Sunday, September 16, 2018

Integrating My Writing into My Physical Environment

Lake Sugema lies to the north of our campsite, blue water and blue sky and the sun rising to light the lake. Last night the stars were brilliant in the sky. Thank you, a week of rain to clear the air and my rural setting to eliminate the light pollution of the city. Even with my ignorance of constellations, I could identify the Big and Little dippers and Orion's Belt. The Milky Way was a flung haze of stars in a swath across the heavens.

My wife and I are here for five days, camping in our tiny trailer, she working from her mobile office and I writing in a variety of formats--daybook, text app, and online. I took a small hike this morning and a small nap this afternoon. I identified two varieties of oak, bur and southern red, this morning, sketched a bit with pen and colored pencils.

I've always enjoyed learning more about the world around me. I'm tired of knowing no more than "that's a tree," or maybe "that's a deciduous tree." Robert Hass's poetry book Field Guide is one of my favorites, a creative interaction with the natural world. I also love Donald Hall's Kicking the Leaves, especially the series of poems where he writes a poem for each season from the perspective of a bluff overlooking a river.

Today I saw a magnificent tree with wide branching limbs, some as huge as the trunks of lesser trees. I knew from the leaves that it was an oak. Pulling out my Peterson First Guide to Trees of North America, I discovered there are over twenty variety of oak in North America. I knew the tree wasn't one of the evergreen oak varieties, and by comparing the leaves and acorns with the book's illustrations, I determined the oak tree was a bur (mossycup) oak because of the shape of its leaves and the fringe of elongated scales (the burs) on the acorn cups. Having identified the tree, I drew a sketch of the leaves and acorn in my daybook, including coloring with my dozen Crayola pencils. Great fun! Later I identified a southern red oak, its distinguishing features the thin shape of the leaf and the shallow shape of the acorn cup. A page in my daybook was dedicated to a leaf rub from the tree, followed by a written account in the daybook of my adventure. Not exactly Lewis and Clark, but fun research culminating in a better understanding of the trees around me and a unifying of my immediate personal life with my writing life.

Now as I walk the trail and view the trees, I am aware of the many varieties of trees, the different leaf shapes and textures of the bark on the trunks. Such intellectual analysis isn't the only way to interact with the natural world, of course, but stimulating my intellect doesn't diminish my emotional appreciation or spiritual connection.

I want to see the forest and the trees. Learning the names of the trees is a gesture of respect, an act of kinship. If you fear I might now describe how I hugged the trees, fear not. I am cautious. My wife and I also identified poison ivy turning read as we move toward fall. I have to be careful. How can I type if my hands are blistered from shaking hands with our colorful cousin?

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