Aug 7, 2022
The rock strengthens me.
The river rushing through me
That I keep moving toward
A distant light
A quiet place
Where I can be Continuous
And in rhythm with
The song of summer
That you have given me.
~ Nancy Wood
Dear Poetry of Nature Friends, Hello! How are you? I hope that you are finding ways to deepen your Nature practice and enjoy your summer. For me, it’s been an intense season of self-care, and it’s also been a summer of miracles. During this time I’ve kept Nancy Wood’s river poem close. The deep reverence of Nancy Wood’s river poem flows through my heart, mind and soul. I invite you to take this poem to a river, stream, brook, or any body of water that speaks to your heart, mind and soul. Give yourself the gift of time to get still beside these waters. Please read Nancy Wood’s river poem aloud. Please offer it twice. I invite you to dip into poem-making right away. How might the rock nation strengthen you? Have you found, or are you longing for a distant light, a quiet place your inner river insists you move you toward? When and where do you find yourselfContinuous / And in rhythm with / The song of summer ? In her final reverent line Wood says, “That you have given me.” Who might be the “you” she’s writing to? Write a reverent poem to that being. You are welcome to email your poems to Geoff and me, and to post them in our virtual community. Please share what touches you. For your fellow travelers, sharing your unique experiences are your gifts. Below, please find my gift to you.
Haiku to Rocky Brook Falls
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“The same stream of life that runs through my veins night and day runs through the world and dances in rhythmic measures. It is the same life that shoots in joy through the dust of the earth in numberless blades of grass and breaks into tumultuous waves of leaves and flowers.” ~ Rabindranath Tagore
During this summer’s intensity I find I must practice extreme self-care. That means engaging with summer and cocooning when I need to. Every morning my cat Tressy and I go out on the “magic deck”, where I enjoy my first cup of tea and whoever’s present. Tressy adores sitting on the deck railing and taking everything in. I bring my Nikons and cell phone, because every morning I am always given such beauty and miracles. This year I've witnessed Cinnabar Caterpillars completely strip every ragwort in my yard. They remind me of lively court jesters. They are the larvae of Cinnabar Moths.
Cinnabar Moths are an Eurasian species that were introduced in the '70's to the Pacific NW to control ragwort, a noxious weed that harms livestock when consumed. Through June and July, they eat themselves out of house and home, then pupate underground until the following May-June, when they emerge as Cinnabar Moths. They absorb the poison of the ragwort and other than moles, they have no known predators in the U.S. They are considered one of the greatest U.S. success stories of controlling noxious plants because their populations rise and decline with the ragwort.
"Science must acknowledge truthfully how much it doesn't know and leave room for mystery, miracles, and the wisdom of nature." ~ Christiane Northrup
Something else I’ve learned? Today, from brown sticks and ruin, I see a spiral of new growth forming. I had no idea ragwort could regenerate like this. And that feels miraculous too.
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As I've said, I’m practicing extreme self-care. A big part of that is being in and co-creating with Nature every day through my offerings, my witnessing, and my images. Everyday. I feed and water the birds and every day, someone comes. Just now it’s the season of Band Tailed Pigeons, and birds relaxing in sun baths. Seeing birds do this is always remarkable and brings me joy. And what is a miracle, if not, on some level, the nourishment of happiness and joy?
To walk quietly until the miracle in everything speaks is poetry, whether we write it down or not. ~ Mark Nepo
I want to be freed neither from human beings, nor from myself, nor from nature; for all these appear to me the greatest of miracles. ~ Carl Jung
This morning on the magic deck I heard and identified Song Sparrow and Black Throated Warbler on the absolute best birding app ever, Merlin Bird ID by Cornell Lab. I love watching bird songs on the app because it renders them uniquely visible. It can even identify the tapping of specific woodpeckers! I use the Merlin Bird ID even when I know what bird I’m listening to because I love seeing how the sounds appear. No two birdcalls are the same. I love seeing the textures, patterns, and the ranges of birdsong we humans can’t detect. I highly recommend you try it out. If you try this app, Geoff and I would love it if you would share your experiences with us and our Poetic Medicine community. Click here to go to our virtual community. Please press reply to respond directly Geoff and me. * * * Here's another miracle. Since July 5th, on our deck, a Pacific Northwest Treefrog has taken up residence. It lives beneath my husband’s sandals where they tip up at the toes. You know me, I’ve GOT to be a part of the experiment, and a couple of weeks ago I put a dish of water out for the frog. Turns out, my offering is appreciated. To be given these glimpses into frog life is powerful medicine and I appreciate that you let me share my miracles with you!
There are two ways to live: you can live as if nothing is a miracle; you can live as if everything is a miracle. ~ Albert Einstein
Miracles Why, who makes much of a miracle? As to me I know of nothing else but miracles, Whether I walk the streets of Manhattan, Or dart my sight over the roofs of houses toward the sky, Or wade with naked feet along the beach just in the edge of the water, Or stand under trees in the woods, Or talk by day with any one I love, or sleep in the bed at night with any one I love, Or sit at table at dinner with the rest, Or look at strangers opposite me riding in the car, Or watch honey-bees busy around the hive of a summer forenoon, Or animals feeding in the fields, Or birds, or the wonderfulness of insects in the air, Or the wonderfulness of the sundown, or of stars shining so quiet and bright, Or the exquisite delicate thin curve of the new moon in spring; These with the rest, one and all, are to me miracles, The whole referring, yet each distinct and in its place. To me every hour of the light and dark is a miracle, Every cubic inch of space is a miracle, Every square yard of the surface of the earth is spread with the same, Every foot of the interior swarms with the same. To me the sea is a continual miracle, The fishes that swim-the rocks-the motion of the waves-the ships with men in them, What stranger miracles are there? ~ Walt Whitman
Since 2015, August has been my least favorite month, and summer my least favorite season. All around me I am witnessing my beloved temperate rainforest succumb to growing drought and fires. This ongoing eco-grief can really challenge me. But, as you can see, it’s also been a summer of miracles. I love making time to be outside every morning with Tressy and my cameras because I never know who and what I will encounter. It’s also about making time with my husband Andy, and my friend Annette to be out when weather permits. Cinnabar Moths and Caterpillars, butterflies, brooks, waterfalls and rivers. I am one who’s making much of these miracles. Doing so connects me with what Nancy Wood says: Where I can be Continuous And in rhythm with The song of summer Annette and I have celebrated Forest Time and these miracles, during July, whilst visiting Rocky Brook Falls, and hiking the Staircase Shady Lane and Rapids Loop Trails running along the North Fork of the Skokomish River. Just outside the Rocky Brook Falls gate is a thimbleberry patch that drew us in and kept us. We lost all track of time and when that happens, that feels like a miracle too. Neither of us had ever seen Lorquin’s Admirable butterflies. We followed their teasing dance, me with my Nikon, Annette filming them with her iPhone, at which she’s an adept. The bold gift of these butterflies reminded me of this line in Whitman’s poem, “the wonderfulness of insects in the air”. And when you catch them sitting still? Magic!
“All is a miracle. The stupendous order of nature, the revolution of a hundred millions of worlds around a million of stars, the activity of light, the life of all animals, all are grand and perpetual miracles.” ~ Voltaire
Annette and I were also treated to a pair of Tiger Swallowtails chasing each other over the thimbleberry patch. For me, Tiger Swallowtails are miracles. They are remarkable beings and when they alight, there is much blessing and beauty. Even before I had words, I have always loved them and have a special place in my heart for this butterfly. As a child, when I learned its name, I rejoiced in sounding out those living syllables that zizz like their gold and black tiger stripes: ti-ger-swal-low-tail! Those syllables remind me of how joyfully they make their way our world. Tiger Swallowtails still awe me and lift my heart. It’s been an excellent year for them. Like Sun, I am so happy to see them, and I miss them when they are gone.
“Beauty is the only thing that time cannot harm. Philosophies fall away like sand, creeds follow one another, but what is beautiful is a joy for all seasons, a possession for all eternity.” ~ Oscar Wilde
“All this, and we haven’t even gotten past the front gate and through the foyer!” Annette exclaimed after the Lorquin’s Admirables and Tiger Swallowtails flew on and we stopped to share our blessings and photos. This mid-summer, what are you noticing in your neck of the woods? Have you made time to visit your Nature spot? Is there a particular bird, insect, or other creature that makes your heart take flight? What miracles are you witnessing? Remember, your witnessing changes things. And what a gift to share that! Love, NanLeah * * *
Geoff Oelsner’s Ponderings
Dear PON Friends, Last month I wrote about how I’ve been living with the question: What does it mean to me to be a nature poet during this dark time of accelerating climate change? That question kept on percolating this month as I worked in our garden and forest permaculture plots every morning in the cool before dawn. About a week ago, I got to thinking about my longtime friend Robert Sudlow (1920-2010), a Kansas landscape artist whose spiritual communion with the earth carried great reverence and tangible blessing power. I realized that Bob’s life and work constitute one viable response to my question, recast as: What is it to be a contemporary nature artist of any kind—an artist whose work offers truthful and meaningful impressions and expressions of nature now? So...this month I’ll share excerpts from Robert Sudlow’s journals that I transcribed after his death, and images of his paintings. I hope my selections transmit something of the sensitivity and energy that make his life and art such a compelling inspiration to me as a fundamentally nature- focused poet.
I visited Bob from age fifteen in 1964 until his death and hung out with him as he painted in his native Kansas fields, in the nearby Flint Hills, in California redwoods and in his studio on a hill outside Lawrence, Kansas. These immersions in nature with him left me more transparent, less separate for days afterward. The entries in his journals reflect Bob’s communion with the Earth. He made sketches and wrote entries in them while painting outdoors. He wrote many passages of distress and foreboding as he witnessed human destruction of the land. He celebrated the beauties and sanctities of the places he painted. He wrote wonderingly about the times he was eclipsed by the Spirit as he painted, seeing the face of G-d in all he saw and what he saw he was. I felt how he radiated the peace and blessing he saw, and happily absorbed something of that medicine. I could feel the baraka [Arabic for blessing—seen in Islam as an indwelling spiritual force in saints, charismatic leaders, and some natural objects—G.O.] of his artistic process precipitate joy and blessing in the places where he painted, infusing them with love and wordless praise. I’ve collected some of Bob’s paintings over the years and include photos of two here. You can search “paintings by Robert Sudlow” to see many, many more. I already shared some of Bob’s journal entries last year in my November “Attunements” letter to our Poetry of Nature group. Below are some other entries from Robert Sudlow's journal beginning April 17, 1997, when he was painting in the Flint Hills of Kansas at age 77: April 17, 1997 A sky permeating earth. Matfield Green Cotter Creek noon. The sparkle of eternity—a glimpse of the birthing of season...the iridescent stream flowing among the buds and rocks...a zen koan in the wind. A bright changeful sky. Gulf of formless clouds. The vestiges of smoke linger. How full of hope the birds and the springing hillside. Blue shadows. Pale sun. The hills are immersed in silver light. Quick life comes forth with trepidation, fearing the worst. Yet the pulse will not be denied and we have spring willing or not. Bright surface of the world—the place and time of testing. The wine press and harvest come later. April 19, 1997 Tom [a younger Kansas landscape painter—G.O.] and I paint the pond at Pearson's farm west of Baldwin. Hot afternoon with tuning of frogs/the splash of fish/a long held tone, a frog song of endless monotone, a wordless reading in the scriptures of Nature—carrying the afternoon into evening in seamless rapture or a mindless hypnosis or AUM. The reflecting water of murky hue yet carries the sky's glint untarnished. Directly overhead the tiny red speck of Mars. The comet Hale Bop low in the west, now dimmed by a nearly full moon. Incomprehensible that this immensity can in any way be breached by man's hand—measured—or photographed or even touched by ingenuity. The night keeps watch. Sunday morning Time lapses. Only a few moments hours of awareness spared from nonsense. The sun an hour's climb to the zenith measures the ascent and descent of sense. Up a silver stairway in the east then his easy slide toward darkness. How calm, serene and glorious this morning! Busy fools in my head and in the valley. Brightness spreads and glory is given incrementally. Sunday noon distilled—afloat disengaged walking in light while sleeping. Testing the air...chickadee tuning. Dusk Sunday. A solitary robin song, or a noisy truck on the road of dust. Held in transparent and liquid stillness—till the frog gives voice as a distant dog barks. To cease from motion—emptiness is daunting. It is a void to be avoided, a blank agenda, a rounding of earth's corner, where a center gathers, a pinnacle...and time circles. Monday pond Mists that drip—a moisture shrouded landscape. A slight chill yet, dense in blossoms, bird choruses and nest seeking bluebirds. Rice's field now spread with violet henbit. It would be a shame to die now...this close to the truth. Monday with Tom east of Dover—a milky sky gray with green budding trees—fields green dusted over burnt grass. Warm and almost windless. 40 X 45 canvas. Tom had to sit in his chair. A terrific power working under bland light. Confused me with hidden energies—a hide and seek of ever-changing patterns. The mockingbird now rises to our hill (last year he remained in the valley). A liquid serenade in the treetops is an infinite source. As the spring ripens it drives me constantly to start new canvases. They pile up in the studio, perhaps with some hidden potency—or perhaps empty gestures—at the present it is too soon to tell. The Body of Our Lord Jesus Christ. I understand obliquely —the sacrament is now. Hidden then recalled in unexpected times of defenselessness. Spring mornings I arise beside Barbara [Bob’s second wife—G.O.] dulled by sleep and touched with arthritis—dull to the light of dawn, awakened by a Beethoven quartet, welcoming life again.
May 2, 1997 A time when the sun is horizon split. In azure clarity, a pale unknown sky. Cooling of newly formed leaves. Tiny hands now clearly formed, now motionless...the toad at the pool tuning for a late serenade. A swift arrow a thought flight of a wing whistling dove a far tractor—strangely how alien the activity of man remains. In spite of the day's events the sun falls through a throne of liquid gray—casting golden rays, transfiguring the elm—blessing everyone who may take a moment to look—in spite of human businesses. Granite giants buried yet still living presences. One a split boulder sent/rent when the Temple was torn asunder. Lichen surfaces. Calligraphy of weather marks from the age of ice—visitors from the north. Teeth of mountains, clinkers from volcanic upheaval—orange rust purple granulated smooth or polished...all are unique and should be given names of old gods, earth spirits. Matfield Green, Friday noon Painting on the banks of the South Fork Cottonwood. From the quivering grass stems—sailing clouds—hawks in the sky and rocks on the hills—all things are tuned to the present wind and light. We also become a part of the intensity of the place. The obvious dream—as the house dissolved, the roof fell in, walls collapsed, and floor gave way, the angel said Now I take your life away—where are you when even soul's roof beams fall? Sunday, May 3 The space between thoughts grows more wide—let them become isles of enchantment! Wide glades of leafy morning, without theatrics sun rises and day begins with promises too delicate for fulfillment. As youth becomes maturity and ripeness turns rot, truth is not necessarily betrayed. 9 AM A time of silent and jeweled rising unheard invisible harmony—no wonder our flesh fails. Rooted in concepts and illusions no light can enter. Long shadows that point eastwards then puddle at our feet, so quickly that memory fails. 1:30 PM A concrete city, the enemy of life underground—feet, eyes, soles, souls suffer meaning/neoning, identity, and disorientation. A hostile city, a mutated species. May 4 Monday Dusk 8:30 PM Tower [“Tower” denotes a viewing and retreat place farther up the hill from Bob and Barbara’s home near Lawrence—G.O.] A late pale blush before night. A moment of exhalation, a long release of breath. Earth still: returning its afternoon warmth into hovering air—tiny insects rising, invisible thronging life, shadows silent, growing more dense—the whippoorwill...a web of place, season, and hour when the observer becomes absorbed in space. Tuesday 8:15 PM Bloody red sunset The red winged blackbird at the window feeder displayed shoulder patches of such a brilliant red it seemed illuminated—against black wing feathers. Lazy island clouds...vague islands in the evening sky, slowly drifting north. A spring celebration...all instinctive, with some substance. Without resonance and echoes we become shallow tunes. I wonder if I falter, become an empty shell. Speaking too much drains the spirit—a leaky bucket. Hearing too much produces noise and I forget how to listen. Sunday Hemp strands woven into rope, weight, mass, anchor, mooring, to lift up, gravitas, substance, the substance, matrix, the self, actually that dreams, weaves in the air, a filler of a void, a sermon that is forgotten. Monday sunset 8:20 PM Vast aisles of clouds gesture toward the molten sunball. Evening seems fraught in profundity, yet I cannot speak it. Beyond telling, the daily sign. Tuesday 8:35 PM Tower At dawn the sun blazed, as from paradise. Freshness and delight poured from the east. Too daunting for sleepy eyes. Tonight at closure the dusk deepens to a luminous gloom. The whippoorwill approaches as darkness takes the woodlands. The cry holds only expectancy and impatience. Though cloudless motes of moisture bring the sky near, silver-gray and permeable the heavens are just above the treetops. Space seems to condense. A singing toad in our pond, plaintive and clear (with jeweled eyes and warty throat). Evening midges hang still against the light, then as individual insects merge into the illusion of a mist, an animate cloud just an arm's length away. The calling whippoorwill is a fisherman, casting his cry near and then far—fishing for a mate in the darkness. Sunday morning May 13 Blowing brightness. Pentecost. The rushing wind and the gift of tongues. 7 PM - Mountains rising in the northwest...the monumental cloud banks and distant rumbles carrying their fretful winds across the waiting landscape, the greenness almost acid in intensity. Somewhere in the west torrents are falling. Swifts sail across canopies of vapor. Tendrils of high cirrus, like fine silks, ruffles in the heights. The great indifference of weather, dwarfing our miniature gardens, worrying our ways in waiting. Tongues of worship. Supplications of mercy. Hymns of praise find resonance in the sky, yet they seem so feeble. The first cuckoo arrives. Monday. Clear still evening. 8:30 PM Sunset and moonrise 10 degrees. Little pond world holding great immensities...fish breaking the surface, quail calls, blackbird, new reeds green all the mare's tails now hovering near the last sun—orange tasseled. The sunlight of the lost day now touches a high vapor trail. Hills lie still as in an old stage set. All at once the peepers awake. The little fish jump. The sparrow seeks its nest. A killdeer calls. The frogs grow silent. Time will not wait. Only a luminous present seems to linger, yet I see only obliquely and after the fact. Present illusions pale beside history. The inscribed distillations of past lie heavily upon senses, and we are neither here nor there... it is a prolonged dream. Saturday AM May 24 A close moist sky sits low with windless calm waiting for change. The bird calls are tentative. Slow to awaken the dusty earth grows thirsty for rain. In foolish movements the weekend Memorial Day recreations, grave visitations...the quick and dead dreaming. Geoff here again. I hope you enjoyed this word and color medicine. Next month I'll share some of Robert Sudlow's California journal from the summer of 1998 with you, in hopes of catalyzing something of the communion I find so relevant to my experience of being a poet of, and hopefully for, nature.