Far afield

My desire has been to wander, but my inclination does tend toward staying at home. One reaches a point in one’s life, however, at which wandering will shortly become more challenging than it was in youth. Also, it gets far too easy to stay comfortably within one’s zone of familiarity, which limits transitions and other difficult things.

Recently, I went far away, found myself (among other interesting places) in a field and happily fell into familiar behaviors I follow at home. In this case, scoping out the local flora and minor fauna in the hills in July.

IMG_4797

We were touring a small region of a small but extremely varied country: Portugal. The field featured small lizards that were so quick I couldn’t photograph them; dozens of types of wildflowers and grasses and their assorted tiny pollinators; robins, black redstarts, kestrels, and other birds I couldn’t identify. I am pretty sure we saw a hoopoe, which for me is exciting, though I expect it is not uncommon in Portugal.

As a humanities geek who loves Medieval and Renaissance art and architecture, I love the old cities; and the sea’s appeal abides, but the mountain regions appeal to the introverted gardener and naturalist in me. I was pleased with the quiet, with the pure air and blue sky, the twisting roads, the small farms. Most of all I was pleased to find so many plants and pollinating creatures in the field next to where we stayed for two nights, not far from the Peneda-Gerês National Park.

Some of these flower photos feature at least one bee or wasp or beetle-y thing. Below, a common sight on the mountains: heather, flourishing as well as it does in the British moors. Not much rain, but many misty mornings, even in July.

IMG_4702

This region is wind farm country. There are large, electricity-generating windmills atop much of the range, and quite a few of the many small rivers are dammed to create electric power and places to fish and swim. There’s certainly very little air pollution up in the hills…I have visited few places so pristine.

More little critters among the field flowers. Easy to overlook, despite how vivid these photos may appear.

IMG_4706

Nice to dwell, if only for awhile, in a place that offers a beautiful change of perspective.

Biodiversity, biodestruction

As the poems in my first collection, More Than Shelter, convey, I experienced mixed emotions about building a house and residing as human animals on a field that was in the process of reverting to wildness. It is a terrific privilege to “own” several acres of property and to dwell and raise food and children here. We have, after nearly 20 years, settled many of our challenges with the environment and its flora and fauna; and often, our lesson has been to let the environment be itself.MTS002

That means our “lawn” has largely reverted to clover and to grasses that can compete with weed seeds. That means we have meadows fore and aft and shrubby, scrubby hedgerows of mixed brush along a thin row of trees and rocks. It means we cannot entirely rid the area of invasive, non-native plants or the insects that come with them. And if a season passes without regular, careful maintenance–the environment will creep in on our living spaces very quickly.

On the other hand, a commitment to use no chemicals–or as few as possible (some exterior house maintenance requires paints and finishes that just are not environmentally-neutral) has meant that the property has good biodiversity for its size. So many kinds of avian life: scrub-loving little brown jobs, woods-dwelling owls and thrushes, turkeys, four varieties of woodpeckers, brightly-plumaged orioles, cardinals, jays, bluebirds, tree swallows, and goldfinches. Also the transient hawks, buzzards, and herons, and the grass-dwellers such as killdeer–to name a few. We are host to winterberry, serviceberry, dogwood, elderberry, nannyberry, mulberry, cherry, and wild grapes, so the wild fruit-eaters adore the place. Foxes, deer, groundhogs, raccoons, squirrels, chipmunks, skunks, opossums, even coyotes and possibly a black bear graze here.

They do not always stick to the margins and the flora. Sometimes they get into the trash cans or the compost heap (I once disturbed a deliriously happy raccoon sucking on a mango pit). Owls and foxes feasted on the guinea hens that refused to go back into the chicken run at night.

This description has not even gotten as far as the insect life, which is lively indeed–nor to the little bats, nor the oak trees’ flying squirrels.

~

For the last decade, we have been among several neighbors who worked to slow the development of about 60 acres that lies immediately east of us and extends up the last low rise of the Appalachian foothills (Blue Mountain/Great Valley section). We have had some success in limiting the development: there are now 40 acres of preserved land on the north side of the slope, and the “estates” will consist of 13 township-approved house lots instead of the initially-proposed 52.brunner

But the site preparation process has begun in earnest this summer, and each morning–an hour or so after the birds start their chorus–the bulldozers and front-end loaders rev up and begin the crash-&-bang, the delivery of large culverts made of concrete, the dump trucks with their loads of gravel, the engineered changing of swale and drainage.

We were guilty of such disruption ourselves 20 years ago, when we installed the house we love on the land we think of as our own. I try not to mourn the loss of the field next door; it was never ours to begin with, and in so many ways, neither is the property on which our house sits.

The land belongs to no one. It is earth’s. If it belongs to anything it is to the generations of dragonflies, lightning bugs, red-tail hawks, barred owls, and rotund skunks, all of which preceded our appearance here by centuries.

 

The study of–

Earth Day. March for Science. Global weirding. Polar ice caps. Phenology, biology, meteorology, chemistry, zoology, entomology, geology…all the ologies: “The study of.”

Ways we learn about who and where we are and how to live where we are and with those who have been there before us and on whom we–usually without realizing it–depend.

Scientists tend to justify their work by citing how factual it is. They believe it is necessary to have facts. But there are people who question these facts and who peg scientists as dry, heartless unbelievers. How wrong that concept is. Let’s look at scientists as people who study. Observers. Curious, inventive people. People who push the envelope of the “known” and who inquire into assumptions. Science evolved from philosophy, after all.

And there is so much at stake. We are all stakeholders in this environment, in this universe that extends–as far as we mortals know–infinitely. But scientists are working on that.

 

17498711_10158425599030261_5744494573695525358_n

March for Science–Philadelphia.

 

So many reasons why “the study of” matters.

Devil-bush

asian rose-amerMultiflora rose: Rosa multiflora Thunbergia ex Murr, is banned in 13 US states, including my own, where it thrives at the expense of native species of many kinds.

Here (at left) it mingles with another invader–Amur honeysuckle (lonicera maackii) along the Tulpehocken Creek in Berks County, Pennsylvania. Amur honeysuckle has not yet made the “illegal plant” list. Both shrubs spread easily because they do not mind disturbed soil and they have attractive berries that birds consume, thus sowing the bushes widely.

I do not know how a plant can be illegal if the birds are our planting culprits; but I do know how hard it is to eradicate multiflora rose, which flourishes in our hedgerow among the sassafras, tulip trees, green ash, white ash, honey locust, wild cherry, walnut, oaks, and maples.

The shrubs are wickedly hard to pull out, as they are stemmy and prickly and have deep roots. We’ve hacked them out of the rocks and pulled them out by chain with our tractor and weed-whacked them and used a machete in the thickets. We have often enlisted our son in our efforts to limit their number along our property line. He refers to the rose as “devil-bush,” having been scourged by its thorns numerous times while endeavoring to cut back or pull out the shrubs. I, too, have shed my blood over its white flowers–not to mention erupted in rashes, because poison ivy frequently entwines itself around the stems of multiflora rose.

Well. They are in bloom now (end of May). And so far, the roses are winning.

~~

The USDA has a page devoted to information on multiflora rose, a “noxious plant.”

 

 

 

Landscape, personal place

I’ve been enjoying Rachel Solnit’s prose lately, most recently her book As Eve Said to the Serpent, some of which derives from art criticism but which is also the kind of multidisciplinary approach to observing the relationships between things that intrigues me. What she notices about the environment, about art that engages with or alters place/landscape, and about environmentalists themselves piques my own inquisitiveness and gets me asking questions I might not otherwise have come up with. Place, particularly the personal “environment” that shelters, inspires, or calms me, is something I consider frequently.

31281_1488041725309_1074892_n

[one of my happy places]

Perhaps that’s because I am by nature an introvert; perhaps it has to do with being a poet. The personal aesthetics of place–a room or a landscape–exert significant effects upon my frame of mind and mode of thinking.

Why is that?

Maybe there is an evolutionary reason for the need to find a favorite spot, a hide-away, a happy place. We may still possess that ancient urge for security, the cave or treehouse we can use to hide from predators or from the weather.

And landscape itself can be a secret place, or a sacred place. A wide expanse of openness means it is easier to observe predators prowling in the distance, giving the prey animal time to flee. Or to explore, to survey, to run embracing what is far away and only imaginable.

12841317_10209081894708815_1677238824119852160_o

Neolithic stone circle, Castlerigg, Cumbria, UK

~

C.D. Wright: “What landscape is: not a closed space, not in fact capable of closure. With each survey the corners shift. Distance is the goal; groping the means.”

Toponesia and poem

Here is a poem by Virginia Hamilton Adair that demonstrates, perhaps, the idea of “toponesia”–loss of connection with place. The speaker recalls the beloved beach in its decay and in its beauty; she also recognizes that the tide erases all–talk about amnesia!

Buckroe, After the Season, 1942

Past the fourth cloverleaf, by dwindling roads
At last we came into the unleashed wind;
The Chesapeake rose to meet us at a dead end
Beyond the carnival wheels and gingerbread.
Forsaken by summer, the wharf. The oil-green waves
Flung yellow foam and sucked at disheveled sand.
Small fish stank in the sun, and nervous droves
Of cloud hastened their shadows over bay and land.
Beyond the NO DUMPING sign in its surf of cans
And the rotting boat with nettles to the rails,
The horse dung garlanded with jeweling flies
And papers blown like a fleet of shipless sails,
We pushed into an overworld of wind and light
Where sky unfettered ran wild from earth to noon,
And the tethered heart broke loose and rose like a kite
From sands that borrowed diamonds from the sun.
We were empty and pure as shells that air-drenched hour,
Heedless as waves that swell at the shore and fall,
Pliant as sea-grass, the rapt inheritors
Of a land without memory, where tide erases all.

from Ants on the Melon. Copyright © 1996 by Virginia Hamilton Adair

Homescape poems: Solastalgia

Note–The poems below are used only as illustrations and used by virtue of the Creative Commons theory; the copyrights belong to the authors or their executors.

~

I’m thinking about the nostalgic overtones of the “changed” homescape here, or the notion of solastalgia as coined by Glenn Albrecht (see earlier post). At first I planned to use a poem with overt environmental themes (as of the home that has been denuded, altered, destroyed–many good poems exist on that theme). Then I thought to look more obliquely at the idea of solastalgia as an emotional state, for home is deeply freighted with psyche.

One form of “solastalgia” is represented here, I think, in Philip Larkin’s “Home Is So Sad”:

Home Is So Sad

Home is so sad. It stays as it was left,
Shaped to the comfort of the last to go
As if to win them back. Instead, bereft
Of anyone to please, it withers so,
Having no heart to put aside the theft

And turns again to what it started as,
A joyous shot at how things ought to be,
Long fallen wide. You can see how it was:
Look at the pictures and the cutlery.
The music in the piano stool. That vase.

~

Another aspect of solastalgia, in this section of Gary Snyder’s “Four Poems for Robin,” relates to the homeplace in the form of a relationship, one bound up with the excitement of youth, college, the orchard with its tall dry grasses and love’s “grave, awed intensity.” Yase village is located near Kyoto; the speaker of the poem identifies where (and when: December) he resides while reflecting on an autumn day in his past.

December at Yase

You said, that October,
In the tall dry grass by the orchard
When you chose to be free,
“Again someday, maybe ten years.”

After college I saw you
One time. You were strange.
And I was obsessed with a plan.

Now ten years and more have
Gone by: I’ve always known

where you were–

I might have gone to you
Hoping to win your love back.
You still are single.

I didn’t.
I thought I must make it alone. I
Have done that.

Only in dream, like this dawn,
Does the grave, awed intensity
Of our young love
Return to my mind, to my flesh.

We had what the others
All crave and seek for;
We left it behind at nineteen.

I feel ancient, as though I had
Lived many lives.
And may never now know
If I am a fool
Or have done what my

karma demands.
~
I’d be interested in finding out which poems you consider solastalgic. Meanwhile, I am going to browse my collection for poems that are endomophilic…