Twelve wild turkeys on their barnyard tour lumber from the woods
a haphazard file of sumptuous brown bodies pulled by naked heads and red chins
across the farmhouse lawn to the spot where chicken feed lies scattered every morning
they begin determined digging
Five black-and-white spotted cows and a brown sprawl on the thick hay pile that rises
from the snow and two more sleep standing with early spring sun heating their backs
one lying at the edge wakes and chews turning her large white-patched eye
to watch the foot traffic
Four horses stand under thick red blankets munching hay
heads bent to the ground and tails rarely twitching as it is still too cool
for bugs but even in the safety of the yard their lead mare lifts her brown head
and flares her nose watching long minutes for threats from across the field
Two black furry puppies with floppy ears and strong short legs
bark and run fast and free of any fear almost tripping
down the hill to waggle their muscular bodies in a yipping welcome
of a friend climbing the path
One cinnamon Labrador falls to the battered wooden floor of the old milk house
rhythmically thumping her tail on the boards and baring her belly for a long rub
she lifts her head for a close and steady gaze
licking the wrist of the hand that pats her
Two young huskies lie behind their fence breathing the cold air after their second
morning walk and five horses in the next field look up at the sound of footsteps on the road
at a passing shadow a chipmunk darts into the stone fence while the red squirrel
chats a warning from high in the bare maple
In the house a ladybug clinging at the water line sips from the cats’ bowl
bread cooling on the counter fills the air with its light baked yeasty smell
the eggs are washed and gleaming in their soft shades of brown and green
the world proceeds with its small rituals
Late-winter evening, a light snow,
6:30 on the first day
after the clocks spring ahead
standing on the road below my house
surrounded by fields, woods
and a profound quiet
my ears throb with stillness and a faint ring
from the city traffic I’ve left behind
for minutes no other sound comes by
I listen beneath soft flakes
in a luminous glow
of muted afternoon sun on snow
then solitary barking carries over far fields
brief squawking rises from the trees
down the long trail of the road
around the bends
an engine slowly draws near
and yet I hear
Ice cracks across sloughs
on low-bottomed fields –
Snow falls heavy, thick,
but on the trees
pink buds, tiny, wait
This poem is one I wrote maybe a decade ago, but it still expresses something important to me about the beauty, peace, and comfort of this time of year.
After a bright afternoon’s quickening light
To be cradled by dusk,
Its slowly sit-down darkening
To contemplate the softening outline of the old cat
Curled warm on your grey-trousered lap
To watch the women and men with briefcases and backpacks
Walk from the bus toward darkened houses
To see a glow appear here or there and know
The tired homecomings have begun
To unravel the mysteries of your heart
That can only be glimpsed when the busy sun
Pulls up its thick shadows
And the arms of the evening encompass all
All night the wind filled with snow howls against our walls.
What happens to the animals,
or people still outside
I do not know.
Small ship on a vast ocean our house sails alone through the gale.
Carries us fretting to the borders of morning,
the furnace and the radio
One by one,
winter lifts its long fingers from the deep freeze
where they have grown, collecting crystals
month by month
with its diamond file
sharpens them precisely then slips out to
test an edge on the skin of our necks
and back it goes
sitting in the shimmering dark
wearing the glimmer of a smile
as it hones and shapes, and the wind
Snow and snow is all I know
It comes and stays and doesn’t go
It bundles me in peace and calm
The days so short the dark nights long
We play a bit and rest much more
Our weary bodies we restore
Snow and snow I’m glad to know
It’s not yet time for you to go
I love being at home. It’s not that anything remarkable happens there. It’s that a succession of unremarkable moments, when truly inhabited, turn out to be quite beautiful.
When I have time around my actions to feel the rhythm of the day unfolding, I also have time to observe the details of my life in a way that lets me see how incredible all of this is, and that some sort of “I” in me feels privileged to be aware of it.
Just like the little brown jobs or LBJs my bird-watching friends talk about (nod to A_Span and MRM III) — the hard-to-distinguish (especially female) birds of the perching passerine family, such as sparrows or wrens, whose similarities can make their various species hard for humans to accurately identify — the moments of my days at home are small, hardly varying on the surface, but full of song.
Take today. I’m talking like someone knowledgeable about birds, but I know almost nothing. However, thanks to Bob at Gilligalou Bird Inc. in Almonte, ON, I know more today than I did yesterday. Tuesday on my way to meet a friend for lunch I stopped in at Gilligalou to ask how to put suet into the feeder I had bought the other week at the co-op. You’d think it was easy, but at my first go, I felt totally inept. Bob interrupted his own lunch to answer my 15 minutes of questions about what birds eat, and to explain the importance of small to large seeds, nuts, and mealworms, and some of the best ways to provide these.
He told me about Gilligalou’s specially formulated blends, with no filler, that give wild birds optimal selection and nutrition; showed me various styles of feeder; talked about habitat; and reassured me that I’m not being a bad citizen if my feeders go for a few days without being filled. The birds will come back, but they will establish a habit of eating at my house to the extent that I provide them with a reliable food supply, water, cover, and nesting opportunities.
Next I crammed two types of suet – a peanut blend, and a mealworm blend – into the different holes of the wooden hanging feeder I bought the other week at the co-op. It’s the first time I’ve held a mealworm, and although they made me jump for a second, I’m most intrigued.
Next step: a proper feeder with rails for the ground-feeding birds, since there is nowhere for them to land on the seed feeder I have now. In the meantime, I’m trusting they will continue to gather the big seeds from the snow where they fall as the smaller birds eat. And after that: well, I have dreams, but I’ll be happy with life’s LBJs.
17 January, 2016 – Update: This week’s visitors include chickadees, juncos, a multitude of posturing jays, a male house finch, downy woodpeckers, and a discriminating cardinal.