Tiger Moon of May

Becoming a Naturalist (a prose-poem*) Part 54 by Jack Phillips


flamed tiger snail ratzlaff

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.

Devoted Still and Always


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,

Jack Phillips

Donate here

*Bur oak in flower in Fremont County, Iowa; mycology with Katie Thompson. Photos by Robert Smith.

Sheltering in Home-woods

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. 




April Spills of Sisters

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.

Somewhere Finding Ferity

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.

Each Day a Frog-now

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.


Why Wild Poems



Mary Oliver famously said that she could not be a poet without the natural world and many nature-poets would agree. But does the natural world need poets? 

Song Sparrowtroysoderberg

In the company of other naturalists, artists, and wild philosophers of our ilk we can say “yes!” because we connect with the creative energies of the cosmos in our own creativity. Perhaps the natural world does not need poets exactly, but the future of the planet depends on creative and compassionate human beings. Wildly writing poetry is good for that.

Every now and then we save some wildly-written poems — instead of giving them to the earth or to the fire — and sometimes even share them in public. Last Saturday our friend Joelle Wellansa recited her poems at Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts in Omaha. I hope you love them as much as I do.

— Jack Phillips

joelleatBemis EmilyHergenrader



Each sparrow lands and jitters

Takes up residence in the corner of my eye

Then vanishes quickly over my doorstep


Horned Howl

I bend my knees

We watch, mouths gaping

We listen, and hear nothing 


Then screeching

Then memories

Then sadness



A birds shadow strikes the dirt

A blink of light redirected

So am I



In the distant sky, Turkey vultures drift

on a gentle current


Their hypnotic rotations immobilizing,

Stirring up a terrible dream


The Swallow

One quick swallow dips on wings

Too fast to know where she intends to be led

Carried by her soft carriage

A conduit of light


In my field

Extension of sky

Collection of water

The ancient color repeats her wings

Blue heron elopes with my eyes 




(Photos: Song Sparrow by Troy Soderberg; Joelle by Emily Hergenrader)

Hunger-moon’s Wander


February hollow. (Troy Soderberg.)


Prose-poem by Jack Phillips (Becoming a Naturalist, Part 49)

The bitter wind cleanses my palette clears my animal brain for making each slippery step an intention a heel-toe meditation with companions on the frozen swamp we forage the berries ripened months ago now fermented sugars extra sweet today these winter fruits of possums and robins and waxwings and wandering the fat moon of February the hunger moon so called by those walking early this land and the snow moon by other poets. But hunger is more reliable.



Coralberry (Symphoricarpos orbiculatus) in winter, Harrison County, Iowa. Birds and other animals and sometimes naturalists wait for winter fermentation to sweeten the bitter fruits. Troy Soderberg.

February/March Waking the Wild workshops. Details here.

Shadow Sutras


Courtney’s shadow sutra from our last retreat. (Courtney Stormberg.)


Becoming a Naturalist (Part 48) by Jack Phillips


Canopies draw lines on the sky in narrow light become veins then a web then sutras stitch the world the thin waters of my eyes and the rest of me. 

Write bird-songs in the snow a thumb for a crow a pinky a chickadee come spring do frogs in the mud by the pond. 

Bodies always becoming even in winter ever emerging from desire burning deeply our love of this earth.

Be known by these woods feel a thousand eyes upon you one flesh among many make shadows with the same sun lay lyrics on the land. 



Courtney follows Felis rufus.

Shadow Sutras workshop series winter 2020: for details contact Jack at thenaturalistschool@gmail.com .