The Meadows

Mute swans make just the sound I need

in the early morning of our last day.

Tree swallows, light on the wind,

drop like flakes in a freak November storm.

If I note the calm of the pond,

the color and texture of the marsh plants,

and the elegance of the lone egret,

can I take some of this heaven to earth?


This place that owes its existence to the beaver

is best when seen alone

with time to dawdle into the evening

till the Merlin comes to preen on the gray dead tree.

Back into the park again before dawn

while northern sky silhouettes pointed evergreens

and mist covers warm lakes

like hair over a dark woman’s eyes.

Over Mizzy Lake Trail too fast this time

to even think of seeing the prior evening’s marten,

too single-minded to identify thrushes on the path

or appreciate the loon’s melancholy yodel.

Full of morning’s hope and last-chance determination,

I hurry over roots and rocks toward West Rose Lake.

Perhaps if I arrive first and early enough,

I’ll meet my quarry before we leave the park for good.

Across the lake, in mist that has yet to clear,

a bull moose watches me, no longer eating,

then sloshes to land, breaks through the brush,

and disappears into the forest.

Elated by the success of my persistence,

yet disappointed by my dream-like encounter,

I return to things just as beautiful—

boreal chickadees, warblers, and hummingbirds.

Song Sparrow

My first outdoor lunch of the season is met by

a song sparrow, a red-tailed hawk, and a crow,

in that order, each chased by the next.

Only the sparrow returns

to sing its three-part song,

recoiling on the staccato,

rolling head on the trills.

The least of them,

stealing my heart,

knows when to fly

and when to sing.

Could it be that

only the vulnerable

know how to sing?

Back to Back

Last night I did something scary.

I’m embarrassed to say it was scary, but it was.

In the evening I sat on a bench in our backyard

enjoying the manic chatter of house wrens

and the rich varied songs of cardinals.

When it was time to go inside,

it occurred to me that I could spend the night outside

and be there to hear the birds sing in the morning.

But what will the neighbors think if they find me?

What if my wife calls to say our daughter’s in labor?

What if my arthritic back can’t take it?

Only after sitting in meditation

did my mind stop going back and forth,

perhaps determined not to be ruled by timidity.

So I put on extra clothes and grabbed my bedding,

kicked aside some pine cones, and nestled in

under spruce, pine, and fir on a soft bed of needles.

The first bird to sing in the morning was a robin

(it’s true then, what they say about the early bird),

alone at first, but soon joined by a large chorus,

a glee club for sure—cheer up, cheerily, cheerio.

Next came the cardinals, then chickadees, titmouses,

Carolina wrens, catbirds, song sparrows, and finally

the house wrens under whose nest I lay.

I got up, no worse for the wear,

and returned to the safety of our house

where I said good morning to our domesticated cat

and relished the night I’d spent outside,

back to back with the earth—

the enormous, strong, friendly earth.


A messenger with only one word to say

appears from his miniature heaven

and sits on a red plastic perch to lap up

the only nectar this non-flower can offer.

Then he zigzags among real flowers,

enters the small gazebo where I sit,

and looks me in the eye, willing himself

instantly from one view to another.

Far too soon he’s gone,

evaporating in a Tinkerbell sparkle,

leaving me to wonder

about the meaning

of his one word.

My Rock (and My Salvation)

Before I could name my morning sadness,

it was transformed—quickly, easily, completely.

Like Lucy stepping through the wardrobe into Narnia,

I stepped from the road, crossed its half-kept shoulder,

left its going-somewhere-in-a-hurry sounds,

and entered an entirely different world.

In the forest everything—trees, birds,

animals, insects, plants, all creatures—

grow where they can and lie where they fall,

and in that givenness lies their beauty,

a beauty far beyond anything ever

tortured into existence by our species.

My best hikes up the mountain are marked

by an intense awareness of each step.

With no energy wasted on longing to be

somewhere else, to be at the top,

I reach it unexpectedly, with little effort,

without experiencing my fracturing will.

Instead I enjoy the low sun against the rocks,

the fall leaves, and the young sassafras trees.

I find acorns—yellow, red, green, and brown—

to send to our granddaughter in Philadelphia,

and I mark the call of birds—insistent wrens

and cousins of the ivory-billed woodpecker.

This morning’s slow watchfulness was rewarded when I saw,

on the trail in front of me, where I might have otherwise stepped,

a small caterpillar like none I’d ever seen—chocolate brown

with sides lined in little round tufts of painter’s brush bristles

and back wrapped in a lime green suede blanket

with a brown oval in the center where the saddle would go.

His head had two green circles where eyes would be

and a tiny green dot on top between horn-like tufts,

and his tail had a matching green dot, barely visible.

In the cool morning air, he was almost inert

and gripped the rock more like a slug than a caterpillar.

I set the rock aside to protect him from my return.

Following the ridge over and around quartz boulders,

I soon arrived at one of my favorite places—my rock.

It’s my morning-tea-and-snack rock, my meditation rock,

my bird-watching rock, my reading-and-writing rock,

my observation rock, my take-a-load-off rock, and

my lichen-covered soak-up-the-morning-sun rock.

From there I can see a pair of chestnut oak trees,

each branching into four large gnarled trunks,

and a nearly dead tree with shelved polypore

fungus consuming its broken, decomposing body.

Other trees remind me of southwestern piñon trees,

and, in winter, I can see expansive mountain ridges.

And then there are the birds…today they came in pairs:

first a flock of kinglets, ruby-crowned and golden-crowned,

singing their thin notes while they feed high in the trees,

then black-throated blue and black-throated green warblers—

strikingly beautiful, even in the fall, with their contrasting colors—

and finally red-eyed vireo and blue-headed vireo

who sing, thanks to our conventions, their family name.

Despite the many desirable features of the rock I call mine,

I’ve never arrived on White Rocks Ridge to find it occupied,

and I’ve never met another person who knows its joys.

Being alone is a wonderful thing sometimes,

but it makes me wonder why I’m so different;

it makes me glad and sad together.

A Pathless Land

I like living

in a pathless land

that tends itself

and brings surprises

every day.


As daylight exhales its last deep blue breath,

spaceship earth opens its cargo bay—

dark clouds above and tree-lined hills below—

as if to say, “Here’s your chance…to leave,

to visit the moon, to know endless beyonds.”

I hesitate, appreciating the possibilities,

but remain earthbound, almost.

Fort Indiantown Gap, Area A-21

An erstwhile white sign with paint half peeled

peers through years of thorny vine and tries to say,

though it doesn’t mean it anymore,

US Government Leased


…are subject to…

fi…nd…soment [sic] under

the…prov…ns…of 18-PS-3503.

Another pair of signs, of hope, brand new, sun-yellow,

pronounce the wetland a “Habitat Work in Progress”.

Apparently the military doesn’t need this anymore.



red-footed booby,

lizard cuckoo, tody, emerald,

bullfinch, saffron finch, red junglefowl,

elfin woods warbler, helmeted guineafowl

brown booby, budgerigar, antillean mango,

magnificent frigatebird, yellow-breasted crake,

bananaquit, orange bishop, pin-tailed whydah,

antillean euphonia, black-faced grassquit,

white-tailed tropicbird, warbling silverbill,

nutmeg mannikin, java sparrow.

Birds of

Puerto Rico

El Yunque

In the rainforest it happens easily,

without intent or effort, honestly,

straight from the heart of who she is,

like love that knows nothing else.

Spring Bouquet

Kwanzan cherry, pink dogwood, and lilac,

all in the same glass pitcher,

getting to know each other

before they’re gone.

Wordsong 2


linnet, hobby,

dipper, lapwing, dunnock,

squacco heron, white stork,

black kite, sparrowhawk, water rail,

moorhen, stone curlew, collared pratincole,

kentish plover, lapwing, yellow-legged gull,

little egret, little tern, wood pigeon, turtle dove, cuckoo,

eagle owl, tawny owl, nightjar, common swift, alpine swift,

hoopoe, bee-eater, green woodpecker, skylark, house martin,

red-rumped swallow, tawny pipit, yellow wagtail, european robin,

nightingale, black-eared wheatear, moustached warbler, common blackbird

chiffchaff, blue tit, bearded reedling, eurasian collared dove, woodchat shrike,

reed warbler, melodious warbler, olivaceous warbler, zitting cisticola, firecrest,

common magpie, jackdaw, alpine chough, hooded crow, golden oriole,

chaffinch, greenfinch, bullfinch, hawfinch, mediterranean gull,

ortolan bunting,  yellowhammer, eurasian jay,

corn bunting, european goldfinch,

Birds of the


Wandering King

In a few days more than a lunar cycle

monarchs go from egg to caterpillar to chrysalis to butterfly.

Hatched from transparent eggs laid on milkweed, the larva’s only food,

the pin-head-sized caterpillars begin their simple lives of eating and sleeping

till their yellow-black-and-white-ringed bodies hold enough fuel to last two weeks

and enough poison (cardiac glycosides) to make the birds think twice.

When the time is right (in its fullness) each plump, juicy caterpillar

finds its way to the top of our aquarium where it spins a small silk pad

and attaches its tail hooks, hanging there in what we know as a “J”—

a little Jesus if you will, slowly letting go of who he or she was,

preparing to shed its skin and contract, like an accordion,

into a lime-green acorn with gold-jeweled cap.

Then comes the long wait, the metamorphosis, the rebirthing

in a tomb, not for three days, but three times three, and then some.

Enzymes digest much of what was a caterpillar into a nutrient soup

that’s used by embryonic cells to form wings, antennae, legs,

eyes, genitals, and all the other parts of an adult butterfly—

an erstwhile leaf crawler now with thoughts of Mexico.

On the last morning, the pupae

turn crystal-clear to reveal butterflies

rolled up tight like store-bought flags. Emerging,

they unfurl themselves and dry the fabric of their wings...

and when we lift the aquarium’s screened cover—

when the confining stone is rolled away—

brand new monarchs take wing

to feed, mate, disperse,

and lay their eggs.

Note: In Australia, Monarch butterflies are called Wanderer butterflies.

The Death of Punctuation

On one of our many walks around the neighborhood,

my wife and I found, on the pavement in front of us,

a dead comma, or, as we soon discovered,

a nearly dead comma.

I gently picked it up,

carried it home in my hand,

and laid it in a tiny coffin

to show my friends.

May she rest in peace.

Note: The Eastern Comma is a fairly common butterfly in North America. It gets its name from the tiny white comma on the underside of its wings. North America also has a butterfly called the Question Mark.