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Posts Tagged ‘nature poetry’

Let’s meet at Grandview above the New River Gorge while the sun is still working its way through the pine and bare hickory. The hardcore birders left from Shelter #4 hours ago but we will follow the same course down the abandoned mining road to the River. We will follow the wild flowers. We will walk into Spring.

We don’t see a lot blooming up here at the end of April, elevation 2,500 feet in the West Virginia Appalachians. Beneath the trees and in the sunny patches the landscape is still mostly brown, but that doesn’t hold for long. Trailing arbutus and trout lily greet us in the first quarter mile, wake robin and four more species of trillium pop up along the course of the trail, wild iris and asters appear by the time we’ve descended 1,000 feet to river’s edge – all of Spring blooming in one morning.

And just in case we miss something we have a guide: my wife’s sister Jodi French-Burr, National Park Service ranger, naturalist, and interpreter. She’ll be kneeling in the duff gently parting the leaves so we can see the wild ginger blossoms. She’ll have at the tip of her tongue the name of every growing thing we discover. She’ll tell us the history of this winding trail and point out relics and landmarks along the way. And she will usually laugh at my jokes.

Come and convince yourself that the earth is filled with beauty.

Bring water and a snack. RESERVATIONS requested by April 21, 2020: 304-465-2632 or jodi_french-burr@nps.gov.

[UPDATE 3/23/2020 — due to the COVID-19 Pandemic many NPS and New River Gorge activities may have to be canceled or rescheduled. Be sure the check this site for the latest info:

https://www.nps.gov/neri/planyourvisit/wildflower-weekend.htm

BUT . . . outdoor activities with family and small groups (maintaining your social distancing) are just what THIS doctor orders! Get out into nature! Viruses hate sunlight! . . . . . . . . Bill G  ]

 

Erythronium americana — Trout Lily (Dog-tooth Violet, yellow adder’s tongue, fawn lily)

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Deborah H. Doolittle has created a unique botanical and poetic experience with her collection Floribunda, a true garden of verse. The focal point of each poem is a particular flower, from Cowslip to Gardenia, but the speaker or the style of each poem is a giant of literature, from William Blake and Lewis Carroll to Sylvia Plath and Wallace Stevens. To wander the garden path of Deborah’s poetry is to smell the fragrance and delight in the colors but also to abide in the company of great writers, Deborah H. Doolittle not the least of them. Open to any page and converse.

[all selections are from Floribunda, © Deborah H. Doolittle, Main Street Rag Publishing Company, 2017]

Hepatica americana — Round-lobed Hepatica

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Emily Dickinson’s Wild Flowers

The way she dressed a flower was
just that extravagant.
The haute couture of wild flowers!
wild flowers! her element.

To that pale cheek she called petal,
she pressed both stem and leaf –
the lupine, like crinoline; sweet
clover, tight Damascus weave.

She had played the part of Botanist,
a child’s specialty.
Swamp candles shed no brighter light
in Latin for the bee.

Grasses of Parnassus, skullcap
of the tiny laces,
she pressed herself soft as a moth
treading through her pages.

Antennaria solitaria — Solitary Pussytoes

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Henry David Thoreau and the Sunflower

Who among us has not followed the sun
and hated the clouds that hid its shining face?
Who else but us can claim that we have traced
across the sky the very path it runs?

We’ve traveled much through Concord, you and I.
The widest fields are fenced and most contain
cattle or corn or the stock of kitchen
gardens. The farmers never wonder why

your seeds proliferate upon their grounds.
I know how the wind blows the smallest crumb
and how the bees and birds know where to come.
The two of us, like them, know no such bounds.

The hedgerows and stonewalls can’t grow taller.
The sun is but a star and you’re its flower.

Sanguinaria canadensis — Bloodroot

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Sylvia Plath and the Impatiens

Unlike my empty hands,
it does not just lie there
with its flowers opening

upon white bed linen.
All its seeds jettisoned,
its future guaranteed

for at least another
season, this jewel-weed,
asks for nothing that I

cannot give it. It basks
in my sunlight, breathes in
my exhalations as fast

as I can breathe them out,
again. Still, we are both
waiting for the nurses

to make their rounds, the sun
to rise up, then subside,
for the moon and the stars

to appear and disappear,
for winter’s frost to turn
us into limp black rags.

Asarum virginicum – Heart-leaf Ginger (Little Brown Jugs)

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The other way to walk into Spring, although it takes a month or two, is to stroll along the same trail every day. Linda and I walk the Elkin Valley Trail Association Nature Trail along Big Elkin Creek at least three days a week. First appears trout lily, hepatica close behind, then every day or two there’s a new species in sequence: pussy-toes, wild ginger, bloodroot, rue anemone, star chickweed. In a month there will be foamflower, bellwort, jewel-weed, jack-in-the-pulpit. The photos in this post were all blooming on the same day, March 16, 2020.

Anemonella thalictroides — Rue Anemone

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Deborah H. Doolittle moved from her birthplace in Hartford, Connecticutt through many different landscapes and gardens before settling in Jacksonville, North Carolina. She has an MA in Women’s Studies and and MFA in Creative Writing and teaches at Coastal Carolina Community College. She serves on the Board of the North Carolina Poetry Society and she loves flowers.

Stellaria pubera – Star Chickweed

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Heavenly body, we circle, approach, broad ellipse, eye each other across the expanse, still closer, with proximity our velocity increases. Will we join, mutual revolution, orbit, or will we sling each other into outer darkness?

Am I speaking to you, lines of verse? Or are you speaking to me? From a distance you attract but how finely do I perceive your true nature? Like the person I have loved for so many years: at the moment I say, “I know the real You,” at that precise moment you surprise me, swift and sudden, slap or caress, and I must humble myself or be humbled by the universe of you.

Heavenly body, I continue. Your placid visage resolves, light that blinds, deepest shadow. We move each other, we move before each other, we move but never cross the same path twice, we flow and bud and the moments we create are like no other moments. There is more to you than can be known.

. .  lunar eclipse January 21, 2019; photo by Bill Griffin . .

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I knew Bruce Lader from a distance. We greeted each other at poetry gatherings, shared the occasional comment about the program or a reader. He was solid and planed as an oak table; he met my eye and I had no fear of being shaken; he invited me into his calm.

And then I read two of his books of poetry. The lines compel you to be shaken. He taught for years in New York City, rough and troubled teenagers, and those characters populate many of his poems. Scary at times. And he writes of relationships and longing, about culture and human frailty in images bright and dark but always hand-hewn and polished from the rock of reality. Joanna Catherine Scott wrote of his book Landscapes of Longing: It does not hold back. Open it with care.

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Gravity

Fugitives from each other,
they skulk along dark corridors
of denial, kidnap shadows
cast by a slivered moon
of eclipsed emotions.

Wordlessness betrays them
at the apogee of centrifugal flight,
as they ransom the desperate
anodyne of sex.

. . . Without a fingerprint
the tides of bodily language
have shifted elliptic;
will a touch burn or freeze?
mend or violate?
The quark of midnight:
inexorable undertow,

they treadmill between grief
and fault, looking for a vague
similitude of conjunction
nothing can rescue.

Bruce Lader, from Landscapes of Longing, Main Street Rag Publishing, 2009
[first appearance in Poetry Salzburg Review]

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Siege

All night, freezing rain – the lights
won’t make up their mind;
then everything’s dark. Trees are walking dead.

In the tar pit of time, a transformer
groans like a dinosaur, becomes extinct.
The turncoat furnace sleeps.

Daybreak we are hostages of the ice storm,
light candles, stove, put a bucket
under the leak by the sliding doors,
resuscitate the fireplace, check for damage.

Storm – odd word for weather
so calm where ice builds by degrees,
immures us inside a cold hurricane’s eye.

The neighborhood is a breath
of blown glass. Crack, crash – trees discard
sodden branches. A dove is still
on a telephone wire of silver stalactites.

Debris is strewn over the battlefield
of tree bones. Broken limbs have toppled
the fence, could crush the roof.
We need a generator, radio batteries.
Is there enough food?

Wounded are throwing shivers
helter-skelter against the windows.
A transparent antler points
as a ghost staggers to shelter.

The phone’s gone dead.
In a million offices, packs of wolves
circle, move closer, with fiery silver eyes.

Bruce Lader, from Discovering Mortality, March Street Press, 2005
[first appearance in The Potomac Review]

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Bruce also published Fugitive Hope in 2014, ISBN-13: 978-0991009183.

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[After the fashion of Ralph Waldo Emerson, with apologies; and also with admiration and gratitude to Emily Stein, educator, naturalist, and instructor who prompted, “Make me care about an apple.”]

Behold! [the speaker lifts high in his right hand a bright green globe] Behold . . . the unnamed spheroid before us, orb, minor planetoid, imperfect representation of 4/3 π r3. What shall we call it? What is it?!

Is it Creature? Shall it pick itself up, scuttle about of its own motivation, turn itself ‘round to display its obverse hemisphere presently concealed from our vision?

Is it Mineral, thus created and apportioned and ever so to remain for millennia save it be worked and reworked by wind, water, the abrasion of ever degrading time?

Or is it perhaps . . . Vegetable, and now a revelation of its true nature leaps into my consciousness: is it not Fruit? May we not so surmise when we detect the telltale declivity at its northern pole from whose depth protrudes a brown and spiraled worm so very like a stem? YES, its roundiness, its gloss, its green green GREEN sings life and liveliness, living fruit, fresh, taut, shiny, reflecting what meager light may penetrate these benighted chambers to inspire our minds even as we are inspired by the light of our own great yellow star.

That star which nurtures us has also nurtured our green fruit’s life and growth to this size, this heft, wide in diameter as my four fingers, rounder in circumference than my fist can grasp. Firm and solid it appears, clean and whole, but upon finer inspection decorated with speckles and freckles, minute specks not blemishes but marks of its natural beauty, painted by creation to elevate our perception that Beauty and Truth and even Life itself are not ideal forms that reside solely in the imaginings of philosophers but are real, here before us, weighty, textured, worthy of adulation with all their variations and imperfections, with all their uncertainties, with all our own doubts about how to discover them and what to name them.

But what is Life that we should esteem it so? Life is bruises when we fall. If you prick us, do we not bleed? Life is clamor and confusion that fill the senses to bursting, sight and sound and scent sometimes sweet but oftentimes so foul. Can you convince me that Life is not suffering? Days and years unremitting even such that some might in despair willingly choose to forsake their life?

And yet . . . and yet, where can suffering prevail when we, my fellows, stand together? Where can the horror of decay and decrepitude persist when there is yet Beauty in the world?

Look again upon my treasure’s smiling green visage! Look to the living green that buds and swells and streams through hills and valleys where Life insists it must return to the gray and blasted earth. Look to the green water that calls down from the rocky slopes lithe creatures that hop and slither and find each other, there emphatically to declare their confidence in Life as we discover the motile forms of tadpole and eft.

Look, my friends, into your own hearts and discover there some fresh green shoot arising, a green hope that may yet draw you anew into this day of wonder, a hope that may, my friends, just may [here the speaker bites into the green apple] may taste this sweet! This is what I choose and this is what I treasure – this Life.

I care not what you name my green friend here – seed pod, drupe, jampot, pie bait, cider berry. I name it LIFE. And this rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

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Mitchella repens – Partridge Berry

This essay was prepared as an oral class presentation for “Skills for Sharing Nature,” Southern Appalachian Naturalist Certification Program, Great Smokies Institute at Tremont, February 23, 2020.

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Thinking, for Emerson, was not the contemplation of final Truth, but the daily encounter of an active mind with its environment; it was not a special activity but life itself.

Stephen E Whicher, editor
Selections from Ralph Waldo Emerson, Houghton Mifflin, © 1957

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Apple, genus Malus, is the largest fruit in the family Rosaceae, which also includes plums, pears, cherries, apricots, peaches, quince, blackberries, strawberries, raspberries, almonds, rowan, hawthorne and . . . roses.

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Viola rostrata – Beaked Violet or Longspurred Violet

The Rhodora
On Being Asked, Whence is the Flower?

In May, when sea-winds pierced our solitudes,
I found the fresh Rhodora in the woods,
Spreading its leafless blooms in a damp nook,
To please the desert and the sluggish brook.
The purple petals, fallen in the pool,
Mad e the black water with their beauty gay;
Her might the red-bird come his plumes to cool,
And court the flower that cheapens his array.
Rhodora! if the sages ask they why
This charm is wasted on the earth and sky,
Tell them, dear, that if eyes were made for seeing,
Then Beauty is its own excuse for being:
Why thou wert there, O rival of the rose!
I never thought to ask, I never knew:
But, in my simple ignorance suppose
The self-same Power that brought me there brought you.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1839

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Middle Prong Little River

The Apology

Think me not unkind and rude
That I walk alone in grove and glen;
I go to the god of the wood
To fetch his word to men.

Tax not my sloth that I
Fold my arms beside the brook;
Each cloud that floated in the sky
Writes a letter in my book.

Chide me not, laborious band,
For the idle flowers I brought;
Every aster in my hand
Goes home loaded with a thought.

There was never mystery
But ‘tis figured in the flowers;
Was never secret history
But birds tell it in the bowers.

One harvest from thy field
Homeward brought the oxen strong;
A second crop thine acres yield,
Which I gather in a song.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1846

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Gyrinophilus porphyriticus -spring salamander

The Southern Appalachian Naturalist Certification Program is administered by Great Smokies Institute at Tremont within Great Smoky Mountains National Park (near Townsend, Tennessee) and offers weekend intensive programs towards a certificate from the University of Tennessee. More information at www.gsmit.org

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A ten minute walk from Buxton Woods there are a hundred people milling around at the base of the lighthouse waiting to climb or just spraining their necks. A ten minute walk into Buxton Woods it’s just the three of us. The trail rises, ancient dune now eternal with live oak and yaupon. Surf crash can’t reach us here but the hum is constant, cicadas, mosquitoes, something swift in peripheral vision. We descend to a slough, marsh slowly becoming meadow then woodland. Looks ancient. Smells ancient.

Even in deep shade the trail is not cool but our grandson thinks it’s cool to be here. We’ve never seen this many different colors of dragon flies. Along one stretch a platoon of thumb-sized toads is invisible until one hops across the trail. It’s not a dinosaur, this trail, not yet extinct but endangered. Not only because every other scrap of maritime forest along the outer banks is scrutinized greedily by developers with bulldozers, but because this is the Outer Banks. The dune ridges are a timeline of shoreline creeping ever west, the bank rolling over itself for millennia, now faster and faster. Thousand year old clam and oyster middens are still uncovered, evidence of the human beings that have visited and resided here. How much longer?

This little trail is an insect in amber. Engrave it in memory. From the gallery rail on Hatteras Lighthouse they can’t see us here.

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This poem is from Susan Meyer’s My Dear, Dear Stagger Grass. I return to this book when the world smells like asphalt and I need a whiff of spartina. I mean, when my own ideas are pedestrian and my inspiration is muckbound and I need something with clear veined wings to chase me back into sunlight. Or a chiseled head and slender neck. How can writing be at once so rooted and so lofty? Oh Susan, how few words we need.

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Two Friends Hiking at Old Santee Canal

Ahead of me, he balances his feet, left then right,
on the first of two planks – an unsteady bridge of sorts –
laid down for hikers to cross
               what, on most days,
would be bog,
     but on this one, after weeks of rain, is flooded.

We are learning the look and feel of swamp.

Waiting my turn, I can see his every step.
He pauses halfway across, standing sweaty
in the midst of the ordinary.
          An inch or so beneath his heels,
under the seam of the two boards,
I see the loops and curves
          of a thick brown snake.
The chiseled head, the slender neck. Above them,
his bare ankles.
     How few, the words we need.
Snake, I say, unable to utter where
               or put sense to it.
Which way should I go? He is a statue,
his arms frozen in air.
I tell him to come back, and he does.
          We watch the snake uncurl
and disappear, but in the thrill of fear just past,
our bodies, all breath and jitters, now belong
          to someone we don’t recognize.
Forward is the direction we want to choose
but neither of us can step onto the board.
               We know what we must do:
stumble through ferns and mud,
               clotted roots, the thick
of mosquitoes, a limestone bluff –
backtrack in the safety of a path already taken.

Susan Laughter Meyers
from My Dear, Dear Stagger Grass, Cider Press Review, 2013

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Keep close to Nature’s heart, yourself;
and break clear away 
once in a while,
and climb a mountain
or spend a week in the woods.
Wash your spirit clean.
John Muir

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Why have they come?  Why have they driven hundreds of miles of highway and another twenty of Forest Service gravel to this Deep Gap?  Why have they tracked down my friend Mike Barnett and persuaded him to share with them everything they will need to know to spend a few nights on the trail? Why forsake comfort for mist, rain, steep switchbacks, cold nights, hard ground?  Why have they come here?

Now they huddle at the trail head – Judy, Nora, Cathy, Gloria, Joan, Nancy – median age 65 (just a wild guess, Ladies!).  They pull on fleece and rain gear because we’re already above 3,000 feet and it’s mid-October.  Mist condenses on the leaves and drips like rain.  The plan is to hike the AT for three days with everything we need to survive on our backs: food, stove, water & filter, tent, mummy bags, and lots of layers for nights just above freezing.  We’ll reward ourselves the third night with a short side hike to Albert Mountain and hope to catch the sunset and sunrise from the 5,280 foot summit and fire tower.

That sunrise seems a long way off as we hunker down for the first night half-way up Standing Indian Mountain.  It’s pitch dark , a “hunter moon,” first new moon after equinox, but what does absent moon matter when we are engulfed in cloud with thunder echoing ridge to ridge as lightning strikes the summit?  Kids, I just want to let you know that your grandmothers are some tough-ass mountain women – they wake up the next morning joking that the howl of wind and rain had caused them to miss George Clooney’s surprise midnight visit.  And the only complaint I hear is when Joan comes back from digging a cat hole just as the mist lifts to reveal a nice rainproof privy not twenty yards from our camp site.

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Our second night we stop at Beech Gap, a saddle between peaks with a good spring and level tent sites.  The stars burn cold as diamond just above our shoulders; we are wearing every layer of clothing we’ve carried.  I ask, “Why?  Why did you go to so much trouble to put this trek together?”

Judy was the instigator.  She told Nora she wanted to hike at least one stretch of the Appalachian Trail before she died.  Nora replied, “Gee, I know someone who’s been taking kids on high adventure hikes in the mountains for twenty years, and his sister-in-law Carol is my good friend.”  Nora called Carol, Carol called Mike, and Mike said, “OK.”  (I still haven’t asked him why he said yes!)  Wheels began to turn.  It began to look like Judy’s promise to herself that she’d have something big to to tell her grandchildren would be fulfilled.

Nora invited others, and Mike’s wife Nancy makes six.  One had hiked with her family as a child and wanted to recapture that feeling.  One walked miles every day and wondered if she could handle the challenge of doing it uphill with a pack.  Another had become concerned about her stamina and embarked on a course to improve her fitness; now she wanted to kick it up a notch. One had never experienced mountain wilderness.  All of the women had come with a frank openness to experiencing something new.  Something challenging.

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There are plenty of obvious physical challenges to spending a night on a mountain.  Just deciding what you’re willing to carry vs. what you’re willing to live without can become a metaphysical exercise.  Then there’s the trail itself.  Where will I find water?  Will the spring be dry?  How many uphill miles before my buns turn to steel?  How much huffing and puffing before I have a heart attack?

Physical challenges are obvious, but they are illusory.  I may be thirsty now, but I will drink later.  When the trail is steep, I walk more slowly.  I stop and rest.  Tired and sore?  Leaves are falling that I may scrape together for a bower.  Strange noises in the night?  My companions are close by.

I’m guessing there are still more reasons we’ve come to these mountains that none of us have yet spoken.  I’m certain there are reasons we couldn’t even have named until after we took this walk together.  There are reasons we’ll discover only with days and weeks of contemplation to come.  A taste of wildness – remote, unforgiving, pristine, elemental.  An assurance of self – I made it, I persevered.  Connection, unvarnished and unabashed – each one of us making our small offering to the survival, and the joy, of the group.  And a much larger connection – wind, trees, slopes, stars . . .  we are part of this living realm and can’t exist without it.

Why have we come here?  That’s exactly what we’re still discovering.

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Final question: Why did Mike ask me if I’d like to come and lend a hand as general schlepper, filter pumper, water boiler, story teller?  Because he knew as soon as the word “mountains” left his lips I would be saying, “YES!”

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Forever Mountain
Fred Chappell

for J.T.Chappell, 1912-1978

Now a lofty smoke has cleansed my vision.

I see my father has gone to climb
Lightly the Pisgah slope, taking the time
He’s got a world of, making spry headway
In the fresh green mornings, stretching out
Noontimes in the groves of beech and maple.
He has cut a walking stick of second-growth hickory
And through the amber afternoon he measures
Its shadow and his own shadow on a sunny rock.
Not marking the hour, but observing
The quality of light come over him.
He is alone, except what voices out of time
Swarm to his head like bees to the bee-tree crown,
The voices of former life as indistinct as heat.

By the clear trout pool he builds his fire at twilight,
And in the night a granary of stars
Rises in the water and spreads from edge to edge.
He sleeps, to dream the tossing dream
Of the horses of pine trees, their shoulders
Twisting like silk ribbon in the breeze.

He rises glad and early and goes his way,
Taking by plateaus the mountain that possesses him.

My vision blurs blue with distance,
I see no more.
Forever Mountain has become a cloud
That light turns gold, that wind dislimns.

This is continually a prayer.

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from The Fred Chappell Reader, St. Martin’s Press, (c) 1987 by Fred Chappell

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A brief postscript: Mike has told me several times of his instructions to Nancy that his ashes are to be strewn from the top of Standing Indian Mountain.  By noon on our second day the mist had lifted, and we ate lunch at that summit with glorious views of the autumn-hued ridges extending to an infinite horizon.  Mike, I hope it’s years in our future, but I can’t think of a better spot to lend the flora a little potash and calcium for all eternity.

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Our true home lies outside, deep in the wilderness of forest and mountain, river and desert and sea, the source of our being and the destiny of our great meandering blundering dreaming journey through time. Like Odysseus in his wanderings, we are homeward bound whether we know it or not.
Edward Abbey

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“It is impossible to care for each other more or differently than we care for the earth . . . there is an uncanny resemblance between our behavior toward each other and our behavior toward the earth.”

Wendell Berry

Attention precedes intention.

I know someone (actually, I live with her) who keeps a paper cup and square of cardboard under the downstairs sink.  If a wasp wanders into the house she claps the cup over her, slides the cardboard under her, and sets her free out the front door.  I’m thankful to Linda for this because I am slightly hymenopteraphobic.  I’m also thankful to her for all the crickets, centipedes, “Palmetto bugs,” and occasional skinks that have ridden that cup to freedom.  I can’t exactly express why, but it’s a blessing to be married to someone who doesn’t squash things.

Does Creation rejoice when one wasp is saved?  Maybe not, but you never know – the web of life is complex and chaotic and includes every living organism, not least the trillion bacteria that cohabit my body.  I couldn’t live without them.  Each creature occupies its essential place.

I do know this – Creation rejoices in every moment we take to pay attention.  Attention leads to intention.  Once we notice the life all around us . . . once we notice how all life interacts and how we affect it . . . we become poised to care. And to behave as if we care.

The very concept of interdependence within the natural world is only about as old as the church I belong to, Community of Christ.  That there is an intimate relationship between creatures and their environment was first developed by Charles Darwin, who is considered the Father not only of my other favorite “E” word but also of Ecology.  The first published instance of the word “ecology” was not until 1879.  One hundred and thirty-three years – not a great deal of time for the Western psyche to incorporate a radically new relationship with Creation: not dominion over all, not even stewardship of all, but coexistence with all.  Perhaps it’s not surprising that there are many people who imagine we can somehow live without Cape Fear shiners, Yellow lampmussels, or Schweinitz’s sunflowers, much less wasps, crickets, and skinks.

I expect a visit to the NC Zoo would start a lot of those people on a journey down a path at whose end they would have fallen in love, not only with a baby giraffe, but with a minnow endemic to just five counties in central North Carolina.  At least that visit would get their attention.  That’s the first responsibility of a naturalist, paying attention.  It’s the first responsibility of being human.

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Two Sundays ago I left the house at 6:30 a.m. to head for a week at the Zoo.  The car was crammed with nature books, poetry books, enough clothes to change two or three times a day anticipating some sweaty 100+ degree weather.  I had enough handouts and resources to lead workshops and present readings.  Enough food for two weeks, probably.  Enough coffee for a month.

I stopped at Bojangles and bought two sausage biscuits because they were on special.  As I headed south on I-77 I ate one, and then I thought – what did it take to make this?  How many thousands of gallons of water to grow the grain to raise the hog?  How much CO2 from tractor exhaust, how much methane from hog lagoon exhaust?   You’ve probably read how the United States creates over 16% of global greenhouse gases with only 5% of the population.  You may have read how raising meat impacts the environment much, much more than raising grain or vegetables, and how in the developing world, especially China, they are shifting their diets to include more meat as standards of living rise.  Well, when I arrived in Asheboro I handed that second biscuit to a friend and decided to give up eating meat.

Will my decision have any greater benefit to Creation than a few more wasps free in the azalea?  Maybe not, but it’s just my intention, growing out of my attention.

No matter how you lift your eyes you can’t actually see beyond the horizon. You can’t be sure of the outcomes of all your actions, but you can pay attention.  Pay attention to the things you experience every day.  To the things you do. Pay attention to what makes you feel within your heart the love your Creator has placed there.

Continue to discover your own place in Creation.Raven crop 02

RAVEN

Listen.
I’m not going to say this twice.
The sum and product of words
is no mark of intelligence.
Case in point – cousin Crow,
not half as smart as all his talk.

So listen,
I know three things:
Sky, that small kiss of warm air
that rises through my primaries;

the Water on its breath, ridgeblown mist
that bathes us all and makes springs
overflow into Inadu Creek;

and Earth, slope and cup of cove,
the steep that gathers with wide black wings
to draw down Sky,
draw Water up,
that sets free all things green
into a world first fledged.

But listen.
I know from twenty circles
of snowdeep and hungry moons
and twenty circles of fresh shoots
that Sky . . . Water . . . Earth . . .
none of them are mine.

And I know none are yours.

from Snake Den Ridge, a bestiary © Bill Griffin and Linda French Griffin, March Street Press, 2008

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“The universe story is the quintessence of reality. We perceive the story. We put it in our language, the birds put it in theirs, and the trees put it in theirs. We can read the story of the universe in the trees. Everything tells the story of the universe. The winds tell the story, literally, not just imaginatively. The story has its imprint everywhere, and that is why it is so important to know the story. If you do not know the story, in a sense you do not know yourself; you do not know anything.”

Thomas Berry,  1914-2009

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I’m going to bet your family is a lot like mine.  Sometimes my parents come to stay a few days over a holiday, with Margaret and her Josh in from Raleigh, Mary Ellen down from Sylva (and all with dogs-squared), and finally Josh, Allison, and Saul all squeezed in.  Then it starts.  First hugs, then catching up and gossip, meanwhile eating, momentary pause in eating, start eating again.  Finally, if we’re all under the same roof for long enough, the stories begin.

Haven’t you heard them?  Stories that start out with, “Oh, I remember when you were six and you . . . .”  “Right, and remember that time we thought no one was looking and we . . . .”  “Sure, and can you remember what Nana would say when we . . . ?”  We’ve heard them all a thousand time, but we can’t help ourselves.  We have to re-tell them.  It’s the stories that bind us together and remind us we’re a family.  Those stories make us a family.

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I was at the Zoo about a year ago when Batir was smaller (though not by any means small).  She still kept pretty close to her mother, Tonga, and they would frequently caress each other with their trunks or even interlace, touching . . . touching.  Today they still spend much of the day near each other; is Batir leaning against her mother’s side?  They’re that close.

Yesterday at the aviary, besides watching the Yellow-rumped Cacique add fronds to a large unruly nest in the very top of a sapodilla, I saw a pair of White-headed Mousebirds that evidently also had nesting on their minds.  They nibbled at each other’s beaks, and then one would preen the neck feathers of the other . . . and they were perched pretty darn close together on that branch.

One morning this week I entered the Park early while the alligators were still bellowing at each other (there are two separate ‘gator enclosures so the males can’t get physical with each other).  As I passed one pool, a larger ‘gator was rubbing his jaw up and down the neck of the smaller, and then she (?) would return the gesture.  I’d have a hard time calling it “nuzzling” when your skin is smooth as an old shagbark hickory, but I can only assume they were making friends.

With such a large extended family of baboons, you can’t pass them by without noticing that there is always some grooming going on.  Sometimes it’s a female picking through the thick mane of a large male; sometimes two females; frequently a mother and child, and then they reciprocate.  The younger members of the troop sometimes stop chasing and wrestling to comb each other out with their claws.

Somehow each species communicates that they are a family.  It may be the complex subsonic telegraphy of elephants or the ritual stereotypic breeding displays of birds, but the message is received.  The bond is forged.  The family prevails.

We humans prevail through the stories we tell.  When that gets old, we tell stories about telling stories. As Zoo ambassador, here’s my challenge to you:  tell me a new story.

I am leaving the Zoo after this week-long residency with a headful of stories.  You’ve got some, too.  Discover them.   Tell them.  You don’t have to visit a zoo, or an aquarium, or a botanical garden, or a national park.  You have a backyard, a neighborhood, a schoolyard.  There is something about any one of those places that can remind you what family you belong to.  Do I have to come right out and say it?  It’s the Family of All Life on Earth.

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Maybe you’ll encounter a creature you’ve never paid much attention to before.  You might learn to recognize a bird’s call or look up the name of that big butterfly hanging around your bushes.  Perhaps you’ll gain some new understanding about how creature A depends on creature B, and vice versa.  Could be you’ll discover that something you’re used to doing every day actually harms creature C.  You know you’re going to feel invigorated after you get a big dose of Vitamin N (“Nature”).

And you’re going to have some stories. I can hear you now, each time you get together with your Family and spend some quality time under nature’s vast open roof – “Hey, do you remember when we . . . ?!”

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A Prayer for the Mountains

Let these peaks have happened

The hawk-haunted knobs and hollers,
The blind coves dense as meditation,
The white rock-face, the laurel hells,
The terraced pasture ridge
With its broom sedge combed back by wind:
Let these have taken place, let them be place.

And where Harmon Fork piles unrushing
Against its tabled stones, let the gray trout
Idle below, its dim plectrum a shadow
That marks the stone’s clear shadow.

In the slow glade where sunlight comes through
In circlets and moves from leaf to fallen leaf
Like a tribe of shining bees,
Let the milk-flecked fawn lie unseen, unseeing.

Let me lie there too
And share the sleep
Of the cool ground’s mildest children.

Fred Chappell
from Spring Garden, 8 1995 by Fred Chappell, Lousiana State University Press.

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You don’t have to visit the Zoo, but it couldn’t hurt.  It’s done me a world of good.  Next time you’re there, see if they’ve started displaying poetry around the Park.  (It won’t happen until after all three of us Poets-in-Residence have submitted our suggestions, but if you don’t see any yet it’ll just be the perfect reason to make another trip before too long.)

Meanwhile, I thank profoundly Ellen Greer, Sue Farlow, and Dr. David Jones as well as all those on the steering committee that developed the vision for this Poetry of Conservation project.  And to all the rest of you folks – design staff, animal handlers, Zoo Com, volunteers, interpreters, Sodexo, Schindler House folks – you welcomed me into your NC Zoological Park family, and I am humbled and grateful.  In sheer awesomeness you are equal to any of the other animals in the Park!

Love, BILL

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