Table of Contents


The Heron's Nest
a haikai journal ... 


Choose your favorite haiku from the past year

Voting deadline:
Jan 15, 2002

Home  •  Journal  •  About  •  Connections

Volume III, Number 10: December, 2001.
Copyright © 2001. All rights reserved by the respective authors.

Editors' Choices •  Commentary •  Haiku Pages: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 •  Index of Poets

Heron's Nest Award

      Indian summer
      a turtle on a turtle
      on a rock
                                            Peggy Lyles

I dip the paddle again. My canoe rounds the small curve of a Florida river into a scene not much changed since the age of dinosaurs. I pass under overhanging tree branches draped with Spanish moss. A fallen palm is angled down the bank and partially submerged in the river. The sun beats down on the palm and a row of turtles there, motionless, necks stretched out and up. Some have climbed on top of others. The canoe and I trigger some genetic memory in these reptiles, and they do what turtles do to escape danger. Rapid scrambling is followed by a mass plop into the safety of the water. Trails of bubbles rise. The turtles disappear from sight in the bottom’s darkness. I resolve to take the next turn more slowly, and from the center of the river.

At first gulp, this haiku delivered me back to a canoe trip long ago. I’ve seen turtles like these in other places, but as I read this poet’s haiku I experienced feelings of “once upon a time” on the Braden River in Florida.

The poem’s opening kigo of calm and warmth sets up a perfectly clear evocation of “turtleness.” “Indian summer” is an idiom of real weather conditions. The phrase is probably particular to North America, but I expect the phenomenon itself is known in other temperate zones. In October or early November (usually some time after the first frost) a warm spell may occur. It is a sort of return to summer, a false sense of it anyway. Often described as dry and hazy, the essence of this phenomenon is warmth out of phase. Languid and quiet, “Indian summer” evokes a certain peacefulness. We enjoy a respite, knowing the passage to winter is inevitable.

Space in the open sun, that is also safe from predators, is at a premium. Turtles must necessarily bask. They need sunlight to regulate their body temperature. They also use it to generate vitamin D, which synthesizes calcium for bones and for the shell itself. Considering this, I have always wondered why the turtles at the bottom of the pile allow stacking, but they do. It is their nature.

On another level, turtles are ancient animals and ancient symbols. The turtle figures in several of the world-origin legends of Native Peoples. To the Iroquois in the Northeast of North America, for example, a great aquatic turtle surfaced, expanded, and became the landmass of our watery planet. Classic Japanese gardens often feature rocks as kame-jima (turtle islands)–symbolic of old age and longevity.

Peggy Lyles has shaped language in a masterful way. She has imbued a static scene with wonderfully dynamic syntax. The smooth, slow assonance of the first line closes with a pause. Then follows a lively rhythmic transition that quickly spirals past, delivering a new rhythm. The double consonance of “turtle” is immediately repeated, followed by the final “ck” of “rock.” The excellent crafting of this haiku, along with the mood it communicates, have made it the editors’ choice by acclamation.

  Paul MacNeil
December, 2001