I’m in the middle of working on an essay, and much of it describes certain steadfast elements of our natural world. As most writers do from time to time, I needed to step away from the piece for a few days. I was losing focus of what I was trying to say. A few more thoughts have since gelled—funny how two minutes in front of the stove waiting for a pot of water to boil can lend itself to puzzle pieces clicking together in one’s mind.
But I also returned to a few chapters in Writing Wild by Tina Welling. In Chapter Eleven (Creativity and the Four Elements) she opens with this:
Our bodies are our link to the earth. Our senses are our power lines.
I love that. I recently wrote here about the senses of motherhood, but this deeper idea of our five senses being where the energy flows in our connection to the earth is so keen. When we are rushing or distracted, we can easily take touch, smell, sight, sound, and taste for granted. Scrambling into the car before school, we can miss the scent of the neighbor’s recently opened flowers. Ticking off errands we can be deaf to the overhead calls of seagulls searching for a snack. Checking the mail we can be numb to the cool dampness of the wooden porch following an afternoon rain.
But when we pay attention to those things, there is an energy that flows through us. The voltage may be low, but it is no less vital. We feel connected to the right here, right now on this spinning globe. And we better understand our small yet important place on it.
I hope you find some energy flowing through your power lines this weekend.
What is your strongest sense(s)? Do you feel energized when you pay attention to the signals they send?
Copyright (c) 2015 Kristen M. Ploetz
Today marks ten years that we have lived in this house. A decade in one place. That is a milestone for me—the longest stretch I’ve lived any one place.
When I realized this, I was first struck by a feeling of unexpected melancholy, perhaps a longing because I did not live in the same house for my entire childhood, like some do. But then, letting that notion simmer for a bit, I decided it was not precisely what was bothering me.
Instead, it was reluctant acceptance that the balance of my life is now unequivocally weighted heavier on the adult side, not childhood. This milestone—a signpost of staying put and settling in as a grown up—is just the first of many more to come, though I arrived here much faster than I anticipated. I am wholly content with this realization, but it is jarring all the same.
A lot has happened in the time since we were given the keys to the house. We learned the difference between eggshell and semi-gloss paint. We made fools of ourselves calculating how many bags of mulch we needed to spread around the shrubs—it never goes as far as you think it will. We used clipped voices when appliances stopped working or pictures hung crooked and off center. We quickly appreciated the ways a quality Christmas tree stand can stave off divorce. We cursed at armies of ants. We learned how to grow tomatoes and radishes, but never got the hang of watermelons.
We found our spots on the couch.
We shaped our professional lives.
We became parents.
Routines settled in. Crises were averted, mostly.
We discovered our strengths and accepted our weaknesses.
For some, it might grow boring, living in the same spot for so many years. Our tiny house and humble 8,919 square feet of land might not seem to offer much reward. The same view day to day, inside and out, has the potential to numb. The variegation of novelty shifts to monochromatic redundancy.
Yet treasure abounds even in the most routine spaces.
By remaining firmly in place, you witness the waltz of the sun and earth, how the steps change ever so slightly over the course of a year. Facing west at the close of each day, you discover nuance among the twilights. You learn where to spread your blanket under the maple tree and maximize the stretch of cool shade it offers on a long afternoon in July. Year to year, seasons jockey for your attention. You discover the snow never drifts the same way twice—especially this year. You are confounded when the rosemary doesn’t grow back for the first time in many years, and you didn’t do anything different. You hedge your bets: will the lilac bush peak on Mother’s Day or will she be late this time around? You watch for birds, hoping to add a new one to your list.
Over the past ten years, twenty-seven different birds have alighted in our yard or in the maple tree. I know, because I’ve kept a list. I have my favorites, of course, like the cardinal and the titmouse. I know the blue jay is a bully, but the juncos are not easily persuaded. The hummingbird only visited once, and I think it was a fluke. I am determined to lure him back. I’ve learned to identify some birds through their songs and calls. They let me know when a cat is in the yard or a hawk is overhead. The Carolina wren baffled me for the past three years—I heard its trill long before I saw it, somehow convinced it was a veery until I finally matched face with call this past December. It felt like victory.
Still, I have yet to see a blue bird or an oriole in our midst. They are elusive, it seems, but I’m determined to stick around and wait, maybe even another ten years. For me, there is a comfort in standing still and staying put. A lot more will happen in that time, whether it be new birds in the yard or boyfriends waiting on the front step for my daughter. And I know it will all pass just as quickly.
Here is a list of the birds I’ve seen in the past decade of living here:
Copyright (c) 2015 Kristen M. Ploetz
If I hadn’t told my husband two nights ago, to give the butternut squash to the birds.
If I hadn’t listened to my hunger this morning and grabbed the yogurt from the fridge.
If I hadn’t wandered around the house looking for a warm place to sit.
If I hadn’t found this sunny spot on my chair, alone in my office.
If I hadn’t looked out the French doors that face the gathering spot for birds.
If I hadn’t heard the tik-tik of two cardinals chattering high up in my tree.
If I hadn’t noticed that one of the branches was bleeding ice behind them.
If I hadn’t run outside to take a closer look and recall what twenty degrees feels like.
If I hadn’t stood under the mid-morning winter sun to warm my eyelids.
If I hadn’t leaned down to notice the tiny scratches in the diamond flake snow.
If I hadn’t stopped to hear the cacophony of the bare tree branches swaying in the wind.
If I hadn’t walked away just then, and noticed the angle of sun.
I would have missed it all.
I don’t have too many regrets in life, but one regret I do have is not taking any humanities classes while in college, save for one photography class. I was a biology major with hopes of becoming an ecologist (didn’t happen), and so I focused all of my attention on those kinds of labs and classes. At the time, I did not appreciate that the whole point of a liberal arts education is to actually take part in the diversity and range of classes available, including those outside your major. For this reason (and because I certainly didn’t pay attention during English classes in high school either), I often feel woefully lacking in an understanding and appreciation for literature and poetry. I have not read most classics. I have only a vague knowledge of some of the famous, long dead poets. Suffice it to say, you do not want me on your trivia team.
Yet, I find myself increasingly drawn to poetry lately, both writing and reading it. I’m not sure if it’s because of my 40th birthday (a month away) and having more clarity of what interests me, succumbing more to the writing life or even just my slow immersion into Twitter (saying so much with a pithy 140 characters!). Though I want to read more poetry, I often just don’t know where to start looking. Only certain “voices” and topics seem to speak to me yet there is just so much to sift through.
So, imagine my delight when, while at the Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair in November, I stumbled upon Urban Nature: Poems About Wildlife in the City, edited by Laure-Anne Bosselaar (2000). Even more exciting? It’s a signed copy (Ms. Bosselaar and several of the poets). Even more exciting than that? The bookseller personally knew (and has stayed with while on vacation) the editor. This kind of “closeness” to the players forces me accept the limits of my iPad and ebooks.
Aside from any regrets I have about not taking classes about poetry, I also live with a certain sense of occasional melancholy about living in an urban area rather than the wooded rural type of environment I grew up in as a child. Indeed, I think much of my appreciation for trees, birds and the awesome interconnectedness of ecosystems stems from living in upstate New York for the years that I did. I am equally drawn to the urban life as I am to solitude in the woods. At the moment, the city wins.
So for me this collection was, in a word, perfect. It introduced me to several new poets that I likely would not have otherwise come to know. The poems focus on subjects—cities and wildlife—that are near and dear to me. I often find myself looking for the wild in our built environment. It’s harder some days than others, but there is a whole world thriving right before our eyes. But we have to be receptive to it, just like these poets.
The poems are separated into several categories: Cityscape; Streets, Highways, Bridges, Rivers; Seasons and Skies; Backyards, Gardens, Parks, and Zoos; and Animals in the Cities. There were several that resonated with me and provided much beautiful imagery. Like the collage that Gerald Hausman describes in “September City” and the changing of foliage by Lloyd Schwartz in “Leaves”. In “Nocturne”, Ellen Bryant Voigt has a way of describing, if not pardoning, the violence that inevitably occurs in cities and nature alike.
In “Going Home Madly”, Brooke Wiese describes the night sky like this:
The moon was new, a sliver rising over
Queens. The sky was plush as crushed velvet—
a midnight blue wedding lapel purpling over
the East River like the inside of a clamshell.
I must have read “Outlook” by Crystal Bacon at least four times on the first pass. It seems to so aptly describe a feeling I often have about living in close proximity to other people and all that comes with it, including the sights and sounds. You hate it on the dreary days—the clutter, grey and detritus of modern life—but then you are in awe of the sunset or trees that also fill that vista. The first stanza is just beautiful:
I’ve begun to love the cold, the slick, bitter seed
of this life: brittle, brilliant. Even the bare trees
have embraced the ice: arms and fingers shelled
in diamond, in glass, and still they wave and click,
bend and freeze in the chill kiss of the wind.
Loving trees as much as I do, I felt the sense of loss and sorrow described by Robert Ayres in “The Neighbor’s Elm”, which had been cut down due to disease. Birds also permeate throughout many of these poems and they are another living species to which I feel connected on a deep level. I love the description of the owl taking flight in “A Death in Larkspur Canyon” by Richard Garcia:
Going out that evening with the garbage
I saw something crouched below me.
Then it rose—an owl, dark, silent
billowing like a silk scarf thrown in the air.
“Brave Sparrow” by Michael Collier is just lovely, and gives a much needed acknowledgment to one of the most ignored urban birds, the lowly sparrow. Cardinals are one of my all-time favorite birds, so I understood and appreciated “Red Bird” by Gerald Steen. The tenderness and mystery of eggs and nests are so apparent and heartbreaking in “The Nest” by Carol Moldaw.
I could go on. Indeed, there are many, many good poems in this collection. It seems like a book that is best read across different seasons or city vantage points, though so far I’ve only read it in the fall from the comfort of my living room. If you’re a city person who likes to notice the “unnoticed” among the bustle, this book will speak to you. If you’re a nature lover who happens to live in an urban environment and you feel the tug of a more pristine world that you cannot access right now, this book will give you a bit of hope and comfort that there is an abundance of beautiful wildlife even within the concrete jungle.
Copyright (c) 2013 Kristen M. Ploetz
We had a thunderstorm last night. A big one. Lots of strobe-like lightning. It started around 10:30 and it woke up M. It’s pretty unusual for her to be awoken by thunderstorms while sleeping. She happens to love the lightning, but not thunder. I was going to bed and was walking upstairs when she got startled. I asked her if she wanted to come to my bed (normally I would have crawled into her bed for a bit while she settled back down, but it was a bit humid, and our room has a ceiling fan and hers doesn’t, and well, I was being lazy). It is a VERY rare occasion that she comes into our bed anymore. Dad got the boot for the night, so it was just M and me.
Anyway, that’s the backstory for this relevant part: she woke up in our room and while M’s dad was getting ready for work she cheerily suggested, “let’s drive Dad to the T station!” He initially declined because there’s a shuttle he can take from the hospital down the street, but she pressed on and clearly wanted to take him, so he graciously accepted. Since I am not a morning person, I didn’t exactly want to have to “get going” (read: put glasses/bra/shoes on) that early, but so be it (plus, her dad is suffering a bit of a back injury so I was feeling
Here’s the thing: if we hadn’t gone, we wouldn’t have seen the snail in our driveway. The epitome of all things slow, of all things small. Nature’s Post-It note to remind us to look down once in a while and just observe.
If we hadn’t gone, M wouldn’t have watched him for 15 minutes upon our return home and said this to me, “Mama, if you could watch him forever, would you?”
“Yes,” I answered.
She replied, “Me too. I love watching things go away slowly and come back again.”
I know exactly what you mean, M. Exactly.
Soundtrack: Lots of sparrows and starlings calling back and forth, the hum of a few distant air conditioners gearing up for the oppressive days ahead of us, and the faint “tick” of stones shifting as the snail moved across them.
Copyright (c) 2013 Kristen M. Ploetz
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