morning post card from Ruby Lake, as kingfishers catch fire…

There’s a lot of cooking going on. Five pounds of spot prawns (thank you, Joe Denham!) briefly boiled, then served with tangy butter made with the succulent cloves of Metechi garlic. Sourdough bread. Salad from the garden. Last night, French fingerling potatoes dug with the help of Arthur and roasted with a bit of duck fat and olive oil to have with prime rib beef. Raspberries picked in the morning by John and topped with creme fraiche. Tonight friends are coming for barbecued sockeye and a galette of gooseberries and blueberries. Arthur helped mix the berries with some honey and lemon zest. And then he measured black beans from one container to another because he’s not yet two and he wants to do things himself.

cooking

After we cooked, we swam. We were the only ones at the little park and the water was green and lovely. Arthur looked exactly like his father Forrest looked at his age and John and I were taken back more than three decades. Same place, same water, same trees, but all of us older. A kingfisher flashed by, rattling, and settled on a limb of cedar hanging over the lake. Name the poet, I called, reciting the first verse:

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Whát I dó is me: for that I came.
(And to be honest, I couldn’t remember the whole verse but the first two, and last two lines…) There was some delay. (My husband a poet, my son a scholar.) Think Jesuit, I said. And no, not Dylan Thomas, not Roethke. Hopkins! Selves, what I do is me. Morning light on the water, ravens klooking nearby, our bodies cool and buoyant, the prospect of coffee on the deck with lemon pound cake and the scent of tomato plants. (Wish you were here, too, Brendan, Cristen, Kelly, and Henry.)

dragonflies draw flame

A poem I’ve always loved came alive for me today as we walked around the Hallowell loop, a favourite walk which takes us by a chanterelle patch if we’re lucky (and today we were), a pine mushroom hoard (and we’ll start looking for those in a few weeks), a marsh where we’ve often heard the kingfishers’ rattles as they called to each other from one end of the marsh to the other. In warm weather, turtles sun themselves on the logs that jut out into the water and there’s a beaver lodge. We saw the wedge of tail once as a beaver swam underwater to its home. Once, inexplicably, two swans on the winter marsh. Cutthroat trout spawn in the creek that flows through the marsh, from Ruby Lake to Sakinaw Lake, and herons wait for them during the fall run. There are river otters too, though we’ve never seen one.

Today, walking back from the marsh area to our mailbox, then home along the highway, I found a stunned dragonfly on the road. I often see crushed ones that have flown up from another small marsh along the highway and been hit by cars, but this one was alive, undamaged (that I could tell), and I gently lifted it onto the junk-mail I was bringing home for fire-lighter. I carried it in front of me while it tried its wings, stretched its legs. A car passed and the draft blew the insect off the paper. So we put it on some grass on the other side — the safe side — of the ditch along the road. What does it remind you of, I asked John, and he said, Hopkins.

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies dráw fláme;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves—goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Whát I do is me: for that I came.

It felt like a moment full of meaning. The chance to study a beautiful creature as it found its way back to life, the beauty of its anatomy.

dragon fly anatomyIt seemed to me that the compound eyes were plated, like armour (though would that protect it from a glancing blow from a fast car?), and its abdomen was so beautifully patterned with turquoise. The wings shimmered. When I got home, I looked it up and discovered it was Aeshna palmata, the paddle-tailed darner.

paddle-tailed darnerThis is the season of the dragonflies. I see them everywhere, dipping and floating over the garden, the decks, the highway (unfortunately), landing on leaves or posts, stitching sky to earth. “Myself it speaks and spells”. the spell of its flight catching us briefly, “crying Whát I do is me: for that I came.” And I remember the tiny weight of it in my hand.