Seeking

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Rowboat On The Dark Sea (artist unknown)

Would you believe me, if I told you
I am a rudderless boat
adrift beneath the starry sky?

Sometimes gliding with apparent purpose,
then spiraling aimlessly in a gyre,
or caught in tangles of Sargassum

Motionless, while schools of fish
swim by as though with singular ambition–
I float alone, without direction.

 

Would you believe me if I told you
my hull was not built for such voyages–
too small, too fragile, too easily damaged,

Not meant for vast oceans or rogue waves
battered, creaking and straining,
green water pulsing through cracks

Bailing feverishly, waiting with dread,
certain the next wave will splinter me–
drowning seems inevitable, if not immediate.

 

Would you believe me if I told you
I am pushed by unseen currents,
and my course cannot be charted

Strong winds cast my hull west,
against the lee shore, pounding surf,
fog blurring the horizon, where sky meets sea,

Beating to windward slow and vexing
dogged effort with little headway–
wind and waves conspiring against me

 

Would you believe me, if I told you
that some are meant to wander
and I am never truly lost

When I lie on the rough wooden boards, caked with salt
and look up at the star-filled sky,
my heart knows the course I should be sailing.

For now I must be content to sail on through the night,
change my course with the shifting gale,
and see what the sunrise brings.

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MST Sunday

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The day is just awakening,
Feet falling, mostly an easy rhythm
Broken by the short step or lengthened stride
To avoid an errant root or rock,
Breathing regular, though not effortless,
Engulfed in wild silence—
The kind that allows space for a mind to wander,
Not the “silence” of white noise machines
Designed to dull our reality.

This silence is full and round,
Leaves blowing, gentle lapping at the lake’s edge,
Bickering redheaded woodpeckers—this year’s brood, no doubt,
The crickets, of course, plus whatever brethren
Make all those different sounds, which I do not know.
Weird snorts and screeches from deer
That I have to see first to confirm they are really deer
Pattering of squirrels, lighter still for smaller creatures
Sometimes movement, not sound, draws my eye.

The quiet of a very alive forest
Is the kind where I can hear myself think.

Tuesday reflection

Tuesday after work. I am

camping with Stephen at Shinleaf,

on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail,

after he has spent much of his day

slowly moving himself and many

surprising (to him) pounds of gear from

Bayleaf Church Road, about

ten miles away. Tomorrow,

he will walk another thirteen to

Rolling View and await pickup

after I finish work. An experiment

in carrying everything you need and living simply.

He is tired and sore, but clearly pleased with

his accomplishment. Yet he’s puzzled to also

feel somewhat disappointed, and it

gnaws at him. I let him talk

but don’t say much, allowing him

space to think more and return later.

As for me–I sit outdoors at 8:45 pm

watching the waning sunlight,

an early bedtime whispering the

sweet promise of rest before the

sun rises on Wednesday. And I can

tell you that I feel content

with this ordinary

yet extraordinary

evening.

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FORECO Daily: Whiteside Mountain

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Alan Weakley asking our crew of 8 students to assess the unique seepy rock face below the Whiteside summit. This unusual community has too little soil for trees and takes a constant beating from rain and ice, but it makes an ideal habitat for other species, some of them rare. In the foreground you can see stately Turk’s cap lily, aptly named Lilium superbum. The hula hoop was my idea for a teaching exercise and so far has raised some hilarious questions and looks from fellow hikers.

2017 Forest Ecosystems

For the next 2 weeks I’ll be teaching my summer field course, Forest Ecosystems of the Southern Appalachians, at the Highlands Biological Station with my friends and colleagues Julie Tuttle and Alan Weakley. It’s my 7th time here: 1999 as a student with Tom Wentworth and Dan Pittillo, as a teacher in 2005, 2007, and 2009 with Tom; and 2013, 2015, and now 2017 with Julie Tuttle and Alan Weakley. There is always at least as much learning as teaching in this course. As always, we have what looks to be a great cadre of 8 students from a mix of backgrounds and experiences; we’ll also have several guests with us who will contribute their knowledge of ecology and conservation.

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Field notebooks from 1999, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2013, and 2015, with a new one for 2017.

Field courses are fun and intense. We often have 10-12 hour days in the field and students will earn their 4 credits in two weeks’ time. Our evenings (as instructors) are spent reflecting on the day’s teaching, what worked and what didn’t, assembling gear and planning for the next day, and checking directions. It is pedal to the metal.

We are leaving for the Smokies early tomorrow for 3 days. I’m especially excited about the second day of our trip, which Julie planned, to see some of the sites that burned in the severe fires that hit Gatlinburg, TN last fall with Rob Klein, the leader of the Fire Effects crew for Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and hike a new elevation transect on the Trillium Gap Trail.

A few stats from past courses: ~900 miles driven, 13 days in the field, 27 sites visited, 40 miles of hiking, 80-page field notebooks filled by each student with their take on the day’s events and each site visit.

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Sites we’ll visit, color-coded by day. We project a good illusion of organization. 

I need to get to other tasks and the wifi is sketchy here, but I do hope to post a daily photo like I did in 2015. To find those, search Forest Ecosystems in the search box.

There’s always something new in Forest Ecosystems: the new sites we’ll visit above, a neat cove forest I found outside of Franklin, trying out a new assignment and teaching strategies. I love the dynamic teaching and knowing that things will happen that we don’t expect and we’ll be adjusting accordingly. Stay tuned!

 

 

Summer plans

This summer will be how I always intended to live,

Mapped out neatly in my notebook next to the scribbled to-do lists,

Allowing me to breathe in the sauntering, unstructured days of summer.

Filled with possibility and unmarred by the daily grind.

I shall go to bed early and sleep until I am rested.

I’ll nurture my family with meals we make together

With the summer bounty from local farms.

We’ll eat and laugh around our table, sharing our joys and woes

With space for deeper conversations, too.

I shall ride my bike to work, and give away things I no longer need;

Walk gently on the Earth, with pauses for wonder.

Appreciating my abundance with austerity and generosity,

Recalling that time is the only currency worth seeking.

My neglected summer garden

Will be raucous and beautiful, yet unsullied by weeds–

For I will work in my garden for an hour each day.

[I shall call it “happy hour.” Or maybe “half hour.”]

I will read a new book every week, and they will all be worthy

With thoughtful words, fiery ideas, and deeper meanings.

Words will flow from my own fingertips, and they will be precise and uncluttered,

Arranged with perfect balance and cadence and clarity.

I shall run any day that I wish, and soak in the company of friends

Like roots pull nourishment from the soil, and we will linger

Over jokes and earnest conversations with steaming cups of coffee

In the humid early mornings, just after sunrise.

I will seek joy and deliver it with intention to others,

Open my heart, to allow love to wash away the shattered bits

Love without expectation or fear for tomorrow’s woes,

Like drinking deeply from a clear mountain stream

Remembering only the cold wetness the moment it touches my lips.

Then I will awaken and notice the goldenrod flowering

The last brood of Carolina wrens has fledged,

And the sticky days of August are upon us.

Summer days stole by on silent yet swift feet,

Gathering into weeks that were surprisingly busy

And months that disappeared without a trace.

I’ll shake my head and laugh at my Quixotic optimism,

Roll my eyes at my silly, navel-gazing privilege

That enables such dreams and noble intentions.

Nonetheless, I’ll treasure those found moments, and promise myself

 That next summer will be different.

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