may 2/RUN

4.5 miles
franklin loop
62 degrees

Ran with STA this morning. Very nice. Noticed the river as we crossed Lake Street. It was brown and calm. No rowers this morning. Are we too early or too late to see them? Ran in reverse today and noticed many houses for the first time. Over-sized houses on over-sized lots. STA pointed out three benches in a half circle, facing the sun with no trees, sitting in a triangle of grass just off of Franklin near a bus stop. He said he hadn’t noticed them before. I don’t think I have either. They don’t look like much fun, sitting there facing the sun–except for maybe on bright, warm-ish days in the winter. Crossing the Franklin bridge we noticed how the sky north of us, over downtown, had an ominous purple tint, while the sky south of us, closer to the falls, was a placid blue. Stopped at STA’s favorite spot–a big tree above the river road–and noticed how much the leaves by the gorge have filled in. Goodbye view to the other side. I can’t remember when it happened during the run, but I remember a robin right in front of us on the path and STA jokingly calling out, “Get outta here, you Robin” and then as it scampered or scuttled? off, STA remarking, “I like how it couldn’t be bothered to fly.” As I remember it, the Robin kind of looked like someone crossing the street and doing that strange hurrying but not hurrying walk run.

may’s exercise?

A new month, which means a new monthly exercise. March was Emily Dickinson, April Mary Oliver. At first I was thinking Robert Bly for May because STA and I just watched this awesome documentary about him on the local PBS channel, but Bly seems more fitting for the winter. Tentatively I have decided not to focus on a single poet, but on a theme: birds. I’ve been reading a great collection of bird poems by the ornithologist J. Drew Lanham, and slowly watching/listening/reading a lecture from Marta Werner on her project, Dickinson’s Birds. Both ED and MO feature birds in many of their poems, and so do so many other poets. Will I want to read about birds for the entire month? Not sure yet.

GROUP THINK: NEW NAMES FOR PLURAL BIRDS/ J. Drew Lanham

A Hemorrhage of cardinals
red-staining the backyard
A Consideration, Council
or Congress of crows;
call them anything but murderers, please.
A Whir of hummingbirds
A Riff (or Mood) of any bird that’s blue
A Thicket of sparrows
A Mine of goldfinches
A Skulk of thrashers
A Cuddle of chickadees. (Cute is a definite field mark.)
A Thuggery of jaegers
A Piracy of skuas
A Crucifixion of shrikes
A Mattering of Black birds—
Lives ignored, hated and dissed.
How did darkness become so despised?
A Melody of thrushes
A Palette of painted buntings
An Audacity of wrens—
finding every crevice ever created
and signing loudest about that fact.
A Vomitus of vultures.
A Swarm of flycatchers—
Empidonax “spuh” be damned.
A Tide of shorebirds—
rising more than falling,
wishful thinking on past abundance;
knots, whimbrel, peeps, plovers, curlews
darkening salt marsh skies.
A Privilege of all birds white—
though it’s not their fault
for almost always being given the benefit of doubt or being
mostly respected; usually liked.
An Immigration of starlings,
loved to tears in distant murmuration
but deplored to legalized killing on the street.
Deprived of breath without penalty or cause.
A Herd of cowbirds. Given the gift of never parenting.
Evolutionary brillance.
A Flurry of snowbirds;
juncos my grandmother claimed she pitied
and threw them handfuls of grits.
A Wandering of warblers
An Envy or swallow-tailed kites
A Front of waterfowl
—forecasting gray winter days to come.
A Cache of nuthatches
A Wheeze of gnatcatchers
A Throne of kinglets (or court if you please).
A Missing of Carolina parakeets,
too smart for their own good.
An Echo of passenger pigeons
—billions dwindled to none.
A Memory of ivory-bills
in praise of the Great Lord God
maybe not all gone.
An Inclusion of mixed migratory flocks,
hopefully integrated by choice
and not forced to co-mingle
in whatever gulfs they must cross.
Wondering what they would call themselves?
if there is disagreement over plumage color, wing bar width,
leg hue, call tone or habitat of origin?
How would they name us? Would the tables turn?
Am I a greater Southern Black-backed two-legged thing?
You perhaps a common White-fronted human being?
Someone else named after a passerine of respectable fame
or raptor of murderous infamy?
Here in gratitude of everyone there ever was—
Whatever the name.
A Love of birds. My collective label.

some terms I looked up after reading this poem:

a thuggery of jaegers/piracy of skuas:

Parasitic Jaegers, known as arctic skuas in Europe, are fast-flying relatives of gulls with a piratical lifestyle. They breed on the Arctic tundra, where they prey mainly on birds and their eggs. They spend the rest of the year on the open ocean, harrying other seabirds and sometimes attacking in groups, until they give up their catch. Jaegers come in several color morphs. Immatures can be extremely difficult to separate from other jaeger species.

All About Birds

a crucifixion of shrikes:

The Loggerhead Shrike is a songbird with a raptor’s habits. A denizen of grasslands and other open habitats throughout much of North America, this masked black, white, and gray predator hunts from utility poles, fence posts and other conspicuous perches, preying on insects, birds, lizards, and small mammals. Lacking a raptor’s talons, Loggerhead Shrikes skewer their kills on thorns or barbed wire or wedge them into tight places for easy eating. Their numbers have dropped sharply in the last half-century.

All About Birds

Empidonax “spuh” is twitcher’s jargon (committed birdwatchers who travel far distances to see a new species to add to their “life list”
Empid (US): any of the flycatchers of the genus Empidonax, infamous among North American birders for being difficult to identify in the field without the aid of vocalizations.
spuh: birds that are only identifiable to genus level

Juncos:

Juncos are neat, even flashy little sparrows that flit about forest floors of the western mountains and Canada, then flood the rest of North America for winter. They’re easy to recognize by their crisp (though extremely variable) markings and the bright white tail feathers they habitually flash in flight. 

All About Bird

passerine (def):
(adj) relating to or denoting birds of a large order distinguished by feet that are adapted for perching, including all songbirds.
(noun) a perching bird

Thinking about collective nouns for animals and insects, partly because of this poem, partly because I love collective nouns, and partly because of the ending to this short essay, “Seeing” from Late Migrations that I read yesterday:

Farther down the trail, my beautiful niece, whose eyes see twenty-twenty even without glasses, paused before a fallen tree covered with shelf fungi. She pointed to a ladybug nearly hidden in the folds. “When I was hiking in Colorado, I saw a whole bunch of ladybugs, so I checked Google to see if there’s a name for a group that gathers in one place,” she said. “It’s called a ‘loveliness.'”

“Seeing” from Late Migrations/ Margaret Renkl

jan 31/BIKERUN

bike: 22 minutes
run: 1.8 miles
basement

Scott and I took Delia for a longer walk this morning, which was wonderful. Not too cold, hardly any wind, a few fluffy flakes falling from the sky. Lots of other people out too. So I decided to head to the basement again for my workout. While I biked, I continued watching Margaret Livingstone’s fascinating lecture about  vision and art. Then, after I finished biking, I listened to a playlist and tried to run faster, which I did but not necessarily because of the playlist. It’s time to make a new one, I think.

I’m enjoying Livingstone’s lecture. I’m not necessarily learning anything new, but it’s reinforcing thoughts I already had or ideas that I had encountered elsewhere. Maybe it’s the academic in me, but I like to have my ideas confirmed by others, especially by those who have devoted themselves to studying vision and the brain. After discussing how “your visual system has higher acuity in the center of gaze” (acuity = sharper, finer detail), she says:

But your peripheral vision isn’t bad, it’s just different. Your peripheral vision is designed to see big blurry things; your central vision is designed to see small detailed things and actually cannot see big blurry things as well as your peripheral vision. So there’s a trade-off.

It’s the forest from the trees again!

a moment of sound

jan 31, 2021

I stuck with it and recorded a moment of sound every day this month–31 moments. Nice. This final one is short and is from my walk with Scott and Delia. I can hear the chapel bells chiming from across the river at St. Thomas University in St. Paul; at least two birds–including a coo or trill or something at 15 seconds in; Delia huffing (at 22 seconds); traffic on the road; Scott and I discussing, mostly in whispers, what kind of bird we heard; snow crunching underfoot; Delia’s collar jangling; and the wind.

Slowly but surely, I am falling in love with birds. A few years ago I wrote a poem in response to Mary Oliver’s goldfinch poem “Invitation, in which I asked, “Anyway, who cares about the birds?” I do, now. I’m hoping to learn more of their calls in the upcoming months.

Speaking of birds, I found this video on Brain Pickings:

july 2/RUN

2.5 miles
a figure 8 + extra*
77 degrees
humidity: 90%/ dew point: 75

*43rd ave, north/32nd st, east/river road, south/33rd st, west/edmund, south/river road, south/38th st, west/edmund, north/river road, north/river road, south

Same temperature as yesterday but higher dew point and sun. Hot. Managed to recite all of the bird poems in my head as I ran. Pretty cool. Made sure to check out the aspen eyes as I ran by them. Was able to run in the shade for more than half of the run. Wanted to find a sprinkler to run under up on edmund, but the only one on wasn’t watering the street or the sidewalk today. Encountered a few other runners, walkers, 1–or was it 2?–roller skiers, bikers. Didn’t see the river. Felt strong and relaxed until around a mile and a half when I started feeling the heat. I remember hearing a black capped chickadee right before I left the house but not near the gorge. I am sure there were many birds chirping away as I ran but I don’t remember hearing them. Also don’t remember what I thought about.

black capped chickadee

This is my bird of the summer. I hear it all the time. Last night, sitting on the deck with Scott, I heard it call, “chickadeedeedeedee” right before it landed in the tree above my head. Usually, I struggle to see these small birds, but I was able to see this one. Nice!

The World Has Need of You/ Ellen Bass

everything here
seems to need us

Rainer Maria Rilke

I can hardly imagine it
as I walk to the lighthouse, feeling the ancient
prayer of my arms swinging
in counterpoint to my feet.
Here I am, suspended
between the sidewalk and twilight,
the sky dimming so fast it seems alive.
What if you felt the invisible
tug between you and everything?
A boy on a bicycle rides by,
his white shirt open, flaring
behind him like wings.
It’s a hard time to be human. We know too much
and too little. Does the breeze need us?
The cliffs? The gulls?
If you’ve managed to do one good thing,
the ocean doesn’t care.
But when Newton’s apple fell toward the earth,
the earth, ever so slightly, fell
toward the apple.

O, this poem from Bass’s collection Like a Beggar! I love how she describes walking as “the ancient/prayer of my arms swinging/in counterpoint to my feet” and being “suspended between the sidewalk and twilight.” Invisible tug is great too–another IT acronym. And, “we know too much/and too little” seems like a great theme for a set of poems to memorize.

The line, “If you’ve managed to do one good thing,/the ocean doesn’t care” reminds me of this Mary Oliver poem, which has a slightly different meaning but still speaks to the wonderful indifference of the water:

I Go Down To The Shore/ Mary Oliver

I go down to the shore in the morning
and depending on the hour the waves
are rolling in or moving out,
and I say, oh, I am miserable,
what shall–
what should I do? And the seas says
in its lovely voice:
Excuse me, I have work to do.

june 30/RUN

3 miles
42nd ave, north/32nd st, east/edmund, south/river, south/river road, north
75 degrees
humidity: 90%/ dew point: 74

Very hot and humid today. Overcast, thick and green. Didn’t notice many bugs or have any difficulty breathing. Heard a cardinal and a black-capped chickadee in the distance. No view of the river. Saw some roller skiers, a kid biking with an adult, several other kids biking together, a few other runners. Forgot to notice the aspen eyes by the school but I do remember wondering why there were so many cars parked in the lot.

Recited the last poems in my bird series: Turkey Vultures/Ted Kooser and Perhaps You Tire of Birds/Donika Kelly. Started with Donika Kelly’s beautiful poem, reciting it for the first half of my run, then switched to Kooser’s for the second half.

Perhaps You Tire of Birds/Donika Kelly

but the yellow-beaked night bird—

in the moonlight,
in the clover,
in the deep deep grass—

could hold me
always, in the swell
of her little eye.

O, my scouring eye
that scrubs clean

the sky and blossomed tree.

O, my heart that breaks
like a bone. O, my bones
full and flying.

What a gorgeous poem. I love the flow and the rhythm at the beginning–“in the moonlight/in the clover/in the deep deep grass”–especially the deep deep grass. As I recited it in my head, I couldn’t remember if the last line was flying and full or full and flying. I decided it was flying and full. I was wrong. Later after I was done running and after I recited the poem into my phone, I thought about the scouring eye–the eye that sees, scrutinizes, dissects with its sharp focus the things within it’s gaze. I don’t have a scouring eye because nothing is ever completely in focus for me. Images are soft and fuzzy and never sharp. What would I call my eye–the dirty eye? the gentle eye? the generous eye? Maybe I want to memorize some vision poems next?

Perhaps you Tire of Birds, June 30

june 29/RUN

2.5 miles
river road, south/north
69 degrees
humidity: 90%/ dew point: 70

Happy Birthday to me. Found out yesterday that I am one day younger than Derek Jeter; he turned 46 yesterday, I turned 46 today. Glad to be done with the number 45. Rained all morning so I had to wait to run until after noon–12:36 to be exact. Hot and humid and wet. I didn’t mind. Managed to catch a few glimpses of the river–at least, the blue of the river through the green leaves. It was very windy, which helped make the heat less oppressive. Do I remember anything else? Not sure if it was still raining a little or if I was just feeling drops from the trees.

Recited the latest poem I memorized: Turkey Vultures/ Ted Kooser:

Circling above us, their wingtips fanned
like fingers, it is as if they were smoothing

one of those tissue paper sewing patterns
over the pale blue fabric of the air,

touching the heavens with leisurely pleasure,
just a word or two called back and forth,

taking all the time n the world, even though
the sun was low and red in the west, and they

had fallen behind with their making of shrouds.

I love the line, “smoothing one of those tissue paper sewing patterns over the pale blue fabric of the air.” It reminds me of going with my mom to the fabric store, sitting in the chair at the slanted table, looking through pattern books–Vogue, Simplicity, Butterick–finding something I wanted her to sew for me, making note of the number and then finding the corresponding pattern in a big filing cabinet. I have never learned to sew but I will always remember how exciting it was to pick out patterns and then the fabric, and have my mom sew for me. In my early 20s I wanted to learn to sew. For my birthday that year, my mom gave me an elaborate sewing kit, with a how to sew book and several very nice scissors, needles, pins, a pin cushion, measuring tape, thread. I still have the kit and sometimes I use it, like earlier in the quarantine when I comically attempted to patch my son’s favorite pajama pants. I was amazed that I could thread the needle. How did I do that with my central vision almost gone?

In reciting this poem, I also thought about the word leisurely and how to pronounce it–with a short e or a long one? I prefer the long e–leeesurely.

june 27/RUN

2 miles
river road, south/north
76 degrees

Ran with Scott on the rive road. Warm in the sun. Crowded. Saw a peloton turn onto the road and whizz by. Heard the crack of ski pole as a roller skier prepared to roll down the hill just past the welcoming oaks. While Scott was talking about XTC and their strange side projects, I though I heard the cackle of either Emily or Agatha (the pileated woodpeckers I named the other day).

When we returned home, I sat on the deck and recited Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese” into my phone. For some reason I keep thinking it’s “you only have to let the SMALL animal of your body” instead of “you only have to let the SOFT animal of your body.” Not sure why because soft makes much more sense.

Wild Geese, June 27

june 26/RUN

2.2 miles
river road, south/river road, north
73 degrees
humidity: 75%/ dew point: 65

Hot and muggy this morning. No sun, just clouds and a few rain drops. Decided to do a shorter run. Listened to a playlist with lots of Lizzo songs. Felt strong and fast and happy to be outside. At the end of the run, I passed through the welcoming oaks, turning around at the old oak tree that stands at the top of the hill, above the tunnel of trees. Stopped at the overlook and was able to almost see a few slashes of river. The green was thick and opaque and unrelenting.

Today I was planning to memorize the next bird poem on my list, Mockingbird by Randall Jarrell. But I realized that we don’t have any mocking birds near the gorge so I’m switching it out for a poem about a bird that is common, and one of my favorites: the goose. And I’m picking one of my favorite poems about the goose–another one by Mary Oliver that I memorized a few years ago but can’t quite remember: Wild Geese. Love this poem!

Wild Geese/mary oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

june 25/RUN

3.1 miles
47th ave to 32nd st to river road, south to edmund to river road, south to 42nd st to river road, north
64 degrees
humidity: 82%

Ran at 8 and it’s already feeling warm. Sunny. I think I saw my shadow a few times off to the side. Ran by the aspen eyes on 32nd. Encountered runners, bikers, walkers, a few roller skiers. Always at a safe distance. Heard some birds–the cackling of a pileated woodpeckers, perhaps. On our walk last night, Scott and I (well, mostly him) saw 2 pileated woodpeckers sitting on a branch. Even though they were probably male, I named them Agatha and Emily, after one of the best Bugs Bunny cartoons ever–the one where Bugs Bunny takes a wrong turn and ends up at a castle with a vampire. I didn’t see the river or hear the river or even smell the river today. Too far away–two paths, a lot of grass, and a thick line of trees between me and my view.

Recited “Invitation” and “Crows” while I ran. Got stuck on one line from Invitation–I couldn’t remember what came right before, “it is a serious thing/just to be alive.” I finally remembered it when I got home–“believe us, they say.” Didn’t have any problems remembering the lines from “Crows.” Last night I recited it for Scott and we talked about the structure of the poem, the first part as philosophical reflection, and the second part as details from specific memory of the is.

the IS

to stack each is up against emptiness–
images collected in consciousness

the images collected

the food’s here of the first crow to arrive
numbers 2 and 3 at a safe distance, then approaching the hand-created taste of leftover coconut macaroons

I’d like to try writing a poem using this structure. Not sure how I feel about the phrase, “hand-created.” I like it better than hand-crafted but it sounds awkward, which is probably intentional?

I’ve decided to add two more poems to my bird list, and remove one. Here’s the new list:

june 24/RUN

3 miles
36th to 42nd to 34th to 38th to 36th
63 degrees
humidity: 83%

Another beautiful morning. Didn’t notice the wind or any bugs. No large groups of runners or roller skiers or bikers, although there were a lot of walkers and runners. My route was all on the road, so no views of the river. I did notice the open air above the river and imagined it below. Before heading out, I heard at least one black-capped chickadee but I don’t remember hearing any birds while I was running. What else do I remember? A squirrel crossed the road in front of me–not too close. Saw 2 runners heading down to the Winchell Trail. Stepped on a few clumps of grass and the end of a twig. Didn’t see any ridiculous performances–no exuberant bikers or strangely gaited runners or spazzy dogs and their owners.

loops

Today I ran some strange loops–from 36th to 42nd and back past 36th, down the hill until the road is closed for construction near 34th, then back again past 36th to 38th and finishing at 36th. This wasn’t too bad. Originally I was planning to do a lot of the loops this summer, but I realized I struggle to do repeat loops. Maybe I’ll try one more time? I’ve been thinking of doing shorter loops around 38th (about .1/2 mile)–maybe 6th of them, some fast, some slow?

reciting while running

Yesterday I memorized Marilyn Nelson’s “Crows,” the second poem I’m memorizing for my birds series.

Crows/ Marilyn Nelson

What if to taste and see, to notice things,
to stand each is up against emptiness
for a moment or an eternity–
images collected in consciousness
like a tree alone on the horizon–
is the main reason we’re on this planet?
The food’s here of the first crow to arrive.
Numbers two and three at a safe distance,
then approaching the hand-created taste
of leftover coconut macaroons.
The insight sparks in the earth’s awareness.

It is helpful to spend time with this one–partly because I love the first sentence, but mostly because, on my first several readings, I couldn’t understand the lines about the crows. The food’s here of the first crow? hand-created taste? Having recited it dozens of times, I’m starting to understand these lines a little better. Still not sure I like them, or crows for that matter, but they are making more sense.

When I stopped running, I recorded myself reciting the poem as I walked home:

Crows, June 24

There are 2 books (or at least 2 that I can recall right now) I have read and adored in the last 10 years that feature crows: 1. Wildwood/ Colin Meloy. A murder of crows serve as henchmen for an evil baby-stealing queen who lives in a wood in Portland, OR. When a “murder of crows” appeared for the first time in the book, I remember imagining that Colin Meloy, who loves to sing dark, Victorian lyrics in The Decemberists, wrote the entire story around this phrase because he loves it so much. 2. Bellman & Black/ Diane Stterfield. On a bet, a boy kills a crow with a stone from his slingshot. The other crows don’t forget and haunt him when he grows up. (Looking it up, I realized that the bird is not a crow but a rook. Oops.)

Now that I realized it was a rook and not a crow, I want to know the difference between them. According to Woodland Trust, crows, ravens, and rooks are all part of the crow family/corvids (the family also includes jackdaws and magpies). Crows are all black and are often alone; ravens are less common, much bigger, and gather in flocks; and rooks are social and have a gray bill and gray feathers on their face, near the bill.

june 23/RUN

3.5 miles
trestle turn around
64 degrees

Cloudy this morning. Felt cool when I started, warm when I stopped. Ran north on edmund until I crossed over to the river road at 32nd. Saw the river for about a minute, peeking through the green. I miss being able to pay attention to the gorge, listening for rowers, admiring the river’s shine. Before crossing back over to the road, I glanced at one of the dirt trails leading into the gorge–so dark green and thick! You could get lost in there…and bit–lots of bugs near the gorge right now. They didn’t bother me while I was running, but they did last night during my evening walk with Scott and Delia.

yesterday’s rather ridiculous performance: super chill man on bike, singing

Speaking of last night, about halfway through our walk, we saw a man biking, nearing the top of a hill, just past the welcoming oaks. He was singing–what was he singing? a show tune or a love song or something like that–and had his hands resting on his knees while he was biking. He looked calm and chill and unworried about the fact that he was about to bike down a hill without having his hands on the handlebars. He looked rather ridiculous but his embracing of this ridiculousness was wonderful and delightful and brought me some joy. Usually I would judge this behavior as reckless, but he was so relaxed and ridiculous that all I could do was marvel at it. I wasn’t the only one. About a minute later, I heard some other people talking excitedly about him too. This idea of a “rather ridiculous performance” is a line from Mary Oliver’s “Invitation”: “I beg of you/do not walk by/without pausing/to attend to/this rather ridiculous performance.” Maybe I’ll try to make a list of the rather ridiculous performances I encounter/witness?

I recited “invitation” a few more times on my run. I did a better job of not getting distracted. I thought about the line, “you must change your life” and about how much (and sometimes how little) COVID-19 has changed my life. And I thought about how many of the changes have been less about will and more about letting go–staying home, doing “nothing,” listening. When I finished my run, I recited the poem into my phone. Listening back to it, I’m struck by my mistakes, especially my saying “competition” instead of winning. Winning sounds so much better rhythmically. Also, my choice to say “this” is a serious thing instead of “it” and “their” ridiculous performance instead of “this”.

Invitation, june 23

I love Ours Poetica and I love this poem about aphids and foolishly telling off the nosy, stern older lady–“the town’s most successful corporate attorney’s mother”: