A quiet sadness settles into the garden this morning,
A forlorn, end-of-life grief.
Roses once entwined in the trellis,
Their crimson petals peeking through the openings,
Now stripped of their beauty.
Impatiens with their salmon, deep rose, and pale pink petals
Have  thrived all summer in the shade under the pines,
Now close to gone,
Green leaves hiding a few lingering blooms.

But there, anchoring the edge of the garden,
There in the corner remains the glory of the coleus–
Painted nettle–
Its burgundy, velvety foliage outlined perfectly in pale green,
Determined, strong,
As lovely now as in its summer beauty,
Surrounded by a blanket of rusty brown pine needles.
No need for colorful blooms,
Its foliage all the show.
Not ready yet to let go,
Like the way we all hang on at the end,
Reluctance within our veins.

The coleus will die with the first frost.
It most likely knows that will come.
But for now,
For today,
On this cool October morning
Mid the languishing remnants
Of summer heat and cooling rain showers,
The coleus brings a moment of hope
Into the dying of nature.

© Barbara Flass 2011


What are they mourning about?

Every morning a pair of mourning doves visits the garden at the edge of the woods behind my house.  Since they are ground feeders, they like to pick at the birdseed that has been thrown onto the ground by both other birds and the squirrels that love the feeder attached to the tree.  In the spring I can hear their lament as they begin their courting time.  There is something soothing about the coo breaking into the silence of the cool early air.  After selecting a mate, the male is bound for life to the female.  He is the more striking in color of the two, as is common in the bird species.  Both are gray-brown with long tail feathers tipped in a little white and black.  The male has pale pink chest feathers and a bluish crown. She is plain gray-brown.  They have plump bodies and small heads.  They are both overwhelmingly beautiful, magical to watch.

Mourning doves build rather basic nests and take turns sitting on the eggs.  The male takes the day shift and the female takes the night shift.   They have set in motion their lifestyle of mating, claiming their territory, nesting, and raising their young.

As I watch them, I wonder about many things.  Are they happy with their choice of mate?  When the male is not on duty, is he off checking out the plumage of females other than his mate?  Is he tempted to stray?  Does the female sit there wondering if her mate will be late for his shift?   Does she get angry is he doesn’t sit just right when it is his time to protect the eggs?  Does she wonder if he loves her?  Is that mournful cry a sadness that they will spend their entire lives together having to accept each other’s flaws or is it a love song, a song of commitment, a song of acceptance and devotion?

I like the mourning doves.  I like that they mate for life.  I like their mournful cry.  I suspect there is much to learn from them.

Image: Liz Noffsinger /

Winter Morning in the Forest

Monday mornings in the forest in upstate New York are bleak and cold.  I no longer have to leave the house early in the morning to drive to work, but it’s not easy to be cooped up without purpose.   Yesterday was Super Bowl Sunday, so staying inside waiting for the game was relaxing.  Now I am looking for something comforting before today’s snowfall begins.

The roads are covered with ice.  Snowbanks make driving hazardous, and the snow is no longer pristine white but instead is gray and dirty.  Usually I can find comfort watching the birds at the feeders in the back yard.

Today one of my neighbor’s cats is sitting under one of the bird feeders waiting for breakfast.  She is a huge, fluffy calico cat, probably cute at moments in her life, but right now not so much.  I don’t see any birds, and this time of morning the little nuthatches and chickadees, my favorite birds, would normally be at the feeder attached to the kitchen window.  The morning doves would be gathering under the feeder attached to the tree and the woodpeckers would be pecking at the rough bark of dying pine trees looking for bugs or checking out the suet in the suet holder.

The squirrels are not bothered by the cat.  They have discovered the peanut holder hung on a pine tree farther back in the woods and one is hanging upside down at the suet feeder, enjoying his breakfast.  The cat has endless patience.  She has now moved over to a large snowbank near the peanut feeder and is standing motionless on the top of the snow, fluffy tail straight out behind her.  I’m not sure what that pose means.  Does she see a a bird I don’t?

She watches a squirrel pull a peanut out of the feeder and scamper away.  She makes a half-hearted attempt to pounce at him, but he’s fast.  He runs around a while with the peanut in his mouth.  The cat seems to be gone and then I see her head peek up over the top of a snowbank.  Still she knows an attempt to catch the squirrel would end in disappointment.  He scurries up a pine and is gone.

I want the cat to go home.  She is a frequent visitor to our backyard throughout the year.  The seasons mean nothing to her.  She doesn’t mind the snow or the heat of the summer.  She just waits and hopes for some kind of action, a little bit like me inside on a gray winter morning waiting for spring but without quite so much patience.  I hope she will be disappointed today.  I keep checking on her and the birds.  No action is happening in the forest behind my house today.  I miss the birds, but I’m comforted by their absence today as their enemy waits for them to arrive.

The Rescue

There is a lake near my house I passed by every day on my way to work and back home.  One day I saw a huge turtle trying to cross the road toward the lake’s edge and witnessed the following:

The Rescue

He inches in measured movement across the hot dry pavement
of the highway on a dangerous journey.
Soft unprotected head leads, beaded eyes focusing on a point ahead.
Angled legs splay out in arcs carrying the hard patterned shell along for the ride.
One lane conquered, he plods ahead unaware of imminent danger.
Suddenly metal swerves to avoid the obstacle, slows, and rescue comes.
A young man leaves his car, the woman remaining inside her own shell of protectiveness.
He runs to retrieve, grabs, lifts, holding arms straight out in front of him for his own safety.
The turtle now swims frantically in air, legs moving in agitated rhythm, and powerful
jaws open and snap together, cutting into the afternoon air.
The man sets him down on the first soft spot of sand he sees at the edge of the road.
Toes grip gritty grains as the turtle moves slowly into marshy reeds along the lake’s edge.
The journey is only partially over,  his destination unknown.
Danger may lurk near him still.
The young man brushes his hands together, swipes them across his jeans,
and smiling in relief and self-satisfaction, returns to his own shell.
He too continues a risky journey of life,
Destination unknown.

© Barbara Flass 2003

The Kittiwake’s Cry

Every Sunday morning on CBS, the news segment ends with a nature video.  The video is not accompanied by music, so the viewer gets to hear the sounds of nature against a silent background.  It’s a little like a minute of meditation, offering the same sense of peace.  One morning Charles Osgood featured the kittiwake, an Arctic bird almost never seen by human beings.  The videographer captured a rare view of these birds in all their beauty and serenity.  I was haunted by their lonely cry and solitary existence.

The Kittiwake’s Cry

Arctic ice crumbles,
chunks fall into heaps
followed by silence.
Then comes the cry of the kittiwakes.

Pure white against the ice
with wings colorwashed blue,
black tail lifted toward the sky,
each bird is part of a solitary community.

Man does not inhabit this place,
rarely views this place,
intrudes now to capture the scene.

(How many other scenes like this are there?
How many spiritual, lonely places,
serene and peaceful, unseen by the human eye,
are invaded by man?)

The beautiful white and powder-blue kittiwake
can live without mankind,
in truth prefers it,
unaware of how this rare intrusion
has enriched our lives.

Enduring their harsh, brittle environment,
warmed by soft feathers,
the kittiwakes live out their existence in solitude
and peace.

© Barbara Flass 2002