Introducing the Wild Things

Green Prints

In the shade of mingling Paulownias, eight children sprawled like a litter of puppies atop the blue tarp, fair heads and dark dappled by sunlight. Seasoned veterans of the library’s summer “reading program,” they radiated skepticism. Under their scrutiny, all my hours of planning – upwards of twenty – and gathering – five, two of them after twilight the night before, three before dawn this morning – for a one-hour program, including craft, juice and cookies, seemed paltry. Not up to the task of engaging such a jaded lot of post millennial first to third graders.

On the table before them, my overnight harvest jostled across its top like so many drunken sailors; spilling over onto the poplar logs I’d stood upright as three-foot mobile labs. Excreting from the trees’ exfoliating bark, an arboreal feast of Polypore and parchment mushrooms and gelatinous oozes of Crustose and Foliose lichens posed, waiting to entertain the budding naturalists, or so hoped my cynical heart. Decorating every available surface, vignettes of discarded turtle shells, abandoned bird-nests, butterfly carapaces parodied Wonderland, “Touch Me.” And in specially prepared, purpose built, living museums – a flat of old potting soil and a quart jar with a perforated lid – dwelled several earthworms and two teenage tadpoles, all four legs exposed. In addition, plants of various olfactory and tactile properties flaunted their earthy attributes.

            Not really a sea of faces, more a puddle, looked up at me, expectant. My charges, then, for one fleeting hour, this small congregation of fledgling souls, held within fragile vessels of flesh and bone – together a sampling of our homogenous world, individually as unique as snowflakes. So I began, “I am a very, very lucky person. Every morning I get to go outside and play. If I really listen, I’ll hear the very first bird of the morning say “hello.” If I close my eyes and breathe I can smell the licorice of the fennel and the sugar from my sweet peas and tea from my rose garden. I can hug a hickory tree and taste raindrops. Every day I get to watch the frogs leap into the pond and feel the water splash on my face.”

My squirming octet stills. “Now let me show you what I found right outside my door.”

I plucked a nest from its log pedestal and held it in the palm of my hand. Upturned faces, expressions rapt, made me feel like Merlin, or Gandalf, or Dumbledore.

“Where’s the eggs? Let’s see the eggs?”  Chin jutted, jaw set, one six-year old demanded an answer.

I tell them I never collect a nest until the birds move out, finished for the season. “Even this one”, and I lift my husband’s straw hat off the table. Tucked inside, a nest woven of grasses and fluff and hair from one Great Pyrenees lay emptied of its small family of Wrens.

I pointed to the logs, pregnant with fleshy protrusions, and invited them up to touch the swelling amorphous masses. 

“Ewww!” One little boy shuddered. “No way!”

Shoved aside by a dark-eyed pixie, crimson ribbons in her springy curls, he watched with admiration as she squeezed and patted a lump.  “Feels nice.” She said.

 Now, they’re all on their feet reaching for a nest, stroking a potted lavender plant, digging into damp soil rooting out an earthworm.

One puzzled second-grader contemplated the shell of a box turtle, and I told them that one time I watched just such a turtle dig a hole with her fat, clawed feet, lay her eggs and then cover them up. “And it took longer than a Spongebob Squarepants show.

“This kind of turtle can live to be a hundred years old,” I said. “That’s even older than me.” They looked from me to the shell, suitably impressed.

For long minutes we immersed ourselves in bits and pieces of the natural world, awash in the mystery of it all. Imagine, right outside our own backyards. Astounded at the sights seen through the magic of magnifying glasses – eighty-nine cents courtesy of the dollar store – the children studied an earthworm’s belly corsets, the hieroglyphics of a swallowtail’s wing and stroked the nesting material contributed by a woman’s best friend. One little girl held a lens to the sky and trained it on a fork in the tree where swallows had made a home. “Where is it? Where is it?”

 Good citizenship in action, they shared the four spyglasses amongst themselves, with minimal prompting.

As the hour wound down, I presented the piece-de-resistance – the living, breathing tadpole twins, out adventuring in their retrofitted RV, straight from their home shores and shortly to return.

We were almost there, the end in sight. Only one remaining spectacle to behold, only one more song to be sing. In the long, long time ago, a band of intrepid Girl Scouts roasted marshmallows over an open fire and beneath a silvery moon serenaded a sparkle of fireflies. My voice rusty and of insignificant timber, I sang “There’s a hole, there’s a hole, there’s a hole in the bottom of the sea,” and I go on to populate the hole with a log, then a knot on the log, next, a FROG! on the knot, followed by a wart on the frog, and a hair on the wart, and so on down the line of memories. The crowd cheered, a mother applauded, a cohort said “bravo!”

It was over. My hope rekindled. It could have been my daughter there on the big blue tarp, and her mates from a too distant childhood. Same curiosity, same excitement, same wondrous awe. And I thought, let them be children. In time they will take on the mantle of caring for the earth. But first they must be allowed outside to play upon it, only then will they love it, only then will they care.

First Published in “Green Prints Digest”

Grounded and Blessed

The beauty of Acer palmatum var. unknown against an emerald boxwood green

I was out this morning under an umbrella of roiling clouds, scooping leaves from our two small ponds. With each gust, leaves shook from the trees in dervishes, raining yet more of autumn to float upon the water. But that’s okay. It’s a contemplative exercise, soothing to the spirit, and it’s just so beautiful.

American Bullfrog contemplating Autumn
A Zen moment in the life of an American Bullfrog

 

 

At the back pond, on the margin between cultivated gardens and woods, I share the view with questing frogs and tree limbs studded with opportunistic squirrels. On the hill behind the barn, the beech trees rustle with roosting turkeys. I accept the invitation and go for a walk.

Passing by an old boxelder maple in decline, its trunk decorated with leathery Polypores, possibly Phellinus gilvus, though cupped. Further along, other Polypores, this time tiny Trametes versicolor spangle the sides of an old post. I step lightly. If I stay low as I approach the rise to the old TVA pond, I might get lucky, privy to a raft of migrating waterfowl. Instead, I surprise another squirrel and flush out our resident Blue Heron. And right there, a hundred paces up the hill, a half-dozen DSCN0217wild turkeys scratch amongst the beech mast. I climb to the top of the dam, stepping around the crushed and flattened leaves where a deer lay last night. From the tiny hoof prints sprinkling the mud, it looks like Mama’s idea of a good hiding place.

As I stand atop the weir, enjoying the fiery colors of sourwoods, maples, dogwoods,  I know how blessed we are to live here surrounded by nature, that recently recognized – again – prescription for the ills of humanity. Some might disagree. Only along the ridgeline towering now above my head can we get cell phone reception on our flip phone. Internet is available only through satellite with its molasses paced speed; and as a consequence and by choice, neither of us has ever considered a Facebook page – unless you count the one my nieces set up for me as a joke fifteen or so years ago. They used an old second grade picture of me, chubby-cheeked and snaggle-toothed. For all I know, it might still be out there somewhere in the ether.

But John and I ground ourselves every day working in the gardens and striving to preserve what’s left of the history of this farm and these woods. This land was farmedDSCN0328 with care and diligent husbandry for close to a hundred and fifty years, before it fell to a shiftless lot in the 1950’s. While digging another hole for a volunteer Magnolia macrophylla or transplanting another wood fern from up the cove, I still, on occasion, run my spade into a thudding mass of folded plastic, discarded and buried under fifty years of autumns and falling leaves.

It takes caring and mindfulness and plain hard labor to reverse the sacrilege of neglect imposed on a piece of earth. But we are thankful for the work, and blessed to realize we are but small particles in the divinity of nature. And that we must “first do no harm”, and then must never take more than our share.

Autumn SunlightTime to walk back to the house. I cut through the barn and look up at the rafters. No bats, the dusty quality of the guano on the ground below evidence that they’ve moved to winter quarters. Brown Bat choosing to be a loner.

 

 

Past the tractor shed, I pause at the new garden pond, again, to dredge out a few more leaves. Looking about me, I see the squirrels are taking advantage of the stone wall, performing their own adaptation of the Nutcracker. Yep, Grounded and Blessed. That’s me.

DSCN0343

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