In a previous post, I presented one of the world’s imaginary selfies as a painted desert. It was, of course, an intentional trick, since there aren’t any painted deserts in Kansas. Using the phrase as a metaphor to describe what I’d found simply was an way to temporarily disguise a wonderful and wholly unexpected reality, giving readers a chance to make their own guess about its identity.
If I’d posted a different photo, and called it a Kansas dune, identification would have been easier. On the other hand, even when I started seeing these dunes — or mountains, as some call them — in the south-central part of the state, I had no idea what I was seeing. Piles of red laterite soil came to mind, but there’s little laterite in Kansas, and no evidence of it on the gravel roads threaded through the state. Road construction clearly wasn’t the answer, but I couldn’t come up with an alternative.
Egg dyeing; a surfeit of candy; patent leather shoes; fancy dresses in pastel colors; white gloves, and hats decorated with straw flowers: such were the traditions of Easter during my childhood, and I loved them all.
Only one aspect of our celebrations held no appeal: the appearance of the ubiquitous Easter lily. Its image adorned greeting cards, church bulletins, and the Easter Seals we affixed to letters and bill payments, while live plants filled store aisles, appeared at the front door in the hands of well-meaning neighbors, and nearly outnumbered worshippers on Easter Sunday.
Everyone said they were beautiful. It’s true that they were pretty enough, but what others called their fragrance, I thought of as their odor. In my twelve-year-old opinion, eau de skunk would have been preferable.
The morning seemed unusually quiet. At the edge of Olney Pond, a single spoonbill stirred the water, swinging its bill with a pendulum-like rhythm: shrimp, fish; shrimp, fish; shrimp, fish. Glossy ibis, long-billed and svelte, picked over their sandbar like latecomers to brunch. Only the stilts, hidden among the rushes and reeds, shredded the silence with their sharp, clean yips of warning and complaint.
In the rising heat, clouds bubbled and built before bending to the will of the winds. Distracted by their shifting shapes, I barely noted the soft, muted sound behind me. Then, I heard it again: the sound of a pillowcase being snapped and shaken out before being pinned to a clothesline.
While considering the possibilities — Alligator? Hunter? Frogs? — I heard the sound again: closer this time, and more resonant. Suddenly, with a fluttering of wings and loud, croaking cries, a great egret dressed in breeding plumage landed at the edge of the pond.
Had T.S. Eliot lived in coastal Texas, he might have chosen August rather than April to be his cruelest month: bringing, as August does, a wasteland of over-heated concrete, limp vegetation, and silent birds.
Picking lethargically at their food, the birds show little more interest in the world around them than their increasingly silent, sighing human companions. Caught between memories of the delicate, blooming spring and desire for October’s cooling winds, spirits grow dull, insensate: failing to revive even when washed by overheated rain. Continue reading
Where the path closed
down and over,
through the scumbled leaves,
through the knotted catbrier,
I kept going. Finally
I could not
save my arms
from thorns; soon
smelled me, hot
and wounded, and came
wheeling and whining.
And that’s how I came
to the edge of the pond:
black and empty
except for a spindle
of bleached reeds
at the far shore
which, as I looked,
into three egrets —
of white fire!
Even half-asleep they had
such faith in the world
that had made them —
tilting through the water,
by the laws
of their faith, not logic,
they opened their wings
softly and stepped
over every dark thing.
Egrets, by poet Mary Oliver
According to Billy Collins, “Love of language and a sense of gratitude would be two ingredients in the recipe for making a poet.” Few poets use language more lovingly, or respond more gratefully to the world surrounding them, than Mary Oliver.
If his verse is any indication, Ogden Nash met his own grumpy grackle, and wasn’t particularly impressed:
The grackle’s voice is less than mellow,
his heart is black, his eye is yellow.
He bullies more attractive birds
with hoodlum deeds and vulgar words,
and should a human interfere,
attacks that human in the rear.
I cannot help but deem the grackle
an ornithological debacle.
Despite Nash’s characterization, the grackle I came to know as Mr. Grumpy didn’t seem inclined toward bullying or attacks. Though loud, impertinent, and insistent, he wasn’t at all aggressive. He only wanted to be noticed: preferably by a female of his own species. That hunger for attention and approval appeared to lie near the heart of his aggravation. Continue reading