Connecting people with nature in Ontario's Mississippi Valley

Nature Notebook – The Last Butter-and-Eggs

By: Joel E. Byrne

The flower in question, Butter-and-eggs, is a common, two shades of yellow, roadside one, Linaria vulgaris, in the snapdragon family. I tracked them this fall at a place… Playfairville rapids… in the Mississippi River not far from Lanark. When there were only a few left late in October, I began to feel an acute sense of the loss of all summer flowers, sunny days, warmth, et al. Thus the poem was born.

I came alone to the riverbank
There to take my ease,
To see the sounds and smell the sights
Of rapids, woods and breeze.

And on that slate-gray autumn day
I found a single flower,
So confident its sunny strength
I marveled at its power
To conjure thoughts of cobs of corn
Rolled on sticks of butter,
Of poking yokes with buttered toast,
Of round things warm and good to hold,

But dark thoughts irresistibly
Crept in with the cold:
There stood a living Butter-and-eggs
Amidst its ruined clan,
A host of shriveled faces,
And death was on the land—
Rank on rank the withered stalks,
And soon there would be snow.

I shuddered in the fading light,
And straightened up to go,
But that solitary flower
With yolk and butter suns,
That stalwart last snapdragon
With me was not yet done;
It drew me down and held me,
The dragon lips did part;

A soothing whisper issued forth,
Most cheering to the heart:
‘Do not lament my passing
Or the dying of the throng,
This is the way it happens—
A sleep, and then ere long
The reappearance of everything:
The leaves, the flowers, the song.’

Joel E. Byrne

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Nature Notebook – It’s Heron’s Turn

By: Joel E. Byrne

This happened Sunday October 2, 2005 at “The Pool” (my nickname for the spot).

It was early October, a time of great change in Lanark Highlands. The colours were coming! I was touring the byways searching for early patches of crimson leaves. The close of day found me standing on a riverbank completely enraptured by the play of light and shadows on a limpid pool. Suddenly, a huge feathered creature came into view, gliding swiftly down the river valley, wheeling and plunking down awkwardly in the crown of a silver maple. Ah, a Great Blue Heron. After this undignified landing, it stretched its neck to full length the better to survey its dining table— the swift water and eddies of the Mississippi River where it narrows to the Playfairville rapids.

I watched the heron, it watched me. I had my trusty 7×50 binoculars at hand, but did not raise them, because the previous day I’d learned a lesson. This heron (and here I presume it was the same heron that has steadfastly returned day after day to this very spot) was not at all happy about being stared at by binoculars. Such an intrusion seemed to agitate it. In fact I’ve concluded that my ogling of it the day before forced it to try to stare me down; when this failed it crouched, shifted from foot to foot several times, and flapped off in a huff, giving me a baleful look.

That wasn’t going to happen again. Heron had been working his way down to this productive spot where he could enjoy the last rays of the sun, and check out the fishing. He was still hungry and there were plenty of fish and frogs; he would have no trouble filling his belly. All he had to do was wade quietly, and wait. Concentrate, then stab with speed and precision. No distractions needed. He did not relish a huge pair of glassy eyes following his every move, stalking the stalker, so to speak. Heron fished best alone. I climbed the bank, got into the car, and drove away slowly, leaving the windows down on the river side, listening to its rush. I will be back, as well as heron, and we will share the river’s hospitality, in peace.

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Nature Notebook – Free To Go

By: Joel E. Byrne

Back in ’97 while vacationing in Texas I somehow got this poem into the Big Bend Bull (the park’s newsletter)… “Dedicated to the good folks of Big Bend National Park in grateful recognition of their continuing efforts to keep the magic in the air.”:

Free To Go

I roamed green hills throughout the east,
And tarried in the west;
I rolled the south ’round in my mouth,
And in the north did rest.

I tasted of the ocean,
And watched the desert bloom;
I dreamed of southern woodlands
As ice hung ’round my room.

I warmed by a maple fire,
Remembered a mesquite tree,
And longed for sandy reaches
But the north had hold of me.

Then in the dead of winter
I struggled up a knoll,
And gazing ever southward
Felt a tugging on my soul.

I left the lakes and woods asleep,
And ran down to the plains,
Free again in the sunny south
To laugh in winter rains.

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Nature Notebook – The Purloined Partridge

By: Joel E. Byrne

This was written in my hunting days. The “owl” could well have been a Northern Goshawk, according to our own “Professor Partridge”… Dr. Jim Bendell.

The Purloined Partridge

An owl a partridge plucked for tea,
And had it eaten partially
When my dog pounced on it
Beneath a tree…
Good boy, Lukie!
I purloined the partridge plucked,
And racing home with glee
Popped it in the oven with potatoes
One, two, three.
Somewhere out there, in a tree,
A mad old owl waits for me.

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Nature Notebook – Thunder Down Below

By: Joel E. Byrne

Just stick your ear to someone’s gut,
My God! the sounds you’ll hear,
No matter what their diet is…
Veggies, toast or beer.

I thought of this the other day
When the merc’ dropped out of sight;
Old winter covered up the lake,
And bid the bays goodnight.

But the lake was in a party mood,
And mumbled discontent–
It growled and groaned all through the night,
Three guesses what it meant.

Imagine being put to bed
Your belly full of ice…
An ice-sheet for a blanket,
And your stomach lined with gneiss!

So stick your ear to somone’s gut,
My God! the sounds you’ll hear–
Reminds me of the lake’s complaint:
No veggies, toast or beer!

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