and into the sterling new

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.

LilyPad in the Clouds

LilyPad in the Clouds

The birds may sing their presence,
the squirrels may chatter,
and my breath may blow steadily
across this landscape,
but all of these songs
and motions
bespeak a profound silence,
a deep collecting of all time
where the songs,
the words,
and the breath
hold still,
cupped gently in the hands of God.

This is not some superstition,
some failure
to conceptualize the process
and mechanisms of being,
but a rejection of the mechanism
as Truth,
as nothing more than the characteristics
of these beings as we are able to perceive them,
as in the notes of the song,
the timbre of the words,
the exhalation
and dissipation of the breath
into this landscape.

This is knowledge
that the true nature of the world,
a world which we have conjured
through a process of mind

is more the light
of a rising sun,
for which we wait,
with infinite patience

to break
and spill

through the trees.

Notes from the Porkies 2

“The shallow-minded modern who has lost his rootage in the land assumes that he has already discovered what is important; it is such who prate of empires, political or economic, that will last a thousand years. It is only the scholar who appreciates that all history consists of successive excursions from a single starting point, to which man returns again and again to organize yet another search for a durable scale of values.” – Aldo Leopold, Sand County Almanac 

Mirror Lake

We make it to our first cabin at Mirror Lake, three miles from the trailhead where we left the car, and after retrieving our water for the night from the stream down the way I sit and write:

…Great stone wall rises up behind the cabin. Trees cling to its stony face. Rustling in the underbrush. Birdsong in the distance. What are you? The names of things have become lost to us, and so it becomes “some bird.” A fowl out on the water. The names of things have been lost to us, and we have lost ourselves in the namelessness. And there are those of us who wish to remember, who say, “This, yes this, in some way is valuable. Not just to me, but in terms of something greater than me. In terms of something we’ve left behind, forgotten,or failed to discover.”

The cycle of centuries rolls on, there is nothing new under the sun, yet we stand mute and dumb.  The world is as it is, and it is as we name it, both and the same concurrently.  In the being of this world as it’s named, there is both a shutting off and a bringing near – a shutting off of possibility of the one thing in being some other, but also a bringing closer in that the thing, once named, connects to some other – a tree, a habitat, a flower, a leaf – and these threads can be followed, like breadcrumbs, towards deeper mysteries.

Ringed by cliffs and mountains, dense with forest, the call of a loon rings out lonely in the early evening across the water of Mirror Lake.    It wasn’t until later that we were able to identify the sound.  At the time, we were so mistaken as to think that this was a coyote, maybe even a wolf…  But now, the call is placed with that solitary bird out on the water, or the mother we saw days later later at dusk, paddling with her 3 young along the turbulent and rocky Lake Superior shore, riding a wave into a cove, reappearing moments later, alone.

This past November, closer to home, I sat on a log in Salt Creek Woods and listened to a bird squawking in the distance.  I wished it would come closer, but no such luck.  Later, I saw a red headed woodpecker, and as I watched I heard him make the same call I’d been listening to earlier, and the connection was made.

We gain and we fail in the connections we make, and in the words we use to make them.  The connections illuminate our lives, make them fuller, deeper; and while language does this for us, the names can also shut us off from wonder, from possibility.  Maybe in this the forgetting is not such a bad thing, perhaps even necessary, and the successive excursions we make back into the world serve to rejuvenate us to the possibilities that reside there.

On the morning of our second day in the Porkies, we get up and take a rowboat out onto Mirror Lake. We row into a cove where we sit in silence and watch as the wind blows across the water and the ripples bend along the edges of water lilies. A Common Loon dives and resurfaces, sits for a moment or two, and dives once again. The forest reaches down to the shore, where there are reeds and grasses. There is deadfall interspersed, and tall conifers living out their final years towering above the canopy. There are no human voices. No sounds other than the wind and the water lapping against the side of our boat.

9/22 (imperceptible threads)

All is still.  Then you hear the breeze.  You hear it before you see it, and it’s felt before it’s seen.  Somewhere in the distance, in the treetops back behind you. Moments later, off to the side and up the trail, you notice the smallest of branches and leaves in the thinnest of saplings begin to tremble, flutter, and sway.  Then you feel it, the coolness and crispness of this new Autumn across the back of your neck, across your cheek, your fingers and pencil, small pad balanced on your knee.

Your focus shifts, and suspended inches above the ground, once invisible filaments now appear, shimmering in the sunlight, caught up and revealing for a split second  impossibly thin and iridescent threads stretched between leaf and twig, rotting log and stone.

Have they been left there by some wandering arachnid, you wonder, or have they been lifted, carried by this wind, and draped across the landscape?

Everything is connected; this is what was known, has been so often forgotten, and what we are learning over once again.    Nothing exists in isolation, or rises into being apart from creation.  From whence we’ve come and where we go, wandering aimelssly, or with purpose, it is both and the same.   The connections persist, there is no doubt, but they are often only revealed for a moment: that split second when the wind, the light, and the angle of your gaze perfectly coincide to reveal a phenomena previously unseen.  Even then, there is only a glimpse, for you cannot discern where the threads begin and end, only that they’re there.

There may be explanations for all things, fascinating in their own right, and meanings may be lifted from any variety of text.  On this day, however, my scripture is laid out before me in the mystery of fugitive webs, shimmering silk, and the currents of air, rolling down from more Northerly places to shift the seasons, swirl through the treetops, and careen softly over my shoulder and along the meandering trail before me.

millipede love is mysterious and wild

There is an intrinsic value in the boundless wilderness and the complex and varied interactions that characterize and sustain the land. There is a balance to be found within a fluctuating equilibrium, which is more felt than seen, and more an intuitive notion than something overt and held in hand. It is difficult to understand this idea of the intrinsic worth of nature unless you experience it for yourself. However, I am learning that it doesn’t take much space, or time even, to find something interesting…and even quite remarkable.

I’m fascinated these days with snags and deadfall. Today was my second trip to Bemis Woods in Cook County and as I am walking along, I notice a great looking specimen of a tree that has been snapped off about twelve feet up its trunk standing in a marshy clearing at the bottom of a slope leading down from the North side of the trail.

Pink Turtlehead – Genus: Chelone…a Greek nymph turned into a turtle for irritating the gods.

This clearing is fairly open and bright, with other snags and scraggly tangles of branches lying about – a good sign. I am learning that these disturbance zones and transition areas are very lively spaces, so the dog and I make our way down to see what we can see.

I find pink blooming turtleheads, what may be iris, with their sword-like leaves, and an array of arrowheads spread throughout, with their large singular triangular shaped leaves from which they take the name.

I walk over to inspect the rotting trunk, and I notice a couple millipedes ambling about. One is pretty active, while the other seems content nestled within the bark.

As I explore the cracks and crevices, I notice something odd about the active millipede’s movement. He’s moving, and his legs are in motion, but his millifeet aren’t touching the ground. It takes me a while to pick up on this as this anomaly is barely discernible with maybe a 1 or 2 mm of space between his feet and the log. But I look closer, and there you have it: this millipede is riding along on the back of another. His feet are undulating, which creates the illusion that he is walking, but he’s being carried!

millipede love

Ends up that I was privy to millipede love, and what I was witnessing was an ancient courtship. The male rides along, rhythmically caressing the female with his legs until she is suitably aroused, at which point, they coil together, and in some mysterious and primitive dance, he uses his Gonopods (sex-legs!) to transfer his sperm packet over to her..receptacle. It was quite the show.

When I was a kid in North Carolina, our house would get invaded by these things every year. For three weeks, they’d be all over the house…and in the mailbox.  They smell horribly when disturbed or crushed, but I had never seen this.

There is always something more to be seen than what immediately appears before you. I have learned this lesson again and again, and I am always surprised when I learn it anew. On this day, I can say that I saw something that I’ve never seen before, something completely new and unexpected. This seems pretty worthwhile.