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Posts Tagged ‘biophilia’

[poems by James Dickey, William Carlos Williams, Robert Frost]

Last Friday I got to play a new game with my grandson Bert, one he made up with his Dad – This Animal. We had walked a mile or so on the Crabtree Creek Greenway in Raleigh and it was time to head home. Along the waterway there were plenty of enticements: red-headed woodpecker at the tip of a snag; big splashes chunking clinkers into the stream; Spring Beauties (why does Pappy kneel down and look at every flower?); tiny slug rescued from squishing.

Now we’ve turned into the neighborhoods to walk on home. Sidewalks. Lawns. Much less exciting. Soon I hear a little voice pipe up, “Let’s play This Animal!”

I get first crack. “I’m an animal that sleeps during the day . . .” “No, Pappy! You have to say This Animal!” Oh yeah, got it. Four-year olds are sticklers for protocol. “This animal sleeps during the day hanging upside down then flies around at night catching insects.”

“A bat!”

Bert knows his animals. In his presence you’d better not mistake a Blue Whale for a Sperm Whale. Or even a Crocodile for an Alligator. Now it’s his turn: “This Animal has ten legs, a stinger, AND claws!” (Hint: In his pocket Bert is clasping the plastic scorpion he’s been playing with all afternoon.)

What a kid! One of these days we’ll kick the game up a notch to This Bird. He can already name most of them that come to the feeder. And I can foresee the day when Bert has me totally stumped as we play This Lichen.

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The Heaven of Animals

Here they are. The soft eyes open.
If they have lived in a wood
It is a wood.
If they have lived on plains
It is grass rolling
Under their feet forever.

Having no souls, they have come,
Anyway, beyond their knowing.
Their instincts wholly bloom
And they rise.
The soft eyes open.

To match them, the landscape flowers,
Outdoing, desperately
Outdoing what is required:
The richest wood,
The deepest field.

For some of these,
It could not be the place
It is, without blood.
These hunt, as they have done,
But with claws and teeth grown perfect,

More deadly than they can believe.
They stalk more silently,
And crouch on the limbs of trees,
And their descent
Upon the bright backs of their prey

May take years
In a sovereign floating of joy.
And those that are hunted
Know this as their life,
Their reward: to walk

Under such trees in full knowledge
Of what is in glory above them,
And to feel no fear,
But acceptance, compliance.
Fulfilling themselves without pain

At the cycle’s center,
They tremble, they walk
Under the tree,
They fall, they are torn,
They rise, they walk again.

James Dickey (1923-1997)
from The Whole Motion: Collected Poems 1945-1992. Copyright © 1992 by James Dickey.

 

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All three of today’s poems are collected in The Ecopoetry Anthology; Edited by Ann Fisher-Wirth and Laura-Gray Street, © 2013, Trinity University Press, San Antonio, Texas.

Today’s photographs are from the exhibit at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences Exquisite Creatures by Christopher Marley. These amazing works are created by Marley from preserved specimens from around the world (and no vertebrates were killed in creating his art). The Museum describes this as a dialogue with art, nature and science, and Marley states his intention to allow each of us to tap into our innate biophilia, our love of life and living things.

Oh yes, and the little plastic insects came from the Museum gift shop. We all had to stop and play with them as soon as we left the building.

[The last day of the exhibit in North Carolina is March 20, 2022. It is appearing simultaneously in Idaho; check for future exhibits at Christopher Marley’s site.]

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Spring and All

By the road to the contagious hospital
under the surge of the blue
mottled clouds driven from the
northeast-a cold wind. Beyond, the
waste of broad, muddy fields
brown with dried weeds, standing and fallen

patches of standing water
the scattering of tall trees

All along the road the reddish
purplish, forked, upstanding, twiggy
stuff of bushes and small trees
with dead, brown leaves under them
leafless vines—

Lifeless in appearance, sluggish
dazed spring approaches—

They enter the new world naked,
cold, uncertain of all
save that they enter. All about them
the cold, familiar wind—

Now the grass, tomorrow
the stiff curl of wildcarrot leaf
One by one objects are defined—
It quickens: clarity, outline of leaf

But now the stark dignity of
entrance—Still, the profound change
has come upon them: rooted, they
grip down and begin to awaken

William Carlos Williams (1883-1963)
from Spring and All, first published in 1923 by Robert McAlmon’s Contact Publishing Co.

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The Need of Being Versed in Country Things

The house had gone to bring again
To the midnight sky a sunset glow.
Now the chimney was all of the house that stood,
Like a pistil after the petals go.

The barn opposed across the way,
That would have joined the house in flame
Had it been the will of the wind, was left
To bear forsaken the place’s name.

No more it opened with all one end
For teams that came by the stony road
To drum on the floor with scurrying hoofs
And brush the mow with the summer load.

The birds that came to it through the air
At broken windows flew out and in,
Their murmur more like the sigh we sigh
From too much dwelling on what has been.

Yet for them the lilac renewed its leaf,
And the aged elm, though touched with fire;
And the dry pump flung up an awkward arm;
And the fence post carried a strand of wire.

For them there was really nothing sad.
But though they rejoiced in the nest they kept,
One had to be versed in country things
Not to believe the phoebes wept.

Robert Frost (1874-1963)
first published in 1923 in Frost’s New Hampshire poetry collection; public domain.

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[with two poems by Malaika King Albrecht]

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 arrives the princess of spring’s reign, 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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