poetry and prose about place

Archive for November 2011

a nest in November

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On Saturday, we drove to the lake to gather boughs of fir and pine for our Christmas decorations.  While we were there, we poked around in the thicket.  We found a few bird nests, still intact, easily seen now the trees and alders are free of leaves.

The first nest was cup-shaped, made of tightly woven grasses and weeds.  Nests of songbirds are not easy to identify since they are similar in size and construction materials.  If this little nest survives the winter, perhaps I can watch who uses it next spring.

The second nest probably belonged to a Robin.  It was high in a tamarack tree, welded firmly to the branches.  Robins often return to the same area and sometimes use the nest of the previous summer, so I’ll be watching this nest too.

The last nest we saw was a beautiful little hanging basket covered with birch bark and woven with grasses.  It appeared to be frail but it was very sturdy and stubbornly clung to the bough in spite of its exposure in the November wind.  I think it is the most delightful sight I have ever seen.

A biologist with the New Brunswick Department of Natural Resources was able to identify this nest from my photo.  The nest probably belonged to a red-eyed vireo, one of our common songbirds.  I have never seen this bird at our lake property, but we hear it all summer, endlessly asking its question and giving an answer.



Red-eyed Vireo

(Vireo olivaceous)


drab little

olivaceous outlaw

black masked

red eye


can’t see you

can’t find you

can hear you

where’re you?

over there

where’re you?



in November

ghost-self flutters

in birch bark tatters

a basket in the alder

remnant of summer


gone now

what’d ya do?

did an answer finally

come to you?


©  Jane Tims   2011

Written by jane tims

November 30, 2011 at 6:37 am

cave beneath the waterfall

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In the cold weather, I think about the waterfalls we saw this summer.  As the temperature gets lower, they succumb.  First the water freezes at the edges, building up on the rocks and ledges.  Then, gradually icicles build and the surface water freezes.  By mid-winter, the waterfall will be a frozen cataract, a glass house of ice.  Within the frozen falls are ice caverns and icicles, places where water runs and where water stands still, and places where the ice traps sunlight to shimmer and sparkle. 

One of the waterfalls we visited this summer was Smith Falls (see ‘niche beneath waterfall’ under the category ‘waterways’, published October 21, 2011).  At the base of the waterfall was a small cave.  In winter, the entrance to this cave must be a crystalline curtain of icicles and glass.  

Below, in my poem and drawing, I remember the cave and waterfall in summer.       



            ‘a small cave is hidden beneath the falls’

                                        –  trail guide


sip of tea

candles lit in evening

a lap quilt tucked

relief from freshet


cave,  respite

beneath two newly reconciled

slabs of bedrock

or where vulnerable sediments finally fail

succumb to the reach of water


spurt and shard

the brawl subsides

and damp recedes

pollen settles


concentric rings

and space is made

to occupy


© Jane Tims 2011


© Jane Tims 2011

Written by jane tims

November 28, 2011 at 6:58 am

jane 9 squirrels 1

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Again, I am in competition with the squirrels (see ‘competing with the squirrels #1 and #2’, in the Category ‘competing for niche space’). 

Christmas is coming and this year, I am decorating with natural elements.  One of these is a ceramic bowl of large pine cones. 

We have several large White Pine (Pinus Strobus L.) on our property and from time to time, they produce masses of beautiful pine cones, perfect for my decorations.  White Pine are easy to remember in this area, since they have their needles in bundles of five.  The cones are between 10 and 15 cm long and are a favourite food for squirrels.   

My husband came in last weekend and announced there were lots of the big cones in the pine tree next to our lawn. “Watch for them to fall, and then you should hurry to collect them,” said my savvy husband (he remembers the sad tale of the ripening hazelnuts). 

I waited a couple of days and then went scavenging.  And now, I am supreme.  I have gathered enough cones for our Christmas.  I saw a few cones with the lower scales and seeds nibbled away, but I found plenty for me.   My hands were sticky, true, but I was so happy.  All I can say is, with an emphasis approaching smug, “CH-CH-Ch-chchchchch-ch.”

just to show that the squirrels do have lots of pine nuts… these cones are about half eaten


in November


we gather pine cones

snakes of lion’s paw


cedar boughs

and holly

we walk the wild ways

pruners and scissors

baskets and stout cord

bind bunches

of branches

balsam and cedar  

blood berries

and evergreen

garlands of fir

rosehips and acorns, gilded


and prickles

and thorns


©  Jane Tims 2011

crows in trees

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Of all the birds, I like the American crow (Corvus brachyrynchos) the best. 

For one thing, they seem to me to be full of personality.  I also know that crows are intelligent – research shows they can distinguish humans from one another by facial features.  Crows also stay in family groups (parents and fledged offspring) for a few seasons.  I feel sorry for crows; they seem to have a bad reputation and are treated poorly as a result.

If you want to learn more about crows and their habits, have a look at Michael Westerfield’s new book “The Language of Crows: The Book of the American Crow,” available at .

A group of crows is known as a ‘murder’ of crows.  The term ‘murder’ refers to the ‘observation’ that a group of crows will kill a dying cow.  Some people are advocating for an alternative, since the term ‘murder’ perpetuates the notion of crows being malicious.  Alternative names for a group of crows are presented in  Michael Westerfield’s Crow Log: The Project.  I think this is an opportunity for a Poll!   



Morning Song


in the morning

dew soaks the grass

and Canada

belongs to the crows


the croaking of ravens

the cawing of crows

familiar, unheard

backdrop to Canadian dawn


            (theme music

            in Canadian film)


in a conversational rattle

discussing gold and letters


a two syllable scream

haunting the fields


solitary sorrow

throned at the top

of a tamarack


            black wings bruise the air

            he calls an alarm

            screams to his mate

                          the love of his life

            with only the fall of the dew

                                         for an answer


silent is the shroud of black feathers

strung by the feet from a pole

beside a garden

where she braved the flapping man

and dared to pull new corn


in the morning

Canada belongs to the crows


Published as: ‘Morning Song’, Spring 1995, The Cormorant XI (2)

© Jane Tims 1995

Written by jane tims

November 26, 2011 at 7:23 am

Evergreen Woodfern (Dryopteris intermedia Muhl.)

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On Sunday, I looked for and found my first November fern!  Since we had about 25 cm of snow yesterday, I may have found my only fern of the winter!

The fern I found is an evergreen fern, pressed close to the earth this time of year. 


For me, identifying ferns is always a challenge.  I use the Peterson Field Guide,  ‘A Field Guide to the Ferns and their Related Families’  by Boughton Cobb, 1963. Then I turn to a very helpful website .

With patience and careful attention to some key features, I can usually figure them out.

checklist issued by the Nova Scotia Museum for a fern project several years ago; a checklist like this is helpful to double-check your identification

The key features for the fern I found are:

  • the roughly triangular shape
  • the ‘thrice-cut’ nature of the leaves (cut once into leaflets or pinnae, a second time into subleaflets or pinnules, and a third time into lobes)
  • the stalk is greenish and scaly, not hairy
  • the lowest pair of inside subleaflets (next to the stem) of the lowest leaflet are slightly shorter than the second subleaflets next to the stem (if you look closely at the photo above, this feature is hard to see due to the camera’s perspective – the best example is the fern at the upper right).  

This fern is the Evergreen Woodfern (Dryopteris intermedia), closely related to and difficult to distinguish from the Spinulose Woodfern.

a leaf of the Evergreen Woodfern... the lowest pair of inside sub-leaflets at 'A' are shorter than the next pair at 'B'... this is the feature distinguishing the Evergreen Woodfern from other Woodferns

Written by jane tims

November 25, 2011 at 6:46 am

American Star-flower (Trientalis borealis Raf.)

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Crisp November nights are a perfect time for a quick look up at the stars.  I’ll be including some posts about our star-gazing, but for now, my thoughts are still turning back to summer.  Stars in the sky?  There are also stars in the dark summer woods.

The American Star-flower, Trientalis borealis Raf., is a plant with a delicate white, star-shaped flower, found in late spring in woodlands and on peaty slopes.  Its scientific name comes from the Latin word for the third part of a foot, a reference to the height of the plant, and the Latin borealis, meaning northern.  It is a common little plant, described by Fernald as a “forest pioneer”.

Some will wonder what the ‘Raf.’ refers to, at the end of the scientific name.  This is an attribution to the botanist who first named the plant.  In many cases, the attribution is ‘L.’, meaning the plant was first named by Carolus Linnaeus (the biologist who first introduced the ‘binomial’ naming system for plants). 

‘Raf.’ stands for Constantine Samuel Rafinesque-Schmaltz who first assigned the genus and species names to the plant –  Trientalis borealis.  He was an eccentric polymath (knowledgeable in many fields and disciplines) who lived from 1783 to 1840.  In his lifetime he published 6,700 binomial names for plants.



            Trientalis borealis Raf.





lost from the sky

four inches high

            (the Latin name

            makes claim)

petals white

boreal light

fallen down

first found

by Constantine

now often seen

            it’s little lamp

            above the damp

a forest pioneer

final frontier

up above

twinkling of

stamen and star

who you are

I wonder

and wander

down a trail blazed

by a frail flower

one candle power


Published as: ‘Star Flower’, Winter 1993, The Antigonish Review 92.


© Jane Tims

Written by jane tims

November 23, 2011 at 6:35 am

a bridge for the soul

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In eleventh century Sweden, rune stones were often raised by landowners as a memorial of their accomplishments.

Jarlebanke was a landowner and a local magnate who lived in Uppland, Sweden during the second half of the eleventh century.  He took pains to ensure he would be remembered, and six stones survive of the many he ordered to be carved.

Four of the surviving stones stand at the ends of the Täby bru. The Täby bru is a ‘bridge’ or causeway marked with two rune stones at each end.

One of these stones (U127) was used in the 17th century as the threshold of the church in Täby; it now stands to the side of the church door.  The inscription (in runes) says: Iarlabanki let ræisa stæina Þessa at sik kvikvan, ok bro Þessa gærđi fyr and sina ok æinn atti Tæby allan.  This has been translated as: “Jarlebanke let raise these stones after himself, while he was living, and he made this bridge for his soul, and he himself owned the whole Täby.”

The stone depicts two serpent creatures enclosing a Latin cross.  Symbols of the old religion and Christianity are often found together on rune stones, evidence of transition in belief systems.  Jarlebanke was not taking any chances when he recognized both religions on his rune stones.  The  facimile (below) of the runes on the stone is from:


facimile of carvings on rune stone U127


a bridge for the soul

Danderyds church, Täby, Uppland


ok bro Þessa gærđi fyr and sina…

            and he made this bridge for his soul…

                                        –       inscription on a Täby bridge runestone


Jarlabanke made this bridge

for his soul

a causeway crossing marshy ground



for though he owned all Täby

he was afraid


he raised these four while living

a rare deed

the stones, of course, never care


first at the ends of the Täby bru

then at the threshold

of the south church door


the Cross tethered to old faith


best wager for passage into heaven


© Jane Tims 2003

Written by jane tims

November 21, 2011 at 8:12 am

spending time out-of-doors

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Do you spend enough time out-of-doors?  Some researchers believe if you haven’t seen a ‘fractal’ today, you aren’t as well as you could be!

The word ‘fractal’ is relatively new.  My desk-side dictionaries, a Webster from 1979 and an Oxford from 1998 do not have this word.  According to the on-line Oxford Dictionary, a ‘fractal’ is a curve or geometrical figure, each part of which has the same statistical character as the whole.  The word ‘fractal’ comes from the Latin fractus meaning ‘to break’.

In nature fractals occur frequently.  All fractals are self-similar – the ‘whole’ has the same shape as its parts.  For example, the tributary of a river has the same sinuous shape and properties of the larger river.  Also, the leaflet of a finely-divided fern has the same shape as the whole frond.

Bracken fern with fractal leaf patterns... the leaf is divided into leaflets... these are divided into sub-leaflets... and these are divided into lobes...

Benoit Mandelbrot is the mathematician credited with first describing fractal geometry.

Other fractals in nature include mountains, branching patterns of trees, the dendritic  form of root systems, patterns of vessels in the body, frost crystals and snowflakes, even the clustering of galaxies.  Just go on a walk outside to find lots of your own examples of fractals.

fractals in branches of Balsam Fir...

When we do not include nature in our lives, we miss these fractals.  If experiencing fractals in nature is necessary for human wellness, as some suspect, this is yet another reason for getting out-of-doors, examining the patterns we see in trees and other wild plants, taking in the scenery of landforms and horizons, and catching snowflakes on mittens.

fractals in tree branches and fractals in clouds




winter trees on morning sky

each a watershed, dendritic weave

brooks and rivers

backwaters and waterfalls


the trunk a river

not flowing to the sea

but into earth toward

unsalted water, deep in the ground


the roots the mirror of river

knowledge gathered

drawn, divided

to fine corpuscular thread



© Jane Tims 2005

Written by jane tims

November 20, 2011 at 9:26 am

Northern White Violet (Viola pallens (Banks) Brainerd.)

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Yesterday, we had our first dusting of snow and it persisted on the grass until the evening.  It reminded me of some of those low white summer flowers whose petals look like snow when they bloom in masses on the lawn or in a field.  In any season, the sight of ‘snow’ can be a charming, welcome sight.

The northern white violet, or small white violet (Viola pallens (Banks) Brainerd.) inhabits the moist ground of meadows, bogs and thickets, and it blooms profusely on our front lawn.  Pallens means pale, referring to the color of the flowers.  The leaves are somewhat heart-shaped. 

The violets are a difficult group, taxonomically. Viola pallens is also known as Viola macloskeyi Lloyd.


Northern White Violet

                        Viola pallens (Banks) Brainerd.


stars in the northern meadow

scattered at the feet

of cattle grazing hay

violet sweet


hearts among the grasses

where the ground is wet

flowers pale and nodding

small white violet

Published as: ‘Northern White Violet’, April 2005, Refuge 14 (1)


© Jane Tims  2005

Written by jane tims

November 19, 2011 at 7:27 am

monuments in stone

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inuksuk n. (plural inuksuit) a stone landmark or cairn used by Arctic and northern peoples to mark a point of reference or a place of significance; an Inuit cultural symbol.

inunnguaq n. (plural inunnguat) a stone cairn in the shape of a human figure, meant to represent a human figure, and distinguished from an inuksuk.


Our rock project is progressing slowly.  We are collecting rocks for a stone monument.  Since I want this to be a sculptural piece, I am sure the rocks we select will play a role in the final look of the monument.

One possibiity is to build an inuksuk.  These stone landmarks are a part of the culture of the north, but they have caught the general imagination and are now encountered throughout Canada.  On our trip out west, the inuksuk built along the Trans-Canada highway in Manitoba were particularly memorable.

For a few years, the inuksuk (plural inuksuit) and inunnguaq were common along the New Maryland highway in New Brunswick.  On the stretch of road between New Maryland and Fredericton, the highway is carved through rock and outcrops are part of the roadscape.  A women who walked along the road every morning for a few years was responsible for building many of the inuksuit.  The local newspaper did a story on her, explaining that she walked and built the monuments as exercise following by-pass surgery.  She wore a white jogging outfit with black splotches and was fondly referred to as the ‘Cow Lady’.  

The ‘Cow Lady’ no longer walks the road and her inuksuit and inunnguat have fallen into disrepair.  I remember her fondly and dedicate the poem below to her.


Inunnguaq 101


these are the hill people

sometimes without arms and legs

sometimes with other, alien parts

but proud

honor the woman who walks here


sometimes toppled

often reassembled

constructed one day at a time

optimism of increment

a community on the hillside


©  Jane Tims  2004

Written by jane tims

November 18, 2011 at 5:26 am

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