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Posts Tagged ‘SANCP’

Warpaint Shiner – Luxilus coccogenis

[with poems by Robert Wrigley and Kenneth Rexroth]

Rheophilic. Current loving. The shiners and darters face upstream while the swift clear river fetches them good things to eat. Nymphs of dragonfly, stonefly, alderfly have hooks on their feet to creep after prey across the slick stones. Salamander larvae protected in the cobbles breathe oxygen washed over their gills by the flow.

And the most unexpected, the strangest, the most fully adapted to current: the water penny – one with the rock, clinger and creeper, beetle larva, flexible carapace completely shielding it from the torrent. One among multitudes in the punch and spray, swirl and eddy, immersed in the flash and grasp of water from which all make their living.

All things flow. The first ancestors of all mayflies clung or crept or climbed or burrowed and now there are 600 species of mayfly. Symbols and images spin an unbroken thread which if I think about it I call thinking. Words whirl into new meanings. Today we dunk our faces in the Middle Prong to share its life. Tonight the current will fetch us good things to dream. Tomorrow will be a whole new river.

[* 600 species of Mayfly in the United States, 3,000 species worldwide.]

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Anything the River Gives
++++Robert Wrigley

Basalt, granite, tourmaline, the male wash
of off-white seed from an elderberry,
the fly’s-eye, pincushion nubbins yellow
balsamroot extrudes from hot spring soil,
confetti of eggshell on a shelf of stone.
Here’s a flotilla of beaver-peeled branches,
a cottonwood mile the shade of your skin.
Every day I bring some small offering
from my morning walk along the river:
something steel, blackened amber with rust,
an odd pin or bushing shed by the train
or torqued loose from the track, a mashed penny,
the muddy bulge of snowmelt current.
I lie headlong on a bed of rocks,
dip my cheek in the shallows,
and see the water mid-channel three feet
above my eyes. Overhead the swallows
loop for hornets, stinkbugs, black flies and bees,
gone grass shows a snakeskin shed last summer.
The year’s first flowers are always yellow,
dogtooth violet dangling downcast and small.
Here is fennel, witches’ broom, and bunchgrass,
an ancient horseshoe nailed to a cottonwood
and halfway swallowed in its punky flesh.
Here is an agate polished over years,
a few bones picked clean and gnawed by mice.
Here is every beautiful rock I’ve seen
in my life, here is my breath still singing
from a reedy flute, here the river
telling my blood your name without end.
Take the sky and wear it, take the moon’s skid
over waves, that monthly jewel.
If there are wounds in this world no love heals,
then the tings I haul up – feather and bone,
tonnage of stone and pale green trumpets
of stump lichens – are ounce by ounce
a weight to counterbalance your doubts.
In another month there won’t be room left
on the windowsills and cluttered shelves,
and still you’ll see me, standing before you,
presenting some husk or rusty souvenir,
anything the river gives, and I believe
you will love.

from Earthly Meditations: New and Selected Poems by Robert Wrigley, © 2006, Penguin. Reprinted in The Ecopoetry Anthology, edited by Ann Fisher-Wirth and Laura-Gray Street, © 2013, Trinity University Press, San Antonio, Texas.

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Common Snapping Turtle – Chelydra serpentina

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Lyell’s Hypothesis Again
++++ Kenneth Rexroth (1905-1982)

An Attempt to Explain the Former
Changes of the Earth’s Surface by
Causes Now in Operation — subtitle of Lyell: Principles of Geology

The mountain road ends here,
Broken away in the chasm where
The bridge washed out years ago.
The first scarlet larkspur glitters
In the first patch of April
Morning sunlight. The engorged creek
Roars and rustles like a military
Ball. Here by the waterfall,
Insuperable life, flushed
With the equinox, sentient
And sentimental, falls away
To the sea and death. The tissue
Of sympathy and agony
That binds the flesh in its Nessus’ shirt;
The clotted cobweb of unself
And self; sheds itself and flecks
The sun’s bed with darts of blossom
Like flagellant blood above
The water bursting in the vibrant
Air. This ego, bound by personal
Tragedy and the vast
Impersonal vindictiveness
Of the ruined and ruining world,
Pauses in this immortality,
As passionate, as apathetic,
As the lava flow that burned here once;
And stopped here; and said, ‘This far
And no further.’ And spoke thereafter
In the simple diction of stone.

Naked in the warm April air,
We lie under the redwoods,
In the sunny lee of a cliff.
As you kneel above me I see
Tiny red marks on your flanks
Like bites, where the redwood cones
Have pressed into your flesh.
You can find just the same marks
In the lignite in the cliff
Over our heads. Sequoia
Langsdorfii before the ice,
And sempervirens afterwards,
There is little difference,
Except for all those years.

Here in the sweet, moribund
Fetor of spring flowers, washed,
Flotsam and jetsam together,
Cool and naked together,
Under this tree for a moment,
We have escaped the bitterness
Of love, and love lost, and love
Betrayed. And what might have been,
And what might be, fall equally
Away with what is, and leave
Only these ideograms
Printed on the immortal
Hydrocarbons of flesh and stone.

from The Collected Shorter Poems. Copyright © 1966 by Kenneth Rexroth. New Directions Publishing Corporation, http://www.wwnorton.com/nd/welcome.htm. Reprinted in The Ecopoetry Anthology, edited by Ann Fisher-Wirth and Laura-Gray Street, © 2013, Trinity University Press, San Antonio, Texas.

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Stargazing Minnows grazing — Phenacobius uranops

Greenside Darter – Etheostoma blennioides

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The Southern Appalachian Naturalist Certification Program is an adult education opportunity created and administered by Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont and the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Their mission – connecting people with nature. SANCP certification requires completing eight weekend-long courses; I took my first course, Birds of the Smokies, in May, 2017, and finished my final course, Aquatic Ecology, on July 25, 2021.

Many thanks to the ecology superpowers of Erin Canter, Manager of Science Literacy and Research and master of making connections; to John DiDiego, GSMIT Education Director; to Jeremy Lloyd, Manager of Field and College Programs; and to all the educators and staff at Tremont.

Psephenidae field sketch by Bill Griffin. All photographs by Bill Griffin.

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Mayfly nymph – Order Ephemeroptera

Water Penny – family Psephenidae

 

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2020-11-03a Doughton Park Tree

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[with poems by Wendy Battin and A.R.Ammons]

We can hear them from the trailhead. By the time we reach the little pond they are so loud our ears are pounding. A slough, a seep, scarcely more water than you could spit across, but it holds maybe a hundred Cope’s Gray Treefrogs in full raw raucousness, along with the occasional plunk of a Green Frog or wheep of a peeper.

We can spot them in the beams of our headlamps – all males. They cling to reed and vine and branch, air sacs bulging and throbbing, true masters of circular breathing (that incredible noise erupts as the sac inflates, not deflates). Calling all lady gray treefrogs – this is a great pond, great guys here, come on in and we’ll make a great number of tadpoles. Did I mention LOUD!?

And then they stop. All at once every one of them just quits singing. All of our headlighting and capturing and inspecting over the past hour didn’t phase them. Why stop now? We turn back up the trail but within a few minutes one frog starts, then two more, and within seconds they’re all revved up and back in chorus.

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Frog. Little Eden.
Wendy Battin (1953-2015)

Amphibious, at home
on the surface

tension, in
over my head, not
out of my depth, not deep
deep deep,

not in far. Not
high and dry, not
even in treetops,
where I sing water
into the root-hairs.

It seeks me, will not
forsake me.
Hand over hand it climbs.
It breaks
the first law of water,

all for my song.
Into the trunk and up, it greens
the leaves that the leaves may be
-emerald me.
The leaves breathe it out and I drink,

then sing

lest the water forget to rise
and the world be kindling.

Wendy Battin, “Frog. Little Eden.” from Wendy Battin: On the Life & Work of an American Master. © 2020 by Wendy Battin.

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Cope’s Gray Treefrog, Hyla chrysoscelis

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Midnight in Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mountains National Park – what could be more mysterious & magical? Just sixteen humans in all those pitch dark square miles in the company of charismatic megafauna (bears, y’all) and the millions of smaller creatures we’ve come here to notice. Get right down in the face of that American Toad: what a pout of grumpy sagacity. Grab that little Brownsnake, but gently: in its mind it’s three feet long. And while you’re noticing, don’t forget all the eyes in the shadows noticing you.

The lesson of Cades Cove is set it aside and let it be. Other than backcountry hikers, most of the Park’s 12 million annual visitors never venture more than a few yards from their cars. And none of them except us are in Cades Cove tonight. The little frog pond near the old church, or Gum Swamp, or the many other unique and remote habitats, they are all full of creatures free to be themselves, to slither by day or sing by night. We might glimpse a little of what gives their lives meaning. We might learn a little of our own.

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Gravelly Run
A. R. Ammons (1926-2001)

I don’t know somehow it seems sufficient
to see and hear whatever coming and going is,
losing the self to the victory
+++of stones and trees,
of bending sandpit lakes, crescent
round groves of dwarf pine:

for it is not so much to know the self
as to know it as it is known
+++by galaxy and cedar cone,
as if birth had never found it
and death could never end it:

the swamp’s slow water comes
down Gravelly Run fanning the long
+++stone-held algal
hair and narrowing roils between
the shoulders of the highway bridge:

holly grows on the banks in the woods there,
and the cedars’ gothic-clustered
+++spires could make
green religion in winter bones:

so I look and reflect, but the air’s glass
jail seals each thing in its entity:

no use to make any philosophies here:
+++I see no
god in the holly, hear no song from
the snowbroken weeds: Hegel is not the winter
yellow in the pines: the sunlight has never
heard of trees: surrendered self among
+++unwelcoming forms: stranger,
hoist your burdens, get on down the road.

A. R. Ammons, “Gravelly Run” from The Selected Poems, Expanded Edition. Copyright © 1988 by A. R. Ammons. W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Reprinted in The Ecopoetry Anthology, edited by Ann Fisher-Wirth and Laura-Gray Street, © 2013, Trinity University Press, San Antonio, Texas.

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American Toad, Anaxyrus americanus

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The Southern Appalachian Naturalist Certification Program is an adult education endeavor of Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont and the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Their mission of connecting people with nature continues even during pandemics! The science-based instructional programs have evolved with science-based precautions and modifications to allow small communities to form for a weekend at a time.

Many thanks to John DiDiego, GSMIT Education Director, and to the awe-inspiring instructors for the July, 2021 SANCP Reptiles and Amphibians course, Dr. John Charles Maerz from University of Georgia, and his intrepid research assistant, Jade Samples. We crammed a semester’s worth of herpetology into 36 hours out of doors in the Smokies. (Did I sleep? Maybe a little.)

All photographs by Bill Griffin. Header art by Linda Griffin.

Dekay’s Brownsnake, Storeria dekayi

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2016-10-17a Doughton Park Tree

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[including poems by Mary Oliver and Bill Griffin]

Because they are themselves and we have begun to see that they are,
++++because we are not humble but have been humbled,
++++because we can’t begin to love ourselves until we love them,
++++because we can’t love them unless we know them,
++++because in a world that scoffs at the word “sacred” we have
++++++++ accepted a sacred calling,
for all these reasons and more we protect them from us.

We are going to count the salamanders in Dorsey Creek. Before we leave Tremont and hike to their watershed we spray our boots with weak bleach (to kill the Ranavirus). We wear gloves so that we don’t smear them with our own flora (they have a rich commensal surface bacterial that keeps them healthy). We touch them only briefly and hold them in water in bags, not in our hands (a scant few grams of flesh, thin and magical skin, even the heat of our palms would stress them). Just a few minutes to check for gills if they’re still larvae, to count their spots and markings, look for cheek chevrons, flip and inspect the tint of their bellies, then we take them back to the leaf litter or flashing stream where we found them. Perhaps each one may be counted again, perhaps dozens of times over a ripe salamander lifespan of 20 years.

And perhaps, rising from our knees with new names in our mouths (Desmognathus monticola, quadramaculatus, conanti) and something sacred in our hearts, perhaps we will see the world as if for the second time, the way it really is.

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Alligator Poem
++++ Mary Oliver (1935-2019)

I knelt down
at the edge of the water,
and if the white birds standing
in the tops of the trees whistled any warning
I didn’t understand,
I drank up to the very moment it came
crashing toward me,
its tail flailing
like a bundle of swords,
slashing the grass,
and the inside of its cradle-shaped mouth
gaping,
and rimmed with teeth –
and that’s how I almost died
of foolishness
in beautiful Florida.
But I didn’t.
I leaped aside, and fell,
and it streamed past me, crushing everything in its path
as it swept down to the water
and threw itself in,
and, in the end,
this isn’t a poem about foolishness
but about how I rose from the ground
and saw the world as if for the second time,
the way it really is.
The water, that circle of shattered glass,
healed itself with a slow whisper
and lay back
with the back-lit light of polished steel,
and the birds, in the endless waterfalls of the trees,
shook open the snowy pleats of their wings, and drifted away,
while, for a keepsake, and to steady myself,
I reached out,
I picked the wild flowers from the grass around me –
blue stars
and blood-red trumpets
on long green stems –
for hours in my trembling hands they glittered
like fire.

from New and Selected Poems, © 1992 by Mary Oliver, Beacon Press, Boston. Reprinted in The Ecopoetry Anthology, edited by Ann Fisher-Wirth and Laura-Gray Street, © 2013, Trinity University Press, San Antonio, Texas.

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Sorceress’ lizard, bellows breath, fire worm, winged dog – O, little salamander, how you inspire us with your magic! Pliny the Elder recognized that you are not a lizard but ancient Greeks still rumored that you quench fire with the chill of your body. The Talmud explains you are a product of fire and immune to its harm. Perhaps during the long winters of the Middle Ages you emerged miraculously from the log thrown onto the hearth to substantiate your reputation. Marco Polo believed your true nature to be an “incombustible substance found in the earth.” And let’s not forget the fearful excretions of your skin, poisonous enough to kill the entire village if you fall into the well, fundamental ingredient of witches’ brews, irresistible aphrodisiac.

Little wriggling Caudata, the reality of your nature is more wondrous than myth. You eat small things that would starve larger creatures and yet you thrive; your biomass exceeds that of all the mammals in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Your skin breathes – most of you don’t even have lungs! – and brews up a constellation of compounds that confound the biochemist. Some of you live 4 years with gills in the swift chill stream before becoming adults, others metamorphose within your eggs beneath forest duff and emerge fully formed, but all of you with your efficient ectothermic life plan grow and grow, make eggs, survive perhaps for decades. And Great Smokies holds more of your diversity than any other place in the world.

We are amazed! We students of SANCP Reptiles and Amphibians Course of 2021 are just astonished and awestruck. You are the coolest of the cool (ectotherms, that is)! We thank your Chief Sorcerer of Knowledge, Professor John Maerz, and Acolyte of Hands-On, Graduate Research Assistant Jade Samples, for sharing their lore, showing us how to find you, leading us to love you.

Salamanders – you rule!

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Salamander
++++ Bill Griffin

This is my gift –
++++++++ to change.
From Inadu Creek I leave behind
my frilly gills and climb
the spire of blue-eyed grass.
Having become a creature of air bathing
myself in dew, am I not still
a creature of water?

I invite you to discover
in each of my family our variations,
discern that every runnel, every spring,
every palm-sized cup of moisture
holds its lithe expectation, for this
is my gift to you –
++++++++ to notice changes.

I will let you lightly touch
the welcome of my smoothness
while I drink a little warmth
from your hand. Now count
the dapples down my length,
measure the blush of my cheek,

then find when you descend
the eastern face of Snake Den Ridge
those subtle alterations my cousins
are accumulating until finally
they acquire a new name.

And when you have returned me
to my bed of blue-bead lily, then touch
a smooth place within yourself
and carry with you into the world
++++++++ your own changes.

 

from Snake Den Ridge: a bestiary, © 2008 by Bill Griffin, March Street Press, Greensboro, NC. Illustrations and historical preface by Linda French Griffin.

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The Southern Appalachian Naturalist Certification Program is an adult education endeavor of Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont and the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Their mission of connecting people with nature continues even during pandemics! The science-based educational programs have evolved with science-based precautions and modifications to allow small communities to form for a weekend at a time.

Many thanks to John DiDiego, GSMIT Education Director, and to the awe-inspiring instructors for the July, 2021 SANCP Reptiles and Amphibians course, Dr. John Charles Maerz from University of Georgia, and his intrepid research assistant, Jade Samples. We crammed a semester’s worth of herpetology into 36 hours out of doors in the Smokies. (Did I sleep? Maybe a little.)

All photographs by Bill Griffin. Plethodon jordani on blue-eyed grass by Linda French Griffin. Header art also by Linda Griffin.

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2014-06-30a Doughton Park Tree

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[with 3 poems by Val Nieman]

Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont – February 5-7, 2021

Winter on the mountain gavels its sentence, no appeal: wrestle the cold to keep it at bay; eat, feed the inner fire; light the darkness or fall and break. I pull my hood closer and hide myself. In the tent at night I bind my neck against cold fingers. I watch my feet.

The day is short. Nevertheless we fill it and discover it filling us. Small signs begin to reveal their stories – an incisored nut, scratches in the bark, one single hair. At first we hesitate, we thirteen who’ve journeyed here to explore, but in the light we gather as closely as prudence permits. Muddy track, scrabbled duff, compressed leaf, scat: where did Bear sleep? what did Coyote eat?

Winter on the mountain: what crouches here for us to notice?

The night is long. In this valley darkness is complete. The rush and growl of Middle Prong fill the cove as well as empty it. Are we alone? In the gap of sleep a brush and skitter, a brief chittered voice – I imagine dark eyes and gliding flight. The spirit is released from the prison of his tree. In the morning we will seek signs of his passing.

Winter on the mountain – I release myself to see, to question, to wonder.

 

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Valerie Nieman journeys landscapes of memory, family, heartache to reveal stories in the signs unearthed along the way. A path may seem clear but its meanings fissure and deepen into many layers. A bud, a leaf, a branch – are they simply of themselves wholly themselves? Look deeper: there are mysteries unfolding.

Val teaches creative writing at North Carolina A&T State University but she is preparing to retire this summer and replace syllabus revisions with fly selection for a day on the trout stream. Her poetry has appeared widely and has been published in numerous anthologies, including Eyes Glowing at the Edge of the Woods and Ghost Fishing: An Eco-Justice Poetry Anthology. Her fifth novel, Backwater, will be published in 2021.

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Becoming Ariel
for Gerald Stern

Groundhog in a tree, behaving like a bird, like a squirrel,
nibbling tender green buds at branch end, high-wiring
above a bog. Any burrow dug here would be swamped,

front door to back stoop – how did he come to cross water
and ascend, diggers curved deep in the bark as a lineman’s spikes?
A crow would think twice about lighting on a branch so frail.

Soil-shoveling wedge of a face, a fat tail that never could balance
his loose bulk: this creature was not meant for such heights.
His round belly was destined to bloat in a ditch beside the road.

Still, he sways against the sky, close to the sun, Caliban
joyously drunk on spring sap drawn up from the mud
and darkness he was born to, tiny feet dancing and dancing.

from The Georgia Review, University of Georgia

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Captures

I sprayed for tiny ants
late last night, killing the spider
doing its best to corral them.

Between the sheets I struggled
hand to hand with old lovers
and other aliens

descending cosmic ladders
to pincer my heart,
boiling them in the ichor

my bare claws released
from their flesh.
But this morning,

I catch a humpback cricket
in the sink, cup it
between my hands

and toss it out
the back door
to take its chances.

This morning, I’m
mild as a painted virgin,
my hands empty of slaughter.

from Change 7

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Approach

Arms stretched wise,
right hand to the dawn,
left toward eventual night,
I face north.

As latitude rises,
life flattens:
forest to taiga,
to tundra, to permanent ice.

Everything will have
a name of cold:
polar bear, arctic fox,
glacier flea, snowy owl.

~ ~ ~

A compass is known to stray
from true north, lured
by the earth’s magnetic heart.
Now the needle swings

at the approach
of a frost spirit
from those barrens
I’ll have to cross

without advice,
without a companion,
or a harness of wolf-dogs,
or good boots.

from Hotel Worthy, Press 53, Winston-Salem, © 2015

Becoming ArielCapturesApproach  © Valerie Nieman

 

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The Southern Appalachian Naturalist Certification Program at Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont comprises eight weekend courses designed to provide fundamental and specialty skills in Southern Appalachian ecology and interpretive techniques. Each weekend includes 15 hours and more of lecture and hands-on field study. Upon completion the student receives the non-credit Southern Appalachian Naturalist Certificate from the University of Tennessee.

Ariel, the spirit in Shakespeare’s The Tempest, is released from his prison in the split pine by the magician Prospero.

 

 

 

 

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IMG_7952

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[with two poems by Malaika King Albrecht]

The lesson you need is the one you weren’t looking for.

The lesson you keep is the one you didn’t want.

Our final exercise is to sit. Not in the open air pavilion where we’ve weathered hours of presentations and discussion. And not by any means moving along the trails we’ve hiked for hours encountering a new species every minute. Now at the close of our weekend naturalist course on plants of the Smokies we are instructed to stop, settle, sit. We are to find a green thing we don’t know or one we’ve have ignored and sit for half an hour. Pay attention. Become intimate.

I choose to sketch a bryophyte not much bigger than my thumb. Perhaps I’ll never know its true name – starmoss? sphagnum? – but we could become friends. I won’t even give it a name. Be satisfied sometimes simply to explore, to know first with all my senses, that is what I’m learning. Where does it like to lie and spread? Whom does it choose for neighbors? How does it make its living? Naming can come later.

Moss with Doghobble leaf

Look at us all, scattered like toadstools across this mountain glade quietly noticing. For now the birds and insects get to make all the noise. Eventually our quiet must end and we gather one last time for closing and summarizing and making sense. Now Tonya has a surprise. A worm snake, while she sat, has burrowed, well, wormed into her open sandals and curled around her toe. She untangles it and cradles it for us all to see while it tries to bite her with its mere slit of a mouth, better suited for eating slugs. If we were quiet, if we paid attention, if we sat long enough would we be reclaimed by moss and crawling things and become a haven for all that is small and necessary?

We eat our lunch along the trail, we travel back to Tremont, we pack our cars. At the parking lot I congratulate Tonya upon completing her final course and receiving her Naturalist Certification. I tell her, I’m still only half way through.

Tonya turns to me. She sets down her pack. She is solid, present, her eyes deep and full as a hardwood cove. Help the new ones, she pleads. Share what you know.

And during the five hour drive back to my foothills what image recurs? Not family characteristics that differentiate Brassicaceae, Lamiaceae, Asteraceae; not frond morphology and sorus distribution. No, the image I can’t escape is of the two first-timers in our course turning a leaf over and over in their hands, turning the leaves of a guidebook, excited, figuring things out. And of me a pace or two removed, watching them, adding nothing.

Sometimes I think I have the perfect temperament and skill set to be a moss-covered log slowly digested by fungal mycelia. Ah, the long and placid observations I would make. But that’s not the lesson I need or the lesson I will keep. Instead, this: don’t imagine you know so much. But know that what you do know has value when you share it. Know that its only value is in the sharing. You have joined the circle of seekers. Now open the circle wide.

Rudbeckia lacianata; Cutleaf Coneflower; Asteraceae

Rudbeckia lacianata

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A week ago I shared here two poems by Malaika King Albrecht from her most recent book. I’m not finished with her. Something about this collection of poetry has become very necessary for me as I continue to pile and compile the lessons from my most recent course in the Southern Appalachian Naturalist Certification Program at Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont. The quantity of information itself is just shy of infinite. I’m working through a book titled, Botany in a Day, which would more realistically be In a Couple of Years. Just the new vocabulary reminds me of starting Med school (that was 1974 – what am I doing here?!) or maybe of being smacked with a breaker at Fort Macon beach.

But being overwhelmed with information is the trees, it is not the forest. That is why I need poetry. I will study the taxonomy but poetry will teach me the connections. I will feel like I can never know enough but poetry will teach me to live with and love the mystery. I will work on what to know but poetry will teach me how to know.

Malaika’s collection is just the solace and challenge and promise needed. Her poems can be grounded in the senses but spiral into the imagined and unimagined. I would say her poems make connections but even more they open me to make connections. It can be the difference between burying myself in the Field Guides and opening myself to the field.

Thanks again, Malaika!

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Following the Wind

Everything leaves a mark:
dull grass in the morning where the raccoon
ambled away full of cat food,
antler scratches along the willow oak,
and tracks and scat everywhere.

I know what stirs in this forest:
Deer nosing the horse path,
red fox slitting the tall switch grass,
rabbit bounding, freezing, and hopping again.

At the edge of Loftin Woods, I fall
for the wind, the way it parts the grass,
makes branches speak
and vultures glide their shallow V’s.

If sky holds our dreams,
then earth, our memories,
and wind, only the now
of this moment calling,
calling from everywhere.

Elephantopus carolinianus; Elephant Foot; Asteraceae

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Praise Song for What Is

Praise the frozen rain, the icicles daggering
the trees, the gray snow sludge. Praise
the shiver, the wet wind cutting through clothes,
the frozen water troughs. Blessed be
the hard frost, the frozen pond,
the apple sapling snapped in half.

Praise autumn and spring, the hot then cold
then hot again. Praise the corn mazes,
the haystacks, the reaping what we’ve sown.
Blessed be the fig tree, the honeycomb, the hive.
Praise the kudzu, the poison ivy,
the forsythia shouting yellow at a fence.

Praise the mosquito, the itch,
the scratch. Praise the heat waves,
the asphalt, the stopped
highway traffic. Blessed be
the dusty, the wilted, the dry
husks of corn in summer drought.

Praise the possum lumbering
into the chicken coop,
the fox slinging the wood’s edge.
The owl, the hawk, blessed be
their swift descent to prey.
Praise the failures, the losses. Blessed be
the broken path that brought me here.

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

Botany in a Day, The Patterns Method of Plan Identification; Thomas J. Elpel; HOPS Press, LLC; © 2018; An Herbal Field Guide to Plant Families of North America

Wildflowers of Tennessee the Ohio Valley and the Southern Appalachians; Dennis Horn and Tavia Hathcart; Partners Publishing © 2018; The Official Field Guide of the Tennessee Native Plant Society

 

 

 

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[with two poems by Malaika King Albrecht]

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

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

Lobelia cardinalis; Cardinal Flower; Campanulaceae

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

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

Botrychium dissectum; Common Grape Fern; Ophioglossaceae

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

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

Agrimonia parviflora; Harvestlice Agrimony; Rosaceae

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

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

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

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Lactuca floridana; Florida Blue Lettuce; Asteraceae

Loftin Woods

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

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Prunella vulgaris; Heall All; Lamiaceae

Silver Tangle of Brambles at Midnight

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

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

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

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

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

sitting quietly for a time.

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

Vernonia flaccidifolia; Tennessee Iron Weed; Asteraceae

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[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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I remember the first bird that counted. Clarification: I remember the first bird I counted.

Mom and Dad had rented a cabin so we could join them for a long weekend on Skyline Drive in the Shenandoahs, June, 1988. Did they think their grandkids were Nature undernourished? Mountain vistas, enfolding trees, night sky – we even saw a bobcat at dusk one evening. Maybe I was undernourished.

The second morning we hiked up a lonely trail in deep shade that suddenly brightened. A forest giant had fallen and invited into its space the sun and the sky. And birdsong. (Prime transitional habitat, I’ve since learned.)

Mom spotted a yellow streak come to rest on a bare branch and begin to sing. I focused. What is this?! Never had one of these on the feeder outside my dorm window, never saw one snagging worms on the front lawn. And listen to it sing! What?!

That Chestnut Sided Warbler is the first bird in my list. Well, make that lists: pocket notebooks, index cards, the backs of trail maps. And of the course the database on my hard drive, which has swelled to megabytes. But what’s the big deal? Thirty-five years old and writing down the name of a bird? What?

I wasn’t a Nature-deprived child. We played outdoors until the street lights blinked on. Caught fireflies in our hands and honey bees in jars. Raised tadpoles to peepers. Camps, beach trips, hiking, Scouts; I was out in Nature pretty much, but I count that CSW as the moment I began to notice. This is not just an unpopulated landscape, not a homogenous backdrop for picnics or games or a nice walk. These are things. Individuals. Differentiated. Species. I start by counting birds but then I notice wildflowers and take up botany, notice one side of the ridge has more blossoms and different, it’s geology, get down on my knees for the tiniest blooms and dang there’s a beetle, entomology.

Pretty soon I want to notice it all, the great grand beautiful interconnected mess, ecology, the parts and the whole. I’m becoming a Naturalist – someone who pays attention. Someone who notices.

Chestnut Sided Warbler in Virginia was my gateway drug. How much was I missing all those years before? Now I can’t help but notice. Blame the wrens that scold me every morning in the driveway. Blame my friend Mike who is always so careful to step over every millipede on the trail. Blame Amelia my granddaughter as she watches the crocuses open. And after last weekend blame Emily Stein* as my chief enabler, she and the other twenty hard core Naturalists I joined at Tremont in the Smokies for an intense course in “Skills for Sharing Nature.” As always, begin with some questions:

Where have I come from to reach this place? Why do I care? What is my personal story? What do I have to share?

The answers may arrive like spring buds that swell along the flank of the mountain seeking the summit, a lifetime of questions and answers, but now it’s time to screw up my courage and take Step 2: I’m going to get you hooked on Nature, too. Come here a minute. Try my binoculars. See that little dab of brown fluff that just flew up to that branch? Yes, that’s the one. Let’s see what he has to tell us.

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* Emily Stein: Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont naturalist educator, youth programs coordinator, and instructor for the February 2020 course “Skills for Sharing Nature,” part of the Southern Appalachian Naturalist Certification Program (SANCP). More information at www.gsmit.org

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Prayer for the Great Family

Gratitude to Mother Earth, sailing through night and day—
and to her soil: rich, rare, and sweet
in our minds so be it

Gratitude to Plants, the sun-facing light-changing leaf
and fine root-hairs; standing still through wind
and rain; their dance is in the flowing spiral grain
in our minds so be it

Gratitude to Air, bearing the soaring Swift and the silent
Owl at dawn. Breath of our song
clear spirit breeze
in our minds so be it

Gratitude to Wild Beings, our brothers, teaching secrets,
freedoms, and ways, who share with us their milk;
self-complete, brave, and aware
in our minds so be it

Gratitude to Water: clouds, lakes, rivers, glaciers;
holding or releasing; streaming through all
our bodies salty seas
in our minds so be it

Gratitude to the Sun: blinding pulsing light through
trunks of trees, through mists, warming caves where
bears and snakes sleep—he who wakes us—
in our minds so be it

Gratitude to the Great Sky
who holds billions of stars—and goes yet beyond that—
beyond all powers, and thoughts
and yet is within us—
Grandfather Space.
The Mind is his Wife.

so be it.

Gary Snyder (after a Mohawk prayer)
from EARTH PRAYERS, edited by Elizabeth Roberts and Elias Amidon, HarperSanFrancisco, 1991

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