tale

Once again I am copping out with a poem, this time Dennis Lee’s “tale” from yesno:

Tell me, tall-
tell me a tale. The one about
starless & steerless & pinch-me, the
one about unnable now — which they did-did-
did in the plume of our pride, and
could not find the way home.
Little perps lost.

Yet a rescue appeared, in the
story a saviour arose. Called
limits. Called
duedate, called countdown ex-
tinction/collide. Called, eyeball to ego:
hubris agonistes.

Bad abba the endgame. In-
seminal doomdom alert:
pueblo naturans, or
else. But the breadcrumbs are gone, and the
story goes on, and how
haply an ending no
nextwise has shown us, nor known.

~~~~~

yesno is good all over. This is the last poem in the collection, and reflects the general tone of it: lots of wordplay and sound games, lots of invention, and the surface nonsense papers over some very big ideas.

Black-Eyed Susan

 

dsc_0096000521Black-Eyed Susan (John Gay)

ALL in the Downs the fleet was moor’d,
The streamers waving in the wind,
When black-eyed Susan came aboard;
‘O! where shall I my true-love find?
Tell me, ye jovial sailors, tell me true
If my sweet William sails among the crew.’

William, who high upon the yard
Rock’d with the billow to and fro,
Soon as her well-known voice he heard
He sigh’d, and cast his eyes below:
The cord slides swiftly through his glowing hands,
And quick as lightning on the deck he stands.

So the sweet lark, high poised in air,
Shuts close his pinions to his breast
If chance his mate’s shrill call he hear,
And drops at once into her nest:—
The noblest captain in the British fleet
Might envy William’s lip those kisses sweet.

‘O Susan, Susan, lovely dear,
My vows shall ever true remain;
Let me kiss off that falling tear;
We only part to meet again.
Change as ye list, ye winds; my heart shall be
The faithful compass that still points to thee.

‘Believe not what the landmen say
Who tempt with doubts thy constant mind:
They’ll tell thee, sailors, when away,
In every port a mistress find:
Yes, yes, believe them when they tell thee so,
For Thou art present wheresoe’er I go.

‘If to fair India’s coast we sail,
Thy eyes are seen in diamonds bright,
Thy breath is Afric’s spicy gale,
Thy skin is ivory so white.
Thus every beauteous object that I view
Wakes in my soul some charm of lovely Sue.

‘Though battle call me from thy arms
Let not my pretty Susan mourn;
Though cannons roar, yet safe from harms
William shall to his Dear return.
Love turns aside the balls that round me fly,
Lest precious tears should drop from Susan’s eye:

The boatswain gave the dreadful word,
The sails their swelling bosom spread,
No longer must she stay aboard;
They kiss’d, she sigh’d, he hung his head.
Her lessening boat unwilling rows to land;
‘Adieu!’ she cries; and waved her lily hand.

~~~~~

If you ever wondered who Susan was, and if her black eyes were as lovely as those of her namesake, now you know.

Plant info.

Daddy Long-Legs

dsc_00270005-2These critters are a staple of childhood natural adventures throughout Ontario–and beyond, too, I’d imagine. The Daddy Long Legs stilts along like a drunk robot on those proposterously long legs. I remember, at my grandparents’ cottage, picking them up and tossing them in the creek to watch them go over the waterfall. Cruel, yes, but I’ve made up for my early eco-sins with a lifetime of environmental activism. Or so I hope.

I know it looks like a spider. But it’s not. The lack of separate body parts and having only two eyes instead of eight gives it away, though you’d have to get pretty close to one to tell. The Daddy Long Legs, more correctly known as “harvestmen,” is an arachnid but is, apparently, not even an insect.

Moreover, because it’s not a spider, it’s not venemous, contrary to reputation; and two of its legs aren’t even legs, but long leg-like sense organs that feel and taste the ground in front in order to navigate terrain. And yes, their legs do separate very easily but they do NOT grow back.

Daddy Long-Legs, either due to their appearance or their reserved habits, being primarily nocturnal and fairly shy, are not the subject of much in the way of folklore, literature or poetry. One notable exception is an early twentieth century children’s novel called Daddy-Long-Legs about an orphaned girl with a mysterious benefactor who sends her to private school. As with much early twentieth century literature about plucky girl orphans, it is both derided as mawkishly sentimental and a milestone of literature unjustly ignored on the basis of its protagonist.

All I really need to know I learned in the forest

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Plants don’t do balance. They over-reach, chronically. They strain as hard as they can for the sun. Sometimes the ground will get cut out from under their feet or washed away in a flood, or a logger or a happy child will come along and lop them off from the top.

The plant will not learn from this that it needs to be more careful. It will not plan, strategize, or compromise. It will go right back to over-reaching. Somehow, plants have learned something that humans have not: you cannot guarantee safety or success by bargaining with the universe and going after only part of what you want.

When a flood washes out the streambank and the tree already straining hard for the one gap in the canopy falls over, it does not lie on the ground and think, well, if only I’d put a little more effort into developing my other sides, if only I’d been more careful, I could have kept the flood away. No. It immediately puts out shoots as close to the sun as it can.

In fact nothing in the forest wastes time either lamenting or pining. No one asks the tadpole if it wants to be a frog or if it would rather stay in the puddle; the dragonfly (and, for that matter, the mosquito) just go ahead and metamorphose without drama or angst. When the maple seed lands in a crevice between rocks or on the stump of an old tree, even if it is the best and most perfect maple seed in the history of the earth, it just grows without shaking its fist at the injustice of fate or bewailing its lost potential. It will spend its life making dirt for another plant to grow in. Apparently, if you’re a tree, that’s a good living.

Sentience seems to muck up the works as often as not.

(Next week: Daddy Long Legs, and if the gods of time are kind, a review of Sobel’s Childhood and Nature.)

Yikes!

dsc_00040001-21This is what happens when a print assignment bleeds into a vacation that spills into a busy social week and then morphs (I am running out of change-verbs) into another print assignment. Which I am just beginning, but regardless I am determined to write something here before August. This not included.

In bullet form:

1. I am alive.
2. I realize that the why-I’m-not-posting post is a cop-out, and I will deliver something better soon.
3. My article on Wind Turbine Syndrome just came out in the Summer 2009 issue of This magazine, and slightly off-topic, I also have an essay out now in the Summer 2009 issue of Brain, Child about the joys of single motherhood. The first will probably be online sometime in July, and I’ll link to it when it is; the second likely won’t be, so if you want to read it you’ll have to hunt it down.
4. I saw a coyote loping along Newtonbrook Creek last week. This made me very happy.
5. The microfrogs have dispersed, either because they’ve been eaten or because they’ve moved on to better, wetter digs.

In other news, unless your attention has been consumed by the twin calamities of Michael Jackson’s death and the impact of the city worker’s strike on our public trash bins, you have probably noticed that you are now being charged five cents for each plastic shopping bag you bring home. Might I point out, in the interests of accuracy, that a five-cent charge is not a ban on plastic bags, and if your modern lifestyle is dependent on plastic bags you are fully entitled to bring home as many as you like.

I’ve noticed a fair bit of hyperbole on what is, after all, a nearly insignificant charge on an item that most of us found clogging our kitchen cupboards until we sickened of them and tossed them. No one is forcing you to forego the plastic bags, so if you need some bin liners and can’t bring yourself to spring for the Glad version, quit your belly-aching and pony up the nickel, eh?

I’ve been bringing my own reusable bags around with me ever since I went on exchange to Germany at 17, which is precisely half my lifetime ago, and so speaking from experience: you will get used to it. A day will come when you hardly ever forget to bring them with you or leave them in the car, and when that day arrives I predict you will find that the ten cents charged for the two bags you actually have a use for is no big deal.

microfrogs

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Last weekend (and I meant to write about this before) I spent an hour planting wildflowers with the East Don Parkland Partners in a wetland rehabilitation area just south of Cummer Avenue off Finch. It was gorgeous: sunny, warm, and still. Wildflowers are a lot easier to plant than bushes and trees, so it went quickly, and everyone was in a good mood, squelching their way along the pond’s banks to plant the flowers in the water before they lost their footwear. Swimming in the pond were hundreds of tadpoles on the verge of becoming frogs, their bellies round and legs extending but the tail still long.

And I decided what any mother of a small child would: I have to bring Frances here! She would love to see the baby frogs.

We went yesterday (another sunny, warm, still day) and as we walked towards the water, I told her to keep her eyes open for the frogs, and let’s not step on all those crickets leaping away from us.

But wait a second, they weren’t crickets.

They were frogs!

dsc_00170006-2Eensy weensy tiny baby frogs. So many of them that wherever our feet went to land, clouds of them would leap away into the grass. So small I struggled to pick them up, afraid of crushing them between my fingers. We’d scramble after them through the mud, laugh as they’d land with a small plop in the pond and en masse swim vigorously away, squeak when they made a daring leap off our hands to the ground below.

There is little as joyful as baby-frog-hunting with a small child on a gorgeous late-spring day.

Farmer Frances visits Forsythe, May 2009 edition

These pictures aren’t mine, so don’t steal them.

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I’ve read that a farmer is just corn’s way of propogating itself, which is a fun inversion of the way we usually think about corn. In which case, what is the relationship between a farmer and a goat?

dsc_00440043-2

Or between the goat and Frances, as the case may be.

Here we are, at a local pick-your-own/community farm, Forsythe Family Farms in Markham. They have animals for feeding and petting (including goats, sheep, rabbits) and others just for looking at (chickens, turkeys, cows, pigs), a big play area, wagon rides and an “enchanted forest” which is much more fun when it isn’t 15C and windy. They also have a little market that sells Ontario produce as well as meat, eggs and honey from their own farm, and whatever produce they have in season. It’s great. Frances has fun playing and pretending to be a farmer, and I get to teach her that food isn’t something that comes in a plastic bag from the supermarket. The beef, eggs and honey are good, too.

I’ve often wondered about the economics of these pick-your-own/fun farms and a farmer’s motivations for switching over from something purely agricultural. Does it make more money? How much? Does it alter the local farming community at all? How difficult is it to organize a pick-your-own? What are their thoughts on organic and eating local?

It’s funny to think that what used to be our near-universal lifestyle is now an exotic weekend destination for city-folk disassociated from rural living.

If I had a chance to interview the farmers–we know them pretty well by now, having visited so often since Frances was very small–would you be interested in reading it?

Wind Energy and YOU

I may be a bit quieter for the next couple of weeks while I work on a new article about wind power, this one about the issues around siting wind turbines or wind farms in and near Toronto. We have one (at the Ex) and if Toronto Hydro gets the results they want from the anemometer off the Scarborough Bluffs, we could have a bunch more. This ruffles all of the usual feathers.

But where exactly are we supposed to build them? Everyone likes renewable energy–and every opponent of any given wind project I’ve interviewed has said that at least once, so it must be true–but somewhere else, apparently. The technical siting constraints are considerable: you need to have enough wind; you need to have enough space; you don’t want to build it in a migratory zone for birds or bats, and you don’t want to chop down significant habitats to construct them. So you might think empty country is better–but then how do you connect them to the grid? Miles and miles of transmission cable aren’t exactly environmentally friendly, plus you lose more electricity in the lines the farther it has to travel. From an economic perspective and from certain environmental perspectives, producing electricity where it will be consumed makes sense. Just like growing food where it’s going to be eaten.

I have no answers yet, and twenty-five days to come up with some and put them in a well-written and persuasive article. Wish me luck.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the issue of mixing wind turbines and cities. Would you want one in your backyard? Close enough to see it in the distance from your kitchen window? Are they modern works of art or eyesores? If you live in Toronto, what do you think about the WindShare turbine at the Ex and Toronto Hydro’s hoped-for plans off the Scarborough Bluffs? Where should they go, and why?

Alan Dugan: On the Liquidation of Zoology

We put the mountains in the valleys,
the oceans in the deserts,
and paved the world flat.
The botanical trash was burned,
and life put in its place: zoos.
In this way we cleaned up
in honor of the flat out
continuity of the green glass sea
and walked on it like Christ
in horror of the bad old days
when any kind of life ran wild
and men did as they pleased.

~~~~~

Not exactly as cheery or inspirational as Mary Oliver, no, but gorgeous just the same, and true.

Alan Dugan is normally not a nature or environmental poet (his love poem, “Love Song: I and Thou” is worth the cost of whatever collection you find it in), but when he is, he’s good. This one reminds me of the sad spectacle of a city’s boxed trees: the anemic, sickly specimens in planters for decoration and shade and, sometimes, to reduce air pollutants. Urban trees are good things. They have all kinds of benefits and I’m glad they’re there. But sometimes, when I see them, I am uncomfortably reminded of a tiger in a small zoo cage. A box is not a tree’s natural habitat, and it will never flourish in one.

Why is it that we need to corral life into tame, domesticated pockets?

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