a little relief

a little relief
not as cold, not as windy,
a light gray sky.
a big flock of crows – dozens – flying happily:
not too fast, not too straight.
plenty of looking around,
plenty of conversation,

more than I’ve seen together in a long time,
since West Nile killed so many.
I hope they stay.

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swift silent still

barred owl
swift, then suddenly still.
an angel of death,
beautiful and terrible,
merciful and cruel

I notice the silence, the stillness fall over me before I see the flash of white wings: a barred owl. She swoops into our locust tree, watches, listens and waits.

Blue jays come looking for food, full of bravado, talking loudly to ward off their fear. But it works, breaking her concentration, and she turns her head quickly to follow their commotion. Distracted, she moves away.

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olive drab thaw

Warm – in the twenties – heavy haze in the morning and softening snow. More birds come out, refueling. Goldfinches in olive-drab winter garb are back at the thistle-seed feeder. By early afternoon there are hints of washed-out sun.

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Brightening sky – everything a bright gray through light snow.

Gray squirrels move like living punctuation marks in the snow. A comma suddenly becomes an exclamation point
and three semicolons go flying up a tree.

There are no letters at all until the crows arrive. First, two groups of four I’ve seen before, and then a few outsiders, three or four. Composing short poems as they peck for corn, they are swept up all at once then put back down again for more. But soon they’re gone for good, leaving only a few stray apostrophes on a blank page.

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winter flotsam

wasp's nestWinter relaxes his grip, and the snow we had all but vanishes.
After it melts, it leaves the first flotsam of the winter: a wasp’s
nest, a summer home painstakingly constructed one cell, one chewed
fiber at a time, now abandoned, knocked off its perch, blown about on
the ground. I give it a new perch on my desk, and remember the wasps that made it home.

Our cats stand on the pond ice and lap up water as it melts.

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Mars at dawn

Last night as I locked up I saw orange eyes out in the yard reflecting back at me, probably a raccoon at the bird feeder. This morning I see white Venus, bright and cheerful… but when I turn back toward the house I see Mars, with last night’s same baleful, orange eye. It haunts me.

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black water

Today we get up and go out early, long before dawn. The crispness – the bite – of autumn has been slow to come this year, but the past few mornings I’ve felt its teeth. Today I notice small ponds, black water, heavy, still… reluctant to move, resisting the faint stirrings of the morning air. Wisps of vapour rise undisturbed, idly twining their way into the light, into thin air, into nothingness.

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summer night

Lying awake in bed looking out the open window, I see a silhouette of a pine – a full moon through the ragged edges of moving clouds. I hear the air filled with crickets. I feel warm, humid, comfortable – a light breeze. Before the rain, before the thunder, before I even see it, I can smell the lightning.

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rhythm of rain

Dense fog overnight, changing into a mist, a drizzle, then a steady, light rain.

Rain, sitting in the screen porch thinking, writing
through a soft, rhythmless percussion, drumming
like fingers on skin
on tired leaves
on wet mulch
into water
which pops up to meet each drop
then from leaf to leaf, even softer.

We’re saturated now, sated with water.
Tomatoes have burst their skins, exposing flesh and seeds inside
birdsong burbles in waves from deep in the leaves
punctuated by an occasional frog commentary, clearing his throat

As the rain dissipates, the drops slow and the crickets rise
in a shimmering tapestry of sound, sometimes closer, sometimes farther away
but always there, almost tangible
something to lean into, to wrap around yourself
at the end of the day
thankful for the rain, thankful for the end of the rain;
thankful for the day, thankful for the end of the day.

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rescue or interference?

I found a chipmunk in my office today, probably brought in by one of our cats, but luckily still very much alive and well. It took me half an hour to direct him into a box, but it was worth it when I let him go outside and he left me with a jaunty chirp.

It was much more challenging a few weeks ago when I had to rescue another chipmunk from a downspout. I had to climb up a ladder, pulling the downspout apart piece by piece until he could escape (and then reassemble it), but it was also rewarding to see him run free.

Last year I was too late to rescue an opossum that became trapped and died in our basement window well. I still carry that horror in my mind, an agonizing death by thirst and starvation, a death I could have prevented if only I had been more vigilant, more aware of what was happening in my own yard. I have since placed a ‘climbing board’ in that window well, so no one is ever trapped there again, and I try to assuage my guilt by telling myself that I didn’t cause the opossum’s suffering, but I’m not convinced. I allowed suffering by my neglect.

But these rescues (and failure) raise some difficult questions: Why would I let our cats put chipmunks at risk? Why would I rescue chipmunks when they could put birds and their eggs at risk? It’s hard when all the animals you love don’t love each other (except perhaps as a meal). Why not just let nature take its course?

What I try to do is strike a balance – let all the animals be themselves, but also give them some sanctuary – some safe place – from each other. So the cats can go outside, but only inside a fence. The chipmunks can come and go, but their best habitat, and all the bird feeders, are outside the fence. And I – I can make my yard hospitable to wildlife, and I can assist, but only in a crisis. We share the yard, but the animals stay wild, and I stay domesticated.

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