Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Aprill Shoures

"If April Showers bring May Flowers, What do Mayflowers bring? Pilgrims!"

Ha ha! That's always been one of my favorites!

I have mentioned before that I was an English major in college. I was interested particularly in the history of English and medieval studies--the Anglo Saxons and the Vikings. Don't ask my why--it just seemed cool. One of the courses I took along the way was a semester-long reading of The Canterbury Tales in Middle English. My course was taught by a fabulous professor, Donald Rowe. He was gruff, demanding and could be intimidating. But I adored him. He was an expert in Middle English Literature. And when he talked about Chaucer, it was wonderful! That course was a memorable experience for me and I was disappointed when we reached the end of the book and the end of the semester. One of Professor Rowe's requirements for the class was that we had to memorize the first 18 lines of the Canterbury Tales and recite them for him in his office. We were graded on memorization as well as pronunciation, so we were expected to listen to tapes and practice. (I was amazed to find this version on youtube--what don't they have there? The phonetic translation is a little off, but the accent sounds just about like I remember.) I was proud that he complimented me on my pronunciation, though this was the first and only time that anyone said I had a good Middle English accent. He joked to the class and said that we might not remember anything else from his course, but 10 years in the future, we'd still be able to recite those first 18 lines. Well, it's been more like 20 years for me, and I can still do it. And, in fact, when April rolls around each year, those lines weave in and out of my consciousness as I recall elements of the poetry. This April is nearly over, and seeing that it is Earth Day today, I feel that I need to honor the insistent memory of April, the Canterbury Tales, and Professor Rowe.

(These lines are from my textbook, edited, translated and annotated by Robert A. Pratt)

Here bygynneth the
      book of the 
tales of Canterbury

Whan that Aprill with his shores soote                      soote: sweet
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in switch licour                  veyne: vein, sap vessel. switch: such. licour: sap
Of which vertu engendered is the flour;
Whan Zephirus eek with his sweete breeth               Zephirus: the west wind. eek: also
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth                        inspired: breathed on , quickened. holt: wood
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne                 croppes: shoots
Hath in the Ram his half cours yronne,                     yronne: run
And smale foweles maken melodye,                        foweles: birds (pronounced "fools")
That slepen al the nyght with open eye
(So priketh hem Nature in hir corages);                    priketh: spurs. hir:their. corages:hearts 
Than longen folk to goon on pilgrimages,                goon: go
And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes           straunge: foreign. strondes: shores
To ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes;              ferne: distant. halwes: shrines. kowthe: known
And specially from every shires ende
Of Engelond to Canterbury they wend,
The hooly blissful martir for to seke,
That hem hath holpen when that they were seeke.   hem: them. holpen: helped. seeke: sick

Roughly translated by me, this says that when April's sweet showers end the drought of March and fill the veins of the trees and plants with flowing sap, giving us flowers, and when the west wind breathes life into tender shoots, and when the year is just coming to life again in the spring, and the small birds sing and stay awake through the night because Nature has struck them lovesick, then this is the time that the people want to head out on pilgrimages, seeking meaning and cures at the holy shrines.

For me, April is the time that I see signs of those first lines everywhere. The "shores soote" came again just last week and "bathed every veyne in swich licour".
April Showers--Raindrops on Redbud leaves
"Of which vertu engendered is the flour".

Bring May Flowers--Sweetshrub (Calycanthus floridus)
And I see signs of Zephirus's "sweete breeth" in the "tendre croppes" in the yard as the new plants come to life and grow. Especially some of the plants that send up thick shoots, like the Coralbean.
Tendre croppes--Sprout from Coralbean (Erythrina herbaceae)
But the part I think of most often is the "smale foweles maken melody" because I wake happily each morning to a "small fool" Carolina Wren calling "teakettle, teakettle, teakettle" next to our bedroom window.
Smale foweles--A Baby Carolina Wren cheeps in the bushes all day long!
And often I will wake to the sound of Mockingbirds and toads calling through the night. Nature hath "priketh hem in hir corages", all right! Nature pricks all our hearts at this time of year. There is new life all around--flowers, caterpillars, spiders, tadpoles, armadillos, grebes and even horses.
Brand new batch of Pipevine Swallowtail Caterpillars

Spiderlings on Lyre-leaf Sage

Great Big Tadpole

Baby Armadillo exploring

Pied Billed Grebe and Chicks

Baby Horses and their mothers, nursing
We all feel joyful and full of life in the spring. And now is the time to start new adventures and growth. Here's to Spring! Happy Earth Day, Pilgrims!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Come Together

Cinnamon Fern Fiddlehead (Osmunda cinnamomea)
I get my blog topics from lots of sources. Surprising encounters, sudden inspirations, beautiful moments, special occasions, just to name a few. I'm always on the lookout for a new idea and usually have a few vague thoughts bubbling on the back burner. Sometimes it's really clear where I should go with the idea. Sometimes I can't quite figure how to lay it all out. Today is like that. I've been thinking a lot about several unrelated experiences, wondering how to or if I should share them. I think I will, anyway.

So it all started about 2 weeks ago when I was working in my garden and found the dead, dried body of a Pine Woods Snake, smashed on the path. I was really sad to see it because I find only one or two in the yard each year and thought, "there goes my shot this year". Selfish, I know, but I really look forward to seeing them. They are uncommon little snakes, harmless, dainty and shy, and surprisingly, our urban yard is a good habitat for them. What makes this especially tragic for me is that the mailman and I are just about the only people who walk on the path in our front yard, so chances are about even that I was the one who squashed it. So even in a lovingly created and nurtured nature sanctuary, the nature is not always safe.
Dead Pine Woods Snake
Then a week or so later, I was working in the yard again, finally trimming those bushes that I'd been waiting for warm weather to prune. I have 3 clumps of Plumbago in the front yard that have gotten big and rangy since we haven't had a hard freeze for a while. I had cut back one and was cleaning up for the day when I saw some movement on the vine on the ground close to the next clump of bushes. Big, fat Pipeline Swallowtail caterpillars were munching away on the Pipevine that is growing all around the area. I didn't even know the butterflies had been in the yard yet this season, let alone laying eggs!  A couple of days later I went back to see how the caterpillars were doing and found no sign of them, which could mean a couple of things. Either they had been eaten, or, more likely, they had climbed into some safe place to pupate. The obvious safe place was the clump of Plumbago right next to the vines, the one that I had hoped to tackle next in my big yard spruce up. So now I have a dilemma. Do I continue trimming so that the front yard looks symmetrical, or do I wait for the new butterflies to emerge from their chrysalids? It seems pretty obvious to me, now that I know what might be in there. I will wait for the butterflies and the yard will look a little lopsided for a while. In addition, the summer's first wave of baby birds recently hatched in the azalea bushes, so I'll need to wait to trim there, too. Anxious Carolina Wren and Cardinal parents flutter around me, making alarm calls when I walk too close. I'll make them sick with worry if I get in there with my clippers.

Wooly Pipevine (Aristolochia tomentosa)

Concerned Cardinal
Then yesterday I was driving through town, taking my mother-in-law to some errands and appointments, when we saw flashing police lights in the road ahead. I moved over, figuring that there had been an accident. Since it was close to campus, I was fearful that a bicycle had been involved. But I was totally unprepared for what I saw--a bald eagle sitting in the road, with police cars on the side directing traffic away from it. It was so unsettling to see this beautiful bird, injured and on the ground. It was alert, although it was on the road and holding its wings in a strange position. I hoped that it could be successfully rescued and rehabilitated, but I couldn't tell from the drive by. Still, I was shaken. My mother-in-law can attest to this, as I was so preoccupied with the injured eagle that I almost missed our turn a couple of miles later. I later learned that the eagle was able to fly off. Apparently it was chasing or was chased by crows through traffic and had been clipped by a car. What a shock that must have been to the driver, and to the eagle! It was a relief to know that it had survived. But it might not have turned out so well. Eagles get hit all the time.

Before I knew the eagle was ok, I needed to go somewhere to process my shock. I went to a wooded area behind a nearby strip mall/medical park/apartment complex and stewed over the plight of the eagle. It didn't take long in the woods before I felt better. I saw a turtle and a number of lovely birds, including a Pileated Woodpecker that I watched from just inside the bushes. The woods were a refuge for those animals and for me. But they were also strewn with trash, and I could hear the roar of lawn mowers and smell engine exhaust from the parking lot yards away.
Pileated Woodpecker

Trash in the Sanctuary
Last week I found and photographed a beautiful Grass Pink orchid in a conservation land area. I shared photos of the plant in my various online sharing groups, but I have learned that I have to be careful not to say exactly where I find rare flowers because collectors might use the information to go dig up the plant. Weeks before this, a friend shared photos and the location of a beautiful bird nest with eggs. But other people cautioned against giving locations of wildlife nests and dens for fear that all the attention of interested gawkers and photographers could scare off the parents.
Grasspink Orchid (Calopogon multiflorus)
My friend stopped traffic on a busy intersection last week while she rescued a turtle crossing the road. She used her car door to block the lane and made sure the turtle was out of harm's way. When people realized why they couldn't pass, they waited patiently. It's Florida, after all, and this happens all the time.

This weekend when I was driving home from the grocery store I looked through the windshield and saw this:
Anole on the Wipers
A brown Anole had taken refuge under the hood of the car and was riding on my windshield wipers. I pulled over and tried to catch it, but the lizard ran away and hid under the hood again. There wasn't really anything I could do at that point but continue on my journey. There is a chance that the lizard flew off the car and into the street somewhere, or maybe it is still safe in the engine compartment.

5 Florida Panthers have been hit and killed by cars so far this year, and a beloved Red-Tailed Hawk in Massachusetts was found dead last week, an unintentional victim of rat poison. A Florida woman was injured when she went outside and found 5 bears rummaging through her trash. Several of the bears were killed by FWC to prevent other incidents.

To top it all off, I had an odd dream the night before last. Before I saw the eagle in the road, but after the snake and turtle. I dreamt that there was a hawk sitting on the floor of my house. It was lying in a strange position, all tangled up. I wasn't sure if it was hurt or not. I picked it up, knowing that I had to be careful with the sharp talons. I held it in my arms, grasping its legs like I would a baby. It seemed comforted as I held it close. I remember noting that it felt soft, like a cat or a rabbit.

I don't know where that dream came from. I don't believe that it was a message forewarning me about the eagle. But I do think that the dream represented somehow my view of the relationship that humans have with nature in our daily lives. I think I am concerned about caring for the world around me. I worry a lot about the fate of animals like the whooping crane, the polar bear, elephants and rhinos. Panthers and bears and hawks. I fear that our last wild places will be exploited and torn apart in the interest of money, power and greed and that our exploding populations will use up all the resources that all the creatures on the earth have to share. But I also believe that most humans care about protecting the natural world. I believe people acting intentionally can live alongside of the natural world in relative harmony, if we want to. We just have to be careful and thoughtful. Accidents will happen, no matter what we do, but if we try even a little it makes the chances of doing harm all that much smaller.

It makes me happy to know that I live in a place where traffic will stop to protect an injured eagle, and that the story will make the front page of the paper. I like to know that a turtle in the road has a chance if the right person finds it. It fills me with hope to know that people are so eager to see a bird nest and its contents. I love that I live around urban park refuges, tiny snakes, wild orchids, hungry caterpillars and car surfing lizards. I am thankful for groups that clean up trash, pull exotic plants and study wildlife. I applaud scientists and engineers that are finding ways for us to live together on this planet, leaving a smaller footprint. I am encouraged by environmental educators who want to teach a new generation to care about nature.

We just have to be mindful that we are sharing this planet and know that what we humans do might have bigger consequences. We have great responsibilities. With Earth Day just around the corner, this seems relevant and I think that is how it all comes together.