(Becoming a Naturalist, Part 34.)
By Jack Phillips
We climb the switchback steeply up to sacred oaks living here before the first story-circle and living still. In younger days far-off I climbed temples claimed holy made of stone and bones of slaves and innocents crushed by jealous deities. Half-earth away from those blood-lusts still bleeding, this grove from sun-sugar by earth herself was grown and here we walk today.
The native humans vanquished and banished far-flung ever return in prayers and the potencies of this place. Broken humanesses expose our own exile from soil and joy too early weaned away. Souls come naked, feet step lightly on this risen land but why?
Every square rod of our world oozes melodies uttered in rutting ululations, in bullfrog sex balloons, in the gurgles of pinkish babies everywhere born. The planet pulses new moons and sunlight, carbon and fluxes and wonder fixed in tissue. On Pahuku hill every dawn whispers mysteries and sings secret fecundities, makes seen the hidden skin of the earth.
Of this Eden we have become supplicants. Trees of life bear this dome of sand and loam above Kickatuus waters. Eastern horizon made round by morning eyes, robin’s blue egg, the shell becomes sky. Belly-sweet serpents make fertile time to come. Wild fruits tempt us though not here forbidden but freely offered.
But today a giant has fallen, a keeper of stories in breath-enfleshed bones, of lifetimes forgotten remembered in wood. We walk through thorny thickets and attending generations to lay on our sadnesses and hands and to ask: what will remain of your wisdom written in xylem and phloem to earth now returning?
Answers come on sudden rain. Pawnee oaks patki-natawawi speak in tongues of water and wind, cold skin. Fungal blooms and bright lichens redeem the lost and the broken. Mud takes our feet as though bare and our bodies as somehow belonging. Wild plums yet bitter are sweet enough partaken, matter commingled with human desire. Slipping away a young woman now dances in ecstasy, wet mercies of the day.
*Photos by Robert Smith.