A magazine of sound and fury
Nebulae: A Backyard Cosmography
A companion volume to The Other End
of the Driveway that looks up and
outward to the stars and planets.To
download an e-copy or get a paperback,
Back in November my son, Jack (age: now purchases beer legally),
and I flew to Jacksonville, Fla., for my niece's wedding. My nomadic
impulses have subsided in recent years, and I guess I forgot the
world beyond Maine looks different. The irregular hills and ruts of
Maine are burned deep in me, and Florida's gauzy, half-drunk
summer landscape -- in the middle of November -- plastered my
mind's eye like some immense dew.
November is not our most cherished month, at least not here in
the accelerating seasonal rounds of the spruce-northern hardwood
forest area in the Troy woods. It's the harbinger of winter, after all.
It's a pause, like a held breath, just before the deep cold.
Your eyes get used to November looking like November -- brown,
gray and copper. Maple, birch, ash and popple by midmonth turn
into skeletons. They leave a rough, brown, dead-acorn-smelling
rug on the woods floor. Milkweed, aster and goldenrod stalks are
lace-frail cadavers. Corn stubble and pumpkin vines are bent old
men. Cattails, which were rich brown in August, are frayed and
corroded sticks. Red winterberries glare out of bare tangles.
Crows, chickadees and nuthatches hang around the empty
hardwoods and in spruces and hemlocks that are less like life and
more like dark green blankets. The wild turkeys march through
single file from time to time, and the blue jays seem bright against
the copper oak leaves. But the juncos who hopped around in the
leaves like exuberant fifth-graders during October are gone, and so
are the warblers, most of the sparrows, and the hummingbirds
who split in September. The purple martins see it coming even
earlier, and vacate in August.
Somehow this sense of an impending ending that gathers like
storm clouds carries a certain clear, sober comfort: I've seen these
gray-brown woods teetering on the still point of the turning world
many times, and taken this deep breath ahead of the great white
wall of winter. And I -- or someone, anyway -- will see it all again.
November's great stillness is a blessed evening, you could say.
So my eye could not make sense of Florida's lightning colors. The
big-finned palms and vines, the moss hanging off giant live oaks
were like flakes of botanical flame to my New England-centric eye.
Fruit was still ripening on my brother's lemon tree. In November?
Not only were his jalapeno peppers still reddening, but his basil,
thyme and coriander (which simply doesn't survive at any time at
our house) were thriving in the little garden of his low-slung
one-story, hurricane-proof house with windows about a foot from
ground level. Cardinals, some kind of scrawny blue jay and exotic
sparrows visited the garden; what might have been a red-tailed
hawk monitored things from high up. Watch out for alligators and
water moccasins, and sure enough I saw a brown-backed snake
slither through a patch of unmown grass. By 10 a.m. it was 75
degrees, humid and blurry.
To me, this all seemed like a riotous lack of seasonal decorum.
Everything was drunkenly angering for life when it should have
been soberly reflecting on the cusp of winterfall and the end of this
But the gold side to these unseasonal green sides: Jack seemed to fit
right in. He had his shorts and T-shirts ready to go when we got
there. He sank his toes in my brother's shag-carpetlike lawn. He
drank beer easily with my brothers, which (since we're from
Maine, after all) did not take me by surprise. But then during the
wedding reception he suddenly had a highball glass in his hand,
which turned out to contain a high dose of vodka. This glass with
twizzle stick and lime disoriented me more than ever.
But when I paused and reflected, I recollected times when all of
nature, no matter where it was or when, synchronized with my
imagination and the flatlands of elsewhere were as inspiring as the
betangled and rutted Maine woods. In those days the whole world
was a teeming green home, whether it was the gray trees of central
Maine or the lavender-flowered garden of a cozy Florida
flood-plain house. When Jack was just a little boy, we walked up
through winter flowers to the top of the Pnyx hill in Athens and
looked out toward the Acropolis with just that feeling of flame and
morning. That was as intoxicating to me as the immense dew of
Florida is to Jack.
At the end of autumn, the backyard in Troy looked exactly like
Thanksgiving, I am happy to report.
By Alistair Noon
Yesterday was too rough to write:
my life-raft stayed barely aright.
Out here, navigation is not
a length of steel rope but a knot
like the strokes the Chinese
weave into a sign. My knees
are crushed into a ridge. I see
summits colliding in the sea,
valleys grinning. The reel
of the hull is stomach-real:
I survive on dry bread
above the fathoms where billions have bred.
And when I look out, I'm unsure
if a far thin line might be shore
in the horizon's changing orange-red,
the brightest chart here I've yet read.
From Across the Water by Alistair Noon, available from
The Greeners Get Greener
By Ross Timberlake
Rock and roll finally catches up with the rest of the arts world in the
21st century by abandoning its equipment and all the waste and
everything else it produces ...
The Greeners were just ending their press conference
when I arrived. The event was taking place outside the
coffee shop in Burlington where Kettle, Kip and Karl
“By meeting here today,” Kettle was saying, “we are
making the point that we are truly going back to our
roots. No more bars or concert halls. No more
agricultural fairs. The streets will once again be our
venue of choice and by doing this we will no longer be
using amps and light trees or anything else that
requires juice to make our sound.”
Living in the Questions
A 21st century talk before the Pennsylvania Poetry Society
By William Hathaway
I’m delighted to talk to the Pennsylvania Poetry Society,
but I can’t call myself a Pennsylvania poet because I’ve
only lived here a little over a year. I like it here. I was
living in Maine which is a very beautiful place, but I’m
having more fun here and there is beauty here as well and
the people are a lot less wintry. Having said that, I’m still
not a Pennsylvania poet. Over the years my poems have
appeared in Montana, New York and Louisiana poetry
anthologies, yet I’ve always felt awkward about being
represented equally with poets whose themes are
passionately regional. Reed Whittemore had a poem I
liked about watching “his bird” in “his tree,” but when
his bird flew away to his neighbor’s tree he was seized
with instant resentment. I was once fulsomely introduced
to a Sheboygan, Wis., audience as a Wisconsin poet, but
when I rose to admit that all I’d done in Wisconsin was
get born there a palpable chill filled the room. If you can
accept me as a guest Pennsylvania poet for the day, I’ll
Behind the ice veils in summer.