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Posts Tagged ‘Anne McCrary Sullivan’

[poems by Bill Griffin, John Morgan, Anne McCrary Sullivan]

Always something new. Trees I’ve passed a dozen times, these stones, did they always look like this? Oh sure, no doubt those gray-green blotches scattered here & there just so sparked some cryptic synapse of recognition: lichen. But slow down, kneel, look close and learn, understand a fragment of what is happening here and has been happening for too long to grasp. Always something new to discover.

How do they do it? Fungal hyphae, infinitely winding threads coil to embrace their chosen algae, held in their arms like waifs. Separate them, fungus and plant, separate kingdoms, and the textbook shows their single forms: flask of gray goo, flask of green. Let them mingle, though, and they create miniature cityscapes, ramparts, pastorales wilder than the dreams of Seuss.

But that fungal/algal friendship – it’s not all long-stemmed roses and dark chocolate. In school I learned lichen = symbiosis, mutual give and take, but there’s evidence of some darker biochemical power-brokerage at play. Fungus need’s sugar from algae’s photosynthesis to live (or some fungi hook up with cyanobacteria). Algae get a scaffold for stability, a moist enclave, protection from the sun. But fungus tweaks its algae to make them spill more sugar, and no algal cell is ever free to leave. Vaguely sinister.

Still the two together create a world neither could create alone. How old is it, that 7 cm patch of speckled gray on the rock face half way up Lumber Ridge, staking its stark black divide between the creeping yellow patch adjacent? How long have they been growing there? Ten years? A hundred? Nine hundred species of lichens in the Smokies (at least!) making infinitesimal advances, making spores or little baby lichen granules for the next boulder over, the next bare patch of bark – stable, solid partnerships of mycobiont/photobiont as old as stone. As everlasting and as changeable, evolving, as this gradually eroding ridge.

I will never walk this way again without wondering. Actually, I’ll never walk anywhere without lichen – between the boards on my porch, on every tree (look close!), even thriving on that old junker someone’s hauling west on US 421. I can’t help it now, noticing their different forms and colors. Their sweet pocked apothecia. Their spreading. Lichens, steadfast, pursue their wonderfully odd and ancient lifestyle and I am becoming something new.

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Becoming Something New
+++ Lichens are a lifestyle.
+++ Dr. James Lendemer, NY Botanical Garden

Mountains stretch themselves beneath
the undifferentiated open,

overhead unblinking: ridgeback, rock face,
cove & holler to the sky

look like Chigger Thicket, Princess Shingles
cradled in arms of ageless folded earth

upholding hornbeam, hemlock, oak
yet closer each bole the shepherd

of its own beloved
flocks, foliose & fruticose,

spire cleft & spore sac all sustained
upon the nod of small green globes,

embrace of interlacing hyphae.

From two as far removed as earth and sky
comes something new.

Perhaps we shouldn’t name it love, this dance
so intimate, maybe just the way

life gets things done, gets through
with welcome damp, a speck of sun

for sustenance, enfolding arms
to lean into each other, but consider this:

can any two who persevere
in all this ancient making kingdom

ever take more than they give?

Bill Griffin – for John DiDiego and the Likin’ Lichens course of the Southern Appalachian Naturalist Certification Program, Great Smokies Institute at Tremont

Chigger Thicket – Usnea stigosa
Princes Shingles – Cladonia strepsilis
+++ Thanks to Dr. James Lendemer for the common names of lichen
+++ and for opening the door to worlds unseen . . .

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Poetry and the National Park Service

Sometimes a poem takes me to a new place of heart and spirit, like walking through a national park takes me to a new place of earthforms and creatures. These are experiences of curiosity, wonder, awe, renewal – in the encounter I become something new.

The National Park Service is all about poetry. The National Historic Site Longfellow House – Washington’s Headquarters includes many resources from Romantic nature poetry to Emerson and transcendentalism. Other links at NPS.gov range from Mary Oliver and Ed Roberson to Kathy Jetñil-Kijiner and Arther Sze. Over the years many writers have served as poets-in-residence in various parks; poems they wrote during these times are featured online and I’m sharing two today. The Park Service recognizes the importance of poetry at the interface between human person and nature, as is in this online statement:

Unlike most Romantic nature poetry, which primarily focused on the sentimental beauty of nature, many modern nature poems examine ecological disasters or human’s role in the environment’s decline. Through poetry, these “eco-poets” explore this ever-evolving relationship between human and nature. Some poems bring awareness to ecological crises or challenge readers to reflect on their own relationship with nature. Still, some are odes of gratitude to nature or elegies for the changing environment, and others are a call to action.

National Park Service nature poetry resources
Poems by Poets-in-Residence at National Parks
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow nature poetry at NPS.GOV

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Vision

Followed a fox toward Polychrome Pass.
Red smudged
with black along its lean rib-cage,

it rubs its muzzle on a former meal,
ignores the
impatient poet on its tail.

Then nearing the overlook, sun shearing
through low clouds
transmutes the view to glitter. Everything’s

golden, scintillant. I feel like a seedpod wafted
into space and
check my shaky hands on the steering wheel.

As the road crests over its top, boundaries
dissolve. Beside that
sheer intractable edge, I greet my radiant center,

discharge all my terms. How easy it seems
to channel between
worlds, my old self dying into a new,

with nothing firm to hold me here
but love. And that’s
what nature has it in its power to do.

John Morgan
from his poetry collection entitled The Hungers of the World: Poems from a Residency, written after a stay at Denali National Park in June, 2009.

Of his time in the park John writes, “Being in residence means, in a sense, being at home, and having the wonderful Murie Cabin to live in made me feel a part of the wilderness whenever I stepped outside. Over the course of ten days the boundary between myself and the natural world grew very thin. These intimations culminated, toward the end of my stay, with the experience recounted in the poem Vision.”

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At Season’s End, Singing to The Alligator

I was prepared to arrive at the slough and for the first time
find no gators there, but there was one swimming steadily
away from the boardwalk. I watched.

I began to sing to him (I don’t know why), hum rather.
He slowed down. A coincidence probably. I kept humming.
He stopped, turned sideways, looked at me.

I came then as close to holding my breath
as one can while humming.

He began to submerge (felt safer that way, I suppose)
but did not submerge completely. I hummed.

Slowly, he swam toward me
stopped directly beneath me
hung in the water the way they do
legs dangling, listening.
(Be skeptical if you will.
I know that gator was listening.)

We stayed that way a long time,
I leaning over the rail humming,
he looking up at me, attentive—
until he folded his legs to his body,
waved that muscled tail and left me

alone, dizzy with inexplicable joy.

Anne McCrary Sullivan
from Ecology II: Throat Song from the Everglades, a book of poems inspired by her residency at Everglades National Park.

Of her art Anne writes, “Poetry is a way of seeing. It requires heightened attention to detail and a sensitivity to pattern and relationship. It looks simultaneously at inner and outer worlds, locates connections, and ultimately presents a meaning-charged kernel of experience.”

{Sounds to me like naturalist methods and poetry involve parallel attitudes and aptitudes. – Bill}

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2017-03-06a Doughton Park Tree

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