Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Best of Both Worlds

Robins in snow

Over at Halibut Point the formerly emblematic bird of spring is now staying through our New England winters, with or without worms. I enjoy its valiant survival in my outings from the comfort of home. As a beneficiary of the best of both worlds I maintain a feeder for the 'common' birds of the neighborhood. The sunflower seeds bring one of life's most generous returns on investment.
A view from a room

The endearing chickadee

Amicable finches, purple and gold
White-throated sparrow
Finch territory



White-breasted nuthatch



Friday, February 21, 2014

The Realm of Minimus

Being tiny earned me the name Minimus, which I never minded because it's a superlative of 'parvus'  meaning least, smallest. Superlative is generally how I see the world from my perch.
I'm a companionable sort in a Gloucester tradition. Charles Olson's Maximus lives across town in The Fort. Maximus is a 6'8" tall bear who helps poets with words like 'proprioception.' I think proprioception is important, too, especially when I'm making fancy turns near the book shelf. Maximus worked on translating Mayan petroglyphs. I'm more of a granite type myself, living in a glass house, pondering Halibut Point. I'm not about to throw stones.
Being acquainted with Nature I have to keep an eye on my writer friend's flights of fancy. When he comes back from his rambles I remind him to get to the Point. Both Maximus and I reiterate Thoreau's mantra, "Simplify. Simplify. Simplify." Sometimes I just throw up my wings in despair.
Recently my pal took up painting, and started moving the plants around. I'm colorful, so I figured he'd want to try painting the bird at hand. Why he chose the terra cotta pot instead  is beyond me. Maybe it was simplicity. Yeah, maybe that's it.
It's important in my job to stay positive. People are trying. Emily Dickinson said, "Hope is the thing with feathers/ that perches on the soul." I keep my head up and wade in.
My inspiration is Jules Verne's character Passepartout. You remember the  valet who got Phineas Fogg around the world in eighty days.
      Passepartout sourit de son meilleur sourire.
      "Jamais trop tard", dit-il....
      Passepartout sortit, tout courant.
[Which means,  "Passepartout smiled his best smile. 'Never too late,' he said....Passepartout took off, without hesitation."]
Phineas Fogg  and  Passepartout wind up variously saving each other in the story. They have an indispensable and correct relationship. I know my place, too.
A lofty perch helps clarify  my care of the realm, a bit of height and distance from the busyness below, a perfect vantage for over-the-shoulder ministry. My Gospel song softens his writer's block. A responsive chorus ripples from his desk.

The titmouse, busy among the leaves of the maple in the wood; the wren, guarding his little domicile in the pear-tree of the garden; and the ruby-throated humming-bird, darting from flower to flower on the vines climbing the cottage-wall, ̶  are minute marvels of beauty and activity, turning the thoughts to Him who made them as ever mindful of his wee and slender creatures, observing the least one's mishap or fall.

Henry C. Leonard, Pigeon Cove and Vicinity, 1873.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Water Crystals

Daily winter visits to Halibut Point reveal unpredictable transformations of water into ice and snow, as rearranged by wind and sun.
On this day the coldest elements have solidified in an arc around cattails. A pressure fringe along the rim outlines an ice field floating like a diminutive polar continent.
The variety of ways that water freezes makes a fairy-tale science of crystallization. When it happens in the clouds we get snow which, falling in moderate amounts, accentuates earth lines and colors.
Snow during the night decorates the achievement of a tree growing out of a quarry wall. As the day unfolds this confection will melt away.
Scientifically observed, water in all its states is colorless. Artistically, it's magic. Like everything else it shrinks as it cools. Then poof, uniquely, it becomes more spacious as it solidifies to float on its liquid self before sublimating back to the air. 


Reacher Creature

Grownups assert that every snowflake is different, which makes the impressionable mind go fuzzy. A Wikipedia contributor rolls out the numbers: 1019 (10 quintillion) water molecules make up a typical snowflake, which grows at different rates and in different patterns depending on the changing temperature and humidity within the atmosphere that the snowflake falls through on its way to the ground. Aha. 1019 makes for a stupendous number of design combinations and permutations. Enjoy the show!

Friday, February 14, 2014

The Pink of Winter

My wife enjoys pointing out how much The Old Man of Halibut Point looks like me. She means it inspirationally, and I've come to warm up to the compliment. He's always there for a moment of thoughtful companionship.
Whenever I stop by, our meditations take in the spectacular, the social, and the quiet signatures of the season. He's calm but never placid in his stationary journey. I find myself humming experimentally, In the bleak mid-winter/Frosty wind made moan.... He keeps on trudging.
Actually, winter suits my rhythm of putting aside the productive life and settling into diversions of gratitude. In general I  favor the season's muted colors in the landscape as a period of rest from visual stimulation and as an integral part of biosphere dormancy that might benefit humans everywhere. However I'm of an inclination and in a position to fudge the principle. Insulated glass is my enabler.
Back home I can satisfy my ambivalence toward frigid days by looking out the window. Sunlight and moonlight stream right through the clear glass at a minimum of expense and discomfort. Even Thoreau added windows to his cabin. I fudge more in degree than in direction.
There's a further component to my compromise with winter. I play host to plants too tender to survive the frost.
A little color goes a long way at this time of year. The commonest of potted plants, the most soldierly of flowers for traffic islands, imparts lovely tints to the winter windowsill. The undemanding geranium stands ready to repay your garden rescue with little fuss.
Another obliging family is the begonias. The ones like this b. fuchsioides that bloom mainly in the short days can best be enjoyed in our climate as house plants, invigorated by summers out-of-doors. Begonias tolerate the relatively low light and humidity characteristic of even the most favorable household environments. This one cascades from a hanging pot in front of our sliding glass door.
Many people use fuchsias as garden annuals, although they originated as perennial woody shrubs. This flower ornaments a tree-form plant that I've been bringing inside for many years. The book says fuchsias should 'rest' in winter. In my experience they're ever-blooming after a period of adjustment to new conditions. I prune most plants back hard so they'll fit behind always limited window space. They're going to drop those outdoor leaves anyway. Then I remove all the flabby winter growth when they go back out to the vigors and rigors of the great outdoors.

Ruellia macrantha
Here's another satisfying tropical shrub that adapts to the confinements of life in a small container, so long as you divide and replant it in fresh soil each spring. 'Macrantha' refers to the large flowers. The effect is like an azalea in January and February.

The deep green leaf coloration on all these plants means that their horticultural needs have been satisfied. Fertilizing during the growing season, not the winter, is helpful. Generous light is always helpful. Watering might be the trickiest part. Hardly any plant likes wet feet, especially in cool temperatures when it's not in active growth. With experience you can check up on all these factors with a glance at the leaves, their size, color, and disposition. Let the soil shrink away from the sides of the pot a bit between waterings.
The cool temperatures in the main part of our house promote the performance of these particular plants by replicating the conditions of their own homelands. At 55 or 60 degrees they decelerate  amiably and confide in the lengthening daylight.