, from your garden sweep vermin
  (and all else I can catch and swallow)

Let dawn itself devour each night
  spring, each winter
  beetles, my skin (ere I invite them within)
  and I, the circling seasons
  until they me

No rest for the reaper
  nor yet the sower

Once more around?

 

 

Snapping at gnats

Snapping at gnats

 

Here now we dwell
  we of waning tail and longing limb

Up there we one day wend

Up there in the heavy and dry
  the inconstant heat
  the jaws and paws and claws
  and good fat bugs

For now, we graze green tendrils
  writhing worms
  each other

And strike at the sky

 

 

Aye, all the way down

Aye, all the way down

 

Older am I
  than the sky

They say I
  bear the world
  soft blue moist green rich brown
  many-peopled
  backs on backs on mine

But that is myth

I am the world

Its place mine
  its pace mine

Hard space above
  soft earth below
  between, all that moves
    that lives
      that loves
        that is I

 

 

Gnomon

To outsit the sun
  feel the leaf-isle extend its girth
    as I mine
  sense the new day rising slow at my back
  let spiraled hours encircle

Is to know:

Time is nothing
  and
    there is nothing
      but time

 

 

 

 

 

4 K LX

Some like it hot

From the old schoolhouse across the river…

TCCCB - SLIHClick here to open or download 33 MB PDF

 

 

 

Stirrings

With winter relatively benign and safely (?) passed, the curtain rises

on an at last-full pond and a typically atypical New England spring, revealing both broad and intimate vistas of calm and content:

Mute swan

With temperatures departing in both directions from a notional norm, wind-pumping and variable water level (but not, in this case, aquatic mammals) keep open a breathing hole

in slush that nightly re-freezes

—though not, sadly, breath enough to sustain all who lurk beneath, even with chill-slowed metabolisms. So when the ice clears, placid waters

yield up the unfortunate:

Decay being much retarded by cold, this can lead to unproductive confusion when incontinent enthusiasm trumps situational awareness:

But the cycle continues,

as cycles do;

and with advancing warmth, other poikilotherms emerge to share space in the sun:

The peaceable coexistence of the mutually inedible

 

Plants, too, return or arrive anew: from root, shoot

Parrotia persica

or seed, with last year’s shed husks

helping to warm and moisten tender new growth. A few, desiccated in autumn to concentrate antifreeze sap, simple re-inflate, like this improbably native prickly-pear:

Opuntia humifusa

Early bees mob fragrant crabapple

and intoxicating rhododendron

R. minus var. minus

 

Queen of queens, older than bees (and some hills), the magnolia

M. ‘Daybreak’

 

M. ‘Red Baron’ × ‘Rose Marie’

depends mainly on beetles to tickle its robust fancy:

Another ‘Daybreak’

One of the earliest displays of native color, unmuted by later-emerging leaves, is the eastern redbud:

Cercis canadensis

Some species proffer catkins, like sweetfern

Comptonia peregrina

and birch:

Betula

 

Promises of sweet treats to come are dangled by mulberry

Morus

and Indiana banana:

Asimina triloba

Among birds, even the migratory leave winter reminders, like Baltimore oriole nests wind-tattered in tree

or driven aground:

And as returned or over-wintered birds perambulate in search of sustenance,

others are always watching for the location of food, which may include the watched themselves:

Raising a family rquires high-energy victuals, for both parents and offspring; suet is a reliable favorite with blue- and catbirds:

Even in such a rich woodland, contesting needs of food and shelter can lead to jarring juxtaposition:

House finch

 

Other uninvited (but not unwelcome) users of avian-targeted services include raccoon

and red squirrel:

Fleet though they are, such exhibitionists,

as well as more reclusive mice and voles, are efficiently harvested by the diminutive but un-shy long-tailed weasel:

Life asserts itself on many scales of size and time. So while humans may revel in the large and transient, as this rainy evening’s pink-on-pink bow,

an inch-wide, sixteen-year-old lichen just settles more deeply on its durable pegmatitic bed:

 

Topsy-turvy

A man in the wilderness asked of me:
“How many strawberries grow in the sea?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

I answered him, as it seemed good:
“As many as red herrings swim in the wood.”

Proof of spring?

Notwithstanding bud-shaking bluster and thermometric vagaries, evidence mounts to confirm that vigorous life returns to the shivering landscape.

Eat hearty, and may blues speedily dispel blaahs!

 

Unsure footing

Fresh snow is often an ideal medium on which diverse passages may be recorded and revealed, though their makers may remain mysterious unless actually witnessed. In this case, paw-prints are fairly distinct, but the rest? Sweeping tail, run-on landing, violent sneeze?

And more of same,

for a short span resolving into a reasonably coherent trail, possibly of a small fox, large raccoon or one of the few remaining feral cats.

While too blurred for a positive identification, toe marks at least indicate (unless the wily one had its shoes on backward) direction of motion. Back up-trail a few feet is the imprint of commotion: with only one set of prints exiting, reflecting either air-to-ground combat or a single-body collision of some kind.

Looking yet further back and up reveals the misadventure, if not identity, of the sojourner. An optimistic stroll from rough woods, hopping over a plow berm onto the apparently easier passage of a paved way, where fresh powder conceals slick ice:

Disorienting and embarrassing, perhaps, but apparently without serious consequences. We should all be so lucky—and perhaps, as relatively brittle organisms with further to fall, more cautious.

 

Snow globe

 

We arrive at the bottom of winter…

 

Crabapple en gelee

 

The shortest day of any northern year is, of course, the winter solstice. But modern society values efficiency over adherence to natural rhythm, and we have separated ourselves from solar time in favor of the normalized hyperfine tick of cesium and hydrogen atoms. (–And then blocked the world into large and absurdly large artifical time zones, based in turn on an antique and entirely artificed division.) In consequence of that and our planet’s orbital inclination and eccentricity, earliest sunset occurs around Pearl Harbor Day, and latest sunrise when holiday hangovers have dissipated a couple of days after the new year opens. Yet the solstice remains shortest in sum and difference.

But while days are already visibly longer, seasonal lag means that thermometers may have further to fall. New Englanders know too well that the harshest nor’easters, branch-snappingest ice storms, highest heating bills and most heart-straining shoveling may still lie ahead—perhaps even well into calendrical spring.

Our forebears understood these things. While hierarchical religions might tie key observances to solstice and equinox (often overlaying newer ritual on the most ancient of holy days), primal cultures and their relict practices often placed equal or greater importance on the cross-quarter days. And with the passing of Beltane,

Lughnasadh

and Samhain (or All Hallows’ Day),

we are at last immobilized by dread Imbolc:

But just as the taijitu shows the apotheosis of any extreme to bear the emerging seed of its opposite, the frozen tail of one year begets the burgeoning of the next. So appears among intermittent snows this avatar of Brìghde (Brigid), with moss-crowned nimbus,

perhaps a trifle optimistically,

 

 

to usher in the uncertainly timed

but (one may hope) inevitable spring.

 

~ for Áine

 

 

Smoke signals

Before 9-1-1, the 4-1-1 on 5-1-1…

Lincoln has always been a town of volunteers. Lincoln’s Minutemen were first to arrive on April 19th, 1775. A few years earlier, the town itself had been conceived, negotiated for, assembled and established by a handful of families committed to local community. Lincoln as we know it now—preserving certain virtues lost to many other mature municipalities, and by others never known—is in great part the stacked fruit of devoted civic service by a few visionaries, master-planners and donors in each generation of the past five or six. (–Of “donors” more now, with assessed cost-sharing displacing the generosity of the resident 1%.) A bit more than halfway along that timeline, one local steward of an ancient and honorable lineage built Farrar Pond.

Back to our first first-responders, the National Park Service (may it persist through all adversity) informs us that

“… the Massachusetts Provincial Congress … called upon the towns … [to form] new, special companies called minute men. Minute Men were different from the militia in the following ways:

1. While service in the militia was required by law, minute men were volunteers.

2. The minute men trained far more frequently than the militia. … Because of this serious commitment of time, they were paid. One shilling per drill was average. …

3. Minute Men were expected to keep their arms and equipment with them at all times, and in the event of an alarm, be ready to march at a minute’s warning – hence they were called “minute men.”

Lincoln of a few decades past could, in most respects, be managed with little overt formality. Closer community ties, sparser population (a mere thousand by 1900, ca.  2500 in 1950, then tripling with suburban growth and the development of the Hanscom complex) plus a safe, sane, less-gray population and nil industry minimized homeland security needs. The police-and-fire station that preceded our spacious and functional current Public Safety Building was bungalow-sized and, starting with a single chief for both of these vital services, lightly staffed.

Payroll was contained in part by a quaint and personable institution, the volunteer on-call fireman. Reliable citizens with reliable automobiles, they would roll out of bed at any hour and in all weathers to meet the full-timers at a fire scene, and were paid their shilling for each such appearance.

This cadre of latter-day minutemen got its marching orders not by cell-phone or internet (neither existed), nor yet by expensive VHF walkie-talkie or cumbersome and indiscriminate CB radio. Rather, a fire’s approximate location was broadcast via serial blasts of a powerful klaxon—the same one that would have warned of impending tornado or incoming Soviet bombers—high atop Town (now Bemis) Hall.

With a dark and quiet town divided by few roads, only approximate location information was needed—nothing like ordnance grid coordinates or Zip+4, much less the new Eircode that specifies each dwelling. In any event, such could not have worked in a town that had yet to assign house numbers. Instead, supported by a continuity of family, property tenure and neighborly awareness now largely of memory, the main landmarks were the homesteads. And each edition of the exclusive Town phone book included a card-stock insert that looked like this:

Fire-codes-1fp

Newer subdivisions somewhat complicated the picture. So where major intersections rated a “prestige” two-digit location, a complex development required a range of four-digit numbers. 51 was Lee’s Bridge, 511 perhaps the closest old Engine #1 could approach Farrar Pond for a top-up should the hydrants freeze, and 6112-6132 the new Farrar Pond condominia.

Fire-codes-2fp

Woven through these simple lines is layer upon layer of history, both social and technological. How many of those places are still so-named, so-occupied? why was the emergency number 259-8111? It seems that when the Lincoln telephone exchange was established, with an operator-staffed switching office next to Center School (now Town Hall), line allocations began with CLearwater 9-8000. Standard rotary-dial telephones took many more tense seconds to dial a string of high numbers than of low, so instead of a row of 0s or 8s, as many 1s as possible was the preference for urgency. (Businesses were happy to take the naughts.) Like low license-plate numbers, the antiquity of a family or address was suggested by the number: 8000s expanded to 9000s, and then—as wealth and techno-employment drove both need and means to provide separate lines for children, fax machines, dial-up modems—the number of numbers multiplied far beyond the count of homes, or even residents. Post-breakup deregulation of networks and a growing preference for mobile or VoIP over land-line telephony led to a different kind of ownership and portability, so “Lincoln” numbers now show up all over the country, perhaps even internationally.

A smaller town was more connected and curious—dare one say “nosy”? Ask not for whom the bell tolls, but ask around the morning after for who escaped unscathed, who suffered loss, how one’s family might assist another with the aftermath. So we all “tuned in” when foghorn blaats rolled across the landscape, knew our own neighborhood’s codes, and sometimes looked up others as the signals arrived. (And were grateful if we lived near the edge of earshot.)

And some winters brought gladder tidings, for children if less so for parents and administrators: buried at the bottom was the real headline: 3-3-3, sounded thrice well before the bus was due, meant snow day and no school.

 

~ Suitable images/recordings of quondam fire station or klaxon are welcome, and will be published with due credit. ~

Table for one

Bird and small mammal alike often choose eminence over shelter, or (when available) both:

Relaxing on a warmish afternoon,

keeping curious eye on photographers

or conducting a visible-but-private conversation,

up may provide more and safer options than down. But food often obeys the law of universal gravitation, and concentrates at the thin boundary between earth and sky. Here gleaners may congregate by necessity, preference, or the relative safety of the herd:

In general, however, adults take their meals in solitary fashion. So where a Cyanocitta cristata prefers picking the bones of its cousin Gallus gallus domesticus

to a sweeter but less calorie- and protein-rich vegetarian alternative,

Sciurus carolinensis is quick to snag the treasure and steal up and away to enjoy it all alone:

Sabbe sattā sukhi hontu ~ may all beings be happy!

 

 

Ice fishing

Near the bottom of winter, dawn comes late and low.

But where the sun’s elevation daily increases, open water wanes inconstant:

Some waterfowl, like the mute swans that now overwinter here, favor the pond so long as there beckons even a wing’s-breadth of open water, retreating to the rarely glassed-in river only when no lacustrine option remains.

–Though they still seem to prefer resting afoot over afloat, even adrift on a thinning island, perhaps to reduce heat loss or avoid attack from beneath. Others depart or pass over the 88-acre rink, like these geese headed toward Phoenix:

The life of a persistent (or over-optimistic, or flight-lame) wader with narrowed grazing options may be solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short, and with fisher, weasel and hawk just as hungry, potentially beset with fear and danger of violent death withal.

Good hunting then, tall walker, and may you evade the pursuits of others.