Lepidopteran Contemplations

gray hairstreak

Gray hairstreak (Strymon melinus) in Saunders County, NE. Photo by Troy Soderberg

Lepidopteran Contemplations: A quiet but rugged woodland and high prairie Saunter.* Sunday morning, July 7th in Saunders County Nebraska. Contact Jack Phillips for details: thenaturalistschool@gmail.com

* What is a Saunter? Click here.


How to Grow the Tree of Life

Wild is a process that surrounds us all, self-organizing nature: creating plant-zones, even humans and their societies, all ultimately resilient beyond our wildness imagination.” — Gary Snyder


How to Grow the Tree of Life: cultivating urban wildness with mindful attention, poetry, and coffee.

Sunday morning, June 30th in Omaha’s Old Market

In recent seasons the Naturalist School has planted locally-wild native trees grown from seed collected with our own hands. We have released the resilient wildness of this place and within ourselves; earth’s energies break through ego and concrete, avarice and ambition with mindful work, poetry, and strong coffee as needed. We will visit these trees and contemplate their new summer energies through mindful exercises and of course, a poem or two. If that sounds good to you, contact me for meeting time and place.

— Jack Phillips


* New June leaves on red oak. Photo by Robert Smith

** Please note that this event is intended for adults and will not be suitable for children and dogs.


Waking the Wild Retreat 23 June


Light Yoga     Deep Ecology     Mindful Exercises     Wild poetry     Ephemeral Art


Gray tree frog (Hyla sp.) in Harrison County Iowa, June 13th. Two species found in the Loess Hills (H. versicolor and H. chrysoscelis) are difficult to distinguish. Each shows a fondness for bur oak and taking shades of green and gray in response to mood and weather. Individuals display tolerance for contemplation and the writing of poems. Phone-photo by Robert Smith.


A One-day Retreat with Joelle Sanfort, Jeremy Buethe, Chelsea Balzer, and Jack Phillips.

Sunday, June 23rd at Waubonsie State Park. This will be an indoor/outdoor retreat to include hiking as weather and insects allow. Everyone is welcome (adults only; no dogs) but pre-registration by June 20th is required. Enrollment will be limited; $25 donation requested. To register and for more details, what to bring, and agenda for the day, contact Jack Phillips at thenaturalistschool@gmail.com.

June: around the solstice.

becky's cicada

Fire and Insects at Waubonsie State Park

Exploring the Response of Insects and Vegetation to Prescribed Fire in Prairies and Oak Ecosystems of the Southern Loess Hills

Wednesday, June 12, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

This workshop is free. To help us keep the group size manageable, pre-registration is required. Please fill out and submit our short online registration form on the TPOS website. This field session is organized by the Tallgrass Prairie and Oak Savanna Fire Science Consortium and The Naturalist School. For more information, contact Jack Phillips at thenaturalistschool@gmail.com.



Waking the Wild: a mindfulness retreat.

Waking the Wild will be a quiet day of mindful exercises, light yoga, wild poetry, ephemeral art and deep ecology. We will meet rain or shine as we have the lodge reserved and there we can escape bugs and rain as needed. Our teachers for the day will be Jeremy Buethe, Chelsea Balzer, Joelle Sanfort and Jack Phillips.

Sunday, June 23rd, at Waubonsie State Park. Registration deadline: June 20th. This will be an indoor/outdoor retreat to include rugged hiking as weather and insects allow. Enrollment will be limited, $25 donation requested. To register and for more information and agenda for the day, contact Jack Phillips at thenaturalistschool@gmail.com.

*Photo credits: Robert Smith (top) and Troy Soderberg.



Writing Ghazals on a Pawnee River

(Becoming a Naturalist, Part 43)

by Jack Phillips



Pahuk, holy Pawnee Hill rises above the Kickatuus. Photo by Robert Smith.


Afternoon sun leads our band to cool waters below this holy hill

as it did the natives praying here and with us in flesh and longing echoes.  


A young woman finds purple bare feet in the river

on her skin draws wet indigo worthy of henna.


Appears a ghazal (in Arabic ‘young doe’) playing long fingers

of clay makes a shiny-slip figure reminding of lotus to lay in rushes for deities here.


Form finds flesh in the hands of young men among us

bending roots washed supple by this river into ephemeral remembrance.


Two philosophers cast translucent lines across currents

consider the essence and nature of color best served by poetry agreed.


Those in yoga-posing follow curve of current and sky each one in spirit freed

in willow-shade reclining, clay swallows looping our kiting souls pale gazelles in blue.


Now come ghazals in bounding couplets inky doe-prints on paper

but on the Kickatuus a freer form they take afar from Babylon’s waters.


naturalists on the beach

Naturalists on the Kickatuus. (Robert Smith.)


*The ghazal is a useful poetic form for exploring the local and primal energies that enliven us and for releasing the boundless energies within. The first time I chased wild gazelles was in 1980 near the village of Daburiyya in Galilee. My friend Samir wanted to shoot them; I wanted only to admire them. We jeepishly followed them as they floated and skipped over the verdant hills. With that memory I understand why the Arabic form of poetry so-named for them takes the form of bounding couplets touching lightly on the page. 

Fleshly Metrics of Being

(Becoming a Naturalist, part 42.)

by Jack Phillips

This morning we will devise a bodily method using a breath or eyelash a toenail or heartbeat or such to measure phenomena happening here and here to write poem. We wander off meadow-wise and woods, creek, geese above and dogwood, plum all about, acorns underfoot the primal oaks that measure moments in eons.

Earlier we pondered under Grandmother Oak the “bird-while” metric that is the temporal space a perching bird will permit you before flitting off and away. Did Emerson use his carnal parts and functions to measure time and distance as we conceive to do?

Bubble-head frogs creek creeky-tick-tick and croaky rumbles. In Hindu thinking the universe is born when Brahman’s eye opens and of this I am reminded as I measure this pond with my eyelids and write a one-line haiku:

worlds appear in a cosmic blink in my eyes one leopard-frog song

They peak and dim and then with my open eyes brighten these frogs as I so imagine this earth is fated, in slippery bodies the cosmos residing. But for now we compose this immeasurable morning in meadow-breaths and pond-whiles the fleshly metrics of spring.


Becky's leopoard frog

Northern leopard frog (Lithobates pipiens) in Cass County Iowa. Photo by Becky Colgrove.


Same frog, other end. Photo by Robert Smith.

The Oaks of Nish



Oak Woodland Communities of the Nishnabotna Watershed

Presenter: Jack Phillips, The Naturalist School

Cold Springs State Park, Cass County Iowa

Saturday morning, May 4th, 9am to 12:30pm.

Oaks and oak communities provide environmental stability and ecological benefit for a wide array of creatures, including humans. This walking workshop will focus on identification of southwest Iowa’s oaks and the life-sustaining food webs they support. There is no tuition for this workshop, but preregistration is required. Enrollment will be limited so sign up soon!

Contact Jack Phillips at thenaturalistschool@gmail.com

*Bur Oak, Fremont County Iowa, April 30th. Photo by Robert Smith.

Finally Fresh Bluebirds


Eastern bluebird, April 23rd in Saunders County Nebraska. Photo by Neal Ratzlaff.



The sacred Pawnee place on the Kickatuus always moves me to poetize but even when we are tasked to botanize the land herself is poetry enough. After wandering deeply into woods then river bank to be scolded again by Kingfisher we ascended the holy hill to be forgiven by Bluebird. How he loves to bask on sunny April mornings! Our winter bluebirds have left us for more northern climes and our nesting pairs have freshly returned from somewhere south of here. They sang when the First Nations worshipped high on this place and like the Pawnee remain faithful still.

We will perhaps find them faithful farther down the watershed this Sunday at a woodsy place in Lancaster County. Let me know if that sounds good to you. Tree-frogs and Dutchman’s breeches, maybe downy violets in bloom, poetry for sure.

Jack Phillips


Present Moments


Bloodroot in oak woodland on April 16th in Harrison County, Iowa. Photo by Robert Smith.


Naturalists and friends of TNS:

Henry David Thoreau advised to “drink of each season as it passes” but we would rather say: “breathe each moment presently and here!” For us, that means entering wild places to find the wildness within always, everywhere, in this present moment.
Find some present moments with us this spring. We hike in small groups in rugged places searching for quiet places where wild nature still has space to breathe — quiet spaces where we can mindfully give ourselves to wilder ways.
And frogs,

Food-webs, Phenologies, and Phantasies



An April moment in the Loess Hills. Photo by Robert Smith.

Friends and members of The Naturalist School,

A steep Saunter in our rugged haunts reveals a phenological truth: spring is a rhythm. Surely the moon had her springtime of ripened equinox, but with every moment and step, ponder and breath we find new springs in the rich phenologies and food-webs of our wildest attentions and phantasies. And of course, ecological study.



April musing under oak. Photo by Chelsea Balzer.


We will continue to hike and dance, step to April’s rhythms always new in Fremont and Harrison Counties in Iowa and Lancaster and County in Nebraska with biotic surveys, workshops, Saunters, and Poetics of Place gatherings through April. Contact me at thenaturalistschool@gmail.com if you’d like to join us or learn more about TNS.

Wear good boots,

Jack Phillips

Finding a Muse in Oak: poetry as path into nature. Sunday morning April 14th, Lancaster County, Nebraska.

Spring Woodland and Savanna Surveys throughout April in Harrison County, Iowa.

Oaks of the Southern Loess Hills: Food-webs and Phenologies. Saturday morning, April 20th Fremont County, Iowa. Afternoon session: Spring Frogs by Ear.

Urban Woodland Saunter. Sunday morning, April 28th in Lincoln, Nebraska.

For more details and to register, contact Jack Phillips at thenaturalistschool@gmail.com


Frog-song interrupted. Photo by Troy Soderberg.