Monday, March 30, 2009

"To be free and be close to god"

I said those words, years ago, to a shrink who asked me what I wanted most in life. Reading it now, I realize it must have sounded very pompous or just phony, but it was what popped into my head at that moment and it was—is—the truth.

I suspect the phrase is one I read somewhere, a philosophy of life acquired secondhand from a poem or some self-help bible, but Googling it just now only got me a slew of instances of “close to god”—or rather, “close to God,” since most of the discourse on the ‘net concerns that god. Freedom never seems to appear in conjunction with him.

Wherever it comes from, my credo isn’t useful or warmhearted. It doesn’t preclude action or caring, but it doesn’t demand them either. I know I feel closest to fulfilling it when I am ambling along the trail and spot something beautiful and ordinary, like the little foamflowers in the picture above. They have just started opening up here in the past few days. The blooms are tiny and intricate, so perfect they are a little shocking.

The moment of perceiving common beauty is a sacred moment, and creates a sense of liberation I never know any other time. I stop feeling stranded in the psychic hinterlands, resenting the limitations of my flesh-and-bone prison, yearning for a knowledge that is beyond me. Every possibility condenses to the form and matter of a plant, a bird; and all of those possibilities are fulfilled. The experience of immanence contains flawless love of crude existence--a thrilling paradox.

For a virtual stroll through Tennessee wildflowers, go here and click on the "Wild Flowers" tab.

Photo of Tiarella cordifolia from Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

They're back!

The frogs, that is. We often hear the little peepers in February, but I haven't heard the real springtime frogs until today. Judging from the Herping with Dylan video below, I think I was hearing primarily chorus frogs. Whatever they were, their calls made a beautiful counterpoint to the birds' chatter. All the racket disturbed the serenity of the lake in the best possible way.

This clip runs a bit long, but I can never get enough of Dylan, and the end credits are cute. The frogs he's cataloging are in Illinois, but we have many of the same species in Tennessee. (You'll find a nice page devoted to Tennessee's frogs here.)

Click here to see all the HWD videos.

Monday, March 23, 2009


I expressed my inner ferret this morning. I had decided to do a little off-trail exploring before the ticks and poison ivy take back the woods for the season. I was trudging up a leaf-covered hillside and stopped to look at some sort of orange fungus that had sprouted on a fallen tree. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a patch of leaves move. At first I thought they were just being shifted by the breeze, but then they moved again. Something was definitely under there.

I generally try not to harass the creatures I come across on my daily walks, but I felt an uncontrollable desire to go after that mysterious, quivering bump. I grabbed a strip of bark and pushed aside the dry top layer, but the thing—Vole? Lizard? Mega-sized wood roach?—moved away from me, down into the damp, rotting leaves. I kept digging, thinking C’mon, I just want to see what you are. I’m not going to eat you or anything. The object of my desire, however, recognized my predatory compulsion for what it was. It kept moving, and soon it was clear that I had lost my quarry.

I got a nice little consolation prize, though. As I was headed back down the trail I saw a veery perched on the bare branch of a dogwood tree. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a veery before, but I recognized it immediately, thanks to all the time I’ve wasted poring over bird books. The veery is a migrant here, and never comes to feeders, as far as I know. This one was a birdwatcher’s dream. She posed prettily for me, turning around a couple of times as if to say, Get a good look, lady. I’m just passing through.

Ferret drawing from Het Leven der Dieren, A.E. Brehm (1829-1884) via Wikimedia Commons

Veery photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Shy and secretive

The trail is like a progressive peep show right now. The squirrels are especially busy--playing their erotic chasing games, chattering dirty to each other. I keep wondering when one of them is going to fall on my head as they leap from tree to tree. It’s all very sweet. One of the charms of spring is all the procreative energy it sets loose.

So I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised recently when I saw a used condom draped over a rock. It was lying next to the trail along the lake shore, a delicate remnant of transient shared frenzy. (I hope there was shared frenzy. I hate to think of some poor woman hiking all the way out there for nothing.)

It was only after I thought about it for a while that I realized I’ve never seen a discarded rubber in the park before, and how odd it is that I haven’t. This park is in a rural area, not many miles from the little town where I grew up, and anyone around here can tell you it has always been a favorite refuge for horny teenagers, or any couple looking for an alfresco tryst. Virginity loss, infidelity, casual prostitution, not to mention good ol’ recreational sex—it’s all going on in those woods.

And yet, in spite of all the hours I spend out there, wandering down side trails and exploring the secluded spots along the creeks, I never saw any direct evidence of human sex until a couple of days ago. It’s not as if people are disinclined to leave other signs of their presence. They leave beer cans and cigarette butts, fast food wrappers and used Kleenex. Anglers are the terrible about dumping bait tubs and tangled line. But the fornicators are a tidy bunch. If they were as careless as everybody else, the park would be fairly littered with condoms, their wrappers, forgotten thongs, etc.

For all the complaints about our porn-soaked, hypersexualized culture, we’re still very secretive when it comes to the real thing. Unlike those skunks I blogged about a while back, and the squirrels cavorting through the treetops, we crave privacy for coupling, and even hide anything that might give us away after the fact. What a shy, quaint species we are.

Angélique et Médor, Agostino Carracci (1557-1602). Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Sunday, March 15, 2009


It’s been wet and gloomy here for several days. We’ve had enough rain to push all the creeks up a few inches. Streams meander throughout the park where I’ve been walking lately, and the sound of rushing water can be heard everywhere, accompanied by a steady drip from the trees. While the water’s voice fills the air, moisture softens the carpet of leaves and stifles the usual rustle of wind and wildlife. Twice in the past two days I have startled large groups of white-tailed deer, and they’ve bounded away like ghosts, their hooves silent against the soaked ground.

The sounds in the woods shift constantly as the weather and the seasons change. Listening to them is a big part of the pleasure of hiking for me. The birds’ songs are pretty, of course, and their drumming, rasping, crying and honking engage the ear; but I think what I enjoy most are the more subtle noises. It’s easy to miss the skittering of a squirrel’s tiny feet, or the faint burbling pop of ice along the lake’s edge in midwinter. Even on a fairly windless day, there is always a delicate creaking in the high branches of the trees. I find I have to make a conscious effort to tune my hearing toward the small sounds, but when I do, they fill the aural space as completely as the din of the crows or the woodpecker’s laugh. I feel a little like a spy at those moments, listening in on a hidden conversation.

Mountain Brook, Albert Bierstadt, 1863