The Naturalist School is on pandemic hiatus but poets were nonetheless observed at social distance on the first morning of summer. Photo by Shyla Punteney.
Spike and First Funk of Summer
(Becoming a Naturalist Part 56)
by Jack Phillips
So boasted Thoreau of milking the sky for metaphors but why drink of grammars and not of the earth herself trade bottle for the udder and bobber for the carp sucking trope and rhyme not nectar and blood?
The forest gives us birdsong the canopy leaks of tanagers a bass parting duckweed in flight grabs a dragonfly a fungus from a stump coyote on a kill a hole in the solstice dribbles out toads.
Write your odes to nature but praise the tick and spike and funk the itch that reminds you that language is made of spit and of tongue every thought has a scent every poem comes with juices.
They say in these woods the poets go naked and above in high meadows but alone on the bank in flannel and barefoot the morning is cool. Does a poem spawn within her or stick with the muck or skitter with turtle as she dips in the pond?
Uvularia grandiflora in western Iowa’s Loess Hills, late May. Bellwort has rarely been documented in this region, the extreme western reach of its range. Photo by Robert Smith.
One most likely finds this magic
in climes much wetter more mossy and rarely
at times delights a wildling a feral-poet or fae
who ponders these deeply vagrant ravines
who ventures a gaze too steep are these hollows
so seemingly elsewhere but here.
*Becoming a Naturalist Part 55 by Jack Phillips.
Friends of The Naturalist School, please remember us on Wednesday, May 20th for Omaha Gives!
We’re looking forward to our weekly workshops and saunters when we can gather once again, but in the meantime we’re still counting dragonflies and other marvelous creatures, creating chemical-free urban nature preserves, saving and planting native trees, and supporting our friends in their search for a deeper intimacy with the natural world.
We’ll see you in the bush before too long, we hope!
— Jack Phillips
*White-faced meadow-hawk (Sympetrum obtrusum) during an early morning odonate survey in Harrison County, Iowa. Photo by Robert Smith.
We give our hands to healing earth, put skin to good science, add our quiet voices to the music of woods and meadows, open ourselves to creativity within and all around and to help others do the same.
Even now in these pandemic days, The Naturalist School friends and members continue our work each in our own way, earth in our hands and under our feet, exploring wildness where we find it and making our back yards and neighborhoods ever wilder.
We hope to see you when we can gather again, but for now you can join us in the work of wildness with a contribution in any amount. Please remember us for Omaha Gives!
Peace and frog-songs and robins galore,
(Photos by Robert Smith and his phone during TNS outings and planting days. Yard sign by Joelle Wellansa)
Becoming a Naturalist (a prose-poem*) Part 54 by Jack Phillips
Flamed tiger-snail (Anguispira alternata) in Harrison County, Iowa. Photo by Neal Ratzlaff.
The moon of May is the flower moon but it might as well be the frog moon or bunting moon or the flamed-tiger moon because frogs are mating songbirds breeding woodland snails are coupling she pulls the tides the primal waters in every cell a sea of being exactly as full on earth as she is in heaven. The better and wilder and wetter part of me loves the wane and wax the dark side and bright and like our sister moon we (all of us) live by given light.
* For Megan Hunt in response to her series of questions. For a longer version of the prose-poem, see Senator Hunt’s newsletter here.
During these days of social distancing, The Naturalist School is devoted still and always to the consilience of science and humanities, ecology and creativity.
This spring we continue to work with the Omaha Old Market Arboretum, teach backyard ecology projects to create native and chemical-free habitats, mentor nature writing and eco-poetics through on-line programs, help our friends create pollinator lawns, provide planters with our locally-wild saplings, consult for urban re-wilding and tree preservation, conduct biotic surveys for conservation partners, and support our members and friends on their journeys to a more mindful and deeper intimacy with the natural world.
Please donate to our good work and join us in the bush when we can gather again!
Peace and frog-songs,
*Bur oak in flower in Fremont County, Iowa; mycology with Katie Thompson. Photos by Robert Smith.
Becoming a Naturalist (Part 53) prose-poem by Jack Phillips
Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) in a forgotten corner of Billie’s neighborhood in Pottawattamie County, Iowa. Photo by Billie Shelton
Not this time with friends or in a native place I wander my home-woods today and lay me down in dappled shade of yet bare branches so happy for the snoozy puppy on a heap of leaves beside me the wilds of my body given here to ground.
Beneath and above and around and within the sweet slink of rhiza the lining of a lung and salamander skin the earthen oozing of fecundities and funk (here dreaming of ripe juneberry and summer plum) the glide under a snail awash in inky night the swollen dawn in words and weep and blackbird gurgles.
Nature may ask of us silence and solitude but the promiscuous come-alongs of which Thoreau complained I have come to cherish and my backyard not-so-much a Walden has no less bloodroot viola crow’s foot waterleaf confusing spring warblers and that’s what you get when you never mow (or seldom) a mouse in a woodpile a fox sliding over the fence let the neighbors complain our children came up happy.
Life abides on a slippery film the soft the slick the lyric. We are no less wild than ever needing only to feel in us the pump and ripple we share with the sweet and the beastly to ride the spin of spirit and the firm and soon to find our feet with prodigal friends the good the wild beloved.
Bloodroot and bedstraw in my back yard, the result of a ban on mowing and pesticides, and a healthy population of symbiotic ants.
Becoming a Naturalist (Part 52) prose-poem by Jack Phillips
Fairy spuds (Claytonia virginica, spring beauty) blooms in early April in Sarpy County Nebraska. Photo by Neal Ratzlaff.
Ursa helps the daughters of Atlas escape Orion in chase and to the west the crescent cup fills with daybreaks leaking from elsewhere at dawn spills claytonia fairy-spuds and fawn-lilies soon to come bloodroot and dicentra bloomers starry Solomon’s seal asters in the meadow moonseed by the creek earthstar fungus and geometer worm Pleiades on a woodpecker’s back a galaxy on the belly of a toad the map of heaven in morning and mud.
Becoming a Naturalist, Part 51 by Jack Phillips
This dawn the equinox moon is waning a black belly with a left-handed crescent and waxing with frog bubbles puff-up sparrows ferny fiddleheads popping bloodroot in vernal burgeoning. Certain poets (the Beats in particular) prescribe some shack simple those rough-hewn days of dharmas and canned beans in a far-out hovel to revive the talent for being on earth and a wider sky to wander the skills to deeply breathe and be. But a shack is not required only the space a body takes not silence but stillness enough to let a spider finish a thought not in the woods necessarily but somewhere finding ferity maybe not barefoot but ever stepping softly not poetry per se but the creaturely exuberance of waking up.
*Early spring in the Loess Hills, Harrison County, Iowa. Photo by Robert Smith.
Amphibians of the temperate latitudes have marvelous and sundry ways to embrace every season and we no less miss them on our winter Saunters. We let ourselves be surprised to see them year after year through the ice and sometimes on it and around the shrinking edges, grateful each day for a frog-now.
Naturalists love the spin and ride of the cosmos but sometimes we need be reminded to wildly live each day and frogs are good at that. Soon they will enliven us with their sonic fertilities but for now we are just happy to see our slippery kin. It has been too long! — Jack Phillips
(Plains leopard frog Lithobates blairi in Washington County Nebraska on February 22nd, 2020. Photo by Troy Soderberg.)
The Fruit and Fate of Throat-songs
Becoming a Naturalist, Part 50 by Jack Phillips
Last week our teacher asked unanswerable questions and this morning we are taught to look for answers inside the questions and why look for answers anyway just love the questions and live them so I follow a ravel of poets to a frozen brook to look for fresh questions.
Where does a frog keep his mating songs in the flatness of winter? Maybe in his head. But summer-songs require an inflatable organ so how could his little brain hold them already packed with dragonfly strategies? Are they kept in cold mud-bubbles to tune the next chorus or saved in sex-dreams to kindle the next heat?
Or having risen from the pond do Anuran melodies seed the heavens with amphibious rain as Aristotle believed from clouds the frogs and kin are born? Or are they tucked in a musical sac the skin-bag of fertility the tissues of sticky vocabularies? And what of us? Is a poet a thin membrane that fills then withers when nature seems elsewhere?
Winter is neither slumber nor repose rather a slowly opening eyelid an in-breath before April. Fecundities pool and swirl ready to gush in milt and eggs then larvae the fruit and fate of throat-songs. But what of the humans here dreaming of spring?
In every season the spawn of these waters spins the wheel of the cosmos gives to the moon the stretch of skin and to souls the shape of the earth. From winter comes primal voices soon to swallow my head in song my person in vernal ripples. The creek is still but the frog-pond is awake.