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Posts Tagged ‘nature’

Halfway down the steep ridge behind our house I am carving out a level spot where I will plant a bench.  On cool mornings I’ll lean forward and peer between the beech and hickory, Dutchman Creek ripples below, a pileated raps and quarrels above.  On warm evenings lengthening into dusk I will lean back, tentative step of unseen deer behind, mosquito countertenor in my ears. Join me as we entertain small thoughts.

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Weekend before last I laid down the mattock and dug with my hands.  Scooping up dirt to mold a shallow campfire pit, I lifted something soft.  An underground fungus, the sort that pigs sniff out?  Rare petrified bear scat from a wilder epoch?  What?

I opened my hands – a toad, inert in its hibernation.  It cracked one eye the smallest slit and looked up at me.  “Just five more minutes?”  I found a safer spot between the beech tree roots and tucked him in with moss.

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Adam & Eve Orchid

Jalalu’ddin Rumi
(translated by R.A.Nicholson)

If there be any lover in the world, O Moslems, ‘tis I.
If there be any believer, infidel, or Christian hermit, ‘tis I.
The wine-dregs, the cupbearer, the minstrel, the harp and the music,
The beloved, the candle, the drink and the joy of the drunken – ‘tis I.
The two-and-seventy creeds and sects in the world
Do not really exist: I swear by God that every creed and sect – ‘tis I.
Earth and air and water and fire – knowest thou what they are?
Earth and air and water and fire, nay, body and soul too – ‘tis I.
Truth and falsehood, good and evil, ease and difficulty from first to last,
Knowledge and learning and ascetism and piety and faith – ‘tis I.
The fire of Hell, be assured, with its flaming limbos,
Yes, and Paradise and Eden and houris – ‘tis I.
This earth and heaven with all that they hold,
Angels, peris, genies, and mankind – ‘tis I.

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Doughton Park Tree #2

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Why shouldn’t offspring of a given moment / be kin, whatever it takes to link lives across the species?
Katherine Soniat, Furnishing the Frog Cosmos

It’s 1963 and my family is spending a few weeks at Nana’s house in Morehead City.  She lives on a high bluff overlooking Bogue Sound (Bogue Banks a mile across the waterway with nary a house visible).  All morning my little brother Bob and I pole an old flat-bottomed skiff through the shallows.  When the tide’s out we spend all afternoon stalking creatures through ankle-deep water and weed beds: silvery fish too swift and lean for our dip net; scallops that show a line of blue-green eyespots on their mantle and snap shut before we can grab them; squirts, knobbed and rubbery, that Bob and I have become brave enough to pick up and squeeze; strange holes in the sand, some that bubble, some that smoke with silt, some with a filmy slime-sac attached that waves in the ripples.  Crabs tiny and large, sea urchins, sand dollars, muscle-footed conches – there are so many strange and wonderful denizens that I, age 10, am very leery of wading through those same weed beds at high tide, never knowing what intends to snatch my toe.

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Bob lives in Montana now.  I don’t know if those creatures still haunt his memories, but I do know that when he brought his daughters to Pine Knoll Shores a few weeks ago they spent an entire day paddling about the sound in a canoe.  Josh, Allison, and Saul are at the beach right now.  We joined them for a couple of days, and I coaxed Saul to follow me out into that green-grey water.  Two feet deep and it catches him mid-chest.  He’s not bothered a bit that he can’t see where he’s placing his feet.  I feel something firm beneath my own and dip up a 3-inch blue crab.  Saul watches its claws pinch the netting, notices the paddle-shaped rear legs flip it through the water when I release it.  The net clinks something hard; I bring up a little whelk shell.  There’s an orange hermit crab hunkered in there.  We set it up on the pier and hold perfectly still until it inches forth, scuttles away, and plops back into the sound.

It’s time for lunch.  There are plenty more mysteries beneath that shining surface.  Next time we’re coming back at low tide.

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I love Katherine Soniat’s Furnishing the Frog Cosmos, from her book The Swing Girl.  I am fascinated by the idea Why shouldn’t offspring of a given moment be kin?  What if?  I was born in February when the hoots of Great Horned Owls haunt the forest and the female on the nest is covered with snow.  Her mate brings meat to her and the downy chicks while she keeps them from freezing.  The Black Bear gives birth to her cubs in February, still in her winter dormancy.  While they nurse she may not eat for weeks.  No doubt a thousand generations of insects by the trillions share the February moment of my birth.  Equatorial birds, warm-water polyps, the whole southern hemisphere in their mid-summer – we’re a strange and wonderful family.

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Furnishing the Frog Cosmos

Earth-jam of a mulched garden — foxglove and iris
beneath the statue that trickles water from her jug
into the pond.

Frogs by the lily pad couple, aloof, eggs adrift
in the green algae.
Why shouldn’t offspring of a given moment
be kin, whatever it takes to link lives across the species?

Think of these squiggly scribbles on water, the young translucent
ones preparing for the planet, for clumsy leaps through circles
of slime.
And not far from here in the woods, the discarded clothes
of childhood lay buried — softened shoes, patched woolens and denim.
An owl dives for the red-headed woman as she weeds a small plot.
Her fickle mane is something that bird wants, sweaters clumped
underground with the winged mittens.

In a flash, that woman rises, out of synch with the concrete maiden
who pours water endlessly for the frogs.
One by one, the stories
diminish, and outgrown body of clothing at home in the dirt.

Katherine Soniat

from The Swing Girl, Louisiana State University Press, 2011

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Katherine Soniat lives in Asheville, NC and teaches in the University of North Carolina at Asheville’s Great Smokies Writers Program.  The Swing Girl  was selected as Best Collection of 2011 by a North Carolina poet (Arnold Oscar Young Award) by the Poetry Council of North Carolina.

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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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 . . . We’ve seen
how our breath on a bitter night
fades like a ghost from the window glass.
Kathryn Stripling Byer

 The polar bears aren’t here.  On sabbatical, or “off exhibit” in Park lingo.  We’re assured they will return in time.  In time . . . .

Aquila, born in 1992 at the Louisville, KY Zoo, arrived in NC in 2009 and currently resides at the Detroit Zoo.  Wilhelm, rescued from a Mexican circus, had been here since 2002 and since this winter has really been cooling his heels in Milwaukee.  The Zoo is deep (literally!) into a huge construction project that will expand polar bear habitat and renovate all of Rocky Coast.  When the bears return in 2014 their living space will conform to Canadian standards which will allow for obtaining additional bears from Alberta – as many as six bears on site in all, with facilities for breeding.  The NC Zoo will become a world-class site for preserving the species.

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Conservation and preservation – along with education, these are the Zoo’s mission.  I’m struck as I visit each exhibit how often I see the red-lettered admonition “Endangered” beneath the species name.  The science fiction future is rapidly becoming reality when zoos are the only place on earth to see certain animals.  For me, one of the most wrenching exhibits is a seemingly unobtrusive outdoor sculpture by Roger Halligan titled, “The Stone That Stands in an Empty Sky.”  Just off the trail near the red wolves (how appropriate), a monolith rises twenty feet into the forest.  At its apex is a sculpted opening.  Stand at the proper angle and you see leaves and branches through the empty space, and then you recognize it: the full profile of the Carolina Parakeet.

Negative space.  To see, really see, when you first realize what you’re not seeing.  Almost eight million dollars for six bears.  Worth it?  It has my vote.

. . . whatever
won’t stop taking shape even though the whole
crazy quilt’s falling to pieces.

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Mountain Time

News travels slowly up here
in the mountains, our narrow
roads twisting for days, maybe years,
till we get where we’re going,
if we ever do. Even if some lonesome message
should make it through Deep Gap
or the fastness of Thunderhead, we’re not obliged
to believe it’s true, are we? Consider
the famous poet, minding her post
at the Library of Congress, who
shrugged off the question of what we’d be
reading at century’s end: By the year 2000
nobody will be reading poems. Thus she
prophesied. End of that
interview! End of the world
as we know it. Yet, how can I fault
her despair, doing time as she was
in a crumbling Capitol, sirens
and gunfire the nights long, the Pentagon’s
stockpile of weapons stacked higher
and higher? No wonder the books
stacked around her began to seem relics.
No wonder she dreamed her own bones
dug up years later, tagged in a museum somewhere
in the Midwest: American Poet — Extinct Species.

Up here in the mountains
we know what extinct means. We’ve seen
how our breath on a bitter night
fades like a ghost from the window glass.
We know the wolf’s gone.
The panther. We’ve heard the old stories
run down, stutter out
into silence. Who knows where we’re heading?
All roads seem to lead
to Millennium, dark roads with drop-offs
we can’t plumb. It’s time to be brought up short
now with the tale-tellers’ Listen: There once lived
a woman named Delphia
who walked through these hills teaching children
to read. She was known as a quilter
whose hand never wearied, a mother
who raised up two daughters to pass on
her words like a strong chain of stitches.
Imagine her sitting among us,
her quick thimble moving along these lines
as if to hear every word striking true
as the stab of her needle through calico.
While prophets discourse about endings,
don’t you think she’d tell us the world as we know it
keeps calling us back to beginnings?
This labor to make our words matter
is what any good quilter teaches.
A stitch in time, let’s say.
A blind stitch
that clings to the edges
of what’s left, the ripped
scraps and remnants, whatever
won’t stop taking shape even though the whole
crazy quilt’s falling to pieces.

Kathryn Stripling Byer
North Carolina Poet Laureate 2005-2009

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This afternoon Ellen and Christa showed me a secret or two about how the magic is done.  Master welder, painter, and fabricator, Christa is one of seven sculptors who work in the design section at the NC Zoo.  We had just been looking at models of the new polar bear exhibit that will open in stages over the next two years.  I noticed a lichen-encrusted slab on the work table.  I picked it up.  It was a light sheet of some composite material painted in layers – I’ll still swear it was lichen.

Christa said, “When the visitors don’t even notice that the stones are hand-made, then we’ve done our job.”

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Does that mean that the Zoo’s mission is to create illusion?  No, the mission is to transcend and transport:  to transcend illusion and transport the visitor into a larger reality.  It is no accident that the sections have titles like “forest edge,” “African plains,” “rocky coast.”  In one day’s stroll you can enter all these  habitats and, for however briefly, become part of that which makes each place unique and notable.  And you get to see wild animals.

It’s called education.  The mission of the Zoo is to teach.  In five hundred acres or five hundred thousand acres the Zoo can’t conserve the world, but if we who come here to share the lives of these creatures gain even a glimmer of understanding and compassion, then we may become engaged in conserving the world for all creatures.  And for ourselves.

So why poetry at the Zoo?  The displays and installations are already various and superb.  They employ photographs, diagrams, puns (“just lion around” indeed).  You can walk right into a bush-copter hanger, a chimpanzee research station, a jungle, a desert.  Why do you need poetry?

Poetry can teach in a way that exposition and rhetoric cannot.  You are shaken by an unexpected metaphor.  You are halted in your tracks by an arresting image.  Poetry has slipped through the bars of your logical, calculating mind and has begun to teach directly to your heart.  Maybe, just maybe, you are transported into a larger reality.

You don’t even notice you’re being taught.  Poetry has done its job.

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Advice for Long Life

Keep simple, as simple as you can.
Like the heron who stands one leg on the sand.
Like the maple who stands one leg on the land.
Like the robin who, thirsty, gargles the worm.

The spider is simple if the web is not.
The tern is simple in a watery spot.
To be flexible, fluid, adored as a druid,
cryptic, mystic, blessed, lurid,
love simple as you can.

Plural by purpose, design, and make,
the effort to give is the urge to take.
Keep a hambone of joy at your right side.
Live broad, long, deep, wide,
but ride simple as you can.

Imitate wind and creep of dark –
as much as you can, the natural stark,
sun-driven crops and gradual shoat,
a frog spilling basso from a plum-blue throat
at river’s edge.  Be simple if you can.

 Anna Wooten-Hawkins

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Anna Wooten-Hawkins grew up in Kinston, North Carolina and received her MFA in creative writing from The University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She was a poet and professor of English at Gardner-Webb University, and later at Campbell University, St. Mary’s College, North Carolina State University, Peace College, and Meredith College. Her accomplishments include being the faculty editor of The Lyricist at Campbell University and coordinating the annual Muse Literary Festival at St. Mary’s College. Before her untimely death in 2000, Anna won many honors for her poetry. Her collection “Satan Speaks of Eve in 7 Voices After the Fall” won the 1986 North Carolina Writers’ Network Chapbook competition in 1986. In 1985 she received the City of Raleigh Arts Commission Award for her excellence in writing and service to the arts. Some of her works have appeared in The Green River Anthology, The Lowlands Review, The Lyricist, The Greensboro Review, and Pembroke Magazine.

(from http://www.uncg.edu/aas/ccwa/AnnaWHawkins.html)

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Today my friends and fellow poets Guy and Carolyn York stopped by to see me at the Zoo.  If you’re intrigued by the Hippo Beach sculptures, that’s where we’re holding our adult workshop on Saturday, 7/14, at 10 a.m.  As Robert Frost would say, “You come too!”

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One more postscript:  on July 6 the Zoo was blessed with a new arrival.  Juma (means born on Friday) weighs 150 pounds and is 72 inches long.

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Saturday I was talking to a friend who lives in the woods.  I mean really in the woods.  From his kitchen window he can watch the pristine little creek twenty yards down the hill. Every so often a blue heron wades past.  Where an old tree has blown down a gray fox crosses the creek.  Pretty wild.  And yet as we were talking he noted his regret that he never sees whippoorwills any more.  Hasn’t heard one in ten or fifteen years.

Yesterday morning I left Elkin at 6:30 to get to the Zoo plenty early.  They’ve just finished a year-long project widening a stretch of 421 through Winston-Salem, and you know how a fresh roadway cut looks: planed-off angle of clay sown with chemicals and sprouting grass monoculture.  Just before the new exit ramp, at 7:15 in the morning as the city revved up, a female wild turkey strolled blithely along finding the odd beetle or something worth bending over for.

Pretty wild.

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Today I was privileged to meet with Dr. David Jones, Director of the NC Zoological Park.  Before assuming the post here in Asheboro he was director of the London Zoo.  He has worked with animals in more countries than I know the names of.  His photographs of Africa appear in many of the interpretive displays around the Park.  And the curators and staff he has assembled are equally impressive.

This evening Dr. Jones presided over the dedication of a new outdoor sculpture (installed along the trail up to Sonora Desert).  Piedmont Totem is a pottery tower created by students and instructors at Montgomery Community College, a series of nineteen cylinders stacked into a column.  Each piece intertwines native piedmont creatures and plants, beginning at the bottom with tadpole, fish, roots and culminating at the top with eagle and owl.  As Dr. Jones pointed out, when viewed as a whole the work embodies the interconnected web of life.  And as he emphasized, the primary mission of the Zoological Park is to have visitors discover those interconnections, and to feel themselves connected as a part of the web as well.

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I blame people’s cats for the loss of whippoorwills, ground-nesters who depend entirely on camouflage for survival.  Then again, maybe the raccoons are eating the whippoorwills’ eggs because the raccoons’ predators have been extirpated as varmints (may we hope that the coyotes that have moved into the countryside will eat the raccoons?!).  Or maybe it’s all the skunks’ fault, since  the only thing that will eat a skunk is a great horned owl, and I haven’t been hearing nearly as many owls lately, either.

Or maybe this whole interwoven web is so complex that every thread we disturb leads to three more unravelings.  Who’s to say we can do without any of them?

But I still wish you’d keep your cats indoors, damn it.

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The Clouded Leopards of Cambodia and Viet Nam

They are gone, almost, into the music of their name.
The few that are left
wait high and hesitant as mist
in the tallest trees where dawn breaks first.

Their color of mourning kindles
to patterns of stark white, random
and sudden as hope or daydream.
Moving, they could be mirrors of the sky,
that play of masks
behind which the ancient burning continues
to dwindle and flee.

Thousands of years in their bones
leap blameless as lightning toward us.
To come close to what they know
would feel like thunder and its silent afterword.
We would turn slowly on our shadows, look up
again to tame the shapes of the world:
monkey, temple, rat, rice bowl, god,
images echoed in the smoke of village cookfires,
in the drift of memory on the faces of elders.
We would stand in the clean footprints of animals,
holding like an offering our hope
for the lives of a handful of people,
a rain that is only rain.

Betty Adcock

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Asked in an interview what she hoped for in her poetry, Betty Adcock replied “to tell the truth and find that it is music.” Living all her writing life in North Carolina, she as won many literary awards including the Brockman-Campbell Award of the NC Poetry Society, the Roanoke-Chowan Award, the Sam Ragan Fine Arts Award, the Raleigh Fine Arts Award, a Fellowship in Poetry from the National Endowment for the Arts, and a North Carolina Individual Artist’s Fellowship.  Her most recent volume is Slantwise (LSU Press, 2008).

http://bettyadcock.com/links.html

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Sometimes when the latest Audubon arrives in the post I dread reading it.  Unsustainable logging in old growth forests in Oregon threatens the marbled murrelet.  Ground water depletion by development in the San Pedro watershed (the major undammed river corridor in the entire intermountain West) may destroy twenty years of conservation gains.  American eel populations have declined ninety percent in the past four decades because of obstructing dams in Eastern rivers.

Does it ever seem to you that we humans just can’t get along with the other species on this planet?  The neighbors cats have eaten most of “my” house finches.  Just one careless chicken farmer upstream on the Big Elkin Creek is enough to silt up what could have been a decent trout stream.  Last week we had to replace about forty yards of sewer line on the steep ridge behind our house, plowing under at least a tenth of an acre of prime wild red raspberries.

I walked along the scraped red clay and exposed roots under the power lines down to the manhole where our sewer ties into the city.  Given the previously impenetrable briars, it was a new perspective on our little four-acre plot in the woods.  I hadn’t realized how massive that sentinel white oak had become in the thirty years we’ve lived here.  It has a Virginia Creeper hanging from it as thick as my arm.  And since the backhoe has knocked down a dozen or so gangly box elders, there’s enough sunlight seeping into our backyard that I’ve sown a pound of wildflower seed . . . after my daughter Margaret and I had picked about a pint of raspberries from canes we’d never been able to reach before.

In New England, a naturalist named Chris Bowser has set up a citizen stewardship program using net-filled PVC pipe to lift eels above the dams and enable them to complete their migration.  My friend Bill Blackley and a local crew are building hiking trails and restoring Big Elkin Creek to make it trout-worthy.  Virginia letter-carrier Rita Shultz has installed a hundred and ten bluebird houses along her route (in her time off) to prevent the birds from nesting in newspaper boxes, and prevent people from tossing out the nests, eggs, chicks and all.  And since February loggerhead turtles, piping plovers, least terns – and dozens of other nesting species – have a safer home on Hatteras Island: the National Park Service issued a new rule that allows off-road vehicles on 28 miles of shoreline, preserving the other 39 miles for wildness.

We might just get to go on living next door to critters.  We might just be able to pump from our hearts enough compassion for critters to make a place for them to go on living next door to us.

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Bubble

The heat hunkers trenchant, loud.
Lilies are budding on the lake.
Calf-high grass quivers.

He has wanted this moment to exist:
the insect flares blue on a sticky branch,
opening and closing, the size of his hands.

He heart pumps a bubble over the world:
it holds.

Mark Smith-Soto
© 1990 by Trans Verse Press.

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Mark Smith-Soto is professor of Spanish at UNC Greensboro and has been chairman of the Department of Romance Languages.  His poems appear frequently in the monthly magazine Sun.  He has served as editor or associate-editor of International Poetry Review since 1992.  His first full-length book of poetry, Our Lives Are Rivers , was published by Florida University Press in the summer of 2003.  Born in Washington, D.C., Mark grew up in his mother’s native Costa Rica.

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The photo of Jordan’s red-cheeked salamander (Plethodon jordani) was taken near Clingman’s Dome along the Appalachian Trail in 2003.  The cute little Appalachian cottontail (Sylvilagus obscurus) eating jewelweed beneath the stand of bee balm was at Cosby Knob Shelter on the AT (also GSMNP)  in 2007.

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