Equipoise

I just finished reading the last of the poetry books I bought in Port Townsend a couple of years ago.  Both of these books are by local poets, but that is about the only thing they seem to have in common, except for a word I had never encountered before: “equipoise.”  In fact, I’m pretty sure that is why I bought Kathleen Halme’s Equipoise — that and the exquisite cover and eloquent fonts.  The other book is Songs for a Summons by David Guterson, who is best known for his novels, particularly Snow Falling on Cedars. Strangely enough, two of my favorite poems of his use “equipoise.”

I’ll have to admit it didn’t take me long to realize that I wasn’t the intended audience for Halme’s poetry, though I might have been in college since she makes a number of references to Andrew Marvel’s poetry, and his “To My Coy Mistress” was one of my favorite poems in college.  At 79, I no longer see sexuality in everything around me, perhaps because at my age I’m searching for “equipoise.” That’s not to say, though, that I can’t still appreciate the cleverness of a poem like “Island Incarnation:”

Island Incarnation 
 

 I have seen a king snake whip and twist itself around 
 a longer rattlesnake, and when the other's 
 gorgeous hiss and length went limp, 
 as the moment spread itself out holy, 
 and the sea grass bristled a scraping lisp, 
 I have seen the king make straight 
 the long black wand of rattler and take her in headfirst: 
 a gradual assumption of saintly concentration, 
 until I have seen the very tip, the crenellated rattle 
 —black cowrie tossed back into the only ocean— 
 disappear inside the waves of snake.
 

Despite the fact that I have a phobia of snakes, or perhaps because I do, I was rather fascinated with this poem.  Having never witnessed such an event, I have no idea whether this is an accurate description of how a king snake kills a rattlesnake, but it definitely seems possible.  It’s also possible, but unlikely, that there are no sexual innuendoes in the poem but considering the sexual innuendoes found throughout the rest of the book that seems unlikely. If it were simply a factual recording of a king snake killing a rattler I wouldn’t have found it at interesting.  However, the poem reminds me of a number of blues songs I’ve liked in the past, like John Lee Hooker’s “Crawlin’ King Snake” or Johnny River’s “The Snake.” 

Though my phobia of snakes prevents me from personally seeing them as a phallic symbol, it’s certainly an ancient symbol, as suggested by the temptation in the Garden of Eden. I will have to admit that I’m a little put off by the literary/psychological tendency to see a phallic symbol in every object that looks vaguely like a penis, but the snake symbolism with its combination of attraction/fascination and attraction/repulsion is a powerful symbol. At 79 it’s easier to look back to see what effects sex/love and sex/desire have had on your life, both downright depressing  and uplifting. Someday I’ll tell you how I ended up in Vietnam by dating a very popular girl in college and how another girl saved me from depression and binge drinking after I returned.    

Songs for a Summons by David Guterson was my favorite of the two books. Though the collection as a whole didn’t seem compelling,  I identified with poems like 

T EA H O U S E
 
 In the dark field,
 the question is the same.
 Desiring to sit and not sit
 in one place.
 

 And write nothing about birds
 with diaphanous wings,
 how slow the elderly beneath spangled trees—
 how thoughtful their retreat.
 

 One bottomless pot.
 But I can’t keep Dogen from my thoughts,
 Tu Fu taking impressions of ferns,
 the birds again,
 

 hemlock tops, stockbrokers in a sunlit corner.
 The shadow of my pen
 meets the words, Authentic peace is possible.
 On the far hill, rain over view houses.
 

 

where Guterson seems to be grappling with Yin and Yang, doing and not doing because those are issues I have been struggling with recently.  After a lifetime of “doing,” of being as active as possible and trying to accomplish as much as I could in the limited time I had, it seems wrong to just sit, doing nothing even if I feel calmer and more relaxed when doing so. I’ve walked or hiked my whole life, but it in the past usually I was concerned with how far I could hike or whether I could reach the top of a mountain.  I walked and hiked to get, and stay, in shape. I still do partially for the same reason, but since I can no longer reach the top of the mountain I’ve learned to revel in the peace I sense just being there.  Birding has been both the result and the cause of becoming more aware of my surroundings.

Unfortunately,  believing authentic peace is possible does not ensure that you will find it and reside in it.

“Tension of Equipose:”  
 

 Dispassionate equality of sunrise and sunset,
 rose thorn and stigma,
 and from an unlit house, the visible dawn.
 

 Between I depend on habits,
 on the timely appearance of shadows
 and ghosts, and on poems.
 

 No past or future,
 but still l want to feed my dog
 to have done what must be done.
 

 Yesterday, l was drawn to land.
 Buffeted by sleep, that steep intervention,
 today I’m drawn to water.
 

 Up from the well now,
 in this second half of life.
 Today I’m pushed forward and drawn back.

Equipose is defined as “a counterbalance or balancing force.”  The Taoist Yin Yang symbol 

illustrates equipose and the tension that exists between those perfectly balanced forces. Ideally the yin and the yang are perfectly balanced.  If that’s possible, and I’m not sure it is, it is a dynamic balance that’s hard to attain and even harder to sustain.   Ideally, you live in the moment, but how do you live fully in the moment if you don’t fully understand your past and come to terms with it?  What would this moment be like if you had never planned for the future? Equipose is a worthy goal,  but life’s demands  (feeding the dog, washing the dishes, preparing the meal) constantly pull us in different directions.  

At Margaret’s House

Leslie spent a lot of time this Spring helping Margaret, so I would occasionally spend the night there, too.  I’ll have to admit that I would sometimes feel a little lost without my toys and with too little to do, but when I was really feeling bored I would take my camera and go out for a walk and entertain myself.  Early on I would just focus on the flowering trees in the orchard, 

or the beautiful azaleas that lined the road.

Margaret’s house is also a good place to see birds.  One day I even took my 500mm lens with a doubler but, of course, the terns that Leslie kept telling me about didn’t turn up since I had that lens with me.  They did show up on a day when I had my 600mm RF lens, though, and I managed to get some distant shots of them diving into the water.

When the tide was out and the sea birds had disappeared, I would wander the field in front of the house looking for song birds. I was amazed to find a small flock of American Goldfinches feeding on the dandelions growing where the field hadn’t been mowed recently.

I’ve always seen dandelions as an obnoxious weed, but I’ll have to admit that for a few minutes I actually thought of letting them grow in my yard instead of ruthlessly weeding them out. 

The best picture I got there, though, was taken as Leslie and I walked up to the mailbox to get the day’s mail. On the way, I heard a woodpecker hammering away trying to attract a mate.  When I turned around I spotted him on the address sign. 

I’ve seen so many Northern Flickers do this that I just assume it’s a Flicker when I hear the sound.  But this was clearly a Red-Breasted Sapsucker, and it stayed around long enough that I got a lot of shots, clearly as good as I can ever expect to get.

Stuck at Home?

Ninety-nine percent of the photos I post on In a Dark Time are photos I’ve taken on a day-trip or a vacation.  In the real world, though, I spend about ninety-nine percent of my time at home and one percent elsewhere, especially in the last year. But perhaps the greatest thing about birding is that you don’t have to leave home to observe local wildlife, at least if you design your yard to attract wildlife like we have.  

Our biggest attraction seems to be the birdbath, which has to be filled two or three times a day to keep it from going dry.  You don’t have to observe it too long to see why it has to be filled so often. 

It’s definitely worth the effort it takes to maintain it when you manage to attract even birds that you don’t see regularly like this Wilson Warbler who seemed to need a refreshing dip during his migration.

These American Goldfinches also dropped by early in Spring even though we rarely see them nearby.

This Northern Flicker must live nearby because we hear it beating on our chimney in early Spring and hear its cry in the woods across the road semi-regularly.  

Our sprinkler system is set to fill the birdbath every other day, and, though I’ve only seen it in the bath once or twice, I suspect it’s the bird that empties the bird bath almost immediately after its been filled.

The birdbath may be the magnet that draws visitors to our yard, but our landscaping has become home to several birds.  This House Finch leads his large family to our birdbath several times a day. 

I haven’t positively identified any young Spotted Towhee, but there’s definitely a pair that show up at the birdbath regularly. 

Black-Capped Chickadees forage in our fir tree frequently, but they’re much easier to photograph at the birdbath.

Though I’ve never seen a hummingbird in the birdbath Leslie tells me she has, but the main attraction at the moment are the volunteer Columbines that have spread like weeds throughout the garden, but because they attract bees and hummingbirds we don’t discourage their growth.  

As long-time readers might remember, Hummingbirds have long been a favorite photographic subject.  We love our hummingbirds except when one of them decides it’s his yard and drives out other hummingbirds. I have a hard time telling them apart, but one actually hit an intruder so hard that it bounced off the patio bricks.  I suspect the culprit was the same one that confronted Leslie when she went to fill up the birdbath but decided that a glare was all that was needed to confirm its ownership of the entire garden. 

Strangely enough, I don’t have a single shot of the most common bird that visits regularly and seems to have a nest in the plum tree, the Oregon Junco, a year-long visitor that loves the cones from the fir tree. 

Fly Away

When I was younger, my favorite part of going to the beach was flying kites, the bigger the better.  I loved that sense of being pulled into the air.  At 79 I don’t fly kites anymore, but I still feel that pull when I watch flocks of shorebirds streak down the beach, burst into the sky,

swoop back over the water, 

change directions, 

head back toward the water

only to settle back down a short distance from where they took off.

(There’s supposed to be a sentence here, but I didn’t like the way my first attempt sounded and I couldn’t come up with anything better, so this entry has been sitting here several days now and I don’t think I’m ever going to find a better way to say what I wanted to say no matter how long it sits here.  So, I’m just going to post it with this gap in it. Perhaps you can find the perfect transition to the next sentence.)  Feeling it second-handed keeps me grounded.