Positively Charged

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A happy bee inside a prickly pear flower

Prickly pears just started their showy blooming in the Arizona highlands. The softest watery pink and yellow blooms open elegantly, sometimes covering flat paddles of the plant in funny looking mohawk-like patterns.  The buds are so squeezed together, the little prayer hands pointed to the sky, you would think they won’t have space to explode, but there is no rush, they take turns to delight the bees, each one opening into a perfect cup.

In “Desert Solitaire” Edward Abbey wrote: “The prickly pear, for example, produces a flower that may be violet, saffron, or red. It is cup-shaped, filled with golden stamens that respond with sensitive, one might almost say sensual, tenderness to the entrance of a bee. This flower is indeed irresistibly attractive to insects; I have yet to look into one and not find a honeybee or bumblebee wallowing drunkenly inside, powdered with pollen, glutting itself on what must be a marvelous nectar. You can’t get them out of there– they won’t go home. I’ve done my best to annoy them, poking and prodding with a stem of grass, but a bee in a cactus bloom will not be provoked; it stays until the flower wilts. Until closing time.”

Ecstatic bees indeed seem to lose their minds in these golden pollen baths. I found this one in a prickly pear down the road, and for a moment I thought it was dead. It moved, and I thought it was just sleeping there on a cool windy day. Later in the season, female bees often kick out male bees out of the hives, since all business is done, and the boys end up spending their nights in the flower tents, under the stars. Older bees hook onto the flowers to die. Some types of bees will send all of their bachelors to the flower party to wait for the females to show up. But this one, in the pink prickly pear flower, was not sleeping or waiting. It was happily wiggling her tail to shake every bit of the pollen onto herself. In her golden sticky coat, she looked like one of those ladies strutting the expensive fur coat in the middle of summer.

Apparently, now we are finding out it is not just the color, the smell, and the nectar that plants so boldly display au naturel for the pollinators. It is also the magnetism! Yes, the positively charged bees are attracted to the slightest negative charges of the flowers. There, squatting over the roadside cactus, my fingers covered in spines, I watched her, this furry magnetic belly, stuck glued in that flower, no matter how much I moved the petals, she’d dig herself out a bit as if to say: hey, look, I am busy working here!; and then she’d drop back into the bottom of the cup, drunk with some mysterious ecstasy.

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Wallowing drunkenly inside

~~~

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Posted in arizona, Nature, Photography | Tagged , , , , , | 38 Comments

Today is The Day

Today is the day children wake up pink-cheeked, warm-toed and sparkle-eyed, as the sky wakes from behind the mountain, lazily, then with an urgent rush, color, running, movement, the voices come from all six directions, kids and birds alike: “I am hungry!”

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Apache Plume in the wind, Fain park Trails, Prescott Valley

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A different type of of plume, Fairy Duster, Phoenix. Arizona

Drink-your-tea! Drink-your-tea!, insists the spotted towhee from the pinon pine. She gets frustrated with me. I sit at the foot of the flaming Apache plume, coffee in hand, while towhee ramps up her instruction: Quick-ly-drink-your-tea! I’ll whistle back sometimes, teasing her: I-don’t-want-the-tea!, and we get into a melodious argument over tea, pine cones and sun. Her beak is upturned, her throat dances in fresh light with the confidence of the day.

Today is the day wildflowers know exactly what to do. They had been playing ‘pass on a baton‘. In March, the hills looked snowy with Mountain Balm, and the bees got drunk on the first nectar. Then Cliffrose, and Apache Plume, Evening Primrose, and Desert Marigold, Indian Paintbrush, and every type of Penstemon, California Poppy and Golden Columbine, Prickly Poppy and thickets of Desert Globemallow took turns. Today is a wild awakening unfolding.

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Western Bluebird perched on a Ponderosa pine, Goldwater lake, Prescott

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A stout Ponderosa pine holding pounds of acorns buried by acorn woodpeckers, nuts top to bottom

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Safe high in the cactus home, waiting for mom, Phoenix, Arizona

Today is the day my mango will sprout!, sings the boy. And a new strawberry will be there waiting for him. Three lizards on the wall will show off their sun-catcher scales and muscles: push up, jog, push up, jog, flip the tail… And the yucca on the quail trail, it was merely a bundle of conspicuous spikes last night, today the yucca will suddenly shoot out a two foot flower stalk, as only agaves and yuccas do, just like that, overnight, because they can, because they are as magic as magic beans.

Today the child will say: Let’s keep jumping until we hear water splash in our bellies! Did you try that? It is a perfectly good day to listen to the child’s whispers. To roll the blue blanket up into a jumping rope, and jump.

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Lupine blooms under the pines, Prescott National forest…

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…while hedgehog cactus blooms in lower elevations, Black Canyon City trails

Today is the day for hiding in the canyon. And for skipping rocks. Counting herons, butterflies and wild poppies, and then forgetting the numbers. But we’ll never forget the tips of the wings, the brush of the petals brushing on our skin. Today the gardener will count her tomatoes, and the homesteader will count his chickens. Today we will quietly or loudly acknowledge again, that waters are low, radiation is wide, prices are high, species are fewer and the poor are more, that cities keep creeping and forests shrinking at a much faster pace than traffic on the highway. Today we will find an expression for our grief.  The way damned rivers find the herons and the cormorants. Today we will also hold the door for someone just a little bit longer and smile just a little bit wider and we will place out faith in the faces of these rocks.

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Live walls of Oak Creek Canyon, West Fork, Sedona

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Wild Pary’s Penstemon and Cliffrose bloom side to side, Prescott Valley

Birds ate all corn seeds and sunflowers, and pack rats scurried away with some fresh seedlings, but kids kept watering that lifeless corn spot, morning after morning, when it seemed hope was all but lost. Today is the day I spotted one fresh green spiral reaching into the sun, with a rare dew drop on its lips. Last man standing.

Today I walk the creek carrying in two hands, wild mint in one, and a bag of trash in another: crushed beer cans, plastic bottles left behind by hopeful prospectors. I smell like a cat who just rolled in a mint patch, happy, squinting in the bright morning sun, accompanied by hummingbirds, and glad we were given two hands.

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Scrub oak in golden yellow drops its leaves in April/May as new pink growth emerges…

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…while teddybear cholla guard their own golden carpets

 

Today is the day of the oak. Boy carries a tiny Gambel oak in his little hands with muddy fingernails, and we will plant it in these burning rocks, praying for its roots to take. We will not be here, and will not see it grow, but I am sure my spotted towhee friend will carry the news far and wide. And acorn woodpeckers will hoard the seeds, their pirate faces buried in perfectly carved out Ponderosa granaries.  I close my eyes, and in the dry wind, the aspens sing the rain. Today the air fills with moisture, and swells up with possibility. There should be a word for that. For that feeling: No matter what, anything can happen today!, because it is wider than Southwest skies. Or maybe we do have a word for that feeling — it is the sound of water in jumpy bellies.

~~~

 

Posted in Inspiration, Nature, Photography | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 36 Comments

Thank You, Lord, for the Rain

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Granite Creek, Prescott, Arizona

Thirty Springs of Winter

The winds swept in as we sat under the pines and listened to the green ocean high above, swaying, roaring, twirling our hair and the heads of the Ponderosas into one giant tangled mess. This ocean smells of vanilla and butterscotch and sweetness of sap. Once in a while, a pinecone would tumble down on the roof, porch, into the creek, near my coffee and I would lift Annie Dillard’s “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek” on top of my head for protection. Last summer, a pinecone plummeted onto my head from what seemed the tallest pine in Latvia, and it nearly knocked me out. Kids laughed. I have this magnificent magnetism for bird droppings, pinecones, branches, mud and now cactus particles. I drag them around. For the rainy day.

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Winter fruit on Tree Cholla, at Willow Lake, Prescott, Arizona

Ponderosa pinecones are incredibly sharp, just like the rest in the high desert. Needles, bristles, thorns, prickles, spines, scorpion stingers… I even managed to get my finger poked on a crystal in a rock while climbing. We humans are so soft, vulnerable, unprotected. I marvel at rattlesnakes carrying their delicate bellies over these sandpaper rocks. I marvel at strong Ponderosas and alligator junipers as thick as windmills. The weakened ones send out their stress signals, and the bark beetles swarm in. They dig holes, releasing the stress, letting the sunlight in, reshaping the tree into something new. There are perhaps lessons in that.

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Sunset and Ponderosas at Lynx Lake, Prescott, Arizona

We read poetry. Painted. Read cowboy poetry. Desert poetry. Juan Ramon Jimenez and his donkey. We made so many messes. Cleaned up. Restarted. Thirty springs popped here all winter. Crispy morning air opens up, springs into bright mornings and summery days, ice flows into mud and refreeze a few hours later, reshaped. Children spot furry tarantulas on the trails in the midday, and frozen ice ‘tarantulas’ in the morning at creekside.

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Enjoying Snowy pines, Prescott, Arizona

We’ve been re-shaping ourselves too. The man with big shiny cowboy belt, at the gardening class ripped out a rhododendron from its cozy pot, pointed to its roots and instructed: do you think it wants to go from this, straight to the rock? Add some compost, some rhizomes, he said, let it slowly accustom. He was dangling that plant violently from its tops. It felt like me, dangled by the hair, ripped out from my 8 feet deep fertile Illinois prairies trying to lay root in the 8 millimeters of sand atop the rocks. I am needing some rhizomes. Pink dawn viburnum is blooming now, flavoring the air with lilac. Snakes are waking, birds migrating through the lakes, and the meadowlarks are splattering landscapes in yellow.

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Meadowlark and Heron at Willow Lake, Prescott, Arizona. Prescott hosts about 360 confirmed bird species.

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Watching cormorants at Goldwater lake, Prescott, Arizona

Life of Foxes and Hummingbirds

I’ve lived with foxes for a while. They taught me how to bark, talk fox language, talk without talking, they teach me how to survive. They invite me into their dark cozy den of pillows and a blanket roof in the corner of the bedroom, but they let me know, I am not their kind. I insist on bath time in a plastic tub, but they prefer the creek.
When I get out of control with bans on crumbs and juices in the fox den, they cleverly use their rainbow powers, mud puppy powers, and tornado powers to transport me back to the kitchen, so they can fill their snow sleds with water, mud, pinecones and mix up some pine needle soup.

Seasons change, and the fox den gets converted into a bird’s nest, and then we are cactus wrens carefully hopping from saguaro to saguaro, and we are falling acorns tumbling down the bed, and we are javelinas being roasted, and we are rainbow ribbons tying up the mountains. Most often we are loud blue jays, playing tug of war with a worm. At bed time, energies gather as we morph into ruby-throated hummingbirds flapping our wings at fifty flaps a second. At Hassayampa river preserve, the upside down river as natives called it, because it peeks its head from under the surface just once in a while, twenty hummingbirds buzzed around our heads. A couple were getting into fights. Yes, even hummingbirds fight, said the little gray-haired lady as we watched. We have one, whom we call “Attila the Hummer”, she continued, he sits on the highest branch, and sneers at any other who tries to land close by. And so, we hum, and sip, and fight, like hummingbirds.

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Mule deer at Sedona Red Rocks State park

A Cactus Whisperer

Prescott, Arizona, is a spot of nature’s incredible ingenuity. This is the land where worlds collide. It is a land of extremes: part high desert, part tundra pine woods, part lush riparian habitat. Willows, cactus, Cholas, pines, junipers, yuccas, enjoy their own space and cohabit in what seems almost unreal fashion to my untrained human eye. Someone said, Arizona is geography by day, and astronomy by night. Someone else added, that when the day and the night meets, it is biology extraordinaire, biology in action. Coyotes come out in packs. Javelinas sniff around mountain and town edges feasting on succulent prickly pear. Bald eagles circle the lakes, terrifying the ducks. Bobcat lifts her soft heavy feet in graceful dance. But the boy does not care about -ologies and -onomies. He cares little what that tiny mushroom on the side of the trail is called. He just likes the way the edges curl and the grey speckles. The way it leans toward the cactus. The way the snow shakes off the pines when the wind blows, in fast dropping puffs and in powdery swirls. The way cottony seeds spread. The way rocks split after millennia of water and ice, and the way they feel. The way the sun bounces off of them and the way lizard twists her tail. The way tree cholla fruits tint in winter. He worries that we do not step on baby cactuses, the size of acorns. He gets down on his knees, pets baby cactus, whispering something that is beyond my wave range. He is a cactus whisperer.

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New generation of pines dancing

People of Arizona

Boy falls face forward into the snow, on the trail, and eats a mouthful. This is a very good dinner!, he says. He recalls how that cowboy sliced roasted prickly pears and ate the slices off his boot. So he eats snow off his boot, pretending it is prickly pear. I smile thinking of the horse man in Trader Joes. He carried a worn white plastic bucket and set it on the conveyor belt next to his baguette. Good, you remembered it! smiled the checkout lady. The man in dusty boots and wide plaid shoulders, as wide as his smile, nodded quietly, modestly. He smelled of horses. He placed his baguette into the bucket, and carried it to his pickup, dusty roads, home on the range.

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Snow eater in Prescott National forest, Prescott, Arizona. Fresh snow, good to search for javelina tracks

When snow accumulated and lingered under the pines, I walked over to my neighbor to offer my help shoveling. Twice my age, lean and pink-cheeked, he smiled, danced a bit with his snow shovel, and told me some stories of the lover of his life. The lover that called him to move here. The lover so grand, so complex in her layers and yet simple in her flowing ways, so deep, so breathtaking, it will steal your heart, rip it open, and lay it under the skies to let the starlight pour in. Grand Canyon. He said he goes to the Canyon’s North rim in February, and skies forty miles across the snowy woods, climbs down, climbs up. His eyes sparkled with the bright morning snow as he talked, every color of the Grand Canyon reflecting in his pupils. We talked and let his love and sun melt the driveway.

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Grand Canyon, Arizona, after the snowmelt in December

Prayers for the Rain
The creek by the house was dry all December, and then over poured, and shrank again. As we gathered vanilla scented raindrops, boy built dams, and islands of pine needles, rocks, mud and pinecones. He dug and engineered, diverting the water, fighting against the current at times. His boy-made channels dry up first. He then proceeds to make pinecone catchers.
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Granite Creek, surrounded by Granite Dells, February in Prescott, Arizona

Many riparian areas had been wiped out by development. About 80 percent of species here depend on these beautiful riparian areas, where water flows. Arizona sycamores tap directly into bed streams. The draught lasted for two decades and wildfires destroyed endless acres. Anne Lemott wrote: “If you don’t die of thirst, there are blessings in the dessert”. We humans tapped into every aquafer we could, trucked the water in, engineered ways to not die of thirst. We figure out way to quench immediate thirst. It is the blessings of the desert that still escapes us.

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White ghostly winter sycamores drinking up Oak Creek waters at Montezuma Castle, 800 year old Native American dwelling, the bones of which are sycamores

Saguaro cactus towers over the driest acres of Sonoran desert. It reaches the heights of 60 feet, yet it consumes 3 quarts of water per day (compare that to a neighboring Tucson human averaging at 360 quarts per day). Tohono O’odham people used to pick Saguaro fruit in June, using 10 foot long poles made of saguaro bones. The fruit is the only source of sweetness this time of year. O’odham would boil the fruit into syrup, ferment it into wine, and then dance for the rains to come. Most pickers are gone now. Wine is gone. Rain dances are gone. With rain dances vanished, the ground had split, opened into its deepest wounds yet, and curious onlookers travel miles to peek at these man-made canyons.

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Small Saguaro cactus and a friendly Joshua tree at Granite mountain footsteps near Yarnell, Arizona, where wildfire of 2013 claimed over 8,000 acres of natural habitat and lives of 19 firefighters.

This morning boy peeked out the window, and announced in amazement: It is flowing! My channels are flowing again! I knew it would work!  He flitters his hummingbird wings fanning the fires of my faith with each flip.

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Willow Lake, Prescott, Arizona, before storms move in

A local rancher and cowgirl poet Carole Jarvis of beautiful Wickenburg, Arizona, writes:

I turned my eyes toward cloudless skies so often, Lord,
Just watchin’ for some sign, or scent of rain.
Sometimes thinkin’ that I heard the sound of thunder,
Far away, across a distant plain.

I watched the water tanks turn into mud holes,
Saw grasses dry and wither in the sun.
Stirred a trail of dust behind my pony,
And dreamed each night, the summer rains had come.

Then this mornin’ as I woke, I felt a change,
And lookin’ toward the west, clouds filled the sky.
And soon the lightnin’ and the boom of thunder,
Combined with rain to form a lullaby.

And no one knows no better than a cowboy,
What moisture means to life in this terrain.
And though I know You always planned to send it,
I had to tell you Lord,
Thanks for the Rain.

~~~
Posted in Kids, Nature, Photography, travel | Tagged , , , , , | 65 Comments

For the Love of Big Skies

From Arizona, with love. 🙂

This is not the amazing David Muench and his portrayal of beautiful Arizona, but my first attempt to capture and share some breathtaking views with you: Watson Lake, Painted Desert, Petrified Forest, Sedona Red Rocks. Arizona, the land of over a million of giant saguaros, the organ pipe cactus, the Kaibab squirrel, the red rocks, the canyon that can be seen from outer space, copper mining, 18 national monuments – more than any other state!, and the highest quality durum wheat in the world – yes, believe it or not! This is the state that still has a village where mail is delivered by mule, and an oldest village settlement in America. Big skies. And brightest of the stars.

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All is right with the world

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It happened on the day
when snowy crickets
announced the temperature of rising sun.
It really happened!
Children. Ceased. All. Fighting.
I sneaked through silent house
sniffing the air for burning scraps of food.
Listening in if they were watching
a forbidden movie.
Silence.
I stepped outside, exhaled relief in uncertain puffs,
and plopped myself below the praying mantes
that swing in pairs on little bluestem.

Some clouds were floating through low autumn sky.
Then, suddenly, one screamed:
“I need more space! I was here first!”
“No! I! I! I need more space!”
“You scraped me first!”
“Wrong! Move! My turn!”
“I am in better shape!”, screamed the other.
Observing such unusual commotion,
blue heavens smiled. Stretched. Lengthened.
Widened. Creaked. Burst. Flowed.
Spilled over its ancient rippled edges,
widened the angles of the rainbows,
sent in the gusts to reshape the forms,
to switch them, change them, rearrange them.

I rushed into the house,
my breath still trailing far behind:
“You would not believe!….”

………

“She took last cookie and she won’t share!”
“He ate mine!”
I stared into the cookie’s drippy eyes of chocolate,
and felt the sky in my fingertips slowly stretching.
Creaking. Spilling, from the center out.
And that is how I grew to learn:
All is right with the world.

~~~
Posted in Parenting, Poetry | Tagged , , , , , , , | 24 Comments

Senses of Love

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How else would you decide to try
to lick your elbow upon an early morning,
or measure thumb against your middle finger
when he shouts: mommy, look, they are same size!

And would you hear the souls of streams
in popping bubbles, in watery explosions,
as they poke a stick in rocky river beds
and glue your ear against the wooden grain:
Just listen!

How else would you adore the art:
Canoes carved out of milkweed pods,
Mandalas rippled in acorns, leaves, and sticks,
and rainbows of the colored canyon sand.
Shield bug houses constructed of the paw paw seeds
and forts of the hedgeapple balls to protect
the pumpkins from two hungry squirrels.

And would you know to run outside
To hide away from monsters?
To search for turtle with a broken leg
inside your bath in robot submarine made
from an old Nutella lid?

And would you stride faster than the wind,
with pocketful of rocks, crab shells and starfish,
five rusted nails, a bluebird feather,
a wheat back penny, coyote bone,
and other countless treasure
to be constructed into something New and Big.

With so much treasure and so lightweight with love.

~~~
Posted in Nature, Parenting, Poetry | Tagged , , , , | 40 Comments

600 Doubts

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Green Mountains burn
at the edges today.
September sumac
gone fast ablaze,
Mount Ellen royal
in her golden strings,
we travel through New England fog
eyes fixed on this snow
rising up with the day.

Somewhere under there,
is one rusty tractor, I think,
and two horses in blankets green,
blinking dew.
Somewhere under there,
river otters burrow and slide,
porcupines spread thousands of quills
in dark shadows of eastern hemlocks
sapsuckers press into channels,
ferns collect one more shade of grey.

Fog meets up with the Clouds,
we meet up with the Sea,
and I lean ashore
stretched in longest of doubts:
Do we only love what we understand?
Do we only understand what we love?
Can same water that lift us, drown us?

“We missed the low tide…”,
I crumble under deep water.
But boy grabs the bucket,
presses on crunchy shells
like some yogi not feeling the pain.
Past the barnacle castles,
steaming pies of seaweed,
past tidal markings of meaning,
muddy splash on his face.
“Somewhere under there!
Somewhere under there are the crabs!
Six hundred crabs!”,
he is certain.

~~~
Posted in Human Condition, Nature, Poetry | Tagged , , , , | 26 Comments

The Wind on the Baltic

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The crow flew by
and the feather dropped;
And the boy took the feather,
To write prayers in sand.
The winds left the sea
and they kissed the sands,
and the words dissolved,
and the feather flew,
and the birches turned
their backs to the sea —
and bent and screeched
Stretching to mount.
The crow laughed down
from the cloud-knitted skies,
and the young aspens shivered
from the stories they heard
of villages swallowed
deep in the dunes,
lost like words and prayers
to the wails of the sea.
And we spun and turned
freckled cheeks to the winds,
and we lifted sail coats
into cloud-knitted skies,
and we rose and flew,
into featherless soar
between white jasmine streets
and green pinecone rains.
And the sand so fine
sang below our feet,
and it sang hymns of Love
for as long as we flew,
and we landed down
freckled cheeks so full
of blueberries wild
deep in the woods

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~~~

Posted in Nature, Poetry | Tagged , , , , , , , | 36 Comments

May in Lithuania

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We climb the greenest hills
to listen to a cuckoo bird.
And doodlebugs in giant swarms,
Children’s delight.
Bird cherries dressed in bride-like white
with lilacs by the side
of drying clothes on lines
like prayer cloths
above the crumbled sidewalks.
Magpie, the curious, hops about
and lifts its tail as long
as days are long in May.

The cuckoo bird sings by the river,
We count the echo:
coo-coo, coo-coo, coo-coo
To determine our springs yet to come.
If you carry money in your pocket,
when the first coo-coo of the spring is heard
You will be rich forever,
The old man says.

The richness in this soil,
The rising fog, fresh rains,
and faces deep in wrinkles,
black fingernails, widows in black
scarves and handbags full of candy
for the children of the town.
White storks stride
across green meadows
As greenhouses flap their
worn wings on the hillsides.

I hold the bread black with abundance
Sun is pale here, as if yellow
has spilled out into
the gold of butter
egg yolks and honey,
and draped over the edges of the crust
Like yellow hair of local girls.
We listen to the morning church bells
bellowing across the town,
and the old accordion serenades us
from the distance.

~~~

 

Posted in Lithuania, Poetry | Tagged , , , , , , , | 41 Comments

Elevation 12,000 feet

Dear friends!!! No, I had not vanished, just stepped back from WordPress to do some exploring. We had been travelling for a few weeks hiking mountains and enjoying American West. More impressions and photos later, but for now, here are just a couple photographs of my favorite, Bryce Canyon in Utah.

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Posted in Nature, Photography, travel | Tagged , | 36 Comments