climbing the mountain

a new cloud
almost in bloom

Climbing the side of the mountain toward sunset yesterday, I made it up the steep part to be greeted by the first blossoming (or almost blossoming) shadbush, that iconic Appalachian denizen of the understory with the proliferation of names: shadblow, serviceberry, sarvis, etc. Is the photo over-processed? Perhaps, but in my defense I’m simply trying to reproduce what I most appreciate about blossoming shadbush aesthetically, the way it contrasts with the otherwise still mostly bare, unadorned woods.

April wood turtle

seeking shade

I’m embarrassed to admit how long it took me to get this right in GIMP. (This is the main problem with FLOSS, isn’t it? The uber-geeks who volunteer their time to develop open-source software don’t tend to see much value in creating quick and easy shortcuts for dummies, as commercial software developers do.) After trying a couple of other brush-calligraphy fonts, I settled on this one—Beyond the Mountains—for superior legibility. And only belatedly realized that the bare-twig shadows on the shell needed space, and shouldn’t simply be merged into the calligraphy as I originally wanted to do.

I flirted with the idea of treating the text like a personal ad, but who under the age of 30 even knows what that is?

This wood turtle was out and about in a place near here called the Barrens a little more than a week ago, so possibly actually late March. It’s all a goddamn blur.


the mountain’s timeless
spring fashions

A haiku prompted not merely by the image but by the specific processing I decided to give it. So then of course I needed to use an old-fashioned font, too. Somewhere in the editing, “fashion” became “fashions” and I decided to stick with that.

what flutters

in the leaf litter

This one’s a little high-concept, I guess. I like the way that hepaticas face in all directions, and imagined them trying to ask Marie Kondo’s iconic question about their environment: What sparks joy? A web search turned up a post at about the Japanese verb she uses, tokimeku

In Marie Kondo’s books, spark joy is a loose translation of the Japanese word ときめく(tokimeku), literally “to flutter,” “to throb,” “to palpitate,” or “to beat fast,” as your heart would when it feels excited.

Now, I’ve forgotten more Japanese than I ever knew, but I still do know how to use a dictionary and such, so with some tinkering around I came up with a translation that even manages to adhere to the traditional 5-7-5 haku pattern. (If anyone more conversant with the language wants to correct me, please feel free!) Hepatica nobilis is a five-haku word, misumisō:

rakuyō ni nani ga tokimeku misumisō

As for the English original, I ultimately ended up changing “sparks joy” to “flutters” so the whole Kondo connection becomes more a feature of the process than the final product. Is it a great haiku? Nah. But it makes me smile.

UPDATE (7 April): Swapped in the kanji for misumisō (hepatica/s), 三角草. Thanks to my old friend David K. Groff, translator of The Five Rings, for the advice (and for confirming that the haiku was otherwise sound).

water gap

hand holding up a blue-and-white-glazed shard of pottery against a background of bare trees and a mountain outlined against the blue sky

a cellar hole open
to the sky

Plummer’s Hollow Run empties into the Little Juniata River where it flows through Bald Eagle Ridge at Tyrone — a classic Appalachian water gap. There’s a ghost village there, Upper Tyrone Forge: 200-year-old cellar holes from the charcoal iron era. The last two houses were still standing when my family moved here 50 years ago, when I was five. My brothers and I spent many a happy hour digging for old bottles in the woods.

I wondered about leaving the word “hole” out as not entirely necessary, but whenever I’m unsure about word choice I always default to my ear and my ear said keep it.

April woods

the sun and I on
the same path

Before the trees leaf out in spring is an exciting time in the eastern forest, when so many ephemeral wildflowers rush to open and get pollinated before the shade closes in, giving hikers an incentive to get out there even as we risk sunburn.

I’ve already forgotten the name of this font, but getting the color as close as possible to the sunlit part of the leaf seemed essential to the ku’s insight.


to warm up your engine
solitary bee

This rusty iron “flower” at the edge of my friend L.’s yard has always fascinated me. Today it got me thinking about the mechanistic metaphors often used to describe nature, as well as the early pollinators of spring. To paraphrase Philip K. Dick, do iron flowers dream of mechanical bees? But real bees are “engineered” by evolution so ingeniously that humans would have a hard time replicating them:

The major cold weather adaptations of bumblebees in general, and of the arctic bees in particular […] are the mechanisms that allow them to raise their body temperatures and to be active when the weather forces other insects into a deep torpor. The shivering of their flight muscles generates heat in the thorax up to 60 degrees F above the air temperature. Like all other bumblebees so far investigated, arctic bumblebees require a flight muscle temperature of at least 86 degrees F in order to fly. But flight is clumsy at such muscle temperatures, and fast-flying bees need to heat up to at least 95 degrees F. Being able to shiver, to heat up, and to fly so early in the season means being able to go out and bring back nectar and pollen to the colony. This allows colonies to grow during the cold nights as well as during the days.

Bernd Heinrich, Bumblebee Economics

favorite childhood spot

that rusty bucket

And I do miss it! This is just over the line onto a neighboring property, where at some point someone must’ve decided to get tidy. I hate when that happens. Old galvanized steel buckets just want to go slowly back to the earth. I used to sit on that one and admire the hawthorns and mayapples, which will soon carpet this area once again. (Have I mentioned I grew up without TV?)