It’s been awhile. And a lot has gone on. A trip or two and some woods and hikes and fishes and great raging swarms of mosquitoes and in the end I find myself lagging far, far behind in penning my thoughts here, in this forum. Why, I wonder…and I largely think it’s due to tedium, and maybe having nothing to say..other than what I believe, which seems sometimes better left unsaid. Or shared only in more quieter, less populous spaces. And with those you love.
Of course it’s all that, and not that at all, which seems to be the point. Again and again.
It could also be that life happens. Life happens, and patterns you’ve put in place for yourself, intentionally or otherwise, either replicate themselves accordingly, carrying you along is a predictable stream, or a variable imports itself and the equation comes undone. So, I got a new job, and I’ve been busy with that (which is good) and the time I have to spend, when broken down between family and friends and time spent outside in gardens or woods, leaves little for the tap tapping of syllables into the
I’ve been tasked, if you can call it that, with making some serious outdoor learning stuff happen (and algebra). As serious as can be on a square block that’s mostly concrete with some smatters of trees and green thrown in between. And then the privilege of field trips to the forest preserves and, I hope, some of the places that I’ve come to enjoy and love over this past year.
The blog’s a year old now, by the way, and I’ve learned a lot this year. Enough to realize how much more I need to learn. A lot. But beside what I’ve learned, and learned that I need to learn, the time that I have dedicated to being out and about, and sitting around, has been transformative. Not that my life has changed, because it hasn’t; but then, it also has. I haven’t kept scrupulous records of how much time spent, but with a recent revisit to the Porkies last month, I think I can safely say that I’ve logged at the very least a week and a half of steady nature time all year. A week an a half meaning 200andsomeodd hours. That’s not bad, and it could be more. I really don’t think less, and that’s not including messing around in the garden. That seems significant.
I’m going to make an effort to keep this up. It seems worth it. I walked around the block with 5th and 6th graders last week and asked, “What is nature, really?” as one of my students phrased it. Wondered if it’s possible to have a healthy environment for human beings, but an unhealthy environment for other beings…meaning, are these environments we consider healthy for ourselves really so, or has our conception of environmental health become so diminished that we can’t even tell the difference? And then, misunderstanding the word biodiversity, someone came up with the idea of ‘biodiscrimination’, which is fascinating to me. Think monocultures.
So, that’s that. Here’s a picture that I like.
- National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) – A US Government Environmental Health Resource (jflahiff.wordpress.com)
- Teachers encouraged to embrace outdoor education (yha.org.uk)
For a blog about sitting in the woods, I tend to spend a lot of time in prairies; and lately, as I’ve mentioned, I have been spending a lot of my free out-and-about time at Wolf Road Prairie. Again, this is a great place to visit and a window into the landscape of Illinois and the Midwest in general before..well, before. There’s only a fraction of a percent (1/100th of 1%) of original prairie left in Illinois, and the health and density of biodiversity of this site is quite startling. It’s almost a little disorienting I find with the great variety of plant species of all shapes and sizes, the colors, and then the constant movement of it all in even the slightest breeze. This near perpetual motion also poses a challenge to the picture taking. The density and variety of textures are what I’ve been more attracted to lately than the colors, though the colors are nice too. As I was flipping through some of these pictures, there were some that I liked more than others, but then I kinda felt that, taken altogether, they portrayed some semblance of this constant shifting of the landscape which has become a significant aspect of my developing relationship with this area.
- The Love of Tallgrass Prairie (iowanaturalist.wordpress.com)
or stuff about ideas
It’s been awhile. And so where are we in this? Where am I? It’s seemed to me for some time that this take a year and figure out something new about myself and the world around me kind of project has become one of the most cliche’d devices around these days. This notion of doing something different for a set period of time and then, what? composing details about how your other life, the one that you left for a year and are now going back to has been altered in some way; or, if you’re lucky, elevated and composed of something greater, deeper, more profound and lasting. That’s all fine and good, but I wonder if this is a little absurd and indicative of some greater, more malignant, social malady?
But this is what we all hope for, right..some sense of the profound? Or am I wrong in this? Is it that, when it comes down to it, we want nothing of the sort. Rather, we’d prefer to play at profundity..or play around with it, as if it’s a fun little item that you can roll around, toss back and forth, maybe even chew on a bit and then place back up on the shelf. OR..a sense of the profound is a notion that we run from. Maybe not screaming, but maybe it’s something we back away from slowly, ever so slowly, so as not to catch its attention and raise its ire.
Profound – deep, bottomless, vast. To bring forth the bottom of things. The immensity and vastness of what…nothingness? oh geez..and there you go. We but barely plumb the depths of our consciousness, we but barely descend below the threshold of what is constant and soundly constructed.
The point of all this is…what? I haven’t been posting on the ole blog lately because it’s just become tedious. I don’t have stories so much at this point; but instead, I have sentiments.
The woods have become a place that I go to. Meaning, the woods have become a place where I say, “okay, I’m going to go there now,” at which point I get in my car and go. Going there has almost become routine. In fact, it has become routine, almost something I feel like I’m supposed to do, and I don’t think this is a good thing.
We are at a place, been here awhile I reckon, where we can have and develop ideas about the wilderness, or nature, as a place you go, or a thing you experience. This idea of wildness, which is something we no longer experience so much of, pervades much of the conservation and back to nature movement. Whatever that means. So, we human people alone can have ideas about nature. We can have ideas about ideas. Our ideas inform other ideas and are self referential in a sense that they both exist solely within our minds. Nature, apparently, exists outside…down the road aways, and it’s something we can think about and unpack and yearn for and idealize in such a way that isn’t artificial in any way, but which is likewise a product of our own consciousness; or better – our own imagination.
I have been attempting to practice mindfulness and awareness building in my own backyard. Bottom line, I/you/we cannot expect to ‘reconnect’ with nature by just visiting our local forest preserve or going camping once or twice a year. Yes, this is a great way to spend time, and it should be encouraged and space should be made for these kinds of activities. But what often happens, I’m afraid, is that the experience becomes somehow sentimental, or routine. This is not what we want, and this is not what we need. When the trip to the woods, or the camping trip triggers these sentiments of remember when, or the good ole days, we may find ourselves seeking out more of these experiences that remind us of something deemed of greater significance, but the sentiment itself can also (maybe, just maybe) end up placed back on that dusty shelf of good times had while we dive back into the city and the day to day.
I’ve known this, and I’m now coming back to it, but we have to be able to reconnect on a day to day basis by learning to see the processes alive around us in our own backyards, on the sidewalk even, and amidst the cement and manicured lawns. This is easier said than done, of course; but I think there’s a lot that can be said about the idea that everything you can know about the world and our place in it can be known by paying deep and sustained attention to what’s going on right where you are. There are rhythms in the day regardless of whether you’re sitting in a field, or the woods, or at a bus stop. The difficulty is, I think, the fact that we insulate ourselves from the rhythms. We are distracted by our own, very real, and manufactured, problems of living.
This presents a very real challenge, to say the least.