Notes from the Porkies: Part 1

To Deet, or not to Deet…is not really the question, but to suffer the nuisance of roving bands of mosquitoes, or dowse yourself in chemical repellants, is at least a matter for consideration.  Actually, it’s an absolute imperative, and walking into the first leg of our three day adventure into Michigan’s Porcupine Mountain Wilderness State Park, my philosophical musings as to the nature of this trip evaporate, and I am immediately reminded of the fact that philosophy is a leisurely sport, and that all this nature business is maybe not all it’s cracked up to be.

We envision, some of us anyways, a return to nature; or nature as a place of refuge, a place for solace, away from the frenetic pace and the technocratic grind.  Away from the traffic, smart phones, passwords, slow servers, political newsfeeds – somewhere off the grid, if only for a short while.  Natural settings relax us, they say, make us feel better about things; less hyperactive, more focused.  And though that may be the case, and indeed I believe it to be true, never do you hear mention of the mosquitoes.

So yes, my wife and I, with our tiny, yet capable, rat terrier Lucy, enter Deetless into the woods, and the mosquitoes are relentless.  Within seconds, a cohort of representatives from each of the 60 different species residing in Michigan announce themselves, in unison, to our eyes, ears, arms, and through our clothing.  Needless to say: Deet application promptly ensues, and it then goes like this: hiking along, watching your step, pack on your back, incessant whine in your ears – swat! – and then, silence.

The high pitched scree of mosquito wings beating 400 to 600 times per second in my ears is maddening.  I have learned that male and female mosquitoes modulate their wingbeats to create in-flight harmonies during copulation, which is mysterious and wild, but I can not abide by the music of mosquito love.  This being said, what happens when you swat them away creates a contrast of experience that seems significant, yet unnameable.

The silence opens, and there is the sound of the forest.  The rustle of chipmunks and small red squirrels as they scurry about the forest floor; what is perhaps a Fowlers toad hopping through the leaves; thrushes, warblers, cardinals, and the occasional knock and rhythm of maybe a Pileated woodpecker, pounding upon a bleached and hollowed oak, flow into the auditory space once occupied by the mosquitoes.

It doesn’t take long for the whining to begin again, gradually at first, building towards another exasperating crescendo, but during this brief reprieve, the purpose of this excursion begins to reveal itself.

the land ethic – part 2 (notes from the steno pad)

notes from the mornin’time: fiveAMramble #2

8/27 *see steno.

If little birds hold the secrets of living, then I feel we may be missing something.  and we should listen closely.

This morning I want to think more about an ethic, limitation on action, and economy…how does this relate back to how we relate to the land.

So I consult my favorite online resource and think about word origins and some basic definitions of things n stuff:

  • ethic (ethos) -> custom
    • Gk – moral character, nature, disposition, habit, custom
      • consider a land ethic in terms of habit and custom based on our disposition towards the land.
  • property -> rare in the sense of “possession” until 17c, “holding property” in 1760
  • own/ownership -> to be master of, to possess
  • limit -> to restrict, bound, boundary
  • economy -> household management, thrift
    • Gk: OIKONIMOS – “manager, steward; OIKOS – “house”; OIKONOMIA – “household management, thrift”
      • 1650s -> sense of wealth, as in the wealth of a country, etc.
  • steward -> house guardian
    • stewardship: the responsible use of resources

A “land ethic” constitutes our habits and customs determined by our disposition toward the land. But our disposition toward the land is that of property. You either own it, or you don’t. If you own the land, then you are the master. If you don’t own the land, then somebody else owns it.

We do not feel bound by any custom, or ethic, to limit or restrict our actions upon the land because as the master we may do as we wish, for who is going to tell me what I can and can not do on, or with, my property?

What is lacking is the notion of stewardship and responsibility, the understanding that every action we commit upon the land is not isolated on our property, but bleeds over into everything else.

More notes from Bemis Woods…and Speeder Bikes

“It is in the wilder spaces, of scrub and deadfall, where you’d rather not tread.  In these places you find wonders.”

– We must balance our need for order with the natural order’s need to be wild.

“…skimming the leaves atop the understory…(birds)”

Small flocks of five to seven chickadees chatter and fuss and pursue one another across the trail ahead of me: at eye level, into a small clearing, they skim the tops of saplings and underbrush, turn abruptly in mid-air and zip back across the trail and back again.   I’m reminded of the Speeder Bikes and that great chase on the Forest Moon of Endor in Return of the Jedi.  Maybe a ridiculous correlation, but this can’t be helped.

Afterwards, I find that these images have become imprinted in my mind.  Not images of Speeder Bikes, but images like this small flock of birds in flight.  Their speed, their capacity to swoop and dip, turn on a dime and return again.

I can’t help but feel frustrated by my incapacity to provide a truly adequate description, but this line from Leopold’s “Marshland Elegy” makes me feel better: “Our ability to perceive quality in nature begins, as in art, with the pretty.  It expands through successive stages of the beautiful to values as yet uncaptured by language.”

I have this image from a place and of a place that I can return to, and though I can not expect to see the same thing, or have the image repeat itself, the place itself is not lost to me, which is a great comfort.  This is one of the joys I am discovering as part of this project.  This is not a place I’ve visited on vacation.  This is a place within my community.  I don’t have to wait until next year to return – I can return tomorrow.

Still, I wonder if I’ve somehow been conditioned, or conditioned myself, to consider my engagement with the land as something transitory?  Because, when I’m there, I  feel this sense of anxiety almost where I need to take it all in, or else I’m going to miss something.  And then this subtle sadness and reluctance to leave.  As if I’ll never return, and there’s no way that I can preserve what I’ve seen with words, or a photograph.

Where does this feeling come from, I wonder?  It’s as if we mourn the loss of the wilder spaces, even as we turn away from them.  Subordinate ourselves to the promise of our own manufactured dreams, though we carry this nostalgia for something simpler, more pristine.  Or, is it that we understand, more deeply than we’d like to admit, that even these small spaces, which hold wonders, are disappearing.  Or simply being forgotten.

As of yet, I don’t have the language for it.  I hope only that I may find it along the way.

Salt Creek Woods – 7/29

First visit:

In the woods

What is valuable in this:  sitting alone on a Sunday morning, tripping over limbs, listening to birds and looking at trees that I don’t know the names of?

7:45 – Is it to learn something?

I am learning borders, edges of habitat seem to harbor a great diversity of birds.

7:47 – Scared a deer and it scared me.  Didn’t even hear it until she blew a fit and bounded away.

New location: edge of field

This seems very silly, but I’ve been told it’s worth including…for effect, or something.

8:15 – Oriole

8:24 – A deep and abiding clarity, yet you cannot remain here.  So you return, again and again.

The air is full of chirps and whistles. Hammering on a hollow log.

8:48 – within a small circle of trees…trash lying about – it must be cleaned.  Otherwise, this is a great spot.

10:17 – On the way out: 2 male indigo buntings, competing for a mate.

Reflection: my notes suck. i need a watch.

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.