The purple flash

It’s literally impossible to describe a moment of ecstasy and being swept up into that “at one with the universe” feeling that I experienced yesterday near sunset on the Trinity River. It’s impossible because it has to be experienced. That said, here’s part of what I experienced, set down in words.

 

There’s a phenomenon

that occurs when the sun sets

into the ocean, as you gaze west,

from the level of the water’s surface.

 

It happens in an instant.

For just a second, the light is refracted

and the orange glow of the sun turns green,

thus the name it’s been given:

the green flash.

 

Yesterday I took an outlandishly long walk

from my house to the sturdy wooden benches

set on limestone slabs where a channelized creek

flows into the Trinity River.

 

By the time I arrived,

the sun was moving toward the horizon.

A great blue heron and a great egret

fished the waters below me in the river.

Barn swallows swept past me from the far bank of the creek,

off to one side of the point of the triangle of land high above the river

where I sat in the shade of a hackberry,

its branches on either side me, providing cool shade

and moving gently side to side.

 

I was swept up into a pattern of blessedness,

subsumed into the breeze, the birdsong,

the sight of starlings playing in the river below

and mallards and blue-winged teal dabbling nearby,

when the number of birds in flight nearby seemed to double

and a pair of mallards swept by me,

flying right past the point, just above eye level.

As they did the bright green of the two breeding-plumaged males’ heads

flashed, for only a moment to bright metallic purple,

a slight difference in the refraction patterns of the light:

the purple flash.

Mid-day eclipse under an arbor and through quails’ eyes

These two happened during the same eclipse. Crescents formed from dappled sunlight in the shade of trumpet vines on a trellis, while the quail mom and her brood first emerged and then sought protection under bushes when the sun began to set, then chose to rise again.

 

Eclipse under an arbor of trellised vines

 

Crescents of pure light

cluster under the trumpet vines.

 

Magic circles with bites in their sides,

bitten fruit of the passing eclipse.

 

A garden of three-quarter-moon lights

appearing here for a few minutes

before resuming their roundness.

 

Starfish suns

with marvelous powers of regeneration.

 

Quail note the eclipse and its passing

 

Thinking it dusk

in the middle of the day,

a family of quail,

 

emerge, single file,

from the small circle of bushes

 

to run, in rushing quail fashion,

out across the lawn,

only to be surprised

when the seeming dusk gives way to dawn

 

and afternoon light pushes

the mother and her brood

back into the shade, confused.

 

 

A perfect morning: Outer Banks, Ocracoke Island

The ancestors of the residents of Ocracoke Island had themselves been shipwrecked here off the coast of the Carolinas’ Outer Banks. After that they became — at least some of them — land based pirates, setting false lights to guide trading ships into the shallows where they would founder and break up, spewing their trade goods into the sea where these islanders could reap a crop of not-quite-stolen goods. Salvaged goods, I believe they would have said, here on the shores of the graveyard the Atlantic.

 

A perfect morning

softly seated in the dunes,

string of black skimmers

 

sweeps across the pool

of isolated water,

our private air show

 

in the Outer Banks.

When we get to Ocracoke,

we’ll see wild horses,

 

descendants of ones

lost to their Spanish owners,

now corralled, once free,

 

running the beaches,

graveyard of the Atlantic,

having released them

 

where later locals

sometimes lured the ships to shore

— at least to shallows —

 

where they’d break apart

and remnants of their cargo

would yield goods to trade.

 

Deceptive lanterns,

plowing and seeding the sea,

bringing a harvest,

 

rendering the sands

as fruitful as any fields.

Planters of the sea.

 

In a restaurant

we hear the accent we’ve sought.

One of the busboys,

 

voice tinted English,

kept pure through isolation,

remnant of the past

 

when those who settled

first came to these shores themselves,

their own ships broken.

 

 

Confluence of colors, Japanese Gardens

The annual Japanese Festival at Fort Worth’s Japanese Gardens brought me to a line of sight that included birds of green and fish in scales of gold, white and red, and across the very large, flowing koi pond, Buddhist monks clothed in flowing golden robes, their reflections rippling off the backs of the koi. Memorable.

 

Green-backed heron chicks

dancing down the branches of

a low, long-leafed pine

 

stretched over waters

where giant koi, gold and white

swim in sparkling light.

 

The water reflects

brilliant orange Buddhist monks’ robes.

Gold on gold on gold.

 

 

 

 

 

On sea glass time

The McFadden National Wildlife Refuge had been opened up for the hunting season and guys in camouflage gear kept popping up out of reeds beside ponds. I was wearing a bright yellow windbreaker and probably looked like law enforcement to them, at least that’s how they seemed to respond to me. Despite the sporadic shotgun fire at rising ducks, I didn’t feel much fear, given the range of most shotgun pellets and my bright rainproof gear.

 

Up to my wheel hubs

in the loose Texas beach sand,

I’d done my birding

 

just after first light,

content to take my ease now

till I could get help.

 

I walked the shoreline

finding first shells, then beach glass

formed from old bottles.

 

Bits of blue and green,

white and lilac, washed up here,

scoured to frosted,

 

all sharp angles gone,

rounded edges all around,

like the elderly

 

softened by times’ wear,

like a worn pair of blue jeans,

comfortable now,

 

ready for the slide,

the fade to disappearance,

chips of glass and bone,

threads without color.

 

 

Of drought and vultures

This was the largest gathering of black vultures I’d ever seen, and perhaps the saddest. The deep drought had brought a massive kill-off of the animals in Mineral Wells State Park. They were here for the clean-up work.

 

Hundreds of black vultures

cruise and wheel

on the updrafts

ascending from the ridge we meet on,

here miles from the trailhead.

 

“Only animal life I’ve seen all day,”

I say to the two young men.

 

One wears a headband, carries a walking stick.

Their gear is trail-worthy,

and I take encouragement

to see guys in their 20s here.

 

“Good enough for me,” he says,

both of us referring to the flocks of vultures.

 

He doesn’t know this place.

He doesn’t know this park’s abundance

of deer and armadillos, coyotes,

turkeys, bobcats, and more,

most nocturnal, shy, invisible.

 

He doesn’t know that each trip should flush deer

in several regions of the park.

That bird song should have

accompanied our separate

but intersecting paths.

 

He can’t have smelled,

across many dry summer seasons

the rank smell of death

one frequently senses

in times of deep drought,

made the connection

to the floating, white-wing-tipped

carrion birds

that fly above us and off

to the south side

of the ridge we walk on.

 

If he knew a bit more of this place,

flocks of carrion birds

would not be enough for him,

as they are not enough for me.

 

 

Starlings on the road to Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge

I’ve not come across a term for this multi-faceted approach to describing a sight in multiple haikus,  but I call them haiku strings. If you come away thinking it must have been a dramatic sight, you’ve got the idea. It was a big tree, and there were hundreds of starlings, not one out of place — and it was six days before Christmas.

 

Tree beside the road

decked with widely spaced starlings

like a Christmas tree.

*******

Starlings on branches

so evenly spaced they seem

to have been hung there.

*******

Roadside Christmas tree

hung with globes of black starlings,

sparse decorations.

*******

These starlings placed here

by a decorator’s hand

have been spaced just so.

*******

When the starlings lit,

strewn among these tree branches,

they each hit their mark.

*******

Orderly starlings

must have touched others’ wing tips

as they filled this tree.

*******

Fussy old starlings

thought they’d decorate this tree,

making selves globes.

*******

These artful old birds

have decorated the tree

with feathered black balls.

*******

Ornaments well spaced,

starlings dot the roadside tree

decked out for Christmas.

 

 

 

Blue and snow geese and grasshoppers

Parts of Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge on Lake Texoma have working oil wells with grasshopper pumps drawing fuel from the earth. A network of limestone roads leading to wells near the shore of the lake crisscrosses this area providing ponds and pools lined with cattails and reeds. All this makes an ideal habitat for geese, ducks, and other migratory water birds attracted by hundreds of acres of planted grains a half mile away on the refuge.

 

Three thousand snow geese

ranging from gray to all white,

gathered in a pond,

 

squawking and raucous,

a muted, persistent sound,

rising and falling

 

as these rafts of geese

find sustenance upside down

raking the bottom

 

of this near shore marsh

created by oilfield roads,

drilling rig access

 

integrated with

national wildlife refuge

on Lake Texoma,

 

a contradiction

I’ve learned to take for granted,

one that seems to work.

 

Geese don’t seem to know

grasshopper pumps and wildlife

aren’t go-togethers.

 

 

A December afternoon’s catch

Sunday’s walk on the Trinity River brought me a view of three pair of hooded mergansers, just at sunset. When the males raise their crowns, a white stripe running from the front to the back near the tops of their heads becomes a fan of white feathers. The females have swept back crowns of brown-gold feathers that have the look of an empress’s coiffure. Apparently three royal families were present on the Trinity.

Five kinds of ducks,

three dozen seagulls,

and a lone kingfisher

chattering in his straight,

but lilting flight.

 

Each rush of swift wings

followed by a gentle

drop

before the next staccato

burst of feathers

and voice.

 

A lone great blue heron,

its twin-curved wings

mirrored in the

calm surface of

the river

as it flies,

suspended above

the water at

the same consistent height,

as though the occasional

sweep of those

great wings was

not really necessary,

so effortless

his

glide.

 

Rocky Mountain valley in the dead of night

Dan and I had done a day trip from Denver to Rocky Mountain National Park. After a day of viewing mountain peaks, driving through 14-foot walls of snow banking the park road, and viewing wildlife, we had headed back along the twisting road that connects the park to I-75.

 

Pushing along

a narrow highway,

threading its way

down the course of

a valley

in the Rocky Mountain

foothills.

 

Crossing and re-crossing

the slender river

that formed

the valley,

my friend and I

talked of a thousand things

long since forgotten,

both of us aware

the valley was a

place of beauty

that would take

our breaths away,

if we were traveling

in daylight.

 

Both of us content to

talk of the day’s

hiking among elk

and hummingbirds,

viewing a hundred-yard

long beaver dam,

avoiding  getting caught

by a snowstorm

the other side

of the Continental

Divide.

 

And glad that the

weaving of the headlights

over bridges and past

villages would

knit us a path

back to Denver

and a night’s rest

before heading home.