Robert Michael Pyle’s Evolution of the Genus Iris

Whenever we visit the Bloedel Reserve we end our walk at the gift shop. Usually I end up buying garden-related items, naturally, but on a visit this summer they were featuring poems posted throughout the reserve and poetry books in the gift shop. I ended up buying three or four poetry books by local poets I hadn’t heard of before and one by Robert Michael Pyle who I knew only from his non-fiction. In fact, I wrote about Sky Time in Gray’s River several years ago.

I’ll have to admit to a certain ambiguity about his poetry though I definitely identify with his view of nature and life in general. I tend to prefer his short, concrete poems but am less fond of others when I feel overwhelmed by his “vast knowledge and lexicon of a scholar” (as touted in the cover blurb by Henry Hughes).

Evolution of the Genus Iris is short, only 70 pages long, so I’ll try to give a few examples of the kind of poems I really liked.

ALL THINGS CONSIDERED
Two river otters fished the salmon,
diving and rising side by side,
almost down to the surf. Watching
their sleek and pointy loop-de- loop,
over and over and over,
I managed to miss the evening news
.

Considering the state of “The News” today, it’s probably easy to see why this is a personal favorite. It doesn’t hurt that river otters are a personal favorite, either. Though it’s obviously too long to be a haiku, it has the kind of concrete imagery that most appeals to me in haiku. It also has that surprising twist at the end that the best haiku has. In other words, this is the kind of poetry that I really favor at the moment.

While trying to figure out what I wanted to say about Pyle’s book, I started reading Sam Hamill’s “Crossing the River” and in the preface W.S. Merwin notes, “The great Chinese poets, for all their formality and regard to conventions, speak often with a surprising directness which makes them seem surprisingly intimate and close to us.” I really hadn’t thought about this before, but it’s another characteristic I like in poetry. It turns out, that’s a characteristic of my favorite Pyle poems.

JUST ABOUT

What I want to say is how mianthemum
and stream side violet and spring beauty and oxalis
cover the ground in April as thick as the mosses
and club mosses and ferns jacket
the boughs of vine maples. How
the elderberry springs beneath the spruce
and the winter wren’s many notes ride
the single chord of varied thrush. How
corydalis and salmonberry meet you
across the skinny bridge. What I want to say
is that all this ought to be enough
for anybody.

“Mianthemum” and “ corydalis” aside, this seems to me to have precisely the “surprising directness” W.S. Merwin ascribes to the great Chinese poets. Though I can’t image one of the great Romantic poets ever using the phrase “What I want to say,” it fits the tone of this poem. And he’s right, “… this ought to be enough/for anybody.”

I ended up marking ten poems in this short volume that I particularly liked and wanted to reread, as many as I often mark in a much longer book. I guess that makes it a good investment of both money and time.

Bonus Birds from Port Townsend

I may go to Port Townsend to see Harlequin Ducks, but that doesn’t mean I don’t see lots of other birds while birding.

During the winter you can count on seeing a flock of Brant

at the end of the spit at Ft. Flagler.

Sometimes while trying to photograph Harlequins you get distracted by nearby birds like this Long-Tailed Duck,

a bird I’ve only seen three times in all the years I’ve birded. In fact I spent nearly seven years looking for one of these before I saw a small flock while crossing Puget Sound on a Ferry.

Luckily, female Red-Breasted Mergansers

are much more common, but still a good find.

But the male Red-Breasted Merganser provides an even better photo-op.

Flagler’s Harlequin Ducks

Regular visitors would probably know after yesterday’s post that photos of Harlequin ducks are bound to follow, and here they are. The main reason I go to Ft. Flagler is to see the Harlequins. Though I can sometimes find them near Port Orchard, I’m almost guaranteed to see them at Flagler.

On this trip, though, I was at the very tip of the spit before I spotted a single male Harlequin, and it was a long ways offshore.

Of course, the waves were so high that there might have been a small flock out there and I wouldn’t have seen them.

When Harlequins are feeding they spend much of their time trolling, looking for a meal,

and they’re barely visible even in calm water.

The best shots come when they’re in the calm side of the spit apparently just hanging out, like this pair that was staying out of the bone-chilling North winds.

Sunshine and calm waters make for elegant profiles of these colorful ducks.

Small Price to Pay

Saturday we got a rare treat — a cloudless, sunny day. To celebrate we headed up to Port Townsend. It was sunny, but seemed almost as cold as Mt. Baker looked across Puget Sound.

The price of sunny days here in the Pacific Northwest is often a strong Eastern wind, with accompanying cold. Even the birds seemed to be seeking shelter from the frigid winds.

Small price to pay for the beautiful golden hour light reflected on this Black-bellied Plover in winter foliage,

on these two Yellowlegs,

and on this rarely seen Western Meadowlark.

Color Me Relaxed

What do you do when you’ve finally finished processing all the photos from your vacation and it’s still cloudy and rainy?

Try to get out between showers and accept the challenge of getting the best shots you can. Perhaps a brightly-colored male Green-Winged Teal will lend a little color to the drab mud-flats.

It’s a good time to revisit old skills like panning while taking action shots.

and I’ve been doing this long enough I still think a little blur creates a sense of speed rather than being a serious photographic flaw.

Subtle, gray backgrounds fade away, leaving a sense of calm and serenity,

the exact feeling I often get while walking in the fog or under overcast skies.

Make Lemonade

Although sunshine was forecast for much of the rest of the week, it was cloudy our last day in Santa Rosa. Undeterred, I took my camera on our walk along the Santa Rosa creek.

If I’d known what I was actually looking at, I would probably have been thrilled at sighting a small flock of Western Bluebirds, a bird I only occasionally see in the mountains. Truthfully, I didn’t know what it was until I opened my shots in Lightroom. It was hard to tell what was sky and what was bird until I maxed out the controls and was left with a grainy, but recognizable, shot of a female Western Bluebird.

I probably should just have junked the shot, but it looked so much like a watercolor that I decided to play around with it in Photoshop and ended up with a picture I liked.

This shot of a Yellow-Rumped Warbler

was actually saveable, but I liked the Bluebird treatment so much that I decided to apply the same effect to this shot and liked this better than the original picture.