Tag Archives: Earth

Poetry of Witnessing

Eurasian milfoil (Myriophyllum spicatum)

Minnesota is known as the land of 10,000 lakes. In truth, the state has more than 14,000 lakes of ten acres or more. I enjoyed many of them as I was growing up.

At the Port Townsend Writers’ Conference last month, I attended a workshop on poetry of witness, a way of writing that holds up hard truths so they are not forgotten. Dawn Pichon Barron of Evergreen State College led the workshop and asked us to write about a troubling societal issue. She gave us 16 minutes to compose a poem of witness. As we read our resulting poems, we experienced not only witnessing but also a “with-ness” (Mitsein) with each other.

Here is mine, inspired by my love of lakes and the need to protect them.

10,000 Lakes Minus One

You may remember

the Minnesota lake

where you stepped in clear

cool water on a hot day.

You may remember glittering minnows

skittering away in the shallows,

bass and pike as you went deeper.

You may remember the faint hint of algae

as you swam out among the fish.

Now when you visit you wonder—

What has happened to this place?

And WHAT is that smell?

When you wade in for a swim,

you’re blocked by invasive seaweed,

a thick mat of Eurasian milfoil grabbing your legs.

The smell is of a suffocating, overgrown lake

that is dying.

Yet, if you stand on the high bank

and look east

you’ll see a single pink water lily

and its wide green pad floating,

shining in the light.

Lotus photo by Barbara Terao

Seaweed problems are not only in lakes. ABC News reported “Record amount of seaweed is choking shores in the Caribbean.” More than 24 million tons of sargassum clogged the Atlantic in June.

Deep Earth: Some Cool Stuff and Some Hellabad Stuff

An Aboriginal Arunta man sits near Uluru (Ayers Rock) in Australia.

An Aboriginal Arunta man sits near Uluru (Ayers Rock) in Australia.

When push comes to shove, and it’s predicted that it will within the next fifty years, the earth’s wrestling match at the Cascadia subduction zone is bound to wreak havoc along the Pacific coast of the United States. Kathryn Shulz wrote an article in the New Yorker called “The Really Big One” that lays out a scenario of earthquakes and tsunamis as one planetary plate gives way to another. That sobering prediction sent me in search of some better news about the dirt under my feet.

Fossil at Burpee Museum of Natural History

Fossil at Burpee Museum of Natural History

Probably the coolest things the layers of the earth can cough up are fossils. Last week I saw a bunch of magnificent fossilized bones (and casts of bones) at the Burpee Museum in Rockford, IL. Some of the critters swam around here during the Cretaceous Period when shallow seas covered this land. Their shells and bones helped form our limestone and other sedimentary rocks. I especially enjoyed the fossils of little turtles and one huge guy, as you can see below.

This sea turtle fossil is the size of a Smart Car.

This sea turtle fossil is the size of a Smart Car.

A couple days after visiting the museum, I went to Cave of the Mounds in Blue Mounds, WI, and saw some more fossils, including a six-foot long shell in the ceiling of the cave.  That’s another cool thing about deep earth: caves.

Caves are literally cool. It was 90 degrees outside on July 30, yet the cave was 50 degrees, as it is all year round. That’s how our geothermal heating and cooling at our cabin works. We have pipes going 150 feet straight down, till they hit rock, and we make use of that temperature difference to control the comfort of our home.

Cave of the Mounds, Wisconsin

Cave of the Mounds, Wisconsin

This particular cave was discovered August 4, 1939, while blasting the hillside for limestone. Because the cavern was enclosed before that discovery, there are no bats, blind fish, or albino spiders in there, like in some other caves. The only life forms are the tiny spring tail insects that seep in with the rain. I saw specks of their nymphs in a pool of clear water.

With all the stalactites and stalagmites growing toward each other in that cave, you can see how the earth is always changing, both on the surface where we walk around and deep inside where we rarely notice Mother Earth’s activities until they erupt to the surface. No wonder many people consider Gaia, our planet Earth, to be alive.

As that big turtle, archelon ischyros, found out, changes happen. Let’s prepare for the bad ones and appreciate the others. May you stay safe through it all.

The elder by the Uluru cave might tell us something like this.

The elder by the Uluru cave might tell us something like this.

Stalactite with calcite crystals, Cave of the Mounds

Stalactite with calcite crystals, Cave of the Mounds

Wonder Walk: Hiking for Health

Hiking in Costa Rica

Hiking in Costa Rica

The first Wednesday of April is National Walking Day.  This is one way the American Heart Association promotes habits that keep our heart happy.  Whether you walk alone or with others, the idea is to get moving.  If you can connect with nature while you’re outside, so much the better.

Buddhist author Thich Nhat Hanh leads walking meditations at his retreat center among the sunflowers of Bordeaux, France.  In Peace Is Every Step he reminds us, “Be aware of the contact between your feet and the Earth.  Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.”

Librarian Ann Vogl and English teacher Cheryl Gorsuch decided to hike the Ice Age Trail–all 1000 miles of it.  It took them five years, getting together on weekends to do a bit at a time.  They often talked while they walked and got to know each other very well.  They also got to know thirty counties of Wisconsin as they followed the edge of the last glacier!  Upon achieving their goal this month, Gorsuch commented, “I think you see so much of Wisconsin at a personal level, foot by foot, step by step.”

Mark Hirsch is another inspired Wisconsinite.  Every day for a year, he walked to a 163-year-old Bur Oak, took a picture of it, and got to know it very well.  It became “That Tree” project, completed just two weeks ago.  (See www.facebook.com/photosofthattree.)  People who saw his photos posted online got to know the oak, too, and shared their stories of special trees.   So whether we hike a thousand miles or walk to the same place every day, there are benefits from the physical exercise and the connections we make.

Though I like taking sociable walks with friends, I pay more attention to flora and fauna if I go quietly by myself.  I can pause and watch birds to my heart’s content or lean against a tree until I have set down roots alongside it.  For heart health, a rapid pace is best, and I do like race-walking.  But for peace of mind, I like to pause and appreciate my surroundings.

Kathleen Dean Moore of Oregon writes in Wild Comfort: The Solace of Nature of walking along a river by the Cascade Mountains.  She couldn’t help but take her stress with her.  “Already,” she says, “just a few hours into the weekend, time feels short.  I hurry to relax before I have to go back to my complicated life.”  She pauses to watch the river, a tortoiseshell butterfly lands on her arm, and her awareness shifts.

“Lucky.  If I hadn’t stopped to watch the river, if I hadn’t worked up a sweat in this unlikely sun, if I hadn’t pushed my sleeves up past my elbows, I might never have discovered how to drink in the peace of this time and place, every warm drop.”  Moore continues, “This is what a human brings to the world–the ability to take notice, to be grateful and glad, glad for the river swinging by, for the sun warming my shoulders, for the breeze lifting the hairs on a butterfly’s back.”

May you get lucky on April 3 and every day.  Don’t hurry to relax.  Take your time and have a heartfelt walk.



Of the Earth, By the Earth, and For the Earth

Dr. Seung Heun Lee offered “The Prayer for Peace” at the opening ceremony of the General Assembly of the United Nations on August 28, 2000.  Since he invoked the name of this blog, I share an excerpt here.  Eleven years later, having experienced in the U.S. the ravaging effects of the 9/11/01 attacks, his call for a revolution of the human spirit seems even more fitting.  Here are some of his words for healing our world.

with gratitude together we rise

“I offer this prayer for peace

To declare a revolution

Of the human spirit.

I wish to announce that

It is now time

For all of us to spiritually awaken

And become enlightened,

For the time of the enlightened few is over,

The age of elitist enlightenment has passed.

For how long do you seek to wait for prophets

To come down from mountaintops

And tell us what to do?

We all must become enlightened

To recognize our divinity,

To raise up our consciousness…

We must ourselves become the enlightened ones.

We must realize our Oneness.

I declare that we must all become ‘earthlings’

Of the Earth

And not of any religion, nation or race,

But of this Earth, for this Earth, and by this Earth

To create a lasting peace

On Earth.”

Bodhisattva of the Earth

For the Love of Wolves

We came from Illinois, Wisconsin, and Missouri, and as far away as Arizona, all for the love of wolves.  Our group of eight women and two men wanted to see wolves, to howl with them, to get to know all about them and, maybe, help find ways to protect them.  That’s why we flew and drove hundreds of miles to the far-north outpost of Ely, Minnesota June 11-13, 2010.  It was a “learning vacation” at the International Wolf Center with a side trip to the Vince Shute Bear Sanctuary.

When Jess, our IWC representative, asked why we were there, many of us admitted–outright–our love of canis lupus.  The couple from Arizona started to explain what it meant to them to be there and the husband stopped speaking mid-sentence as tears sprang to his eyes.  Oh, yes, we were smitten before even seeing the objects of our affection.

We also had a general love of nature (biophilia, as E.O. Wilson calls it) that drew us to one of the most wild and refreshing places in the United States, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area.  As Kim, a retired teacher said, “I just love the Earth.”  During our weekend we saw eagles, deer, loons, woodpeckers, and fourteen wild black bear cubs and their mothers wandering through the bear sanctuary.  The forests and lakes provided the sweetest air you can find anywhere.

Staying at Wintergreen Dogsledding Lodge, we also saw sled dogs having the summer off.  Paul Schurke, arctic adventurer and keeper of the Lodge, made sure that we got to visit with the new pups, only two weeks old.  Whenever I stopped by the kennels, the dogs sent up a howl in reply to my greetings.

As for howling with wild wolves, we tried.  Jess took us to a remote location and led us off with her impressively tonal howl.  We joined in with our best vocalizations but got no response.  We did manage to locate a female wolf the next day, however, by radio telemetry.  We didn’t see her but we knew where she was on the map and we knew by the frequency of her radio collar that she was a member of the Madden Lake Pack.

The five wolves that indulged us with their presence were the ambassador wolves kept at the International Wolf Center.  Though they have more than an acre to roam, they stayed near the viewing windows for much of the time.  One named Grizzer approached the window only a few inches from the woman from Arizona.  They had a wonderful moment of connection.  I chose to observe Aidan, a two-year-old male, and did some deep listening exercises on my side of the glass to see if we could communicate.  I felt connected to him in a meditative way and thanked him for his presence and all we can learn from him and his species.  When we visited the pack after hours, we heard them howling full tilt, triggered by some unseen presence or distant noise.  That was an experience to remember, even if the wolves we heard were in captivity.

There is a book by Julia Cameron called The Artist’s Way in which Cameron suggests having an “artist’s date” on a regular basis to activate your creativity.  This is a date with yourself to go somewhere inspiring, such as a museum or simply a colorful fabric store, as a way to keep your artistic self alive.  Being in northern Minnesota was like having a “planet date,” a reminder of why I love the Earth so much and want to tend to nature, in both the sense of caretaking and as in “attend,” paying attention to the wildness around me.

Sometimes a long-married couple needs a romantic outing to renew their relationship.  “Oh, yes, that’s why I’m crazy about you.”  I recommend a wilderness date with something in nature that interests you.  Maybe it will be wolves, even Aidan, my special fellow, or simply a flower in your yard.  It is too easy to get distracted and forget the bounty of woods, beach, field, mountain, and sky.  But, I guarantee, once you are out there, you’ll fall in love all over again.

I’m pretty sure that all of us at the Wolf Center did.

Earth Blog

Rock art, Boynton Canyon, AZ

Rock art, Boynton Canyon, AZ

In this weblog, I am writing about the need for nature and the way we learn from plants, animals, and others.

Started out with 3 degrees in psych., trying to comprehend human behavior. Found the best alternatives to our collective neuroses by going outside my own WASP upbringing into other cultures, particularly by learning about Native American and Eastern philosophies.

Take all that intercultural learning, the subject of my dissertation, one step further and I find myself fascinated by inter-species learning. An elder asked me to try it and and I was amazed at what I “heard.”

Would be interested to know your experiences with nature.
So this is my first blog. We are, indeed, connected and of the Earth. Thich Nhat Hanh says “We are here to awaken from the illusion of our separateness.” We are all related.  I just may benefit from getting outside and paying attention more often, and I’ll write about it here.