Saturday, December 31, 2011


Through the snowy night

flakes paw at our windowpanes,

melt to nothingness.

Snowflake photos taken by Wilson Bentley (1865–1931) from

Collective Nouns

A crowd of crows,

a cacophony of caws

murder plus mayhem.

More info on collective nouns at

Photo from Click on photo to enlarge

Thursday, December 15, 2011

An Escher of Squirrels

I am etymologically confused.

A squirrel’s nest is called a “drey” (with an “e’)– although I suspect most of us just call it a nest. A group of squirrels is called a “dray” (with an “a”) – or, alternatively a “scurry”. Most of us would designate such a gathering as a bunch. I myself would dub them an “escher” – based upon the behavior of the most recent octet of Sciuridae Sciurus that inhabit our native suburban wild animal refuge.

The derivation of the word dray (or drey) has something to do with carts without wheels, and nothing to do with tree rats. But “scurry” does make some sense. According to my IMac’s dictionary, as a verb scurry means “move hurriedly with short quick steps” and as a noun “a situation of hurried and confused movement”. And scurrying is what a squirrel does when it moves across my yard to/from the front border oak tree that is the entrance/exit ramp for the elevated superhighway of branches and wires that the little gray rodents traverse on their various individual commutes throughout the day. But they only seem to scurry when they are traveling alone.

In a group setting the little tree-critters move fluidly and confidently – like a live, light gray, furry M.C. Escher drawing.
(Click photo to enlarge)

Maurits Cornelis Escher is perhaps the world’s most recognizable graphic artist – best known for his morphing tessellations and “impossible structures” that fool the viewer’s eye.

A tessellation consists of a shape repeated over and over on a single plane without any gaps or overlaps. “Previously, tessellations were created with rather simple shapes. Escher distorted and manipulated these simple shapes to resemble things such as various animals. In his “Metamorphoses” series, the tessellations “morph” into changing shapes or even leave the plane such as in Reptiles. In this lithograph, reptiles seem to be following a continuous cycle in which they “enter” an image of a drawing of a tessellation and then come out of the drawing, walking back around it to the same entrance point.” (NBMMA)
(Click photo to enlarge)

And this explanation is actually less confusing than the drawings themselves. So try this. Escher creates impossible objects – 2-dimensional illustrations that could not actually be constructed in three dimensions.

The squirrels, when performing en masse, move in a continuous nose-to-tail cycle across the lawn, and up and down the trees – abruptly changing direction in perfect unison through a series of rapid-fire, gravity-defying maneuvers impossible to execute in three dimensions, and equally difficult to illustrate in two – a hyperactive tessellation.

In other words, an escher.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


An unprecedented late October snowstorm damaged scores of trees in our state. Our hometown’s Physical Services department collected these fractured limbs, chipped them, and took them away. Last week, in the parking area for our town wilderness area, I discovered where some of them had gone.


Snowstorm ravaged trees
cook in steaming compost mounds,
scent of smoky pine.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Ivy Covered Walls

We pathologically inveterate gardeners frequently find great pleasure in doing things that other, more normal, people might find less fulfilling – for example pulling back the ivy.

Our residence is surrounded on two and one-quarter sides by beds of the ground creeping, wall climbing green-leaved woody plant. They came with the house when we bought it thirty-plus years ago. I have never tried to evict them but I suspect that even if asked nicely, with a promise of a good new home, they would refuse to cede their stake in the earth. And actually I wouldn’t want them out of here – the ivy is, in its own way, perhaps the most entertaining plant on our property.

On the ground they keep a low profile – a totally unobtrusive, pleasant change of texture and color between the green grass and the gray concrete house foundation. But, unlike other groundcovers, Araliaceae Hedera has higher aspirations – and, like the gray tree squirrels that also inhabit our property, has the climbing ability to achieve them.

One of the surfaces it likes to ascend is the brick chimney that adorns the north side of our abode. Not having been smart enough to experience ivy covered walls during my collegiate years I’ve always had a secret admiration for the old money, academic ambience of that look.

Not so the appearance of sinuous vines clinging to the gray vinyl siding that covers our house on either side of the smokestack, as well as the remainder of the building along which the ivy beds lie in wait. And even worse the tendrils that insinuate themselves under the synthetic resin shingles and creep upwards between that surface and the Tyvec that covers the outer walls of the building. Still worse – occasionally one of the ivy leaves makes its way into our family room, which, being a former breezeway from the house to the garage, sits directly atop a concrete slab.

Ground cover is good. Undercover is not.

Mars and I have visited North Carolina and seen the way that runaway Kudzu vines gradually encompass and ultimately bring down abandoned buildings so that all that is left is a stack of leafy vines in the shape of a homestead. This is not going to happen here on my watch.
The fortunate thing is that, for whatever reason – exercise, fresh air, Zen concentration, catharsis (or all of the above) – vine ripping is one of my favorite gardening activities. (It’s probably not a good sign that my horticultural proclivities tend toward the destructive rather than the nurturing. Or maybe it’s just a guy gardening thing.)

Anyway, the other day Mars noticed that another ivy leaf had invaded the family room. It was a sunny, unusually warm (55-60 degrees) December day, and I for some reason had a surplus of nervous energy to burn.

Say no more! I was on that job like white on rice.

The routine is the same each time that I do it. Wearing leather gloves because of one long ago barehanded incident with a vicious bee that was apparently taking a break in the vinage I crouch down and peel back the self-bundled creepers to reveal the tail end of the camouflaged climbers. Then I grab the ascending offender and rip downwards, with luck releasing its death grip from the side of my house

Some ivy remains attached to the exterior surface with its Velcro-like tendrils. Bare hands are called for in order to pry it loose with my fingernails. If that fails then I leave it in place hoping that it will fall off after it dies and dries up. Mostly it doesn’t.

During all this grunt work my body is perpetually crouching down and standing up as I move sideways along the perimeter of my house. And periodically twisting itself pretzel-like beneath or between the branches of the shrubbery that also provides decoration along the foundation. Some of these are pricker bushes – and they hurt. I use my anvil pruning shears to cut away some of the vines that have bunched up and to take out my anger at the vines that refuse to leave go of their perpendicular places. Most of these cuts are done blindly as I feel my way through the interlaced ivy.

The effort takes about thirty minutes. My legs are stiff from the constant raising and lowering, and if I am fortunate I have not severed any fingers with the pruners or encountered any feisty honeybees. I’ve worked up a moderate sweat, even on the 55-degree days, and my nervous energy is dissipated.

People who pay other people to do this stuff just don’t realize all the fun that they are missing.

Photos of kudzu covered house from

Friday, December 02, 2011

Haiku Traffic Signs

A friend sent me this link to a NY Times article about the placement of some unique and artistic traffic signs. "Safety warnings, in the form of haikus, are sprouting up on sign poles around the city. Submit your own haiku, and we'll post the best."

Here is my submission:

Trying to compose
a haiku while motoring
I spaced and crashed.