poetry and prose about place

Archive for September 2011

settling into unfamiliar

with 6 comments

After three decades of work, I am retiring within the year.  Another milestone.  A new ‘way’ to settle into.

I remember when I made the transition into full-time employment.  It was a huge change for me.

Previously, I had been a student, living at home.  Suddenly, I was away from familiar places, in a new province, on my own.

Fortunately, I had solid back-up… my Mom and Dad were supportive and helped me whenever they could.  I loved my apartment, my new friends, my responsibilities.  Everything was new.  I learned as I went, meeting each new experience as if it was a page being turned in a book.

This transition, my retirement, will be so different.  I should be ahead of the change.  I am settled.  I know my home.  I have my husband to steady me and my son to give me advice!  I have a plan.

But the transition is still scary.  For three decades, my work has structured my life, providing deadlines and places to be, people to see.  I’ll have to establish a new daily routine.  I’ll have to set goals and celebrate milestones.  I’ll have to work a little harder to maintain my social contacts.

It will be like my first walks in the grey woods.  In those days, I didn’t know the paths very well and worried about getting lost (even though I could hear the cars on the main road!).  Sounds were strange, even frightening.  I worried about wild animals.

But gradually I learned the ways of the grey woods.  Every time I walked the paths, they became more familiar, and also more worn and easier to follow.  I learned the sounds to expect and the animals and birds I would encounter.  I learned the pitfalls.  I learned to expect a gem on every walk… a fairy ring of mushrooms, a Pileated Woodpecker hammering at a tree trunk, a chorus of frogs from the ephemeral pools…


walk in the grey forest


I walk on unknown land

land I have not seen

but dreamed, the wary dream of intruder

where silence is fragile

snapped in two

by leaf fall


I step carefully

my disturbance less

than the exhalation of wind

or the mutter of moths

between moribund trees


this is ancient land

mossy logs, weary paths

where others may have walked

slanted cathedral light

lichened stones


the unknown watches me

crouched in a hollow

flattened to the bole of the oak

betrayed by a ripple on the vernal pool

by the rattle of beech leaf or birch bark paper

it will surely shake free of its leaf garment

rise from the forest floor

to chastise me

desecrator of place


even a careful step

is hard on hollow land


it will take time

to learn to walk here

to discover game trails in the half-light

to understand words unspoken

to know the dying trees

not as omen

but as part

of the forest


© Jane Tims 1998

Written by jane tims

September 29, 2011 at 8:55 am

pool at the base of the waterfall

with 6 comments

Have you ever had trout nibble at your toes?

When I was a teenager, my family was fortunate to own a woods property with a brook and a substantial waterfall.  We had a cabin there, built by my Dad.

The brook was wide and shallow, running through mixed woods.  It was a torrent in the spring, but in summer it ran gently through the trees, bordered by mossy hummocks, accented with small pools and riffles.

I remember the first time I saw the waterfall.  We were looking for a woods property and a farmer offered to show us some of his land.  I was exploring a particular area, following the bank of the stream, when I first heard the roar of the falls and saw the bright froth of water through the trees.  I couldn’t believe it when the owner said, without hesitation, we could have that lot for our cabin.

The falls were substantial, spilling about 15 feet over a dip in the shale substrate.  They spread outward from the lip of the falls, creating a broad triangle of white, laid across the rock like a veil.  The roar of the water falling was constant and intense.

'waterfall and pool'

At the base of the waterfall was a pool, waist deep.  The water was headache cold, but once we became used to it, we could swim and cool off on a summer day.  The pool was transparent as glass, and we could look down and watch the trout nibbling at our toes.  In spite of the dramatic turn of my poem below, the trout were not voracious and their nibbles were butterfly kisses.






mist and mosses

colour the air

where the waterfall leaps

green in the mumble of water


I stand waist deep

in the fall-fed pool

bubbles cling to my legs

to the hairs on the back of my knee


droplets of air above water are nothing




the soles of my feet

slide on the slate

search for softer

pockets of sand


trout kiss my ankles


I try to see

but the surface is silver

a dome reflected

of maple and sky




a green leaf settles

a pine needle spins

striders press dents on the water




I need to see the trout

I bend my face to the water

press on the skin

push through the meniscus


my nose is severed from my face




I am the pond


I cannot move

I cannot breathe

my hands are numb

my heart squeezes within me


I cannot believe

the trout have taken

great gashes of leg

my toes are slashed by the slate


I look up through the water

its surface a circle of silver




fish gnaw at my toes

bubbles grate at the back of my knee

tears under water are nothing



© Jane Tims 1992

Written by jane tims

September 27, 2011 at 8:34 am


with 4 comments

If the space you occupy, your niche, has benefits to nourish, lift and sustain you, it also has its pitfalls, its dangers.  Animals know this and their adaptations to their habitat are as much about avoiding danger as they are about obtaining food or shelter.

Think about the Groundhog family in the grey woods behind our house (see post ‘the location of our picnic table‘ August 20,2011, category ‘wild life’).  The Groundhog’s tunnels are designed to provide shelter and food storage, but they are also designed for checking out the enemy and for quick escape.

Like the Groundhog, I try to prepare for the pitfalls.  I have an emergency kit, including water and a flashlight, ready for severe storms, unexpected floods, and power outages.  In spite of this, when our basement was flooded last December, I found I was poorly prepared and all I could do was concentrate on the small steps toward return to normalcy.

The path through the grey woods has its own pitfalls.  When I go for walks I have to beware of fallen trees…

roots ready to grab an ankle…

branches reaching to poke an eye…

and the risks of not looking around, and missing something special and ephemeral…



soft places in the earth

hollows in the leaf layer

deadfalls to snag the surest ankle

roots that reach for the body

and chasms to claim it


gaps in the greyness of pine

spaces to spill sunlight

admit the riot of leaves

and the keys of the maple


holes in the layer of cloud

snags in the curtain

knots in floorboards

eyes in the blackness of night


flaws in the fabric

seams to part and peer through

paths we have crossed before

in other ways


© Jane Tims 2005

'red mushroom'

Written by jane tims

September 26, 2011 at 8:04 am

messages in stone

with 8 comments

In my studies in history, no topic has engaged me like the use of stone to record our human endeavors.  I have made a small study of the rune stones of Scandinavia, the stelae of Mesoamerica, and the petroglyphs of North America.

The majority of Scandinavian rune stones are found in Sweden (2,900 in Sweden, compared with 300 in Denmark, 50 in Norway and 33 on the Isle of Man). 

These stones are upright or horizontal, frequently taller than two meters and marked by rune carvers with runes and various images.  Rune stones are found scattered across the countryside and are mostly memorials, providing records of family relationships and history, community happenings and property ownership. 

The majority of rune stones were made in the eleventh century, coinciding with the gradual conversion of the people of Scandinavia from pagan beliefs to Christianity.  The transition took years, a merging of doctrine and practice from the two religions.  The majority of rune stones show some religious symbolism, usually a blending of pagan and Christian ideas. 

In the yard of an old church at Sigtuna, Uppland, is a rune stone once part of the Dominican cloister foundation. 

rune stone U379 at Sigtuna churchyard (Source: Ojan, 2009, Wikimedia Commons)

The stone was raised by a guild of merchants to honor one of their members.  The rune stone is carved with a ribbon of runes enclosing a simple pattée cross.  The facimile (below) of the carvings on the rune stone is taken from:

facimile of carvings on rune stone U379

The Dominicans are a Christian Order of mendicant monks founded in the early thirteenth century.  The monks are also called “black friars” because of their black cloaks. 

The chant in the poem below is based on the Order for Compline in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer.


they too were brothers       

(rune stone at the Dominican cloister, Sigtuna) 

Frisa gildaR letu ræisa stæin Þennsa æftiR Þor [kil, gild] a sinn.

The Frisian guild brothers let raise this stone after Torkel, their guild brother. 

                                                                        – inscription on the rune stone at the cloister



we, black friars, stride

stone to stone

the measured step

of Compline

lighten our darkness

protect us

from perils of night

beside the singular stone

our voices waver

pause on the syllable

explore the octave

and the chant moves on

relief of a quiet night

perfect end to imperfect day

fearless expectation

of the grave

they too were brothers

to him, Torkel

we, Frisa, raise

this stone

ribbon of runes

cut by Torbjörn

the cross by his blade

brighten our darkness

hide us beneath

the shadow of thy wings

God bless him and keep him

Guđ hialpi and hans

© Jane Tims 2005

not a rune stone, of course, but a grave marker in a New Brunswick cemetery

Written by jane tims

September 24, 2011 at 6:38 am

my ideal niche

with 6 comments

I have a picture of the late Tasha Tudor, the children’s author and illustrator, standing in her hermit’s weeds, clutching an armload of branches for the woodstove.  Her lined face and straightforward relationship with nature exactly describe my wished-for niche. 

I imagine myself as living with the land, growing all my own vegetables, foraging for food I cannot grow, living off the ‘grid’ with solar panels and wood fires, pumping my water from a dug well, patching my roof with pitch from the spruce trees… you are getting the picture.  I do few of these things.  My garden is pitiful, no sensible fish would attach to my line, and I have to keep a few litres of water in containers in case my electricity-dependant water pump succumbs to a power outage.

The niche I actually occupy is satisfactory when measured by many standards.   It falls short of my ideal, but I am not willing to sacrifice.  Even in the simple matter of the woodstove, I have only achieved partial success.  We have pleasant fires in the autumn when the days are getting cold.  But in winter, I rely on electricity to keep me warm.

wood gathered for winter

If my ideal niche is not possible, I do find joy in the bits I have achieved.  I think of my successful row of beans, my healthy crop of mint, my knitting of socks in winter, and my walks in the grey woods, as a ‘close approximation’ of my ideal.  I admit that I would like to leave my cosy electricity-dependant niche, and acknowledgement frees me to stay. 

'Odd Socks' ... I knit them all winter...

I accept the truth … the ideal niche is a difficult goal.  It takes determination and stamina to achieve.   


a close approximation


Dolbear’s Law states: the number of chirps a cricket makes in fifteen seconds, plus forty, is a close approximation of the temperature on a summer night


warm September   evening  

I sit on the stoop    consider

the timid wind chime    the silent screen door  

the unmetered patter of rain


soothing after a month of dry


the rain    picks a song

over stones on the river

dolce vivace




where does my mantra take me?


away, to the songs of a summer night

at the back door    on the concrete step

where crickets sing   from cracks in the sidewalk


strung together    patio lanterns

notes from a Spanish guitar

the insect refrain


behind me    light from the kitchen

potatoes at boil   the voice of my sister

the tap of her shoe


beside me   the metal rail   rings at my touch

cool on a night   so hot and so dry

the pavement cracks


out in the yard    the insect chorus





molto vivace



too quick

to count


Published as: ‘threshold’, Spring 1997, Pottersfield Portfolio 17 (3)


© Jane Tims

'summer night at the back door'

Written by jane tims

September 23, 2011 at 7:51 am

returning to the shore

with 8 comments

Each summer we try to include a visit to the seashore in our vacation plans.  This year we explored the coast of Maine and discovered Acadia National Park.  Last year, we followed the South Shore of Nova Scotia, stopping at its many public beaches and byways.

The seashore is a magical place.  One of the beaches we visited in 2010 was Crescent Beach, near Lunenburg.  At the far end of the two kilometre long beach was an outcrop of calcareous rock.  This rock had been eroded and pitted by wave action over the millennia.  At one spot, the erosion had worn a small hole in the rock, just big enough to put my finger through.  For that moment, I was wearing the whole earth as a ring on my finger!!

wearing the world on my finger!

The other magical aspect of the seashore is its changeability.  In 2009, we followed the Eastern Shore of Nova Scotia and made our second visit to Tor Bay, near Larry’s River.  When you stand on the beach at Tor Bay, the energy of the ocean and the drama of the wave action occupies all of your senses, all of ‘self’.  The drama had also changed the beachscape significantly between our two visits, shortening its depth and exposing rocks I had not seen on our first visit.

It was as though we were not in the same place at all, but remembering a fable about a beach we had once known.  No matter how hard we tried, we could never return to the same beach we had visited before.









the fragments

layered by water

forged by fire

thrust and folded






this morning

the moon is real

sculpted in wavefoam

smooth as a pebble

random in the clatter



not a fable of moon


the rocks are folded

half-buried in sand


on the shore

an igneous man

in his lap a puddle of water

salt crystals

and stars


a quartz river

seams his forehead



not a fable of river




I place quartz stones

too heavy for the gulls

to gather


these stones will shine

in darkness

a long line leading home




I choose small stones

with smooth and shine


stones like eggshell

or potatoes pushed

into ground


pearl buttons

turned by a clumsy hand

rice pelting the window

lanterns shining in the dark




at midnight

I run to the shore

the white pebbles

gather me to the moonlight

a dotted line

on the asphalt road




the pebbles do not

wait for me

they fade

and scatter

roll over and over


among so many

common stones


the wave edge

unravels behind me




the path home is a fable

not real


in my lap is a pool

salt water

and stars




© Jane Tims  1998

Crescent Beach near Lunenburg, Nova Scotia

Written by jane tims

September 21, 2011 at 6:39 am

autumn along the brook

with 10 comments

Behind our house, in the grey woods, is a narrow little brook.  It is not much to look at but I like its simplicity.  This brook has steep sides (a cross-section like a ‘U’) and grassy banks, and it creates charming little riffles over fallen logs.  Until this moment, I have never realised … we have not given this brook a name!


I walked to the brook last Monday evening, to see how high the water was and to look for signs of the changing season. 

Autumn is showing its color everywhere.  Some of the ferns have turned yellow with the first frost…

There are fallen red maple leaves on the trail and in the brook…    

And the berries of Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis L.) are brilliant red…

                                                                                            ‘red berries’                                                                                                               


end of summer


on the path along the brook

one leaf bleeds into water

in town the walks are stony

chaff of linden, seeds 

dry ditches overflow with flowers


I shrug

(no matter

summer is ended)


yellow rattle

pods and grasses

rehearse an incantation 

wind sulks in corners of the shed

warmth and sun

paint the orange of pumpkins

knit winter mittens


I gather signs of autumn

asters, windfalls, flocks of red wings

frantic in the alders

acorns, hollow galls from oak


Orion peeks above the trees

time forgotten, found

and summer with rain never ends


I ask for rain

(arms loaded with everlasting)


© Jane Tims 2010

'oak leaves and acorns'

Written by jane tims

September 19, 2011 at 7:57 am

the color of niche

with 4 comments

What are the color characteristics of niche?  Are humans the only species to prefer certain colors for their spaces?

Other species also have color preferences.  The best example I know is the preference of insects for color in their interactions with plants.  Some insect pollinators, for example, prefer certain colors over others.  Bumble bees have been shown to prefer the color purple.  Also, flowers appearing monochromatic to us may be perceived quite differently by insects since they also see in the ultraviolet range of the spectrum.  Some flowers, such as the yellow Evening-Primrose (Oenothera biennis L.), have ‘runway markers’ on their petals, to help insect pollinators to find their way to the nectar-producing parts of the plant. 

Evening- Primrose  (Oenothera biennis L.)            Under uptra-violet light, the central area of the inner petals shows dark ‘runway markers’… if you look closely, you can see some vein-like variation in the yellow of the inner petals

Knowing about color-preference in insects can help us to spend more time in the out-of-doors.  Science has shown us that mosquitoes prefer black or other dark colors over lighter colors.  Greens, yellows and white are the colors to wear to reduce your attractiveness to mosquitoes.

An early paper on color preference of insects is A.S. Packard, 1903, ‘Color Preference in Insects’, Journal of the New York Entomological Society 11: 132-137.  This paper is over one hundred years old but has charming anecdotes of the color preferences of houseflies, butterflies, moths and other insects.  It is available on-line at: 

In the article, Packard reports mosquitoes are attracted to navy-blue, dark red and reddish brown.

My favorite color is definitely green, followed closely by orange.  I also find I associate these colors strongly with the seasons:  autumn with orange, summer with green.  Although I would not select red as a favorite color, I notice my house, not at all color-coordinated, has definite red accents in almost every room.

What is the preferred color of your niche?

Chinese lanterns (Physalis alkekengi L.) from a friend's garden... also called Bladder cherry or Japanese lantern


orange peel


orchard bees

wings of monarch or viceroy

citrus oil, flames spurted  in dark

weightlessness of Chinese lanterns, evolution of green


jack-o-lantern grin on the compost heap

taste and root-thread trace of carrot

pumpkins on the vine


furniture polish stain

on an empty page


nothing rhymes

with orange


© Jane Tims 2011

Written by jane tims

September 18, 2011 at 5:44 pm

a trail through grey woods

with 8 comments

In our grey woods, an old trail follows the top of the slope, between the trees.  It takes constant care to keep it free for walking.  The spruce are old and every winter takes down a new raft of trees.  My husband works at it constantly, cutting a way through the fallen logs and filling the hollows with wood chips.   

When I walk there, I always find something I haven’t noticed before.  Yesterday I made three discoveries:

A maple seedling sprouting in the cut surface of a maple tree felled for firewood…

A pair of bracket fungi on a fallen birch log (notice the shadows of fern leaf on the surface of the fungi)…

 And various other types of fungi, sprung up after the rain…


In each case, the discovery was about hope – life from death, new growth from decay.   

The woods have so many lessons to teach… I only need to slow down and look closely to learn.


slow walk in the woods



more to woods

than a path between trees

slow pace

check perspective



discover texture on trunk 

scar and indentation

detail in the duff upset

by careless feet


note how light scatters

through pollen and powder

now sifts slantwise, shadow

on brackets of fungi

light from lichen



slow beat and breath

match the stealth of forest, realise

branches gather rain

an hour before they weep


© Jane Tims 2005

Written by jane tims

September 17, 2011 at 7:02 am

crossing the river #2

with 2 comments

In the 1970s, when my husband and I had only known each other for about a month, we were stranded for three hours on a ferry that quit half way across the river.  The ferryman just shrugged, said he’d be back, and rowed away in the lifeboat. 

We were desperate.  For an hour, we skipped stones across the water.  I don’t believe there was a single stone or pebble or grain of sand left on the ferry deck!  We talked, of course, and probably found out how much we had in common. We’ve been together for almost 33 years. 

When the ferryman returned, he brought some sandwiches his wife had made for us and the news we would have to wait two more hours for the Coast Guard to come up the river from Saint John to tow us to the shore. 

Needless to say, we were eventually rescued.   And I have never experienced a ferry breakdown again.

some of these would be excellent for skipping


skipping stones


collect your stones

select for flat and smooth

stones with knowledge

embedded flight and float

pile your stones


hold your hand

like this, curl your finger

round the stone, flat curve against

your palm, coddled

cover of a book

you never want to end


swoop back

arm and index finger

parallel to shore, release




                                                                              the way



                                                                                                                 with edge

                                                                                                                                     of skim





concentric rings

connect and scatter


select another stone



© Jane Tims 2011

Written by jane tims

September 16, 2011 at 7:17 am

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