Posted by: ktzefr | May 26, 2016

Bird Song as a Second Language

Maya Textile, Yucatan, Mexico.

Maya Textile, Yucatan, Mexico.

What an exciting morning!  I watched three baby robins being fed their breakfast.  I was in the right place at the right time, looking out the basement window to the nest tucked into a corner beneath the upstairs deck.  We had watched the robin parents come and go before and during the last 3-week deluge of rain and didn’t know if the nest held eggs or birds.  Yesterday, I thought I saw a beak.

This morning the three were in the nest alone.  Then the Mama bird came and perched on the side of the nest.  She quickly looked around, surveyed the surroundings, and flew away just in time for Papa bird to swoop in with a rather long worm.  Our back yard is woodsy, lots of trees and shrubs, and the ground covered in wood chips instead of grass.  So there are worms galore.  Great habitat for robins. 

So, Papa swoops in with the worm, and three heads pop up like tiny jacks-in-the-box with beaks wide open in anticipation.  Which baby would get the worm?  How would he choose? 

Apparently, robins are big on sharing. It was surprising to see how he managed by dangling it above one beak at a time and then pulling back at the right instant to divide the worm into three parts.  How cool is that? 

*****

Some years ago I was birding with a Maya friend in Chichen (Yucatan) and marveled at the way he “talked” to the birds.   He brought the pygmy owl out of hiding with his whistles and held a variety of “conversations” with the flycatchers and tanagers and kiskadees that filled the trees along the jungle trails. 

Why couldn’t I talk to the cardinals and blue jays and robins that fill the trees in my own back yard?

Instead of merely looking for birds, I started listening.  It’s amazing what one can learn from listening.  I’ve become rather proficient at mimicking the call of cardinals, for example.  We “talk” back and forth on sunny days when I work outside on the deck.  And, for the past few years, I’ve been whistling for the blue jays every morning and they (7 or 8 birds) come for peanuts.  I don’t know where they come from or where they take the peanuts when they go.  But they answer my whistle from somewhere in the neighborhood trees, and a few minutes later they appear like magic. 

Since we now have a family of robins living right at our back door, I figure it’s time to learn their language.  It sounds complicated.  According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology (my “go to” place for bird stuff), robins have a dawn song and a daytime song, alarm calls and “cuck” calls and yeepsYeeps can vary, depending on the situation, and there’s a chirr that sounds like laughter.  Perhaps it’s wise to learn one sound at a time. 

I don’t have a clue as to what I’m saying to the birds, but it doesn’t matter. I’ve never been attacked by a feathered friend.

*****

Five Robin Facts

— The scientific name for the American Robin is Turdus Migratorius.

— Robins can have three broods a year.  Only about 25% survive until winter and only half the robins alive in any  year will make it to the next.  A lucky robin could live to be 14 years old, but the odds are against him/her.

— Robins are residents, for the most part.  They don’t migrate unless it’s for short distances.

— They can become intoxicated if they eat too many honeysuckle berries.

— Robins like to vary their diet, choosing worms in the morning and fruit during the day.  They are a good example of the early bird getting the worm.

*****

Info: Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Birding in Chichen, Yucatan

Audubon Guide to American Robin

 

 

 

Posted by: ktzefr | May 23, 2016

Dancing at the Moose Lodge

dress

I wore the purple mini dress

With bell-shaped sleeves lined

in silver.  I imagine wearing it now —

too tight, too short, too purple

for a woman my age.

***

We danced until midnight,

And when we left the Moose Lodge,

A caravan of college kids in cars,

The cops were waiting.

Most went to jail.

All underage, drinking in a dry county,

Dancing to hippie music.

***

Appalachia in the 60s,

With Janice singing in my head,

“Freedom’s just another word

For nothing left to lose.”

***

I don’t recall ever wearing

The purple dress again,

So why is it still hanging

In my closet?

*****

What do you keep in the closet or trunk or attic?  Old enough to have anything from the 60s?  Do you know the WHY?

Happy musings on yet another rainy Monday.  Don’t let it get you down!

**********

Posted by: ktzefr | May 18, 2016

Roaming Yucatan’s Back Roads: Acancéh

Road to Celestun, Yucatan; Photo:KFawcettI grew up exploring the back roads of Appalachia, those curvy, mountainous ribbons of asphalt linking one small town to the next…roads that wander in a dozen different directions, never seem to end, and all look alike.  It’s easy to get lost, but getting lost is half the fun.  So I like to explore when I travel, and I look for a local guide who knows the back roads.  Yucatan’s roads are nothing like Kentucky’s hilly, crooked byways; they are as straight as an arrow and pancake flat.  Sometimes they lead to surprising places.

*****

The extraordinary town of Acancéh (ah-kan-KAY) is a place that could only exist in Mexico.  Though it’s main plaza and surroundings could serve as a picture-perfect example of the history of Yucatan, from its Maya roots to Spanish colonialism to the modern era, the town has been generally ignored by tourism.  The central square, like every plaza in every Mexican town I have visited, is dominated by a church.  In the case of Acancéh, however, the yellow 16th-century Franciscan church shares this grandest space in town with a large, centuries-old Maya pyramid.

 

Maya pyramid at Acanceh, Yucatan; Photo:KFawcett

Maya pyramid at Acanceh, Yucatan; Photo:KFawcett

It’s fascinating to see these two standing side-by-side, especially when the hustle and bustle of the modern world is also happening around us.  People come and go to work and school and market.  There is laughter and music.  Barking dogs and birdsong.  The ruins are literally in the back yards of businesses and homes, and there’s a park across the street with fountains and gardens and a prominent deer statue.  Acancéh is the Maya word for “cry of the deer” or “groan of the deer” or “dying deer” or “lament of the deer” — depends who you ask.  Suffice it to say that it has something to do with a sad or sick deer.

The church on the town square — Parroquia de Nuestra Señora de la Natividad — is grand in size but simple in decoration…

Parroquia de Nuestra Senora de la Natividad, Acanceh, Yucatan; Photo:KFawcettIMG_4801

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*****

During the colonial period churches were often built with stones from the pyramids and many times they were constructed right on the pyramid site. But, for some reason, the Spanish allowed the pyramid in Acancéh to stand.  And there is a second one behind the first and a third ancient building a little ways down the street.  Archaeologists believe that between 300 and 600 AD, when Acancéh was an important Maya city, there were as many as 400 buildings in this area.

The pyramid on the town square…

Maya pyramid, Acanceh, Yucatan; Photo: KFawcett

Maya pyramid, Acanceh, Yucatan; Photo: KFawcett

The most fascinating thing about the plaza pyramid is the giant masks.  When one of the older layers of stone was uncovered it revealed several distinctive carved masks facing each of the cardinal directions.  They are some of the finest of their kind that survive.  The enormous masks are protected by corrugated fiberglass shelters atop a scaffolding with stairs that offer an easy climb up for a closer look.

Huge stucco masks atop the pyramid in Acanceh, Yucatan; Photo:KFawcett

One of the huge stucco masks atop the pyramid in Acanceh, Yucatan; Photo:KFawcett

IMG_4818We hitch a ride with a local taxi (Yucatan’s version of the 3-wheeler is used to haul supplies, firewood, food, and people — kids to school, grownups to work, travelers around town).  It’s just four blocks to the third restored building — the Palacio de los Estucos. 

*****

This palace of stuccos may have originally been a residential complex for the rich or some sort of administrative building.  No one knows.  Today, it’s deserted — except for the iguanas.  There is no scaffolding, so I get my first experience climbing a pyramid the hard way, stone by stone.

 

Palacio de los Estucos, Acanceh, Yucatan; Photo:KFawcett

Palacio de los Estucos, Acanceh, Yucatan; Photo:KFawcett

IMG_4823

At the top, an arched passageway leads to the stuccos, which give this palace its name.  There are a number of identifiable figures — animals and glyphs.  Is that a rabbit in the center?  

 

Palacio de los Estucos, Acanceh, Yucatan; Photo:KFawcett

Palacio de los Estucos, Acanceh, Yucatan; Photo:KFawcett

I am captivated by the ancient masks and glyphs and the eerie silence of these places void of other visitors in spite of the activity going on around them.  I don’t realize until much later that I didn’t take a single photo of the town and surrounding jungle from atop the pyramids! 

And so we are off to the next stop…Tecoh (more on this town later). 

Enroute we pick up a hitchhiker, a young boy headed from one of the villages into town to sell sweets that his grandmother had made. 

IMG_4845

Yucatan’s back roads are, indeed, chock full of all kinds of goodies!

**********

Note:

Some tour companies and private guides now offer visitors day trips along the Ruta de los Conventos (Convent Route), stopping at a number of small towns and villages to see the old Spanish churches, Maya ruins, and markets, including Maní, Teabo, Chumayel, Mayapán, Tecoh, and Acancéh.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by: ktzefr | May 11, 2016

Love at First Listen…

“A chicken is not a bird; and a woman is not a man.” 

~ old Russian saying

It was love at first sight.  It happened on a Wednesday afternoon in the autumn of 1966.  Freshman English class.  A note to this effect is written clearly inside the front cover of my literature text.  I’m a pack rat.  Some things are hard to toss.

antonIt was love at first sight – when I met Anton.  Or, perhaps, to be more accurate, it was not the “sight” of him that got my attention.  It was what he had to say.  The way he said it…the words he chose.  Example: a young man on glancing at a girl who was handing him a glass of tea, “felt all at once as though a wind were blowing over my soul and blowing away all the impressions of the day with their dust and dreariness.”  Or on spotting a lovely girl standing on a railway platform: “it seemed as though a gust of wind…or a fall of rain, would be enough to wither the fragile body and scatter the capricious beauty like the pollen of a flower.” 

 “The Beauties” (quoted above) is one of his most famous stories.  Though some would say it’s not really a story at all.  It’s barely an anecdote.  Nothing happens.  There is no plot.  It’s simply a telling of two incidents when a young man is struck by the appearance of a beautiful girl.  There is no surprise ending, no coincidence in which the two incidents are somehow connected.  It is what it is – a tale that focuses on exactly the right details to convey a deep sense of the mystery of beauty. 

**

When I started reading a novel the other day and had to toss it aside after the first few paragraphs because it was so utterly BAD, I went in search of quality fiction.  It felt sort of like eating fast food for several days and then having a hunger for a really good meal.  There is too little time and too little money to waste on junk. 

booksSo, I spent the weekend with Anton.  Listening to his stories about women.  Yes, listening, for on a quiet day with only the birds singing in the background, his “voice” was as clear as if he were sitting alongside me, telling about the Marshal’s widow or the old colonel’s wife or Julia the “nincompoop” or Natalia with the “long tongue.”  His women may be rich or poor, weak or strong, simple or complex.  Some are highly intelligent; others are downright stupid.  They are all Russian women living in the late 1800s, at a time when they had very few rights.  And yet each woman in these 30 tales (Stories of Women) manages to carve out her own sense of identity and self-worth in spite of the prejudice and traditions of the time. 

All of Chekhov’s writing reflects who he was as a person.  He understood the importance of the trivial in everyday life and had compassion for ordinary people.  He has been described often as kind and generous and always an optimist.  On his deathbed, he wrote: “life and people are becoming better and better, wiser and more honorable…”  I’m not sure I agree with him about this, but I suppose optimism never hurts.  I do agree with his belief that one should not shift responsibility for his or her behavior to circumstances and society.  Behavior – good choices and bad ones – define who we are as individuals. 

Every time I read or re-read a Chekhov story I am stunned by its relevance to life in the 21st century.  So much has changed in society and in the world, but the things people cherish – family, freedom, stability – are the same.  We humans still make good choices and bad ones, experience joy and sorrow, and hold fast to both reality and illusions.   Guillermo Erades, author of Back to Moscow, writes about “Reading Chekhov in Baghdad” as research for his novel:  “I realized Chekhov was not only writing about life in 19th century Russia, he was writing about life.  Ours.”

This is what I like most about Chekhov and why I’m always a willing listener:  The stories are never the way we would like things to be, neatly arranged with joy here and sorrow there and no connection between.  Different emotions are felt at the same time – the way things happen in real life. 

**********

Listen to “The Beauties” read by Philip Pullman for The Guardian podcast.

Posted by: ktzefr | May 6, 2016

Moms, Memories, and Magic…

IMG_1051I miss my mom in the spring time.  She used to visit when the cherry trees bloomed and stayed to help me plant the impatiens and petunias.  One year she packed in her suitcase the lilac from my grandmother’s yard and an almond tree twig from her own.  They are mature bushes now with purple and pink flowers.  She was here when we planted the snowball “bush” that has become one of the favorite neighborhood trees.  And the butterfly bush that almost died two winters ago sprang back to life last year filled with blooms and butterflies.  She bought it for me on one of her visits. 

I miss my mom in the summer.  We always went to see her in Kentucky for a few days and some of my most relaxing times were spent sitting on the carport listening to the birds that frequented her feeders or the rain on the roof – depending on the weather.  She went to the beach with us every year and, even into her nineties, she enjoyed sitting under an umbrella with her toes in the sand watching the waves.

ImageWhen the strawberries ripened she made the best strawberry cobbler that money couldn’t buy.  We picked blackberries together as we had done in the woods back home.  In those days it was a hot, prickly chore amongst the briars that resulted in scratches and chiggers. But I found a farm in Virginia that planted the variety with no thorns and the “patch” was set out in lovely landscaped rows.  The berries were plump and sweet and perfect.  Summers were fun.

I miss my mom in the autumn.  One of the last times she came to stay with us she needed a pacemaker and had to have surgery.  She was 92.  Once she had recuperated, we decided to drive down to the beach for the day.  It was October.  Sunny, cool, breezy.  I made sure we had sweaters, sunglasses, hats.  She didn’t have her summer bonnet that she usually wore to the beach, so I had to find a substitute that would fit.  It was a big, gaudy hat with a leopard print sash that tied around the neck, but she didn’t mind.  Her favorite saying at such times was this: “I’m not going to see anybody I know anyhow.”

Image (2)It was only after we were an hour or more into the drive – probably about the time we were crossing the Chesapeake Bay Bridge – when Mom looked down at her feet and started laughing.  She had forgotten her shoes!  The old pink terry cloth house slippers would have to do.  No time to turn around if we were going to do this in a day.  So we drove on.  We went to a favorite restaurant in Bethany Beach and had crab cake sandwiches and iced tea, sat on the boardwalk and watched the waves, and laughed and talked to everyone who chose to sit for a while beside us on a bench by the sea.  Mom in her pink house slippers and clip on sunglasses and straw hat with the leopard sash was a hit.  I don’t recall how I looked, but, considering the number of folks who stopped to chat with strangers, we must have looked pretty cool together.  

I miss my mom every winter.  She came for Christmas when our son was little and always slipped downstairs with him on Christmas morning to see what Santa had left under the tree.  She would clear her throat loud enough to wake us as they passed our bedroom.  During the holidays, we played board games and worked puzzles, decorated and then took down the tree, cooked and cleaned up messes.  Mom made apple stack cake using every cake pan I could find as she liked to have at least six layers.  And her peanut butter candy was so good we always had to have a piece before it cooled.  When we got snowed in or lost the electricity we lit candles, built a fire, put on more quilts.  Mom worked her magic in quiet ways.  She got us to laugh about things when we really wanted to be anxious or angry or disappointed.  She’d seen a lot in her life and knew that “little troubles” were not worth the effort. 

Image (3)She enjoyed piecing quilts by hand in the living room’s natural light and carried her portable tape player around with her.  Often when I worked in the kitchen, I heard her singing along with the gospel music – Rock of Ages, I’ll Fly Away, Precious Memories.  She could be calm and content even as the world around her spun out of control.  And she could always find the silver lining. 

I miss my mom, and I miss the little bits of wisdom she shared.  I try to laugh even when it’s hard to find a reason to, and I remember to at least look for a silver lining.

I also like to sing along with the music...Precious mem’ries, how they linger/ how they ever flood my soul/ in the stillness of the midnight/ precious, sacred scenes unfold…

**********

HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY…and happy memories!!!

 

Posted by: ktzefr | April 28, 2016

Haiku — short, but not always sweet

First frog of spring; Photo:KFawcett

First frog of spring; Photo:KFawcett

This is what I love about haiku:  A few words can hold a lot of meaning or form an arresting image or create a mood;  they record the high moments of life and depend on the power of suggestion to be effective.  A haiku is a starting point for trains of thought and emotion, so the reader has to fill in the details, make the connections, and discover the larger story for himself. 

Here are some of my favorites from the haiku masters (17th to 19th century).  Each could be the beginning of a story.  This first one is by Moritake.

“Fallen petals rise

Back to the branch – I watch:

Oh…butterflies!”

 

~ Moritake was a Shinto priest whose work was often inspired by religion.  “Fallen petals” comes from a line of scripture that asks: “Can a fallen blossom return to its branch?”) Most haiku indicate the season in one way or another either by image or direct statement, as in Basho’s wild violets of spring…

“Here on the mountain pass,

Somehow they draw one’s heart so –

Violets in the grass.”

 

~ Matsuo Basho was born in the mid-1600s of samurai blood.  This was a stable period in which men of the warrior class turned their energies to the art of peace.  Poetry was one of the most popular art forms.

 

“Oh, these spring days!

A nameless little mountain,

Wrapped in morning haze!”

 

Basho’s “nameless little mountain” reminds me of some of my favorite sights — the Appalachian hills of my childhood, the fairy-tale cloud forests of Costa Rica, Ecuador’s Valley of the Dawn among the volcanoes, and the distant Sierra Madre on my morning walks in Mexico.  I love cloud-draped mountains!

Likewise, I’ve had many days this spring when I’ve been out walking and caught a sweet scent in the air that I couldn’t identify.  Much like the following…

 

“From what tree’s bloom

It comes, I do not know,

But – this perfume!”

*****

A couple of days ago I was working on the back porch when I heard a frog croaking/singing, and I searched until I found him inside the hollow leg of a plastic shelf that holds several of my son’s bonsai trees.  It’s shady in this tunnel of the shelf leg and he can hide in close proximity to the insects that flit about the little trees. 

By coincidence I flipped a page and came to one of my favorite frog haiku.  This one by Kikaku who showed a childish delight in his work where others tended to be more serious.  The frog in the poem is a fun image, but it’s also a comment on human life.  Is the frog swinging with joy or is he clinging to a single leaf, his feet dangling in the air? 

“A tree frog, clinging

To a banana leaf –

And swinging, swinging.”

And this one –

“The dawn is here:

And ho! – out of peach bloom the voice

Of Chanticleer.”

 

I’ve been awakened by the voice of roosters in the Kentucky hills and in the Andes Mountains and on islands in the Caribbean.  A rooster’s voice at 5 a.m. sounds the same, no matter what language he speaks!  

*****

This one, by Kakei, also reminds me of home in Kentucky.

“Dawnlight, and from the well

Up comes the bucket – in it

A camellia-bell.”

 

Our neighbors had the kind of well with a long, cylindrical bucket that had to be dropped down by rope, filled, and then pulled up again when they needed water.  There were no camellias around, but there was a tall pear tree on the hill above the well where a wild climbing rose had managed to weave its way almost to the top.  The well had to be covered except when in use to keep out debris.  I can imagine a well bucket full of water – and rose petals.

*****

Cherry blossoms are a common theme for Japanese poets.  I can understand why — their sudden beauty after a cold winter, the falling blossoms, the rebirth every spring.  On my morning walks the past few weeks I have enjoyed watching the new cherry buds bloom, walking through the “rain” of petals, and now seeing the flowers cover the ground like pink snow.  I like this one by Onitsura.

“They blossom, and then

We gaze, and then the blooms

Scatter, and then…”

 

~ Onitsura was another poet of samurai birth who started composing at a young age.  Like many other poets, he often makes a sort of equation between human beings and inanimate objects, ascribing to the trees, for example, the same feelings that people have.

 

“How cool the breeze:

The sky is filled with voices –

Pine and cedar trees.”

When I was a child I could look out my bedroom window and see a pine forest.  My friends and I spent long hours playing in the pines.  The “voices” of the poem could be that of the trees, the rustling sound they make in the breeze, or the song of birds, perhaps.  But I read it and remember all those childhood voices – the laughter and excitement and squeals of delight.

*****

Many poems have also been written about spring rain.  The following two are by Buson.  Taniguchi Buson was equally famous as a painter and is considered in Japan to be one of the best of the haiku masters.  He wrote more than 30 haiku about spring rain.  The first of these two is probably one of his least sophisticated poems, but it’s one of my favorites.  The second suggests a darker side of things.  Its effect is utterly Buson.

“Spring rain: and as yet

The little froglets’ bellies

Haven’t got wet.”

***

“As the spring rains fall,

Soaking in them, on the roof,

Is a child’s rag ball.”

 

*****

A great deal of emotion can be packed into a pocket full of words.  And the emotion can change, as in the following poem by Taigi, or be left to the reader to discern, as in Kito’s poem.  Both poets were pupils of Buson.

“A flitting firefly!

‘Look!  Look there!’ I start to call –

But there is no one by.”

 

Excitement is meant to be shared.  I feel lonely when there is no one around at some special moment.   But there is a more profound sadness when, in my excitement, I think about sharing something with a particular person and then suddenly realize that they will never be around again.

 

“Evening haze:

When memories come, how distant

Are the bygone days.”

*****

This last one is by Issa, one of Japan’s best-loved haiku poets.  It’s another look at spring rain and could easily be the beginning of a story…

“Rain on a spring day:

to the grove is blown a letter

someone threw away.”

***

Who threw it away?  Why?  Who found it?  What did they do with it?  What did the letter say?  Fill in the details, make the connections, discover the larger story….  One amazing thing about life is this:  everyone’s story is different!

*****

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kwansan CherryI have always loved poetry.  I came of age in Appalachia in the 60s, but I didn’t read much poetry in school and rarely read works for kids.  When everyone else was out of the house, I stood in front of the living room fireplace, as if on stage, and “sang” words written by Lord Byron and Shelley and Wordsworth — poems in an old book my dad kept on the bookshelf.  The Golden Treasury of Songs and Lyrics with notes by Francis T. Palgrave, who was then noted as being the “late professor of poetry” at Oxford, was first published in 1908.  As an elementary school kid, I often didn’t have a clue as to the meaning of what I was reading/singing, but I loved the words and images and rhythms of poetry.   (This classic anthology was brought back in print in February 2016 after many decades of being out of print.  Available HERE.)

 A few words, an image, or analogy can send me packing – traveling vicariously back to childhood, home, or another special place or time.  Though it has happened many times over the years, I continue to be startled when memories of home surface in a faraway place – or a poem.  This has happened to me in town plazas in Latin America, watching families enjoying “the park” at night, or witnessing a downpour in a rain forest and being overpowered by the memory of that wet-earth scent that comes after a shower in the Kentucky hills.  And so it is with poems…

 In the US during the 60s there was a lot of talk – and tomes written – about “finding” oneself.  As if every young person was lost.  I wasn’t.  Thanks to my Appalachian heritage, I knew who I was.  My goal was to explore every new avenue I could imagine through reading, travel, and making friends.  What fun this still is!

 The following Hindi poets writing in the 60s came from a very different “home” than the place where I grew up.  But maybe…not so different after all.  

 *****

~from “Fruits of the Earth” by Sumitra Nandan Pant

 

 “Childhood.  I planted pennies in the yard and dreamed

Penny trees would grow.  I heard the air sweet

With the silvery ringing of my clustered crop

And strutted round like a big fat millionaire.

Ah fantasy!  Not a single sprout came up;

Not one tree appeared on that barren ground:

Swallowed in dusk, blighted my dreams.

On hands and knees I scratched for a sign of growth;

Stared into darkness.  What a fool I was!

I gathered the fruit I had sown.  I had watered coins.”

 

(I never planted pennies, but who hasn’t done something similarly foolish as a child?)

  *****

 ~from “Sudden Laughter” by Shamsher Bahadur Singh

 

“By a cut-off path and somber waterfall

The sky defined by a fuzzy draggle of clouds,

…here, that dark young girl

Has suddenly relieved the air with laughter.”

 

(On the playground or in the classroom or sitting with friends in a tree…a tense or sad or frightening moment could be totally quelled by someone’s sudden belly laugh.)

 

****

 ~from “A Star Quivered” by Kirti Chaudhari

“A star quivered in a corner of the sky.

I thought, yes

Everything sometime or other will shine out like this.”

 

(Don’t all kids want to shine – sometime?)

 

*****

 ~from “Cloud in the Canyon” by Dharmavir Bharati

“Though sun is still hidden,

Its haze-blurred light between peaks

Flashes like a supernatural gleam;

Rivers now vein the land below with their shine;

And, through the milky glass of air,

Spruces glitter like arched steel;

And slowly mist, layer by layer, crumbles

Here, then there;

Sun like heated gold

Showers down

Bringing to blossom whole villages.”

 

(I am reminded of mornings in Kentucky, living in a valley surrounded by hills that were draped in mist, and how the mist slowly vanished as the sun melted it away, revealing the meadows and houses, like the blossoming of a village.)

*****

 ~from “Spring Wind” by Kedar Nath Agrawal

 

“Allow me; I’m the wind.

Spring wind; that’s my name.

 I am the very one

Who has toyed with the sky

For centuries, and did it

Effortlessly.

 

I am the one, yes I,

Who whistled harmony

To the sweet air

Of earth’s first day.

 

I am the very one

Who drops the biting wine

(Spelled “Love”) on every tongue

To keep all creatures young.”

 

(Spring.  Youth.  Renewal.  Love.  That’s what it’s all about!)

 *****

 ~from “Time” by Naresh Kumar Mehta

 

“Let us make this lake endure

Not by touching it

Not by sitting at its shore,

But by looking together into its mirror,

Dedicating ourselves to it,

This water,

Which is time.”

 

(I like reflections in water – what you can see and what is hidden, and how these change over time.  But they are never as revealing as a mirror, which loves to show wrinkles and bulges and other evidence of Time’s handiwork.) 

*****

~from “A Single Shooting Star” by Gajanan Madhav Muktibodh

 

“A distant star

Shoots through the blue of space.

Here, someone measures its speed,

Records the rise and set…

 

With equal speed,

Another lone star seems

To move across the space

Of every man’s heart.  So,

In moving out of shades

Of evil, reining self,

Riding the void, each star

Becomes the image seeing

Its own fearless offspring—

Because of this I shall

Put faith in every man,

In every man’s son.”

 

(Wasn’t it easier in childhood to believe in the goodness of all people?)

 *****

 ~from “Stump” by Nirala (Suryakant Tripathi)

“A mere stump,

All foliage gone,

Done with making.

 

Spring approaches and it does not quiver with anticipation.

Spring arrives and it does not bend to a bow under the

  Green  weight.

Nor does the love god, concealed in its branches, shoot

  From that bow

 Keen arrows carved of its pungent blossoms.

No traveler rests in its shade,

No lover weeps in the spot of shade

Cast by an old blind bird who sits there

 Dumbly recalling the music it once could make.”

 

(Ah…at some point, don’t we all become “old blind birds dumbly recalling the music we once made”?  Maybe that’s just me.)

*****

 ~from “A Moment on Green Grass” by Agyeya (Sachchidananda Vatsyayan)

 

 “We may for a moment

Recall automatically

A boat plying on the river,

The first showers of July

Spattering on a dusty path,

Swimming together in the lake,

Unprovoked laughter beneath the banyan tree,

Your sunburned face, lines of your hair

Fixed on the face by beads of sweat,

Pine forest, two horses running together,

The wind soaked with the river…

Honey from the comb…

The dusty smell of the half-known acacia tree…

The sun dropping behind the dome of the mosque,

Glossy rocks by the spring…

Waves,

Rainstorm,

A hand’s width of shade on the sand beneath the shrub…

Hot wind.

Silence.

 

We recall without effort.

We do not think.

We are running for the shelter of the past.”

 

(Nature.  Love.  Memories.  All pretty much the same everywhere.  All searching for shelter.)

 *****

 ~from “Fragments of Doubt” by Prabhakar Machwe

“The solitude questions the waterfall’s continual babbling;

The asking of trees is put by the birds’ wild mocking;

Hint of more asking is in the rainbow’s arching;

I’ve brought two fragments of doubt in the bag of my

  Knowing.”

 

(Why is it easier to appear to be an authority and keep doubts hidden in a bag than to admit a lack of knowledge or understanding?)

 *****

 ~from “Impressions of Water” by Raghuvir Sahay

 

“Lightning flash.

Rains pour down in a dense forest far off.

Noon; dark lake; a branch of mango drooping over it.

Breeze: I stand by the window…and the spray

Of the breeze has touched me.

Suddenly night: sand suddenly upon the other side,

Suddenly a calm, deep river

Comes into sight.

…So water leaves its many marks                                   

Upon the mind.”

 

(Water – spring floods in Appalachia; the pink water of the salt flats in Mexico; Caribbean blue, the prettiest water in the world.   A mind over a lifetime can collect thousands of images of water that can stir every kind of emotion.  This must mean something…)

*****

~from “Search for Directions” by Shambhunath Singh

 

“Those directions may be mine

Where unheard sound

Leaves traces on the wind,

Where reveries

Sparkle with truth;

Each solitary lane,

Each unsniffed breeze,

Each empty path—

Those directions may be mine,

Mine alone.”

 

(I don’t mind getting lost.  I’ve made many wonderful discoveries by switching direction and making the new one mine!)

*****

All of the poems can be found in Modern Hindi Poetry: an anthology, edited by Vidya Niwas Misra and published in 1968.

Posted by: ktzefr | April 18, 2016

Poetry and Blackbirds…

Sometime in March I was looking out the kitchen window and saw blackbirds at the feeder.  Grackles?  Cowbirds?  I grabbed the binoculars.  The birds were a deep, glossy black…with a yellow band on the wings, like a racing stripe on a car.  Then one bird flexed his wings and flashed his bright red epaulets at the world as if signaling in another new season.  Redwings!

Our yard is usually a quick stop on the migration route for the red-winged blackbirds as they continue on wherever they go every spring.  But this year it looks like they’ve decided to stay.  There are several males, but no females yet.  They show up later, after the males have found a suitable place to nest.  When the girls arrive the boys will compete for their attention, each one trying to prove he is the biggest and flashiest red-wing around.  I’m keeping a keen eye out for this display.  I don’t want to miss the show.  And I do hope the females are happy with the neighborhood. 

Red-winged Blackbird

Red-winged Blackbird

In celebration of National Poetry Month and the return of the red-winged blackbirds — this by the famous Kentucky poet, Robert Penn Warren, from the anthology Bright Wings

 

“How far a-winging to keep this appointment with April!

How much breath left in reserve to fill

The sky of washed azure and whipped-cream cumuli

With their rusty, musical, heart-plumbing cry!

On sedge, winter-bit but erect, on old cattails, they swing.

Throats throb, your field glasses say, as they cling and sing —

If singing is what you call that rusty, gut-grabbing cry

That calls on life to be lived gladly, gladly…

The globe grinds on, proceeds with the business of Aprils and men.

Next year will redwings see me, or I them, again then?

If not, some man else may pause, awaiting that rusty, musical cry,

And catch — how gallant — the flash of epaulets scarlet against blue sky.”

**********

Live life gladly this spring!

*****

“Redwing Blackbirds” by Robert Penn Warren, from Bright Wings: An Illustrated Anthology of Poems About Birds, Edited by Billy Collins with Paintings by David Allen Sibley.

Photo: Drawing of the red-winged blackbird from the Reader’s Digest Book of North American Birds.

Posted by: ktzefr | March 11, 2016

Bunz: Squirrel With No Tail

 

Bunz, the tailless squirrel; Photo:KFawcett

Bunz, the tailless squirrel; Photo:KFawcett

He made it through the winter!   The first time I saw him I figured he wouldn’t make it at all. I don’t know if he’s a genetic anomaly or if some critter caught his tail and wouldn’t let go.  I can’t get too up close and personal with the little guy, but from a variety of angles it’s obvious that there isn’t even a stub or a puff of a tail.  Just buns.  Or Bunz, as we call him.

I watch squirrels perform all sorts of acrobatic feats in the trees in my yard.  Those bushy tails are not just for looks.  A tail is to a squirrel as a pole is to a tightrope walker; it helps the critter stay balanced as it leaps from tree to tree or shimmies onto a narrow branch or electric wire or a slippery gutter running along the rooftop.  A squirrel’s tail is also used to communicate with other squirrels.  A flicking tail means the animal is alarmed.  A tail that suddenly fluffs up means it’s feeling aggressive.  A tail has other practical purposes, too.  It can serve as a blanket in the winter.  The bushiest tails make cozy wraps.  In summer they can be hoisted overhead like an umbrella to provide a built-in shady spot for a critter in the sun.

So…I wondered, knowing the community of squirrels as I do and being on a first-name basis with the ones on my street, this: how will the poor little guy possibly survive the winter?  Would the others accept him?  Would anybody want to live with him (they do like to share nests in winter)?  Would the others reject him outright?  Take his food?  Steal his nest?  Bully him?

I don’t have a clue what happened in the nests or trees or otherwise out of my sight over the winter, but I gave him peanuts when he came to the door — and there was no schedule to this, no rhyme nor reason to the timing of his visits.  Yesterday, he came up on the deck when I was working on the laptop and I brought out a few pecans (special treat) and he found a shady spot, ate the nuts, and stretched out to sleep.

Guess a tail is not all it’s cracked up to be.  Maybe he doesn’t need one.

 

Squirrel Wisdom

No one except the squirrels is out and about at daybreak,

as they scurry up and down the trees, leaping

from the maple to the dogwood to the beech,

grasping onto branches that bend and sway

but do not break.

Squirrels, sharing their squirrel wisdom.

Isn’t that what it’s all about?

Aren’t we always trying to find a branch to grasp —

  One branch that will bend and sway

but will not break.

***

Posted by: ktzefr | March 4, 2016

St. Croix “Blues” and Poetry

St. Croix; Photo:KFawcett

St. Croix; Photo:KFawcett

 

In the ocean there are many bright strands

and many dark strands like veins that are

seen when a wing is lifted up.  Your hidden

self is blood in those, those veins that are

lute strings that make ocean music, not the

sad edge of surf, but the sound of no shore.

~ Rumi, from Masnavi

Rumi’s Masnavi is composed in filaments and fragments with no satisfying beginning, middle, or end.  Yet it feels complete in the way, perhaps, that a person is whole or a day is whole or an ocean is whole.   Experiment.  Pick up the poem and start reading anywhere.  See how it connects to your own life.

****

 

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