I learn from writing, but I learn much more from reading. I only have one brain, and writing helps. Through the magic of reading, however, I can learn from many minds. Reading is one of the best ways we can tap into our collective wisdom. To ignore this is foolish at best and maybe even arrogant at its worst.
This afternoon I pulled out my well-read copy of Bernd Heinrich's book, The Trees in My Forest. I think I may eventually have to write my own version of "the trees in our forest." To be honest, I don't feel like I know them well enough, but the project could be a way to know them better.
So I hear this is the second year in a row Texas has been hit with 500 year flooding. That's kind of weird, huh? The death and destruction is tragic.
Also, there was record breaking flooding in Europe this week, killing at least 15 in France, Germany, Romania, and Belgium. The Louvre art museum in Paris hastily moved thousands of stored pieces to upper levels of the building to protect it from the flooding river Seine. The Mona Lisa was already safely on an upper floor.
I could go on and on with this list of environmental disasters, but over half my friends are already irritated. They like it when I share pretty pictures of nature, but they take another view when I suggest we should do something to save it or in any way change our ways. It's even worse if I suggest we reverence and bear responsibility for the care of creation. At that point I'm obviously in league with the crazy environmentalists.
It's okay. And I think I get where you're coming from. And I'm sure we'll adapt to climate change. Or not.
In late spring in Tennessee all the world is green and beautiful. A simple woodland walk is an immersion into a world so green and alive it is virtually pulsing with chlorophyll, the lifeblood of the forest.
Do you ever find yourself with a new book and realize you're going to read it over and over until it becomes a part of you? I'm only in the middle of Robin Wall Kimmerer's thoughts and reflections in Braiding Sweetgrass, and I already know it's going to be that kind of book for me. You should expect to hear more from me on this. She truly is a poet-scientist.
Following a rain, a luminous glow reveals the inconspicuous beauty of a cluster of Boxelder flowers. Surely these delicate ornaments usually go unnoticed, but I am beginning to think such unobserved grace and loveliness fills our world whether we notice or not.
This raises the question of why there should there be such unnecessary beauty? What good comes of unseen charm? Does it exist simply on the chance that I may see? Is there an advantage to being beautiful if there is no admirer? Is the purpose of the Boxelder's beauty simply to delight the eye of an unseen Creator? Does beauty exist simply for its won sake?
I don't know. I am no theologian, and I am certainly no philosopher, but I think maybe it is enough for me to know that such beauty exists, and to know it not only exists, but is common. Maybe the beauty of common Boxelder is enough.
All of wild nature lies right outside your door. Nature is not confined to some place "out there" away from us. One doesn't need exotic lands, the grandeur of a national park, or even a few acres of city park to experience nature firsthand. For those who care to look, nature is revealed in the wind blowing dandelion seeds, the robin listening for an earthworm lunch in the lawn, or the ever-changing phases of the moon. Within walking distance of where you sit, there are wonders you've never really seen before. You should go introduce yourself. Learn of the green world.
riven: [past participle of rive] torn apart, split, rent, severed, cleft, torn asunder.
We as a people are riven. We are divided among ourselves by race, culture, politics, and money. Whether intentionally or ignorantly, we build and reinforce walls to separate us. Our frequent response to fear is to kill.
We are fractured at every level. We are riven whether you're looking at race, religion, nation, community, or even family. We are torn and have come to believe this is the natural way of things. Maybe we have forgotten what it is to be whole.
We are cleft from the land that nurtured us. We have forgotten our ties to the earth and fool ourselves into thinking we are somehow independent of the rest of creation. We have forgotten our wild nature, and believe the environment is only a political topic.
We have severed ourselves from our heritage. We believe only in the newest, fastest, shiniest technologies. We reject old ways merely because they are old, as if standing the test of time meant nothing. Our society has come to consider the educated young geek somehow smarter and better than the plumber or housekeeper who sacrificed to create his opportunities.
We believe our church or religion is better because, well, it just is. We believe other food, other languages, other music, other perspectives are fundamentally inferior to our own. We cannot spend time together in a meal, a discussion, or just listening to a song. We no longer assume positive intent in others, and we judge motivations before we know facts. We are not diverse, but divided. Unity and harmony are forgotten in the wars against our enemies. And then we don't understand why our enemies are growing more numerous every day.
We are a riven people. We are torn asunder, bleeding, and ripped apart by our own hands. Tattered and torn we long for that which would make us whole again, if only we could remember what it is.
Some people see only a weed, but I prefer to look more closely. Lamium purpureum is the purple broadleaf coming up in many lawns right now. Although this European immigrant it is commonly known as Red (or Purple) Dead Nettle, this small herb is a member of the mint family. It spreads invasively in sunny lawns, so it is regarded by most American homeowners as a weed. Personally, I can't help but marvel at their tiny yet intricate purple blossoms.
Looking at a mushroom I am overwhelmed to consider the dazzling diversity of life found in our small forest. I can't even begin to comprehend the breadth of life that must be displayed across our great planet. Life is relentless. Life persists even in the margins, like the colorful illuminations in ancient books. When we think we've found a lifeless spot, it's usually because we haven't looked closely enough. Life is ubiquitous. Life finds a way everywhere.
there is a peace in standing silent in a twilight wood listening to Spring Peepers sing their love songs from an unseen forest pool.
Last year's age-softened beech leaves cushion the ground beneath my feet. Cool air flows around me like water around a rock in a stream. All is hushed except the singing frogs. And then above them a deep soft voice flows from the trees.
Even the most familiar path can take me to unexpected places. Sometimes I just need to explore, off trail, going nowhere in particular, rambling about aimlessly, noticing mayapples just poking out of the ground beneath cottony white clouds sailing the blue sky above. My fingers and eyes roam mossy rocks, logs, and cradle-knolls. Being in the forest without purpose almost always leads to discovery. It's as if by not looking for anything I am receptive to everything. Sometimes the best way to find something is by not looking for it.
Why is the world so beautiful? There's a lot wrong with the world today. Scary things. Horrible things I can never forget. A lot of stuff I can't fix. Stuff we must confront. But I am drawn back to this question: Why is the world so beautiful? And I surrender to wonder and go looking for it as an explorer on a quest. Sometimes discovery is more about new vision than new places.
Even if I live to be very old, I will always be captivated by the waking of wildflowers in spring. If anything, my wonder increases with each new year. Beauty and serendipity turn out to be fairly common.
There is a Chinese proverb that says, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” I'm still learning this myself, but you're missing the point if you can't see this applies to more than trees. Of course, if you're about to do something stupid like planting a pine tree beneath a power line, then procrastination is good. The trick is knowing the difference. Some things take a lifetime to learn. Maybe that's why we're told to listen to our elders.
A Virginia Pine planted in our yard yesterday as part of a project to plant 50,000 trees
across the state sponsored by the Tennessee Environmental Council
I need to start writing again. I think I cannot not write. And I think we all have an inner need to create. It's different for everyone, but to stifle this urge is like trying to stop a flower from blooming; success would kill the beauty.
Maybe I need to be less present on social media in order to be more present in life. I don't know if you've enjoyed them or not, but I think I need to pause the Wild Saunter posts for awhile. I'm not sure how long it will be, but I'm thinking at least through the Lenten season. I will still post occasional family joys, special moments, and maybe an occasional wildflower, but I think I need to quit trying so hard to be the wise old forest sage.
I think I need to write less, photograph less, and post less. In its place, I'm going to try to think more, see more, and be more, because life is more than digital likes and shares.
More and more I am learning the importance of saying no.
There's only so much of you, so you must learn to give wisely. If you say yes to every good opportunity, you may feel needed, maybe even indispensable, but in the end there will be nothing left, no margin, no place simply to be yourself.
If you are to do anything, you must leave time for it. Whether it's knitting, volunteering in the community, exercising, cooking, hiking, or anything else, it can't be done if you don't leave time for it. Perhaps this seems too obvious to say, but in my experience it is a commonly overlooked truth.
I use the word leave instead of make intentionally. We often say we need to make time for this or that activity. We say things like, "if you want to do something badly enough, you'll make time for it." But the truth is you can fret, rush, and stress all you want, but none of us can make time. It can't be done. Not an hour. Not even a minute.
The best we can do is prioritize and leave time for the important things. Maybe I can find places where I'm wasting time doing something unimportant. Maybe I need to reorganize my day, or be more aware of time gobbling distractions. But to leave time for one thing, we must say no to something else. This is not being selfish or stingy. It's reality.
Do you have something you've been wanting to do but never have the time? Maybe you need to stop doing a few other things. For myself, I have decided it is better to do one thing well than five things poorly.
Whether imposed by harsh weather, religion, or individual will, there are lessons to be learned from a sabbath. If you're feeling "stuck at home" by the winter storm, I recommend you relax, call it a sabbatical, and learn what you can. Here's my list of 10:
1. There is a difference between wants and needs.
2. True emergencies arise, but there is very little that cannot wait until another day.
3. Oxygen, water, food, and shelter are fundamental. A good Wifi connection and beer are not.
4. Rest and contemplation are restorative. If you don't understand this, then you need it badly.
5. Simplicity can be a joy.
6. Knowing how to cook from basic ingredients is an important life skill.
7. Whether watching foraging birds out the window, going for a moonlit walk in the snow, or watering your houseplants, there is a joy in connecting with nature.
8. Absolute freedom is an illusion anyway. We are never really free to do what we want whenever we want.
9. True wealth has little to do with money.
10. Our safety and security does not come from ourselves. Nor do we decide the majority of our circumstances. "All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us."
It started with coyote song. I had cleaned up the kitchen and turned off the music just in time to step out into the night and hear the song of a lone coyote down near the creek. It was wild, beautiful music for a cold, clear night, and it deeply stirred my imagination.
The next night, as he pulled into the driveway, my son Joshua spotted a coyote at the far end of the yard. I was delighted that he quietly entered the house and took me with him out onto the back porch to see what we could see. Picking out where he thought it would be, Joshua shined his flashlight into the woods.
Glowing eyes stared back at us. A moment later we confirmed another set of eyes. There were at least two of them, just inside the woods, not a hundred feet away.
I shivered in the cold damp night air. My breath became fog in the flashlight's beam, momentarily obscuring my vision. There was talk that it would snow during the night, and it certainly felt like it.
And there we stood, eyes looking at eyes, the four of us, watching each other in the night. I'm sure we each wondered what the others were thinking. On both sides there was caution, but no fear—each simply waiting to see what the other would do.
Our curiosity was satisfied before the coyotes', and we turned off the intrusive flashlight and returned to the light and comfort of our house. The coyotes no doubt relaxed and continued the patrol of their territory, their home.
Alert with coyote thoughts,
silently they stalk the shadows,
cautious, curious, and hopeful.
Sleepy and contemplative,
I turn to my own bed,
cautious, curious, and hopeful.
I fell asleep wrapped in coyote thoughts, wondering if it would in fact snow.