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Rabbit Nests

Now comes that time of year, midsummer approaching, when my sights turn from Niebuhrian incongruities, the capitalism/commons paradox and even my favorite poems to what pops up in front of my eyes, to startle and amaze, from the world of nature .

I wanted to grow in my whole back lawn, which, I learned, was illegal.  I could, however, “landscape” a “wild flower meadow” in part of my yard, so demarked a crescent with a little green wire fence and now all kinds of things are growing there – gill-over-the-ground, little blue heal-all blossoms, and delicately fluffy pink daisies among the timothy grasses:

And also, startlingly, rabbits.

A rabbit or two has always appeared on my lawn in the summer dusk, nibbling quietly. But when my “wild flower meadow” was all grown in a rabbit left the shelter of the back copse to wriggle out a shallow patch in it, all of the way down to the dirt:

This really piqued my curiosity, so I had recourse to that all-time great compendium of nature lore, our friend Google.

What I learned is that a cottontail rabbit likes to make an oval nest in the meadow grass. I thought maybe she laid eggs there but – silly me – of course that’s where she has her babies. My house being in a much lawned-over suburb, she must have found the sudden appearance of my genuine meadow entrancing, but, as it turned out, too exposed to human beings.

The mother rabbit doesn’t stay in the nest with her babies but leaves them alone all day and night, only nursing at dawn and dusk to protect them from predators. Instead, she weaves a lid composed of grasses and her own soft belly fur and places it over her litter for camouflage and warmth.

My own rabbit never used her meadow nest, probably sensing my entranced presence on my porch, far too near for comfort.  A couple of weeks later however,  I found this interwoven lid near the undergrowth at the back of my yard:

My back yard rabbits are our common Eastern Cottontail variety, but there has always been something quite uncommon – even magic –  about rabbits to the human mind. I thought mine would lay eggs because her nesting reminded me of the giant rabbit Goddess Eostre, from whom Easter derives its name, and she is only one of the March Hares and Moon Rabbits, sacred receptacles for our awe and wonder at nature, down through the ages.

 

 

Another Spring Poem

Coming a close second to Gerard Manley Hopkins’ spring poem I wrote about last week is e.e. cumming’s #65 (he had an anarchistic irreverence about capitals and titles), especially because it is a poem that the love of my life read out loud to me on the ocean voyage where we (so very romantically) met:

I thank You God for most this amazing

day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees

and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything

which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(I who have died am alive again today,

and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth

day of life and of love and wings and of the gay

                                  great happening illimitably earth)

……….

I taught poetry writing and appreciation for years, and on the first day of class I always asked my students to find a stethoscope and listen to their own heartbeats (alternatively, they could submerge themselves in a bathtub and get a friend to pound rhythmically on the outside). I wanted them to realize that poetry was not ultra-sophisticated and to be afraid of but as ordinary and familiar as their own heart beats, which go ta TAH ta TAH ta TAH in standard iambic pentameter.

The thing about Hopkins’ and cummings’ spring poems is that, when you read them out loud, you find a sequence of TAHs surrounded by a hodgepodge of tas in no such regular relationship.  It’s all in the accent, or downbeat, and that’s what makes their words leap around so festively.

It is spring, and we could certainly do with a bit of leaping around and festivity.

 

I like to play in yellow mud

all squishy-squash between my toes

I’d rather play in yellow mud

than smell a yellow rose.

 

(traditional children’s rhyme, in iambic pentameter)

Image

Spring Poem

I have always loved poetry, and I have always loved spring. Far and away my favorite poem in the world is Gerard Manley Hopkins’ “Spring”:

Nothing is so beautiful as spring –

When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush,

Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush

Through the echoling timber does so rinse and wring

The ear, it strikes like lightening to hear him sing.

Try reading it out loud.

Did you notice something about the sounds?

It is written in a Welsh poetic tradition full of alliteration (words starting with the same letter) and “internal” rhymes that occur within the lines as well as at the ends. And the words sound just like what they are describing – anyone who has heard our American Wood Thrush, a relative of the English variety, knows how its song really does “rinse and ring” through the forest canopy.

I was so in love with Hopkins’ Welsh prosody (Dylan Thomas’s as well) that I wrote my own poetry in it. Fame-wise, that was one big mistake:  in the sixties and seventies, when terse verbal minimalism was in fashion, I was often dismissed as “Tennysonian,”  too “nineteenth century.”

Oh well,  my poems sounded terrific when I read them out loud; I was quite popular on the poetry reading circuit and was once known as a “Georgia” and, later on, a “Wisconsin” poet.  sic transit gloria mundi.

 

 

Our Coyotes

It all began the first time I heard them calling back and forth to each other in the  northern Michigan night: first a yip, then another slightly away from the first, then a third to the rear, until I realized that it was a whole pack, signalling their positions as they stalked wild turkey.

They seemed exotic when they howled from a hillock, though more menacing when they padded down our gravel road on the scent of a Yorkshire Terrier.

coyote

Then they turned up downstate.  One frosty  morning  I was carrying a mouse in a bucket to set loose for a better life, when I realized I was not alone. There was a coyote padding along behind me, intent upon my bucket. I knew that coyotes don’t attack human adults but I decided he might make an exception to this little old lady so tantalizingly redolent of mouse; I took the coward’s way out, dumping my mouse to suffer nature’s less beneficent aspect before  hastening guiltily away.

Coyote, nonetheless, seemed  pleasant  suburban neighbors, like the rabbits and squirrels and chipmunks and possums that lighten my days. Then, one morning, a distinctly non-cute coyote trotted up my driveway on the trail of my neighbor’s indiscreetly yelping Chihuahuas.

It was taller and longer than any coyote I had ever seen, with a fluffy grey tail and healthy coat of  fur.  I realized it was a Coywolf, a new species created by the mating of wolves and coyotes in Canada that had recently arrived in Northern Michigan and now, it seemed,  were taking their place among us in the Detroit suburbs.

Coywolf

In “The Ever Wily Coyote” naturalist Cathy Wesley describes the Eastern Coyote, larger than its western cousin, as a Coywolf. When I queried her about this identification she replied that

the Eastern Coyote is actually a type of Coywolf, because it is the Western Coyote mixed with the grey wolf. . . Some people actually want to separate the Eastern Coyotes into its own species and call it Coywolf.”  Heron Tracks Volume 9 Number 4 Feb 2017.

I admire the way that nature morphs and varies. In this sad time of diminishing species, the coyote/coywolf story is a heartening display of adaption for evolutionary advantage.