Thursday, November 15, 2012

Deer and Geese

or A Pause

At Bosque del Apache:  In the dappled light on the verge of a thicket of cottonwoods, a mule deer was browsing.  It wasn't in any hurry, not bothered at all by the occasional vehicle passing by on the gravel road.  I paused and watched it for a while, leaning against my car and enjoying the quiet scene while the sun warmed my back.  It was one of those moments when light filters deep inside you.

That was at one end of the refuge.  When I reached the other end the snow geese were flocking—flocking, fighting, frighting.  Something had disturbed them.  The sun caught in their wings as they whirled and flapped, a blizzard come early.  Even when they're calm their numbers can take your breath away; you have to shade your eyes against the blaze of white where they blanket the fields.  The noise they make when something has spooked them is the next best thing to deafening.  They're sure beautiful, but boy, can they raise a ruckus. 

With the aim of having life be more deer-in-dappled-light quiet than snow-goose-flapping frantic for the next few weeks, I'm going to be taking a break from Microcosm for a while.  I'll visit with you all at your own blogs when I can, and if something extra-delightful comes up that I think you would enjoy, I'll pop in for a post of my own.  I really appreciate you all, my dear readers—I'm touched and pleased that you enjoy Microcosm, and that you stop by here to read and make comments and link your life in whatever small way with mine.  I'll see you again after the New Year (if not before).

In the meantime, I wish you many of those dappled-light moments of your own.

Thursday, November 8, 2012


or Everyday Ware

When Cousin Mary Frances broke up household in her later years, somehow I ended up with her dishes.  (I used to think Cousin Mary Frances' first name was Cousin.)  They were made by Frankoma, a pottery company in Oklahoma which took inspiration from nature, Native American arts, and the warm earth tones of the southwest.  Frankoma dishes feel good.  The cream pitcher fits so perfectly in the hollow of your hand that you want to hold it even after your coffee is swirling with white; the coffee cups have fun little ribs on the handles right where your thumb sits.  The serving dishes are full-bellied, satisfying things.  I love those dishes, and it's obvious that Cousin Mary Frances did, too.  Some of them are chipped or have flaws in the glaze.  The finish on the dinner plates is almost worn away in places.  But that's all right.  Many a good, southern meal of chicken and gravy with biscuits and greens and mashed potatoes was enjoyed on those plates.  They aren't pristine antiques or fine china, but good heirloom dishes—dishes that are meant to be used.

Pristine is a rare quality around here these days.  Untouched autumn scenes—at least in my garden—only exist at a distance.

The view all the way across the garden's long diagonal.

Close up, though, you see just how used everything looks.  The leaf-cutter bees have had a busy year.

They've been at the flowers, too.

Blackfoot daisies (Melampodium leucanthum)

That's all right and proper, though, just like the brown leaf edges left over from the heat of July, and all the little tears made by one wind storm or another, and the transparent skeletons carved by the leaf rollers.  No matter what gardeners prefer, leaves and flowers aren't meant by nature to be fine china, kept in the cupboard behind glass doors and looked at, except for when the right company comes over.  They're meant for everyday ware.  At the end of a long season, they look like many a good meal has been had from them.  They're crazed and chipped and cracked.  They're dinged up from weathering and wear and tear.  But that's all right. 

They were meant to be used.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Please Stay ff

or In Which We Think About Noise

The thing with living in an urban in-fill neighborhood, is that it keeps on getting filled in.  More or less across the street from me, in an area formerly graced by asters and weeds, a couple of new houses are being built.  The process hasn't been quiet, but at least the parts involving heavy machinery seem to be over with.  Now the walls are being raised, and the sounds of hammers, and cheerful voices shouting, "No, don't put that there!  Over there!", and music blaring over tinny speakers rule the daylight hours. 

I've been taking some more vacation time, a day here and there, so I'm more aware of work-day sounds than I normally would be.  When the cement-mixers arrived and ground loudly away I hid inside, but now they're gone.  In the mornings I've been planting bulbs, a few at a time, and enjoying the feel of autumn sunshine across my back, and the house-finches' fussing.  While I'm working in the garden I like hearing the sounds of construction close by.  The tinny music is either sentimental '80's stuff—Kenny Rogers, Bob Seger—or sentimental New Mexican/Mexican stuff, melodic and cheerful.  It's good gardening music, and the workers' voices calling to each other, ribbing each other, across the street, have a camaraderie I enjoy from what we might as well call afar.  Finches, music, other people, sunshine, your own work—they all make you feel like part of the same grand project somehow.

Once you're ready to rest, though, sounds change.  What used to be a kind of company turns into an intrusion.  You become aware of volume rather than content.  And so you seek quiet wherever you can find it.  The closest and best quiet at hand is to be found in the bosque at the Rio Grande Nature Center State Park.

I say that it was quiet there and realize anew what a strangely relative idea "quiet" is.  The wind can clatter through every leaf on every cottonwood in the bosque; it can roar among the treetops.  Every Canada goose that loiters in the wetland can grumble and honk all the live-long day; the sandhill cranes can creak and the ravens croak, and somehow all of that counts as quiet.  Is the difference between wild sound and urban noise about anything physical?  About the amplitude or frequency of sound waves acting on the ear?  Do the hammer, anvil, and stirrup resonate more comfortably to some sounds than others?  Or is the difference all in our minds?

I have no answers, of course, but it was lovely to ponder the questions in a lazy, meandering way while literally meandering among the cottonwood trees along the path.

The quiet of the bosque is partly a visual thing, I think.  The cottonwoods are so very tall, and the undergrowth so very small that the "forest" is airy and open.  You could (and some people do) actually ride a horse through it without getting tangled up in brambles or low-hanging branches.  The canopy is open, too.  Cottonwoods shed branches in time of drought, so even among the oldest trees the crowns are seldom thickly leaved.

You can stand directly under a tree in the middle of the bosque and still watch a Cooper's hawk (I think) soaring overhead, or see the outstretched necks of a flock of cranes heading for the wetlands.  Nothing in the bosque crowds you; nothing hems you in.  But those big trees do shelter you from the wind.

The river was quiet, even more so than usual.  After two years of extreme drought the waters are extra-sluggish and low.  They barely seem to move as they make their tired way south.  If rivers were mythical people, the Rio Grande would be a Lotus Eater.  It doesn't inspire you to do much but take a nap on the bench beside its banks in afternoon sun.  It certainly would, you just know it, if given half a chance.

In the still waters of the wetlands beside the river Canada geese were looking sleepy themselves, in an afternoonish sort of way; a little drowsy, a little peaceful.  No feeding or flying, just aimless floating.  Floating, sailing, drifting.  Occasionally some of the geese would take it into their heads (or wherever) to drift somewhere else.  And so, eventually, without really exerting themselves, they would.

In that atmosphere of sleepy quiet it made me laugh to see this sign:

"Please stay ff," is what I read:  fortissimo, the musical term for REALLY LOUD.

The bosque??  Loud?  REALLY LOUD?   I thought about the soothing, wild sounds I'd heard and about the spaciousness and ease and safety of this little nature preserve, and fortissimo became an impossibility.  The sign dwindled to State Park reality, with a typical bit of pointless vandalism:  "Please stay (o)ff."

Like quietness, though, loudness is about more than sound.  It's about vibrancy, about the vitality of small lives, the lizards and towhees and sparrows rustling through fallen leaves, the geese and wood ducks and coots dabbling their way through the wetlands, the cranes feeding in the corn fields beside the river, and the red-eared sliders still basking in the sun   It's about the cottonwoods, standing tall above them all and extending sheltering arms, leaves rattling in the wind, and glowing like small suns with October and the sun behind them.

I turned for home, toward the honest, urban sounds of staple guns and hammers and jovial shouts and tinny music, and the neighbor's dogs barking at it all.

And I thought, Yes, indeed, dear bosque—please stay ff.