Friday, October 29, 2010

Got It

I finally captured the luminous reflections of morning sun on loblolly pine needles in the canopy. It doesn't show up as well in blogspot as it does in iPhoto, but I think you can see what I mean about the mystery of the shine. (Referring to Oct 22 post---Loblolly Canopy) dkm


Blue blue October sky. Crisp air. A single maple leaf lets go of its branch and swings to the ground, in lovely transition from life to death. A transfixing moment observed.

My dear friend Pam told me yesterday about the same moment for her brother, who let go of life during the singing of the Doxology by his family and church choir members who had gathered around him for his transition.

I am honoured that she shared the moment with me, and it recalls another---the fleeting moment, forever remembered, when my father and I squeezed my mother's hands as her last breath drifted into the universe---in the way of the red maple leaf. dkm

Thursday, October 28, 2010

A Day Inspired

Two bluebirds came to the deck today. First an adult male, then a young fluffy one. Their wing flutter was audible through the screen of the open door as they slowed to land on the feeder bar. Ever cautious, they flew away in their characteristic dip-dip-dip pattern of flight.

I've not seen bluebirds all summer. Not since last spring, when housewrens routed them out. What a relief to know they found a new nesting site. May the fledgling and its siblings have enough time to grow before it gets cold.

The visit imparted more gladness than I knew to expect of a few seconds. It was enough for a day. dkm

Sunday, October 24, 2010

BB Guns, Daylight, Birdflight, & My Father

I participated in a workshop last week-end for which we were assigned the exercise of writing a very long sentence. The instructor was of the belief that every good novel should sport at least one 100-word sentence. I was a dismal failure at the assignment in class, but today the birds and I recall an old journal entry which, if polished, would fit the bill nicely. Triggered by the intersection of old memory, current observation, and lingering fret over my inability to comply with the writing assignment, it represents one of many ironies in my father's memorable personality. Wordcount: 106.

"My father, who was not a hunter, and who, far from it, was a man of formal speech patterns, tender heart, and playful spirit, once surprised me by telling us how he often sat as a boy in the church pews looking for a clear view between the necks of the people in front of him through which he could see all the way to the front of the sanctuary, and that he imagined being a good enough aim with his BB gun to get a straight shot through the hole without raising a hair on the neck of a single pious Mennonite in the congregation."

Now when I look through the trees to a spot of cloudless sky, I remember his boyish reflection, and wonder if the same shot of daylight is what guides a bird in flight. It surely must be the thing that causes it to fly, innocent of the technology of a pane of glass, headlong into a window of a house toward the light it can see through the front and back panes.

Aside from my grief for the poor bird who falls prey to its misconception of a window, a grief I most surely inherited from my mother, it gives me a kind of whimsical pleasure to recognize the large and small ways my father has also shaped my current thinking.

Maybe someday I'll write about his vivid description of a squashed hotdog, employed to teach me not to run into the street. dkm

Friday, October 22, 2010

Loblolly Canopy

Here are a few views of the loblolly pines that have inspired my recent posts: from my deck, from the swing at the foot of one of them, and from the center of the yard.

What the photos don't show is the mystery of the day: the reflection of the sun on the needles. If you inspect a new-fallen clump of loblolly pine needles at close range, they are not shiny. They are many things---blithe, slender, dull green, blade-like, brush-like, smooth or sticky depending on which way you stroke them, dry and calloused to the touch, unique by any standard---and lovely---but they are not shiny.

How is it then, that the direct sun on the high pine canopy shimmers and sparkles along every needle it touches---with an iridescence that defies description in a million instances? Visible with the eye, but not with a camera, this phenomenon lends yet another opportunity to reflect on the transcendent mystery in the beauty of light. dkm

Monday, October 11, 2010

Piney Questions

The more you learn about anything, the more uncertain you become about it, because you discover how much more there is to learn on the topic. The squirrels appear to be poking fun at my lack of knowledge. Or showing off. Or trying to teach me a thing or two. Or simply doing what they do, never-minding what I know or don't know. (I love that about wildlife---that it does its own thing for its own purposes, not caring a whit if anyone notices---a good role model for domesticated humans.)

Since my last post full of erroneous assumptions about stripped pinecone cores, the squirrels have started chewing off and dropping dozens of green-needle-clumps that look like the endmost tips of the highest pine boughs, each with several tiny perfect brand new pine cones budding along the stems. At first I thought the falling clumps were yet another result of our current drought---signs of pinetrees in stress---but my husband pointed out that they are chewed on the ends, likely the work of the squirrels again. Could be a secondary result of drought---squirrels looking for moisture---only a guess.

All of this provokes two new questions:
1. Why are squirrels chewing and dropping the pine needle clumps? I've not noticed this in previous Fall seasons.
2. How long does it take a pine cone to mature from first tiny reddish brown bud, through tightly closed green cone, eventually to dry and brown and open and fall from the tree of its own accord? Must be at least three years, since all three stages exist on the tree at once. Will research and report back.

I have at least learned, by asking an expert in the area (thanks, Anne T.), that the southern yellow pines in my backyard are of the loblolly variety. dkm

Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Generosity of the Pinetree

Never mind what I said a couple posts back about a thing newly learned becoming ordinary. It never does. Not if you come back to it with another round of deep attention. Last September, for instance, I noticed and photographed and wrote about the plethora of pinecone cores the squirrels dropped. The cores are falling again and they're just as surprising in 2010 as they were in 2009, but for a different noticing. What I should have said about careful observation is that no matter how often you attend an ordinary thing, a new truth presents, yet allowing more to know in exchange for the simple act of paying attention.

Today it's not the barren cores that reveal more, but the extracted teeth of them. My good friend and neighbor Peggy described them as razor blades in her driveway. They are the same in my yard: sharp-tipped as needles and tough enough not to break when you step on them in stocking feet.

Until today, when they sprinkled down on me in the swing from a squirrel's shredding station directly overhead, I had assumed these sharp teeth came from the dried brown cones that also begin to fall at this time of year. But no. I picked up a tooth the moment it fell. It was cold and damp to the touch, green-tipped and fresh looking, not in the least dry or brown or brittle---from which I learned that the cones the squirrels select to shred are this year's new green ones, not last year's dry, brown, and already opened ones. Last year's cones are falling on their own.

But of course. The squirrels shred the green cones to find fresh seeds at the roots of the teeth. One seed per tooth. They would have no use for last year's dead cones.

I had noticed the beautiful reddish brown color of the stripped cores that fell, but had not made the connection that they came only from new green cones---and I had many times read to my first graders that squirrels and chipmunks eat pinecone seeds, but never knew fully what that meant. Today's observation has also corrected my assumption that one pinecone bore one seed for the purpose of pine tree regeneration. But no, the seeds per cone are many. Now it all makes more sense.

I am well aware that botanists have long ago studied and written about these things. But I didn't know them until I paid attention and learned from the inside out. That makes all the difference.

The generosity of the pine tree is staggering when considered. Behold the gifts she bequeaths the earth. Beauty and shade and wintergreen for us. Homes and food and protection for woodland creatures. Pinestraw to cool and renew the earth at her feet. The very oxygen we breathe. Wonder. Magnificence. Awe. Her tall silhouette against the sky. And yet we destroy her.

Janisse Ray has recently written it most brilliantly in Ecology of a Cracker Childhood, about the destruction of the Southern Yellow Pine forests.

And finally, with apologies to Robert Frost:

The way a squirrel rained down on me
the teeth from the fruit of a pinecone tree
has taught me that truth is not readily known,
but revealed over time, when observed
as a cone. dkm