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Poetry of Nature | Early Summer | NanLeah

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A blaze orange Red Skimmer Dragonfly dreams on a light green reed. Its gossamer wings spread flat in the sun; its multifaceted eyes bowed. The Red Skimmer glows against a black background. A softly curved triangle of green light hovers at the top right corner and extends down to soften the bottom right corner of the page. Photo by NanLeah.
Red Skimmer Dreams

NanLeah's Early Summer Letter for July 2023



A pair of Mourning Doves linger at their morning toilette. The female perches on the left side with her back to the viewer. She's fluffed and preening after her bath. The male reclines, submerged in the water. His tail points at the clouds. With his graceful left wingtip extended to the sky, he looks directly at the viewer. Every silvered wing feather is visible. He looks relaxed and happy. Photo by NanLeah.
Mourning Doves Linger at Bath

“Birds are, perhaps, the most eloquent expression of reality.”



Bird Watching

Every time we put out crumbs and sunflower

seeds something comes. Most often sparrows.

Frequently a jay. Now and then a junco or

a cardinal. And once—immediately and never

again, but as commonly as any miracle while it

is happening, and then instantly incredible for-

ever—the tiniest (was it?) yellow warbler

as nearly as I could thumb through the bird

book for it, or was it an escaped canary? or

simply the one impossible bright bird that is

always there during a miracle, and then never?

I, certainly, do not know all that comes to us

at times. A bird is a bird as long as it is

there. Then it is a miracle our crumbs and

sunflower seeds caught and let go. Is there

a book to look through for the identity

of a miracle? No bird that is there is

miracle enough. Every bird that has been is

entirely one. And if some miracles are rarer

than others, every incredible bird has crumbs

and seeds in common with any other. Let there

be bread and seed in time: all else will follow.

~ John Ciardi


Dear PON Friends,

I feel such a kinship with Ciardi and his expression of birds as miracles. How does his poem make you feel? For me, his poem embodies how I feel in my heart about all birds. Like Ciardi, I make daily humble offerings. Over the years I’ve experimented and expanded. Currently I offer seed in a bird feeder and scattered on the ground, a thistle feeder, fresh water, suet feeders and a Hummingbird nectar bar. Even if only for a few moments, whether flocking or singly, each bird that stops here is a unique being, and yes, I find every one is a miracle!

For me, Ciardi’s poem begins on a hopeful note. He says, “Every time we put out crumbs and sunflower / seeds something comes.” I share this incredible experience with him. Daily, someone always enjoys my humble offerings! For example, at the nectar bar, for the past couple of days I’ve enjoyed witnessing a young, rare female Rufous Hummingbird, brand new to our world.

Last week my friend Annette and I stood at my window enraptured as Steller’s Jays, young Dark Eyed Juncos, Spotted Towhees, and a young Douglas Fir Squirrel foraged together. As we looked on, a new male Anna’s Hummingbird came to feed at the nectar bar, just on the other side of the window. We were a foot away from him!

The week before we’d witnessed a 2-year-old doe with her first, hours-old fawn, just learning to scamper. “You don’t need TV!” Annette exclaimed! I agree because bird watching has expanded me, my knowledge, and my love of all who share their neck of the woods with me, beyond any way that television ever could.

Tales of Miracles

Through my years of bird watching I’ve been treated to daily miracles. I’ve especially come to love Steller’s Jays. Where most folks hear only brashness and dislike their boldness, I admire them and their intrepidness. I appreciate their intelligence, vocal acuity and range. They have a marvelous sense of humor and they are master aerialists. To me they are the color of Sky come down to kiss Earth. They’re one of my favorites of the corvid family, which includes crows and ravens, whom I also adore.

Recently, I went out to fill the bird feeder, scatter seed, hang suet, and refresh the birdbath and the Hummingbirds' nectar bar. As I scattered seeds, I called in the birds and animals. (More on my call in a moment.)

I heard the soft veeekveeekveeek of a Steller’s Jay. I’ve always loved this gentle sound. For me, her call felt like a Jay love murmur. I turned to her. She perched in the shadows of a cedar branch, turning her head to gaze at me with each eye. I felt her curiosity and wanting to connect.

Then she laddered nimbly up the cedar branches. In her soft, intimate voice she began a sparkling conversation with me. Her sprightly chatter felt like a joyful morning greeting and affirmation of my presence.

As she swooped among the evergreens that ring my yard, she continued her bright regard and soft chatter. I was moved by how she reached across my perceived divide to communicate. Her steady awareness made me feel seen, heard and witnessed. I was wholly in the moment. I listened deeply.

She sang Song Sparrow’s aria. She did Red Tail Hawk. Throughout, she cackled liberally like European Starling. It felt effervescent, heavenly. Nature was speaking directly to me! After a few minutes, she wolf whistled. And then I heard her say “Hello”. Somewhere in her life, this Jay had learned from people. I felt so honored that she chose to commune with me. Truly, a miracle!


A drenched, sky blue Steller’s Jay, with a black head and neck. Her crest raised, she splashes in a freshly filled birdbath. Drops rain all about her. A lush green background surrounds her. Photo by NanLeah.
Steller's Jay Rocks Her Bath

"Birds are a miracle because they prove to us there is a finer, simpler state of being which we may strive to attain.”

~ Douglas Coupland


"Let there / be bread and seed in time: all else will follow.”

~ John Ciardi, “Bird Watching”

Every season of bird watching brings new miracles. Like Ciardi, I make my humble offerings, then wait and listen deeply. I am always certain all else will follow!

I am frequently treated to Steller’s Jays’ vocal gifts. They use Red Tail Hawk often. How do I know it’s Jay and not Hawk? Because, when Jays are present, their Red Tail Hawk comes from in close, among the boughs. They have a quieter, nasal quality, unlike a circling Red Tail Hawk calling from above. I’ve also heard Steller’s Jays mimic Osprey, and Flicker.

Once, in the dead of winter, I witnessed a Jay communicate with and calm a feisty Douglas Fir Squirrel that was marauding all the birds trying to feed. The Jay did this using Fir Squirrel’s own low, serene “woooo” several times. It was a heartfelt appeal to this Squirrel. Finally, he relented and that afternoon the flock of Jays and the Squirrel fed peacefully side by side. The Juncos, Fox Sparrows, and Towhees all benefited from Jay that day. This reminds me of what Ciardi says about what birds have in common. "And if some miracles are rarer / than others, every incredible bird has crumbs / and seeds in common with any other."

Steller's Jays' willingness to communicate across species touches me deeply. Here's one more miraculous Jay communion. One winter morning, I was delighted when a Jay return the feed call I created some years ago. When I walk out to my yard, I use the low, inquisitive Douglas Fir Squirrel woooo inspired by the above story. I follow my woooo with a loud tocktocktock I make at the back of my mouth. I find it carries through the forest.

This winter morning, the Steller’s Jay swooped in and perched on a Doug Fir branch to my right. He woooed me, and with his beak, tocked three times on the branch. He sounded exactly like me! We communed this way several times. I still find this encounter to be one of many remarkable miracles with Steller’s Jay. I am always grateful, honored, and delighted when Steller’s Jays include me in their world. They become "...instantly incredible forever".


A brilliant blue Steller’s Jay, stretches out in full flight. He’s just coming in for a landing on a handmade bird feeder.  The entire blue top of this Jay is visible. His back and every wing and tail feather glows in overhead sun. The Jay’s focus is entirely on its destination, a bird feeder constructed of yellow cedar, with clear plexiglass showing the feeder is empty! The plexiglass roof is black and slants toward the back of the frame. This scene is backlit by the silvery bark of a Douglas Fir and the lush dark green of an Evergreen Huckleberry thicket. Photo by NanLeah.
Master Aerialist

“The very idea of a bird is a symbol and a suggestion to the poet. A bird seems to be at the top of the scale, so vehement and intense is his life, large-brained, large-lunged, hot, ecstatic, his frame charged with buoyancy and his heart with song.”

~ John Burroughs



Possible Early Summer Prompts

This month, I offer you a multifaceted prompt. First, I invite you to reach out to the birds that share your neck of the woods in whatever way feels good and right for you. You'll find your poem making prompt in the next section.

I encourage you to connect with, or deepen your connections with the birds (and anyone else) who reaches for you. If you’re not already familiar with your local birds, I invite you to take a bit of time to learn about your feathered neighbors. You could consult bird guide books, connect with a local birder or compare notes with a neighbor. Cornell Labs, and their wonderful Merlin Birding App are excellent resources. You could check out your local Audubon Society. You could watch bird videos, or take a class.

Once you feel familiar with a bird, or birds, decide how you'd like to invite them to your yard. You could look for beautiful or delightful bird feeders so you can offer a variety of seeds, nuts, fruits, and insects. Be sure to explore ways to offer water. (Make sure to read the reviews that pertain to your area before you purchase a feeder.) I find Wild Birds Unlimited to be extremely helpful.

Even if you’re high up on the 10th floor of a building in the heart of Phoenix, like my friend Quinn was, from your balcony you can offer Hummingbird feeders, and when it's cold, suet feeders. Remember, what Ciardi notices is true: “Every time we put out crumbs and sunflower / seeds something comes.”

When you step out to make your offerings, you could try creating a call that’s unique to you, and lets the birds and animals know fresh resources are available. You could try imitating a bird, or other animal, you’d like to attract. Over the years, I’ve noticed the birds and animals listen and watch for me. They will come as soon as I call. I invite you to let go of attachment about who or what you're trying to attract. Prepare to be astonished!


A male Mountain Quail dust bathes beneath the Huckleberry thicket. He’s surrounded by his own ruffle that wreathes him in a brown areola of dust. His crown, nape and chest are blue gray. Beneath his ebony bill and on his throat, he wears a chocolate brown gorget outlined in pure white. His grey back feathers stick up. Chocolate feathers on his wings are outlined in white dashes. White dots are visible along his right wing feathers. Dried Douglas Fir sticks surround him on the ground.  A partially green, and dried clump of grass sits just to his left. Photo by NanLeah. His colors give him the ability to melt into the landscape.
Mountain Quail Dust Bath - Photo by NanLeah

“No human ever lived in a birdless world.”

~ Richard Smyth



Write Your Own Bird Watching Poem

What have you discovered about the species of birds, or other animals that share their world with you? I invite you to scroll up and reread “Bird Watching” again. Ciardi names sparrows, jay, junco, cardinal, and that one-time gorgeous yellow warbler. Who can you name? Who are you just beginning to know? Who are your favorites? Who fascinates you?

I invite you to consider what qualities and traits move you. It could be their colors and plumage, or how they act singly and within flocks. It could be what they eat and how they feed, their songs and calls, or the way they take flight. It could be all of the above. Who is speaking to your heart and how?

If birds aren’t near, what animals, plants and trees are present? Follow that energy!

Write a poem celebrating who you’re sharing early summer with. Feel free to respond to this email to share your poems. You could also post your poems in our private PON Commons. Let us celebrate the diversity of birds.



From left to right, a female Mourning Dove and a female Varied Thrush share the pebbly beach of the bird bath with a male Spotted Towhee on the far right. The Mourning Dove is brownish shades of grey with shocking pink feet. The female Varied Thrush wears a gold stripe above her eye. He throat and chest are the same vivid gold. Her wings have gold chevrons nested in storm cloud greys. The spotted Towhee wears a black head, back and tail. His black wings are spotted with white. He wears rusty red on his belly. There's curved stick between the base held between the cement bird bath and the base logs that hold the bird bath. The logs are silvery barked Douglas Fir. The birds are framed in green grass growing in the bottom third of the photo. At the center third is the brown duff beneath lush Evergreen Huckleberry thickets. They provide the lush greens in the top third of the photo.
A Diversity of Birds - Mourning Dove, Female Varied Thrush and Male Spotted Towhee Perch on Birdbath - Photo by NanLeah

“Birds are indicators of the environment. If they are in trouble, we know we’ll soon be in trouble.”

~ Roger Tory Peterson


Climate Destruction - What is True For You Right Now?

My heart goes out to each of you who are unable to be outside with Nature because you are suffering from heat domes, the constant smoke, and dire air quality from the 500 + Canadian wildfires. Right now, bird watching may be hazardous to your health and theirs! Isn’t that astounding? In my lifetime, I never thought I'd see my “time outs” in Nature preempted by our contorting climate.

Scientist's say that nearly 3 billion birds have gone from North America since 1970. How is your neck of the woods affected? For your second possible prompt, I invite you to write about your experiences with climate destruction. What's changing? What Beings are you not seeing? Who are you concerned about? I invite you to write a mindful poem about this. Express your interbeingness with Nature, just as everything is. This may feel deeply uncomfortable, so please be so very gentle with you.

As you can, try breathing and center in your body. When you’re ready, check in with your senses. What can sight, smell, taste, sound, and touch teach you about our precarious climate? What does your intuition tell you? What does your logic say? Globally, all of us are compelled to face and learn from the changes our human caused climate destruction brings. In this moment, in your bones, what do you know?

What I know this year is I find that writing haiku and senryu keep me in the moment. They help me find ways to explore my deep sadness and grief for the death of our Pacific Northwest rainforest. It's taken me a lot of courage to offer these to you. I hope that you'll respond to this email and share your poems and creative writing about how climate destruction is affecting you.

slow summer scorch

rusty rain of dying rainforest

do trees scream?

grief salts my cheeks

turning to the Great Hospice--

Earth's song falters


~NanLeah

* * *



A young pair of grey and red breasted American Robin siblings submerged in the bird bath holler at a young male Red Shafted flicker just as he lands on the pebbly beach. The Flicker's underside is dark grey with dots mottling along his undersides. He has a white patch over his rump that emphasizes his black tail. His wings and back are mottled with earthy black dots. His blaze orange feather vanes glow from his thrust back wings. His cheek is just turning red as he matures. He looks completely taken aback by the Robin's verbal assaults.
Robin siblings startle a young flicker as he lands on the birdbath.

“May my heart always be open to little birds who are the secrets of living”

~ e. e. cummings



Birds As Mirrors of our Lives

In closing, I feel called to keep Jay energy flowing. I offer you Stanley Plumley’s “Still Missing the Jays”. I’m appreciative of the witnessing presence and connections both Ciardi and Plumley share in their poems. Both authors feel so sensitive to the birds in their neck of the woods.

Plumley was such a keen observer and I love his poem because his vivid details invite me to hold up birds as mirrors in my life. He recalls exquisite details about Eastern Blue Jays, like this: "Such obvious, quarrelsome, vivid birds / that turn the air around them crystalline."

And this…

and there

it was, eye-level, looking at me, young,

bare blue, the crest and marking jewelry

penciled in, smaller than it would be

if it lasted but large enough to show

the dark adult and make its queedle

and complaint.

I also appreciate, how it feels like Plumley contrasts his age and vulnerability with that of the young Jay he’s just encountered. Consider for example:

I’d just climbed,

in my sixty-year-old body—with its heart

attacks, kidney stones, torn Achilles tendon,

vague promises of ulcer,

There’s the mirror I feel he’s held up for us. And, I love his final image, so tender and so tenuous, of his open hand.

For your final possible prompt, as we make our way through early summer, how can a bird be a mirror for you? How might you compare and contrast your life with that of a bird, or another Being? What details are true about your connections with the birds, your body, and your heart?

For the Birds!

NanLeah


Still Missing the Jays

Then this afternoon, in the anonymous

winter hedge, I saw one. I’d just climbed,

in my sixty-year-old body—with its heart

attacks, kidney stones, torn Achilles tendon,

vague promises of ulcers, various subtle,

several visible permanent scars, ghost-

gray hair, long nights and longer silences,

impotence and liver spots, evident

translucence, sometime short-term memory loss—

I’d just climbed out of the car and there

it was, eye-level, looking at me, young,

bare blue, the crest and marking jewelry

penciled in, smaller than it would be

if it lasted but large enough to show

the dark adult and make its queedle

and complaint. It seemed to wait for me,

watching in that superciliary way

birds watch too. So I took it as a sign,

part spring, part survival. I hadn’t seen a jay

in years—I’d almost forgotten that they existed.

Such obvious, quarrelsome, vivid birds

that turn the air around them crystalline.

Such crows, such ravens, such magpies!

Such bristling in the spyglass of the sun.

Yet this one, new in the world,

softer, plainer, curious. I tried

to match its patience, not to move,

though when it disappeared to higher ground,

I had the thought that if I opened up my hand—

~ Stanley Plumley


_____________________________________________________________________________


A blue grey Band Tailed Pigeon, outspread like an angel, prepares to lift off. Along its fanned mid tail is a storm gray band. Each tail feather is tipped in light grey. The pigeon wears an iridescent emerald patch lined with a thin white collar on the nape of its neck. Its head is light grey and its bill is a vivid yellow that matches its feet. Band Tailed Pigeons are the closest living relatives to the extinct Passenger Pigeons. There is a senryu poem on this photo that reads band tailed angel / victory joy on winglight / being of good cheer. Photo and senryu poetography by NanLeah
Band Tailed Angel

band tailed angel

victory joy on winglight

being of good cheer

~ NanLeah


“When you see birds flying from the sunset towards you, you will find it hard to convince yourself that they are not angels from heaven!”

~ Mehmet Murat ildan



Part of an American Robin eggshell lies on a bed of feathery dark green mosses sprinkled with rusty Douglas Fir needles.  The sky blue shell is mottled with purplish spots.
Spring's Break

“I’m youth, I’m joy, I’m a little bird that has broken out of the egg.”

~ James M. Barrie

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