Saturday, December 29, 2012

Sailed Ships

Reason tells me the boats that once docked here are now in storage for the winter, but I like to imagine that they have set sail for warmer seas.

Saturday, December 22, 2012


Greeting the sun.
A short-lived daylight.
The days begin to lengthen, starting now.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Arboreal Days

It has been since Easter that I visited the arboretum. You may remember that then I found it false, a tree museum in the heart of pseudo-urban sprawl that smacked of the Lorax.

The seasons have changed.

The arboretum cannot compare with the remoteness or the cool, peaty air of the farther flung state parks. Here the highway runs adjacent and even in the middle of 1000-plus acres of groves and gardens you can hear traffic. But the arboretum staff and volunteers are on a mission to restore endangered species of trees and prairie grasses, and the results are beautiful. 

 Perhaps it is just that I love fall, and all it takes is to surround myself with its evidence to win me over. Or that I have become more accustomed to this place, and can be happy in its highs. 

This last photo is not very good; the lighting is not quite right. But I wish that I could be as these leaves, aloft on a breeze, lifting my face to the sunlight, furling and unfurling all the day long.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Driftless Region

They call it the Driftless region, the southwest corner of this state where the glaciers didn’t drift. It's a name that suggests absence but the geography is a proclamation of presence in an otherwise razed Midwest.

Left to the whims of wind and water, the land plummets and plunges, thrusting upward before disappearing into clefts created by forces no longer present.

This canyon? Once it was an ocean. The water receded and the bare beaches became stone. Centuries of flood waters surged over the sandstone flats, forging rough valleys out of the sea bed. 

Here trees grow from rocks, long trunks surging upwards until a profusion of green meets the endless blue. If you climb to the top, you could be there too.

Or so it seems.

The hard verticals and sudden shifts in altitude take my breath away.

(If only you knew how literally I mean that.)

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Mushroom Land

We welcome you to Mushroom Land.

We wish you could stay forever.

But we all know that you can't.

(Unless, of course, you eat the mushrooms. Then anything is possible.)

Saturday, August 11, 2012


Hey there, R.J. Reynolds. You're hard to escape in this small town. 

So is the sound of cicadas, chirruping in a mechanical chorus more like a car alarm than an insect love song.

If the song is successful, the mated cicadas fertilize and die. Their hatched offspring bury themselves underground and emerge years later to sing their own love (death?) song.

It's rather poetic, despite the fact that cicadas are still insects, prone to mistaking human arms for sap-filled tree limbs. I imagine it's hard to differentiate between tall, swaying entities when your eyes are bigger than your brain.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Fix to Summer

Is it wrong that summer makes me crave the fall?

It reeks of sacrilege.

When I was young, summers were spans of long shoe-free, school-free days that hardly began before they ended. As the sun hung heavy overhead, my mother would start the fans, draw the shades and send me out to play with a knobbly cucumber in hand. Each bite exploded and dripped down my chin until all that remained was the bitter end.

Much, in fact, like summer itself.

I love summer days wiled away by the water and nights spent staring up at the stars (it seems impossible that all those lights hang in three dimensions). I love the steady warmth of sunlight on my shoulders. I still get excited to eat cucumbers in one go.

But I get restless. I want the blackberry bushes to shed their flowers for fruit. I mentally paint the trees shades of red and rusty orange. My collection of canvas jackets hangs in the closet, waiting for the days when I can again have warmth in the face of the brisk.

In the meantime, I hike, and look forward to the day when a path is actually a path rather than a poison ivy exposure test. Summer reigns abundant but some things serve a better purpose as detritus.

There was actually no poison ivy on this particular hike.
I am somehow never inspired to take a picture when I'm dodging leaflets three.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Thoughts on trees

Arboretum: "tree-garden," 1838, from L. arboretum, lit. "a place grown with trees"  ~

How does a place become an arboretum as opposed to a forest?

The difference must lie in the spaces between the trees. The garden, the lawn, the paths where one can stand and contemplate the contrast between tree and not-tree. In the forest, such distinctions blur into canopies and shadows. All is tree.

I like forests. I like trees in their unlabelled, unclassified state. Arboretums are tree-zoos: spaces to preserve and exhibit a waning kingdom.

In a perfect world, suburbs would not exist and cities would be ringed with forests.

In an imperfect world, we have cities with arboretums and I live in the suburbs.

If I could choose, I'd rather live in the arboretum. The suburbs come in shades of beige and they don't smell like spring.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


By Mary Oliver

My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird—
equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.

Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still half-perfect? Let me
keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,

which is mostly standing still and learning to be
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 mind and a heart
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.

Until Monday I had never heard of Mary Oliver. Despite having won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, as well as numerous other awards and fellowships, Oliver failed to make any reading list in my English classes. The canon lives! (though its components are all long dead).

I would have much preferred her work to the rather soporific Romantics. Alas.

I start a new life in two weeks. I'm young (though even half-perfect is questionable) and I'm open to astonishment.

Hey there, moth, I'm leaving town. Let's rejoice.