Lichens, Bryophytes, and Fungi in Winter



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 for more information and to register.

Trametes versicolor

Trametes versicolor in late fall. Photo by Jack Phillips.

Poetics of Place: the Cryptogamic Mysteries



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 Please note: this workshop is intended for adults and may not be suitable for children and dogs.

*Photo by Corson Androski.

In-nature: a Spiritual Practice


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.

— Jack


saunterers-on-iceWildly Still Retreat: Sunday December 8th at Waubonsie State Park in Fremont County, Iowa. Contact Jack Phillips at for more details, agenda, and to register.


*Photos by Emily Hergenrader (top) and Robert Smith.

Autumn Trims Her Tatters


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 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.

Wildly Still Retreats: late Autumn 2019

On the path to mystery

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



(Photos by Robert Smith)

Wildly Still

Wildly Still* A day of wild contemplation and mindful walking in the autumn-still woods of the Loess Hills.

oakwoodstroysoderbergThis 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 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.)


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:


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 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 

(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.