Select notes from a season of nature observations/associations

Some raw thought, February–April 2010.

February 2, 2010

This noise, this natural static, surrounds me as a walk past a yellow gate, past the trespassing signs, into a space riddled with similar steps in the thin fresh snow. My feet join the sound and images of what were sounds upon contact. Each step is interesting and the faint crunch I hear makes me conscious of my position along the road, a transect through the woods.

February 16, 2010

Snowflakes are a microcosm of the cosmos in the clouds above. Frozen ice crystals formulate into shape as droplets of cloud freeze. Each then could be said to encompass that cloud, the conditions in the air and sky, which are reflected down into our domain and subject to our vision. The clouds, themselves visible conglomerations of these drops of water, are birthed through the vapors from the earth’s surface. And as such, the elements of our ecology are drawn up and returned in frozen form.

What exists in a particle of water? Frozen, does one stand as its own history isolated in time? Microscopists of the 17th and 18th century looked at water in such a way. The entire complexity of the universe could be seen within one droplet. As Thoreau’s pickerel was to the pond of Walden, one orb of liquid held the same degree of life, mystery, and the hand of the Divine as the naturalist saw in the forest or sea. Scale itself was an insignificant indicator of the world’s intricacy.

In a drop of pond water, these early microscopists saw what they described to be little animals, grazing, moving, interacting. When they saw snow fall upon the streets of England or Holland, did they imagine each crystal to contain the same vivacity, the same divinity? When I see snow fall, I can’t help but to likewise think of the story each might tell. The landscape from which the water evaporated, perhaps a field of potatoes months ago or the black of a parking lot. But by the time one crystal lands, our vision may be obscured, overwhelmed by the quantity of frozen memories. Snapshots. And they melt away to return again.

February 23, 2010

The hills, the melting snow, the creatures in the sky, these all supplement my time traveling along the highways. Encompassing them all under its gaze, maybe the sky orders my memory, and my perception orders my recollection of it in return.

March 3, 2010

Instead I sit patiently, and trust that the creek knows where it is going, that this will all end up in the South Bay. Down the incline of the hill I followed to sit here, the water blocks the noise and interference of the road. Besides the life my eyes cannot see in the fluid before me, the scene is devoid of animate moving life. Again, I need to trust that the trees are acting through their roots, that under these stones are invertebrates, that the shriveled dry leaves on the bank will in time rebirth into living breathing organic photosynthesizing form.

And there is the moss, light green and brown, clinging with minute anchors to the rocks both adjacent to and submerged under the stream. A naturalist once, gazing closely at the damp form, claimed he could see in moss the cedars of Lebanon. Moss, to the left of me, to the right, to my 12 o’clock. In patches, small clusters, tight density. They require moisture to survive, and here are busy being tickled by the current, coaxed by the water. Some of the plants extend outward, expand their domain over stone. They too respire, breathe, like me, on this cool March afternoon. I take care not to disturb their yoga as I resume my walk.

March 8, 2010

Now that the sun exerts its influenced in full form once more, the ice on this lake is gone. Now my eyes can penetrate its depth, glimpse the snail shells sunk in mud alongside submerged wood and other organic matter. And like the cluster of berries, the water is alive again and now breathing too as it flows over the concrete, making a static and an energy that fills everything, effects all with sound and life. It hits the rocks, cradles the water’s bend, and emerges with vitality from beneath the bridge and takes a gasp of air.

And on the other side of the dam the water is calm, still, moving faintly if at all. It absorbs the energy of the sun, brings life silently through the layers of its ecology as birds tweet in a distance, into the roots of the reeds that abound from the water’s surface, mirroring the distance of the blue and cloud of sky. It takes in all this and seems to almost convert it, pumping and rumbling its song by me sitting here, potential turning kinetic before my eyes.

March 16, 2010

An imprint of green, neon, overwhelming, glosses my view. I’ve come inside. It’s dark here, the walls arrayed with tiles, brown and white porcelain. I’ve been spending too much time inside already. Class, books, libraries, digital screens, plethoras of paper, sheets of dead trees.

When scheduling and time and course load and short stories and statistics force me to return indoors, the color of the grass stays with my eyes. As if chloroplasts have suck like pollen around my face. As if the stark blue of today’s clear sky merged and mingled and played with the radiant yellow that’s been matching my sight.

March 30, 2010

But I see Pepsi signs and stray dogs under the shade of pine trees. I see motorbikes and children on the sidewalk. I see the landscape of the old town fade away into farmland and open hills. Lone groups of cows, distant from any home or farmhouse, graze in a small indent in the valley. Adorning the houses we do pass—vibrant colors, bright reds—I see lines of clothes already dry in the hot sun of midway.

On the right now: passing cropfields that appear to be cornfields, empty deteriorating shacks alongside up kept homes, small buildings with windmills and elevated water towers.

On the left: passing plain level fields of green and yellow, clusters of different tree patches in the distance.

Several more minutes go by, and I see to my side a field of blackened earth, of cut and burn—several embers still glow in the ash. We move by fallen bricks, bare branches, evergreens, lush branches, breathing tops of a harvest, power lines and protected squares of dense forest, fallen trees with roots parallel to those prior individuals of wood. The ride if full of bumps, speeding up and slowing down, and I can only assume potholes, roads that teeter between maintained and degradation. What do we see?

But in writing them down frantically in the midst of bumps and turns, in recording whatever was instinctually distinct among the haze of images to my side, I see fresh. And I see polkadots of color and life.

April 12, 2010

I peer over my shadow and can begin to understand how Thoreau could see in the pickerel the entirety of Walden. It is April and the tadpoles are larger than usual.

Rain flows downhill, into this aquatic domain, and down past cement into smaller streams, probably off to Tivoli Bays. Here, the tadpoles are, for lack of a better term, plump. They are round, almost ball-like, the length of my thumb. Some have already grown meager legs, scrawny arms, but retain their waving propulsions of a tail, almost entirely fishlike, but not quite.

I can’t help but look at these organisms and not think of bacteria and their flagella, rotating to push the forms onward through aquatic murk. In this pond, the tadpoles do much the same, their tails propelling them past broken reeds and leaves retained from autumn and the corpse of a fish. I can’t help but think of the early theory of recapitulation, in which ontology replicates phylogeny, development mirrors evolution. Did Haeckel look at tadpoles when he sketched his famous illustrations of embryos?

Like a linear image of evolution, the frog starts at fish and shifts into terrestrial creature. It is the mediator of water and dirt, it is Calvino’s “Aquatic Uncle,” it looks fetus-like.


Michel Serres commented that in French, le parasite means both parasite and static. No system, he wrote, can exist without this noise, this babble—the static interrupts, it recreates something. It changes our perspective, puts things in contrast, spurs our thought. It is the speech of crows, the chatter of the café, the babble of the river, the breath of moss, the rattling of the pines, the rolling of tires—I’m confused, like Dillard. I can’t separate the energy of the crashing water from the murmurs of engines, the distant chatter of birds from faint conversations of humans. The pairs play together, a ping-pong of voices and ideas.

I can’t purify my sight of either—I need this hybrid to absorb what is around me. The contrast only heightens my senses, makes abstractions clearer. I try and take in all around me like dragonflies in a frog’s mouth, like the moon looking into a lake and going beyond its own pale reflection.


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