From J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan: “Fairies have to be one thing or the other, because being so small they unfortunately have room for one feeling only at a time.”


From W. H. Auden: “…poetry might be defined as the clear expression of mixed feelings.” For Auden, this communication of mixed feelings didn’t mean ambiguity; it referred to double focus–seeing or feeling or otherwise knowing two conflicting feelings simultaneously. Something that, according to Barrie, fairies could not do.


The mixed-ness of life presents many of its irritants, but also many of its joys. Think about the amazing complexity of a human being, a consciousness, a sentience: the mish-mash of experiences filtered through a mish-mash of other experiences and through unique neurological channels. I relish the fringes and edges of things such as meadows, rivers, horizons, roads, neighborhoods, and cultures. Combinations are more interesting than homogeneity. Paradoxes are more exciting than indelible rules.

I appreciate the design of formal gardens, or swaths of tulips; but a cottage garden interests me for longer, as do bogs and wetlands and the borders of woodlands. Most of the poems I love best, those that resonate the deepest and longest, express multiple and mixed possibilities. I enjoy poetry that can be interpreted several ways, or that twists back on itself and points out a paradox or a different focus, poetry that opens up perspectives and challenges expectations and perceptions. Mixed media, mixed expression, mixed feelings, mixed perennial borders, mixed forests, mixed neighborhoods…these juicy collages of experience keep the brain lively and interested.

They also pose good challenges for meditation. One can concentrate or focus on the unity of the disparities, for example. Lose yourself in a meadow.



Spring cycle

This morning, five deer grazed languidly at the farthest edge of the meadow near the treeline. Some minutes after the small herd moved away, a lone doe hopped into view.

She was familiar to me. I have posted about her before–the doe with the missing leg, whose home base is located in our area. The University of Michigan’s Museum of Zoology website says odocoileus virginianus (the white-tail) lives an average of two years in the wild, but our semi-suburban region lacks large predators (other than cars) and offers quite a bit of protection. Maximum lifespan in the wild is 10 years, and I know that this particular doe is at least eight years old by now. She seems as spry as ever; very likely she is gestating another fawn.

The deer are pests in many ways–gardeners despair of deer depredations of ornamentals and native plants alike, and we also worry about their role as hosts of Lyme disease. Nevertheless, the deer and I co-exist peacefully, and their appearance at the fringe of the grassy field has signaled spring this year as they emerge from having “yarded up” in their camouflaged territory during the deep, snowy winter. They reestablish their familiar trails through the vines, thorn bushes, and grasses.

And there is something soothing about the cyclicality of the roving deer, the reappearance of their well-worn paths…even about my annoyance at finding the crocus leaves cropped and the branches of the pear trees nibbled.

Also, do forgive the pun–but what could be more endearing than this sight from May of 2011?

ann e michael

When foraging, females leave their offspring in dense vegetation for about four hours at a time. While waiting for the female to return, fawns lay flat on the ground with their necks outstretched, well camouflaged against the forest floor. Fawns withhold their feces and urine until the mother arrives, at which point she ingests whatever the fawn voids to deny predators any sign of the fawn.
When foraging, females leave their offspring in dense vegetation for about four hours at a time. While waiting for the female to return, fawns lay flat on the ground with their necks outstretched, well camouflaged against the forest floor. Fawns withhold their feces and urine until the mother arrives, at which point she ingests whatever the fawn voids to deny predators any sign of the fawn.
When foraging, females leave their offspring in dense vegetation for about four hours at a time. While waiting for the female to return, fawns lay flat on the ground with their necks outstretched, well camouflaged against the forest floor. Fawns withhold their feces and urine until the mother arrives, at which point she ingests whatever the fawn voids to deny predators any sign of the fawn.



My collection Water-Rites was begun in response to a drought and a death. Interesting that the book’s release appears during an unusually wet spring here in my valley. On my morning walk through the meadow today, I saw quite a few species of dragonflies, generally a sign of a damp period in my region. Two days ago, mantis cases hatched; now there are tiny praying mantises on the patio slates, in the lawn, and among the grassy flora where we seldom mow.

The bees are out; the cabbage moths and early butterflies busy themselves with knapweed, eupatoria, penstemon, golden alexanders, honeysuckle, milkweed. The fragrance settles above the dewy grasses.

Most people are aware of honeysuckle’s scent. Few people know how lovely the aroma of milkweed blossom is. You have to time it just right–there’s no perceptible scent when the buds are furled, and the blooms are open only briefly. Almost at once, the blossoms ripen into pale knobs that will produce the familiar pods full of seeds packed cone-like into the pointed cases, silks battened tightly until autumn dries the pods and they burst.

But in early or mid-June, when the butterflies begin to arrive, those blooms are pale purple clusters of fragrance on a stem.

milkweed bloom


Ephemera intrigues me. Human ephemera usually is just that: brief, transitory, “lasting a day” (the Latin name for daylily, hemerocallis, comes from the same root: ἐφήμερα). Our letters, our emails, our YouTube videos and Hallmark greeting cards and shopping receipts.

Biological ephemera, however, is part and parcel of the cycle of life.

And poetry? Perhaps it’s an effort on the part of human beings to contribute to the lasting sort of ephemera.




milkweed in autumn Ann E. Michael


Snow scene

photo Ann E. Michael


Temperate regions in zones 5 and 6 benefit from snow cover, which moistens soil as it melts and insulates the living things that depend upon soil–a cold “open” winter is particularly hard on plants. Except for an unusual late-autumn blizzard, this season has been mild; so I welcome today’s snow even as signs of spring become visible: a few blooms on the hazel boughs, some snowdrops, reddening stems in the hedgerow shrubs.

phot Ann E. Michael


Winterberries are beginning to shrivel, and soon bluebirds and the earliest robins will pick them off for sustenance before the grubs and insects are plentiful. Today, as winter gently asserts itself, there are revelations in the outlines of white against shadow. The squirrel dreys are visible, loaded with dollops of snow, amid treetops. The deer paths and deer beds are more obvious because those areas are flattened by use and thus blanketed more evenly than the surrounding grassy spots.

Meadow’s stalks droop in criss-crossed patterns. If I look closely enough, I can identify the species, dry and broken, tangled together and covered in snow: solidago, eupatoria, aster, clematis, ryegrass, penstemon, milkweed. The snow’s ephemeral, yet I find myself thinking of Steve Tobin’s Earth Bronzes.

The ways shrubs and trees collect snow fascinate me, too; I love the fractal sketching of dogwood and Japanese maple, the calligraphic hatchwork of long-needled pines and the way thorns embrace little cups of ice along vine-y stems. I love the larch and birch that create the perfect image of lacework when a light snow coats their branches:

photo by Ann E. Michael

larch and birch

Overhead, vines rope trees together, creepers that take on a creepy mien, ghostly and dripping, when snow-covered. Vines have become a hazard in our region, with both native varieties (poinon ivy, wild grape) and non-natives (too many to name!) choking wooded areas, killing off tree crowns, usurping the niches of native plants, and adding to the hazards of storm damage.

Maybe that is why the ice-draped vines appear sinister to me.

And yet. A plant is neutral, alive, neither good nor bad, possesses no conscience, cannot be evil, plays its role in the environment–and can serve as inspiration. One woody tendril sways high above the ground, a line drawn against the featureless sky. Using a stick, I copy its shape in the snow at my feet. It might be part of an alphabet I do not know, an ideogram I have yet to decipher, the course of a river. Imagination steers from that point on: I take up my pen and write.

Lawn vs. meadow, and a doe

I was outdoors this morning, raking leaves and silently cussing the grass. Spouse and I hold different viewpoints about the necessity and maintenance of a lawn, and while I gave into his desire for a lawn many years ago, my argument has proven correct over time: we live in a meadow, and lawn-grass is not happy here. Now, as I rake leaves from the spotty, weedy, too-long ryegrass, I get exhilarated by the exercise and the crisp autumn air but steamed at the need to rake at all.

We don’t rake the meadow; it takes care of itself. This is what “low-maintenance lawn” means, that nature takes care of things without human intervention.

Besides, I have never harbored a yen for the classic British lawn—acres of clipped greensward don’t appeal to me. I always feel the great lawn is missing something: trees, a bed of flowers, a crescent of blooming shrubbery. Great lawns’ main appeal for me is that there are edges all along them. Edges are interesting. Large, plain, even swaths work mostly to draw my eye elsewhere. While our meadow acts like an open space, it is ever-changing and often full of movement. Lawns, by contrast, are static. We mow the meadow once a year; the lawn requires considerably more time and gasoline consumption to stay in bounds because it is meant to be more-or-less unchanging.

Except that we live in a meadow. The expensive grass seed loses out to plantain and dandelion, chickweed, henbit, ivies, wild onion, queen-anne’s-lace, cinquefoil and other invaders that thrive on acidic soils that go dry in summer and turn to mud for months, circumstances that the thin-rooted, superficial, stoloniferous lawn-grasses cannot abide for long. I don’t relish the fight against nature, and my suggestion is to “naturalize” our lawn, even though—of course—the majority of these weeds are non-native species. But then, so are the lawn grasses.

I should mention the grazers, as well. Rabbits. Mice and voles that tear  up the root systems of lawn grasses. Deer:

A digression on the subject of deer—

This morning, I was startled by the sight of a large doe skirting the frost-covered goldenrod stalks quite close to the house. It’s deer-hunting season here, and there’s often an increase in the herd activity around our property as individuals and small herds lie low or avoid areas where there are hunters. This is one individual with whom I have long been familiar, a three-legged doe whose territory has included our yard for at least five years.

(In the photo, she is third from the left, the largest one; her right foreleg is missing)

She has borne a fawn every year but this past spring (the year before, she had twins—a male and a female). Some years back, I watched as she delivered her offspring in the meadow, which elicited a poem. In fact, she’s inspired several of my poems, so I owe her a debt of gratitude.

She was back-lighted by the early sun and, as usual, a bit graceless as she ascended the hill on her three good legs. The sun behind her outlined her in white, just as the  dry weeds were also rimmed with white, and she didn’t seem to mind that I had joined her. She just kept going until she vanished into the woodlot. I walked to the bottom of the hill and looked for her tracks in the soft lawn, followed them along the edge of the meadow, three hoof prints instead of four, one a bit deeper in the soil.

Well, we make our compromises, we do what we can with what we have, we choose our battles. My spouse has his lawn, I have my meadow, the doe treads her uneven path through survival at the edge of the suburbs.

I may as well pick up my rake and stop cussing the grass.