Sleep Deprivation and Sparkles (Thanksgiving Morning)

Buddy in lamplight predawn.JPG

Buddy under a street light

It’s like having a new infant
all over again.

Except this one has four legs—
wakes us with the click-click of toenails
pacing our wooden floor,
mounting full-body shakes to make his collar jingle.

It is cold and dark but it does no good
to roll over and plead ignorance because then
come the snorts of frustration and high-pitched whines,
like a tiny piccolo ceaselessly rehearsing.

It’s time to take Buddy outside.

We walk the edge of the marsh by the library.
I peer up into the dark slot of the bat box,
looking for shapes. Buddy flushes some large bird out of
the overgrown grasses. We gasp,
crane our necks as the flutter of white
disappears into the Little Dipper.

This celestial mission accomplished, he stops
to do his business and I stoop to remove it,
startled to see sparkles all across the lawn—tiny stars of frost.
The thin rim of ice on the parking lot’s makeshift lake shines, too.
When we get to Lafayette the sidewalk glitters, revealing its cache of mica.

Cumberland Farms is lit up, just letting in its first sleepy customers.
Its light catches the feathered edges of the trees.

Who was it that called this hour ungodly?

 

A Currrell from Flickr night pavement

Courtesy of A. Currell on Flickr. The picture is called Bicycle Tiltshift.

A Walk to Essex: Happy, Achy Birthday

essex-town-line

Before my battery waned, I was determined to document that I’d made it to the town line!

Continue reading

Honey Guides, Bentonite, and Ayer’s Rock

My wanderlust is usually rather micro. I am often quite content with the many things to see and hear and learn on my local walks, in the many routes I can take without even without leaving Deep River.

Portage coverBut this week has got me thinking about nature that’s farther flung. I’ve finished reading Portage, by Sue Leaf, an account of the writer’s canoe trips north and west of here, including the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, parts of Canada, Wisconsin, etc. (The only canoeing book I liked more was Yukon Wild!). The author devotes nearly two pages to bentonite clay, a substance that arises from ancient volcanic ash along rivers like the Little Missouri.

Cathedral Gorge is located in a long, narrow valley where erosion has carved dramatic and unique patterns in the soft bentonite clay. IPhoto/caption from Nevada State Parks site.

Cathedral Gorge is located in a long, narrow valley where erosion has carved dramatic and unique patterns in the soft bentonite clay. Photo/caption from Nevada State Parks site.

Of course, having to slog through the wet version of the stuff doesn’t sound like any fun; there are tales of clay stranding hikers for days or holding horses in place, but it’s cool to think about parts of the country that have great swaths of stuff I haven’t ever seen. This same nuisance-y stuff is treasured by herbalists, used in facial masks, toothpaste, etc.

Reading about bentonite also unleashed a dormant memory of a grade-school class trip to Caumsett State Historic Park Preserve, a treasure of Long Island’s North Shore. I’m not sure if I’ve created an exaggerated memory, but I seem to remember standing on a large “boulder” (for lack of a better term) of an unfamiliar substance, and our tour guide, perhaps a park ranger, telling me that it was sea clay. I was quite taken with its texture and the fact that it had appeared along the shore—I had spent so much time on South Shore beaches but had never seen this stuff.

Gavin’s been scooping up clay for years from the seasonal “stream” (basically a tract for runoff from the higher-grade forest spring thaw) that runs along the boundary of our property. This Stay Curious blog (great name for a blog, don’t you think!) has an account of the author’s discovery of little clay lumps (lots of them!)  along Bald Head Island beach in North Carolina. It got me wondering if my potter neighbor would be able to mold a work of art with them.

Greater Honeyguide photo reprinted with permission from Safari blog

Greater Honeyguide photo reprinted with permission from Safari blog

From my clay exploration route I hightailed it (virtually) to East Africa. Hadza: The Last of the First  is worth watching. It’s a well-executed documentary about the region’s last remaining true hunter-gatherers, whose way of life is threatened by encroaching civilization and government interests. There’s more than a blog’s worth to write about in terms of the tribe (see the movie!!), but from a naturalist perspective I was quite fascinated by the Honeyguide bird, which actually works with humans to lead them to hive sites. The humans extract the honey and give some of the honeycomb to the bird. This blog  does a great job describing how the interspecies communication and collaboration works.

My third jaunt in this salvo of armchair trips was courtesy of Bill Bryson. Gavin and I are both reading In a Sunburned Country for the second time (wow that guy can really write!). With the knowledge that Bryson is so very well-traveled, I took it quite seriously when he encouraged me to somehow find my way to remote Australia so I can see Ayer’s Rock in person. I could see that even Bryson struggled a bit to encapsulate exactly why this 1,150-foot high, mile-and-a-half long, five-and-a-half mile around “rock” left him astounded, declaring it was worth a 600-mile round trip.

Photo from Parks Australia on Pinterest

Photo from Parks Australia on Pinterest

The rock is technically a bornhardt, per the author “a hunk of weather-resistant rock left standing when all else around it has worn away.” After nearly 3 pages of noting that pictures don’t nearly do it justice, and that being there left him nearly inarticulate but somehow feeling that the rock was primordially, or even supernaturally, vastly meaningful, connecting with it in a nearly indescribable way, he was forced to wrap it up by saying, in uncharacteristically monosyllabic fashion for such a wordy guy: “Go there, man.”

From my chair, out West and on to East Africa and Australia. All of this almost topped the local adventures to follow here at home: cormorants through my binoculars, hungry birds encircling the feeder, long walks in the surprisingly mild late November air. Thankful for adventures outdoors, both far and near,  vicarious and in the flesh.

Join the Club (Moss)!

One of the best things about being out in nature is the absolutely limitless supply of opportunities to learn. On par with that plus are the many reasons for hope and delight to be found in places as seemingly humble as the forest floor.

My latest study—and also hopeful venture—is club moss. This link leads to the inaturalist page for Connecticut club moss sightings. I am particularly enamored of running pine moss, which really does look to me like a little figure that’s about to dash off a la the Gingerbread Man of childhood story books (it’s pictured in above link)! But most often, in the Cockaponset State Forest behind our house, I see princess pine:

2015-11-05 07.54.11

According to inaturalist its spores used to be used as flash powder (in early photography or magic tricks ). I know if I tell Gavin he’ll want to try that out pronto, and preferably with bushels of spores. Come to think of it, some adults I know would be right on that, too. (Can’t vouch for how to do this, or for safety. Also, some states list the plant as endangered, likely a result of earlier enthused harvesting.)

This Massachusetts land trust’s site has a nice write-up about the princess pine. What I like best about this diminutive species, which is not a pine at all, is its evergreen-ness. It comforts me when I think ahead to the depths of winter. It is also such a pretty and precise-looking plant.

Before I read The Beginning Naturalist by Gale Lawrence, I’d assumed that the princess pine and other similar club mosses were baby evergreen trees. But they are already fully grown, and they are not in the conifer family. Confusingly, the club mosses are not mosses, either. They are closer to ferns. The “club” refers to the club or spike that shoots right up from the plant—it is coated with a fine layer of spores. The growth from spore to mature plant takes a full 17 years, but some plants can also grow by sprouting along the same stem.

Gale Lawrence’s chapter on these plants amused me, because she refers to the “attacks of the Christmas decorators.” Determined crafters let loose in the woods can pull up whole long underground stems of club mosses for weaving into wreaths, wiping out that impressive life cycle with one good yank. Even without the greenery of Christmas in mind, it is a bit tempting to imagine taking one of these miniature (non) trees home. But the happy-seeming plant has worked too hard to become a pet. Best to visit it in its “home in the loam,” beside its mushroom, acorn, and looming tree neighbors.

BONUS photo for those who read to the end! 😉 : the decorative lichens (or could they be mushrooms??) adorning a stump in our yard! This is just a bit blurry, but I can’t be the only one who thinks these are simply gorgeous.

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Preserves and Professional Parks

path in woods startMy friend Chris asked me recently about my week-long nature writing residency at the Trail Wood memorial preserve, and the first two words that came to mind were “life-changing.” I reveled in the chance to be in nature alone for extended periods, to contemplate, to write and rewrite, to read the treasured words of Edwin Way Teale in his very home, his very office—a sacred place to me! For the first time ever, I used up the camera storage in my iPhone. This blog isn’t big enough to contain the wealth of images, so I’ve scattered a select few throughout the post.

butterflyfuzzy mushroom lichenOf course, Trail Wood had many creatures and plants that I don’t see every day. The Beaver Pond became my favorite destination, and one morning I watched one of the beavers having an early swim. I took photo upon photo of insects in both meadow and forest, but I wasn’t usually swift enough to capture the many birds digitally. I looked forward to daily sightings of the woodchuck who lived near the house. My suburban New York roots showing, I sang to myself in the woods and carried pepper spray just in case the reported resident bear didn’t like my performance. (Maybe the bear wasn’t as exotic as it seemed. There have been several reported sightings in Deep River neighborhoods recently!)

Teale cabinAn absolute gift of the preserve was its undisturbed quality. But another gift I took away from my time there is the practice of really looking and listening even in places that haven’t had the benefit of such thoughtful stewardship. I  take small walks around the office park where I work, not by any stretch a nature preserve. Still, I smile at the abundance of Carolina locusts behind the buildings (who don’t seem to be doing any noticeable damage), and the occasional spotting of a raptor, bright bird, dragonfly, or hornets. I look down into the wetlands below the tall hill. Once in a while, I see a deer. Just once, I rescued a young raccoon who was clattering around in the nearly empty dumpster, watching from a distance as he climbed the long birch limb escape ladder I’d lowered for him.

Just the other day, I snapped a picture of a delicately decorated moth (looked like the oversized Oriental vases my grandfather had around his house) who turned out to be an ailanthus webworm moth. I love it when nature comes right to my door!

alianthus web worm

While staying at the Teale home I was drawn to a book of Mr Teale’s that I hadn’t read before: Days without Time. The edition on the study shelf was dated 1948, just 3 years after his son David was killed in World War II. Teale’s introductory words ring so very true:

The fall of the tree, the swoop of the hawk, the tilt of the buzzard in a windy sky, the song of the hermit thrush at evening, the opening of a windflower, the eddy of a woodland brook—all of these are events for days without time. They might have occurred during any one of a thousand or ten thousand years. Ticking clocks and factory whistles have little to do with the eternal recurrence of these eternal themes.

Something for me to remember after my New Hampshire vacation, chock full of walks in shallow streams and visits to waterfalls: when the “factory whistle” is again in play, nature doesn’t live only in preserves or the areas we think of as great sightseeing locales. It is everywhere. With eyes and ears wide open, every day is a new chance to notice it, to give it the full attention that it deserves. With that attending we find ourselves more connected and more alive.

Once Around

Both this weekend and last, I suffered from painful cases of the Shoulds. My long scroll of a TO DO list seems to be ever lengthening, and at the top are household chores by the dozen.

So I compromised last Sunday. I would walk Molly for 1 hour only. It takes an hour to foot the mile to town and back with this beagle who follows her nose, who strains with vigor and passion at the leash whenever a new smell beckons.

We set out at sunrise, treated to a Hallelujah Chorus from (mostly unseen) birds in the thick pines that line our yard. I admired a garter snake on the asphalt and right after that the prolific leavings from a neighbor’s cottonwood tree (it looked like snow was lining her driveway!). I later learned that “nuisance” cottonwoods have a lot going for them, and a proud history. I also read up on why birds sing at dawn, or at least the latest attempt to explain this mystery. (Science fully respected, but I think I’ll always experience the chorus as the ultimate hymn of joy and praise).

bobwhiteMy compromise morphed into a substantial ramble when I learned that Tom and Gavin were also up early. They met Molly and me at town dock, where we had breakfast and gazed out at the water. We watched a heron and tailed a pair of Northern Bobwhites ambling along Kirtland Street. We climbed the gradual hill to Mount Saint John, a stately fixture of Deep River since 1904. Tom photographed a bluebird peeking from its house on the grounds.

BluebirdHouse

MollyonWall

There were still Shoulds to return home to. In the hours following this happy indulgence, I caught up with the laundry and restored some sanity to our household environs. But I am so glad I took that 1-hour walk that turned into a 2-plus hour walk. And that later, we all took the drive to Middletown so we could learn about caterpillars and gather some phenology (the study of what happens, and when, in nature) data, courtesy of the Connecticut Forest and Park Association. Phenology matters, much more than housekeeping and crossouts on the daily To DO list, and here’s a brief article that gives examples of why.

Why I Walk Early, and (Blog) Hopping into Spring

fallenRobin's eggI love my walks, so often crammed in before work hours or weekend errands. I love it when creatures become more prolific with the warmer temperatures and start to cross my path again in greater numbers. So many are busy making new families now. Soon flowers will be easier to find just by following my nose, and moths of every size and shape will crowd the front porch, greeting me when I first step out in the morning.

Mary Oliver wrote a stunning poem called Why I Wake Early, and that ran through my mind the other day before work, as I watched a rabbit’s white tail hop away into the brush, looked for fallen eggshells, and snapped photos of mourning doves and a red-winged blackbird in the branches. Why I walk early also merits an ode. Although I could wax wordily on about it, I’m keeping my explanation here mostly in the form of pictures for a change.

After the pictures comes my participation in a blog hop interview–my nomination was bestowed by my writing group friend Laurie Baxter, and it gives me a chance to say a little bit about my burgeoning book and my writing life. Laurie is a prolific writer, and I’ve enjoyed every play and story that she’s shared with me, as well as her boundless enthusiasm for words and life, generally. Most recently I indulged in her Kindle Veronica Mars novella–a fun and engaging read that brought me back to my guilty pleasure watching the series on Netflix. I’d love to be as spunky and clever as Veronica, or as Laurie, for that matter! I think this blog hop is mostly for fiction writers, so am honored that my mostly nature writing self has been welcomed in. (You know how that goes, though–now I am letting other nature-centric writers into the party!) Interview after the pictures, along with nominations for the next blog hoppers!

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Early spring visitors.

Pratt Cove. I spotted a vulture on a nest. The birders lining the railroad tracks told me that's what it was!

Pratt Cove. I spotted a large bird on a far-off nest, flapping its wings. The birders lining the railroad tracks told me it was a vulture!

Can you spot the red-winged blackbird. iPhone shot requires use of squinting and imagination

Can you spot the red-winged blackbird? iPhone shot requires use of squinting and imagination

Mourning dove couple, next door neighbors to the blackbird.

Mourning dove couple, next door neighbors to the blackbird. I have plans to buy a camera with a decent zoom lens, but nonetheless treasure these silhouettes against the bright blue sky.

Can't swear that these are bona fide fiddleheads--they seemed awfully big to me.

Can’t swear that these are bona fide fiddleheads, as in good eating–they seem awfully big to me.

What is your working title of your book (or story)?

Cabinet of Curiosity: Talismans from New England Rambles. I’ve also written and self-published Harriet’s Voice: A Writing Mother’s Journey and Things My Mother Told Me (more below about the self-publishing experience). I have participated in an anthology called Get Satisfied: How Twenty People Like You Found the Satisfaction of EnoughThis link leads to a lot of my published articles, essays, and poems. There are a bunch of links here on the blog, too.

Where did the idea come from for these books?

The germ of the Cabinet idea came when my son Gavin was still quite young, and I was (as I still am now) working as a medical writer and writing creatively on the side. I carried an acorn home with the idea that I’d bring something home from each walk and use it as a writing prompt. Many years later, Gavin and I started a shoebox full of specimens we’d gathered during time in nature, a real-life Cabinet of Curiosity. It’s a tangible representation of the experiences and revelations I work to convey in the book.

These days, I am at least 80% focused on nature writing, and the essence of the Cabinet book and my piece in the anthology springs from the powerful experience of connection I have when spending time in nature. But my other works, come to think of it, have been about powerful connections, too. I seem to be always connecting dots in my writing (or trying to).

What genre do your books fall under?

The Cabinet book is definitely nature writing, with some essence of memoir blended in. Harriet’s Voice  is part memoir, part self-help for writing mothers. Get Satisfied = nature-oriented/reflective essay. BTW I think the essay form is totally underrated!

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

My dog Molly is key in the Cabinet book and can be quite girly but also gritty and down to earth–Meryl Streep?? My son gets a lot of mentions, too–can’t recall any 13-year-old actors who could do Gavin justice.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

OK–excellent marketing practice for me. Have to do it in third person, imagining I am a gushing but sincere blurb writer featured on the back of the book (PS also breaking the rules and writing 2 sentences. I am more Wolfe than Hemingway): Each walk-inspired essay from Katherine Hauswirth hands you a significant talisman from nature that you can turn over thoughtfully in your palm. Her meditative reveries reflect on the deep connections between what we experience outdoors and our day-to-day existence as humans.   

Will your book(s) be self-published or represented by an agency?

Agency, for sure. Know any good agents??

My first self-published book, Things My Mother Told Me , was almost forced upon me–I won an essay contest and the prize was a self-publishing contract. I see it primarily as a family keepsake, although it was a fortuitous exercise that taught me I actually CAN write a book. Harriet’s Voice is a love letter to Harriet Beecher Stowe and a letter of encouragement to writing mothers. I sometimes wonder if I should have held out for traditional publishing but after some positive feedback and false starts with publishers/agents was antsy to get the book out of my system. Self-publishing Harriet allowed me to move on to Cabinet! But I respect the traditional publishing world and the quality that it (often) demands. I want to join that club!

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

Cabinet is still in progress. It’s been nearly 2 years and  I have, thankfully, picked up speed. I recently won the honor of Edwin Way Teale Artist in Residence, and I await details on which summer week  I will get to live where the incomparable Teale did, and write without interruption in such an inspiring setting. I expect to be wildly prolific during this heavenly interlude!

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

That question is always a tall order. Dare I say it might be in the vein of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, if Pilgrim were written in fits and starts by a busy, distracted, sandwich-generation, insomniac, working mom who was nearly obsessively jealous of Annie Dillard’s time by herself at the creek?

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

My shelves are crammed with nature books, and I’d be hard pressed to pick one or two volumes that spoke to me most. I consider each one a precious gift–so many meaningful voices have come before me. What inspires me most, actually, are the many walks I take. When they are long enough, and when I am in a deeply listening frame of mind, ideas roll in like welcome waves.

Thanks again to Laurie Baxter for this excuse to expound! For the next leaps and bounds in the blog hop, I nominate Shawndra Miller, and Jean and Gabe of PocketMouse Publishing. I reserve the right to later invite more hopping good writers.