Out of State Plates

The driver ahead of me hesitated
physically straddling the line between turning or not
as one does when a decision is uncertain.

It was a small car, road-dirty with out-of-state plates
and a single occupant, a man whose greying hair 
was visible in the early morning light.

As I would too, he pulled through the light in the turn lane
and it was curiosity, I confess, that soon had me alongside him 
for just a moment before pulling ahead.

Perhaps mid-60s, needing a shave but not a haircut.
A look of concentration with his left hand on the wheel
and his right clutching a sheet of paper.

A few moments later I looked for him in the mirror, but he was gone. 
Where was he going, this far from home?  
Where was I going, this close to home?

Shaking the thought, I slowed once more 
dutifully put on my signal 
and made a turn into the rising sun.

You Can’t Sneak Up on an Owl

It’s almost impossible to sneak up on an owl.

No, really.  Their eyesight is near the top of the charts. Their vision is better than ours during the day, and there’s that whole night vision thing they’ve got going for them.  

Their hearing?  Well, their hearing is enough to make one wonder why we even have charts.  They don’t need to see their prey in order to capture it — the sound of a rustle in the grass or even the beating of an excited heart is more than enough for them to locate their next meal.  

Owls don’t typically have much of a sense of smell, so that works in the favor of any would-be sneaker, but that’s about it. 

All of that said, I recently found myself wishing I could sneak up on an owl.  

An owl who was awaiting my arrival.

A hungry owl — an apex predator — who was waiting for me.

—–

Okay, really, I just needed to feed Max.

I’ve written before about the volunteer work I do with the RISE Raptor Project here in north Alabama.  We’re a small stewardship and conservation education organization that works with birds of prey to communicate our message to the public.

Those birds have to eat, and it was my turn to feed them.  Max’s food, though, was still frozen, so my presence — which should have meant dinner was about to be served — didn’t really mean a meal was imminent.  That’s why I wished I could bring my car up a gravel driveway, turn off the engine, shut the door, unlock and open the building he stays in, thaw his food, and go into his enclosure, all without him knowing I was there.  As if. 

He knew I was there.

Did he let me know he knew?  Yes.  

Did I thaw his dinner as fast as I could?  Yes.  

He gave me grief in the form of an impatient squawk until I finally fed him some 20 minutes later, but he did eventually get his well-thawed meal.  

Did he shower me with thanks afterward?  

Well, no, not really. He was quieter, though. I guess that counts.

Maximus, a Eurasian Eagle Owl

Picnic Table

A picnic table sits beneath a spreading white oak tree
just outside the building where I spend many of my days 
extending an unspoken invitation to all who walk past it.

Perched on a slight incline, it is bathed in deep, cool shade, and 
a breeze has, more often than not, accepted the invitation
and it, in turn, entreats passersby to do the same.

Were it not for the heavy chain tethering the table so close 
that the tree itself takes two of the end seats 
that haven on the hill would be perfect.

Enjoy the table, but don’t steal it.  Things are complicated.

Draft, May 2021

The Tower

“Do you want to climb the tower?”

“Sure.  Do you want to climb the tower?”

“Sure.  Let’s go.”

Honestly, in a lot of ways, it was as if we were kids looking at a roller coaster, saying, “I’ll do it if you do it!”

Except it wasn’t a roller coaster, and my mother and I weren’t kids.

—–

Dayton, Ohio, is a city with a lot of history.  I know there are a lot of cities with history, but Dayton is mine, so I’m a bit partial.  Part of the city’s history — and there is a lot — is embodied in what is known as the Callahan Clock.  

Until the late 1970s, this clock stood atop Dayton’s first tall building, the Callahan building.  When that building was taken down, the clock was removed from its 14 story perch and moved to another building near Interstate-75, giving it even more visibility to those moving through the city. 

That location was eventually torn down as well, and until two years ago the clock sat on the ground in Dayton’s historical Carillon Park, home of the Wright Brothers museum and its airplane, the Wright Flyer III.  (I told you Dayton had a lot of history–oh, yeah, the whole “birthplace of flight” thing.)

In 2019, the clock was placed atop a tower built in Carillon park just to hold it, a structure known as the Brethen Tower.

“The tower” that started this narrative.

Now, the tower itself isn’t necessarily a thing of beauty.  The clock is, but the tower is a simple structure made of I-beams and steel grating.

Therein lies a problem.

It’s 120 steps to the top, and every one of those steps is made of a rock-solid-no-way-you-can-fall piece of steel grating firmly welded to the structure itself.

Just because you can’t fall, though, doesn’t mean you can’t see through it.  As you climb it, there’s never a time when you’re not aware that you’re getting farther and farther from the ground.  I climbed it, and I’ve got the pictures to prove it, but that doesn’t mean I was comfortable doing so.

Once we were there, however, we were rewarded with a view of the downtown area as well as a fantastic vantage point from which my mom and I could look at another attraction: a bald eagle nest.  Currently occupied by a pair of eagles with three maturing eaglets, it’s a sight to see, perched at the top of a large sycamore tree on the edge of the park.

We came, we climbed, and we saw.

“Okay, I’m ready to go down now.”

“Okay, me too.”


The Callahan Clock, Dayton, Ohio

Bald eagle nest, Carillon Park, Dayton, Ohio

2021 Progressive Poem is Finished!

A few days ago, I posted about providing a line to this year’s Kidlit Progressive Poem. Organized this year by Margaret Simon of Reflections on the Teche, there were 30 different poets who contributed to the project. They are all listed after the poem.

In addition to the final line of the poem itself, Michelle Kogan created a beautiful illustration for the work. I don’t have permission to share the illustration, but it can be found on the poems archive page here: 2021 Progressive Poem. It’s beautiful, and definitely worth checking out!

Progressive Poem, 2021

I’m a case of kindness – come and catch me if you can!
Easily contagious – sharing smiles is my plan.
I’ll spread my joy both far and wide
As a force of nature, I’ll be undenied.

Words like, “how can I help?” will bloom in the street.
A new girl alone on the playground – let’s meet, let’s meet!
We can jump-skip together in a double-dutch round.
Over, under, jump and wonder, touch the ground.

Friends can be found when you open a door.
Side by side, let’s walk through, there’s a world to explore.
We’ll hike through a forest of towering trees.
Find a stream we can follow while we bask in the breeze.

Pull off our shoes and socks, dip our toes in the icy spring water
When you’re with friends, there’s no have to or oughter.
What could we make with leaves and litter
Let’s find pine needles, turn into vine knitters.

We’ll lie on our backs and find shapes in the sky.
We giggle together: See the bird! Now we fly!
Inspired by nature, our imaginations soar.
Follow that humpback! Here, take an oar.

Ahh! Here comes a wave – let’s hold on tight,
splashing and laughing, let’s play until night!
When the Milky Way sparkles, and the moon’s overhead,
we make a pretend campfire and tell stories we’ve read.

Some stories are true and some myths of our time.
I love all of them, but my favorite ones rhyme!
With windows to see other lives, other places
We’ll find and treasure a rainbow of faces.

When you open your heart to a new friend
kindness for another kindles and ascends


Here’s a list of everyone who had a part of this year’s project:

April 1 Kat Apel at Kat Whiskers 
2 Linda Mitchell at A Word Edgewise
3 Mary Lee at A Year of Reading
4 Donna Smith at Mainly Write
5 Irene Latham at Live your Poem
6 Jan Godown Annino at BookseedStudio
7 Rose Cappelli at Imagine the Possibilities
8 Denise Krebs at Dare to Care
9 Margaret Simon at Reflections on the Teche
10 Molly Hogan at Nix the Comfort Zone
11 Buffy Silverman 
12 Janet Fagel at Reflections on the Teche
13 Jone Rush MacCulloch 
14 Susan Bruck at Soul Blossom Living
15 Wendy Taleo at Tales in eLearning
16 Heidi Mordhorst at my juicy little universe
17 Tricia Stohr Hunt at The Miss Rumphius Effect
18 Linda Baie at Teacher Dance
19 Carol Varsalona at Beyond Literacy Link
20 Robyn Hood Black at Life on the Deckle Edge
21 Leigh Anne Eck at A Day in the Life
22 Ruth Hersey at There is No Such Thing as a God-forsaken Town
23 Janice Scully at Salt City Verse
24 Tabatha Yeatts at The Opposite of Indifference
25 Shari Daniels at Islands of my Soul
26 Tim Gels at Yet There is Method 
27 Rebecca Newman
28 Catherine Flynn at Reading to the Core
29 Christie Wyman at Wondering and Wondering
30 Michelle Kogan at More Art 4 All

Black Locust


“How do you know it’s a black locust?”

It was a sincere question
and
honestly
I had to think
for a few seconds 
before I answered.

The easy answer
the one I didn’t give
was it couldn’t be anything else.

With those compound leaves
it wasn’t any of the oaks
or maples
redbud was out of the question
as was beech
and tulip poplar.

With those leaflets
as small and numerous as they were
ash, hickory
box elder
buckeye and even pecan
were off the list.

But on that late April morning
it was more than just 
seeing what it wasn’t

It was seeing what it had to be.

With those dangling clusters 
of wondrous white flowers
laden with nectar, pollen,
and bumble bees

It had to be a black locust.
It couldn’t be anything else.

“It’s the flowers,”
I said with a smile.


Just a note:

I know and understand that most people don’t know how to identify the trees around them.  Or the flowers, shrubs, and grasses.  There are so many I don’t know . . . lots more than I do. 

In the early grades, we often use what’s known as “environmental print” to help students to read.  Environmental print is helpful because almost everyone, even children at a young age, can recognize it — it’s ubiquitous and you know it at a glance.  

When I learn with people — especially young people — outdoors, it’s my hope that they would develop a familiarity with the world around them.  Much like recognizing the M that is the golden arches, it would be great if, at a glance, we could recognize the plants and animals around us.  

To paraphrase Aldo Leopold, we can’t love what we don’t know.

Conflict

Man vs. nature
I would write in the margins
back when I was made
to do such things

I remember that
along with man vs. man 
and man vs. self
— conflict

Now, some forty years later
as I walk the trails
and see 
what I see

I wonder why
I never wrote
nature vs. man
I wonder why

back when I was made
to do such things

—–

Just a note: I understand we more-accurately say character instead of man these days.  This poem takes me back to the 70s.  A lot of things were different back then. (And a lot of things weren’t.)