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

e[o]thersphere.

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

Salt Creek Prairie 8:15/60°/Wind-East

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Sitting still in the middle of the field.  One tree South of me making a racket, letting the world know that there’s a breeze blowing.  A million leaves flapping in unison.  The grasses and flowers are going to seed, covered in dew, sparkling and billowing.  What few clouds move quickly along and the sun shines down.  Behind me a sudden cascade of dried leaves, birdsong and flight.  A cricket, a steady and sustained chirping.  The leaves falling herald the breeze, which is seen and heard before you feel it.  A small flock of finches dip and veer, chirps and cheeps, whistles and trills.  Alight briefly on the branches and then they’re gone.  Down low in the grasses and seedstalks.  A goose passes overhead, alone, calling out.

on dragonflies, a carcass, and beavers

There be beavers in Salt Creek.  He found evidence as he was ambling along this past Saturday.  Downed trees and stumps chewed to a fine and tapered point.  Another tree, still standing, which was a work in progress.  Where they make their home is anybody’s guess.  He didn’t see a lodge, but he didn’t spend a lot of time looking.  He was in a hurry to check up on the carcass of a deer he’d found lying by the edge of a small, green pond a couple weeks back.  When he’d first seen the animal it was still barely alive, though obviously down and not getting back up.  He had returned the next day to see if there were any buzzards, which there were not.

Returning after two weeks, he could smell the subtle undertones of rot as he neared.  Not too strong, and maybe even imperceptible if he hadn’t already known what was there.  There was a small trail that broke between the thick shrubs and brambles that surrounded the water hole, and the smell was there too, stronger, but not overwhelming.  He stood on the muddy bank where the receding water revealed the prints of the other deer and wildlife that drank there.  He stood, looked across, maybe 8 to 10 yards, and could see what was left.  not much.  The bones had been picked clean.  Funny, he thought, how bones don’t look like bones.  They were a reddish brown color, largely indistinguishable from the ground where they lay, scattered.  Again, if he hadn’t known they were there, he likely wouldn’t have seen them at all.

As he walked out of the woods, the sun was soon to set over the field, sinking behind the trees.  The field was filled with blooming yellow sunflowers and the sun shining through their petals.  Small insects and dragonflies were ascending, silhouettes and specks of light both cascading upwards to loop and hover, sway up and downwards again.  The dragonflies were feasting on the smaller, slower insects, dipping in rapid fire arcs, rising again to meet one another in midair for the briefest moment before resuming their flight.

The smaller insects’ wings were illuminated by the sun so that they appeared almost as glowing specks of dust, or fluff.  One rose up before him just as the dragonfly swooped in from somewhere off to the side, paused, with its back to the sun, four wings and segmented body framed and held static in the light, before continuing on, leaving only emptiness.

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 3

notes from the mornin’time: fiveAMramble #3

8/28 – S.C.A. 239

Land as community, when this idea “penetrates our intellectual life”, the land ethic will come to enlarge the notion of community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals: the land.

This is a key point to keep in mind: that often, when we consider the land, we think only of the dirt, or from where the grass and trees grow. That portion of the earth we plow, excavate, or pave.

But the land is more than this. Infinitely so. How can this be communicated and internalized?

Leopold thought that the land will always be managed as a resource, which I think is probably true. So long as we’re around to manage it. We are resource intensive creatures, and I don’t see this changing anytime soon.

But will we ever be able to manage the land as something more than an economic resource, or manage the land while keeping close in mind our own membership and place within the biotic community?

Sitting in the woods is less about the sitting, or the woods even; but more about developing for oneself a deeper notion of what this land ethic means. Or, for those not interested in ethics, sitting in the woods is about taking the time to consider and reflect on your, or our, place in this world and becoming more mindful of all the small details unfolding around us all.

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.