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Posts Tagged ‘biophilia’

Charismatic Megafauna is what people hope to see when they visit Great Smoky Mountains National Park. If traffic barely creeps approaching Cades Cove there must be a black bear feeding near a pullout; if traffic stops altogether Mama has cubs. And if cars are pulled over for a mile along the prairie verge leading to Oconaluftee Visitor Center it means elk are grazing the pasture.

From the center lane I saw the big bull with six-foot rack and a harem of twenty and I slowed but I didn’t stop: the gate into Tremont would only be open from 4:00 to 5:00. It takes at least an hour up and over New Found Gap down to Sugarlands and on west into the Park. Fifteen of us will be arriving for a naturalist course on this final weekend in August, hoping to get personal with that other charismatic Kingdom – Plantae.

Lobelia cardinalis; Cardinal Flower; Campanulaceae

Trees, ferns, and flowers certainly draw many to the Smokies, if only for the deep summer shade and restorative air. Some people are even known to kneel. As winter unscrews her frozen vice we hurry to see ephemerals – trailing arbutus, hepatica, bloodroot. Then the princess of spring’s reign is trillium, including uncommon Catesby’s and Vasey’s. As we wind through the seasons we lust for phacelia, fringed orchids, lady’s slippers. But what about now at the tail end of summer?

Summer, the season of yellow: asters, wild sunflowers, goldenrod (19 species in the Park), but driving west on I-40 didn’t every weedy median present us with all these and more Asteraceae? Solid gold at 70 mph. Time to slow down. The hour for Latin and Linnaeus is after vespers with our books and guides. In this moment the growl of Harleys on Little River Road can’t penetrate the glade. The rumble of the river into its Sinks reaches us only as subsonic reassurance through our soles. All light has slipped bent drifted through tuliptree and hemlock to recline with us among shaggy green. We are crouched among the ferns.

Botrychium dissectum; Common Grape Fern; Ophioglossaceae

So many different kinds of ferns. Notice blade and stipe, dimensions and symmetries. We “frondle” them to read the hieroglyphics of their spores. We smell them. We struggle to know their names.

But here’s another fern-like frond, toothed and divided but with a tell-tale: a spike of yellow flowers like sequins in the wildwood. Lean closer. Five-petaled, many threads of stamens, Rose family. Agrimonia, harvestlice, swamp agrimony, but let us name it rose-among-the-ferns. Let us name ourselves sit-and-notice. Call us one-more-among-all-small-things. Look closely. Kneel. The least among the most is what we have come here to discover.

Agrimonia parviflora; Harvestlice Agrimony; Rosaceae

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Before, during, and after my summer visit to Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont I have been reading Malaika King Albrecht’s newest book of poetry, The Stumble Fields. If a work of art could be a facial expression her book would be a quiet, welcoming smile – the kind that lets you know she is about to share a great confidence. Her poems are revealing in the way sitting patiently in a quiet glade will gradually begin to reveal its true life.

And the spirit that often winds among her lines is, to me, that same spirit that leads us to desire to live truly in this world. Not to skip along its edges but to draw fully and be drawn deeply into it, discovering our selves as we discover the truths of our co-travelers. It is the naturalist urge – to find our connections at every stratum and station.

I am thankful to be connected to Malaika through her words.

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Lactuca floridana; Florida Blue Lettuce; Asteraceae

Loftin Woods

I’ve wanted to be a single story,
so I could tell you a happy ending
but every breath’s different.
In these woods I’m lost enough
to notice but not lost enough to care.
I find my body when the barred owl
startles the air. I find
my body where white trillium
catches light. I find my body
in the music of cantering horses
singing to sky. Today I could fall
right through this fabric of grass.

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Prunella vulgaris; Heall All; Lamiaceae

Silver Tangle of Brambles at Midnight

Late night you remember God’s first language
is silence. The space between heart beats,

the pause before someone says, Yes,
a brief moment before ebb becomes flow.

So you say, Fine. Don’t talk to me
like God’s a stubborn ghost.

You say, I’ll hear messages
whether you speak or not.

Every closed-door signals detour,
and each broken heart demands

sitting quietly for a time.

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From The Stumble Fields, Malaika King Albrecht. Main Street Rag Publishing Company, Charlotte, North Carolina. © 2020.

Vernonia flaccidifolia; Tennessee Iron Weed; Asteraceae

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Today the bloodroot is blooming along Brookwood Drive in Elkin – its leaf an unfolding hand, its 10-point star of petals. Every Spring I wonder if I will find it again, or will it be overcome by the the choke of invasives. Every Spring it rises. Tenacious, faithful, humble, generous, this April it gives the gift of itself to the earth making new.

Just once I watched a naturalist dig one up (from an extensive spread). He sliced into the rhizome like a nubby finger; one then another drop of thick red-orange life juice bled onto his palm. One small plant, all metaphor.

Bloodroot

Watch mid-April for the liver-lobed leaves,
a week later the flower that rises from duff,
a star, lace bonnet, last memory of snow;

this patch of blossoms grows smaller each spring
overtaken by honeysuckle and poison ivy –
I wonder how long it can go on blooming.

Each year our lives grow smaller as well,
overgrown by everything we thought made us strong,
thatch of vines spelled should and shall

too dense to admit the April sun.
How long until we stop imagining spring,
’til indifference sucks us dry as winter?

I want to free this flower, lift from strictures
to spread its rhizomes across a dozen wild places
wider than I can begin to discover,

but won’t my touch break its delicate stem?
Fear is the red-orange drop that oozes
out from the heart that hesitates.

Help me to feel the truth of roots
thrust like blood into earth’s desire;
make me believe dead branches bud, then

take my fingers where warmth begins –
this webwork of birth has grown so light
raising it will require two hands.

[first appearance in Changing Woman, Main Street Rag Publishing, 2006; also published in in HeartLodge Vol. 3, 2007]

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Gulp air and shout!

When does the person who writes poems become a poet? How does ministry to dead things – meter, slant rhyme, caesurae, enjambment – draw breath on the page? How to clothe with flesh those dry syllabic bones?

Beats me, but I do desire it.

I lust for the warm flesh of an image impossible to resist. A stanza that gulps air and shouts, cries, laughs. Just a couple of perfect lines that when anyone reads them they have to whisper, “Oh yeah. Oh yeah.”

Here’s the closing stanza of my favorite poem, Hymn by A.R.Ammons. In the preceding stanzas we’ve been transported ” . . . past the blackset noctilucent clouds . . . up farther than the loss of sight,” and then encountered “sporangia and simplest coelenterates . . . going right on down where the eye sees only traces.” Now Ammons bring us home:

I walk down the path down the hill where the sweetgum
has begun to ooze spring sap at the cut
and I see how the bark cracks and winds like no other bark
chasmal to my ant-soul running up and down
and if I find you I must go out deep into your
             far resolutions
and if I find you I must stay here with the separate leaves

 

I can feel these images drawing me deep into the bark, the sap, the separate leaves.  There’s science and biology, and then there is the spiritual connection that gives them meaning — my ant-soul the shout, the cry, the laugh.  Earth and sky.  Cell and organism. 

The separate leaves.

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