Ephemeral art on frozen brook by Billie Shelton.
Becoming a Naturalist, Part 47 (last Sunday’s prose-poem) by Jack Phillips
Cat tracks make ellipses on snow like a poem when they stop the silence goes deeper. Funny that Felis rufus slinks up frozen creek beds passing unseen and our un-bobcat-like stomps and skitters find around each bend her spoor.
We take our prompts from native snow-poems seeking to or wanting to believe that we can move traceless make art that begins to vanish on the making write inside-out verses deeply arising from this place that stiffly takes our feet.
We will never become native here never bones and blood by this land woven and flow. Only by longing do we belong by wildnesses here our souls awakened become the creatures that once we were by the ephemeral blessings we offer.
Coyote ellipses. Photo by Robert Smith.
To learn more about our late winter 2020 Waking the Wild workshops, visit this page.
Becoming a Naturalist, Part 46 (another prose-poem) by Jack Phillips
In human gaze they say cosmos becomes self aware (they really do say this) but we have other things to do so with the visiting band of poets having come from across the floodplain and laying aside standard grammar we ease into wolf’s milk hollow oozing of witch’s butter (some marmalade) follow crusty sunburst and wood ears and cat’s tongue and golden-eye into secret seductions the scarlet cup secretions their language belonging (like ours) to fleshly membranes on this day of Thoreau’s winter solstice for lichens and let us add to that fungi and bryophytes (some slime molds) and maybe not so much cosmic consciousness as simple creatureliness and the spores of becoming ourselves.
Read more about the TNS/UNO MFA collaborative workshops here.
*Marchandiomyces corallinus on Physcia sp. (top) and Conocephalum conicum (bottom) on December 31st, Fremont County, Iowa. Photo by Corson Androski.
The solstice has come and you may have noticed that daylight gains a bit each day. Living close to nature is a life of small blessings, a life of simple pleasures, of living in the moment where the earth takes our feet. What can we give in return?
Our friend Joelle answered: “we give to nature the quality of our attention.” She rings true of Mary Oliver: “attention is the beginning of devotion.” And Simone Weil: “attention is the purest and rarest form of generosity.”In recent months the Naturalist School has spent hundreds of hours teaching, planting natives, walking, stalking, sowing, parsing, noting, listing, listening, photographing, advocating, consulting, writing, meditating, making art, and versifying in wild and not-so-wild places.
The Naturalist School is rooted in our discovery of wild places and the wildness within, and our growing intimacy with the natural world. We are rooted in the quality of our attention, in our generosity toward each other and the creatures with whom we share this planet, this day.We depend on the generosity of our friends to continue our good work. We hope that you can walk, write, plant, saunter, do a little yoga, maybe write a poem, count toads, study liverworts, collect acorns, and chase butterflies with us in the coming year. All of this takes money, so we could use a little help with that. (Click here to make a donation.) We’ve had a wilding year and look forward to many more!
Wilder days longer,
*Photos by Robert Smith at Waubonsie State Park and at Prospect Hill, Omaha’s pioneer cemetery.
Teloschistes chrysophthalmus, one of our favorite lichens in winter. Fremont County, Iowa by Robert Smith.
Lichens, Bryophytes, and Fungi in Winter with Katie Thompson, University of Wisconsin. Sunday afternoon, December 29th at Waubonsie State Park in Fremont County, Iowa. This outdoor workshop in the rugged woodlands of the southern Loess Hills will focus on the ecology of woodland lichens, mosses, liverworts, and fungi. $20 donation. Contact Jack Phillips at email@example.com for more information and to register.
Trametes versicolor in late fall. Photo by Jack Phillips.
The Cryptogamic Mysteries: Mindful Lichens, Poetic Fungi, Bryophytes, a little light Yoga and the wearing of Good Boots with mycologist Katie Thompson (University of Wisconsin) and the faculty of The Naturalist School. Monday, 30 December at Waubonsie State Park. Poetics of Place workshops are contemplative days of nature study, poetry, and rugged hiking in wild terrain. Enrollment will be limited and a $30 donation requested. Contact Jack Phillips at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please note: this workshop is intended for adults and may not be suitable for children and dogs.
*Photo by Robert Smith.
Of poetry it is said that meaning lands between lines and finds life in spaces. Unlike pure prose, narrative, and other forms of reportage, the pared-down language of poetry, it is said, points to realities beneath and beyond. That sounds like a good walk to me.
Nature all around presents as something revealed but the wildness therein remains a mystery to be found within. Knowing the name of that bunting or wort or snail or cloud enriches the colors of our mental palettes and draws the ecological contours of the landscape. Perhaps the most potent knowing brings us to the place of not knowing, of wonder, of awe. Of mystery.
Listen to birdsong and the space between the notes. Float your mind on a spring-fed riffle or under the moaning pond-ice on a sunny December day. Peer into the algae nested in lichenized crust or the spores in mushroom gills; travel these worlds with your inner eye. See your breath combine with water in the leaf of an oak to explode into vapors and sugars for the life of the world. Feel the planet take your feet.
Still yourself long enough to feel the sun slide over your face. Read a riverbank poem and give your voice to the current. Find your skin amongst bodies in bark and slime and foliage and fur; walk with your kindred of slither and slip, feather and slink. Enter the musical silence of the few and fragile native places that remain.
Wildly Still Retreat: Sunday December 8th at Waubonsie State Park in Fremont County, Iowa. Contact Jack Phillips at email@example.com for more details, agenda, and to register.
*Photos by Emily Hergenrader (top) and Robert Smith.
Writing poetry in the woods, sauntering steeply and silently, a little yoga and a hot fire. Good boots required. Wildly Still Retreat: Sunday December 8th in Fremont County, Iowa. Contact Jack at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more.
Autumn Trims Her Tatters
(Becoming a Naturalist, Part 45) by Jack Phillips
Instead of being helpful to my consorting naturalist as she worked an inventory of urban spaces bursting forth in primal wildnesses (native fertilities latent not lost) I distracted her with a poem about knowing not-knowing and not knowing not-knowing and finding self-losing and to humor me she took a photo of the page but still I fell in lost and wandered myself between lines and in that moment proved the worth of Te Ching on a coffee break.
My book makes the claim that the Cosmos becomes self-awakened in poetry and that must be some heck of a poem (but okay fine Lao Tzu) so I read that same poem to my friends this morning after a bit of yoga in the woods and being the season of wander (daylight fair and footfall crunchy) we happen upon basking snakes and follow woodpeckers pounding make our way to grandmother oak in the gray-soft brown woods with coral-berries and raspberry canes.
The Cosmos awake or not I do not know but the breath that draws words across the page and twitters against the blue and chitters in thickets and bubble-up springs (crusty edges tuning-up ice harps) and dry cottonwood sighs and ancient poets writing in short phrases this day writes long lines weaves long walks on gentle rises (some steep) and commas and stops can get in the way as November makes a grammar of tumble and flow a prose-poem:
When autumn lately trims her tatters songbirds tug her loosened frays dream-frogs wear a muddy slip sleeping hickories butter the sky oaks blush in russets narrow days soften winter pokes a finger in the eye of the Cosmos closes a little fattening darkness lays the weight of ebony against the paling sky sun enough for faces and land enough for longing desires slide easy on earthen curves and foxes grow ghostly egos efface longer dawns open to hazel days and passions expand to gather more light.
Photos by Emily Hergenrader.
Days of contemplative Saunters, poetry, deep silence, mindful meditation, and quiet conversation in the rugged woods and by a warming fire.
November 10th and December 8th in Iowa’s southern Loess Hills. Presented by the TNS faculty. For more information, agenda, and to register, contact Jack Phillips at email@example.com.
(Photos by Robert Smith)
Wildly Still* A day of wild contemplation and mindful walking in the autumn-still woods of the Loess Hills.
This is an indoor and outdoor small-group retreat presented by TNS faculty. Participants should be prepared for outdoor activity beautifully rugged walking. Sunday, November 10th at Waubonsie State Park. Contact Jack Phillips at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information and to register. *Note: this retreat is intended for adult humans who desire a quiet day of connecting more deeply with nature and may not be suitable for children and dogs. (Loess Hills Saunter photo by Troy Soderberg.)
Friends, we have been busy.
We discover and grow wildness within and all around us throughout the year. In the past few months, The Naturalist School has:
- Conducted learning-based biological surveys of plants, birds, fungi, odonates, and other taxa for conservation easements and nature preserves in eastern Nebraska and Iowa’s Loess Hills.
- Sponsored a series of workshops for poets and artists in wild places.
- Collected locally-wild seed for our native tree-planting projects.
- Established an arboretum in Omaha’s Old Market with the Downtown Improvement District.
- Helped home-owners create backyard habitats for birds and pollinators.
- Taught local ecology and planted trees with elementary school students.
- Created a “shack simple” Sunday residency series for wild writers in winter.
- Initiated a Pawnee oak preservation project on a historic sacred site.
- Presented nature-writing workshops with University of Nebraska at Omaha Master of Fine Arts students.
- Banded owls along the Kickatuus River.
- Welcomed and included artists-in-residence from the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts in our various activities.
- Invited people from all walks to join us for quiet and contemplative walks (“Saunters”) in the Loess Hills and on the bluffs along the Platte River.
- Partnered with Tallgrass Prairie Oak Savanna Fire Science Consortium/University of Wisconsin on workshops for land managers.
- Hosted a tree-planting day at North Omaha’s Prospect Hill Cemetery with The Union for Contemporary Arts.
- Donated and planted wild native trees in local nature preserves
- Partnered with an Omaha high school to plant bird and pollinator outdoor classroom.The Omaha Community Foundation has made it easier for our friends to join and support us. Help us discover and grow wildness in our communities and in our lives by making a donation here: https://www.omahagives.org/thenaturalistschool
But even more, come and join us in the bush!
Photo credits from top: Chelsea Balzer, Robert Smith, Max Soderberg.