In Search of Wildness

Emily Dickinson was right to see that a prairie consists of only one flower and a bee. When my world was small, a quarter acre vacant wooded lot was enough to make a wilderness.

I grew up in the limits of a sprawling Alabama city, but I was happiest when I imagined I was surrounded by ‘wilderness’. In the leafy chaos of empty lots and wooded neighborhood margins I was a pioneer. Playing cowboys and Indians in a tiny fraction of an acre of woods, I could imagine that I was in undisturbed ‘native land’, and belonged there as a native myself.

As I grew older, I needed more of the nutrient of wildness than my little neighborhood woods could give. I went to summer camp and my backyard forest was magnified a thousand fold. Living at camp for a week, smelling of creek water and pine straw with a hundred other free-ranging feral children,I felt more connected to the larger life of the world than I would have after an entire summer of immersion in chlorine-smelling swimming pools or organized, sanitized sports.

I fished to find wilderness. Fishing possessed its own sense of isolation and otherness and was its own alien country fit for a young explorer. Mostly I fished alone walking the shoreline; more often than not, I’d find myself distracted by a little side creek or a rock bluff along the lake and I would forget fishing entirely. It was not the fish I was after, after all.

Like many of my friends, I followed my father onto the golf courses that spread into the countryside ahead of the expanding city. Our dads went there looking for something–to find tranquility and be near the land perhaps by chasing behind a little white ball. I’d wander off the manicured fairways into the rough turning logs for salamanders. And I decided that for me, just being out there was the point.

It is not easy these days for city children to know the joys of secret woods. Most of the tiny wilderness sanctuaries of my childhood are paved over now. Locked behind guardhouses of gated communities, they’ve become uninviting and forbidden domesticated places. Even the margins and edges from youth were not far enough away to provide reliable wildness. Maybe knowing this has made me long for remoter places when looking for our true home, a place for roots in our later years.

Now, far beyond the edges of a town so small that there are no spreading suburbs, we have found those roots. A vast forest surrounds me, and creeks flow full of bright fish and sunlight. I have tranquility by the sky-full here, and few neighbors to disturb in my rambling walks.

This little valley may be the place I knew I would belong to long ago in that half-acre woods. And I have to wonder if I did not start moving to Floyd County while picking berries with small hands– beyond my suburban yard in a secret patch of woods where natives lived.

This is a repost from Fragments (or elsewhere) from years ago. It just seemed fitting, what with all the reading and thinking lately about childrens’ exposure (or lack thereof) to the natural world.

Wildlife: Up Close and Personal

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Ann called almost inaudibly from the kitchen. It almost seemed as if she were trying to talk without even moving her lips.

Finally I made out what she was almost saying: turkey. Right. Here.

I grabbed the camera and got a few mostly bad shots, because the window glass reflection played havoc with the autofocus on the lens. There was practically no light, so the ISO got pushed to 800. I can say this: this is the best picture of a turkey I’ve ever taken. Because it is the ONLY picture of a turkey I’ve ever taken.

Ah, wildlife. Thursday, driving to work, I hit a deer. It came up out of a ravine and was maybe 20 feet away when I hit the brakes hard, and the deer the same way–broadside. Thankfully, I had slowed enough that I didn’t go up and over the deer, which probably would have turned me into the ravine.

The deer didn’t tumble, but instead slammed hard into the bank, staggered and ran back infront of the car AGAIN. I slammed on the brakes AGAIN. And the deer bounded back down into the ravine along Union Valley Road, and I feel certain is still out there somewhere, not feeling so very good.

And the Subaru: a few coarse deer hairs under the license plate frame. That’s all. This time.

Creature Feature

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So we’ve now had two full nights without a nibble. No creature was stirring, not even a mouse. What a profound relief to be free (for now) of things that go bump in the night. The scratching was so loud at times it even upset the dog, who would come stand in the dark at my side of the bed for reassurance.

But yesterday, we were all well rested. The dog was up to his usual antics for this time of year, what with the butterfly shadows zigging and zagging around the yard on a sunny afternoon.

But when I called him to come in, he balked. He’d come just so close to the house, then acted as if he was guarding something in the grass. And as I stepped closer to see, he picked up his kill du jour: a rather large, long-tailed mouse (species unk).

Odd, I thought. He catches lots of moles, and the cat (rest her soul) used to catch the much quicker and more nocturnal and secretive mice. But I don’t think I’ve seen the dog catch a mouse before. It must have been sick. Uh-oh.

Do you suppose this was one or our poisoned evictees?

I lassoed the dog and drug him inside, and came back and bagged up the potentially warfarin-laden mouse carcass and put it out of harm’s way. And we will have to be vigilant over the next few days for a repeat of this scary consequence of our purging the dancing mice from over our not-quite-sleeping heads.

And while in the dog-zone, we discovered last week that the dog had tape worms. And looking back, I have to wonder if this helps explain Tsuga’s bizarre eating disorder that had him eating (and puking) walnut shells. Maybe this was just the wisdom of the species (along with eating grass) as a way to either 1) make himself throw up, or 2) cut/shred some tapes in the intestines from sharp edges of the odd stuff he’d eaten.

Pollen-Nation Biology

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A pollen count of 120 is considered EXTREMELY HIGH in the southeast.image link

We spoke to several relatives from the Deep South last week when the pollen count in Atlanta reached 5500 particles. And small wonder that we could barely understand their scratchy voices: allergies and throat irritations are at almost record levels.

And all that yellow stuff that coats their cars and makes that yukky scummy froth on every garden pond and lake is finding its way deep into their lungs. Thank goodness for MUCOCILIARY CLEARANCE! Right?

This is one of the healthy body’s unappreciated “miracles” that keeps our lungs from becoming the waste heaps they would quickly become if all the soot, fungal spores, bacteria, dust, rug and clothing fibers AND POLLEN that we breathe in every day stayed deep inside our lungs air exchange surfaces.

Two things happen: the GOBLET CELLS that are richly scattered in this epithelium or lining tissue secrete a sticky glue–MUCUS–that traps the particles.

The CILIA are living whips–cellular organelles that are constantly in motion. And this motion is not random but coordinated–even within entire fields of such cells–so that there is a POWER STROKE and a RECOVERY STROKE. The power stroke, of course, is in the direction of UP and OUT. The cilia (as you can see in these movies) push particles toward the throat where we reflexively swallow, sending those umpteen thousand pollen grains to the hydrochloric acid in our stomachs instead of ending up in our lungs. UNLESS…

Unless you kill the cilia. If you want to do that, light a cylinder of plant material with a match. Put it to your lips and inhale. Cilia in this environment beat weakly, then stop entirely. And where does all that mucus-plus-pollen end up? You guessed it. It slides so deeply in the lungs that it can’t be coughed up–no matter how violently you try. Make a wonderful medium for bacteria. Can you say PNEUMONIA?

(Parents, this little biology lesson with movies makes a good visual motivator to the would-be smokers in your family.)

High Places

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Fred “Walter Mitty” the blogger pretends to be places he’s not. Wandering through his digital scrap book, he goes far afield in his head, even while the rains pour down and cold winds cut like a knife, and he sits behind his desk, not far from the cheery fire in the woodstove.

Here’s one I found going back to a Parkway excursion a month or more ago. I had passed over it in Photoshop when working on that folder of images, since my main purpose that day was to document infrastructure decline in the National Park. Of course, some of the pix that came home were of scenes and landscapes for their own sake, this being one of them.

There is something about tree silhouttes that intrigues me. One future note cards set, I hope, will be of trees through the seasons: maybe a winter set, and another with them in leaf in spring or fall.

Speaking of note cards, the Parkway cards I wrote about a few weeks back have been delayed by some printer-color problems at the shop. They’ve had to replace a part or two, and that has delayed the availability of the cards by a couple of weeks. Best laid plans (of mice and men…)

Which reminds me: last night–no mousey noises. Bar Bait. Thanks for the tip, y’all.