Sedona Spirit: Turtle Walk

Sedona Spirit:  Turtle Walk

A dusty-gray turtle rests solidly on the slick surface of the dresser.
Carved smooth by a Navajo from Sedona, grooved edges the only sharpness,
he is far from home.
I imagine his slow crawl westward, his longing for the gritty feel of the
hot desert sand beneath his feet.
As he tries to dig his claws into the slipperiness beneath him,
he is motion in stillness.

Slow moving by nature, his turtle walk is meant to inspire me to slow the
frantic dance of my own feet.
I lift him in the palm of my hand, feet still struggling,
my dance now his.
When I look into his sad eyes, I see myself,
all I am and all I long to be.
I rub my fingers longingly, lovingly one last time over the hard,
smooth surface of his back,
and I set him free.

© Barbara Flass 2002


February Turkeys III

By now you might be tired of hearing about turkeys.  I am becoming obsessed with them.  Today we are getting a blizzard, creating a very difficult time for the turkeys.  They arrived in our backyard at their usual breakfast time, only to discover the snow had covered any remaining seed on the ground.  They huddled together, snow covering their feathers at a rapid rate.

I couldn’t stand to watch them.  I put on my boots and coat, grabbed a shovel and a bag of seed, and went out to the back yard, slogging through six inches of newly-fallen snow.  As soon as they saw me, they headed back into the woods.  I shoveled a path and scattered the black sunflower seeds on the ground in several places along the path.   Then I went back inside, hoping they would return.

After an hour, I checked the yard and there they were.  The problem was they were too far back in the woods.  They didn’t find the seed, although they seemed to be looking for it.  Then they headed back into the woods again.

I guess turkeys aren’t particularly intelligent, but I was truly disappointed that my efforts were for nothing.  The rapidly accumulating snow covered the seeds within the hour, and there was nothing more to do until the snow stopped.

Winters in upstate New York can be dreary and depressing.  This winter has been one of the worst ones in recent years.  Still I’ll take my entertainment wherever I can find it.  I have learned quite a bit about wild turkeys that I never knew before.  When the snow disappears, hopefully in a month or so, we will stop feeding them and let them seek  their own food.  That is when I suppose they will no longer be around for us to watch.  But I will certainly be on the lookout for them next winter, and I’ll be prepared with an adequate supply of food for all our woodland creatures.







February Turkeys Part II

If you are a fan of flocks of wild turkeys, you should feed them frequently.  They seem to like cracked corn and safflower seed, although I think that in the midst of this brutal winter, they would be happy to see anything resembling a seed.

One thing to remember:  if you feed them, they will stay.  As a child, I was constantly being warned not to feed stray cats and dogs.  Once I did, I was informed, they would become pets whether I wanted them or not.  I wanted them all, every stray cat and dog that wandered anywhere near my house.  I can’t say the same, however, for the flock of turkeys that have taken residence in our back yard.

The first sighting of them was a thrill.  Imagine!  Fifteen wild turkeys wandering around the bird feeders excited to discover we cared enough to feed them.  They may have been deceived into thinking the seed was actually intended for them, not the wonderful variety of birds we really wanted to feed.

The second day they returned, it was still a novelty.  They liked the seed we put out.  We were a success!  We began to spend far too many hours each day checking the back yard, looking for the turkeys.  They began to come mornings and then early afternoons.

We took a trip over the weekend to visit my daughter in New Jersey.  We were gone three days, but we left some extra seed out before we left.  I called my neighbor to tell her it would be her job to tend for our new pets while we were gone.  She was as fascinated by the turkeys as we were, and she was also spending a lot of time looking out her sliding glass doors, hoping they would come to her feeders.

We returned home too late to check the feeders on Sunday, but on Monday we began to look for them.  It started to snow overnight, and the next morning snow was falling steadily on what little bit of seed may have been left on the ground.  No turkeys came that day.  Part of me was hoping they had moved on to better feeding grounds. Many of the houses in our development have bird feeders in their back yards, so they should have many choices of eating places.  They were leaving quite of bit of bird poop all over the yard, so maybe it was time for them to go.

However, this morning there they were.  Where once we had counted fifteen turkeys, lately we only found thirteen.  Maybe we had counted wrong, I thought. Or maybe something had happened to two of them.  They tended to stay together as a group;  one even seemed to be in charge, watching them as they left the yard and wandered back into the woods, the last one to leave.  He seemed to be the guard or maybe he was the leader, appointed either because he was larger than the others or maybe just because he was male.

So tomorrow we will have to buy more seed.  We will continue to feed them as long as the winter remains in full force!  Once the snow melts, they can find their own food.  Maybe in another month they will be gone.  Spring will bring different birds;  the sight of the first robin (not just the winter ones) will bring hope for happier times.

Still, the turkeys have brought to us their own dose of joy.  They are a huge, tight-knit group, brought close together by their need for food and maybe safety.  They are welcome to stay until our hope for spring with its warmth and sunshine brings to us comfort of a different kind.

Winter’s Movement

Winter’s Movement

today a light drifting
yesterday a furious flurry
icing on fir trees
frozen on branches
bending under the weight.
Blue winter sky
a backdrop to mountains
snuggled beneath wintry blankets.
Silence like a soft breath
too cool to melt
winter’s movement.

February Turkeys

February with its cold and snow can be a depressing month UNLESS your back yard is full of turkeys.  Yesterday a flock of about fifteen very large wild turkeys strutted into our back yard looking for food.  Since we have several bird feeders and lots of squirrels as well as birds, there was a layer of bird seed on the ground in several places.  The turkeys came in from the woods, fed a while, and then moved across our neighbors’ yards looking for more food.  Wasn’t our food good enough, I wondered?  They headed for the road that ran through our development and I hoped any cars coming along would stop dead and let them pass.

An hour later the turkeys returned.  Aha! I thought!  Maybe our bird seed really is the best in the neighborhood!  After another half hour of feeding, they left our yard and wandered back into the woods.

I made a call to the state wildlife agency and after being passed along to several different people, was connected to an expert on turkey life.  (Really?  Someone specializes in that?)  He reassured me that this was normal behavior for wild turkeys this time of year.  A harsh winter and below normal temperatures sent them seeking food from bird feeders.  They are good scavengers, he said, and would be fine.

After they left, my husband went out to the back yard and put out more bird seed just in case they returned.  They did.  About 8:30 this morning, after I guess they had a relaxing night’s sleep somewhere in the back woods, they came for breakfast.  They are enormous and they travel together, quietly feeding, casual visitors to a place normally enjoyed by smaller birds and squirrels.  While they fed, no other birds came along.  The squirrels, however, behaving as squirrels always do, were undaunted by their presence and scampered happily about.  Half an hour later the turkeys were gone.

February is often a month of mixed emotions for me.  In February of 2004 I returned to teaching after a four-month leave to fight breast cancer.   During those winter months at home, I struggled with depression and fear, emotions which changed for me the day I witnessed a doe and two fawns come out of the woods to feed in our back yard.  I remember thinking that if I had not been home recovering, I would have missed that.  February of 2011 has been dreary,  and I often look for something to cheer me up.   Just like the deer that difficult winter, the turkeys have lightened my mood.

When I was diagnosed seven years ago in October, ironically Breast Cancer Awareness Month, my older sister had just been informed that her breast cancer, originally found four years earlier,  had returned.   We fought together a battle that was won by only one of us.  Since her death, I have struggled with survivor guilt and the feeling that something good had to come out of this.  I haven’t found much.  But then I remember how my sister, after her cancer diagnosis,  would go for long walks in the park near her house even during the winter, and I wonder if the beauty of winter gave her any solace.

On this gray February day as I look out into the snowy woods behind my house, I think of her.  I feel connected to the beauty of the deer and the wild turkeys, the woodpeckers, the chickadees and the nuthatches, even the crazy squirrels.

Spring will come once again without my sister in my life.  But her lesson to me, to find solace in the beauty of nature around me, will linger forever.

Love Poem on Valentine’s Day

I wrote the following poem about  my daughter and future son-in-law before their wedding.  I think it still applies to them after seven years of marriage, maybe even more so than before, and it sends a message to all lovers about the true meaning of love, especially on Valentine’s Day.

Love Poem on Valentine’s Day

He holds you when your world trembles
or when your heart aches.
He knows when to be silent
as you rage against injustice
and when to offer words
of comfort and support.
He is your rock against the
stormy waves.

She smiles when you enter the room
and your heart sings in response.
She touches your arm
when your insecurity surfaces.
She knows how you feel
even when you can’t express it.

In spite of angry words,
tears, and hurtful actions,
love is the thread between you
linking your hearts forever.

You are no  longer separate
even in separateness.

© Barbara Flass 2001

Teaching Students to Write a Poem

One of the most difficult areas in teaching students to write is getting them to write poetry.  Actually, I don’t think it’s possible to teach someone to write a poem.  There is no magic formula.  It is possible, however, to help students improve their poems.  It’s always a challenge to begin a poem.  For me, I have to have an image or a specific line that comes to me at a moment when I am not trying to write, many times in the middle of the night or early in the morning.  For students, an assignment to write a poem usually ends up being time spent staring at a blank page or looking around the room to see what other students are doing.  Only a few students in each class can write poetry easily.

In the beginning of every year, I started my seventh grade students off with a simple poetry assignment–a list poem.  The challenge in this assignment is to get students to go beyond the initial list of things to creating lines that resemble poetry.  They tend to write something resembling a grocery list.   First I had them make a list of things they liked.  It could be a mixture of serious and funny things.  Then I had them add adjectives and prepositional phrases to the lines.  For example, if one item on the list was “snowboarding,” they could revise the line to say “snowboarding in the silence of an early morning snow.”  Then they needed to work on the arrangement of the lines.  I had them group similar items together, choose a line for the beginning,  and then find the one line that said the most, the one they connected to the most, the one that seemed to be the culmination of the entire list.  That was the last line.

This assignment usually is fun for students.  I always shared with them my own list before they began to write.   I showed them my first list, then a revision, and finally my final draft so they could see the process involved.  Then they worked on their own list poem and at the end of the class I asked for volunteers to share their lists.  Usually students do not want to share their writing, but this assignment offers many students the chance to read their poems in an nonthreatening environment because they haven’t had to rhyme or work on rhythm or create some flowery images.  It’s just a list of their personal favorites, and it’s fun for them to read them.

Here is a draft of one of my own list poems so you can see how it works:

What I Love

Powerful ocean waves
the cries of seagulls
the sunrise over the lake
foggy mornings
falling leaves that swirl in the wind
chickadees and nuthatches at the bird feeder
squirrels chasing each other in the woods
the first snowflakes of winter
white Christmas lights and cheery music
stained glass windows in church
the church bells chiming on Sunday morning
my Aussie greeting me when I come home
my cat purring softly next to me
the warmth of a fleece blanket on a cold winter night
the sound of my granddaughter crying.

I rearranged this list many times.  I first tried to capture all five senses.  (Encourage students to try to connect to what they see, taste, hear, smell, and touch.)  I found that I could arrange my list somewhat in order of the seasons–summer, fall, winter.  I went from being outside to the coziness of inside.  The last line was a problem for me at first, but when I connected to the sound of my new granddaughter, it became obvious to me that that line was the strongest.

As you can see, the poem is not meant to be one that other readers will necessarily connect to.  I think a good poem should point out to the reader something new or get the reader to feel something he didn’t feel before, something that doesn’t usually happen here because the poem is so personal, but this exercise can free students from the fear of writing a poem.  It’s fun, and it also gives the teacher some insight into the personalities of  her students.  I hope you will try this yourself and with your students!