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.)

An Equinox River’s Dreaming

The River Dreams of Nancy*
As you slide over these lines dear reader or as they slide over you a fox snake Mintomius vulpinus carries a new memory of skin. This liqueous serpent (the river takes reptilian Mind) slid-slithered over my palms and those of my friends we let our lovely squamate tongue-taste flick and lick surely her first humans an oddly-scented species neither predator nor prey at least not we. One calms a snake with open hands (as one might balance a puppy or pizza) and she being a water-spirit we completed our devotions and slipped her into riverine undulations once more to consider a cricket-frog or wet mouse, unaware of her smooth lingerings I can feel her right now. It was Nancy’s first snake and sweetly so to dream and the river’s first Nancy, tonight.

*What? Another poem? Poetry is that most liqueous way of speaking that tunes us to the creative generativity of the cosmos and is really good for river walking. For best results, remove your shoes. Top: fox snake on the Kickatuus River in late September, photo by Keith Lucas. Bottom: a new hatchling snapping turtle on the Autumnal Equinox. Photo by Cubby Phillips. Prose poem by Jack Phillips (for Nancy Friedemann-Sánchez), published in THE POET (UK), November 2021.

Little Left-open Mercies

Little Left-open Mercies*   

Hereabouts embodies some otherworldly energies, how else would you explain this? Most likely they left their little umbrellas open lanterns lit ponchos ready mycelial garb awaiting the rain (the middle-earth outerwear of mystical elsewheres) and yet nothing underfoot is unoriginal and secrets here belonging much longer most certainly than we, the unidentified mercies left unlisted and alone the presence of something other, but here

Wilder friends,

When our brilliant mycologist Kathleen Thompson can spend a few days with us, we habitually pause from chasing fungi and lichens and mosses and liverworts to read some poems and write some, make ephemeral art, or just wade the river to contemplate the barefoot mysteries. Some among us dance on the occasion of rain. You see, my friends, creative acts gather and throw the spores of wildness, draw us in and stretch the threads that web us all. Face to face with a slime mold or tree frog, a fox watching from a hollow, feathered chats and voices riding late summer breezes bring us to who we are where we are right now. And now

Love the little things,

Jack Phillips

*Prose poem by Jack Phillips. Photos by Troy Soderberg: Clitocybe nuda (top), Leucoagaricus rubrotinctus, Tremella mesenterica (bottom) in Harrison County, Iowa in September. Identified by Katie Thompson.

Two Plum-wild Poems

Wild plum (Prunus americana) at the end of August in Saunders County, Nebraska. Photo by Neal Ratzlaff.

Slightly Bitter Rounds of Being by Jack Phillips*

Time picks up speed as it rounds the corner hopeful at once a little sad not to mourn the closing in of autumn but for another orbit come and almost gone. Thoreau gets credit for to drink of every season (as still he dominates kitchen calendars) but daily we live the lay of the land take nature in the raw let us write our own lines to swing the summer round keep the marble rolling under our feet, the purplish fruits of being a little bitter today but always worth the bite. 

Prunus americana, Boone County Nebraska. (Robert Smith.)

*The poem above is a prose poem — a 19th-Century hybrid poetic form that allows the reader to make breaks in line and rhythm. Chelsea’s poem below is lined free-verse, a form that allows the breaks and spaces to multiply layers of meaning. In each case we invite you, dear reader, to write these poems with us in the ways that you bite and savor them. Both of these poems were composed with our mouths full of wild plums on a late summer saunter. Find wild fruits to flavor your eyes and tongues but only taste a few and leave the rest to nourish the wild.

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:

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

Mouth of Summer

Wilder friends, one of my favorite poems of the summer is A New Language by Casandra Lopez. It holds the phrase:

…back to longer days when:
Ocean is the mouth
of summer….

But presently having no ocean here only the vestige of our primordial sea we look to a pond or tadpole puddle or to the celestial seas on heavenly bodies born on tender stems, solstice or the super-moon of June.

Open wide.

Jack Phillips

TNS Earth-house retreat just before the summer solstice in Fremont County Iowa. Photo by Kathryn Sutko Twit with students from College of St. Mary.

Top: Cephalanthus occidentalis on the solstice, Washington County Nebraska. Photo by Troy Soderberg.