Mist and a thankyou sweet wren

23 01 2013


The mist is not yellow but it is a white enveloping mist.  A purity in the reflection of all colors and I drive into it.  I drive into it on Thursday and on Tuesday, cresting the top of the point at which the 520 starts to merge with the I-5.  The birds on the water and the mist somehow I would like to be swallowed.  Somehow the mist is a door and the cars that enter it are elsewhere—a place that is the mist itself and the water and the double crested cormorants on their bouys, the pied billed grebes.

Heart’s/work is normal, harsh and sweet

On my run I saw a Bewick’s wren.

I followed the wren three miles or more/Three miles or more three miles or more

I’ve written before about wrens and the annual hunt

I have a little box under me arm/A penny or tuppence would do it no harm

I’ve been a bit down.  I felt like that little wren opened me back up.  I had to search for it, I heard it and saw it fly over to the brush and then, by dint of a perseverance that perplexed my dog, I saw it.

a penny to bury the wren

The mist was not a door, over the crest and down the curve were the cars going south and, on the other side, the cars going north.

The door was the wren.

My heart…a mess in my fingers

In the rain in the snow the rain the snow


Quotes are from  Jean Valentine, the song of the Wrenboys and Julie Carr.




28 12 2009

it has turned me to air, it can fly right through me

it is only fitting that today I saw three Bewick wrens, low in the bare branched bushes along a wall.

Three!  It is as though I were suddenly wealthy, such featherings, such tails and eye stripes.

as if I were invisible

all twittering

the final trespass

Last winter, in Seattle’s biggest snow in a decade, the wren in our garden greeted me from the brush pile

In the snow, as beautiful and bright as ever

And here, they say, is why the wren is the King of the Birds, and why he is hunted midwinter.  This wintertime vitality, the slipping low appearing and disappearing, the voice, like a monarch’s.

Their faces are wings, & their bodies are uncovered.

Elizabeth Atwood Lawrence’s Hunting the Wren is a very  nice place to go if you want to learn how the sweet winter wren, Troglodytes troglodytes, transformed into the symbol of the king of the birds, the winter sacrifice, compounded with Christ.  The resurrection in a cauldron, the cages and the wrenboys. And all the mumming

Money I want, money I crave.

If you don’t give me money,

I’ll sweep yous all to your grave,

And bury the wren at your door.

The idea of the wren hunts has bothered me ever since I learned of them.  It is not the same as a bothering of other sorts of hunts; or of the consuming of small song birds in small towns in Europe (with napkins over the head, as Willie likes to remind me).  That’s something else entirely.

It is the archaic and strangeness of the custom tied in, wrapped around, confounded with what our relationship (Homo sapiens sapiens I mean) is to the wren (in this case Troglodytes troglodytes)–currently and thousands of years ago.  And it is the wren herself, to me the little Bewick’s Troglodytes bewickii–does she see me and can I possibly see her?

Again and again I stumble into the abyss, one abyss, between me and her (and all those other abysses, between her and the winter wren, between the winter wren and the house sparrow haunt this one deep chasm).  I want to be able to encompass her into myself and to offer her to you but she is utterly apart and separate and of course, I have said this before, you grow wearing of my ravenous longing.

The poor wren

The most diminutive of birds, will fight,

Her young ones in her nest, against the owl.

All is the fear and nothing is the love;

Enter the cauldron, your bones will rise again: the bird has flown out of reach and I am, to be quite honest, relieved.  She is safe and she is apart from me and I shall be nothing to her today.

They have tied me to a stake; I cannot fly

The other problem with the wren hunt, apart from the central and biggest problem, that of the animal other and my desire, is the sheer complexity of its accumulated rituals and debris: all the skeins that criss-cross with the wren at the center.  I am pulled to the hunt by my attraction to the creature; I am also pulled by this sense of the depth (albeit short in biological terms) of time it represents.  It holds more meaning to and is more revealing of this winter-time darkness than the Christmas rituals bought and sold at market.

Put in your hand, pull out your purse

and give us something for the poor Wran!!

In all its multitudes, in the multitudes of species (more than 80), in the multitudes of individuals–these sweet and individual birds

little wren, that many a time hath sought

Shelter from showers, in huts, where I did dwell

the multitudes of humans making some sort of contact, albeit one of opening the door to death (and isn’t that generally the case when we try to go there, we are murderous) with the other and with other spaces of existence.

I had no portrait, now, but am small, like the wren

The multitudes of travels between here and whatever the beyond is: the wren is as much in thrall as we are to the space between life and death.  But we will make her a symbol and she will be the creature to travel back and forth and tell our futures and bring us news of those we’ve lost for we are impotent without her.

In the forest on the branches and the clotheslines
a fierce little wren singing loud, and high
while his eyes, insisting on their own life,
gave legs to the lie
that there was world, and time
to grow old in its light


As ever, I am a thief

quotes are from Denise Levertov, Larry Levis (thank you Debra DiBlasi for sharing this poem), Irish Wrenboys, William Shakespeare, Waterford Wrenboys, John Clare, Emily Dickinson and Shearwater

Flagler, A Ghost Story

3 11 2012

The earth hath bubbles, as the water has,

otter marks, plastic, heavy potpourri, pie, potatoes, salmons, taste of wind, cold wind, wet, walk behind building warm, hospital, beams and plaster, operating theater, narrow stairs, in that space, in that room, attic, what smell?

And these are of them.

Where are the dead? smooth marrowstone cliff face, sound of helicopter like the air in southern California,

Ordinary wonder at the world’s bits of order

Every moment is ghost once it is past.  Nothing of time makes it linear

makes ordinary experience

One my children were here and once I was family


To be conscious is not to be in time

Once was a man with a broken neck

I am the remnant

of what history was on about

This is my ghost story—What I know is nothing more than breath.  What I miss is something I do not know or that I’ve contrived or that is a space.

Here is a place of disaffection

My ghost story, the remnants of what I was once, a man with a broken neck.  Contrivance, space in the air, a lick of icecream, a river otter, a bit of driftwood.

At the still point of a turning

gas like sulfur or nitrogen richness, the absence of smoke and a mist rising,

still point of a turning world

a flash of lightning when my head hits the counter, numb pinky and water in my hair, wet head, numb toes, the give under my feet,

I feel for you I feel

Sealions barking splash raise self up silhouette water wakes wind in trees like paper flapping, two bald eagles, crows playing, line of gulls.  Once were children here once was family.  Now it’s only the hanged man, his neck cocked oddly, he’s got bright eyes.

When everything is revelation

taste of cold, taste of the inside of my mouth, chocolate like a narcotic hands yellow numb, the cracked and opened tree the tree inside the tree, smooth bark and curved, shadow and rough outer like a seed or nut cracked, the engulfing, the way the moss hands like reaching down to you the way it bows

Go, said the bird, for the leaves were full of children

moments of hemlock, the high small birds, the chickadees and kinglets, water, sound of water running and of rain, and the sound of anxiety in voices, the small birds so high up and high pitched, the sound of wren, of robin, bald eagle bald eagle bald eagle, shrew all sight, once was family

what seemed corporeal melted

the spooked mule with the dragging rope and they carried it down and there was something like a wind that passed by, smell of potpourri. Frog and deformed and living inside of this.  Texture of greens if it could possibly be captured without focus and the smooth brown.  Fire nearby

And into breath

Your deformity renders you unrecognizable.  Your broken neck renders you appalling.  Your ghosts render you horrifying.

Upon the heath

the abundance of wrens, the Bewick’s on every spare branch, the wrens calling at me calling for Saint Stephen’s and the empty rooms where someone wrote about ghosts

ere set of sun

Things were good between us once

once I was here and I was a family.  Once my children were here and once was a family there is a hole right there and why always is it scratch scratch scratching at my window because it is not but an ache and the ice cream the hiking up the windswept hill of grass the water and beach all along a dog and then

Out out damn

The ghost picked up a blade but its hands passed through. The ghost told her not to pass that way and she paid attention, his neck was at an odd angle

I am faint

Once was family once was family once was

my gashes cry

My ghost my memories pointed up the hill, away from the path.

So should he look /That seems to speak things strange

Away from tree where he’d hanged, neck crack, 93 years before.  The tree now struck by lightning, now laid down in the moss and ferns.

So should she look

This room was inhabited once.  Notice how the stairs have been worn, with black on the white and a dipping in the middle.  I can imagine I see someone’s face next to mine in the mirror.  I’m always alone I was so alone I am alone

And you

I’ll do, I’ll do, and I’ll do.

And what do I believe? it can lock itself

I’m haunted by my own ghost standing at its trees along the path, warning me off and warning me to the road, or telling me to just stay there, not to move, here be monsters, because once I cross by, once I walk the path, you’ll be there waiting

and I’ll be lost. ­­­­

*           *             *

Quotes are by William Shakespeare, T. S. Eliot, Susan Neiman, Aaron Mccolough


18 12 2011

The wren, the wren, the king of all birds,

St. Stephen’s Day was caught in the furze

The wind moves like a cripple among the leaves

It is time for games–I choose opacity over transparency. It is time for the hunting of the wren.

A living wren tied, knocked to stillness but still alive, tied to a stick and paraded for coins or other trinkets. An inexorable crush. A place between what one is and what one is supposed to be.

she/must learn not to subdue the fear

I am hiding this post in broad daylight. Or, more accurately, night. Good night. With enormous moon winged in flight…

or some such thing.

you are becoming gone

Sometimes I wish I too was dead inside. My depressions come in raging and furious and violent with sensation.

I see that I’m running a fever
I see that I’m afraid

One upon a time

The world’s carbon emissions increased by 5.9% in a single year

One upon a time

The permafrost started to melt and up came gases,methane, carbon dioxide. The gases emerged dancing delighted by their newfound freedom and hugged the globe hugged the heat of the sun tightly.

It is love

Once a fear pierced him

the shadow

Once upon a time

18 years or 20 years of a life, on a single day, with typescript and a handful of dollars, shut the door on itself.

I am become

Now that my ladder’s gone

I imagine that when I am an old woman, if I get to that place–and sometimes I do in my mind

mountains; cliffs of fall

I’ll be alone. There are things we settle into in life and then they are over and we turn back, surprised, because we’d thought we were something other.

I grow backward

Now she’s done for

It is hard going to the door

I have written too much. I have been too transparent

cut so small in the wall where

the vision which echoes loneliness

The Bewick’s have visited me from the cold brush–do I think on them more because the hunt is on my mind? Or is it that they are more present right now, they and our thrushlike robins, in great flocks. The leaves have left space for me to see.

Oer his white banes, whan they are bare,

It will soon be time for the hunt.

The wind sall blaw for evermair

Bewick’s are safe from sticks or, at least, they aren’t the targets of Lá Fhéile Stiofán. Whatever the betrayal I do not believe the wren played a part. Nor do I believe the knife sticking out of your back is sent there by the hand of our now rising king.

should she smother it?

The wrens know what I am tending. My little seedling, I’m tending it as though it might, some day, yield an ear of corn, a piece of bitter fruit

I must lie down where all the ladders start

blossoms rank as breath

Quotes are by

Kashock, Christensen, Keats, Yeats, Stevens, Creeley, Plath

Soundtrack (for those on spotify) is at SPOTIFY

fragment 91*

1 07 2010

the teacher


love                         too soon

[…]my love

wren             tail

this beak

this flight

Ghosts and others

31 05 2010

When I was running yesterday, I saw a woman with red hair, black sunglasses, a black coat and black flats.   She wasn’t young but not particularly old.  One hand was in her pocket the other held a cigarette.  When she carried the cigarette to her lips I wanted to be her–and as I ran by, the cigarette flowed across my path and I breathed in deeply.

Whose is the grave beneath the hill

Were he alive, thy death he’d be

I mention this only because it is strange.  I don’t smoke…and yes I tried cigarettes when I was young, but they never took (I was lucky in that way).  But there was something evoked that I wanted at that moment.

they are born another way

When I was running today, I saw a dead baby robin, very young, fallen from its nest.  For an instant I was inside that curled being–that moment of life before dying.

Wren for women Robin for man

I also saw a crushed snail.  I tried to feel my way inside, but it was hard. And then I did, the slowdeath.  I gave it a petal for remembrance

rosemary is for

And then the flickering black-capped chickadee–full of life and vibrant. And the gigantic tree, her arms stretched and reaching and strong.

I remember

Some of what I am writing here is about ghosts–we all have them, don’t we?  But the rest is about being something.  An excess of empathy.  I’m not sure what the use of this is–I still feel sad, hours later, about that little dead bird–but it’s dead.  Sincerely and fully no longer alive nor subject to suffering.

and they did

and it drowned every one

So, what purpose my feeling it.  Or you feeling it, when you feel this sort of thing. (The whole mirror neuron thing)  None–only to make me, to make you, feel less complacent, I suppose.  Because none of what I feel, the curled sense, falling, crush, is real.  I am writing this but I do not expect you to believe I am writing as the bird, or that I am any closer to understanding the existence of that nestling or that snail.  It is something run amock.

I am no closer to knowing that bird covered in oil, and I feel it on me but I don’t really because I couldn’t possibly get close to feeling it but I still feel sick because of the being inside sort of thing.

Am I living or dead, am I leaves or grass?

There was a crow with a worm; and in another time and place, a hawk carrying a snake across the sky and I found myself inside of each; I found myself separated from each by an abyss.


quotes are by

Lady Charlotte Guest, Francis Ponge, Norman Iles, Natalya Gorbanevskaya

Tree, tree, stump, tree

3 02 2010

Harry, I have no idea where this will lead us, but I have a definite feeling it will be a place both wonderful and strange.

I did two trail runs this weekend.  Of course, at one point I took my shoes off and tried to go barefoot but stubbed my toe and wimped out.  While I was running sans shoes (prior to the stubbed toe) it felt marvelous.

If I can find a way to keep my feet somewhat protected but still somewhat in contact with the environment I will be happy (at least in that moment).

There are things you can’t get anywhere… but we dream they can be found in other people.

What I was thinking about, in terms of this blog, was not the barefoot issue…but rather the issue of irony.  Or a couple of little ironic happenings.  At least they were ironic to me–they might not have been to you.

We were on a short trip for our twinned birthdays–sans kids (who were at home, kindly watched by my parents).  Because we are both tired we selected a close place to stay–the Salish Lodge.

This lodge was, of course, used as the exterior to The Great Northern Hotel in Twin Peaks.

The Lodge is to the left in the photo.  To the right is part of the hydroelectric plant that is run off the power of the waterfall.  The first page of the hotel guide in the room states that Snoqualmie Falls was a sacred place according to the Salish.  Then goes on to talk about the development of the historic lodge.  I assume no irony was intended–but of course, sticking a luxury hotel on a sacred site and then using the sacred nature of the site as a selling point is like naming a condo complex Quail Villas after you’ve slapped the buildings on top of birds’ last local habitat.  My sense of bourgeoisie shame was triggered although I also know anywhere I step I’m crushing someone.

(We also, incidentally, had a meal, including cherry pie, at Twede’s which is the cafe the figures in Twin Peaks–my second visit and I would indeed recommend the pie).

Sometimes owls are big

On one of the days I ran Tiger Mountain–and was alone for much of the run.  This was nice.

Shut your eyes and you’ll burst into flames.

Near the start of the trail was an uprooted tree (there are many of these around here)–the roots were strange-looking, I became enamored of them.  They were, I believe, thick and smooth because they’d burned.

Look nearby:

There was this burned stump.  And indeed other evidence of a fire.  And if you know my quail diaries you know I find the remains of fire most intriguing.  Fire is a season in southern California.

Man!  Smell those trees.

The region with burned wood was relatively small and inside an area apparently no being logged for timber.  Elsewhere, portions of the mountain are being logged.  How do I know?  There are signs:

They say “Timber Sale Boundary”

And there are places like this along the trail:

This location, if not exactly clear-cut, is something damn near that.

(Between this place and the area not open to logging I saw a winter wren.  I also heard sweet mixed flocks with chickadees and others. But I can barely see even with my glasses if I have no binoculars/scope and so I did not know who they were, only that they were loud).

It was as I just passed back through this cut area,  that I was stopped by the first people I’d seen for nearly an hour.  They wanted to know where the trail led and if there were views.  I smart assedly said “there’s a clear cut just ahead.” To which they responded, “and there are views from it?” apparently missing my sarcasm.  This is just as well, they did not deserve my cussedness.   I had to explain that I didn’t get far enough to figure out if there were any views.

They went on their way and I went on mine–before we parted, one said, “well, it is at least nice to see another living being.” Which to me was odd as I had spent the entire time so far being utterly overwhelmed by the living beings surrounding us–and the sense of strange tragedy.

I feel mean spirited writing this–because I do not despise those two–they were nice enough and they had chosen the woods rather than something else.  But, at the same time, it was an encounter that I felt thrown by and I wonder how things might be different if everyone felt as overwhelmed by all the breathing going on as I do. I suppose nothing would get accomplished.

I do not introduce the log!

There was a tree near my house, I looked up and her arms bent down to me–I felt a strange welcoming embrace, except she was so high up.  I am a biologist–a rational scientist.  I am, too, not rational.  I am perhaps a little crazed.

a logging man… he met the devil.  Fire is the devil, hiding like a coward in the smoke.


quotes are from Twin Peaks (many, indeed, are from the Log Lady herself).

Owling, Ule

8 12 2009

My hair will not turn white

for I crawled out of the womb of machines,

someone had strangled

her snow-white sister

I wanted to share this with you:

Yesterday I went for a run (as I am wont to do)–I took the path through a local Park.  I can run the path and feel like I am in the woods for a moment before I leave the park and run up to the kid’s school (and then make them walk home–which at times is fabulous and at times is unpleasant).

On the trail I saw

first:  a Bewick’s wren

second:  a barred owl

third:  bare branches against the sky with small gold leaves fluttering on a smaller tree below

This was, for some reason, a sublime combination.

the bells of the one

and only world.

Perhaps it was the cold.  It was 0 degrees Celcius and there was indeed ice.

Perhaps it was the absence of the police– the death of Maurice Clemmons.

Perhaps it was just being outside.

just whose world is forbidden to me.

Or maybe it was the damn owl, sitting low to the ground, on a fallen stump near the creek, where unfrozen water beside the dark bare trees.  I am always so very pleased by the sight of a wren, of any species, and the wren prepared me, though he/she hid so quickly, I knew she/he was there.  The owl swiveled her/his head and I imagined the silence of his/her flight.

I am not a good ornithologist and so I had to look up the owl species when I got home.  My ignorance was indeed bliss.   The pretty creature was a barred owl.

If I didn’t open my eyelids

Of course, barred owls are kicking spotted owls out of their habitat.  Or rather, they are expanding their range into the contracting range of the spotted owl–and in these ranges they are aggressively taking over habitat used by the spotted owl.

(I wouldn’t have seen the rope).

Life is linked to violence, so says Matthew Calarco.  But that doesn’t help me now that I am stuck with the sense that that gorgeous barred owl is yet another verminous creature pushing another species extinct.  (and what does extinct mean?  it means never again).

The barred owl is of course, only expanding its range because it can survive in areas opened up by humans–city parks, secondary growth.  Spotted owls do not do well in these environments–nor do they do well when sharing ranges with the barred owl who are more aggressive and will kick members of the endangered species out of suitable breeding grounds–at least according to a collection of anecdotal observations.   They are, to quote The Smithsonian Magazine, “bigger and meaner.”  And when the barred owl moves in, the spotted owl moves out.  Of course, one favored approach to managing the problem is shooting the barred owls.

If I had the word

Isn’t that always the way we deal with our problems–just shoot it. I’ve written about this before in light of that far more objectionable (by many people’s standards–though not necessarily mine) beastie–the feral cat. I find the issue of the human-caused collision of species other than humans to be extraordinarily troubling.  It is hard to sort through and I believe that for the most part our ethical responsibility to all individuals involved is elided.  At the same time, for the spotted owl, it is triage time–as they are essentially currently cycling towards extinction.

(I wouldn’t misplace it)

if I had no thistles in my heart

If you have a better way of thinking about this– a way that will reduce the fraught sense I feel about nearly everything (this harms that–that harms this–careful where you step) let me know, it’s gotten harder to talk myself out of these ethical conundrums, despite the fact that I ultimately have no practical involvement with most of them anyway.

(I would put out the sun)

I will neither be shooting nor facilitating the movement of the owl I saw yesterday–but then I wish him or her godspeed; so perhaps I am more committed than I’ll admit to you or to me.

Often I’ve wished

for the quiet of angels

and hunting grounds filled

with the powerless cries

of my friends.


quotes are from Ingeborg Bachmann, Calarco’s comment is in The Death of the Animal