I take it WILD, my “nature cocktail,” with a slice of Rugged and a pinch of Barely Accessible, straight up. Never could stay on a path, unless it’s one the deer have mashed out with their cloven-hoof comings and goings.
Oh, I still whine about the ticks, the thorns, the burrs speckling my khakis, but secretly – I like it.
Those lesions and adhesions symbolize, for me, an initiation rite… When I’m brave enough to bare my back to Nature’s slicing and sunburn, a “wall” seems to open, revealing a hidden world.
It’s as though I’ve been accepted into an exclusive community bustling with animals, birds, insects, all going about their business as though humans were merely a mild curiosity, nothing to mind.
Here are a few pics from some of my excursions into Nature’s Wonderland. I know your experiences are equally wonderful… please share them with me!
It was some serious rain.
6-8” between that 5 a.m. clap of thunder that jerked the neighborhood awake and the silent, swift-rising chimera of cloud that enveloped us eerily around midnight. Cars crashed. Streets flooded. Stretches of interstate were closed for hours. I swear, within the first four hours, brown yards greened.
The air smelled clean at first, then of fish and frogs and wet dogs. The hum of air conditioners in the cul-de-sac stilled. It was the promise of autumn, spilled out on the first day of September following a fly-swatting, high-tempered, drought-laden August experience.
WATER. Finally, and enough.
By next morning it seemed every living thing was in better humor. As e.e.cummings wrote, the world was “mud-licious and puddle-wonderful.” There was nothing better to be done than to head for Anne’s Lake and see how happy the ducks and dragonflies had become overnight…
The fog was thick and phantom-like, swirling around the ankles of willows and sucking up whole geese, magician-style. Mallards vacuumed the shoreline, gorging on insects the wind blew in. Damselflies participated in open-air orgies, as a red-tailed hawk eyed it all with detached superiority from atop a diseased oak. All of this activity, commotion arose from the weepy fits of a few angry clouds! Marvelous, the power of water!
THINK of it, what water can do!
We all know that the 277 river-miles of the Grand Canyon was carved by water. Solid rock! Carved from fluid but persistent water! At it’s deepest, the canyon is 6000 feet from canyon rim to river bottom, 10 miles across at its widest. A raft trip through it can take 2 weeks, a hike to the bottom and back 2-3 days.
Water (or lack thereof) has forced many plant and animal species to evolve a compensatory set of skills to survive. Take, for instance, the camel. Rather than the circular red blood cells that all other mammals have, it has oval cells that assists flow in a dehydrated condition. When camels exhale, water vapor is trapped by their nostrils and returned to their bodies. Their kidneys retain water so efficiently that a camel’s defecation is so dry it’s often used as fire-starter.
And how less wonderful would this world be without creatures who make water their home? Consider the sea turtles who start out biting and clawing their way through their shells, dig furiously through a foot of sand to reach the surface, navigate to the sea by moonlight and swim continuously for days to reach deeper, safer waters, fueled solely by their own egg yolk residuals!
Think of the role the ocean plays in the phenomenon of the advancing carpet of red crabs on Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean. Each fall the red crabs, 120 million strong, migrate across highways, schoolyards, parking lots and a golf course to the sea to spawn. This blanket of red bodies is so dense that it can be seen from airplanes. Locals shovel them from their sidewalks and adjust their daily lives to accommodate them. Take, for instance, the die-hard golfers on the island’s single course who have adopted the rule that the crabs “belong to the game…” meaning if a crab manages to push a golf ball into a hole, it counts as IN.
Masaru Emoto is a Japanese author known for his work called “Messages From Water,” in which he claims — and aims to show through microscopic photography — that human thoughts directed at water droplets before freezing affect the water crystals in the frozen state. His research strives to show that positive thoughts (whether through prayer, words of intent or music) produce “beautiful” crystals, whereas negative ones produce “ugly,” misshapen ones. The inference is that water has a secret life of its own and that it can absorb and transmit human emotions. He conjectures that this can be utilized for its curative properties in ways never before imagined. Emoto does, of course, have his critics in the scientific world, and it doesn’t aid his credibility that he sells products based on his “findings.” So far, however, his experiments (to my knowledge) haven’t been DISproven. If you watched the wildly popular and highly controversial video “The Secret,” you saw similar experiments and outcomes.
If, indeed, his experiments (and many similar ones conducted by scientists since) are conclusive and support his hypothesis, the ensuing question begs an answer: does water hold the key to many scientific and spiritual mysteries? Is it a bigger piece in the God-puzzle than we ever imagined?
Of course, “everything old is new again,” and if you were to describe these “new” findings to an Native American elder, you’d likely receive a slow, knowing smile. Maybe we’ll discuss these issues again later. For now, I’m just content to sit and gaze on the dozens of little rivulets parting over stones and twigs in the stream, lose myself in the way it catches the light, throws itself over rocks in a suicidal manner, then recovers at the bottom to flow, seemingly uninterrupted and completely at peace, onward.
In the words of Rumi, “the wonder of water moving over that rock justifies existence.”
“You don’t scare me, Human. Only a little, but I’m young and lithe, all muscle and sinew and curiosity. Yes, my pink mouth does occasionally grope for my mother’s milk, but see how aptly I crunch away at summer flowers gone to seed!
“Don’t let these fading spots mislead you, Human. I’m not naive. I’ve listened to the gathering herd’s rumblings, the rumors of Warm leaving for a long while, but always returning…how blackberries and ripe persimmons disappear, leaving the stomach empty and the landscape void of its sheltering green walls. But I’m not afraid.
“One day soon, I’ll command my clumsy, lanky legs. They’ll have become strong and sure, easily leaping a 6 foot fence from a standing position, 10 if I get a running start. My large, veined ears will turn 180 degrees and tremble at the howl of the coyote, and my nose will sniff out an acorn buried beneath inches of snow. I have superior instincts. Already I can distinguish Safety from all that it’s not. Did you know my antlers can grow more than 1/2 inch per day?
“By this time next year, I may have come nose to nose with the smoking arms of metal that smell of sulphur. I may have seen death by then, have smelled the bones of one of my own. I’m told how the honied light on the lake dims and grays, how the water becomes crunchy and harder to swallow, but I’m prepared.
See here? I practice my snorts and stomps, learn to interpret shadow and rustles. Even now, my cloven hooves can trot across fallen twigs without causing a single snap.
“I can tell you fear for me, Strange Empathic Being, but you needn’t worry. I’m in training now, and there’s no going back. If you visit me again when Winter’s white palm has turned over to reveal the brown knuckles of Spring, you’ll find me wiser and more skilled, having practiced Living in the dark.
“I trust the Good Mother’s promise to return the light, the warmth, the abundance when I most need it. Do you?
“There comes a renewal, Human, a restoring, A Giving Back and then some of all we thought was taken. It happens whether or not you think you deserve it, and whether you believe it or not, though believing makes the waiting easier.
“If you Humans can entrust me, and those like me, to the care of the Season-Changer, can you not entrust your children, your lover, your friends…
She looks like a seraphic white dove from a distance. Up close and in profile, like a fuzzy, green-eyed, hump-backed teddy bear. Head-on, like a cross-eyed, comical what-is-it. She’s always laughing, or so it appears. She’s my new favorite friend of the fluttery kind, and I almost missed her.
In fact, I almost missed it all. I’ll show her to you in a little bit, but first let me explain…
It was a gazillion degrees outside.
I had gravel in my flip-flops.
I was totally ticked off because it just wasn’t “happening for me,” photography-wise. I’d spotted a kingfisher perched politely on a bare branch on the opposite shore of the narrow lake, but by the time I got to that side, the kingfisher had gone fishing – elsewhere. Just then a dainty green heron lowered her wings and hooked a tree with her talons on the side of the lake I’d just come from. It seemed a wry taunt. I was not amused.
So here I was, in foul humor, limping hurriedly along to the next site I deemed having potential for that “one good shot,” frustrated and full of myself, when a voice in my head (yeah, I hear those) clearly chided,
“You just missed one thousand things.”
I wasn’t in the mood for reprimands even from myself, so picked up my pace just for spite, but the voice was insistent. Crap. I KNOW that voice. It’s often right. Grudgingly, I set my camera bag down, fished out my macro lens to replace the telephoto I’d been sporting apparently, and solely, for the arm-workout the weight of it ensures.
I slowed down. Then stopped. I closed my eyes and listened.
And then, sure enough…… ONE THOUSAND THINGS.
Okay, more like dozens, since I’d likely already passed at least 900 of them in my haste. DOZENS went whirring or rustling or slithering or fluttering or gliding or ambling by and around me. Humble things, modest in size, but packed to the gills, the pinions, fur and scales with interest and beauty.
I had wanted to be the big shot photo-huntress, come back to camp with shots of raptors and snakes, white-tailed deer and shore birds, strutting in like a Navajo hunter with a trophy elk hide slung over his shoulder.
Instead (and I thank God for this), I sat down in a field of native prairie grasses taller than I, and listened to the stories the goldfinches, the red-winged blackbirds, the passionflowers and dragonflies were telling. I counted big-eyed skippers and lost track at 162, I laid on my back in the near-blooming goldenrod and listened to Earth’s breath, felt Her pulse.
After the voice and before another hour had passed, I had honestly seen hundreds of things I’d missed….some external, some within. So the question I’m scattering out here as seed is….what are YOUR “one thousand things?”
Are they the myriad expressions that pass across your child or grandchild’s face as a new revelation softly assaults their eager minds? Are they the subtle, unspoken ways your lover or spouse communicates to you your hallowed place in his/her life? Are you missing them while still looking for the “BIG birds?” Are they the ways the ocean waves curl and foam at your feet, inviting you to recognize your body’s kinship to the elements, being largely comprised, itself, of water? The personal satisfaction and self-confidence your work brings to you?
Will you slow down, pay attention, be informed, maybe even TRANSformed?
Here is the dove/bear/what-is-it I promised to tell you about earlier. Isn’t she delightful? She’s a flower moth of some sort (Schinia), though I haven’t been able to determine if she’s a unimacula, a luxa or a buta.
Doesn’t matter ….she’s just one of a thousand things I almost missed.
(Click on any photo to enlarge. Do you see what’s hiding in the next to last photo? She’s the Queen of Camo!)
When the thermometer reads 100 degrees and the heat index is 110, going on an outdoor excursion willingly is bordering on the ridiculous, yes? I mean, who does this?! I do. But — red-faced, dripping with sweat (and not the kinda cute, girly kind of perspiration in a soft row just above the lips, but the in-your-eyes, bra-soaking, rolling-off -your-chin kind of sweat!) — I scored some sweet treasures.
Not five minutes into my foray, I made the acquaintance of this little fellow:
An American Snout-Nose Butterfly. Not all that common in gardens, I understand, except in years when a heavy rain is preceded by drought conditions, and then there’s a baby boom like you wouldn’t believe… no one knows for certain why, though there’s speculation that it’s because the hackberry shrubs, on which the larvae feed, send out so many new shoots that it’s feast time — until it’s not. And when that happens, the Jimmy Durantes of the butterfly world migrate. It’s not an organized, tidy migration like the monarchs manage, but a messy, devil-may-care one, in which no one seems to have a clear idea where they’re going. Presumably they’re going to find more hackberry shrubs. Wherever. And when they do, they fill the skies like snow flurries.
Case-in-point: Tuscon, Arizona, August 9th of 1966… a flock of migrating Snouts blackened the sky, squeezing out the sunlight until the street lights had to be turned on. Auto owners had to scrape thick layers of wings and noses from their windshields and grills that night, which makes me sad. Fortunately, my new S.N. friend was fully intact and cordial, posing for me at various angles: right-side up, up-side down, and mashed vertically against a twig, pretending to be a dead leaf, which I applauded for its comedic value.
This lovely lady was shrub-sharing with the Snout, two kids from different sides of the tracks.
To be honest, by this time I was hoping to bow out and hit the road…Had already been kamakazied by I don’t know HOW many Japanese Beetles, my sweat-soaked skin was becoming a bee magnet, and my ankles were being bitten by something hungry and indiscriminate.
But gardens are a tease, if you haven’t noticed… just about the time you sling that camera bag over your shoulder and fish for your car keys, something whistles or sings, something rustles in the grass, something catches a glint of sun and flings it back in your face, and the stage is set for a new show you’re hell-bent to watch. And so I did, and without complaint.
Had I wimped out on the rest of the walk, THIS is something I would have missed:
So okay, I’ll take the sun beating on my head like a mallet, the sting of the nettle, the bite of the chigger…The trade-off is more than a fair one, and I knew going into this that nature is not for wimps.
When my sister Theresa was a pre-teen, a ravaging disease stole her eyes. Eighty-five percent of her vision was lost before she had a chance to look out on much of the intricate diversity and insane beauty of this planet. She’s “legally blind,” and yet in ways an optometrist hasn’t the tools to measure, she’s one of the most “sighted souls” I’ve ever met… living always “in the moment,” fully present and acutely aware. She accomplishes more in a day than I do in a week, and does so with verve.
I empathize with Theresa regarding her visual limitations, which is not to say that I feel sorry for her. In fact, I aspire to “see” as well as my sister sees, to have those eyes — the ones that assemble a clear mental picture of any creature based not only upon limited visual information, but upon intangibles: insight, intuition, keen awareness of tone, inflection, body language (she can see basic shape and posture) and myriad other clues lost to those of us who operate from only a fraction of the resources available to us.
Why am I telling you all this?
Because when I come home from the woods or fields lugging my camera bag full of maxed-out S.D. cards, feeling like I should be looking over my shoulder for thieves, so weighty is the value of my “treasure,” I can guarantee I’ve had Theresa on my mind.
My hyper-awareness in nature is due in large part to the fact that since my sister lost her sight, I can no longer take one fascinating detail – not an ant’s fuzzy thorax or the alien eyes of a fly or the powdery curve of a butterfly’s wings — for granted, not one breath-stealing scene can fly by me without praise. I can see! I CAN see! I can SEE!
And so I will. I choose to pay attention. So if I go missing, find me — I’ll likely be sitting, blissed out beside an ant hill or beneath a cedar on my back in order to see what a waxwing looks like from the underside. You might have to pull my head by my hair out of the creek where I’ve plunged to get an eyeful of what a crayfish looks like in his own world, but wherever I am, you can bet your last dollar I’m looking, and looking hard….with mine and my sister’s eyes.
St. Francis said it first, and best:
“Such love does the sky now pour, that whenever I stand in a field, I have to wring out the light when I get home.”
That’s what this blog is all about: the light-wringing I do when I get home from the fields with my camera full of recorded moments and my mind still saturated in Nature-Love… and not just for the obviously beautiful parts of nature, but the terrifying, the savage, the predatory, since without the “dark,” the “light” has no definition. All is part of the fullness, the sphere, the web of what we call The Universe, necessary and beneficial. I appreciate it all, and count it a privelege to witness and record it.
Like the poet Mary Oliver, I believe that “My work is loving the world.” In part of her poem “Messenger,” she reminds herself to:
“…keep my mind on what matters, which is my work, which is mostly standing still
and learning to be astonished.
The phoebe, the delphinium. The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all the ingredients are here,
which is gratitude, to be given a heart and a mind
and these body-clothes,
a mouth with which to give shouts of joy
to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,
telling them all, over and over, how it is
that we live forever.” *
If we spend much time in the fields, in the mountains, in the forests or by the seas, we soon comprehend the interconnectedness of all living things. We start to walk more softly… we start to accept, even appreciate, the polarity inherent in all beings, including those of the human kind. We cultivate more joy. Worry less. Re-learn how to play and pray. Nature has a way of softening us, out here in the “Light Fields.”
This blog, then, is my invitation to you. JOIN ME. Let’s explore nature together with the wide-eyed curiosity and open heart of a little child. Ready? Yes? Well then, as Rumi said,
“Out beyond ideas of wrong-doing or right-doing, there is a field…..I’ll meet you there.”
* Source: Poem “Messenger,” from the book Thirst by Pulitzer Prize-winner Mary Oliver, 2006 Beacon Press