Field Notes from Michael G. Smith: Bio-Islands in The Lawn

On a drizzly summer afternoon I pulled my well-worn copy of Bashō’s “The Narrow Road to the Deep North and Other Travel Sketches” off the bookshelf and re-encountered a poem by the 17th century Japanese physician Kakei.

Broken to pieces
By a winter storm,
A two-day old
New moon in the sky.

Blown apart by Kakei’s observation and subtle urging to look, I turned my gaze to a garden of native perennials, shrubs and a Mountain ash I planted early in the season at the edge of my yard bordering the riparian meadow. Birds and small mammals continually visiting the feeders neighbors and I have erected, I am creating bio-islands within a near-useless lawn for them to shelter and forage in.

My sight landed on five House sparrows, four females and a male, rummaging through the mulch. I grabbed my binoculars. One female held a greenish orb with her yellow beak and chewed it. Another tugged at a twig, now dead, that had sprouted at the base of the ash. The third picked up a small knot of roots fallen off a perennial when I planted it. She put it down, picked it up again and again, then flew into a nearby cluster of willows and dogwoods in the meadow with it. The male grabbed an insect and fed the fourth female. His definitive signatures of mating plumage, black beak and breast splotch, told an evolving story as old as Earth.

Seeking to know the manifest world, I break it into digestible pieces. Yet, wherever I place my attention and awareness – up, down, right, left, inside, out – it is always whole, its fresh newness an enduring feature.

I hoped birds
Would perch on the sapling,
Instead they rest
Atop its wooden stays.

Early Birds by Ursula Moeller


So early in the year
snow lying patchy on the lawn
sun barely up
pinking the apple tree

I watch a female sparrow
alight at our birdhouse
and poke her head
through the round front door

I’m embarrassed we didn’t
clean out last year’s old nest
of sticks and feathers
and gathered odd bits.

She pushes part way inside
tail sticking out straight
seems to ponder
if it’s worth the work.

Her black-bibbed mate
feathers fluffed full
perches on the roof
cocks his head

Then tries to mount her
while she’s half inside,
strong shake of her body
rejects him.

She emerges twig in beak
drops it down to the ground
seems like it might
be worth the trouble.

He is next inside
and removes his own bit
a tattered old feather.
Is this a commitment?

Rose-breasted juncos
peck seeds below
black crows arc overhead
on their own search.

Tomorrow morning
I’ll check again.


Animal Rights Haiku

I was just asked if my haiku, below, could be anthologized in an animal rights anthology. Of course I was touched, not having thought of it that way.

the nun scatters
her cut hair
for the nesting birds

The haiku was inspired by my friend Miriam Bobkoff who was a Buddhist monk (her lineage not distinguishing nuns). She cut her hair in preparation for the head shaving of her ordination ceremony.
She was a true bird lover. She hung seed feeders and hummingbird ones. She loved Bosque del Apache in southern New Mexico where migrating cranes winter. I once saw her run beneath a flock of flying cranes, calling “take me with you.”
Rich and I were at the Bosque over New Year’s, and I was reminiscing how Mir B. called the snow geese and sandhill cranes “people,” which we still do.
I’ve been thinking of her her for no apparent reason of late. She’s been dead for over a year, and while certain things (grilled tofu, oysters, the San Luis Valley) often call her to mind, she has just been in my thoughts more than usual.

She left me her embroidered portrait of an oyster catcher. She’d never bought a piece of textile art before, but she loved oyster catchers. In fact, she saw the piece, by Kristen Chursinoff, years ago here on this very blog.


I wasn’t happy to get it, because my possession meant she was dead. It’s really quite special, though. (