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Posts Tagged ‘nature poetry’

[with poems by Carl Phillips, Janice Harrington, Ross Gay]

Green is God’s best idea.

Yesterday afternoon Linda and I drove up the Blue Ridge Parkway for a hike at Doughton Park. Crossing Air Bellows Gap (elevation 1,135 m / 3,724 ft) we noticed the new leaves still flashed mint, gold, orange, pink, some foreshadowing their autumn hues. Once we’d climbed up to the overlook at Bluff Mountain, though, we saw the hardwoods down in Basin Cove fully decked in rich deep emerald and kelly, gradations of green from full summer in the bottoms to pale spring at ridgecrest. Which is all just to say: Go, little Chloroplasts, Go!

The first chloroplast was born about 2 billion years ago when an ancient cell engulfed an ancient cyanobacterium. And then didn’t digest it! The cyanobacterium became a tiny green internal organelle and its chlorophyll turned sunlight into sugar for the big cell; the big cell provided a safe home for the cb. They became first plant cell – a match made in heaven! In another mere billion years or so of reproducing like mad (and cranking out oxygen as a waste product), the earth’s atmosphere changed from having zero oxygen to having oxygen enough to support the development of the first animals. Of which you and I, of course, are two. Thank you, Green!

Postscript re: good ideas and all – Linda and I had parked beneath an oak tree. When we’d finished our five miles (including detour around a herd of steers that grazes on NPS land to keep the balds bald) I opened the car door and raised a visible cloud. Swelling eyes, paroxysms of coughing, nose gusher: oak tree in flower = pollen.

To make a seed you need an ovum and pollen. Every green thing that doesn’t make seeds makes spores instead and is a fern (well, OK, or moss, or liverwort, or lichen, or . . . ). Spores work pretty well but about 400 million years ago the gymnosperms appeared (conifers, ginkgo) and brought with them the first pollen, and when plants became smart enough to make flowers about 135 million years ago (angiosperms) the variety of living things on earth really skyrocketed. Go, Flowers, Go! So if you’ll hand me a tissue, God, I’ll grudge you this: pollen might be your second best idea.

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The Cure

The tree stood dying – dying slowly, in the ususal manner
of trees, slowly, but now without its clusters of spring leaves
taking shape again, already. The limbs that held them tossed,

shifted, the light fell as it does, through them, though it
sometimes looked as if the light were being shaken, as if
by the branches – the light, like leaves, had it been autumn,

scattering down: singly, in fistfuls. Nothing about it to do
with happiness, or glamour. Not sadness either. That much
I could see, finally. I could see, and want to see. The tree

was itself, its branches were branches, shaking, they shook
in the wind like possibility, like impatient escorts bored with
their own restlessness, like hooves in the wake of desire, in

the wake of the dream of it, and like the branches they were.
A sound in the branches like that of luck when it turns, or is
luck itself a fixed thing, around which I myself turn or don’t,

I remember asking – meaning to ask. Where had I been, for
what felt like forever? Where was I? The tree was itself, and
dying; it resembled, with each scattering of light, all the more

persuasively the kind of argument that can at last let go of them,
all the lovely-enough particulars that, for a time, adorned it:
force is force. The tree was itself. The light fell here and there,

through it. Like history. No – history doesn’t fall, we fall
through history, the tree is history, I remember thinking, trying
not to think it, as I lay exhausted down in its crippled shadow.

Carl Phillips

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Today’s selected poems are from Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry, edited by Camille T. Dungy, © 2009 University of Georgia Press, Athens GA.

Carl Phillips is the author of nine books of poetry, most recently Quiver of Arrows: Selected Poems 1986-2006 and Riding Westward. A Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, he teaches at Washington University in St. Louis.

Janice Harrington (b. 1956) grew up in Alabama and Nebraska. After working as a public librarian and as a professional storyteller, Harrington now teaches in the creative writing program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She has also written award-winning children’s books.

Ross Gay was born in 1974 in Youngstown, Ohio. He is a Cave Canem Fellow and a recipient of a grant from the Pennsylvania Council of the Arts. He teaches poetry at Indiana University in Bloomington and gives readings and workshops in various venues across the country.

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What There Was

Pine, catalpa, pin oak, persimmon,
but not tree.

Hummingbird, hoot owl, martin, crow,
but not bird

Cannas, honeysuckle, cockscomb, rose,
but not flower.

Wood smoke, corn, dust, outhouse,
but not stench.

A spider spinning in a rain barrel,
the silver dipper by the back porch,
tadpoles shimmying against a concrete bank,
but not silence.

A cotton row, a bucket lowered into a well,
a red dirt road, a winging crow,
but not distance.

A rooster crowing in the evening,
wasps humming beneath the eaves, hounds
baying, hot grease, but not music.

My mother running away at fifteen,
my grandmother lifting a truck to save a life,
an uncle at Pearly Harbor, Webster sitting
at the back of the bus when he looked as white
as they did, but not stories.

The entrails of a slaughtered sow, the child born
with a goat’s face, the cousin laid on a railroad
track, the fire that burned it all, but not death.

This poem, a snuff tin sated with the hair
of all our dead, my mother’s nighttime talks
with her dead father, my great-grandmother’s
clothes passed down, passed down, but not memory.

Janice N. Harrington

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Thank You

If you find yourself half naked
and barefoot in the frosty grass, hearing,
again, the earth’s great, sonorous moan that says
you are the air of the now and gone, that says
all you love will turn to dust,
and will meet you there, do not
raise your fist. Do not raise
your small voice against it. And do not
take cover. Instead, curl your toes
into the grass, watch the cloud
ascending from your lips. Walk
through the garden’s dormant splendor.
Say only, thank you.
Thank you.

Ross Gay

 

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Doughton Park Tree, 2022-05-17A

 

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[with poems by Anthony Walton, Camille Dungy, Marilyn Nelson]

The first time down the path leads // to enlightenment, the second, to wonder; / the third finds us silent, listening

What path have you and I walked that led us here? Anthony Walton’s path is through the Rachel Carson Wildlife Refuge: between firm ground & marsh, between tidal creek and sound. What paths do we recall through life that carried us between extremes, that brought us to new places?

Literal paths: Bogue Sound when I was ten, over the dunes to the ocean at Emerald Isle when there wasn’t a single house in sight. The old orchard cum housing development in Michigan when I was 13, Larry and I walking to the old pond with the rope swing. Fifty miles of New Mexico I hiked at Philmont at 16, thinking every day of returning home to ask Linda on our first date.

And figurative paths: symbolic journeys, decisions made, setbacks, mistakes, turning points. In hindsight do they seem to have become inevitable, foreordained? Could my life have been different if . . . and would I have even wanted it to be?

To walk a path for the first time – well, of course you can only do that once. It’s been a couple of years since I first hiked the trail I now follow at least once a week: pick up the MST at Isaac’s trail head, westbound to Carter Falls, loop trail and back, about seven miles. I walked it today. This morning for the first time along Grassy Creek I saw a Redstart. Every walk, another first time. And those metaphorical paths – each time I recall, revisit, isn’t it another first time of a sort?

The first path, the first encounter, leads to enlightenment, the next to wonder, then finally silence. Keep walking our paths, whether they be sandy tracks, a mountain climb, an untangling of recollection and past reflection. The first time opens the mind, door to contemplation. The second opens the eyes, to see and be amazed. The third time opens the heart, and in silence may meaning enfold us.

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In the Rachel Carson Wildlife Refuge, Thinking of Rachel Carson

The elements raveling and unraveling:
groundwater misting into rain, falling

back into groundwater; salt water wash
through brackish freshwater bordering

sea; we two wandering in late March
along the upland, among evergreens

and bare deciduous and bushes held fast
by the last of the snow, the rush and bubble

of the tidal river winding through low tide,
salt hay, cord and spike grass, walking

the path between firm ground and marsh.
The first time down the path leads

to enlightenment, the second, to wonder;
the third finds us silent, listening

to the few gulls lift and caw as we watch
the wind, which makes itself known

in the sea grass and as it dimples the water,
skimming like sunlight until a Coast Guard

chopper drowns for a moment the drone
of cars and trucks in the distance.

Anthony Walton

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Language

Silence is one part of speech, the war cry
of wind down a mountain pass another.
A stranger’s voice echoing through lonely
valleys, a lover’s voice rising so close
it’s your own tongue: these are keys to cipher,
the way the high hawk’s key unlocks the throat
of the sky and the coyote’s yip knocks
it shut, the way the aspens’ bells conform
to the breeze while the rapid’s drum defines
resistance. Sage speaks with one voice, pinyon
with another. Rock, wind her hand, water
her brush, spells and then scatters her demands.
Some notes tear and pebble our paths. Some notes
gather: the bank we map our lives around.

Camille T. Dungy

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Ruellia Noctiflora

A colored man come running at me out of the woods
last Sunday morning.
The junior choir was going to be singing
at Primitive Baptist over in Notasulga,
and we were meeting early to practice.
I remember wishing I was barefoot
in the heavy, cool-looking dew.
And suddenly this tall, rawbone wild man
come puffing out of the woods, shouting
Come see! Come See!
Seemed like my mary janes just stuck
to the gravel. Girl, my heart
Like to abandon ship!

Then I saw by the long tin cylinder
slung over his shoulder on a leather strap
and his hoboish tweed jacket
and the flower in his lapel
that it was the Professor.
He said, gesturing, his tan eyes a blazing,
that last night, walking in the full moon light,
he’d stumbled on
a very rare specimen:
Ruellia noctifloria,
the night-blooming wild petunia.
Said he suddenly sensed a fragrance
and a small white glistening.

It was clearly a petunia:
The yellow future beckoned
from the lip of each tubular flower,
a blaring star of frilly, tongue-like petals.
He’d never seen this species before.
As he tried to place it,
its flowers gaped wider,
catching the moonlight,
suffusing the night with its sent.
All night he watched it
promise silent ecstasy to moths.

If we hurried, I could see it
before it closed to contemplate
becoming seed.
Hand in hand, we entered
the light-spattered morning-dark woods.
Where he pointed was only a white flower
until I saw him seeing it.

Marilyn Nelson

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Today’s selected poems are from Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry, edited by Camille T. Dungy, © 2009 University of Georgia Press, Athens GA.

Anthony Walton was born in 1960 in Aurora, Illinois. He is the author of Mississippi: American Journey, and editor with Michael S. Harper of The Vintage Book of African American Poetry. He is a professor and the writer-in-residence at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine.

Camille Dungy edited Black Nature, which won a Northern California Book Award and was nominated for an NAACP Image Award. A past professor in the creative writing program at San Francisco State University, she is currently a professor in the English department at Colorado State University.

Marilyn Nelson (b. 1946) is author or translator of many award-winning books and chapbooks, including A Wreath for Emmet Till. She is Professor Emerita of English and University of Connecticut and former Poet Laureate (2001-6) of the state.

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2020-06-11a Doughton Park Tree

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[with 3 poems by Gerald Barrax Sr.]

Next month I’ll be leading a couple of nature walks for our local trails association. My fellow naturalists-for-a-morning – as we enter the world of trees and ferns, birds and bugs, what special guidance shall I give you? I’ll mention the primary tasks of the naturalist – notice; ask questions; make connections – but what might make our small journey together even more personal and meaningful?

I think I’ll say, Let’s be slow to name things. Yes, we are each going to encounter some things we recognize. We will also each see or hear or smell something unknown, maybe an odd shaped leaf, a bird call, a pungent mushroom. Either way, may we allow everyone to fill their senses with the thing, share the encounter, before we speak its name.

Am I correct in this: once I give something a name do I stop noticing it as fully? I end my close attention, my exploration of its flower, its leaf. I quit asking myself, What does this remind me of? What is this like and what is it not? I’m done. I’ve finished wondering.

Let’s be slower to name things. Let’s extend wonder as long as we can. Wonder is why we’ve come here.

On the other hand, working together to figure out something’s name is bonkers. As in, we share a crazy laugh when we’ve done it. Yesterday Linda and I visited the NC Zoo with our daughter and her family. All day and many miles of walking through Uwharrie forest to visit Africa and North America with a four-year old, what a blast.

Late afternoon SIL Josh and I lagged behind Linda, Margaret, and Bert – we’d heard a very unfamiliar bird call in the canopy and were craning our necks. Sort of a half-hearted cluck framed by a sharp tik or two fore and aft. I’d been listening to birdsong CDs and it kind of reminded me of the hiccup of Henslow’s Sparrow. Nah, super rare, plus completely wrong habitat. Then we caught a glimpse – way bigger than a sparrow or warbler, long bill, yellow all over.

A female summer tanager! High fives. Yeah, we were a little slow but we worked it out together. Totally bonkers. Or maybe not.

 

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To Waste at Trees

Black men building a Nation,
My Brother said, have no leisure like them
No right to waste at trees
Inventing names for wrens and weeds.
But it’s when you don’t care about the world
That you begin owning and destroying it
Like them.

And how can you build
Especially a Nation
Without a soul?
He forgot that we’ve built one already –
In the cane, in the rice and cotton fields
And unlike them, came out humanly whole
Because our fathers, being African,
Saw the sun and moon as God’s right and left eye,
Named Him Rain Maker and welcomed the blessing osf his spit,
Found in the rocks his stoney footprints,
Heard him traveling the sky on the wind
And speaking in the thunder
That would trumpet in the soul of the slave.

Forget this and let them make us deceive ourselves
That seasons have not meanings for us
And like them
we are slaves again.

Gerald Barrax Sr.
from Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry, Edited by Camille T. Dungy, © 2009 University of Georgia Press, Athens GA

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As I recently began reading Black Nature I stumbled through the sections at random until I happened upon a name I recognized – a name may be an anchor or it may become a sail to catch the wind. I followed the guyline of Gerald Barrax through all the pages it touched. Lines so rich, so provoking and impeaching, I can’t be the same after reading.

Gerald William Barrax, Sr. (June 21, 1933 ~ December 7, 2019) was the first African American professor at North Carolina State University, a Pulitzer Prize nominee, and winner of the North Carolina Award for Literature. Other awards include the Sam Ragan Award and the Raleigh Medal of Arts. In 2006 he was inducted into the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame. His teaching career at NC State spanned 27 years and he served as the editor of the Black literary journal Obsidian.

I’ll be sharing more poetry discoveries from this amazing anthology as I continue my explorations.

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What More?

My lawnmower has awakened the resident god of my yard
who rugs its leafy hand in anticipation
of troubling me again with one of its cruel koans,

this one a small bird dropped
from the sky, or thrown out,
out of the sweetgum tree

where I was cutting
that long triangle of grass outside
the back fence: put there

when I wasn’t looking, it lies
on its back twitching half in and out of the swath
I cut a minute before.

I’m being tampered with again,
like an electron whose orbit and momentum
are displaced by the scientist’s measurement

and observation. If I’d found something already stiff
and cold on the ground
I’d have kicked or nudged it out of my path:

but the just-dead, the thing still warm,
just taken its last breath, made its last
movement, has its own kind of horror.

I leave the small patch of uncut grass around it.
Back inside my enclosed yard
I see a brown thrasher come and stand over the body,

with some kind of food in its bill.
(I was careful to say “bill” and not “mouth.”)
By the next time I cut myself around the yard,

I see the thrasher sitting on the fence above the still dead,
still holding whatever it has in its bill. I’ve described
it all accurately. What more could anyone expect of me?

Gerald Barrax Sr.
from Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry, Edited by Camille T. Dungy, © 2009 University of Georgia Press, Athens GA

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I Called Them Trees

The last time
+++ +++ +++ I went to the library
I looked at the flowers
surrounding the statue of Steven Collins
Foster and the old darkie ringing
+++ the banjo at his feet
+++ +++ +++ +++ +++ :flowers planted
in four triangular beds
alternating red and white.
I saw they were all the same kind.

There were others
+++ +++ +++ +++ in front of the building
in long wide rectangular rows
bordered by round clusters of pastel green
and white that were too deep, too dark
+++ red, maroon, for easy images
+++ +++ +++ +++ +++ +++ :I called

them all flowers.
And the stunted trees I
wished I had known, bending over the green

terrace above the flowers
+++ like women whose faces
I couldn’t see washing
their hair in deep green pools, I called
trees. If I had told you would you
+++ had known them?

+++ +++ +++ +++ +++ +++ There were
flowers for me. There
were trees. There were kinds
of birds and something blue
that crouched
+++ +++ +++ in the green day waiting
for evening.
If I had told you would
you have known?

I sat
+++ on a bench among flowers
and trees facing
the traffic +++ surveying all

I knew of impalas, cougars, falcons
barracudas, mustangs wild
+++ +++ +++ +++ +++ +++ cats,
marlins, watching cars
go by. +++ I named them
+++ all.

Gerald Barrax Sr.
from Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry, Edited by Camille T. Dungy, © 2009 University of Georgia Press, Athens GA

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Doughton Park Tree 4/30/2022

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[poems by David Radavich, Peter Makuck,
Paul Jones, Sam Barbee]

Earth Song

It is something between
lament and celebration,

perhaps both at once,
perpetually mourning yet

dancing in survival

like the seed that
disappears one whole season
then erupts in a plume
of green or garish purple.

Animals hear it, even plants,
but rarely humans

who are too busy raking
off what they can never get
enough of, this free air

that awards us love
in every verse.

Listen to the chorus
tonight and always,
so long as we’re alive

among the sentience
even now chanting
all around us
like bells or birds.

David Radavich

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I am trying to listen, Earth. I hear the celebration, I breathe it in, I feel it in my chest and beneath my feet. But I hear the lament as well. Loud, always louder. Is it even possible for me to give more than I take, or is despair all that is left for me? Left for us?

What can this one single person do to preserve you, Earth?

Earlier this year I took a hike in the Smokies with a lichenologist. Oh Smokies, your blue mist horizons, your saturated earth and clear chattering streams. Oh you temperate rainforest, your endless variety of creatures that creep and buzz and flit. Oh you breathless diversity of trees and flowers, heath and ferns, every patch of everything alive.

But this was a winter hike. The hardwoods were bare, the understory brown. After a brief chill shower, though, and how often it showers, nondescript grey patches on every branch, bark, and stone turned green – lichens photosynthesizing.

This is where the lichenologist explained the term poikilohydric – lichens passively soak up moisture from the air and passively release it when the air is less humid. They can’t actively retain water. They’re just little sponges. One little sponge isn’t likely to create those blue mist horizons or temperate fecundity, but in the Smokies everything is covered in lichen. Kneel and examine any rock – you’re not likely to discover much actual “rock” showing.

One lichen might not do much but billions of little sponges actually do moderate the microclimate about them. They contribute their small yet huge part to Great Smokies National Park possessing greater biodiversity than the Amazon rainforest.

One person’s contribution may not seem like much but there are billions of us. Small changes are the stream running a little clearer and colder so the brookie can spawn. Small changes are one more monarch laying her hundred eggs. Small changes are the wood thrush discovering insects for her chicks when they hatch.

Read below for some ideas about small changes. Celebrate each one. And thank you, Earth, for the opportunities.

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Red Foxes at Pahaska Tepee

In an isolated no-frills cabin
on the banks of the Shoshone,
we spent two nights on the site
of Wild Bill Cody’s hunting camp,
but unlike Bill, I had no gun
+++++ to discourage the bears.

Make noise when you walk the trails,
they told us at the office,
and don’t go into the woods after dark.

As a kid growing up in the country,
I read about Cody,
+++++ Crockett, and Boone,
had a pistol and two rifles,
hunted rabbit and squirrels for the table,
trapped muskrat, fox, and mink for the money,
often missing the bus into school.

Behind our cabin one morning,
I spotted five deer
and a fawn feeding among the aspens.
At first I thought they were shadows.
+++++ A few minutes later,
my binoculars brought a fox up close,
black forelegs and white-tipped tail.

I couldn’t stop watching her
down on a path by the riverbank.
I’d never seen one playfully roll in the dust,
or stretch out while her two kits
+++++ nipped at each other,
and tumbled over their mother.

Years ago
+++++ when I saw a fox
it was held in the jaws of my trap –
five bucks bounty from the farmer’s grange,
another buck and a half for the pelt.
+++++ Who was I?
What was I doing?
I must have imagined I was Crockett.
What stays
from one of those mornings
is a red fox, bloody foreleg tight in my trap.
She was just standing there panting
with her tongue out
like my good dog Jonesy on a hot day.

But now as I watched, she jumped up,
this red fox mom,
+++++ looked right at me, frozen,
flanked by her two kits.
I was dangerous,
I didn’t deserve this gift of seeing.

Something stirred in the bushes beside me.
When I looked up again and tried to refocus,
they were gone,
+++++ +++++ and the riverbank empty.

Peter Makuck
from Mandatory Evacuation, BOA Editions Ltd, Rochester NY, © 2016

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Earth, you’re looking stressed. Getting a little balder – someone cutting down your forests to raise cattle? Dryer – rivers become trickles, aquifers squeezed, not enough water to go around? Dirtier – nitrates in your ponds, forever chemicals (PFAS) in your streams, microplastics in everydamnthing? And of course hotter, always hotter?

O Earth, we’re all feeling stressed, too. We don’t need to be the pika at the top of Bear Tooth Pass with no higher to go to cool off – we know we’re all running out of everything and especially time. Habitat loss, phenological mismatch, aridification, salinization, sea level rise – all accelerating.

What do we do?

Perhaps one response parallels the Naturalist method: notice; ask questions; make connections; tell about it. With one added step – take action. A big action, a little action, a lot of actions but make sure to choose something that makes you happy. Earth Day Every Day is celebration, not burden.

One idea: plant native. Non-native trees and shrubs are plant deserts for birds and butterflies but my Serviceberry feeds the neighborhood all three seasons: kinglets and chickadees eat the buds, wrens and bluebirds feed babies caterpillars and other insects, robins and waxwings arrive in the fall for berries. And my soul is fed every spring by the starry petals falling like late snow.

Another idea: eat closer to the ground. If not every meal then at least a few meals. Eat things that sprout instead of eating things that eat things that sprout. Growing one pound of protein from beans requires 2,270 gallons of water. One pound of beef protein uses 13,438 gallons. One acre can produce 250 pounds of beef or 20,000 pounds of potatoes. (And we’re not even considering the powerful greenhouse gas methane = cow farts).

Here are a few interesting readable resources. SHARE YOUR OWN FAVORITES WITH US IN YOUR COMMENTS!

Earth Day 2022 – Invest in Our Planet

World Water Day

Water footprint of your favorite food & bev

Tips from 2019 World Water Day

How much water do you save the planet if you eat less meat?

101 tips to save water at home

GreenMATCH – becoming ecofriendly

30 tips to be ecofriendly today

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At The Big Sweep

No one likes to wade
knee deep in the creek
to pull out plastic
snags from the places
turtles seek the sun.
I pretend I do
to do the hard work
that needs to be done.
I take what I have
of magic, of what
I found of pleasure,
in cleaning the creek.
I remember why
I hate what mud can
do to weigh plastic,
to make the load twist
and shudder and shift.
My feet find new paths
in the sucking mud,
some purchases on stone,
that lead to the bank.
My slow slogs resets
stream’s rushing free flow.
I remember nights
I couldn’t fall asleep
on a mountain train
how it like the creek
would twist, turn, and shift
along the river.
I got off the train
and it moved again.
More smoothly or so,
it seemed as distance
grew and the river
ran in parallel.
I knew then, as here,
that joy comes when work
and journeys are done.

Paul Jones


This poem in honor of the Big Sweep was first published by Silver Birch Press in their Saving the Earth series.
Paul writes: The Big Sweep is a continuing volunteer effort to free the waterways and other natural areas of litter – especially plastic. Some may find these efforts a pleasure, but for me these necessary tasks are more rewarding in retrospect when you can see the results from a distance in time and space. Writing is, of course, similar as are taxing trips on rattling trains.

 

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Flowers Mean May

April’s rimless wet
++++++++++++ wagers grief’s roulette.
Blooms rattle,
++++++++ frenetic mesh.
Prod imperfection;
++++++++++++ spatter flimsy rosette:
desperate for a kindly set
++++++++++++++++ to count-off
and confirm us.
++++++++++ Hold dear.
Tactic of desire –
++++++++++ odd-numbered
to denote She Loves Me. . . .

I stroll the peristyle
++++++++++++ encircled
with springtime bouquet.
++++++++++++++++ Piecemeal fragrance
to wilt all winter weed.
++++++++++++++ Appetite of delicate petals
on cue:
++++ summon like addiction
Snatch a daisy
++++++++ off the edge,
eager to dissect our fate.
++++++++++++++++ Each casualty
may heal, while any sum
++++++++++++++++ must be forgiven –
abide pledge
++++++++ as she may love me not.

Sam Barbee
from The Writer’s Morning Out on-line site in Pittsboro, April 2020

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Early in April I asked readers to share a favorite poem that celebrates the interdependence and interconnection of all life on earth. I am including their offerings in three posts before, on, and after Earth Day, April 22. Thank you to all those who responded, and thanks to all of you who read this page and share in the celebration of life on earth.

❦ Bill Griffin ❦

2016-10-17a Doughton Park Tree

 

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[poetry by Catherine Pierce, Noel Crook, Jenny Bates,
Nikolai Kantchev, Sam Love]

Planet

This morning this planet is covered by winds and blue.
This morning this planet glows with dustless perfect light,
enough that I can see one million sharp leaves
from where I stand. I walk on this planet, its hard-packed

dirt and prickling grass, and I don’t fall off. I come down
soft if I choose, hard if I choose. I never float away.
Sometimes I want to be weightless on this planet, and so

I wade into a brown river or dive through a wave
and for a while feel nothing under my feet. Sometimes
I want to hear what it was like before the air, and so I duck
under the water and listen to the muted hums. I’m ashamed

to say that most days I forget this planet. That most days
I think about dentist appointments and plagiarists
and the various ways I can try to protect my body from itself.

Last weekend I saw Jupiter through a giant telescope,
its storm stripes, four of its sixty-seven moons, and was filled
with fierce longing, bitter that instead of Ganymede or Europa,
I had only one moon floating in my sky, the moon

called Moon, its face familiar and stale. But this morning
I stepped outside and the wind nearly knocked me down.
This morning I stepped outside and the blue nearly

crushed me. This morning this planet is so loud with itself—
its winds, its insects, its grackles and mourning doves—
that I can hardly hear my own lamentations. This planet.
All its grooved bark, all its sand of quartz and bones

and volcanic glass, all its creeping thistle lacing the yards
with spiny purple. I’m trying to come down soft today.
I’m trying to see this place even as I’m walking through it.

Catherine Pierce
© 2017 Catherine Pierce. This poem originally appeared in The Southern Review, Spring 2017. https://poets.org/poem/planet

Selected by Jeanne Julian

❦ ❦ ❦

I’ve just returned from a morning’s hike and it’s time to write. My desk looks out a window past the holly bush to profligate red azaleas of glory. The window to the right is dark with dense crowding boxwood; window to left glows with every shade of new leaf green, unfurling dogwood, maple, tuliptree. I can even see a little sky. Thank you, Planet, for all colors and for colorless crisp bright breath.

Earlier this morning at Isaac’s trail head before I’d even shrugged into my pack I heard a Parula. Not sixty feet up in some obscurantist oak but right above my head in the lowest breezy branches of a black cherry. Glean – sing – glean. Fattening up after his flight from Belize. Blue and yellow! You never get to see these little buggers without 8X field glass, if then. Thank you, Planet, for all creatures that move of themselves or that allow the air to move them.

Swept the back porch when I got home from hiking. Our “yard” slopes steeply away from the house, slowly maturing third-growth beech-oak. These past two weeks Linda and I have measured each day by the rise of green up from the creek, first brassy gold, then lime chiffon, now encroaching emerald. And of course the fecund kelly milt from each of a trillion anthers that has powdered the world in extravagant hope of seeds. Sweep – sneeze – sweep. Thank you, Planet of wombs, womb of a Planet, for all life.

Thank you, Planet, and may my reverence, my gratitude, and whatever other small parts of my life I can give you be worthy of what you give to all, life without ceasing.

nature tadpole Amphibian

❦ ❦ ❦

Big Sky

Little sky in these Carolina woods,
more greens than you can number,
above us crooked rafters of washed-out

blue. Here are ten kinds of birds all hollering
at once, ten songs of secret nest and sifted
light. Here we are hemmed in by tendrils,

socked in, loblolly so high and thick
even the pasture’s a cracked sarcophagus

where you have to look quick to locate the moon.

I want the western sky
of my girlhood, purple as lupines
and longing. Unligatured wind

that will hollow your bones
like the kiss of a boy at sixteen
who flattened me over the hot hood

of his Ram truck. Give me sun-stunted
scrub oaks rooted in rock and shaped like
bad hearts; the summer a mountain lion

ambushed an appaloosa colt by the barn
and two bottle-fed backyard deer, their bones
dragged to the dump to be picked clean

and sun-whitened. Give me found flint
arrowheads the color of lost rivers,
the barbed-wire fact that Comanche girls

liked burning the captured fawn slowly
to death before breakfast; scorched
earth, nights rampant with stars,

the Pleiades fleeing, an orange skiff of moon going
down fast into black swells of hills. Sunrise
the colors of cataclysm, the singular

solace of the canyon wrens, their strafed
ululations, and, in a cartwheel of azure,
the lone buzzard wheeling and waiting.

Noel Crook
from Salt Moon (2015), Southern Illinois University Press. This poem first appeared in One.

Selected by Richard Allen Taylor, who writes: I had the privilege of reviewing Noel Crook’s book Salt Moon for The Main Street Rag several years ago and fell in love with this poem, which reminds us that ecology is not just a just a polite society of sweet little animals getting along with Mother Nature and each other. Ecology runs on violence and the brutality of food chains, varies from place to place, and interacts with humans—us!

❦ ❦ ❦

Clouded Leopard

How does it feel returning from extinction?

Climbing head first down
my Anthropocene spine

I break, with each twist of
wrist, incision of claw.

Divergent several million years
reduced to eleven in captivity.

Under your limber bones
I squall, choke and pitch
tipping into your patient wound.

Wind your tail round my neck
hero of revenge, and ossified
purr.

Your long tooth guilt-piercing.
We won’t say anything to anyone
perilous beauty kills,

Shroud me in your cloud.

Jenny Bates

Published (online) by Self Educating Poets Network in 2021. The Self-Educating Poets Network is an education group providing resources and meeting space to poets, writers and artists. It was founded on principles of grassroots activism as well as the free spirit of poets who met from the Cantab Poetry Lounge and Boston Poetry Slam.

❦ ❦ ❦

Autumn Resurrections

The autumnal equinox is uneasy,

restless with the pain of the lonely stork.
Time has paused along the way for a visit
and won’t raise its voice in defense.
Unworldly, I accept the world
surviving its deadly silence by the skin of my teeth.

After the summer swarms have stopped their buzzing,
see how time droops amidst the bickering clocks.
Nothing will remain of their springs.
Instead the journal of eternity will endure
and a calm tear will glaze its eye.

Look, the sky has its blue-jeans on
and the chimney smokes its millionth cigarette.
The city lifts up its multitude of windows,
while it puts out fires in the dreams of the burnt.
Somnambulists look out in a riot of joy, wondering,
will the blaze of their lust seduce the moon.

There’s such a fine female smell about the meadow.
The fog has dropped its handkerchief there
and we long to pick it up as a token
but our trembling betrays our cowardice.
The breath of resurrection wakes the silence.
Let all the crowns of thorns burst into blossom!

The farmer stands calling for his cart
loaded with dried out lightnings and sets off.
Don’t weep poor one, for while you wring your hands
the wheat spins its golden fleece
and the wind-rose will bloom at dawn.
Paradise is just this world with an other-worldly climate.

Nikolai Kantchev
Translated from the Bulgarian by Pamela Perry, with B. R. Strahan

Selected by Bradley Strahan

❦ ❦ ❦

The Ecology Symbol

Once upon an Earth Day millions
marched to Ron Cobb’s creation
melding the E for environment
and the O for organism
to create the ecology symbol

Such a simple graphic,
just a circle and slash to symbolize
care for the planet,
respect for nature,
and the nurturing of a legacy
for generations unborn

Today I didn’t see the ecology symbol
at the Climate March
But it’s co-conspirator the peace symbol
seems to be everywhere
At Wal-mart you can buy it
on underwear and day glow T shirts

The vanishing ecology symbol
with its pesky admonitions
to reduce consumption,
reuse materials, and respect nature
must be too threatening
to the dollar sign worshippers

It must be too threatening
to the comfort of North Americans
who consume 60 percent
of the Earth’s resources
just to support our obese life style

It must be too threatening
to the 80 million new mouths
birthed on the planet each year
babies who will aspire to America’s life style
Babies who will be in for a surprise

If everyone lived like Americans
we would need a planet three times
the size of Mother Earth
and the last time I looked
she’s not gaining weight

Sam Love
from Earth Resonance: Poetry for a Viable Future, The Poetry Box, Portland, Oregon, © 2022

❦ ❦ ❦

 

Early April I asked readers to share a favorite poem that celebrates
the interdependence and interconnection of all life on earth.
I am including their offerings in three posts before, on, and after Earth Day, April 22. Thank you to all those who responded, and thanks to all of you
who read this page and share in the celebration of life on earth.

❦ Bill Griffin ❦

2014-06-30a Doughton Park Tree

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[poetry by Liz Garton Scanlon, Alice Walker,
John Hoppenthaler, Catherine Carter, David Poston]

All the World

Rock, stone, pebble, sand
Body, shoulder, arm, hand
A moat to dig, a shell to keep
All the world is wide and deep

Hive, bee, wings, hum
Husk, cob, corn, yum!
Tomato blossom, fruit so red
All the world’s a garden bed

Tree, trunk, branch, crown
Climbing up and sitting down
Morning sun becomes noon-blue
All the world is old and new

Road, street, track, path
Ship, boat, wooden raft
Nest, bird, feather, fly
All the world has got its sky

Slip, trip, stumble, fall
Tip the bucket, spill it all
Better luck another day
All the world goes round this way

Table, bowl, cup, spoon
Hungry tummy, supper’s soon
Butter, flour, big black pot
All the world is cold and hot

Spreading shadows, setting sun
Crickets, curtains, day is done
A fire takes away the chill
All the world can hold quite still

Nanas, papas, cousins, kin
Piano, harp, and violin
Babies passed from neck to knee
All the world is you and me

Everything you hear, smell, see
All the world is everything
Everything is you and me
Hope and peace and love and trust
All the world is all of us

written by Liz Garton Scanlon
illustrated by Marla Frazee
All the World, Little Simon, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, New York NY, © 2009

❦ ❦ ❦

I love this children’s book by Elizabeth Scanlon – the whirl and dance of the poetry, the absolutely beguiling illustrations by Marla Frazee. It is elemental and compelling, it is joyous and inclusive. It is all of us.

But I had to think long about whether to lead us to Earth Day with this poem. Is it Ecopoetry? Is it a little too much centered on one particular species? How do we celebrate the earth? How do we revere the one blue dot in the universe upon which we can live and thrive?

All the world is all of us. Dogwoods still blooming, warblers arriving, golden ragwort masquerading as weeds, rockfish spawning in Roanoke River, hellbender ugly as sin. Dandelions in the lawn, princess tree crowding out the basswood, wisteria strangling another neglected back lot. Celebrate us all – even while hacking the invaders – but don’t leave out the most aggressive, invasive, threatening species of all. You guessed it – you and me.

One might argue that there are far more pressing needs in our one world than environmentalism. Reminds me of a t-shirt my friend Evan brought me back from a trip to Yellowstone: along with illustrations of various animal scat and the label “Endangered Feces” is the tagline, No Species, No Feces. Which makes the other side of this argument: “No Environment, No World Problems.”

Poverty, politics of hate, racism, homophobia, nationalism, war – how can we make a place in our hearts to worry about our environment when these and so many other worries take priority? Perhaps these things are as intrinsic to our nature as the jillion seeds of princess tree and the invincible roots of wisteria. Are they?

Here’s my thesis – begin reading All the World to every kid at age 2 and by the time they can read it for themselves they may have planted a seed of love within their hearts. They might love themselves no matter what they look like. They might accept a whirling dance of neighbors as their kin. They might have room in their hearts to care about weeds and warblers and ugly giant salamanders.

Think so? Do you think that if we are going to preserve all the world as a place for all to thrive we are going to have to address the aggression, invasiveness, and threat within each one of us? For all the world is all of us . . .

❦ ❦ ❦

We Have a Beautiful Mother

We have a beautiful
mother
Her hills
are buffaloes
Her buffaloes
hills.

We have a beautiful
mother
Her oceans
are wombs
Her wombs
oceans.

We have a beautiful
mother
Her teeth
the white stones
at the edge
of the water
the summer
grasses
her plentiful
hair.

We have a beautiful
mother
Her green lap
immense
Her brown embrace
eternal
Her blue body
everything we know.

Alice Walker

Selected by Becky French (my sister), who writes: I especially like this poem by Alice Walker from her book of meditations titled We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For. The prose that follows the poem in the book is quite poetic as well: The earth mother, who stands behind the Human Mother, can be known by lying on her breast. She can be known by swimming in her oceans, or even by looking at them. She can be known by eating her collard greens and carrots. Savoring her fruits, walking through her wheat fields. She is everywhere, our Mother Earth; … (p. 129).

❦ ❦ ❦

The Whale Gospel

Whales have run aground off Cape Cod again.
What if God created them for us as metaphor?

How like us they are, beached and prostrate,
sand shifting under them with every wave

from heaven. Bloated and murder to move,
they slowly rot in the blurry sunshine, victims

of distress we can’t fathom. All we can think
to say is beware the giant squid, the seaquake,

beware sickness in your leaders. Beware the dark-
eyed shark, sonar’s ping and Japan’s traditional hunger.

The rusty bows of ghost ships
++++++++++++++++++ are singing through the water.

John Hoppenthaler
online in “Two Meditations on Ecology

❦ ❦ ❦

Lactobacilli

Invisible and everywhere,
on your hands,
on your shoes,
in your nose, lining
your ells of bowel,
we lay down scraps
of chromosomes
and pick them up
like screwdrivers
or cards, if half the cards
are wild as sauerkraut-
e. coli, listeria,
seaweed, straight flush.

Nor are you you,
some single entity
cruising the lonely black
star-seas like a whale:
you are a ship, a host,
the poker table.
We are crew
and players and spirit,
your spirit, the one many-
bodied soul you can know
for sure. Genius loci.
Spirits of place.
Full house.

Catherine Carter
Southern Humanities Review, Spring 2020

❦ ❦ ❦

The Garden Takes over Itself

the world is sacred++++ it cannot be improved
snow is shadow++++ ice is light
we breathe++++ and wildness comes in
bit by bit++++ the garden takes over itself

snow is shadow++++ ice is light
the moon not only full++++ but beautiful
bit by bit++++ the garden takes over itself
after we leave it++++ we dream of falling

the moon not only full++++ but beautiful
descending and ascending++++ all our lives
after we leave it++++ we dream of falling
the space within us++++ is not our own

ascending and descending++++ all our lives
the world is sacred++++ it cannot be improved
the space within us++++ is not our own
we breathe++++ and wildness comes in

David E. Poston
from Iodine Poetry Journal XVII (2016): 105.
Reprinted as POETRY IN PLAIN SIGHT poster. NC Poetry Society, 2021.

“the world is sacred…” from Lao Tzu, quoted by Jack Turner interviewed by Leath Tonino (The Sun Aug. 2014)
“we breathe…” also from Jack Turner
“snow is shadow…” is Barbara Sjoholm in The Palace of the Snow Queen
“the moon not only full…” is from Aldous Huxley’s Meditation on the Moon
“…the garden takes over itself” is from Sandra Cisneros, in The House on Mango Street

❦ ❦ ❦

Early in April I asked readers to share a favorite poem that celebrates the interdependence and interconnection of all life on earth. I am including their offerings in three posts before, on, and after Earth Day, April 22. Thank you to those who responded, and thanks to all of you who read this page and share in the celebration.
❦ Bill Griffin ❦

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Hepatica americana (Buttercup family), last year’s foliage and new barely opened blossoms

[with 3 poems by Sam Love]

On March 15 I walked an Elkin trail I hadn’t visited in months. The Elkin & Allegheny Nature Trail includes a couple of miles of restored railway grade and many more miles of side trails, loops, and spurs, plus 5-6 miles of intermediate level bike trail. I hiked most of those miles on the 15th but only partially for the exercise – I was walking mostly for ephemera.

Note the date. Looking back at my photos and notes I uncover Hepatica blooming as early as January 27, a single plant in a protected hollow, but usually here in Elkin, elevation around 1000 feet, the earliest Hepatica and Trout Lily emerge toward the middle or end of February. So who’ll be showing themselves mid-March? I ask myself, and how long will they last?

The study of cyclical biological phenomena is phenology. When do migrating warblers arrive from Central America? We saw our first Ovenbird March 19; I heard a Northern Parula out back on April 3. When do Wood Frogs lay eggs? When do Midges and Mayflies hatch out and Eastern Bluebirds build their nests? Sometimes local weather affects a given year’s record but longer term trends are linked to climate change. Can’t help worrying about those Parulas if the hatching of their chicks is out of sync with the juicy bugs. Phenology is a leading indicator of climate change impact, especially on vulnerable species.

For today, my phenology project is discovering tiny blooms just making their appearance.

And if that weren’t enough, as I walk a section of bike trail beside Elkin Creek a pair of wood ducks skitter up from the water and the male flashes his phenomenal colors before they veer around a bend.

Solitary Pussytoes, Antennaria solitaria (Aster Family), flowers less than 10 mm in diameter

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A Monument to Another Time

A winding rutted road
rambles through scattered rocks
to an abandoned homestead
that traces time backwards.

In the overgrown clearing
a hand laid stone chimney
pokes above winding vines
and gnarled tree limbs.

The fireplace stands as
tribute to an unknown mason
whose calloused hands
meticulously stacked the stones.

With the charred house gone
front porch music
no longer blesses the mountain
with notes and harmonies
that surf the Appalachian wind.

In spring wild flowers
scatter sun dappled beauty
among the crannies of this dream
of a simpler life, an abundant garden
and a small homestead taming nature.

Through winter the chimney
stands alone among
a palette of brown hues
that wait for spring shoots
to burst forth and repaint
the landscape.

Sam Love
Earth Resonance – Poems for a Viable Future, The Poetry Box, Portland, Oregon, © 2022

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Bloodroot, Sanguinaria canadensis (Poppy family, Order Ranunculales), flower barely unfurling

 

Yellow Trout Lily (Adder’s Tongue, Dogtooth Violet, Erythronium americanum (Lily family)

 

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Thanks to Sam Love for alerting me to his new book of poetry about ecology and the environment: Earth Resonance – Poems for a Viable Future. Such an edgy relationship we humans have with all the other creatures in our biosphere. Mostly we ignore them except when they’re on our dinner plates. Any surprise that we have so much trouble getting along with things that creep and crawl and skitter and pounce (much less the ones that just stand there being green) when we can hardly get along with they guy whose yard sign doesn’t match ours?

And thanks to the Town of Elkin Recreation Department and the Elkin Valley Trails Association for all the great places to walk!

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Visiting Khatyn
+++Peace Memorial in Minsk Region, Belarus

At sunset each step up the earthen berm
slowly reveals stone chimneys standing
as monuments to an unimagined darkness
that reduced hundreds of villages
to stone rubble and ashen timbers.

Across the field masonry memorializes
thousands of villagers burned alive
as Fascists sought revenge
for partisan guerilla attacks
launched from surrounding forests.

On hearths reaching to the horizon
urns rest filled with ashes and soil
scooped from the 628 flamed hamlets.
Each now lovingly stands as
a spiritual reminder of war’s insanity.

Three solitary birch trees and an eternal flame
symbolize the one quarter of Belarusians killed
in the world war that targeted their villages.
On this site twenty-six bells toll every hour
to remember the homes that once stood here.

The wind that whipped the flames
and charred the flesh, now cleanses the earth
leaving only spirits to haunt the memorial
and remind us of the horrors of war.

Sam Love

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Virginia Pennywort, Obolaria virginica (Gentian family), flowers just about to open

 

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Turtle Earth

In the Lenape creation story—Nanapush asks,
“Who will let me put cedar branches on top of you
so that all the animals can live on you?”
And the turtle says, “You can put them on me
and I’ll float on the water.”

In a vision the Native American holy man
sees the animals bringing earth
from under the water to make land
on the back of the turtle
to create a verdant Eden
where plants and animals flourish.

In another dream the Indian shaman
sleeps a long sleep and
sees a barren turtle
with writhing serpents
thrashing rattlers through portals
in its armor-plated shell.

This hollow eerie sound
resonates with a dry rattle
of primordial notes memorializing
the emerging death of nature.

Sam Love

Virginia Heartleaf, Hexastylis virginica, tiny brown jugs are the flowers just emerging

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[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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[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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[with 4 poems by Jane Mead]

What is Leafy yet has no Leaves?

On our way home Mike and I pull over at Newfound Gap but not for the Appalachian vistas: it’s our last stop to hunt lichens before we leave the Smokies. And maybe an opportunity to spread some lichen joy.

No need to hunt – stop moving long enough and a lichen will find you. Two old guys squinting through magnifying glasses at rocks and bark, though, and it also isn’t long before a passing family asks, “What gives?” “Looking at all the lichens,” Mike answers. “What’s a lichen?” Jackpot! Mike begins to tell their story . . . “a whole little world of fungus and algae” . . . while I wander on.

Now a couple asks me why I’ve raised my camera toward this one tree among the millions. Spreading from its bark are crooked fingers, hands of crones, veined, flattened, beseeching. “That’s lichen?” says the woman when I tell her. “I thought it looked like wind had plastered leaves against the trunk.” Exactly, that’s just how it looks. But it has no leaves!

Lobaria pulmonaria: Lungwort, you need a new name. Not even remotely kin to spiderworts, toothworts, liverworts, you are no wort at all – though your presence is atmosphere’s benediction. Draw deeply, my lungs! Exhale wonder! What shall we call you, Leafy without Leaves? Troll’s Greeting? Across the Aisle? Or maybe simply Lichen Welcome.

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Three Candles
And a Bowerbird

I do not know why
the three candles must sit
before this oval mirror,

but they must. –
I do not know much
about beauty, though

its consequences
are clearly great – even
to the animals:

to the bowerbird
who steals what is blue,
decorates, paints

his house; to the peacock
who loves the otherwise
useless tail of the peacock –

the tail we love.
The feathers we steal.
Perhaps even to the sunflowers

turning in their Fibonacci
spirals the consequences
are great, or to the mathematical

dunes with ripples
in the equation of all things
windswept. Perhaps

mostly, then, to the wind.
Perhaps mostly to the bowerbird.
I cannot say.

But I light the candles: there is
joy in it. And in the mirror
also, there is joy.

Jane Mead (1958-2019)

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These poems by Jane Mead appear in To the Wren: Collected & New Poems (Alice James Books, Farmington ME, © 2019). The book spans three decades of Mead’s life: running her family’s vineyards in Napa Valley; the death of her mother; her own cancer which ultimately took her life. All through her poetry there is a fierce seeking for identity – But always it’s either I or world. / World or I.  Relentlessly she seeks justice for the earth, for creatures, for the self. Poet Gerald Stern writes, “Jane Mead’s mission is to rescue—to search and rescue; and the mind, above all, does the work…. Her poems are a beautiful search for liberation and rebirth.” Nature is not something we write about; nature is what we are.

[Above poem excerpt by Jane Mead is from In Need of a World.
Three bright yellow lichens of the Smokies found at Newfound Gap:
= Xanthomendoza weberi
= Caloplaca falvovirescens, “Colonel Mustard”
= Caloplaca flavocitrina, “Continental Firecrackers”
++++  – – Species identification revised 2/28/2022 after review by Dr. Lendemer]

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The Argument Against Us

The line of a man’s neck, bent
over welding, torchlight breaking
shadows on his face, hands cracked
into a parched map of fields he has woken –
the gods wanted us.

Think of their patient preparation:
the creature who left the rocking waves behind,
crawling up on some beach, the sun
suddenly becoming clear. Small thing
abandoning water for air, crooked body
not quite fit for either world, but the one
that finally made it. Think of all the others.

Much later, spine uncurls, jaw pulls back, brow-bone
recedes, and as day breaks over the dry plain
a rebellious boy takes an upright step
where primitive birds are shrieking above him.

He did it for nothing. He did it
against all odds. Bone of wrist, twist
of tooth, angel of atoms – an infinity
of courage sorted into fact
against the shining backdrop of the world.

The line of one man’s neck, bent –
torchlight breaking shadows on his face.

There was a creature who left the waves behind
and a naked child on a windy plain:
when the atom rips out into our only world
and we’re carried away on a wave of hot wind
I will love them no less: they are just how much
the gods wanted us.

Jane Mead (1958-2019)

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The Geese

slicing this frozen sky know
where they are going –
and want to get there.

Their call, both strange
and familiar, calls
to the strange and familiar

heart, and the landscape
become the landscape
of being, which becomes

the bright silos and snowy
fields over which the nuanced
and muscular geese are calling.

Jane Mead (1958-2019)

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To the Wren, No Difference
No Difference to the Jay

I came a long
way to believe
in the blue jay

and I did not cheat
anyone. I
came a long way –

through complexities
of bird-sound and calendar
to believe in nothing

before I believed
in the jay.

Jane Mead (1958-2019)

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When Mike Barnett and I stopped at Newfound Gap (on US 441 smack in the middle of Great Smoky Mountains National Park) we were returning from the weekend lichens course at Tremont, part of the Southern Appalachian Naturalist Certification Program. We bow down in gratitude to John DiDiego, Education Director at Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont, for convincing Dr. James Lendemer to teach this course. Dr. Lendemer is chief lichenologist at New York Botanical Gardens and literally wrote the book: Field Guide to the Lichens of Great Smoky Mountains National Park (which weighs 1.48 kg, not so much a “field guide” as an entire encyclopedia!).

Dr. Lendemer in his book names L. pulmonaria “Crown Jewel of America” – it is the biggest baddest lichen of them all. Thank you, James – we love lichens! Thank you GSMIT and SANCP and GSMNP. And thanks to all you little fungal hyphae, algal photobionts, cyanobacteria – you look mah-velous.

Resources:

More by and about Jane Mead at Poetry Foundation.

Field Guide to the Lichens of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Erin A. Tripp and James C. Lendemer, University of Tennessee Press, Knoxville, © 2020.

Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont, Southern Appalachian Naturalist Certification Program.

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2019-02-09 Doughton Park Tree

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