Green and Basically Indistinguishable

I was on my way to the library one day when I flushed the flicker lapping ants from a grassy, gravel driveway. It flapped onto the side of a telephone pole shrieking in alarm as it went, its tangerine flight feathers flashing. I took a few cautious steps forward, and it scuttled around the pole to get a better look at me, its crimson mustache contrasting sharply against the soft buff of its face. It shuffled uncomfortably a few times before exploding into flight, white rump startling me along with its sharp cries. I had to know what this bird was called.

I found the answer in one of the books that eventually found its way into my field bag, Harry Nehls’ Birds of the Willamette Valley, the only book on the library shelf that didn’t completely overwhelm me with a multitude of similar looking birds. Soon I was puzzling over field guides to insects, mammals, trees, and wildflowers. I enjoyed the challenge of identification, but I kept running into a problem regarding the plants.

Most of the trees and shrubs and flowers I was coming across were ornamentals that weren’t profiled in the guides to northwest plants, and the books that did feature garden plants and street trees left me frustrated and confused (remember this was before the accessible Sibley Guide to Trees) until I took the advice of one of the bird books. There was a passage that suggested birders have a local patch to visit frequently, one that is a bit more natural and rougher round the edges than one’s backyard or neighborhood is likely to be. I could think of only one place.

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The Names of Things

You didn’t see the thing because you don’t know how to look. And you don’t know how to look because you don’t know the names.

“Underworld,” Don DeLillo

I grew up on Kratt’s Creatures and Animal Planet, and among my childhood idols were men like Steve Irwin, Mark O’Shea, and Jeff Corwin. I drank in dramatic documentaries featuring unspoiled wildernesses in sub-Saharan Africa, tropical Asia, and the central and southern Americas. Each month I eagerly awaited the arrival of National Geographic Magazine. The sight of that glossy, Ticonderoga-yellow cover rolled into the mailbox was as exciting as a birthday present, and I read and reread the accounts of J. Michael Fay’s Megatransect expedition through the heart of central Africa and Joel Sartore’s Madidi Diary from his photographic adventures in Bolivia.

There’s a lot of good to be said for these influences. I absorbed a lot of basic biological concepts like adaptation, natural selection, and symbiosis from the Kratt brothers and science magazines. The Crocodile Hunter’s affectionate banter to coral snakes and alligators conditioned me to appreciate even those creatures considered frightening, revolting, or worthless by most people, and as a consequence I never feared spiders, amphibians, or snakes. And I was inoculated with a compassionate conservation ethic that moved me to care about places I’ll never see in person.

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The Fence Where Two Worlds Touch

I trotted down the paved path, hopped the fence, and lit off into my miniature wilderness. Looking back I wonder about that fence hopping; I can’t plead ignorance because there were signs posted instructing visitors to stay on trails to protect habitat, and I understood I could have negative impacts and – I did it anyway. Today I insist on staying on trails to concentrate human impact and minimize disturbance to animals, but I also think it’s ironic we lament the loss of connection our children have with nature on an intimate, everyday level and then fence them out of natural areas near their homes. I can’t pretend to have a good compromise to this conundrum but when I was fourteen my mild rebellion was to sneak over the fence and into the river bottom. And I ask myself what my relationship to nature would be like if I hadn’t thumbed my nose at those exclosures.

Sonja Rosas

Woods Well-Worn and Repeatedly Renewed

In celebration of the coming summer solstice, Friends of Schmitz Preserve will be publishing some of the nature writing by Sonja Rosas. Each day leading up to the solstice, we will post a new vignette by this truly inspiring woman. Below is the first part of our series. We hope you enjoy! – FSP

Trillium

In the early evenings when I was fourteen, while my younger brothers played with Legos and watched Spongebob, before my father come home from work, I would prepare myself. In those early days my kit was rudimentary, as basic as my emerging nature savvy, but I took the preparation for an expedition to my favorite park as seriously as if I were planning an overland expedition into the Okavango Delta. Looking back I admire the resourcefulness that went into a broke, young teenager’s field bag. I had:

  • a second hand pair of toy binoculars with plastic lenses that magnified 7x and tinted the world hazy blue,
  • one of those plastic hand magnifiers used in elementary schools (this originally part of one of my brothers’ science kits and which I pinched from the bottom of the toy box where it had been abandoned),
  • a tattered spiral-bound reporter’s pad and a couple nice draftsman’s pencils my father brought me from work, and
  • two treasured library books, well-worn and repeatedly renewed:
    • Birds of the Willamette Valley by Harry Nehls
    • Trees of the Pacific Northwest by George and Olivia Petrides

These things I meticulously crammed into a small messenger bag my mother gave me for this purpose. By the time I’d fit everything inside and wrestled the zipper shut the little bag bulged against its seams and bounced ungracefully against my hip, but I didn’t care.

I was prepared.

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The Intersection of Nature and Art: Part I

April is one of our favorite times of the year. Not only is it Earth Month, with community-driven restoration projects happening all over Puget Sound, it is also National Poetry Month which gets fully represented by Seattle’s vibrant slam scene. Inspired by this intersection of nature and art, we present to you this poem by Wendell Berry. Enjoy!

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.

So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.

Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion – put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?

Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

A Prayer For Transformation

Let the trees be consulted
before you take any action
every time you breathe in
thank a tree
let treeroots crack parking lots
at the world bank headquarters
let loggers be druids
specially trained and rewarded
to sacrifice trees at auspicious times
let carpenters be master artisans
let lumber be treasured like gold
let chainsaws be played like saxophones
let soldiers on maneuvers plant trees
give police and criminals
a shovel and a thousand seedlings
let businessmen carry pocketfuls of acorns
let newlyweds honeymoon in the woods
walk don’t drive
stop reading newspapers
stop writing poetry
squat under a tree
and tell stories

– John Wright