Monday Morning Wake-Up Call

It is astonishing how violently a big branch shakes when a silly little bird has left it.

~ Katherine Mansfield, from “Alors, je pars.” in Delphi Complete Works of Katherine Mansfield


Photo of Common Redpoll (male) by Larissa Datsha

She always bats 1.000

As Rob Watson, one of my favorite environmental teachers, likes to remind people: “Mother Nature is just chemistry, biology and physics. That’s all she is.”

You cannot sweet-talk her. You cannot spin her. You cannot manipulate her. And you certainly cannot tell her, “Mother Nature, stop ruining my beautiful stock market.”

No, no, no. Mother Nature will always and only do whatever chemistry, biology and physics dictate, and “Mother Nature always bats last,” says Watson, “and she always bats 1.000.”

Do not mess with Mother Nature.

Thomas L. FriedmanWith the Coronavirus, It’s Again Trump vs. Mother Nature  (NY Times, March 31, 2020)


Photo: Economic Times

Monday Morning Wake-Up Call

There’s another world that has always existed both apart from and alongside civilization. While I was sick it changed, too, in the age-old turning of the earth itself. By the time I could walk outside again, springtime had come to Tennessee.

In our yard there are violets and spring beauties and stickywillys and buttercups. The invasive but lovely deadnettle has turned the ditch next to our house into a cascading drift of purple. Every year it reminds me of Alice Walker’s words: “I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it.” Out in the woods, the trout lilies are opening near toadshade and bloodroot and mayapple, all of them reaching up from the cold soil to bloom in the brief sunlight of early spring, before the trees leaf out and the forest overstory draws in all the available light.

For now, the limbs are still bare, but the songbirds have registered the mild light, as well, and their courtship season has begun. The television may be full of terror, and the terror may be growing with every passing hour, but the trees are full of music. The normally cacophonous blue jays are singing their tender whisper song, and the quarrelsome beeping of the Carolina chickadee has been transformed into a glorious four-note song of love. Birdy-birdy-birdy, the cardinal sings. Birdy-birdy-birdy-birdy. He is serenading a female, and if you follow the song to its source you might be lucky enough to see him bringing his mate a seed or a grub, demonstrating his fitness as her partner. In the avian world, a grub is an engagement ring.

Alas for the poor grubs, and also for the earthworms struggling to the surface as they escape their tunnels inundated by spring rains. But pull up a weed from the wet soil of the water-drenched garden and smell the rich life the earthworm has left behind. Just a whiff of it will likely flood you with a feeling of well-being. The scent of freshly turned soil works on the human brain the same way antidepressants do.

Here is the alternate world we need right now, one that exists far beyond the impulse to scroll and scroll. The bluebird bringing pine straw to the nest box she has chosen in a sunny spot of the yard, like the chickadee bringing moss to the nest box under the trees, is doing her work with the urgency of the ages. She has no care for me at all. Even her watchful mate ignores me as I pull weeds in the flower bed beside our driveway.

The natural world’s perfect indifference has always been the best cure for my own anxieties. Every living thing — every bird and mammal and reptile and amphibian, every tree and shrub and flower and moss — is pursuing its own urgent purpose, a purpose that sets my own worries in a larger context. And the natural world is everywhere, not just on my half-acre lot in suburbia, and not just on my favorite trails at the local parks. You can find it during a walk on city streets and in the potted plants on city balconies. It’s in the branches of the sidewalk trees as they begin to split open and change the grayscape green. It’s in the sparrows and the starlings taking nesting materials into the cracks around the windows and doorways of commercial buildings. It’s in a sky full of drifting clouds, and in the wild geese crying as they fly.

I can scroll and worry indoors, or I can step outside and remember how it feels to be part of something larger, something timeless, a world that reaches beyond me and includes me too. The spring ephemerals have only the smallest window for blooming, and so they bloom when the sunlight reaches them. Once the forest becomes enveloped in green and the sunlight closes off again, they will wait for another year. Sunlight always returns the next year.

~ Margaret Renkl, from “The Beautiful World Beside the Broken One” (New York Times, March 23, 2020)


Photo of Bluebird: The Woodthrush Shop

Saturday Morning

So, when it’s bad now,
when I can’t remember what’s lost
and all I have for the world to take
means nothing,
I go out back of the greenhouse
at the far end of my land
where the grasses go wild
and the arroyos come up
with cat’s-claw and giant dahlias,
where the children of my neighbors
consult with the wise heads
of sunflowers, huge against the sky,
where the rivers of weather
and the charred ghosts of old melodies
converge to flood my land
and sustain the one thicket
of memory that calls for me
to come and sit
among the tall canes
and shape full-throated songs
out of wind, out of bamboo,
out of a voice
that only whispers.

— Garrett Hongo, from ‘Something Whispered in the Shakuhachi’


Notes: Quote, thank you Beth @ Alive on All Channels. Photo of bamboo by Elisa.

Where you at?

Where You At?

Trace the water you drink from precipitation to tap.

How many days till the moon is full?…

From what direction do winter storms generally come in your region?

Name five grasses in your area.

Name five resident and five migratory birds…

Were the stars out last night?

From where you are reading this, point north.

~ Jenny Offill, Weather: A Novel (Knopf, February 11, 2020)


Notes:

  • Inspired by: “As it is, we are merely bolting our lives—gulping down undigested experiences as fast as we can stuff them in—because awareness of our own existence is so superficial and so narrow that nothing seems to use more simple than simple being. If I ask you what you did, saw, heard, smelled, touched, and tasted yesterday, I am likely to get nothing more than the thin, sketchy outline of the few things that you noticed, and of those only what you thought worth remembering. Is it surprising that an existence so experienced seems so empty and bare that its hunger for an infinite future is insatiable?” ~ Alan Watts, The Book on the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are (Published August 28th 1989 by Vintage, first published 1966) (via noosphe.re)
  • Illustration by Ariduka55 (via Your Eyes Blaze Out)

One Tiny Beautiful Thing

Paying attention to what is happening in Washington is a form of self-torment so reality altering that it should be regulated as a Schedule IV drug. I pay attention because that’s what responsible people do, but I sometimes wonder how much longer I can continue to follow the national news and not descend into a kind of despair that might as well be called madness. Already there are days when I’m one click away from becoming Lear on the heath, raging into the storm. There are days when it feels like the apocalypse is already here.

Except it isn’t, not really. Not yet. One day when the relentless rains let up for a bit, I went to the park an hour before sunset to walk on the muddy trails and take a break from the bad news. The woods were as lovely as they ever are after a rain: the creeks full of rushing water, the gray bark of the fallen trees slick with moss. Above the trail, the limbs of the living trees creaked in the rising wind, the kind of sound that makes your heart ache for reasons too far beyond words to explain. Though the forest understory is already beginning to green up, weeks too soon, the towhees scratching for insects stirring in what’s left of last fall’s leaves were not in any way sorry about the early arrival of spring.

A few hundred yards on, my eyes caught on a tree I hadn’t noticed when I was walking in the other direction. About seven feet up the trunk was a knothole, a place where a limb had long ago broken off and let water in to rot the wood. Perhaps a woodpecker had helped to deepen it, too, and given the water more purchase over time. The hole was small, a dark grotto in the thickly grooved bark of the stalwart oak, a hiding place that reached far into the mass of that old tree, and the failing light deepened its darkness. Who knows how many miniature woodland creatures have crept into its crevice over the years to nest, to shelter from the wind and rain, to hide from predators — or to wait for prey.

But a creature lurking inside it is not what singled this knothole out among the hundreds, even thousands, I had passed on the path as night came on. What caught my eye was a cluster of tiny seedlings colored the bright new green of springtime, so bright it seemed to glow in the gloaming. The tender plants were growing in the loam inside the knothole. Far above the ground, a hole made by decay in a living tree had become a cold frame, a natural greenhouse that lets in light and keeps out frost. Life in death in life…

Instead of giving up something for Lent, I’m planning to make a heartfelt offering. In times like these, it makes more sense to seek out daily causes for praise than daily reminders of lack. So here is my resolution: to find as many ordinary miracles as a waterlogged winter can put forth, as many resurrections as an eerily early springtime will allow. Tiny beautiful things are bursting forth in the darkest places, in the smallest nooks and deepest cracks of the hidden world, and I am going to keep looking every single day until I find one.

~ Margaret Renkl, from “One Tiny Beautiful Thing” (NY Times, Feb 23, 2020)


Photo: Mohan Bhat

Lightly child, lightly

Sometimes, when I haven’t slept or the news of the world, already bad, suddenly becomes much worse, the weight of belonging here is a heaviness I can’t shake. But then I think of the glister of a particular morning in springtime. I think of standing in the sunshine and watering the butterfly garden, which is mostly cultivated weeds punctuated by the uncultivated kind that come back despite my pinching and tugging. I think of the caterpillars on the milkweed plants, unperturbed by the overspray, and the resident red-tailed hawk gliding overhead, chased by a mockingbird and three angry crows, and the bluebird standing on the top of the nest box protecting his mate, who is inside laying an egg. I think of that morning—not even a morning, not even an hour—and I say to myself, Be an egg. Be a mockingbird. Be a weed.

~ Margaret Renkl, “Be A Weed” in Late Migrations: A Natural History of Love and Loss 


Notes:

New Year

 

I pause to check the milkweed, and a caterpillar halts midbite, its face still lowered to the leaf.

I walk down my driveway at dusk, and the cottontail under the pine tree freezes, not a single twitch of ear or nose.

On the roadside, the doe stands immobile, as still as the trees that rise above her. My car passes; her soft nose doesn’t quiver. Her soft flanks don’t rise or fall. A current of air stirs only the hairs at the very tip of her tail.

I peek between the branches of the holly bush, and the redbird nestling looks straight at me, motionless, unblinking.

Every day the world is teaching me what I need to know to be in the world.

In the stir of too much motion:

Hold still.
Be quiet.
Listen.

~ Margaret Renkl, “Still” in Late Migrations: A Natural History of Love and Loss


Photo Credit

At the trial of God, we will ask: why did you allow all this?

North American songbirds have been shrinking steadily in size over the past 40 years, according to scientists who measured tens of thousands of the feathered creatures from dozens of different species and attributed the changes to rising temperatures.

As the birds’ bodies got smaller, their wings gradually got longer, the scientists said in a paper published Wednesday in the journal Ecology Letters. The longer wings, the researchers said, may help offset the loss of body mass so the birds can fly efficiently on their long migrations. The changes were too small to be apparent to the naked eye, the scientists said, amounting to a gram or so in weight per bird and a few millimeters change in individual wing length…

Migrating birds in the modern world face many hazards affecting their growth and survival, from vanishing nesting grounds, dwindling food sources and pesticide use, to domestic cats, which kill up to 3 billion birds annually. Collisions with high-rise buildings kill another 600 million or so migrating birds every year.

~ Robert Lee Hotz, from “Songbirds Are Shrinking in Size, Study Finds. Scientists pin drop-off in size of North American songbirds on rising temperatures” (wsj.com, Dec 5, 2019)


Notes:

Post inspired by: “At the trial of God, we will ask: why did you allow all this? / And the answer will be an echo: why did you allow all this?”  by Ilya Kaminsky, from “A City Like a Guillotine Shivers on Its Way to the Neck,” Deaf Republic

And further inspired by: “But there’s something undoing about the dying light of mid-afternoon. In that empty old house on Marlborough Road all that had stitched me into this life came undone and I couldn’t escape the feeling that folded against my back were wings that had failed to open. ~ Niall Williams, “This Is Happiness” (Bloomsbury Publishing; December 3, 2019)

Sunday Morning

I go among trees and sit still.
All my stirring becomes quiet
around me like circles on water.
My tasks lie in their places
where I left them, asleep like cattle…
After days of labor,
mute in my consternations,
I hear my song at last,
and I sing it. As we sing,
the day turns, the trees move.

~ Wendell Berry, from “I Go Among Trees and Sit Still” in Sabbaths


Notes:

Poem: Thank you The Hammock Papers. Photo: “Sit a While” by Erik Witsoe (Poznan, Poland, Park Solacki)

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