Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Snowy Owl

"This isn't quite right...", she thinks
Though the carpet of pristine snow and
Sharp blue skies of mid-day
Convince her otherwise
For a moment

A scurrying movement across the landscape
Two hundred feet away
Catches her yellow eye
And she tilts her ear instinctively to follow the noise

Field mouse
Her stomach grumbles for lemming and goose

The landscape, stubbled with remains of golden cornstalks poking through the snow
Is criss-crossed with paths
That machines rumble across regularly
Their roar, at first, reminiscent of tundra winds
Peering faces from within bring her south again

Across the field, she spots another hunched white figure
Atop a telephone pole
Two pairs of cat-like eyes lock
And it is understood that each will remain staunchly in their corner

Food is scarce
Warm winds blow in cool rain
Peering faces follow her every move
"... this isn't quite right..."

Her giant white wings beat dramatically in takeoff
Then she glides noiselessly over the frozen corn
Toward the mouse
Whose fate is already decided by the great northern huntress

Snowy Owl - photo by Kristyn Ferguson :)

Monday, August 8, 2016

Windswept (Iceland)

Monochrome deserts.
Volcanic sand blows gray in the cool wind
Lava rocks reach craggy hands from the grave
Palest yellow lichens crawl and cling
Rutted moonscapes race out to the endless horizon

 Green hills.
Rising up on all sides, at all times
A smatter of spruce here
A tumble of fallen rock there
Switchback roads scaling up, up, up
Puffs of white sheep, defying gravity, polka dot verdant verticals

Steaming pools.
The stench of sulfur wafting upward
Black sand gives way to raw, hot, amber soil
The ground alive and smoking
Gushing, bubbling, bursting geysirs
Escaping the earth's molten depths

Tie-dyed mountains.
Deep autumn hues of maroon, copper and ochre
Streaked with cool blue-gray and slate green
Strung together in a line
Banded brazenly in their shared strangeness

Black beaches.
Sand dark as night
Ebony arches thrust out of bluest oceans
Columns of basalt, sculpted by volcanic gods
Perfect hexagonal cylinders, towering over the shore

Pounding water.
Coursing through ancient gorges
Carved by ages of meltwater
Frothing gray in the afternoon clouds
Thundering downwards hundreds of feet
Before winding peacefully away into the distance

Frosty blues.
Turquoise popsicles jutting out of falling glaciers
Icebergs split open to reveal candy-aqua inside
Lakes and lagoons milky azure
Their depths hiding history, slimy silica, and secrets

Orange beaks.
On flying, waddling, tumbling
Hiding, hopping, snoozing
Fish-collecting, dive-bombing
Cliff-nesting penguins of the north: puffins

The blonde bangs of a brown Icelandic horse
The cod dangling in a shack by the sea
The roof of a turfhouse long abandoned
The wrecks of so many ships who got too close
My hair, across my eyes
My heart, to see all of this

Three Degrees Celsius

The ice rain crackled relentlessly
Against our layers of waterproof rubber
The cold mist soaking through mittens
And dusting ruddy cheeks

Its dance across the night sky
Reminding us that Canadian winter
Will not be ushered out
By anything as trivial
As the calendar reading "April"

I was back again
Waiting for Barred Owls
To pierce the night with their rich song
To pierce my soul with their intense brown-eyed stare

Again and again we stop
And listen
No frogs. No robins. No owls.
Only our cold breath and the evening air

Nearing the end of our circuit
Hearts heavy with disappointment
I stared up at the towering black spruce trees
I could just make out the foggy white light of the full moon
Behind the trees, behind the clouds

Standing for twelve minute intervals of anticipation
Exposed to the frozen April night
I discovered "cold yoga"
And stretched

I cleared my busy mind.
I was aware of my surroundings.
I was deep in the moment.
At three degrees celsius.

I completed a "moon salutation"
And as I squinted up
I witnessed the exact moment the wet clouds
Slithered backward off the moon
Revealing its full brilliant blue-white glow

Suddenly: spruce trees, glittering stars, full moon
And I noticed the rain had stopped
And I heard the full, enveloping vacuum of the utter silence of the night
No owls. But I was at peace.

At our next stop, lit white with glorious moonshine
I smiled up at the stars
Grains of salt smattered across a canvas of inky black
And lived fully in that minute

And perhaps because I'd stopped straining to hear it
Peering to see it
An owl suddenly alighted
On the tree branch in front of me

It cocked its head sideways
I gaped back at it, frozen in joy

Then sound gurgled forth from it
Slow at first, then growing in insistence
"Wah... wop... woo...
...who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?"

Excitement. Adrenaline.
Peace. Zen.
Moonlight. Trees, Owls.
Perfection. At three degrees celsius.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

After the Rainstorm

Thunderous dark clouds sneak over the horizon
On their easterly path
To soak, to surprise, to ruin the days
Of their next victims

They leave behind air thick with mist
Smelling heavily of roses
And the threat of ocean from heaven
Once again

Blue, gray, murky, opaque
A hand passes slowly through the mist
Catching sparkles of moisture
Which glitter on the tanned, dirt-laced working gloves
Callused from labour and time

Time slows
Hands tick slowly... more slowly...

Sun suspended somewhere beyond
The thick net of vapour
Which eludes the eyes
Eyes mistaking rivers for skies, skies for rivers
In the gathering gloom

Salted water weaves through fields
Wheat which sways in dry summer heat
Now drips, leans, bends
In wet, still, sorrow
Tears roll down

Written July 27, 2005 (found in a drawer on April 9, 2016)

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Wilson Island

It starts with waves
Lapping at and sliding between the smooth gray cobbled rocks on shore

That stony beach gives way to a tangle of shrubs
That claw at tender legs passing through them

Then forest
Mixed at first, with conifers and broad-leaved trees mingling together at the party
Patches of sunlight warm the forest floor

Deeper in, light filters out and dark boughs of spruce and fir draw closely together
They interlock their needled fingers and stand tall to challenge any passer-bys

Trying to follow the four-legged journey of a deer in a line through the deep woods
I am no match
Those dark branches like arms hug me closer
       Wrap around my backpack straps
       Slip inside my belt loops
       Slyly pull my sunglasses right off my face
They tug me backward while I struggle forward

In the distance I see light penetrating the shadows
And march one leg at a time toward it
Ignoring the grasping hands at my ankles

Beneath my feet the forest floor turns into a moss carpet
A plush emerald cloud that bounces under me
My footprints disappear as quickly as I leave them

At last I burst out of the forest's dusk and meet the light
      The blue sky
      The puffy white clouds
      The golden sunshine
And an expanse of indigo inland lake alive with singing birds, splashing fishes, and buzzing insects

I watch. I write. I rest.
Then I steel myself for my return journey to the big water
And all that lies between


A different world exists under the water
Many people will pass their entire life believing
The opaque dark surface of a lake
Hides a cold, empty barren planet beneath
      But I know better

Underwater, gravity seems to shift
Instead of falling quickly and fighting to rise
Even the hardest kicks aren't enough to propel one to the ground
     Down here
And the surface calls, beckons, vacuums
Humans always forced back to that interface
After only mere moments allowed exploring

For the wily ones who can stay under a little longer
The passport to this new world unveils the strangest sights

Schools of fishes - forty, fifty person classrooms
Eye me warily from the side of their heads
As they dart left, then right, then down, then back
Moving as a single unit
Away from this limb-ed, awkward intruder

The sand of the lake bottom trickles wetly through pruned fingers
Gurgles of oxygen and carbon dioxide,
     Trapped in snow globe bubbles
Escape blue-tinged lips and race to the surface
To explode in a panicked burst

Tiny creatures, no bigger than the head of a pin
With transparent bodies, and huge black eyes
Rise passively through the water column, looking at me
They are mixed with even smaller beings, unidentifiable particles
That illuminate like dust floating through the living room air in the afternoon sun
Only to be extinguished again as they pass out of the beam of light
That has penetrated the water's surface

The orange feet of a family of ducks sends ripples along the lake's glass tabletop
Webbed toes kicking effortlessly to propel plump feathered bodies away
The biggest feet lead the brigade of many pairs of smaller ones
They quickly put distance between themselves, and me
But I don't take offense

Crayfish, leading with oversized claws
     Blend seamlessly with the sodden sand bottom
They scurry forth, then disappear again into their surroundings
Underwater chameleons

Tall leafy plants stretch their long necks
Reaching and climbing, battling toward the sun
Their slimy hands grab at my bare legs, asking for help to the top
While I wonder instead how far I can swim down

A splash of a heavy body with a heavier shell
    Over in that weedy bay
Reminds me of the snapping turtle whose head rises above the water from time to time
Interested in a variety of prey found in the shallows
Including human toes?  Only he knows

Reluctantly I kick, rising up, up
       The water warming with my ascent
I gulp sweet summer air and squint into the sun
While my legs and feet continue the dance in that other world
Not ready yet to say goodbye

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Nature Close to Home

The early morning sun sizzles orange
Rays flicker across sleeping faces
Roused by light, warmth and anticipation
It’s time to begin my journey: nature, close to home

Five summers of travel - by air, by car, by boat
To see the furthest reaches of beautiful Ontario
Superior lakes, soaring white pelicans, shimmering alvars
Shade-filled boreal forests, winding rivers, the tropics of Pelee Island...
I have been there. I have done that. I am perhaps the luckiest biologist of all time.

But neglected, uncharted, unloved lies my lovely home: Guelph.
It’s time to explore

Standing on the edge of downtown at the Eramosa River,
A spot I pass every week but never linger at
A line of canoes are paddled out like baby ducks
I step into the river eagerly
And cool water swirls between my toes

Within moments we are transported to the depths of nature
A thick swath of trees separates the river from Guelph’s downtown
For all I can tell those trees are a mile deep - we are far from civilization and immersed in the wilderness
Steps away from home

A tall heron warily eyes our approach as our paddles slice through the water towards him One giant leg takes one elegant step, then the other
Then with a swish of massive wings
He is gone

A painted turtle stretches his river-cooled limbs across a sun-warmed log and tilts his face to the sun You can practically see his smile
We approach cautiously and he lets us delight in his striped legs, patterned shell and relaxed outlook on life
I turn my own face to the sun, warming my jet-lagged soul

A buzzing rattle ensues
Above me a cloud of kingfishers are singing a song that sounds of electricity
Their mohawked heads match their carefree flight
And I swear one cocks an eyebrow at me
Saying: “this is what you’ve been missing here”

Exploration continues: by canoe, on foot, on bike
Revealing my home’s hidden jewels
One by one

Bike tires swerve deftly on a gravelled path
Surrounded by the waving, reaching grasses and glowing flowers of a seemingly endless meadow
A garter snake wiggles gracefully away
And disappears into the outstretched arms of green

My feet crunch along sun-dried grass, crispy with the long day’s heat
A fog rises above a stormwater pond whose waters ripple in the evening wind
Families of geese co-parent along the shores
“Flood control turned habitat, eh?” a bullfrog burps at me
A green frog plucks a banjo string in agreement

Our canoe glides noiselessly down the Grand River as we stop paddling to watch a deer
Cooling down on a hot day with a sip from the river
Surprised by our presence, she watches, frozen and wide-eyed as we slide by
Both of us locked in a staring contest; me wearing a grin the size of her white tail

Mallard ducklings caught close to the boat’s bow
Protest as only baby ducklings can
With a barely audible “mah mah mah”
Their mom ushers them to safety, casting a sidelong glance as delighted paddlers watch on

Humongous fish flop and flail at the waters’ surface A flurry of fins and tails
They stop and sink quietly below the surface as we pass by
I peer into the dark depths of the river after them
But see only my reflection instead

Only now the eyes in the reflection look a little wiser
Seeming to say: Do you get it now, Kristyn?
You can travel far and wide. You can “see it all”
But nature always has, and always will be
Just outside your door

**This poem was originally a submission to NCC's July 2012 Time for Nature project; as such rights for this poem belong to the Nature Conservancy of Canada

Sunday, February 21, 2016

East Coast Road Trip

In Quebec City we wandered cobbled streets
Admired centuries of history,
Fumbled our French,
And picnicked on fromage and baguette while the Vinyl Café played on the radio

In New Brunswick we hopped into inner tubes
And strapped tightly to one another
We cracked a cold beer as our feet dangled in the cold river
And floated peacefully down the Miramichi
I crashed into the trees hanging over the riverbank at one point
And we laughed

On the south shore of New Brunswick we walked on the ocean floor
The tide was out, the tourists were in
And the Hopewell Rocks were as towering and majestic as anything had ever been
Cinched at the waist, busty ladies in corsets
Gathered together, 100 feet over the rest of us, looking down
Eroded by the endless ocean
Hugged by bubble wrap seaweed, floating and clinging, then squinting against the bright sun
Until the tide returned

We ate salmon in Miramichi
Lobster in Shediac (Acadian style, of course!)...then in PEI...then Nova Scotia....then Maine... 
I named the vacation "Lobstermoon"
We savoured Digby scallops on Digby neck – warmed on a toasted hot dog bun, and somehow the greatest meal I have ever tasted
Haddock in Halifax
Deep fried everything in Antigonish – the ocean floor in a fryer, then on our plates

On PEI we clapped, sang and stomped at a ceilidh
Fiddlers fiddled, step dancers stepped, trumpets blared
Bald eagles flew overhead as if it were no big deal
Herons clustered together in flocks
Where were we!?

Lighthouses, lighthouses, lighthouses
From gorgeous, to run down, to lonely, to majestic
From red, to white, to black
Beacons on every point

Whale watching off Digby Neck
The humpback whale barrel roll
Fins of minkes all around
Brilliant sun: 1, pervasive fog: 0
Did I mention the scallop rolls?

Touring the west coast and the Acadian villages
Blue, red, white flags, yellow star
Pride in history, unchanging for centuries
Views of the ocean, the bluest water I have ever seen
“...I could live here

Peggy’s Cove
Pink granite, indigo water, shining sky
Lighthouse perfection
Clambering on rocks, waves crashing all around
Feeling so unbelievably at home on the Georgian Bay of the east

Halifax. Waterfront. Could have set up a shop and moved right onto the boardwalk, never leaving
Could have spent every night for the rest of my life listening to Signal Hill at the Lower Deck, while the good beer flowed
Could have stayed there and never left, I’m sure of it (NCC Atlantic, are you hiring? ;))

Laying on a beach
Incredibly grateful to find this time to relax
The coldest, saltiest water on hot cheeks
Nothing in the world more refreshing
The warm, reddish sand and the warmth of Jeff's hand in mine

Cape Breton
My history, my blood
The Cabot Trail and the most beautiful vistas in the world
Winding on a road up a mountain
While the sea opened up below
Climbing further and further
Green hills that stretch on forever
Fiddle music pulsing in my veins

Time with Jeff
A commodity there just isn’t always enough of
Two weeks, 7,500 kms, 4 provinces, countless stops, always on the move
Feeling at home the entire time, because my home was right there, driving the car and smiling at me
A wonderful. Spectacular. Unforgettable. Exhausting. Brilliant two weeks.
Canada’s east coast - perfection

August 2013

Monday, February 15, 2016


Travel bugs crawl down my arms
Setting hands in motion
Possessed, they turn endless pages of travel guides
Fevered fingers touching picture after picture

Of Iceland

That majestic piece of land floating so tranquilly in the Atlantic
Hovering just south of the Arctic Circle
Where you can picture the enduring glow of the midnight sun
Pulsing through summer nights

That piece of Europe that occasionally EXPLODES
With volcanic passion
Shooting ash into the air, blotting out the night sun
Confounding planes in Spain

Next door to a towering aqua glacier
A rolling meadow dotted with wildflowers
Over here, a thundering waterfall pounding the black rock below
Above it, an Arctic fox lapping water from a glacial river

A hike through terrain covered in sound-dampening fog
Ends at a cliff teeming and screaming with shorebirds
Nesting on this northern edge of the world

Steam hisses out of hot springs
Mingled with the laughs of tourists delighting in nature's spa
All asking the same incredulous question, though their wallets are empty:
How did we miss this one?

Freezing Rain

Rain, it doesn't always pitter patter
Or dust the skin of a passerby with mist-like
     morning dew
It doesn't always fall softly, or vertically

The army of droplets corrals
Hears the pep talk from the clouds: "this is it! this is our chance!"
Rain drops use the atmosphere's indecisive hovering
Between the wintery minuses and spring-like pluses
To launch its loudest attack

Ice bullets, frozen swords, sleet-covered grenades
Assault the noses of the unexpecting
The fingers of the hands that desperately jiggle keys in locks
Sideways attacks on windowpanes that crack loudly through the night
And coat all surfaces in black, icy slick

Then as quickly as it began
The atmosphere yawns, stretches and shudders
    relaxes into sleep
Changing the march of the temperature
Up, up, into a gentle, pitter-pattering soft blanket of rain

The world's iced candy coating melts away
Oozes, slinking from windows
Drips and dribbles from roadways
Sliding quietly into nearby sewers or gently vibrating puddles

Embarrassed by its loss of the battle
But dreaming of its next chance to fight

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Barred Owl

In early spring the world hovers in limbo
Water drips and melts from tree branches and towering drifts
Drizzling into rivers, sneaking across roadways,
    filling lakes with the cold, fresh promise of summer

But night skies are frozen, laced with blank-faced stars
That give away nothing; no hint of coming warmth

The earliest green faces have emerged from bare patches of sun-warmed earth

Surprised by the lingering white all around them
Wondering if they've showed up uncomfortably early to summer's party

Wood frogs emerge in the glowing blue of evening light
They stumble sleepily onto the ice of that thawing lake
Tilt their heads back and sing to the starry dusk:
Calling out for love into the trickling quiet

From deep in the forest: a low bass thrum
     the wings of a ruffed grouse
Time with my heart, which beats a loud rhythm of anticipation

I'm waiting for another
Who breeds in this special in-between
Whose loud, clear voice can pierce this tension
   of an atmosphere that lingers on the knife edge of winter
But is tempted and wooed by spring

The snow beneath me,

    melted then frozen, thawed then stalled,
Crunches and squeaks
Until a sound stills my boots, and locks me in place
I become a mannequin in this night’s display window

My head turns in slow motion to the left,
The cold, damp wind tickles my cheek

Was it? The call I've been waiting for? 
The one that haunts my memory through the darkest days of winter?

I hear it again. Closer now and to my right

From deep inside, almost reflexively,

I call out into the darkness, my breath forming an aura of hope
"Hoh-ho-ho-ho! Hoh-ho-ho-hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo!"
    (I didn't realize there was a bird living in my belly)

Then in a moment of sheer magic, a dark body glides silently across the stars

        The frogs stop chucking
        The grouse’s wings fall still
        The drip of meltwater seems to cease

The only sound is the "click" of talons making contact with a tree branch

Which bounces once, deeply, under the new weight

Brown eyes illuminate, flash knowingly at me and suddenly
   the air between us is alive with electricity
The barred owl calls back to me
And this early spring night explodes in fireworks