Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Three Crows II

Three crows fly

Three crows fly
over the road and land
rising again as I pass
their dry dismembered meal
an aging rabbit carcass
furry bits of scattered death

Three crows call
from trees across the creek
what do they plot
and plan with their raucous voices
loud against the gentle sounds
of tumbling creek and soft wind in branches?

Three crows wait
high in an oak tree
for the wind and storm to pass
or merely for reason to fight it to fly
they flick their tails to balance
on wildly waving branches
as rain pelts the land

Three crows tumble
they ride the air and glide
then one by one drop and roll
breaking out of the fall
just as wingtips touch wingtips
they play with the wind

Three crows flee
a pair of sparrows that flap
and flutter and rush in and pull back
what sort of crime did they commit
to raise such ire in tiny birds
they beat strong wings in a straight line away

Three crows nest
and tend the pair of ugly young
that are offspring of two and siblings of one
one tends the nest while the other two search
for bits of tender decaying carrion
to drop into the throats
of the hideous hungry chicks
drawing by
Crow Drawing by Sherri Lee Butler

Friday, May 23, 2008

Which Came First: P.C. or the P.C.?

Such a simple question with such a complicated answer.
IBM introduced their "IBM PC" to the mass market in August of 1981.
Miriam-Webster dictionary dates the term 'politically correct' to 1936.
But it is not as simple as all that.
Just see for yourself. Do a search on 'personal computer history' and read a few articles. Do a search on 'political correctness history' and read a few articles.
I used the term P.C. to talk about changing the words we used to halt the spread of stereotypes when I worked at Bell Labs in the late 80's or early 90's. We got a computer at home that we bought ourselves in the early 90's when I began my landscape design company. But I had my own desktop computer at Bell Labs in 1984. And we worked on educating each other about stereotypes and gender and race issues via our 'Affirmative Action' program then too.
When did you first become aware of 'political correctness'? When did you first have your own 'personal computer'?


He was 72 and I was 47. We shared an interest in horticulture and a past on a City volunteer nature committee. I was training to go with my sons on a Boy Scout backpacking trip and someone told me he was walking for fitness a few times a week, so I called and suggested a joint hike. Asked where he walked. He said oh, down the prairie path. I asked how far. He said oh, to the library and back, maybe a mile. I figured it would be fun to have company and that I could walk a little more after we were finished if it wasn't rigorous enough for my training level. And it would be a good day to add 5 more pounds to the pack. I showed up at his house and we set off with me under nearly full pack load. Dang he was fast! I had some trouble keeping the pace and found myself desparately searching for plants we could stop to look at so that I could rest my aching calves and catch my breath. And he just kept going and going and going. After we dragged back into his driveway much later than I had anticipated, I asked if he knew how long that route was. He looked at the pedometer on his belt and said it was about four and a half miles. I asked if those things were accurate. He said his was usually a little short. Later when I was telling his daughter the story of how her 72 year old dad tried to kill me on that walk by tricking me into loading up my pack and walking over four times as far as he said he usually went, she reminded me that he was actually 80.

Thursday, May 22, 2008


Ritz crackers. In their brown waxy tube of wrapping paper. On an old blanket with partly missing satin binding. On the grass in the sun by the sparkling water. The James River widened where it passed along the pasture and fields behind our house because there was a dam a few miles down stream. At the end of the road that was just two wheel tracks, the road with the two jogs in it, there was a slight bend in the river and a sand beach formed. We cousins would play in the cool water, while men ran boats and water skied and women sat on blankets and dispensed cool lemonade from spigoted coolers and Ritz crackers that made salty crumbs on our sandy legs. Summer IS Ritz crackers and lemonade and sand.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008


If you are ever invited to a Boy Scout Eagle Ceremony, take it for the opportunity that is it and attend! When my oldest was in elementary school and wanting to join Cub Scouts with his friend, I was reluctant because I take serious issue with Boy Scouts of America anti-gay policies. But it seemed to me that like so much else in the world that is not perfect, the organization had a lot to offer that was positive, and I was confident that if it ever came up, I could certainly deprogram my own kids of any negative teaching. It turned out that it just never came up. In the over a dozen years that one or the other of the boys has been involved in scouting, there was no mention of it in any way at any meeting or event ever. And what did they gain along the way? Outdoors skills and appreciation of the outdoors from many more views than mine. The ability to self-organize and pursue a goal and ask for help when needed to achieve merit badges. Friendships with kids outside their school and with other interests. Leadership skills because the troop is boy-run so they are required to plan their own meetings and outings and also because the older kids are expected to teach and help and include the younger kids. High Adventure outings where they backpack and hike into real wilderness and are on their own as a small group dependent on their knowledge and gear and each other for survival.
It is difficult enough for a kid to fit in all the opportunities such as clubs and sports and hobbies that are available to them, so to join the cub scouts in second grade and stick with it until 5th grade when they select a Boy Scout troop is an accomplishment on its own, but then to stick with Boy Scouts through all the other demands and opportunities of junior high and high school is another challenge. But the best of the best stick with it to the end and ultimately become Eagle Scouts. Most people know about Eagle Scout projects, and often think that is all there is to it, but achieving the rank of Eagle is much more than the project. The project is merely a test or demonstration of the abilities gained through years of Scouting. The scout needs to achieve a number of merit badges in serious areas such as family life, personal fitness, community government, national government, the environment, and so on, that may not be the fun ones like metalworking or stamp collecting or other hobby related badges. The scout needs to be active in the troop, not just a member in name only, and participate in meetings and outings. The scout needs to have served in leadership positions within the troop, such as leading and planning meetings or being in charge of troop camping gear or planning and leading the educational aspect of each meeting. After, or during all that, the scout needs to design a project that is of service to the community, and plan and execute the project involving members of his troop in some way, so that the project itself becomes a leadership opportunity. Because these kids have been accustomed to meeting and planning and working with adult leaders, and because they have been in charge of educating and making younger kids a part of the troop each year, these kids have a confidence and ability to interact with people of all ages that is amazing. They are thoughtful, mature, and interesting, but because this has all happened under the framework of weekly gatherings and monthly outings and annual high adventure trips, these kids are light-hearted and fun. In short, they are competent. So, if you are ever invited to an Eagle Scout ceremony, do not dismiss it as another stuffy ceremony that you are obliged to attend, but make it a point to be there, to celebrate an accomplishment of a young man who will make a positive difference in the world.
Thanks to Scoutmaster Pfeifer for the Eagle photo and hats off to the three young men who will be recognized as Eagle Scouts this Sunday!

Cattle vs. Sheep


Not curious.

Not Just Nature

When the boys were young, we rode the commuter train. This is something we did every so often for fun, with no particular destination. It was interesting to see the towns we knew about for some other reason and note them as the train passed through. It was fun to recognize parks we’d been to or businesses or street intersections. It was intriguing to see the industry and the back doors of businesses and the storage yards, instead of the main streets we drove on or walked. It was especially fascinating to see the train switching points and the train yards with the stacked containers and sidelined boxcars. You see, it is my favorite thing to observe and enjoy and appreciate nature, but you can apply your observation skills to the richer enjoyment of any environment, natural or man made. You can, as we did, observe from a passing train or out your car window. You can observe the people in the store or at the restaurant. You can observe the structure and display units of the store and the workings of the checkout aisle and watch for glimpses into the goings on in the back rooms where meat is cut and bread is baked and boxes are unpacked. At work, you can observe the details of the d├ęcor of your boss’s office and your boss’s outfit and your boss’s face. Look at just a door and notice all the parts and textures and colors and shadow and light. By purposefully applying observation skills with all your senses, you can enjoy a more richly detailed life all day every day, indoors or in nature. It’s all there: Notice it!

Monday, May 19, 2008

In the Moment: Here and Now

One of the greatest factors to successful observation is to learn to stay in the moment. Too often, when our body is in a natural environment, our head is somewhere else, fretting about work or household details or a relationship or some problem or issue. But if your brain is elsewhere occupied on other things, it cannot be fully present observing and analyzing and enjoying nature. It takes practice to push the other things away temporarily and stay in the moment, focusing on what is happening in the here and now, to focus on the senses and the present, ignoring past memories and future worries. To block all thoughts of other times and places and things allows the thoughts to be flooded with sensations of the present time and place and frees the brain to sense all the details of the place. This sort of thing requires practice. As soon as you notice that you are not in the present, you must forcefully push the other thoughts away and refocus on where you are and what you are experiencing. To do this over and over means that your brain soon fills with the sensations of the present and that in itself helps block out the intruding thoughts. But you must be wary of this effect of other things creeping in and consciously keep yourself present in the current time and current place so that you can absorb its rich details. Sometimes for some people, if they just cannot stop thinking of other things, it helps them to take a small notepad along so that they can make note of the concern or issue or thought. They find that once it is written down, they can more easily push it aside, because they know it is safely in the notebook to be retrieved later. We often say we need to ‘get away’ to relax but then we bring it all with us. Daily practice of shutting it out for just a short amount of time and letting in other things from our environment can have benefits far beyond enjoying nature in greater detail. It can have a calming balancing effect on ones whole life.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Eavesdropping on Bar People

From my perch just under the eaves of my lair above the street three doors down from the bar where there is apparently some sort of amplified entertainment going on, I eavesdrop.* **
“I want my birthday hug. I know, but I want another. I am going to want another before we leave too.”
“AAAiiieeeee! When did you get back? I haven’t seen you since Christmas! Are you home for the summer?”
“Shut up, man. No I mean it. Shut up. You don’t know what you are talking about. Shut up. Shut up.”
“I know I’m gonna go back to her. I know it’s a bad idea but I know I’m gonna anyway.”
“I’m just killing time before Africa. I don’t know for sure, a few weeks, something like that, but I leave on a Sunday.”
“Answer your phone. Answer your phone or you won’t know where the next party is.”
“I’m outta smokes, man. We gotta find smokes. Do you have any on ya?”
“Where’s my truck? I can’t remember where I parked my truck. I thought I parked my truck right there. Ah, I guess we’ll find it in the morning.”*** ****
*I wonder if listening from the eaves is where the word ‘eavesdrop’ came from?
** I will leave out the multiple occurances of the f-word in each sentence. To get the true feel, read aloud, much too loudly, with more f-words than you can imagine ever using in a single sentence. You will still use too few.
***This sentence needs way more f-words than you will insert. However, the alliteration with truck makes it sound oddly poetic.
****7 am update: He is up and wandering around looking for the truck. It is not on this street or that intersecting it. He has stuffed his hands into his pocket and is walking away.*****
*****He doesn’t look all the worse for the wear. I think it is the crew cut. If he had longer hair, his hair would look unkempt. I think that hair style might be one of the secrets to getting away with over-partying.

Saturday, May 17, 2008


I worry that I don’t worry about the right things.
I worry that in worrying about the wrong things,
I fail to worry about things that I should really be worrying about.
I worry that in failing to worry about them, I fail to act on them.
I worry that in worrying about the wrong things,
I give too much attention to them.
If I am going to worry about the wrong things
to the detriment of worrying about the right things,
wouldn’t it be better not to worry at all?
I worry that that sounds irresponsible.
I worry that you'll think I worry too much.
I worry that you don't think I have serious worries.
I worry that I spelled something wrong here.

Compare and Contrast

Yes, it was an annoying part of college exams, but it is a valid way of understanding things more deeply. Compare and contrast. When you are out for a walk, stop and look at what is to your right for a moment. Then turn to look at what is to the left. Look from one side to the other to find things that are the same on both sides. Then find things that are different. Go back to looking for same things, then unique things. The more times you alternate from one side to the other, the more details about the scene you will absorb. The more deeply you will understand the scene. You might think that you are in the midst of a pretty uniform woodland area, but maybe one side is drier than the other, one side might get more light, the path might restrict spread of plants, so that there really are observable differences. Or you might be in a place where there is a stream on one side and prairie on the other, very different things, but there will still be similarities to be found in those apparently diverse scenes. Try to find differences in two plants of the same species. Try to find similarities in two different species of plants. In a tree and a flowering plant. In a plant and a stone. Comparing and contrasting each to the other helps to expose relationships and dependencies. You can also tease out details by comparing and contrasting the experience via different senses. Listen for a while and then look for a while and pay attention to what things you could detect with both senses and what things you could detect with one and not the other. Compare and contrast over time. Observe a scene in as much detail as you can, then take a nap there, and wake up to see what has changed. And make note of your mood at the beginning of your walk and compare and contrast that to your mood at the end of your walk!

Parts Inventory

Take inventory. Instead of just looking at a thing, mentally list its parts and look at each one. Focus on one single plant then take a deliberate moment to look at where the stem comes from the ground, the stem itself, how the plant is branches, the leaves, the backside of the leaves, the edge of the leaves, the surfaces of the leaves, the buds, where the flower attaches to the stem, the flower petals, the flower center, the pollen, the seeds, and dried or dead plant parts from previous season on the ground. Pick out one tree, then look at the bark, the root flare, the size of the branches and whether the branching forks or alternates, the leaves, any seeds still on the tree. At a stream, notice the banks, the plants, the water, the rocks, the bottom under the water, where the soil goes from wet to dry at the edge, anything floating, any life in the water at the very edge. Notice the smell of the water and the soil and the plants. Hear the sound of the water and the birds and the rustle of leaves and your own footsteps. Touch the ground and the dried leaf litter and the water itself. Look at an insect and notice its legs and its body and its head and its mouth and its eyes and its antennae. Look at your own hand, the texture of the skin, the lines on the palm, the shape and color of the nails, the veins under the skin, any rings, any scars, calluses, injuries, dirty spots. Look at the face of a loved one. This listing seems time consuming and artificial at first, but like scanning where you move your eyes in a pattern, taking inventory becomes natural with time and practice and enriches your experience many time over.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Stop, Sit, Wait

One of the most important ways to see more is to just stay put. Instead of hurrying on your way, stand still, or sit down and stay a while. Sit still and do not move or move only slowly and gradually. You will see changes of light as the sun moves just a little. You will notice patterns of sun and shadow. You will see changes in movement as the breeze picks up or slows down, or even when it lets up altogether for moments of total calm. Animals and birds will get used to your presence and reenter the area and resume activity. You will see slow moving insects and snakes and reptiles and amphibians moving against the still background. You will see other people enter the area and move on and their effect on the environment. If you are observing wildlife, it is instinctive to all animals to recognize the facial pattern of 2 eyes and a nose/mouth region, so if you close one eye or cover it with a hand, you might disrupt that pattern to wildlife and keep from startling them for longer. Watch a single flower on a warm day to see the many kinds of bees and ants and beetles that may come for its nectar. Watch the canopy of a tree to see the various birds that visit and watch for insects crawling or flying around among the leaves. Watch a stream to see what floats or swims or flies along. Sometimes we work too hard to find nature, when a bit of quiet time means that nature will come to us, if we are quiet and patient enough to let it.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Four More Senses

Focus on each of your senses one at a time and experience the area with each. This allows you to enjoy the environment as a much more richly dimensional tapestry than just seeing alone. Pause to close your eyes and listen. You will find that the breeze causes the trees and leaves produce a wide range of sounds and that you can detect the varying speed of the breeze based on those sounds after a very short while. Leaves rustle, branches rub against each other, and trunks creak as they sway. You will hear much more wildlife than you thought present as you tease apart the calls of different kinds of birds and insects and maybe frogs. Turn your head to hear high and low and in each direction. The longer you listen, the more adept you will be at pulling nature sounds from the background of traffic and human made sounds and the animals sounds from the environment sounds.
Do not be afraid to touch things. Pick things up from the ground and feel their temperature, their moistness, their texture. Replace them as you found them. Touch leaves, feel the petals of flowers. My sons pet bumble bees. Hold a rock in your palm and feel its cool.
While you have those things in your hands, engage your nose. Smell the flowers, of course, but smell the leaves, giving them a little rub to release their oils. Smell the earth and the mosses and the damp side of the rock where it touched the ground. Smell the fallen leaves and the crumbling wood of the decaying log.
You can even taste nature with reasonable safety if you do it cautiously and in tiny doses. One way to do this is to rub a thing and then give your finger a tiny lick. You will find that the sap of some leaves have a bitter taste while some are more spicy. You can dip a fingertip in some flowers and actually find the sweet that the bees gather as nectar. Soil and rocks can be salty or sweet or bitter.
We have five senses but mostly we inhabit a world of vision only, so just by engaging the other four senses, we can have a richer experience of the natural world.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Change Your Perspective

We see everything from standing eye level when we are on a walk. To see more, you can change your perspective. When seen from a different angle, new details can be observed. By squatting down or even lying on the ground you will see things at the ground level that you never noticed. While there, turn your head and eyes upward: You will be looking up at things you usually look down on. If you step up on a rock or log every now and then you will be looking down on things you usually see straight on. Get up close to things. Pick things up. If you always take a walk in a certain direction, take it in the opposite direction so you see the scenes in a new order and from a new angle. Looking from a different perspective can show you what you never noticed before.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


Every scene is rich in detail, but each person has their attention first drawn to some specific thing within the scene and usually then considers the scene to be seen. But there is so much more there than the first thing that grabs your attention. To see more, you can learn to scan. First you have to pause on your journey. This will take the motion of your body through the space out of the equation and it will allow you to move your eyes through the scene to take in the details of a time and place. You can observe the scene using a variety of scanning patterns. In a natural scene, a good pattern to use is to scan from foreground through the layers to background. You can scan a scene from low to high. You can scan left to right. As you scan, you stop your eyes and really focus on what is there at each little step. The point is to stop your eye in little increments and really notice what is there at each stopping point. People tend to always look at the same sort of things. Most keep their eyes on the path for most of a walk and look up occasionally at maybe the canopy of the trees or the forest floor for wildflowers. But if you stop to scan, you sell see the leaf litter and the fallen logs and the stuff growing on the fallen logs and the shelf fungus growing on the trunks of the trees and the nest in the branches of the tree and the clouds beyond the tree. All that diversity and variety is there, waiting to be discovered and enjoyed, and it is up to you to change your patterns of looking so that you can see more of what was there all along. Scan your world and discover the delightful details. Remember to work on it in a systematic manner until it becomes habit.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Seeing and Seeing More

The first I remember giving it any thought was in Ludden Elementary School. We took a test where we looked at a picture and then wrote down things we observed. The goal was to see the most things in the picture. I did a little better than my classmates and took some pride in that. Doing that little bit better and learning there were techniques for observing appealed to what little competitiveness I had in me. It began a lifelong hobby of learning to observe in greater detail and trying to teach others to observe in greater detail when I have the opportunity. So I have learned techniques. And because nature is so important to me, I take the time and effort to apply them to the natural world. When you first start to apply techniques like these, they seemed forced and unnatural. But after going through the steps purposefully, after a while they become part of how you see, part of your personal habit of observation, and it will feel natural. The next few posts will cover specific techniques for seeing more. You can find others’ suggestions and ideas for gaining better observation skills, on line and in books, but you must take the time at first to go through the steps to apply the techniques until they do become habit, part of your own unique way of seeing. Yes, greater detail in observation is a gift that some are born with, but it is also a skill that can be learned, developed, and enhanced so that you can enjoy a rich medley of sights, sounds, tactile sensations, and fragrances every time you are surrounded by nature. Get out there and look around!

Fire Breathers

They were seedy guys in bad costumes at the circus that you couldn’t see very well because you were up in the bleachers, but still, it was the coolest thing you ever saw! Last September, on Saturday night at WomanSong, we left the movies in theatre hall where we had been hiding from the rain and wind and cold and trying to avoid the drips coming through the holes in the roof and had about given up on the promised campfire, when the planners announced we should move to the big tent where we would have our music and poetry around . . . luminaria? . . . instead of the usual open bonfire. Well, kind of a disappointing token sort of fire thing, but we shuffled out and across the wet lawn anyway, clutching our shawls and blankets and windbreakers close. The rain seemed to have let up for the moment at least. And there, outside the tent, they were waiting for us, practicing a little, with their potions and hoops and batons . . . and their . . . FIRE! They ate the flames and breathed out plumes of fire like graceful feline dragons and made lines of fire on their arms and shoulders and twirled burning batons and danced with flaming hoops. Right there within a few short yards of us. You could see their faces, hear their breathing, see their sweat, hear the leather of her vest creak, hear the little rush of the fuel and the small roar of the burning flame, hear the whoosh whoosh whoosh of each turn of the twirling flaming hoop, hear the little breath of relief at the end of a dancer’s challenging moves, see the reflection of the flames on the beads of water on the wet grass and on the eyeglasses of the watchers. You could smell the fuel and the gases from its burning mingling with the wet smells of the rain. When she moved past close enough you could smell her perfume. You could see the dancers’ bare feet and their jewelry and hear the clank of the batons as they touched in the air. It was real and right there. Live. Fire. Firebreathing. Firedancing. WomanSong.