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Archive for the ‘Ecopoetry’ Category

All Wild Animals

[with a poem by Brigit Pegeen Kelly]

Prepare for a long poem today. To discover some destinations takes a bit of traveling. Have I missed my turn? Have I totally misunderstood the directions? Then suddenly it becomes familiar, a place I’ve never imagined but somehow always knew I would reach.

First left after the Carter Falls Trailhead, Bob told me, then watch for the vineyard. I’ve already driven a mile farther up Pleasant Ridge than I expected. Sudden blind left, swerve onto Preacher Field Road, but there’s no vineyard in sight. Well, think, Bill – you’re meeting up on the west bank of Elkin Creek so you’ll have to cross water somewhere. The country road becomes all elbows and knees and wanders down into the little valley. Here’s a bridge. Now we’re meandering back uphill.

And here’s the vineyard, gravel farm drive, crunch down past the barn on right through the pumpkin field to where the trail crew is parked. They’re standing beside the old grave plots talking tools while one man kneels to trace the dates on a headstone: 1751-1848, William Harris, who served three years as General Washington’s body guard then settled here to farm.

We can hear the upper falls from here; glint and sparkle tease us through the oak and sourwood . For the next three hours we’ll follow Bob’s little pink flags with our mattocks, shovels, loppers, Pulaski. Almost too steep to stand and swing in some places. Bench an 18-inch wide footpath, almost every strike flashing sparks on stone (did you say granite or dammit?). Give it just the right camber, slope & runoff. We inch through morning with the murmured encouragement of Big Elkin Creek at our backs and the first draft of a new trail emerges.

So far the trail doesn’t come from anywhere or go anywhere. Today it just enjoys its windings between chestnut oak and beech, through greenbrier and grapevine, and is more than happy to take us with it.

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All Wild Animals Were Once Called Deer
Brigit Pegeen Kelly (1951-2016)

Some truck was gunning the night before up Pippin Hill’s steep grade
And the doe was thrown wide. This happened five years ago now,
Or six. She must have come out of the woods by Simpson’s red trailer—

The one that looks like a faded train car—and the driver
Did not see her. His brakes no good. Or perhaps she hit the truck.
That happens, too. A figure swims up from nowhere, a flying figure

That seems to be made of nothing more than moonlight, or vapor,
Until it slams its face, solid as stone, against the glass.
And maybe when this happens the driver gets out. Maybe not.

Strange about the kills we get without intending them.
Because we are pointed in the direction of something.
Because we are distracted at just the right moment, or the wrong.

We were waiting for the school bus. It was early, but not yet light.
We watched the darkness draining off like the last residue
Of water from a tub. And we didn’t speak, because that was our way.

High up a plane droned, drone of the cold, and behind us the flag
In front of the Bank of Hope’s branch trailer snapped and popped in the wind.
It sounded like a boy whipping a wet towel against a thigh

Or like the stiff beating of a swan’s wings as it takes off
From the lake, a flat drumming sound, the sound of something
Being pounded until it softens, and then—as the wind lowered

And the flag ran out wide—there was a second sound, the sound of running fire.
And there was the scraping, too, the sad knife-against-skin scraping
Of the acres of field corn strung out in straggling rows

Around the branch trailer that had been, the winter before, our town’s claim to fame
When, in the space of two weeks, it was successfully robbed twice.
The same man did it both times, in the same manner.

He had a black hood and a gun, and he was so polite
That the embarrassed teller couldn’t hide her smile when he showed up again.
They didn’t think it could happen twice. But sometimes it does.

Strange about that. Lightning strikes and strikes again.
My piano teacher watched her husband, who had been struck as a boy,
Fall for good, years later, when he was hit again.

He was walking across a cut corn field toward her, stepping over
The dead stalks, holding the bag of nails he’d picked up at the hardware store
Out like a bouquet. It was drizzling so he had his umbrella up.

There was no thunder, nothing to be afraid of.
And then a single bolt from nowhere, and for a moment the man
Was doing a little dance in a movie, a jig, three steps or four,

Before he dropped like a cloth, or a felled bird.
This happened twenty years ago now, but my teacher keeps
Telling me the story. She hums while she plays. And we were humming

That morning by the bus stop. A song about boys and war.
And the thing about the doe was this. She looked alive.
As anything will in the half light. As lawn statues will.

I was going to say as even children playing a game of statues will,
But of course they are alive. Though sometimes
A person pretending to be a statue seems farther gone in death

Than a statue does. Or to put it another way,
Death seems to be the living thing, the thing
The thing that looks out through the eyes. Strange about that . . .

We stared at the doe for a long time and I thought about the way
A hunter slits a deer’s belly. I’ve watched this many times.
And the motion is a deft one. It is the same motion the swan uses

When he knifes the children down by his pond on Wasigan Road.
They put out a hand. And quick as lit grease, the swan’s
Boneless neck snakes around in a sideways circle, driving

The bill hard toward the softest spot . . . All those songs
We sing about swans, but they are mean. And up close, often ugly.
That old Wasigan bird is a smelly, moth-eaten thing.

His wings stained yellow as if he chewed tobacco,
His upper bill broken from his foul-tempered strikes.
And he is awkward, too, out of the water. Broken-billed and gaited.

When he grapples down the steep slope, wheezing and spitting,
He looks like some old man recovering from hip surgery,
Slowly slapping down one cursed flat foot, then the next.

But the thing about the swan is this. The swan is made for the water.
You can’t judge him out of it. He’s made for the chapter
In the rushes. He’s like one of those small planes my brother flies.

Ridiculous things. Something a boy dreams up late at night
While he stares at the stars. Something a child draws.
I’ve watched my brother take off a thousand times, and it’s always

The same. The engine spits and dies, spits and catches—
A spurting match—and the machine shakes and shakes as if it were
Stuck together with glue and wound up with a rubber band.

It shimmies the whole way down the strip, past the pond
Past the wind bagging the goose-necked wind sock, past the banks
Of bright red and blue planes. And as it climbs slowly

Into the air, wobbling from side to side, cautious as a rock climber,
Putting one hand forward then the next, not even looking
At the high spot above the tree line that is the question,

It seems that nothing will keep it up, not a wish, not a dare,
Not the proffered flowers of our held breath. It seems
As if the plane is a prey the hunter has lined up in his sights,

His finger pressing against the cold metal, the taste of blood
On his tongue . . . but then, at the dizzying height
Of our dismay, just before the sky goes black,

The climber’s frail hand reaches up and grasps the highest rock,
Hauling, with a last shudder, the body over,
The gun lowers, and perfectly poised now, high above

The dark pines, the plane is home free. It owns it all, all.
My brother looks down and counts his possessions,
Strip and grass, the child’s cemetery the black tombstones

Of the cedars make on the grassy hill, the wind-scrubbed
Face of the pond, the swan’s white stone . . .
In thirty years, roughly, we will all be dead . . . That is one thing . . .

And you can’t judge the swan out of the water. . . . That is another.
The swan is mean and ugly, stupid as stone,
But when it finally makes its way down the slope, over rocks

And weeds, through the razory grasses of the muddy shallows,
The water fanning out in loose circles around it
And then stilling, when it finally reaches the deepest spot

And raises in slow motion its perfectly articulated wings,
Wings of smoke, wings of air, then everything changes.
Out of the shallows, the lovers emerge, sword and flame,

And over the pond’s lone island the willow spills its canopy,
A shifting feast of gold and green, a spell of lethal beauty.
O bird of moonlight. O bird of wish. O sound rising

Like an echo from the water. Grief sound. Sound of the horn.
The same ghostly sound the deer makes when it runs
Through the woods at night, white lightning through the trees,

Through the coldest moments, when it feels as if the earth
Will never again grow warm, lover running toward lover,
The branches tearing back, the mouth and eyes wide,

The heart flying into the arms of the one that will kill her.

 

All Wild Animals Were Once Called Deer from SONG by Brigit Pegeen Kelly, BOA Editions, January 1st, 1994; © 1994 by Brigit Pegeen Kelly.
First appeared in The Massachusetts Review, Vol. 34 No. 4 (Winter, 1993)
and featured on Poetry Daily October 18, 2021.

More by Brigit Pegeen Kelly:
The Poetry Foundation
The Academy of American Poets

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[with 3 poems from ecotone]

Several winters ago I built a trail behind our house down the steep wooded slope to Dutchman Creek at the edge of our property. In the forty years we’ve lived on these four acres the trees have grown to spread interlocking arms into a canopy of deep shade; the impenetrable blackberry thickets have marched along elsewhere; deer have eaten all the poison ivy. Now to reach the creek there is only the steepness to contend with.

There was no obvious tread for me to follow except a deer trail I adopted for one leg of one switchback. It took a month or two of Saturdays to rake, hack, hoe, and level about an eighth of a mile of narrow footpath. Even on cold days I shed layers. Sweat and sore shoulders – gifts for Saul, Amelia, and Bert. They will climb back up the hill from throwing rocks in the creek without the scratches and itches their Dad and Mom endured.

As that winter began to fade I returned to the trail to pace its length and decide where to widen, where to stack more native stone for steps. Just into the woods beyond the powerline right-of-way, just before the first switchback, the litter of last autumn’s leaves was dappled white. I knelt to see. Tiny delicate petals, notched fingertip leaves – rue anemone; about a dozen plants blooming to border my trail and nowhere else down the slope. No, wrong, let me restate that. Not my trail – the grandchildren’s trail. The earth’s trail.

 

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Anemonella thalictroides — Rue Anemone

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ecotone is published by the Department of Creative Writing and The Publishing Laboratory at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. The ecology of the featured poetry, essays, and fiction is described in the journal’s apt defining statement: ecotone (n) – a transition zone between two communities, containing the characteristic species of each; a place of danger or opportunity; a testing ground.

These selections are from ecotone number 29, fall/winter 2020, “The Garden Issue.”

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Invasives

The love we walk around with is a dull
tool – though it hangs from our belts with a rusty grace,
like planets expertly wired in a model of space
that slowly turns when whoever built it pulls

some secret string. The other love, the cold,
sharp one, the one that keeps a quiet place
behind our lungs, is harder to see, its face
(some tools, of course, have faces) unreadable.

But I know it, in my life, from the way it makes
me see the lovely world as lovely. Rain,
bull thistle, rabbit tracks, a friends’ face, even,

might be its face. Or does it have your face? a lake’s
face? a galaxy’s? Or phlox? the profane
honeysuckle or maybe tree-of-heaven?

Nathaniel Perry

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Pavement

Arlington, Virginia

Asphalt, bituminous, concrete, cement –
the whole place is case-hardened, carapaced.
The air shimmers with heat; tree roots can’t breathe;
no poured libation seeps down to the dead.

When we were children, this was open ground,
farm field once, where we scraped and scrounged, intent
on grubbing up that other world, the past.
Old wounds – the Minié ball, the arrowhead –

spat blood here. Now the grimy runoff seethes
into the storm drain from the parking lot.
This is the way we cloak our own unease,
muzzling what the cracked clay might have said.

The pavement lies tight-lipped, impenitent.
The scabrous memory writhes here, underneath.

Maryann Corbett

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Nectar

Here, late in August, when even the bean fields
are heavy with pods, it is blossoms that I want,
not the fruit of the season, not the acorns

and buckeyes that the squirrels are carrying off.
I want nectar, the death-defying food of the gods,
honeydew, or the distilled winelike sap of apples

and pears, anything intoxicating enough to make
an insect eat in spite of summer storms, three days
of wind and cold, enough to blow us all off course.

Trapped indoors, twelve, fourteen, now sixteen
monarchs cling to the mesh in the far corner
of the cage where the sun last appeared.

I’ve exhausted my garden, already raided
the parks, brought home coneflowers and
daisies, clover and black-eyed Susans.

Pulling on muck boots, I drive to the ditches
looking for goldenrod, and blue-eyed grass –
all the stuff the makes my family sneeze.

I want the best that the earth has to offer,
not the produce, but the promise of immortality,
that these butterflies, through their children

and grandchildren, will live forever, will fly away
and rise again among the Texas bluebells, will mate
and return to us each spring. I crush an orange,

garnish it with flowers, set a butterfly on the sticky
rim of the saucer. I roll out her proboscis
until it touches the sweetness, and she drinks.

Cathryn Essinger

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Photographs by Bill Griffin. Header Art by Linda French Griffin.

 

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2020-09-08b Doughton Park Tree

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[with 2 poems by Robert Pack]

If we keep it we’ll have to kill it. My Daughter-in-law is holding the whelk she’s discovered in the shallows near Lookout Bight off Shackleford Banks. Knobbed whorl, indigo interior of striped nacre, bigger than a baby’s fist – she suddenly drops it back into the water. The shell’s inhabitant has shifted its operculum and startled her as it crawls across her palm.

She picks the shell back up and we lean close as she turns it over and over. Perfect. Beautiful. We can’t keep it or kill it, elegant gastropod, primal sea snail. I remember Nana boiling the big shells she gathered from the sound below her house but I don’t recall ever eating conch chowder, only the procession of pink and tangerine lining her sun porch, mother-of-pearl inside but intensity steadily fading through the years.

What can we keep? What can we take with us? Not life. Maybe just the things life has touched. Sixty years later I still hold Nana’s conch shells in memory. I still see my Mother bending to capture a lettered olive rolling in the surf (while all I spot are shards). Tomorrow I will still hear my Granddaughter’s laughter as she splashes across the sandbar to see what her mother has found, and I will watch them together lower the magical creature back into the brine.

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These two selections are from Robert Pack’s All One Breath (Green Writers Press, Brattleboro, Vermont, © 2019). Many of the poems live intimately with nature, whether wild Montana where Pack lives now or the New England of his memories. Some of the poems are stories peppered with wit, unexpected turns and outcomes, subtle puns. I laugh at loud at some of his poems, tear up at others. The entire book, seems to me, weaves the thread of connection from place to place, from life to life – nearing the end of life, Bob Pack teaches us what we carry, what we can keep, what we might leave for others.

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Bear Grass Interval

++++ At roughly ten year intervals
this globe of minuscule white flowers
clustered on a dense green stalk
appears profusely in the vernal woods
of mountain-range Montana,
so the entranced observer stares
at what appears to be
a galaxy of stars that has now drifted down
and settled softly on the earth.
++++ Ask anybody who has witnessed
this phantasmagorical display,
and they will swear
that they have never seen
a spectacle so tranquil
and serenely beautiful.
++++ Yet I imagine beauty
here on earth does not
originate in the beholder’s eye,
but dwells out there inherent
in the humming universe
as one of Plato’s fundamental forms
beyond the realm of time and space
that still can harmonize discordant thought
and woo the tides of the recumbent air.
++++ You ask how this far-out belief
affects my life; am I
less self-absorbed and less defined
by personal diminishing
to primal and concluding nothingness?
++++ Perhaps if everyone would pause
to gaze upon the Bear Grass flowers
glowing on the mountainside,
and view them as if willfully designed,
a combination of sweet symmetries
and startling randomness,
then they would feel less separate,
less lonely, less irrelevant, content
to play the quiet role of witnesses.
++++ But now, right now, the galaxy
of Bear Grass flowers is not visible
and will not reappear
for an uncertain interval,
assuming earthly time
still measures disappearances,
the emptiness lost love and friendship leave
forever achingly behind.
++++ I do not know if I’ll endure
another interval – a wandering
beholder of the momentary woods –
until Bear Grass returns to grace my sight
and holds there, astounded
and suspended in delight

Robert Pack, from All One Breath, Green Writers Press, Brattleboro, Vermont, © 2019.

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Sandhill Cranes Dancing
++++ ++++ ++++ for Patty

++++ At dawn the Sandhill cranes, their heads
splashed vivid red, initiate
their mating dance, circling each other
on long, narrow legs tanning their huge, gray wings
in slow, dreamlike deliberation.
++++ They throw sticks from their pointed beaks
into the air to flaunt their mating skills.
Their whooping echoes out across
the same dew-sparkled field
where they’ve returned each spring
for twenty years since we, my wife and I,
initially began to keep our watch.
++++ A forest ranger we’d not met before
stops by our house to ask if we have seen
the grizzly bear tracks in the mud
beside our border stream. He tells us that
the constellation Ursa Major will
appear tonight effulgent
right above us in the northen sky
and that he likes to stay awake at night,
with just his telescope for company,
to calculate how long it takes
red-shifted light to reach the earth.
“My favorite is melancholy Saturn,”
he declares and its attendant moons,
each one with its own orbit, hue, and size.
“My hope is that I’ll find a hidden moon
that no one has observed before;
it would preserve my name.”
++++ He says that stars right now are being born
and burning out, collapsing on themselves,
that due to universal entropy
in maybe fifty-billion years
all matter will thin out and dissipate,
so that no memory and no
intelligence – none would survive.
++++ And even I, who own no telescope,
can comprehend terminal emptiness;
it’s no less thinkable than is
next May without our being here to watch
the cranes perform their dance as if
their tossing sticks into the dawn
and catching them might signify
that everything returns again
to re-enact past happiness.
++++ Yet in our bones we know that soon
our bearing witness must conclude,
just as the green field must turn brown,
which it, alas, has been designed to do.
So let us pause again in misty light
to watch those red crests blur and disappear
above the waving trees, and listen hard
as medleyed crane calls float away
and fade into a murmur in the air.

Robert Pack, from All One Breath, Green Writers Press, Brattleboro, Vermont, © 2019.

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[Note: When I was growing up my family used the word conch to refer to every big spiral gastropod on the North Carolina shores and sounds. What we were actually finding, usually just pieces of their shell in the ocean surf but the living, crawling creatures in Bogue Sound, were whelks. The big ones, true whelks, are in the family Buccinidae, but whelk is also a common name applied to various unrelated varieties of sea snail. The true conch, family Strombidae, lives in Florida and farther south; again, many unrelated species of sea snail in different families are also colloquially referred to as conch. Whatever you call them, discovering a complete unbroken abandoned shell on the beach is worth a big whoop and holler.]

Photos by Bill Griffin. Header art by Linda French Griffin.

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2020-11-03a Doughton Park Tree

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[with two poems by Robert Pack]

We almost didn’t walk that extra trail. It was noon when my grandson and I finished the 3.3 mile Elliot Coues loop at Fort Macon State Park. Across the salt marsh we’d watched egrets glide and settle; crouched for fiddler crabs and ducked for banana spiders in the maritime forest; climbed the highest dunes on Bogue Banks for a view of Beaufort Inlet. Now we were sweaty, parched, almost back to the car when we came to the little afterthought of a side trail.

We almost didn’t walk down to the sound and around the tannic pond. Almost passed without noticing the sleek ratsnake where it eyed us motionless from the bank before it glided back into the sedges. Almost didn’t turn up the short spur to discover the ibis ignoring us, nonchalant, preening.

Almost didn’t but we did. Maybe my grandson will remember saying, “Come on, Pappy, that’s enough pictures,” or maybe he will remember the glistening head, jewel eye, periscope neck while we waited a full minute for the snake to flick its tongue a second time.

Rat Snake, Elaphe [Pantherophis] obsoleta

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For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth the beasts; as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they all have one breath. +++++++++Ecclesiastes, Three

My introduction to Robert Pack was as co-editor with Jay Parini of Poems for a Small Planet: Contemporary American Nature Poetry (1993). This year I bought his most recent book, All One Breath (Green Writers Press, 2019). Bob Pack has been called one of America’s best “nature poets” but the “nature” of his poems opens its arms wide to embrace every human experience. Perhaps that’s the final task of poetry: to acknowledge and explore every thing we have in common with each other and with every creature, particle, planet.

These two poems speak to me as old guy who wants to show my grandkids all I see. And as young guy still with everything to learn.

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Crossing the Bridge

++++++++++++For Stanley Bates

++++When old age shall this generation waste,
++++Thou shalt remain in midst of other woe
++++Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou sayest:
++++Beauty is Truth, Truth Beauty,
++++That is all ye know on earth, and all ye need
++++to know.
++++ ++++from “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” John Keats

And now it is my generation
that has gone to waste.
I have outlasted my best friends;
no one is left but me
and this elusive, talking urn.
So I will play along with this
engaging fantasy as if
the late philosopher Stan Bates
and his exploratory mind were here
to tease me with the concept of
statically engraved eternity
and help me to distract myself
from the engulfing sense of emptiness
by thinking about thinking while
assuming thought is able to
protect us from the thoughts we think:
discoursing with a meditative urn,
conversing with you when you are not here.
I will interrogate the urn
by asking what it means by its
notorious and enigmatic claim
that Truth and Beauty are identical,
and I’ll conjecture that the far side
of the urn, the side I cannot see,
shows a tableau of a familiar scene
in early spring of a carousing stream
still edged with a fine filigree of ice
and highlighted with puffs of mist
like miniature ghosts. Across the stream
a tree has fallen like a walkway
for a spirit, should he need a passage
to the undepicted shrubbery
beyond the sleek stones on the other bank.
The spirit is, of course, invisible,
as you are now, but I can hear
his wafted flute notes as he passes by
in lilting harmony with the swirled stream’s
incantatory whispering –
as Keats could hear soft sweetness in
the silence of those “unheard melodies”
and I can hear you praising the audacity
of Keats’s baffling paradox.
I’m guessing that you would agree that this
impressionistic woodland scene
is beautiful and I’d be pleased to have
the urn give it artistic permanence,
but since all permanence is an
illusion, the urn’s vain assertion
in undoubting certainty
cannot be true, yet knowing that
it is not true – nothing is true
that does not change and disappear –
surely is true, despite our wish that we
might be less permanently sorrowful,
and sorrow no more than a shadow
on fresh snow, the murmuring of wind
amid the drying meadow grass.
But I cannot delude myself or long
be unaware of the surrounding emptiness,
pretending that you’re here and we
are entertained by speculating what
the urn might understand about
our need for solace in its offering
of friendship to its onlookers.
Stan Bates, philosopher, is gone – he is
not here on earth to quip he is not here.
Consummate connoisseur of classical
conundrums, maestro of mimetic mirth,
steadfast, devoted, generous – it’s true,
as well, he was a realist of woe
for whom grief was the bond for all of us.
And I think that it is beautiful.
There is a slender, sloping bridge
of wooden planks and wooden rails that I
have crossed a thousand times on my way home
and paused to watch the white-tailed deer
come out to drink, arpeggios
of water sliding silver from their lips,
and I can recollect those seasons when
determined beavers made a dam
and built a hutch, a perfect dome
Euclid himself might have designed,
and once at dusk, but only once,
I saw a pygmy owl swoop down
on soundless, outstretched wings
to snatch a vole beneath the snow,
his golden eyes like harvest moons
whose radiance delineates the dark.
I’d need a million, eulogizing urns
to keep such earthly memories alive,
even for just a fleeting interval –
as if, dear Stan, they could be kept for you.

Robert Pack, from All One Breath, Green Writers Press, Brattleboro, Vermont, © 2019.

 

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Giving Thanks

Two ponderosa pines define
the entryway that leads –
this clear and midday afternoon –
down to the shore of Holland Lake.
My son helps lift my outworn body
over the smooth gunnel of our fishing boat,
and off we go in the direction of
the gliding loons who dip and disappear,
leaving behind the lilting echoes
of their melancholy calls.
Framed by a could, and eagle
streaks toward its enormous nest
above the forest maze
and misty labyrinth.
++++ The mountain on the lake’s far side
offers meadow of gold Balsamroot;
a pregnant doe lifts up her head,
pausing at the water’s boundary.
About four boat lengths past
the swirl where the resounding waterfall
foams out and merges with the lake,
a cove reveals a beaver’s hutch
remarkably symmetrical –
each branch and twig packing into place –
suggesting some unchangeable design
has been revealed to me.
Simply to look, to hold in memory,
was all that my senses needed to achieve,
and all wished-for contentment could embrace.
But not quite so – such satisfaction
left still more to be desired:
++++ I needed to express
imagined gratitude
for pulsing light reflected from
round purple stones that murmured
with the undulating tide.
I needed to bestow high praise,
as if such praise could be received
and sheltered safely in the forest haze;
I needed to give thanks for symmetry,
and all its variants
in the unfolding Aspen leaves,
in the emerging needles
nearly shining row by row
on the awakened Tamaracks.
I needed to commend
the shaded slopes and crevices
for their fine tints and multimarked hues;
I was uplifted and impelled
to offer unrequited praise
for the melodic interlude
of disappearing loons –
as if such mournful singing was
and unanticipated gift beyond.

 

Robert Pack, from All One Breath, Green Writers Press, Brattleboro, Vermont, © 2019.

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Needham’s Skimmer, Libellula needhami

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Photos by Bill Griffin. Header art by Linda French Griffin.

 

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2020-11-03b Doughton Park Tree

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[with poems by Dana Gioia, Eric Tretheway, Raymond Carver]

Do unto those downstream as you would have those upstream do unto you.
++++++++++++ — Wendell Berry

Upstream a hemlock is dying. Riparian giant, it drops needles, roots loosen, and during a thunderstorm it crashes. No more cloak of deep shade for the musical first order stream. Warming water can’t carry oxygen. At the next rainfall the current clouds with silt.

Stonefly and mayfly nymphs smother. Every gilled thing diminishes. Shiners depart their riffles or starve. Brookies follow.

We are all downstream. Maybe the hemlock was maimed by acid rain, sulfur oxides from a power plant 500 miles north. Maybe it couldn’t withstand the attack of invaders (adelgids) from 5,000 miles east. Maybe cycles of heat and drought had robbed its resilience.

All connected. Not a metaphor – a gut truth. That first order stream feeds the Chattahoochee and Atlanta’s millions drink. This morning I made my coffee from a cloud stalled over the Blue Ridge. We are all downstream. Watchful, listening, thirsty.

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Stonefly nymph, shed skin after emergence of adult

 

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Becoming a Redwood
++++ Dana Gioia

Stand in a field long enough, and the sounds
start up again. The crickets, the invisible
toad who claims that change is possible,

And all the other life too small to name.
First one, then another, until innumerable
they merge into the single voice of a summer hill.

Yes, it’s hard to stand still, hour after hour,
fixed as a fencepost, hearing the steers
snort in the dark pasture, smelling the manure.

And paralyzed by the mystery of how a stone
can bear to be a stone, the pain
the grass endures breaking through the earth’s crust.

Unimaginable the redwoods on the far hill,
rooted for centuries, the living wood grown tall
and thickened with a hundred thousand days of light.

The old windmill creaks in perfect time
to the wind shaking the miles of pasture grass,
and the last farmhouse light goes off.

Something moves nearby. Coyotes hunt
these hills and packs of feral dogs.
But standing here at night accepts all that.

You are your own pale shadow in the quarter moon,
moving more slowly than the crippled stars,
part of the moonlight as the moonlight falls,

Part of the grass that answers the wind,
part of the midnight’s watchfulness that knows
there is no silence but when danger comes.

from The Gods of Winter. Copyright © 1991 by Dana Gioia. Graywolf Press, St. Paul, Minnesota, http://www.graywolfpress.org. Reprinted in Poems for a Small Planet: Contemporary American Nature Poetry. Edited by Robert Pack & Jay Parini, A Bread Loaf Anthology, © 1993, Middlebury College Press.

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Resurrection at West Lake
++++ Eric Tretheway (1943-2014)

Ringed by dark palisades
of spruce and this cold, black
bowl of water, I understand again
about words, how folded wings

can open, lift into flight:
love, when it batters us,
or death, when we sense its swoop,
a wendigo stirring in shadows.

This one-crow sky leans on my bowels.
My eyes are admonished
by witch fingers of naked poplars
forming their mute adjurations.

And social voices fall silent too:
crows, chickadees, whiskeyjacks
contain their clatter, squirrels
grow mute as pinecones.

Up on the ridge behind me
thin, bone-white remnants
of the deepest snowdrifts glow,
skeletal under the hackmatacks.

Out of these enigmatic evergreens,
around imponderable granite mounds,
beneath one flapping black rag
of crow, spring’s surge begins again.

from Poems for a Small Planet: Contemporary American Nature Poetry, edited by Robert Pack & Jay Parini, A Bread Loaf Anthology, © 1993, Middlebury College Press.

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Whitetail Shiner, Cyprinella galactura

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Three days is about the longest I could live without water. You too. Aquatic ecology – it’s all about us. For our final class exercise, Erin gives us twelve factors and has us draw lines to depict how each impacts the other. Swirls and waves and cycles. I used green ink to show beneficial effects and red for detrimental:

 

 

Add your own lines and circles!

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The River
++++ Raymond Carver (1938-1988)

I waded, deepening, into the dark water.
Evening, and the push
and swirl of the river as it closed
around my legs and held on.
Young grisle broke water.
Parr darted one way, smolt another.
Gravel turned under my boots as I edged out.
Watched by the furious eyes of king salmon.
Their immense heads turned slowly,
eyes burning with fury, as they hung
in the deep current.
They were there. I felt them there,
and my skin prickled. But
there was something else.
I braced with the wind on my neck.
Felt the hair rise
as something touched my boot.
Grew afraid at what I couldn’t see.
Then of everything that filled my eyes –
that other shore hung with heavy branches,
the dark mountain range behind.
And this river that had suddenly
grown black and swift.
I drew breath and cast anyway.
Prayed nothing would strike.

from POETRY, June, 1986. The Poetry Foundation.

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Measuring Turbidity — Little River

 

Measuring dissolved oxygen

 

Measuring pH

 

 

The Southern Appalachian Naturalist Certification Program is an adult education opportunity created and administered by Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont and the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Their mission – connecting people with nature. SANCP certification requires completing eight weekend-long courses; I took my first course, Birds of the Smokies, in May, 2017, and finished my final course, Aquatic Ecology, on July 25, 2021.

Many thanks to the ecology superpowers of Erin Canter, Manager of Science Literacy and Research and master of making connections; to John DiDiego, GSMIT Education Director; and to Jeremy Lloyd, Manager of Field and College Programs.

Field diagram by Bill Griffin. All photographs by Bill Griffin. Header art by Linda French Griffin.

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2020-09-08b Doughton Park Tree

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Warpaint Shiner – Luxilus coccogenis

[with poems by Robert Wrigley and Kenneth Rexroth]

Rheophilic. Current loving. The shiners and darters face upstream while the swift clear river fetches them good things to eat. Nymphs of dragonfly, stonefly, alderfly have hooks on their feet to creep after prey across the slick stones. Salamander larvae protected in the cobbles breathe oxygen washed over their gills by the flow.

And the most unexpected, the strangest, the most fully adapted to current: the water penny – one with the rock, clinger and creeper, beetle larva, flexible carapace completely shielding it from the torrent. One among multitudes in the punch and spray, swirl and eddy, immersed in the flash and grasp of water from which all make their living.

All things flow. The first ancestors of all mayflies clung or crept or climbed or burrowed and now there are 600 species of mayfly. Symbols and images spin an unbroken thread which if I think about it I call thinking. Words whirl into new meanings. Today we dunk our faces in the Middle Prong to share its life. Tonight the current will fetch us good things to dream. Tomorrow will be a whole new river.

[* 600 species of Mayfly in the United States, 3,000 species worldwide.]

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Anything the River Gives
++++Robert Wrigley

Basalt, granite, tourmaline, the male wash
of off-white seed from an elderberry,
the fly’s-eye, pincushion nubbins yellow
balsamroot extrudes from hot spring soil,
confetti of eggshell on a shelf of stone.
Here’s a flotilla of beaver-peeled branches,
a cottonwood mile the shade of your skin.
Every day I bring some small offering
from my morning walk along the river:
something steel, blackened amber with rust,
an odd pin or bushing shed by the train
or torqued loose from the track, a mashed penny,
the muddy bulge of snowmelt current.
I lie headlong on a bed of rocks,
dip my cheek in the shallows,
and see the water mid-channel three feet
above my eyes. Overhead the swallows
loop for hornets, stinkbugs, black flies and bees,
gone grass shows a snakeskin shed last summer.
The year’s first flowers are always yellow,
dogtooth violet dangling downcast and small.
Here is fennel, witches’ broom, and bunchgrass,
an ancient horseshoe nailed to a cottonwood
and halfway swallowed in its punky flesh.
Here is an agate polished over years,
a few bones picked clean and gnawed by mice.
Here is every beautiful rock I’ve seen
in my life, here is my breath still singing
from a reedy flute, here the river
telling my blood your name without end.
Take the sky and wear it, take the moon’s skid
over waves, that monthly jewel.
If there are wounds in this world no love heals,
then the tings I haul up – feather and bone,
tonnage of stone and pale green trumpets
of stump lichens – are ounce by ounce
a weight to counterbalance your doubts.
In another month there won’t be room left
on the windowsills and cluttered shelves,
and still you’ll see me, standing before you,
presenting some husk or rusty souvenir,
anything the river gives, and I believe
you will love.

from Earthly Meditations: New and Selected Poems by Robert Wrigley, © 2006, Penguin. Reprinted in The Ecopoetry Anthology, edited by Ann Fisher-Wirth and Laura-Gray Street, © 2013, Trinity University Press, San Antonio, Texas.

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Common Snapping Turtle – Chelydra serpentina

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Lyell’s Hypothesis Again
++++ Kenneth Rexroth (1905-1982)

An Attempt to Explain the Former
Changes of the Earth’s Surface by
Causes Now in Operation — subtitle of Lyell: Principles of Geology

The mountain road ends here,
Broken away in the chasm where
The bridge washed out years ago.
The first scarlet larkspur glitters
In the first patch of April
Morning sunlight. The engorged creek
Roars and rustles like a military
Ball. Here by the waterfall,
Insuperable life, flushed
With the equinox, sentient
And sentimental, falls away
To the sea and death. The tissue
Of sympathy and agony
That binds the flesh in its Nessus’ shirt;
The clotted cobweb of unself
And self; sheds itself and flecks
The sun’s bed with darts of blossom
Like flagellant blood above
The water bursting in the vibrant
Air. This ego, bound by personal
Tragedy and the vast
Impersonal vindictiveness
Of the ruined and ruining world,
Pauses in this immortality,
As passionate, as apathetic,
As the lava flow that burned here once;
And stopped here; and said, ‘This far
And no further.’ And spoke thereafter
In the simple diction of stone.

Naked in the warm April air,
We lie under the redwoods,
In the sunny lee of a cliff.
As you kneel above me I see
Tiny red marks on your flanks
Like bites, where the redwood cones
Have pressed into your flesh.
You can find just the same marks
In the lignite in the cliff
Over our heads. Sequoia
Langsdorfii before the ice,
And sempervirens afterwards,
There is little difference,
Except for all those years.

Here in the sweet, moribund
Fetor of spring flowers, washed,
Flotsam and jetsam together,
Cool and naked together,
Under this tree for a moment,
We have escaped the bitterness
Of love, and love lost, and love
Betrayed. And what might have been,
And what might be, fall equally
Away with what is, and leave
Only these ideograms
Printed on the immortal
Hydrocarbons of flesh and stone.

from The Collected Shorter Poems. Copyright © 1966 by Kenneth Rexroth. New Directions Publishing Corporation, http://www.wwnorton.com/nd/welcome.htm. Reprinted in The Ecopoetry Anthology, edited by Ann Fisher-Wirth and Laura-Gray Street, © 2013, Trinity University Press, San Antonio, Texas.

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Stargazing Minnows grazing — Phenacobius uranops

Greenside Darter – Etheostoma blennioides

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The Southern Appalachian Naturalist Certification Program is an adult education opportunity created and administered by Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont and the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Their mission – connecting people with nature. SANCP certification requires completing eight weekend-long courses; I took my first course, Birds of the Smokies, in May, 2017, and finished my final course, Aquatic Ecology, on July 25, 2021.

Many thanks to the ecology superpowers of Erin Canter, Manager of Science Literacy and Research and master of making connections; to John DiDiego, GSMIT Education Director; to Jeremy Lloyd, Manager of Field and College Programs; and to all the educators and staff at Tremont.

Psephenidae field sketch by Bill Griffin. All photographs by Bill Griffin.

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Mayfly nymph – Order Ephemeroptera

Water Penny – family Psephenidae

 

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2020-11-03a Doughton Park Tree

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[with poems by Wendy Battin and A.R.Ammons]

We can hear them from the trailhead. By the time we reach the little pond they are so loud our ears are pounding. A slough, a seep, scarcely more water than you could spit across, but it holds maybe a hundred Cope’s Gray Treefrogs in full raw raucousness, along with the occasional plunk of a Green Frog or wheep of a peeper.

We can spot them in the beams of our headlamps – all males. They cling to reed and vine and branch, air sacs bulging and throbbing, true masters of circular breathing (that incredible noise erupts as the sac inflates, not deflates). Calling all lady gray treefrogs – this is a great pond, great guys here, come on in and we’ll make a great number of tadpoles. Did I mention LOUD!?

And then they stop. All at once every one of them just quits singing. All of our headlighting and capturing and inspecting over the past hour didn’t phase them. Why stop now? We turn back up the trail but within a few minutes one frog starts, then two more, and within seconds they’re all revved up and back in chorus.

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Frog. Little Eden.
Wendy Battin (1953-2015)

Amphibious, at home
on the surface

tension, in
over my head, not
out of my depth, not deep
deep deep,

not in far. Not
high and dry, not
even in treetops,
where I sing water
into the root-hairs.

It seeks me, will not
forsake me.
Hand over hand it climbs.
It breaks
the first law of water,

all for my song.
Into the trunk and up, it greens
the leaves that the leaves may be
-emerald me.
The leaves breathe it out and I drink,

then sing

lest the water forget to rise
and the world be kindling.

Wendy Battin, “Frog. Little Eden.” from Wendy Battin: On the Life & Work of an American Master. © 2020 by Wendy Battin.

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Cope’s Gray Treefrog, Hyla chrysoscelis

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Midnight in Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mountains National Park – what could be more mysterious & magical? Just sixteen humans in all those pitch dark square miles in the company of charismatic megafauna (bears, y’all) and the millions of smaller creatures we’ve come here to notice. Get right down in the face of that American Toad: what a pout of grumpy sagacity. Grab that little Brownsnake, but gently: in its mind it’s three feet long. And while you’re noticing, don’t forget all the eyes in the shadows noticing you.

The lesson of Cades Cove is set it aside and let it be. Other than backcountry hikers, most of the Park’s 12 million annual visitors never venture more than a few yards from their cars. And none of them except us are in Cades Cove tonight. The little frog pond near the old church, or Gum Swamp, or the many other unique and remote habitats, they are all full of creatures free to be themselves, to slither by day or sing by night. We might glimpse a little of what gives their lives meaning. We might learn a little of our own.

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Gravelly Run
A. R. Ammons (1926-2001)

I don’t know somehow it seems sufficient
to see and hear whatever coming and going is,
losing the self to the victory
+++of stones and trees,
of bending sandpit lakes, crescent
round groves of dwarf pine:

for it is not so much to know the self
as to know it as it is known
+++by galaxy and cedar cone,
as if birth had never found it
and death could never end it:

the swamp’s slow water comes
down Gravelly Run fanning the long
+++stone-held algal
hair and narrowing roils between
the shoulders of the highway bridge:

holly grows on the banks in the woods there,
and the cedars’ gothic-clustered
+++spires could make
green religion in winter bones:

so I look and reflect, but the air’s glass
jail seals each thing in its entity:

no use to make any philosophies here:
+++I see no
god in the holly, hear no song from
the snowbroken weeds: Hegel is not the winter
yellow in the pines: the sunlight has never
heard of trees: surrendered self among
+++unwelcoming forms: stranger,
hoist your burdens, get on down the road.

A. R. Ammons, “Gravelly Run” from The Selected Poems, Expanded Edition. Copyright © 1988 by A. R. Ammons. W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Reprinted in The Ecopoetry Anthology, edited by Ann Fisher-Wirth and Laura-Gray Street, © 2013, Trinity University Press, San Antonio, Texas.

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American Toad, Anaxyrus americanus

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The Southern Appalachian Naturalist Certification Program is an adult education endeavor of Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont and the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Their mission of connecting people with nature continues even during pandemics! The science-based instructional programs have evolved with science-based precautions and modifications to allow small communities to form for a weekend at a time.

Many thanks to John DiDiego, GSMIT Education Director, and to the awe-inspiring instructors for the July, 2021 SANCP Reptiles and Amphibians course, Dr. John Charles Maerz from University of Georgia, and his intrepid research assistant, Jade Samples. We crammed a semester’s worth of herpetology into 36 hours out of doors in the Smokies. (Did I sleep? Maybe a little.)

All photographs by Bill Griffin. Header art by Linda Griffin.

Dekay’s Brownsnake, Storeria dekayi

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2016-10-17a Doughton Park Tree

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[including poems by Mary Oliver and Bill Griffin]

Because they are themselves and we have begun to see that they are,
++++because we are not humble but have been humbled,
++++because we can’t begin to love ourselves until we love them,
++++because we can’t love them unless we know them,
++++because in a world that scoffs at the word “sacred” we have
++++++++ accepted a sacred calling,
for all these reasons and more we protect them from us.

We are going to count the salamanders in Dorsey Creek. Before we leave Tremont and hike to their watershed we spray our boots with weak bleach (to kill the Ranavirus). We wear gloves so that we don’t smear them with our own flora (they have a rich commensal surface bacterial that keeps them healthy). We touch them only briefly and hold them in water in bags, not in our hands (a scant few grams of flesh, thin and magical skin, even the heat of our palms would stress them). Just a few minutes to check for gills if they’re still larvae, to count their spots and markings, look for cheek chevrons, flip and inspect the tint of their bellies, then we take them back to the leaf litter or flashing stream where we found them. Perhaps each one may be counted again, perhaps dozens of times over a ripe salamander lifespan of 20 years.

And perhaps, rising from our knees with new names in our mouths (Desmognathus monticola, quadramaculatus, conanti) and something sacred in our hearts, perhaps we will see the world as if for the second time, the way it really is.

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Alligator Poem
++++ Mary Oliver (1935-2019)

I knelt down
at the edge of the water,
and if the white birds standing
in the tops of the trees whistled any warning
I didn’t understand,
I drank up to the very moment it came
crashing toward me,
its tail flailing
like a bundle of swords,
slashing the grass,
and the inside of its cradle-shaped mouth
gaping,
and rimmed with teeth –
and that’s how I almost died
of foolishness
in beautiful Florida.
But I didn’t.
I leaped aside, and fell,
and it streamed past me, crushing everything in its path
as it swept down to the water
and threw itself in,
and, in the end,
this isn’t a poem about foolishness
but about how I rose from the ground
and saw the world as if for the second time,
the way it really is.
The water, that circle of shattered glass,
healed itself with a slow whisper
and lay back
with the back-lit light of polished steel,
and the birds, in the endless waterfalls of the trees,
shook open the snowy pleats of their wings, and drifted away,
while, for a keepsake, and to steady myself,
I reached out,
I picked the wild flowers from the grass around me –
blue stars
and blood-red trumpets
on long green stems –
for hours in my trembling hands they glittered
like fire.

from New and Selected Poems, © 1992 by Mary Oliver, Beacon Press, Boston. Reprinted in The Ecopoetry Anthology, edited by Ann Fisher-Wirth and Laura-Gray Street, © 2013, Trinity University Press, San Antonio, Texas.

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Sorceress’ lizard, bellows breath, fire worm, winged dog – O, little salamander, how you inspire us with your magic! Pliny the Elder recognized that you are not a lizard but ancient Greeks still rumored that you quench fire with the chill of your body. The Talmud explains you are a product of fire and immune to its harm. Perhaps during the long winters of the Middle Ages you emerged miraculously from the log thrown onto the hearth to substantiate your reputation. Marco Polo believed your true nature to be an “incombustible substance found in the earth.” And let’s not forget the fearful excretions of your skin, poisonous enough to kill the entire village if you fall into the well, fundamental ingredient of witches’ brews, irresistible aphrodisiac.

Little wriggling Caudata, the reality of your nature is more wondrous than myth. You eat small things that would starve larger creatures and yet you thrive; your biomass exceeds that of all the mammals in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Your skin breathes – most of you don’t even have lungs! – and brews up a constellation of compounds that confound the biochemist. Some of you live 4 years with gills in the swift chill stream before becoming adults, others metamorphose within your eggs beneath forest duff and emerge fully formed, but all of you with your efficient ectothermic life plan grow and grow, make eggs, survive perhaps for decades. And Great Smokies holds more of your diversity than any other place in the world.

We are amazed! We students of SANCP Reptiles and Amphibians Course of 2021 are just astonished and awestruck. You are the coolest of the cool (ectotherms, that is)! We thank your Chief Sorcerer of Knowledge, Professor John Maerz, and Acolyte of Hands-On, Graduate Research Assistant Jade Samples, for sharing their lore, showing us how to find you, leading us to love you.

Salamanders – you rule!

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Salamander
++++ Bill Griffin

This is my gift –
++++++++ to change.
From Inadu Creek I leave behind
my frilly gills and climb
the spire of blue-eyed grass.
Having become a creature of air bathing
myself in dew, am I not still
a creature of water?

I invite you to discover
in each of my family our variations,
discern that every runnel, every spring,
every palm-sized cup of moisture
holds its lithe expectation, for this
is my gift to you –
++++++++ to notice changes.

I will let you lightly touch
the welcome of my smoothness
while I drink a little warmth
from your hand. Now count
the dapples down my length,
measure the blush of my cheek,

then find when you descend
the eastern face of Snake Den Ridge
those subtle alterations my cousins
are accumulating until finally
they acquire a new name.

And when you have returned me
to my bed of blue-bead lily, then touch
a smooth place within yourself
and carry with you into the world
++++++++ your own changes.

 

from Snake Den Ridge: a bestiary, © 2008 by Bill Griffin, March Street Press, Greensboro, NC. Illustrations and historical preface by Linda French Griffin.

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The Southern Appalachian Naturalist Certification Program is an adult education endeavor of Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont and the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Their mission of connecting people with nature continues even during pandemics! The science-based educational programs have evolved with science-based precautions and modifications to allow small communities to form for a weekend at a time.

Many thanks to John DiDiego, GSMIT Education Director, and to the awe-inspiring instructors for the July, 2021 SANCP Reptiles and Amphibians course, Dr. John Charles Maerz from University of Georgia, and his intrepid research assistant, Jade Samples. We crammed a semester’s worth of herpetology into 36 hours out of doors in the Smokies. (Did I sleep? Maybe a little.)

All photographs by Bill Griffin. Plethodon jordani on blue-eyed grass by Linda French Griffin. Header art also by Linda Griffin.

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2014-06-30a Doughton Park Tree

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Think of the wren / and how little flesh is needed to make a song.

[poem by Galway Kinnell]

The storm of the commonplace, does it grumble louder these days? The daily downstream of task and grind and conciliation, when did it become all fierce foam, rapids, never a moment to look up from paddling and glimpse a tree swallow’s emerald benediction? When did everything get so damn hard?

This morning there is too much inner clangor for me to pick up a pen, much less face a blank page. No, nothing “worthy” of recording: Who would care to read the quotidian health bulletins of my nonagenarian parents; to join me in ticking off one hundred and one conditions that need to be met before we can gather in person at church this Sunday; to listen to my inner dialogue with vaccine refusers and wonder if Linda and I will ever again feel safe singing with our regional chorus? Why worry about a little heat exhaustion working on the Elkin Creek trail tomorrow when the whole west coast is desiccating and blowing away?

Meanwhile outside dank vapors of rumination, mud of gray matter, rigid constricting cranium; meanwhile outside in the press of North Carolina foothills summer afternoon, starting to sweat just thinking about it; meanwhile outside no matter how hot, how thorny, how dispiriting . . . in the neighbor’s yard a wren is singing.

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Why Regret?
Galway Kinnell – 1927-2014

Didn’t you like the way the ants help
the peony globes open by eating the glue off?
Weren’t you cheered to see the ironworkers
sitting on an I-beam dangling from a cable,
in a row, like starlings, eating lunch, maybe
baloney on white with fluorescent mustard?
Wasn’t it a revelation to waggle
from the estuary all the way up the river,
the kill, the pirle, the run, the rent, the beck,
the sike barely trickling, to the shock of a spring?
Didn’t you almost shiver, hearing book lice
clicking their sexual dissonance inside an old
Webster’s New International, perhaps having just
eaten out of it izle, xyster, and thalassacon?
What did you imagine lies in wait anyway
at the end of a world whose sub-substance
is glaim, gleet, birdlime, slime, mucus, muck?
Forget about becoming emaciated. Think of the wren
and how little flesh is needed to make a song.
Didn’t it seem somehow familiar when the nymph
split open and the mayfly struggled free
and flew and perched and then its own back
broke open and the imago, the true adult,
somersaulted out and took flight, seeking
the swarm, mouth-parts vestigial,
alimentary canal come to a stop,
a day or hour left to find the desired one?
Or when Casanova took up the platter
of linguine in squid’s ink and slid the stuff
out the window, telling his startled companion,
“The perfected lover does not eat.”
As a child, didn’t you find it calming to imagine
pinworms as some kind of tiny batons
giving cadence to the squeezes and releases
around the downward march of debris?
Didn’t you glimpse in the monarchs
what seemed your own inner blazonry
flapping and gliding, in desire, in the middle air?
Weren’t you reassured to think these flimsy
hinged beings, and then their offspring,
and then their offspring’s offspring, could
navigate, working in shifts, all the way to Mexico,
to the exact plot, perhaps the very tree,
by tracing the flair of the bodies of ancestors
who fell in this same migration a year ago?
Doesn’t it outdo the pleasures of the brilliant concert
to wake in the night and find ourselves
holding hands in our sleep?

Why Regret? is from Strong Is Your Hold. Copyright © 2006 by Tom Galway Kinnell. Houghton Mifflin Company.

Galway Kinnell — Poetry Foundation

Galway Kinnell — Poets.org

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2014-07-13 Doughton Park Tree

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[with 3 poems by Maureen Ryan Griffin]

At the National Zoo in DC the Maned Wolves are sniffing them out – crunch; the Red River Hogs have dug up their entire enclosure to welcome them; the Big Cats just couldn’t care less about them; the River Otters bat them like shuttlecocks a few times, then crunch; the Keepers are busy calculating how much less protein to allot each daily feed because of all the crunching of them.

Here in Elkin an army of little workmen fill the trees, each holding in his middle arms and forward arms a tiny leaf blower set on max. Their women can’t resist that sound. Cedar waxwings can’t resist coming down from the heights where they usually hang out to nab nymphs climbing up the oak trees. Yellow-billed cuckoos are planning three broods this summer after checking out the buffet.

In 10th grade Mrs. Schilling made sure we learned the major orders – Lepidoptera, Diptera, Hymenoptera, etc., not least Hemiptera, the True Bugs (you’d better not call a Coleoptera a “bug”). Stink Bugs, you guys are old news after this year’s Hemiptera (suborder Homoptera) emergence — Magicicada septendecim Brood X, The Great Eastern Brood, magical indeed, to you we doff our hats. Second thought I’ll keep mine on.

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Ten Thousand Cicadas Can’t Be Wrong

Summer sings sweet songs for her supper,
but her golden slippers aren’t for sale – no unless
you happen upon some celestial bargain basement
of goodly delights. There, nearly hidden under
last year’s turquoise silk sky, raspberries ripen, rampant,
as the mourning dove’s plum notes whirr, winged
into basil-drenched dreams. All this, and watermelon, too,
and fireflies, and the daylilies from your mother’s
last garden, double-headed. Just don’t forget
there are chiggers, and mosquitoes, of course, and that heat
everyone speaks of, muggy, tasting of
mildewed shower shoes, sounding for all the world like
kudzu unfurling in Jackson, Mississippi, where Janis Joplin
might have sung supper songs of her own. I don’t know.
I’ve never been there. I do know freedom’s not
just another word for nothin’ left to lose, and that you’ll never
find that bargain basement, no matter how long you look.
Listen, ten thousand cicadas can’t be wrong.
Anybody knows larvae never lie, not as long as
persimmons pucker and peaches procrastinate.
Lollygag in your hammock if you must, whenever
the tomatoes lean, but remember
that the persnickety bookie of guilt and doubt
is keeping score. You can’t hide but you can
run. You can steal the chiggers right out from under
the blackberries. You can rob from the raspberries
in bruised homage to the summer afternoon
the two most beautiful words in the English language,
according to Henry James, whose afternoons
are elsewhere now. Tu connais Uncle Death?
No worries. Aunt Morning will waltz willfully
wanton beyond noon, yea, and onward, well past dusk,
in Sister Summer’s silver slippers, the ones
deep in her closet that she seldom thinks to wear.

Maureen Ryan Griffin

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Could there be a more perfect moment to re-read Maureen Ryan Griffin’s book Ten Thousand Cicadas Can’t Be Wrong? Her poetry is often about the changing seasons, the changes in our lives, the mile markers and wrong turns and new pathways discovered in the process. Nature and human nature interwoven, the book is rich and broad-ranging; I’d add even more selections from the Ten Thousand but when the sun comes out the little leaf-blowers rev up and soon I can’t hear myself think.

[Rather than 10 to the 4th we’re dealing with 10 to the 13th = tens of trillions. But they are nice and crunchy.]

Maureen (no kin to this writer) is best known as “midwife to dreams” for the many writers she has instructed, encouraged, and inspired through the years. Visit her website WORDPLAY and learn more about “spinning words into gold” through her contributions to the award-winning CHARLOTTE READERS PODCAST.

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I’d like to think it isn’t greed

impelling us
to gather
far beyond need, whatever
our predilection –
++++++ blackberries
++++++ buckeyes
++++++ daylilies
++++++ fireflies
++++++ olive shells
++++++ sand dollars
++++++ stones –
++++++++++++ rather,
the feel of familiar
texture, convexity,
the comfort
of a particular weight
cradled in a palm.
Who knows
what it is that sings
as we fill
+++ baskets to overflowing
with our own peculiar harvests.
We feel the lure
+++ cull just one more
as if it were important to
keep this bit of fruit
from what we think of
as waste, to save
another shell from being
shattered by the sea,
to make ourselves a home among
the things of this world.

Maureen Ryan Griffin

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When the Leaves Are in the Water

When my brother and I walked
through these woods, he pointed out
subtleties of bark and branches,
read growth rings, spoke of drought
and rainy years. Said I look

like Mother. What I love
about trees: they endure
the seasons. I yearn
to be sweet gum, sugar maple.
My brother named me

ironwood, divined my rusting
heart, too hard to yield
forgiveness. Would we agree on oak,
my gallnuts early griefs
painstakingly transformed?

Arriving at the creek bank,
I let silt run through my fingers,
minute bits of pebble
with unseen roughness.
I wasn’t looking when my hands

turned into hers. I plunge them
into cold creek water.
I once thought
forgiving her was clean,
balsam on a wound

to make it heal. It’s more
like washing hands
before a meal. I have to do it
over and over: forgiveness
to the third power. I feel

it’s time, but loss spirals
deeper each succeeding
season. What will I be without
my holy anger – stripped bare
like the skeleton of a tree,

my stipule scars, my leaf
scars showing. Trees are born
to nakedness – I’m not ready.
My brother told me
the Cherokee believe

it’s a time of great power
when the leaves are in the water.
I fling in handfuls of
hard memories, watch the current
carry them away.

Maureen Ryan Griffin
all selections from Ten Thousand Cicadas Can’t Be Wrong, New and Selected Poems, Main Street Rag Publishing, © 2014 Maureen Ryan Griffin

Magicicada

Brood X

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