Frozen Poem on a Frog Pond

The sharp sound of beaks and bubblers

Softened by frog spots and sparrows

Suspended in time, like the air trapped beneath our feet

Gliding along the surface like boatmen

With the help of nature’s breath

A crack and car’s rumble return the body I occupy 

Jagged contours – nature-made armors – protect the fragile leaf.

Words and images by Kristin Zahra, on a frozen pond in Fremont County, Iowa.

Solstice Cosmogonies

***

A little time passed,     a little bit passed quickly.

A goldeneye came, a straight-flying bird     it fluttered about

Seeking a place for its nest,     considering a place to live…

So then the mother of the water,     mother of the water, virgin of the air,

Raised her knee from the sea,     her shoulder blade from a billow,

For the goldeneye as a place for a nest,     as an agreeable dwelling place.

…On it she builds her nest     laid her golden eggs,

…Suddenly she twitched her knee,     make her sinews tremble;

the eggs tumbled into the water, are sent into the waves of the sea;

the eggs cracked into pieces,     broke into bits.

The eggs did not get into the ooze,     the bits not get mixed up with the water.

The bits were turned into fine things,     the pieces into beautiful things:

the lower half of one egg     into the earth beneath,

the top of half of another egg     into the heavens above.

The top half of one yolk     gets to glow like the sun,

the top half of one white     gets to gleam palely like the moon;

any mottled things on an egg,     those became stars in heaven,

Anything black on an egg,     those indeed became clouds in the sky. 

***

Feral Friends,

Every year to welcome the Solstice we gather on a pond or near one (sometimes a river) to read from the Kalevala, the compendium of ancient Finnish creation stories. Solstice is the perfect day and the beginning of the new solar year; this year doubly so, as the new moon comes tomorrow. A far-north cosmogony works well in Iowa when our glassy pond moans and cracks to give birth to something new. May we find ourselves cracked open and blessed and the frozen soul freed – brightened and warmed – under the mottled sky.

A yolk for the sun and eggwhite moon,

Jack Phillips

***Photos by Kristin Zahra, Fremont County, Iowa.

Giving Wildly

Feral Faithful,

With the coming of the Solstice we will begin our 20th year. Since the formative days on Mendums Pond near Barrington, New Hampshire, we have planted, sauntered, written poetry, made ephemeral art, and helped countless people of all walks grow closer to nature. 

We have helped homeowners eliminate dangerous toxins from their property and lives, save water, reduce emissions, and go native. We have documented thousands of native creatures and rescued countless turtles, ducks and frogs from traffic, planted trees with school kids and residents of a homeless shelter. We have taught classes for arborists, architects, yogis, foresters, massage therapists, lumberjacks and land managers. 

We have built miles of trails and helped to write preservation plans, collaborated with filmmakers and artists and indigenous healers. We once met in Aldo Leopold’s shack. We have brewed naturalists in small batches across the continent and closer to home in the Missouri River watershed and the Platte, Nodaway, and Nishnabotna too.

Together we have discovered ways to heal the planet and the earth under our feet — barefoot in our boots. You can learn more about our current projects on the Support Rewilding 2022/2023 page above. And as you wander the website, you can learn about our history, our collaborators, and the work that we do.

Our members and friends have made this possible with wild energy and passion, poetry and hand tools, homemade soup and ginger snaps. But anyone can help us to keep and grow our programs by making a donation and asking your friends and colleagues to do the same. Clink on the Donate and Join us page to make a donation.

And if you love contemplative walks, planting acorns, wild silences, reading the bellies of tadpoles and want to connect more deeply with the creative rhythms of the cosmos, join us! Contact me at thenaturalistschool@gmail.com to learn how.

Peace and be wilder,

Jack

*Dark-eyed junco (Junco hyemalis) in Washington County, Nebraska. Photo Troy Soderberg. Troy’s photography is featured in previous posts and throughout the website.

Walking Lunes

soft is the light

and the skin

and the seed pod

*Kristin Zahra

*Troy Soderberg

Feral Friends, 

Like the crescent moon, a poem can wax or wane; three simple lines can reveal the contours of wild silences and draw us in. An American form of haiku — the lune — forms a crescent, waning or waxing, without the constraints of syllabic count. It is the perfect form as the shortest days of the year ring the solstice, simple days of beauty and stillness, waning days soon to wax. Some of our friends  can even write a lune with a camera, like Kristin’s waning lune (top) and Troy’s waxing lune. See how the crescents curve this way and that? With every walk in a wild place (or a wild walk in any place) we write a lune with our feet as we follow the round of the earth. 

Can you feel it?

Jack Phillips

Trading Bluebirds

Feral friends,

Seems that the confluence of the Blood Moon, lunar eclipse, Sauin, going off daylight-savings time and not to mention the midterm elections has dithered and kerfuffled many among us greatly. But those of us devoted to rewildling the soul and the world around us take joy in earlier moons and later dawns, the rhythms of day-lengths and the waxing of lunes and of course the trading of bluebirds and changing of leaves. If you are just too busy to measure your days (and your life!) thusly, perhaps a little time in the woods or in an autumn meadow might be just the thing. Leave your phone behind. Read a wild poem or write one.

Consult the moon,

Jack Phillips

Trading Bluebirds

My friend reported hey my bluebirds are back and lest you think no big deal they were here all summer same goes for robins sometimes sapsuckers – but no. These winter squatters northern feather-peddlers boreal storytellers fill the bird-shaped spaces when Sauin travels to Solstice (and Gaia warms her bottom) with the southering sun.

Photos: Eastern bluebird (Sialia sialis), winter resident in Fremont County Iowa. Summer bluebird tending a nest box in Washington County Nebraska. Photos by Troy Soderberg. Prose poem by Jack Phillips.

Samhain Spins

Feral Friends,

As long as the earth has spun her way around the sun there has been Samhain, Sauin — in any case pronounced sah-win to mark the halfway point between the autumnal equinox and the winter solstice. As she rounds herself round the primal tide within the cell of every living thing desires the moon, this year to our eyes less than half but nonetheless always full. And so it is for the lovers of moons and juncos, russet rustles and the lingering of crickets, just one more time turtles belly-up logs on a thin afternoon under low-slung sun, looping buteos, stripping canopies showing off muscles. We can almost believe that we spin this orb under our feet with just the right poem, October at our backs, the weight of an eyelid on the cloudy horizon and a path that turns us ever wilder.

Love November in the woods,

Jack Phillips

Photos: Loess Hills Saunter by Kristin Zahra. Poets under Grandmother Oak by someone using Kristin’s phone.

Pondering the Last Sunday of Summer

Poets on a pond, 4 days before the autumnal equinox in Fremont County, Iowa.

Feral Friends,

Funny how close you can get to a turtle in a canoe, as those who might eat them tend to approach from above or below. Perhaps in silence — save for the reading of a poem by Natalie Diaz or one of our own composing — we move as tracelessly as the passing of days. The planetary impress of human presence grows ever heavier, but those that dip lightly in lyric and paddle write the lines of kinship. Or maybe we remind them of a distant cousin they knew so long, long ago. 

Welcome the Equinox in quiet awe. Turn off your phone.

Jack Phillips

Eastern painted turtles (Chrysemys picta) pondering poets, Fremont County, Iowa.

Turtles by Kristin Zahra, poets by Jack using Kristin’s phone.

Serpentine Resistance

Wild Friends, 

You may have heard that a small group of poets have been keeping Sunday morning vigil by a recently-poisoned pond to witness her recovery. 

She is coming around slowly. Our friends Emily and Angelica scooped a wee serpent from the muddy edge. The summerling Thamnophis radix tried to make tough but we loved that little one even more – inspiring us instead of instilling fear. This small act of defiance helped us feel better about the pond or at least, more hopeful. 

Let the little ones show us the way.

– Jack Phillips

Photos by Emily Anderson, August 14th in Fremont County, Iowa.

Love Little

Wild friends,

A favorite pond breeds the world’s smallest flowering plants and Iowa’s smallest frogs. Duckweeds (family Lemnoideae) look like wee lily pads and it takes a whole bunch of them to hold a baby frog of the family Hylidae. Blanchard’s cricket frog, Acris blanchardii (photo above) is listed as endangered in surrounding states, but we are blessed with plenty right here. Tiny hylids and the diminutive duckweeds that support them enliven our waters and are vital to our ecosystems. And of course to mindful pond-seers as they bring us closer, grow our little devotion.

Love little,

Jack Phillips

thenaturalistschool@gmail.com

Photo by Courtney Stormberg

Bee of Green Desires

Unaware of living she simply lives and lusting only for fragrance and the vagrancy of desire, arches her back. 

Tiny native bee of the genus Augochlorella, Fremont County, Iowa.

We love to write flash poetry — sometimes called micropoems — because they carry the rawness of a hungry bee on a blurry thistle, a brief breeze on a humid morning. When you write one it sharpens the moment and when you read it later it takes you back. You can share it like a photo on your phone and maybe next time your friends will join us in a wet meadow.

*Photos by Kristin Zahra, poem by Jack Phillips.