Pupils of Blue

Winter wildlings,

Last Thursday was oddly mild for an Iowa January. When I caught up with some poets in a high ridgetop meadow I found them lying in bluestem and switchgrass in the midmorning sun, reposing in meadow-grasses pupils of the blue. Still a little dozy, we together wove a poem. Bright sun fresh lines warm friends, sometimes winter makes the best day.

– Jack Phillips

*A moment-poem expresses the experience of a single moment in a way that draws us in. The most well-known form is haiku with strict rules in the traditional sense, but for us the honest, bodily, direct and unmediated encounter with a native place is what we’re after. A spontaneous poem becomes part of that place and brings us deeper still; weaving them together binds us to a cosmic community. Photos by Billie Shelton (top) and Katie Sutko Twit, Harrison County, Iowa.

First-morning Poem

Morning Nuthatches

Even on this sharp dawn eleven days into the solar year a thousand eyes shine images, creaturely windows into waking being. We can deny our true bodyselves but here in cold wildnesses not so, stirring earth into bluey-black comes orange her original skin and ours. 


Those who live by daylength measure time a little differently – the turn of the Solstice stretches the days and us – but is not every dawn a new awakening? And as it happened our last full moon landed on the Solstice or close enough with the new lunar year landing with her. Whenever it comes to each of us; that is, the feeling of hope and stretch and aborning of something wild and new, we can see the coming days opening before us. And our souls as well.

Feral days,

Jack Phillips

*Red-breasted nuthatch (Sitta canadensis) on the eve of Solstice, Washington County, Nebraska by Troy Soderberg. You can find them in the woodlands of western Iowa and eastern Nebraska right now, accompanied by their white-breasted cousins (S. carolinensis). For best results, wear good socks. **January 1st 2022 morning prose poem by Jack. 

The Moon, a Lune, an Owl.

Cold full moon


a snowy owl. 

*Snowy owl (Bubo scandiacus) in Saunders County, Nebraska just before the Solstice. Photo by Kirby Zicafoose. Lune by Jack Phillips.

A lune? Winter is given to spare poetry and for this haiku is perfect. A lune is an American form of haiku and like other variants, it seeks to express the simplicity of the Japanese form in American idiom. We love to write them. A lune can follow a 5/3/5 pattern or 3/5/3; sometimes words are counted as in the method developed by beat-poet Jack Collom. The original form developed by poet Robert Kelly counts syllables. The wild poets in our coterie are less interested in counting and more concerned with shape and feel — the lines should make a crescent waxing or waning and the arc of the syllables should conform easily with a moonish sigh: oh… see the moon? oo… an owl!

Dawn’s Meditation

She sows the seeds of self-seeded souls of lives that are lived as given.

*Photos by TNS member Joe Janowski, during his dawn meditation at Glacier Creek Preserve, Douglas County, Nebraska.

**Poem at first light on Thanksgiving Day, 2021 by Jack Phillips. This poem takes the shape of American sentence, a modern form of one-line haiku. If you write a poem at the beginning of the day as many of our members do, the one-line haiku is a simple form that can help us to live the reality of a single moment. The standard conformation comprises 17 syllables, but counting is not as important as creaturely presence. And gratitude.

Notes from Mother Oak

Listen in close the first note of Mother Tree’s canopy pumpkin burns eyes of sky 

gives up beauty a gossamer spring (as sadly hunters knock on heaven) our  

feet hold the memory fallen tree holds our bodies warming earth 

gives a little more time whilst dancing leaves turn your friends to swaying take

just as long as they do.

* Our exquisite corpse, a collective poem to which each poet blindly contributes a line or phrase following a rule or theme — in this case a Samhain circle in the oak-hickory woods — as we ourselves are wildly drawn together. Photos by Tessa Wedberg and Jack Phillips. Poem by Kara, Barb, Joelle, Billie, Corson, Dana, Laura, Tessa, and Jack.

And zugunruhe to you!

Dearest wild octoberlings, 

If you have been just now in the bush you have been seeing more snakes solitary birds now social (and obviously foxes) wee snapping turtles (lately hatched and yet to harden) gatherings of dragonflies to migrate (or just plain hungry) fungi in the throes of day-glow gigantisms and poets having no time for line-breaks or commas. Between the equinox and Samhain (say it: saw-win) is the time of zugunruhe the autumn toddler pitching a tantrum (at bedtime) the season of restive hubbub when October rolls over to steal the blankets a river’s barefoot dreaming (just yesterday) the only tadpoles left are the big ones (ripe hackberries some plums) later dawns and sooner moons of quietly disquieted sauntering letting nature have the last word as always we must, and do. 

Better get to it,

Jack Phillips

Mid-Ocotober zugunruhe in eastern Nebraska. Giant puffball (Calvatia gigantea), black-footed polypore (Polyporous badius), Douglas County; white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus), Saunders County. Photos by Troy Soderberg.

October Damsels

October Damsels*

One normally thinks orange and hickory-butter on backside of equinox and less so blue below the eyelid of sky but one of our bluets (the odonata of autumn) may live a whole lifetime between two moons the sum of all colors come October and finding the unworn light we barefoot the still-warm river, not a bad way to spend most of your mornings or one. 

*You might have expected another one but I have to tell you my friends, It really works. Composing a poem feet in the river good boots on the trail makes us slower, quieter. Avoid heavy rhymes and correct punctuation — they make it harder to see and frighten the frogs. (Enallagma civile, photo by Troy Soderberg in autumn, Washington County, Nebraska. Prose poem by Jack Phillips.)

Round and Round

Black Elk’s vision as told to John Neihardt colors the cosmos in yellow and blue, red and white — round corners of the Sacred Hoop — and Native American medicine wheels throughout. These sacred colors imbue the spiritual imagination of our planet and brighten our local woods and haunts. And when the morning reflects and our celestial orb rounds just so, we get purples and oranges and hues in between.

Gray hairstreak on bee-balm at Pahaku, sacred Pawnee site in Eastern Nebraska. Photo by Neal Ratzlaff.

And sometimes the Sacred Hoop makes a garden. The Naturalist School celebrated Neihardt Day where Joelle Sandfort and I read our Sacred Hoop poems in the garden designed by Neihardt himself. The hoop is cosmic and ever local, never bound by present time and space, but always found in the present. Find it where wildly you walk.

Round and round, 

Jack Phillips   

Jack and Joelle were joined by Tree Keeper Rocco Stormberg Hinrichs for Neihardt Day. Photo by Robert Smith.

Read more about TNS at the Neihardt Center here: https://thenaturalistschool.org/sacred-hoop-ecology

Mesodon Dances

Mesodon thyroidus in a riparian ravine in Saunders County Nebraska. Video by Troy Soderberg.


The cosmos dances a secret dance and sometimes we catch a glimpse. But you have to be open to seeing it and of course, spend some early mornings in a meadow or in the wooded wild. Go.


Jack Phillips

Comes with Thumbs

Plestiodon septentrionalis, northern prairie skink in Saunders County Nebraska on July 6th, 2021. Photo by Neal Ratzlaff.

Hysterical Wounds of Wonder*

Something makes a rustle a fox (silently most usually slinks) or a toadlet barely a tadpole fantasy a poet folding a scrap of a poem or dryad shifting her saddle or ancestor spirits coming home late (did someone lose a lens cap) the weight of sketch in a notebook or sound of slowly days getting shorter but wait (!) a little lizard a shiny-stripe slither those tiny hands they even have thumbs. Herptile delights usually draw me in but I learned in my youth that hysterical skinks will cast their writhing tails at the gentlest gesture (maimed and scarred and ever to bear the wounds of my wonder) and earth-loving grows with every footstep lighter.

*Prose poem by Jack Phillips