Snowball Earth

At night/I came down/from the mountains

a woman/led me/to her hut

we sang/as rain fell/among trees

Champerret and Terry, The Lascaux Notebooks


Earth is returning to the conditions that have dominated it for the last three million years: a regime of ice.

Come with us to the future of the Earth, a world that echoes our prehistoric past.

Ward and Brownlee, The Life and Death of Planet Earth


From whose womb did the ice come forth,

and who has given birth to the frost of heaven?

Job 38:29

We are stardust, we are golden
We are billion-year-old carbon
And we've got to get ourselves
Back to the garden

Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young


We are all made of stars.

Moby/Richard Hall



They are the stars of the universe that can be seen on earth.

Every lit-up bug is a comet, passing through an Oort cloud

and heading straight for the lake of no return. They tumble

and swivel after dark and our children try to catch them. As

lanterns, they are the light of knowledge we can’t otherwise

quite fathom, but begin to see below in the bioluminescence

on the seabed of the ocean that’s flaring in front of our eyes.

In Forest Park


Boys set out early with a wagon full of garden tools,

bug nets, brooms, a plastic mower and a crow cage.

We pass at a cattail marsh, a community water well:

I’m fixing a flat, the two say they’re after dinosaurs,

they want to go back in time. Can we catch a mylodon?

five-year-old Kai pipes up, and Eddie, seven, nods

his head but hesitates, not too sure if it’s a mammal.


Down in that borrow pit, he says, may be its cave or lair.

The boys press on, the sun brightens up a pasture

pocked with long-haired cows, violets going gold.

A life of contemplation, love’s labors never lost,

finally, an end to any notion that the world is flat.

Maybe all that’s important has already happened,

any notion of progress is a sham, but nonetheless


we see our future in the corners of a spider web.

Tire patched, I bicycle down to the bridge to see

if any bass patrol the shoals, as the tide subsides

and a harbor tug pushes an oil barge up the river.

In our upstate Forest Park, a harvest moon is up,

there are foxes by the pond, a lone coyote barks

and up above, in seas of stars, we spy the Pleiades.


Warm Mineral Springs


There wasn’t a Panama land bridge a week before:

a wandering ground sloth dips a paw in crab grass,

then lurches and lumbers over. Her kin came next,

browsing, wading, swimming up the Myakka River,

where last week we saw hundreds of gleaming eyes

of alligators in the moonlight, here where Ponce de

Leon found his fountain of youth, where we bush-

whacked into pitch pine and palmetto. Eremotherium

eomigrans, mother to us all, grazing giant dandelions

and nose-diving for underwater kelp, sitting upright

now to cast her eyes out across the Gulf of Mexico,

sniffing for camels, shrub-ox, three-ton armadillos,

cave-ice bears, saber-tooth tigers, while Paleo-kids

have carved up an Irish elk for their evening’s meal.

Cruger Island


Kingfishers dive into spatterdock at Tivoli North Bay,

just like Argentavis, from lands before we knew what

time was, by a long reach of river at high tide, where

you can walk to conch shell mounds in wading boots,

cross railroad beds to vanish into Cruger Island. Once

home to neo-Gothic idylls for the rich, here, in thick

moss understory, poison ivy climbs up chestnut trees.


On the banks of the Mahicantuck, where Maya ruins

plundered in Uxmal once graced the bay for evening

boating parties, beavers now have a run of the place.

It’s stone quiet as I creep like a wasp into hackberry.

I swear I see the shadow of a bear, but he’s not keen

to meet me. All at once, on a spiky honeysuckle path,

the bird buff mucks up past me in gaiters with a grin. 


The Ellipse


The Milky Way is a spiral, our driveway is as oval

as an avocado, lemon, a mirror or a hippodrome

and poems are indirect, meandering, like how we

leave out words to un-say things with an ellipsis,

a placeholder for fitful thoughts, a lunar tidal pull

creating waves in outer space that surge or ebb

in utterance, an awareness of the self, as sounds


stir cirrus clouds above the old-growth hemlocks,

a magical singing bush, paleo-magnolias in bloom

as a train to Montreal booms by. We cross a field

of nettles to walk by the ellipse, a reflecting pool

one day’s drive from the one in Washington D.C.

where once we portaged a Caribbean Buoy into

a sea of protesters, bent on ending guerrilla wars


in El Salvador and Nicaragua. Now, a year ago

on January Sixth, a mob stormed up the Capitol

to thwart our fair elections. That’s speech gone

sour, bashed, spoiled, stained like crushed trucks

in a car graveyard. The Ellipse was dark that day,

our national mood was a tornado, like my words

a storm of comets flashing as they near the Earth.

The World’s First Trees


Into the Catskill Mountains, up to Utsayantha Lake, we

come in cars, on foot, by bike, on skis, ATVs, passing

by Cairo, Kaaterskill, we cruise under corridors of jets

that streak towards Finland and the Arctic, till we reach

Schoharie Reservoir, watch as falling leaves turn umber.


In Gilboa, we stop for lunch at a forest turned to stone,

from when the planet was one continent, four hundred

million years ago, when palms loomed over straggler fish

that slunk up from the sea, before the burst of flowering,

our hundreds and thousands of kinds of buds that bloom,


with bats and moths as pollinators. We swim near rocks

on an ancient shore of the Devonian, by fossil ferns from

when we were lungfish, sucking in our earliest gasps of air,

as we smile and celebrate the trees that brought us oxygen.


Hyde Park Mastodon


A kettle pond reminds us of a glacier in a valley

where sinkholes unmask mastodons. Up 9G to

Haviland Road, we search for a farmhouse dig

site, wondering what the ‘G’ stands for, maybe

green or gray or a goat on the grassland steppes.

We find remnants of a tarry pit, turtles basking

in summer haze. We do a day trip up to Ithaca,


the Museum of the Earth, to visit the Hyde Park

skeleton. A six-year-old shouts joyfully, twirling

with gelati on her face. She’s got a How to Draw

a Mammoth paperback in hand, while college kids

are delicately dusting fossils in troughs of bones,

proto-archaeologists from Oswego. We snack on

peanuts in the shell and walk beside Cayuga Lake,


dreaming of schemes to restore these creatures to

Wrangel Island and to hereabouts, where we know

they’ll prosper, go on from where we went wrong.




We walk in a fern-wood forest where Eurasian boars

might root for acorns in fields of climbing snow pea.

Corn rows reach beyond a puppet-making commune

some call Rokeby, where wan and ghostly Percherons,

two draft horses from the Revolutionary War, are put

to pasture after years of service, oblivious to mayflies,

a picture of us, chomping on plums in years to come.


It’s as cold and dank a day as one back in the Eocene,

when mini ponies munched on strangler figs, creeks

filled up with burning ash. Buzzards eye an eohippus

with unease, as they take to wing in monster flocks by

the seacoast, darkening the skies above Quintana Roo.


Pint-sized mares canter across the southern pole, with

horseshoe crabs, flying cockroaches, a just discovered

scaly tuatara lizard who’s been here since the Triassic,

all that’s left of the lake-bed world of the earliest horse.

Atlantic Sturgeon


Into vast Lake Albany, advancing glaciers shear off shale,

pushing south into Roundout Creek, surging in slack-tide

spills, as we cruise by sunken wrecks on a solar powered

boat, a floating classroom. After Esopus Wars, herds of

Dutch cattle crash into wheat fields, a Mohican nation

disappearing in the river ever more polluted, near where

toothless bottom feeders swim, ruling inlets from below.


Vessels haul gypsum, gravel, bricks, molasses, diesel, flax,

timber, malt, blocks of ice, tool and die or sewage sludge.

Cementon rose up at Germantown for mixing concrete,

sending it down to the city. Canals shunt coal from mines

in Pennsylvania to Roundout’s tugs where whiskered fish

hold sway in sunken thoroughfares, where the winter sun

seeps down through tanker hulls to the hardy ancient few.




In the future, I slowly wander near a sandstone quarry

full of aspens, where giant bears are dozing in the sun.

I think I see glyptodons, big as VW Beetles, pressing

down on me by the Sawkill River. Spotted skunks are

prowling everywhere with avocados as far as I can see.

Up the hill, spikes on locusts trees keep nibblers away.


Today, though, in a Queens Cafe, we eat avocado toast

for brunch, consider the girth and aspect of one green

and pimply specimen that has a certain uselessness to it,

as not a single animal can ingest its seed and pass it out.

Once upon a time, mastodons, gomphotheres, might’ve

enjoyed its pasty flesh that goes best with butter or salt.

We sip coffee milk from the hills of Guatemala, imagine

a herd of megafauna browsing in the wild for avocados.


American Museum of Natural History


The day after Christmas, I’m dreaming of a nest of pterodactyls

after reading The Lost World, set on a tropical mesa-top in a time

before history had canoes, pelts, diaries or scribes to jot it down.

A class of second graders is daubing with pastels, a marble floor

in the Hall of Dinosaurs looking like the primordial soup of life.

A teacher’s trying to stave off pandemonium, chatting up liftoff

of the James Webb telescope, shot a million miles towards Mars.

He calls out planet names: Arion, Kepler, MOA, Ogle, Pollux,

out beyond the birth of carbon stars, sink holes, pots and pans.

In a hundred million years it’s likely an asteroid will glance off

the equator, smash us to smithereens. Heat death, big freeze,

cataclysmic continental drift or ice, calving into seas. But for

now, the kids will master snowboards, solve equations, commit

their lives to learn of a world that’s wiping out its birds and bees.


Flowers and Coffee


We sit in Flowers and Coffee, near the United Nations,

as New Year’s revelers take back Second Avenue, lovers

strolling in Tudor City Park. How many climate talks do

we need to curb our carbon intake? A world’s gone dark

with money, government and guns. My Burmese friends

arrive to share with us a sherry, gazing at U-Thant Island,

just next to the Knotted Gun, as war drags on in Yemen.


Dinosaur Frankie roams halls of the General Assembly,

roses bloom in a winter garden, a neon Pepsi-Cola sign

across the river reddens as the sun sets. It’s nice enough

for a weekend in New York, where we came to un-learn

what we knew, with gigs at CBGB’s or St Mark’s. Poets,

priests, chimney sweeps outside the Blue & Gold tavern

with a song for a turning of the year: what cheer! what cheer!


Beautiful Armadillo


I’ve packed a paleo picnic to eat at the Serpent Mound

in Chillicothe, where we dare to harvest native chicory

on a woolly rhino footpath. We dine on grass-fed beef,

roast chestnuts, cauliflower chimichurri, pitcher plants

and table grapes, with collard greens or bitter cherries.


From the top of a hill, we search for the beautiful Ice

Age armadillo, who, when I was a kid, I’d draw all day

long with a 4B pencil, a smudgy graphite made of clay

from a hill of coal in Arkansas. We find tobacco seeds,

Durer’s sedge, Ozark orchids, trillium, where highways


led to a village at Cahokia, St. Louis, where I discovered

Langston Hughes in a prairie culvert, back when I drove

to Little Rock with my punk rock partner, we ride over

armor-plated roadkill and dream of their paleo-ancestors

who’d have barreled down Route 40 to run right over us.



We live by the law of the ocean, whether we’re angling off

Kodiak, Kamchatka or in the Comoros. Even up the Atlas

Mountains, the hills of Sinai, once under ocean waves, our

forbearers, the bright-blue lungfish, used to prowl in mud.

Pangea formed from Gondwana, Laurasia, the intervening

crags hid all manner of sea life growing limbs and crawling

out upon the land. Today Jean Pascal and I try fishing on a

pier in Saint-Denis, Reunion, hoping for a bite before noon.


Off Madagascar, Mauritius, Malabar, contiguous, territorial,

trawlers pull in coelacanths, over decades, from the depths

of the twilight zone. To melodies about a hippo graveyard,

a Portuguese flag flying high on the vessel we later charter

to meet a Greenpeace tug, a living fossil grabs my line, pulls

like there’s no tomorrow, only yesterday-- and I reel him in.



As to a god in Ovid, I sing to you a transfiguration

of the dog into whale before your eyes, 50 million

years ago, when the Tethys Sea was widening, near

where Cardiff met Karachi. The tale starts then and

comes right down to now. Four-footed fish-eating

kin to a hippo and a crocodile, it bathed in swamps:

I survey the floodplain for paw tracks of the beast.


Pakicetus, with gawky legs, a lizard’s mandible, jaws

of steel, with molars, flexible neck, sinewy, scaly tail

and gills, lungs and dorsal fins like a billfish, a nose,

whiskers, on its snout. Evolutionarily, this cetacean

developed hooves and underwater hearing. Tasting,

touching, what did it listen to in the shallow waters?

Every crackling shrimp, sea horse burp, each bubble


from the knightia fish (the state fossil of Wyoming).

From cur to lanky salamander on a warming earth,

while beings slunk out of the murky depths, it left

the land for cooler, crueler living, inch by inch, year

by year to become the humpback with its inner ear

for music. What of its song? It went from wolf pack

howls to pulsing mews sounding deep within the sea.


Neander Valley


In Düsseldorf, as close to Lascaux as I’ll ever go,

we walk the Schnauzer Nellie through tulip trees,

down gorges, looking for beet roots, mushrooms,

maybe the mitochondrial DNA of our next-door

neighbor artist friends in North Rhine-Westphalia

in a cave near the Cliff of Dogs. Did Neanderthals

have dogs? Did they make art? Osprey beak, bone

diadems, those necklaces I made from clay, baked

to be like Pueblo charms. We come upon signs of

massive hunting troupes. In Gibraltar, they gorged

on mussels, elephant seals, maybe even porpoises,

the remains of bluest antelope. Gone now because

of climate change, disease, genetic drift. Down by

a babbling brook, the Neanderthal is still inside us.



Ice-age ruminant, ancestor to cattle, a most valued beast

in the history of our kind. Europa fell for you, had your

sons, underworld kings by Zeus. Around me dairy cows

are grazing in the daisies and an ox set on a water wheel

slogs in circles by the banks of the Yangtze River, by the

seafood markets of Wuhan, where the pandemic blazed

and spread wildly while we were thinking of other things.


Maybe the primeval steer is a golden idol of what we are,

what we’ve done in six thousand years of human history.

For we all rely on grasslands, keen to trample them down

for animals that plod along as we build temples or towers

in the name of the great ox god. Euceratherium, a native

of the green world we’ve tried to plunder, akin to Asia’s

aurochs, bring us meat, milk, to create this meadow new.


La Brea Tar Pits


We’re watching La Brea on TV, maybe it’s an iPad,

tar pits bubble black gold just blocks from Wilshire

Boulevard, where bones of a thousand dire wolves

lay in Hollywood mire. We walk in rows of ocotillo,

drive a Cadillac to an ocean pier, wake 10,000 years

into a past of mastodons and crabs along the shore.

It’s Dante’s inferno all over again, where one stage


of purgatory is stubbornness, an asphalt cavern is

dark matter that I can grasp. Here is Tarzan, Jane

and Cheetah in a canopy above a pit of quicksand

where mammoths rise as tall as the spires at Watts.

Being quick to vagaries of language and evolution,

we gather up salt bush, dogwood, pine, purple sage

and buckwheat from the shadows of a fossil garden.

Clovis Culture


My brother and I drive to Clovis to visit a chili truck farm.

Cholla is everywhere in bloom, a timeless desert billboard

reads ‘Impeach,’ whomever, whenever, however we evolve

from red to blue, as we help to shape the lives of children.

TV soccer half-time at the Bandolero Brewery-- was it ever

this way, even Clovis men or women reading radio galaxies

as fuel for their enemies? Fornax A or Messier 87 with its

voracious maw, its constellation gobbling up the dog stars.


Clovis culture, defined by points of flint or flakes, is what

we grew up with, whooping with bows and arrows and six-

shooters on the Connecticut River. At Blackwater Locality

No. 1, we gather stones for our nephews and our daughters.

The Younger Dryas glacial climate change? Brrr. It led to so

much faunal extinction-- Mississippian, Woodland-- now us.


Pleistocene Park


We grab parkas and heavy woolen socks to explore the mammoth

steppes, just waiting for tourists and their dollars. Arctic sinkholes,

yaks the size of BMWs. Hairy cattle trampling miles of permafrost

to sequester half a billion tons of carbon in a Northern Serengeti.

Open 24 hours, the park is icy tundra, not so far from the Siberian

Sea. Imagine early hominids traveling on sleds across a land bridge

free from ice nearly 5,000 years ago in search of megafauna. Tuba


clouds, banner clouds, push the slant of horizon as winter comes

on in full force. Camelops, bison, Yakutian horses, new to a land

torn up by magma, may be the ones to stay. Larch and elm cover

this sleeping land where cave lions braved the polar winds, pocket

prairies resembled red savannas, sloping meadows of wheatgrass,

bunchgrass, melt grass, needlegrass, Asian globeflower, snakeroot,

tor-grass, millet, sedge, rewilding a park for another Age of Plains.


Snowball Earth


Does everyone already know the story of Snowball Earth?

Where’ve I been for all the years of our tiniest of lifetimes?

Why am I just now learning about our billions of galaxies

and only a few of them have names, like Pancake, Seashell,

Cat’s Paw, Beehive, Whirlpool, Starfish, LMC, Andromeda,

Triangulum, surrounding our warming, un-glaciating Earth,

shrapnel from a Big Bang hurtling around us and inside us,


big freeze, supernova heat ray releasing metals into space,

sea, a grain of sand, what we breathe in, how infinitesimally

minuscule we are, how lucky we are to be here, once willing

to dream beyond a frozen world, to care for those around us

in our nearest neighborhoods or friends in Kabul and Kiev,

to share our fortunes, kissing, making up, denying autocrats,

working to make a greener and more fertile Snowball Earth?