June 2011



Now, this is more the L.A.
I’ve seen before.
My room is above the intersection
of Colorado Boulevard
and a California freeway.
I hear the cars,
I see the cars—
and, very close, a little mountain,
which has green trees
and green ivy
but the grass is brown,
as are bushes.
Had a great sandwich—
humous, ailoi, fresh vegetables
on fresh ciabatta—from
a little shop
in Highland Park
and a mandarin soda
made from Fair Trade
certified organic cane juice.

A few days ago,
at home on the prairie,
a group of us took an evening hike
up Zig Zag Lane
to our “hill.”
It was just before the sun
was about to disappear.
A day before
Ann had seen a horned toad
on the road and brought it to show
Alyssa,
who had never seen a “horny toad,”
as we used to call them
when we were children
and there were many horned toads
in the summer.
We haven’t seen them in years.
Alyssa was excited to meet one
and we were thrilled to see them
coming back.
Alyssa released the horned toad
back on Zig Zag Lane
and as friends were walking along it
the next evening,
we saw what we imagine to be
the same horned toad.

After we all had a good look
and let the toad back down on the road,
we noticed a Nighthawk overhead.
They appear at dusk,
catching insects,
and make a distinctive screech.
It’s been described as a “nasal ‘peent.'”
I hadn’t noticed before
that as it makes that “peent” sound,
it flies up. Then it returns to a
lower level. Then: “peent”
and it flies higher.
It flies floppily,
looking like a bat.
We were enthralled.
A Nighthawk
and a Horned Toad.

I wonder what I’ll
see on my evening walk
in L.A.

 

I am coming to realize how thoroughly
weather impacts my spirit.
Not the storms,
so much;
the extreme weather,
so much.
Rather, it’s the every day,
normal-becoming-extreme
weather.
Here in Los Angeles
on the campus of Biola University
for a few days,
the weather has been perfect.
Perfect.
Those of us from other places—
Phoenix: 116.6 yesterday;
Billings, Ok: 102 and windy yesterday—
are savoring sunny days here
that aren’t furnacey;
sunny days with clear blue skies and cooler air—
say 80 degrees.
And, they had spring rains,
so it’s green, not brown.
Balm for the soul.

These photos are for you,
Oklahoma:
Here’s to those perfect days
in our future.

Eastern Colorado

Off in the distance: The Rockies

Trinidad, Colorado

Evidence of Last Week’s Fires in Raton Pass

Raton Pass

Santa Domingo Pueblo

Santa Domingo Church
and Horses

Sandia Mountains near Albuquerque

California

Los Angeles

My first train ride was as a child;
our parents took us from the station in Perry
to Oklahoma City
just to have the experience.
One of my favorite memories
is of a round trip train ride
between New York City and New Jersey
one rainy Saturday.
Several times, I looked into the possibility
of making the trip between Oklahoma and Washington, D.C.
It was always a confusingly indirect route.
But things have changed.
The price of train travel is less expensive.
There is an Amtrak station not too far north of us,
in Newton, KS.
I’m aware of the terrible amount of CO2 produced
with every airplane trip.
So, this week,
I traveled on Amtrak from Newton, Kansas,
to Los Angeles, California.
Two negatives:
the train departs and arrives from Newton
at 3 a.m.
It’s hard to sleep in the coach lounge chairs
and I didn’t get a sleeper because of the added expense.
But oh, the positives:
seeing the country
from a train is spectacular.
In 29 hours
(we arrived an hour earlier than scheduled!)
I got an uninterrupted sense
of the land we call the southwest.
I saw it as one, continuous,
remarkably beautiful land.

And then there was the surprise
of community.
People stood outside their adobe houses,
and stopped on their hikes in the forest—
and one young woman in a bright red shirt,
astride a white horse—
and waved
as we passed by.
And on the train,
strangers,
we discovered who was coming from where
and why they were going somewhere else
and why they took the train.
We sat together,
strangers,
in the observation car
exclaiming and pointing
at elk and buffalo and prairie dog,
at pueblos
and charred forests
and wondrous rock formations.
We shared meals,
strangers
from St. Louis, MO.,
Raton, N.M.,
Billings, OK.,
at white-clothed tables
while outside the window
golden light struck the red rocks near Gallup, N.M.
We chatted with wonderful train employees
and, in the coaches,
compared notes about how to stay warm
and get enough sleep.
Turns out,
people ride trains all the time—
because they want to,
because it’s cheaper,
because it’s more fun.

It takes a little more time,
but there’s no security
(at least not in Newton, Ks.)
There’s more leg room.
There’s more socializing
(lots of children, playing cards,
and young people, talking to each other,
in the club car.)
There’s the beautiful scenery
and a better sense of this country
that is our home.
And there’s less carbon
in the air.

I’m looking forward
to the trip
home.

Meadowlark on the Stronsky Place

After this posting I received a message from  a Native American friend, who has taught me that the words so often attributed to Chief Seattle are not really his. http://www.wildsnow.com/articles/chief_seattle/chief_seattle.html I could have simply removed this post, but want to take this opportunity to correct and inform. I would not want words put in my mouth either or be used for others’ agendas.

With thanks to Renee and apology to Native Americans. May we continue to walk together, learn from each other with respect and care.

Every part of the earth is sacred, every shining pine needle,
every sandy shore, every light mist in the dark forest,
every clearing, and every winged creature is sacred to my people.
We are part of the earth and it is part of us.
The fragrant flowers are our sisters,
the deer and mighty eagle are our brothers;
the rocky peak, the fertile meadows,
all things are connected
like the blood that unites a family.

— Chief Seattle
Correction: These are not Chief Seattle’s words


How do you capture the feeling
of an Alpaca kiss?
Or the profound stillness
of a pond in fog?
How do you capture in a photograph
the feelings that explode
while observing nature?

It’s a kind of which-comes-first
question.
You have to be in nature,
paying attention,
observing with a “loving eye,”
as opposed to an “arrogant eye”
(thank you, Sallie McFague)—
and then, being in nature,
trying to capture the feeling
that comes because of what we see,
we come to see more clearly.

Our next
Meeting Nature Again for the First Time:
Learning to See Through Photography Retreat
is Saturday, July 23.
To register, click on our website.

Taking in the details

Exploring the creek, where 60 to 90 percent
of vertebrates on the prairie find habitat

The evening before,
we hiked to the hilltop,
where we sat amidst the prairie grasses,
watched Earth roll up
and sun disappear
and took the Cosmic Walk
to experience the geological formation
of the universe,
including this patch of prairie.
At dawn,
we watched Earth roll over
and sun appear
and the prairie awaken.
We watched Venus fade,
light fall on the subtle rises,
faint color paint the sky;
listened as the birds began to sing;
felt the welcome coolness of the air.
We spent the rest of the morning
walking along,
and in (there are dry spots now)
Doe Creek,
observing, getting to know
this ribbon of life
where 60 to 90 percent
of the vertebrates on the prairie
find their habitat.

The flood and drought cycle
is the norm on The Great Plains.
And one wonders how life sustains itself
during the drought part of the cycle.
We saw no turtles,
only heard the splash of a couple of frogs.
But we did find egg sacks under rocks
in the creek,
which is a nursery for insects.
We saw dragonflies
and birds
and were absorbed by the orange roots
of the Bois D’Arc trees.
Using a jeweler’s loupe,
we looked deeply at cockleburs,
leaves and those orange roots.

We took note of vital parts
of the prairie
that are now missing:
the bison,
the prairie dog,
the beaver.
(Well, fortunately, we do
have one beaver community
on Doe Creek, to the south,
inaccessible this time of year.)

We could spend a week
exploring even this Black Bear Creek Watershed,
this tiny part of The Great Plains.
There is still much to get to know
in this system that is our home.
It will take a lifetime.

Okay.
There’s a drought.
There are no normal temperatures
anymore.
We are becoming a desert.
Water will continue to be an issue.
It’s hard, perhaps impossible,
to grow
what we’ve grown before.
Why not,
as some of our sisters and brothers did in the 30’s,
pack up
and leave
this land called Oklahoma?

Because there are still
mornings like this.
A bright, cooler June morning.
Grass wet with dew.
A gentle, soft breeze
ringing the windchime.
Cicadeas serenading
with their lazy rhythm.
Birds singing,
flying from tree to tree.
Insects eating.
Kittens romping in the grass.
Gentle air.
Gentle sounds.
Gentle movement.

Because
this is what we’ve been given.
Because there is only
this moment—
and this moment
at this place
is sublime.
And because this morning
I glimpsed
a bird I’ve never seen before
(curved beak,
red neck,
not a great flyer.)

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