Praise Song for the Natural World

As National Poetry Month draws to a close, it’s time to put the month in perspective (my OWL for 2020). Twenty-four poems in thirty days is short of my goal of posting a poem every day. BUT, it is more than I have ever managed in April. I’m not going to bore you with reasons or rationales for why I didn’t post everyday; you know them all. What I will say is that even on days I didn’t post, I was writing, reading, thinking, observing. In other words, I was being a writer. I have learned much during this month of writing that I will strive to carry forward. Thank you to everyone who followed along on my meanderings. And congratulations to everyone who completed 30 poems in 30 days. I admire your perseverance!

This poem was inspired by and is modeled after Elizabeth Alexander’s stunning “Praise Song for the Day,” which she read at President Barack Obama’s first inauguration.

Praise Song for the Natural World

Each day, wild creatures go about the work of survival.
A vibrant bluebird flits through the undergrowth
in pursuit of an alluring female.

High in a pine, a nesting hawk surveys
the countryside, screeching in protest
at a mob of pesky crows.

All around, color is brightening the drab world.
Brilliant yellow dandelions are open for business
and hungry bees buzz joyously among them.

Violets sprinkle the hillside like confetti
And every shrub and tree is wrapped
In a fine haze of green or pink or red.

In the pond, clumps of frogspawn
are silently, mysteriously on their
journey of transformation.

Praise song for their confidence, their
optimism in the face of a fickle world,
for their honest pursuit of life.

Praise song for every blossom, every nest, every egg.

Draft, © Catherine Flynn, 2020

 

Previous “News From the Natural World” poems:

April 29: A Flamboyance of Flamingos
April 27: A Northwoods Lullaby
April 26: A Paddling of Mallards
April 25: World Penguin Day
April 24: Save the Birds
April 23: An Earth Day ABC
April 21: Nature’s Harmony
April 20: Crowns of Moss
April 19: Propagation
April 18: At the Pond
April 17: The Red Chair
April 16: Dear Venus
April 15: Listen
April 14: Ode to a Tide Pool
April 11: What Does A Bird’s Egg Know?
April 10: Clusters of Clover
April 9: Song of the Pink Moon
April 8: Jewel of the Jungle
April 5: Phantom of the Forest
April 4: To Build a Nest
April 3: Apple Cake
April 2: Specimen
April 1: Forest Snail

News From the Natural World: A Flamboyance of Flamingos

One of the challenges posed by Audubon Alaska for its month-long Bird Poetry Corner was to write an ekphrastic poem. They provided a photograph to use as inspiration, but I recently saw this video of flamingos let loose in the Denver Zoo and knew a flamingo poem was about to take flight. Watching this video was also inspiring. Audubon did paint this stunning, if somewhat stern looking, flamingo:

 

John James Audubon, 1838

A flamboyance of flamingos
march in formation
like an army of wind-up tin soldiers.
As they parade, heads are bobbing
up and down
on sinuous necks,
pivoting from side to side
seeking their one true love.

Suddenly, their wings rise,
And a multitude of roses
burst into bloom.

Draft, © Catherine Flynn, 2020

Previous “News From the Natural World” poems:

April 27: A Northwoods Lullaby
April 26: A Paddling of Mallards
April 25: World Penguin Day
April 24: Save the Birds
April 23: An Earth Day ABC
April 21: Nature’s Harmony
April 20: Crowns of Moss
April 19: Propagation
April 18: At the Pond
April 17: The Red Chair
April 16: Dear Venus
April 15: Listen
April 14: Ode to a Tide Pool
April 11: What Does A Bird’s Egg Know?
April 10: Clusters of Clover
April 9: Song of the Pink Moon
April 8: Jewel of the Jungle
April 5: Phantom of the Forest
April 4: To Build a Nest
April 3: Apple Cake
April 2: Specimen
April 1: Forest Snail

News From the Natural World: A Northwoods Lullaby

A Northwoods Lullaby

At night in the cabin loft,
I lie still as the wind
whispers through the pines
Now and then a loon cries
out from across the lake,
or an owl announces himself
from deep in the timber.

Beneath these night noises,
water laps at the rocky shore
slish slosh, slish slosh.
Their steady melody lulls
me to sleep.

The world will always serenade
those who take time to listen.

Draft, © 2020, Catherine Flynn

English: NPS Photo / Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Previous “News From the Natural World” poems:

April 26: A Paddling of Mallards
April 25: World Penguin Day
April 24: Save the Birds
April 23: An Earth Day ABC
April 21: Nature’s Harmony
April 20: Crowns of Moss
April 19: Propagation
April 18: At the Pond
April 17: The Red Chair
April 16: Dear Venus
April 15: Listen
April 14: Ode to a Tide Pool
April 11: What Does A Bird’s Egg Know?
April 10: Clusters of Clover
April 9: Song of the Pink Moon
April 8: Jewel of the Jungle
April 5: Phantom of the Forest
April 4: To Build a Nest
April 3: Apple Cake
April 2: Specimen
April 1: Forest Snail

News From the Natural World: A Paddling of Mallards

This morning I came across a Facebook post from Audubon Alaska about their Bird Poetry Corner. How had I missed this? They have had a new prompt each week in April. Now I have a prompt the last five days of National Poetry Month! Today’s poem is my response to Week Four:

Below you’ll find a list of words that relate to nature. These words are your poetry prompts this week. You can use these prompts in several different ways: You can choose a single word and build a poem around it as a topic. You can choose a handful of words (about five would be good) and use those words to kick off different lines or verses. Or you can challenge yourself to write a single poem with all of the words included in it.

tree, birds, feather, nest, droplet, moon, field, stream, forest, sunlight, energy, bloom, seed, chirp, buzz, spring, green, meadow, soar, free

There is a pond in the woods behind our house. It knows how to take care of itself, and we let it. We do try to keep a path cleared so we can walk down the hill and see what’s going on. Over the past few weeks, I’ve observed at least eight ducks living there. They inspired this poem.

A Paddling of Mallards

This spring, a paddling of mallards
has moved in on the far side of the pond.
They stay concealed, bobbing behind
a bloom of bright green pond grass.

I approach the pond on tiptoe,
careful not to step on a fallen branch
that will snap and startle them.

They sense my presence anyway.
Before I can blink,
they launch into the sky,
seeking refuge in the trees.

I sit on a rock, quiet and still,
hoping they will return.
Other birds, red-wings and sparrows,
tolerate me.
Soon, the air is filled with their song.
But the mallards stay away.

I sigh, rise, and trudge back up the hill.
I want them to come back
to their hidden nests.
I imagine feather-lined
depressions of twigs
and leaves, filled with eggs,
harbingers of hope.

Draft, © 2020, Catherine Flynn

The far side of our pond

Previous “News From the Natural World” poems:

April 25: World Penguin Day
April 24: Save the Birds
April 23: An Earth Day ABC
April 21: Nature’s Harmony
April 20: Crowns of Moss
April 19: Propagation
April 18: At the Pond
April 17: The Red Chair
April 16: Dear Venus
April 15: Listen
April 14: Ode to a Tide Pool
April 11: What Does A Bird’s Egg Know?
April 10: Clusters of Clover
April 9: Song of the Pink Moon
April 8: Jewel of the Jungle
April 5: Phantom of the Forest
April 4: To Build a Nest
April 3: Apple Cake
April 2: Specimen
April 1: Forest Snail

 

News From the Natural World: World Penguin Day

It’s World Penguin Day! What better day for a poem about penguins? I sometimes write acrostics to gather words and ideas for topics, but today I decided that I liked this acrostic well enough to share today.

Penguins promenade over a barren landscape of ice.
Elegant in black and white, they
Never fly. Instead when it’s time to eat, they
Glide gracefully through their frigid
Underwater hunting grounds, feasting on krill.
Indulging until full, they return to rocky
Nests to lay an egg. And
So
the world begins anew.

Draft © 2020, Catherine Flynn

John Webber, 1777 via The British Museum

Previous “News From the Natural World” poems:

April 24: Save the Birds
April 23: An Earth Day ABC
April 21: Nature’s Harmony
April 20: Crowns of Moss
April 19: Propagation
April 18: At the Pond
April 17: The Red Chair
April 16: Dear Venus
April 15: Listen
April 14: Ode to a Tide Pool
April 11: What Does A Bird’s Egg Know?
April 10: Clusters of Clover
April 9: Song of the Pink Moon
April 8: Jewel of the Jungle
April 5: Phantom of the Forest
April 4: To Build a Nest
April 3: Apple Cake
April 2: Specimen
April 1: Forest Snail

News From the Natural World: Save the Birds!

When I taught third grade, She’s Wearing a Dead Bird on Her Head, was one of my favorite pictures books to share with my students. They were shocked at the cruelty of birds being killed so women could have fancy hats. The book tells the story of Harriet Hemenway who, with her cousin Minna Hall, helped launch the Massachusetts Audubon Society. They were part of a larger movement that began in the late 19th century to protect birds and stop their wholesale slaughter in the name of fashion. Florence Merriam Bailey was another fierce advocate for the birds, and wrote one of the first field guides to American birds, Birds Through an Opera-Glass. This poem, which is still very much a draft, is a tribute to these determined women.

In the 1890s, feathered hats
Were all the rage.
Ladies wore them everywhere:
To parties, parks, the stage.

Some women were revolted,
They knew that it was wrong
To kill quails and loons for fashion.
Let them sing their song!

Harriet, Minna, Florence, too,
Spread word throughout the land.
Stop this ghastly craze, they cried.
Save snowy egrets! their demand.

They rallied all their friends,
They sounded the alarm.
Taking feathers to festoon your head
Does hummingbirds great harm.

Soon laws were passed and habits changed.
Flamingos and pheasants protected.
People still think birds are beautiful,
But not to be collected.

Draft, © 2020, Catherine Flynn

Previous “News From the Natural World” poems:

April 23: An Earth Day ABC
April 21: Nature’s Harmony
April 20: Crowns of Moss
April 19: Propagation
April 18: At the Pond
April 17: The Red Chair
April 16: Dear Venus
April 15: Listen
April 14: Ode to a Tide Pool
April 11: What Does A Bird’s Egg Know?
April 10: Clusters of Clover
April 9: Song of the Pink Moon
April 8: Jewel of the Jungle
April 5: Phantom of the Forest
April 4: To Build a Nest
April 3: Apple Cake
April 2: Specimen
April 1: Forest Snail

News From the Natural World: An Earth Day ABC

               

Yesterday was the 50th anniversary of the first Earth Day. As sometimes happens, even in quarantine, the day got away from me. Meetings lasted longer than expected, with little time left to devote to writing a poem worthy of the occasion. And although it’s important to have a day set aside to call attention to and raise awareness about our one precious Earth, every day is Earth Day for me.

An Earth Day ABC

An atlas of the world can’t
Begin to reveal the
Complexity of connections, the
Diversity of life on
Earth.
For centuries, curious humans have
Grappled with questions, searching across
Hemispheres, seeking
Insights into our home, finding pieces of the
Jigsaw puzzle, gaining
Knowledge and
Learning the lessons
Mountains teach us. The earth
Nurtures and nourishes us. We are
Obligated to
Protect her, preserve her. Our reckless
Quest for riches is irresponsible. Actions
Ripple across the globe, casting
Shadows on life everywhere.
Today and everyday, seek to
Understand the
Vulnerability and vitality of our
Wondrous world.
eXchange hubris for humility. Change begins with
You.
Zoom in and discover nature’s abundant gifts.

Draft © 2020, Catherine Flynn

Previous “News From the Natural World” poems:

April 21: Nature’s Harmony
April 20: Crowns of Moss
April 19: Propagation
April 18: At the Pond
April 17: The Red Chair
April 16: Dear Venus
April 15: Listen
April 14: Ode to a Tide Pool
April 11: What Does A Bird’s Egg Know?
April 10: Clusters of Clover
April 9: Song of the Pink Moon
April 8: Jewel of the Jungle
April 5: Phantom of the Forest
April 4: To Build a Nest
April 3: Apple Cake
April 2: Specimen
April 1: Forest Snail

News From the Natural World: Nature’s Harmony

Today’s poem is a Golden Shovel. My strike line was taken from the writings of Alexander von Humboldt, considered by many to be the father of modern environmentalism. It is fitting that the Smithsonian has mounted a exhibition about Humboldt’s impact on art, nature, and culture in the United States during this fiftieth anniversary year of Earth Day.

If you want to learn more about this amazing man, I highly recommend The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World, by Andrea Wulf.

In addition to being an intrepid explorer, von Humboldt was a prolific writer, writing more than 36 volumes. His work influenced the thinking of Thoreau, Darwin, and John Muir, among others. It seems appropriate to remember and honor him this week.

The line I chose to work from is from a letter von Humboldt wrote in 1799:

I must find out about the harmony in nature.

This poem turned into something a little more personal than I expected, but we don’t always know where we’re headed when we start out.

Previous “News From the Natural World” poems:

April 20: Crowns of Moss
April 19: Propagation
April 18: At the Pond
April 17: The Red Chair
April 16: Dear Venus
April 15: Listen
April 14: Ode to a Tide Pool
April 11: What Does A Bird’s Egg Know?
April 10: Clusters of Clover
April 9: Song of the Pink Moon
April 8: Jewel of the Jungle
April 5: Phantom of the Forest
April 4: To Build a Nest
April 3: Apple Cake
April 2: Specimen
April 1: Forest Snail

 

News From the Natural World: Crowns of Moss

This week marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, so I spent some time delving into the many resources available online. NASA’s Global Climate Change initiative has many resources, including this stunning poster created by Jenny Motter, art director for NASA Science. In a video explaining how she created this year’s Earth Day poster, Ms. Motter explained her process and inspiration. She mentioned the work of James Hutton, the father of modern geology.

I wasn’t familiar with Hutton, so I read some short bios of him and looked up some quotes. In his work, Theory of the Earth, Hutton states

To a naturalist, nothing is indifferent; the humble moss that creeps upon the stone is equally interesting as the lofty pine.

To the poet also. Hutton’s mention of the “humble moss” reminded me of a poem I wrote a few months ago but never shared. Today seemed like an appropriate time. Coincidentally, like yesterday’s poem, this is also a Fib.

Crowns of Moss

green
crowns
unfurl,
burst skyward
bedecking the ground
brightening shadowy spaces

Draft © 2020, Catherine Flynn

Previous “News From the Natural World” poems:

April 19: Propagation
April 18: At the Pond
April 17: The Red Chair
April 16: Dear Venus
April 15: Listen
April 14: Ode to a Tide Pool
April 11: What Does A Bird’s Egg Know?
April 10: Clusters of Clover
April 9: Song of the Pink Moon
April 8: Jewel of the Jungle
April 5: Phantom of the Forest
April 4: To Build a Nest
April 3: Apple Cake
April 2: Specimen
April 1: Forest Snail

News From the Natural World: Propagation

Today’s poem is a Fib, or Fibonacci poem, a poem that follows the Fibonacci sequence to determine the number of words, or in this case, syllables in each line of the poem. I worked out to eight syllables, then repeated the sequence backwards, ending with a single word. The idea for today’s poem came from “Propagation,” an essay by Naomi Huffman, in this week’s New York Times Magazine. You can read more about the real begonia in the poem here.

Propagation

From
one
plant, a
begonia
cared for through the years
by grandmothers, aunts, and nieces,
nurtured cuttings sprout roots in jars
heart-shaped leaves bloom: a
new cycle of
green life
is
born.

Draft, © Catherine Flynn, 2020

Previous “News From the Natural World” poems:

April 18: At the Pond
April 17: The Red Chair
April 16: Dear Venus
April 15: Listen
April 14: Ode to a Tide Pool
April 11: What Does A Bird’s Egg Know?
April 10: Clusters of Clover
April 9: Song of the Pink Moon
April 8: Jewel of the Jungle
April 5: Phantom of the Forest
April 4: To Build a Nest
April 3: Apple Cake
April 2: Specimen
April 1: Forest Snail