Fall at Theler

We managed to sneak in a Sunday morning visit to Theler Wetlands between grandkids’ soccer games this weekend. Although it’s still been relatively clear and warm here so far this year, it was clear that Fall is upon us this visit.

Enveloped in clouds and dark skies, it was nearly impossible to identify this as a Merlin until I’d tweaked it on my computer,

Merlin

and nothing says Fall clearer than the honking of a flight of Geese as they pass.

It was glad to see the Green-Winged Teal return to the refuge, but knowing there will be plenty of time to get shots of them in the next six months I focused, instead, on the less-often-seen Yellowlegs.

It looks a lot brighter in this shot than it actually was thanks to RAW, but I was a little frustrated about how far away they were on our first trip through the refuge

I got much closer on the return trip and the sun had finally burned through the clouds.

Actually, I managed to get so close that I had a hard time keeping the Yellowlegs in the frame but the sun wouldn’t cooperate.

Hard to beat a day where you find beauty coming and going.

Luisa A. Igloria’s Ode to the Heart Smaller than a Pencil Eraser

I’ve been focusing on photographs lately, not poetry. That’s partly because it’s Summer and I’m fixated on my backyard and partly because I’ve had a hard time finding poetry books I want to finish.

The solution, for now, at least, was Luisa A. Igloria’s Ode to the Heart Smaller than a Pencil Eraser. I’ve been reading Luisa’s poetry off and on online for several years at Dave Bonta's Via Negativa site (http://www.vianegativa.us/author/luisa/), but this is the first time I’ve sat down and read an entire volume of her poetry (yeah, it was a short book.) It’s short enough that I’ll only cite one poem here though her poetic style can’t truly be imparted by a single poem (see the above link).

This was one of five or six poems I most liked in the book; in the end I chose to discuss it because it reminded me of the poem that originally made me fall in love with poetry and switch my college major from Physics to English. Strangely enough, I didn’t make that connection when I first read it. It wasn’t until I started thinking about why I liked this book of poems better than a lot I’ve tried reading lately that I made the connection between the two poems. (Of course, my choice might also have been influenced by the fact that Marsh Wrens are a particular favorite as shown in numerous photos from Theler Wetlands.)

The Wren in the Lilac Cycles through Its Songs at Breakneck Speed— And why not sing? And why not burn a track
from the tinder of the branch to the furnace of noon?

The maw of that which will devour us all,
that gapes beyond apartments and old strip malls;
the rusted iron gates over which the neighbor’s ivy creeps,

unpeopled mansions built
on mountaintops exposed, tracts of sand
over which armies of boots grind children’s bones

to dust—And why not empty
all the vessels of the throat,
the glittering receptacles of blood;

and why not break
the hundred glasses in the room
with the sharpest facets of that joy,

that long-lost twin of sorrow?
Hurry through one more refrain, as if it were
the thread in the labyrinth that could save you.

I’m always amazed that a small wren can sing such a powerful, penetrating song for so long. Its song is so unforgettable it might well “burn a track” in you mind. Once you’ve heard its song, it’s impossible to forget.

There’s a remarkable shift between the first stanza and the second stanza which reminds me of the shift often found in haiku. The singing of the wren confronts that which, in the end, destroys all, perhaps death itself. Though much of the poem is devoted to that which destroys us, in the end, it is the wren’s song that offers us hope of a way out.

When I first read the poem and marked it as a favorite, it didn’t occur to me that it was quite similar to Thomas Hardy’s:

The Darkling Thrush I leant upon a coppice gate
      When Frost was spectre-grey,
And Winter's dregs made desolate
      The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
      Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
      Had sought their household fires.

The land's sharp features seemed to be
      The Century's corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
      The wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
      Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
      Seemed fervourless as I.

At once a voice arose among
      The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
      Of joy illimited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
      In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
      Upon the growing gloom.

So little cause for carolings
      Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
      Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
      His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
      And I was unaware.

“The Darkling Thrush” was the first poem I ever memorized simply because I loved it. I had just finished reading four of Thomas Hardy’s novels for a high school term paper, and this poem seemed to me to summarize his underlying philosophy, one he described as Ameliorism, perhaps to counter critics who thought he was really a Cynic.

At eighteen, my Idealism was beginning to be undermined by Reality. Looking back, of course, I was still far more idealistic than I was a mere eight years later after serving in Vietnam and working as a caseworker.

It’s hard to see any real reason for Hope when confronted by Trumpism and by a country that thinks it can win Peace thnrough constant warfare, but — amazingly — I still identify with that blast-beruffled Thrush and the Wren’s refrain.

Equally amazing (or frightening) is the thought that my basic philosophy of life has changed very little in over 50 years. Perhaps not too surprising, though, if you consider the fact that for many years I posted Hardy’s “The Darkling Thrush” on my blog on New Year’s day. For years I spent more time reading about nature than I did actually experiencing it. Now instead of sitting at home, or in a classroom, reading about birds I spend my days walking the mountains or wetlands experiencing them. I also seem to have come full circle in my love of poetry.

Westport Brown Pelicans

Hard to believe that it has taken over a week for me to download these pictures I took at the beach a week ago Monday. With all the cement blocks and tiles in place, I decided it was time to see if the Fall Migration was still going on at the coast. Though birders we met at Bottle Beach said the birding was great on Saturday, it was painfully slow on the day I was there.

It was hard to complain, though, and perhaps to be expected, because the weather was awesome. It was sunny with temperatures in the low 70’s and little or no fog. For me, seeing the Brown Pelicans, which we hadn’t seen in our early summer visit, made the trip worthwhile.

On our early visit, we only saw four Brown Pelicans but I managed to get some decent shots because the lighting was great and I could use a fast shutter speed.

Despite deep shadows, I loved how crisp these shots were.

After talking to another birder at Bottle Beach who informed me that there were more Pelicans at the east end of town, I headed back to Westport after a disappointingly slow showing of shorebirds.

He was right and I got another chance to photograph Brown Pelicans

in a variety of poses.

I even captured a shot of a juvenile Brown Pelican.

The Pelicans made my day.

A Bloedel Break

If you’ve been working steadily in your backyard for nearly three months and decide you need a break, what do you do? If you’re Leslie and Loren you return to Bloedel Reserve to see what’s in bloom. We were surprised to see for more visitors than we’ve ever seen before even though the gardens didn’t seem quite as beautiful as it is in other seasons.

Which is not to say that it wasn’t a delightful respite from moving cement blocks and laying cement tiles in our backyard. Huge hydrangea took center stage on this visit; this one was a personal favorite.

Small purple flowers along the trail contrasted with the dazzling hydrangea.

With so few plants in bloom, even this simple white flower attracted attention.

If this was an azalea,

it stood out not only because of its brilliant orange color but because it was also the last one in bloom.