Wilder by the Season

Friends, we have been busy.

plantingfacesmarch 2019

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.seed-collecting-late-octoberThe 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.







After Oliver and Thoreau


October Saunter in Iowa’s Loess Hills. Photo by Robert Smith.


An October Saunter: after Oliver and Thoreau.

Sunday October 6th, 2019 at Waubonsie State Park, Fremont County, Iowa. A rugged and contemplative Saunter* (after the manner of Thoreau) with readings from Mary Oliver. Contact Jack Phillips at thenaturalistschool@gmail.com. Please note: This Saunter is intended for adult humans and will not be appropriate for children or dogs.

*What is a Saunter? click here.

Summer Spun Undone

Becoming a Naturalist (Part 44), a short prose-poem by Jack Phillips


Now summer at most is slung behind her loom runs short on day length a bashful girl her feet in the water spins lines and loops in waxing she weaves in waning comes unspun. But what does she do when it splits down the autumn not egg nor toadlet a half-moon tadpole with legs? 

Equinox two-faced laughs just this way and that night as fat as day the golden orb devouring her midnight web at dawn I will gather strings in my beard so let me go first on the trail. We will replace those sticky lines with verses tumbled and strung the stretch of our musings.


Equinox Waking the Wild: writing poetry, walking silently, and a little light yoga in the Loess Hills. Sunday morning September 29th at Waubonsie State Park. See details under the orb weaver below.

October Saunter: walking wildly after Oliver and Thoreau. Sunday morning October 6th at Waubonsie State Park.  Contact Jack at thenaturalistschool@gmail.com. 

(September spun, photo by Robert Smith.)

Equinox Waking the Wild

Writing Poetry, Walking Silently, and a little light Yoga in the Loess Hills


Furrow orb weaver (Larinioides cornutus) contributed to our TNS gathering on September 15th. Photo by Robert Smith.

Sunday September 29th at Waubonsie State Park* in Fremont County, Iowa. Presenters: Genevieve Williams, Katie Sutko Twit,  and Jack Phillips. No experience is required; only curiosity and the desire to grow closer to wild nature through creative writing and mindful attention. This workshop will be limited to a small group of wild seekers and nature lovers, so sign up soon!

Contact Jack for details, agenda, what to bring, and to register. Please note that rugged terrain can be expected and walking my be challenging.

*No entrance fee to the park is required for this workshop. This workshop is intended for adults and will not be suitable for children or dogs.

Fatter-day Oaks

The first acorns of the season fatten and now is the time to hike, learn oaky science, and behold the rich fecundity of shorter days.


Acorn Science: Saturday, August 31st at Waubonsie State Park, Fremont County Iowa. Presented by Jack Phillips and sponsored by Golden Hills RC&D.

0830 – noon. Contact Jack Phillips at thenaturalistschool@gmail.com to register.

Bur oak acorn, photo by Robert Smith.

Windy Chasing Dragons


When a film-maker asked to chase dragonflies it sounded like fun and that is what I would be doing anyway so we did and it was. Sloshing windy floodwaters an overcast day sluggish odonates makes, making difficult quarry a little less so and so we did and indeed they were.

12-spotted skimmerRS

Every day we find our wildest selves released in creativity freed. A naturalist is an artist on foot and these beautiful wilds a poem ever becoming, “what would a better poet look like?” my friend asked me and it is a good summer for tree-frogs today.


Film-maker Emma Piper-Burket joined us for wild forays during her residency at Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts.  Photos by Jack Phillips using Emma’s phone. 12-spotted skimmer by Robert Smith.


We welcomed 2019 Bemis artists-in-residence from The U.S., Canada, and Australia. We will miss our new and wild friends Richard Ibghy, Marilou Lemmens, Isadora Vaughan, Emma Piper-Burket, Raven Chacon, J.C. Todd, curator Sylvie Fortin, and Columbia University scholar Robert O’Meally. With good fortune we will find them wildly again! Visit Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts.

We meet Sunday mornings throughout the year, often on Saturdays and during the week as well. If learning nature face to face, walking thoughtfully in prairies and woodlands, doing wild art and deep ecology sounds good to you, contact me at thenaturalistschool@gmail.com.

And frogs,

Jack Phillips

Walking Wild the Soul

Sunday mornings, waking the wild, walking the soul.


What a good season for frogs, hot-humid and wet. Gray tree frog, Hyla sp. in Saunders County, Nebraska. Photo by Robert Smith

Contemplative walking, wild poetry, mindful moments, and deep ecology in rugged places. Contact Jack Phillips at thenaturalistschool@gmail.com . Curiosity and good boots required. Long pants and bug spray.


Saturday Oaks, Sunday Saunter


common yellowthroat

In July, a common yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas) in Iowa’s southern Loess Hills. Photo by Nic Salick.

Oak woodland ecology, phenology, and environmental cues. Saturday morning, August 10th in Fremont County, Iowa. Sponsored by Golden Hills RC&D in Partnership with The Naturalist School. Presenter: Jack Phillips

Sunday morning odonate contemplations and meditations on W. S. Merwin. Guided by TNS faculty. August 11th, Fremont County, Iowa.

Contact Jack Phillips for more information and to register: thenaturalistschool@gmail.com

*Please note: these intensive small-group experiences, held in rugged terrain, are intended for adults.


Early-morning late-July Saunter and odonate survey on a high bluff in Saunders County, Nebraska. Photo by Robert Smith.

Waning Gibbous Workshops

July workshops on the back side of the full moon.


A female meadowhawk  (Sympetrum sp.) in Harrison County, Iowa. Photo by Robert Smith. Female meadowhawks are difficult to identify, but delight us no less.

Sunday, July 21st: Poetry of Wild Presences: a day of mindful meditation and wildly writing poems with birds, dragonflies, Todd Robinson, Chelsea Balzer, Jeremy Buethe, and frogs. 9am to 3pm, Waubonsie State Park. $25 donation.

Sunday, July 28th: Dragonflies on the Kickatuus: identification on the wing with Jack Phillips and local odonate specialists Janis and Don Paseka. Saunders County, Nebraska.

Contact me for details, agenda, how to register and what to bring. We keep the groups small, so let me know soon. Jack: thenaturalistschool@gmail.com .


Mindful moving…


meditation with…


Chelsea Balzer and birdsong.

Poetry of Wild Presences


Poetry of Wild Presences: a day of mindful meditation and wildly writing poems with birds, dragonflies, Todd Robinson and frogs. Sunday 21 July, Fremont County, Iowa. Everyone is welcome for a day of rugged woods-play and sticky mysteries.  Contact Jack Phillips at thenaturalistschool@gmail.com . $25 donation requested.



Frogfruit (Lippia lanceolata) and saffron-winged meadowhawk (Sympetrum costiferum) , July 7th on a sacred bluff above the Kickatuus in Saunders County, Nebraska. Photos by Neal Ratzlaff (top) and Betiana Simon.