Friday, December 16, 2011

Hovenweep

We arrived in Bluff, Utah after a long sunrise hike in Arches National Park. We were exhausted but too excited to spend the evening lounging about, so we grabbed a couple of fry bread tacos from Twin Rocks Cafe and headed out the lonely road to Hovenweep. We rushed past dilapidated windmills and herds of spotted horses. The sound of sheep bells carried through our open windows. Hungry dogs paced the concentric circles that their chained stakes prescribed. They stopped pacing long enough to watch our car blur past. 


Little Ruin Canyon is gouged into the top of the mesa like the claw mark from a giant bear. Not carved by a river but a small spring at the head, the canyon drops away in a series of slabs and shelves as the mesa was undercut by the seeping water.

A strange wind blew through the absolute silence. No one was in sight because no one was there. We were alone to walk the canyon trail, among the ancient ruins and reaching shadows. We wandered aimlessly, sleep deprived and sore. Ravens hunkered in hidden alcoves and crumbled granaries. Occasionally, one would call out, perhaps mistaking our stumbled delirium for wounded antelope, soon to be carrion. Tiny lizards played chicken with our foot falls, scattering in every direction. The falling darkness and exhaustion compelled us to walk faster. We were willing to do just about anything to be back in our hotel room so we could crash in a heap.

We were probably too tired to fully appreciate Hovenweep while we were there. Probably, we should have waited until morning. But the memory of that evening still hangs in my thoughts, a ghost of wonder.



Friday, December 2, 2011

Florida Black Bear

We had a visit from a black bear that we haven't seen before. He was a big guy, maybe 500 lbs?



It can be hard to tell in a picture how big a bear is. One way to get an idea is to look at their ears because they don't change size significantly over their lifetime. If their ears look big compared to their body, the bear is probably small and young. In this case, the ears look small compared to his body.

For more bear pictures, please see these bear cubs from this summer or the chapter on bears from The Lightning Forest.

2011 Florida Individual Artist Fellowship

I am very proud to help represent the incredible artistic diversity and talent in the State of Florida. The Individual Artist Fellowship is a program that helps support the arts in our state, regardless of institutional affiliation. Thankfully, the anonymous process is easy to follow and complete. It also exposes you to a wide range of Florida artists that you may or may not know. I encourage all Florida artists who take their work seriously to apply.

Here is my profile on the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs website.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Lightning Forest Chapter Twenty-two: Bears

      For three months, after moving to the scrub, we searched for them. Melissa and I heard the stories, saw the crossing signs down by the highway. It was the right season. We knew there was at least one nearby. The trashcan was repeatedly raided and spread over an acre before we learned to keep it inside the garage. His broad muddy paws would leave brown blooms down the length of our concrete front walk, though I have never figured out where he found mud in this sandy wilderness or how he got it to stick to his paws until he reached our house. We got in the car and searched the evening, sitting quietly at an intersection where we could see for a distance in three or four directions. I read books. Lots of them. Bears were shy. And smart. If you ever saw one, you would be lucky, blessed even. The neighbors down the road spoke of them with a nervous chuckle. Yes, they had seen them, but only rarely. Rumors of cubs circulated.

Florida Black Bear Momma in our "Napping Tree"
      Then, one afternoon while the pool man and I worked on the filter in the backyard, a 400 pound bear rambled past the corner of the house, not more than 20 feet away from us. I breathed the word “Wow.” The pool man panicked. I stepped between them instinctively. The bear swung his enormous head around toward us, a pivot somewhere between his shoulders and neck. He moved like heavy machinery. Muscles rippled. I could hear the breath explode past his nostrils. Our eyes locked. My mind blanked. 20 feet! This huge drooling beast was hardly a step away.  I couldn’t even think if I had read a rule or not: look in their eyes, don’t look in their eyes, climb a tree, punch them in the head, play dead, fight with every last breath, run like a deer. I didn’t move a muscle. The distance between us, lawn and species, disappeared. Bears have beautifully expressive eyes. He drilled into me. He forced the connection and I couldn’t look away. His nostrils opened and he took me in. We met as mammals. He was evaluating my intentions. I'm sure he could hear my heart pounding hot in my chest. He noticed my fingers slowly clench, my pupils contract. But he saw more than that, I am sure. He recognized my newness here, my infantile attachment to this land I knew nothing about. In his eyes, I saw mossy logs filled with grubs, the moonlight rushing down on blueberry fields, the whistle of shotgun pellets overhead, and hidden swamps filled with palms, orchids, and giant moths. Part of you wants to cry when you look that deeply into a bear's eyes. By the twitch in his haunches, I could see his desire to run. The only reason he didn't run immediately was because he was worried that if he turned his back to me, I (half his weight) would attack him!  That is the great secret of the black bear. They are driven by two things, food and fear.

      His head swung back around, turned his body, and eased several slow steps before sprinting down the wooded path.  He was gone. I found myself reaching out into air after him, as if to say, “Wait! No! One more second!” Our eyes had locked in a moment that was so complete that I can still replay every second. I learned more in that brief look than I have in the 15 or so books I’ve read on bears since. Everything changed. The pool man never came back.

      I started seeing bears everywhere. I look out our windows at night and see them strolling by our patio. They raise their heads skyward, nostrils flaring, smelling the wind. I see them from the car sticking their heads out of the brush looking for a break in traffic. I see them up the trees, panting.  I’ve learned to recognize the sounds of one running past the house while I sit in the living room reading. I come face to face with them on trails once I learned how to walk silently. Big, old, embattled boars. Young mothers. Cubs. Adolescents. Bears with bright white chest patches. Cinnamon bears. Fat bears. Bears that were too thin. Bears with radio colors, bears with ear tags. Siblings. Enemies. Flirting bears. Playful curious bears. Angry bears. I named them if I saw them more than once. Munchkin. Tinkerbell. Radio. Red Tags. Low-rider. Slim. Mange Boy. Big Boy. Popeye is missing her right eye. The Two Amigos are two small bears that have stuck together for years. Thunder has a long white scar that runs from his right ear, across his head, and down his left cheekbone.

      The bear we named Mean Boy often uses the acre across the street as a place to sleep during the hot, languid summer days. There are a few enormous fallen pines that make a great shelter. We call him Mean Boy because his face is entirely black, ragged, and carried the droopy-eyed look of a short temper. He never seems particularly concerned when he sees us, unlike all the other bears. He walks with confidence. He isn't the tallest bear in these woods, but he is built wide and stocky. Any larger bear would have to think twice before tackling Mean Boy.

Best picture I have of Mean Boy
      As it turns out, we live on a bear highway. This area is a greenway between the Wekiva River basin and the Ocala National Forest. The population of bears is more dense here than anywhere in Florida.  Bears can be found throughout the state, but they are obviously much more common in wild areas. Bears require a lot of acreage to survive. If they are seen in other places, they are most likely traveling between wild forests.

      Black bears are social animals even though they don’t seem to like each other very much. They are solitary, but they long for information on other bears like letters from overseas. Bears share the same roads and pathways to critical locations in their territory, forming tunnels in the underbrush and tamping down grass. They pen their correspondence with scent, leaving notes in the sedges as they walk, by clawing landmark trees, leaving urine and feces along the pathways.  These markers tell a story about the bear that leaves them; age, gender, health, fertility, and how recently they’ve passed by. Their feces also serves as a menu for the local area, telling other bears what cuisine is currently available. In this way, they know each others’ whereabouts and can carefully time their feedings so they don’t have to meet accidentally. If they find themselves in a new area, they can discover opportunities for food by following the scent highway. It will certainly lead to somewhere important. Our yard is one of those highways.

      Bears get into trouble around people, and there are a lot of people south of here. People get scared of bears lurking about and have the bears picked up. Tagged, collared and shamed, they are often shipped up into the Ocala forest or even further north into Osceola or Appalachicola. On their long trek back to town, the tagged bears walk southward through my yard, back into trouble. The landscape fountain out front is a well-known watering hole. I will often walk outside to find a strange bear quenching his thirst in the bubbling sculpture. Bears are extraordinary in their willingness to accept and profit from our technology. They are also pretty good at circumventing it. The bear highway curves around just out of reach of the motion-detector floodlight on the corner of our house. Even bears that have never seen this yard know exactly where to find water and where to walk to avoid the floodlight.

      Bear fur, I swear, is the most light-absorbing material to cover any animal. The thick matte-black fur seems to take in more light than it reflects, allowing the bear to disappear from view as soon as it steps behind the first bush. Even when you look at them in the wide open, the details seem to fade away. In the darkest of moonless nights, the bears are darker still. Bears come out of nowhere, they melt into nothingness. They know this truth and walk in the edge of shadows. They walk silently if they don’t want to be noticed. They will crash through the palmettos like a truck if they don’t want you to follow. This is their trick that must be breached. Your brain must be retrained to see what doesn’t want to be seen.

A young Florida black bear on our trail
      The first bear in my life was as a child growing up in Millinocket, Maine. Millinocket was, and is, a papermill surrounded by hundreds of miles of rocky thicket, peat bogs, snow, train tracks, and moose. The county dump was a niche carved out of the pines, a pile of bags and appliances and papers. Each evening, a small contingent of cars would pull in and wait. Bears would climb up over the pile of garbage to the front where the freshest of the day’s waste had been dumped. It is fairly typical in areas with plenty of food for bears to tolerate each other, even appearing to enjoy each other’s company. Here, the bears were drive-thru entertainers. Bags were torn and shredded. Boxes were overturned. They begged at car doors. The spoils were divided.

      I also remember the sad, toothless bears living at roadside attractions in Maine. Clotheslines with empty coffee cans attached could be filled with marshmallows and the bears would pull the treats up to their balconies. The bear mind is so attuned to food that any amount of indignity can be endured for a snack. It has been said that, when it comes to food, black bears are smarter than chimpanzees. Fear and food may be the two motivators for bears, but food often overrides fear. Those bears may have been mere vapors of the glorious wild bears that roamed freely just within sight of the roadside zoos, but I suspect that somewhere in their inner life, they believed that they were getting the best of us.

      The image of a bear existing in a human-free wilderness is an artifact. The concept of a pristine behavioral pattern is unrealistic in today’s world. Bears are more nocturnal in the company of humans in an attempt to avoid contact. The lure of garbage for bears and the promise of undeveloped land for humans is so primal that the prime habitat is destined to be shared. Although the trash causes abnormal growth patterns, the high-caloric enriched diet is a boon for bears. Once accustomed to the fatty and sweet foods found in trash, bears start to lose interest in their healthy natural diet of palmetto berries and acorns. Who doesn’t prefer cheese and chocolate over broccoli and wheat grass?  They have more cubs than they would with a natural diet. But while bear populations may appear to be growing, the average age is decreasing. The half-eaten hamburgers, Cheetos, and sour cream have a price. It forces bears to cross highways where they are being hit in ever-increasing rates. Bears are illegally shot by private landowners. Bears get too close to suburban areas where they are feared and relocated. The trip back to their territory takes them over more dangerous roads. The wisdom that comes with age is being lost. Older, smarter bears are less common, so most of the future generations are being raised by mothers that prefer human trash, eroding their ancestral techniques for surviving in the wild. Are they slowly forgetting the nuances of a natural diet? This balance between bear and man is precarious. Don’t be fooled by this younger, larger community of bears. A little too much development in Central Florida and the bear population will crash. A few more busy roads here and the habitat will become too fragmented and dangerous. The bears will retreat further back into the Ocala forest.

      The Florida black bear’s favorite scrub foods include acorns, palmetto berries, sabal dates, sedges, hickory nuts, shiny blueberry, gopher apples, pawpaws, holly berries, and hearts of palm. They are one of the few predators of the muskmare walkingstick. The chemical defense of the walkingstick protects it from most animals. To the bear, the pungent squirt is a fortuitous spicy burst. They eat mushrooms, they tear open old logs looking for bess beetle larva. They dig out the juicy mycelium of stinkhorns.  Beyond insects, they are not particularly predatory, but they do enjoy carrion and will kill young fawns when they can find them.

      Their hunger gets worse in autumn. They tear down all of my banana trees to chew on the juicy centers. They destroy the birdfeeder. They chew my garden hoses. They explore every possible food source. I’ve found tooth marks in my water softener. I’ve found bears in my garage while I was mowing the lawn. Flower pots are crushed. One of my plastic pink flamingos was mutilated. They steal things. An area rug that I was drying on the picnic table disappeared overnight. The autumnal bacchanal is, of course, necessary for hibernation and birthing cubs. Two years ago, I surprised a young female digging through a pile of flowerpots on the side of my garage.  She stood up in shock, cried, and ran. Her hind leg caught up on a thick looping vine and she fell face-first onto the ground. Forgetting her fear for a brief moment, she turned and looked at me with a light-hearted, embarrassed expression that I will never forget.  For all of the destruction and thievery, I find comfort knowing the bears are out there, in the night, challenging my perceptions. They make me question my surroundings. They are hungry enough and big enough to be noticed, to be an equivalent. A peer. There is a mind in the woods, strategizing, analyzing, goofing up. I sleep better knowing the night is not left in the care of insects alone.

      Florida bears don’t truly hibernate, but they go into a sleepy phase starting sometime in early January and ending in early April. No animal sleeps through winter with the aplomb of a bear. Needing no food, they do not need to eliminate any waste which makes them unique among hibernating mammals. Even more miraculous is their emergence in the spring because they retain their muscle mass. They seem impervious to entropy. Not all Central Florida bears go completely asleep like their northern relatives, but their activity is so restrictive that you are unlikely to see one during this time.  They laze about, far from humans. The palmetto bowls no longer crash with bears. You won’t hear the cubs’ stout claws scraping up the slash pines as they climb to safety. You no longer have to look over your shoulder when you go out at night, or wonder what lies around the corner. The bear tunnels begin to grow in. You can put your garbage by the roadside the night before pick-up and sleep comfortably that you won’t have to clean it all up in the morning. By all practical means, things seem more pastoral. The deer step gently out onto the lawns. 

      But when for too long I haven’t seen them, they visit me in dreams. Once you have looked a bear in the eyes with the mutual understanding that comes in that scary, clumsy moment, you will be followed to bed. Bears will not be denied a place in the human consciousness.  One night they will devour you. One night they will nuzzle into your arms. One night, they will show you their ferny enclaves, teach you their subtle language. Symbols of strength, intelligence, resurrection, and divinity, people have throughout history tried to possess the bear spirit. Cave walls were painted, hearts were eaten, clans were named, constellations were traced, bear galls were dried and shipped to Asia.  Elizabethan audiences loved watching bears tortured and torn limb from limb in bloody spectacles. Once, I saw a roadkill bear on the side of the road, deep in the forest, beheaded and completely skinned, its fatty musculature stinking in the sun. The paws were chopped off, the brains taken for the tanning. Was this a bear that I knew, that drank from my fountain? Was this Thunder? His beautiful light-absorbing skin now lies in someone’s TV den, destined for a garage sale when the novelty wears off. Humans want to possess the power of Bear.

      Hoagland had his turtles, Oliver her geese, Leopold his Silphium and pine, but they were all captivated by the bear. They all knew the presence of bear in the forest, seen or unseen, changes the tone, alters the light. A forest without bear loses its vitality, its edge. I do not believe we are all hopeless romantics anthropomorphizing bears. I believe we are discovering something of ourselves in their raw wildness. Maybe more than any other animal, the bear has crossed cultures and time universally where it is known to have lived. Maybe more than any other animal, bears have something to teach us. Cast out from heaven, we reach out to another awareness, another intelligence. We are co-conspirators, sharing rich emotional lives, common life goals and fears. Do we inhabit their dreams as well, chasing them relentlessly through the underbrush, our rifles spitting fire? Are we their totems, their familiars?

      This morning I awoke to the sound of heavy equipment in reverse. My heart sinks. Without getting out of bed, I knew what was happening because the “For Sale” sign had been posted on the acre lot across the street for over a month now. There are few sounds more disheartening than the diesel growls of land-clearing machines in the morning air.

      And what a beautiful morning it is! A cold front had pushed through during the night and knocked the humidity down to a reasonable level for the first time since last winter. It signals the first day of fall. Fall in scrub land means time for the palmetto berry harvest and window panes clear of condensation. It means the lovebugs are gone and we can wash our cars with some hope of it lasting. It means the air conditioner gets a few moments of rest, it means the lawn will slow its mad dash to the sun and the mowing can wait until the weekend. In my backyard, it means the butterflies have a renewed sense of urgency in their mating. Their eggs flow more freely. The males need less poetry to seduce.

      Sap pours from the broken trunks of sand pines that had survived three hurricanes this summer. Finally, they are pulled stump up and all, so nothing will survive. You can't build a house on stumps. Mean Boy’s den is torn to pieces. The machine leans its shoulder into the large sprawling live oak at the center of the lot. The oak will not die without a fight. Chainsaws dismember it. Puffs of black smoke. Still, the oak won’t budge. I begin to harbor hope that the tree is too much for mankind, the new owners will have to buy another lot somewhere. The men take a break.

      That live oak, arms stretched out to the ground and to the sky, must be ancient. It is, by far, the largest hardwood I’ve seen around here. It somehow survived the fires that frequent this land. I used to scramble over it trying to catch the grizzled mantids that prefer its mossy limbs. Grizzled mantids are lichen mimics. When sitting still, they look entirely like a patch of lichen growing on bark. Their wings have all the requisite little curls, edges, flaps, and ridges. They seem to change color to match whatever lichens are nearby.

      As the live oak finally surrenders to a machine ironically named 'Caterpillar,' I wonder if the new neighbors will appreciate the mysterious grizzled mantis.  I wonder if they will understand that the toughest, scrappiest bear on the block slept in their bed before their bed was even there. Will there be indifference or regret? That old oak lay in an enormous dirty pile in the center of the acre like a headless skinned corpse, ready to be burned, sent up in a billow.

      I walk back to my yard, my own patch of lawn and concrete. The ancient Greeks believed that mother bears licked their formless, newborn cubs into shape like they were made of clay. Bears were sculptors of life, creators. The belief lasted for centuries. It seems obvious now that the cubs are born perfectly formed and the mother is simply cleaning her newborn. The image fell from use. Bears may not sculpt their young, but they are sculptors of the forest. No other single animal has such a profound impact on the forest it lives in and the psychology of the people living nearby. Bears are, indeed, creators.  I can’t imagine living in the scrub without them; our charming, suspicious, sometimes nuisance companions.  I suspect that when it does happen and bears no longer use the highway in my yard or raid every birdfeeder for miles, the indifferent and cruel neighbors will miss them too. Our trash might be safer, but our dreams will be empty.



Please note that the poems and narratives on this site are copyrighted and may not be reproduced without the author's permission.






Monday, November 14, 2011

Naming Lists as poems

I use lists in my poems a lot. Not Top 10 lists or shopping lists, but lists that illuminate the complexity and beauty of the world. Nothing illustrates the unknowable diversity of knowledge and sets the imagination flowing so succinctly as a list. Here is a section of my poem A Butterfly Hunt

So
we go in search of butterflies!
the rose-tinged sulphurs, the coppers,
the skipperlings and cattleheart,
the sisters galloping over the stream beds,
the Parnassus of the alpine
the whites, the blues, the mimics and thrill
of the unnameably gentle sun
lifting each aloft on its fingertips.



Lately, I've been interested in "naming lists," which shed all pretense of the poet's wisdom and context. Naming lists can't rightly be called poetry at all, in my opinion. However, they are a fascinating method for understanding the world. Not just the diversity of what can be named, but what we as humans decide to name. Lists are a layman's window into specialized knowledge. Lists open your eyes to worlds perviously unknown. Imagine my delight when, after creating a list of citrus, I inadvertently discovered a ripe Buddha's Hand hanging like a sea anemone from a surprisingly tiny branch while wandering in Orlando's Leu Gardens. I had walked that path many time before without noticing. There is something about learning of something's existence that makes it appear in our lives. You look up an odd word in the dictionary and suddenly you see it everywhere.

Who invented these names? Why did they choose a name in particular? I suspect behind every name lies a story, sometimes technical, sometimes soaked with passion or sorrow. Some names seem to exist for the pure joy of being named. Ultimately, lists ask many more questions than they answer.

Here are some lists I've made recently. All the names are real 'common names' used for specific species.


Moths
Inconsolable Underwing
Intractable Quaker
Slowpoke
Black Witch
The Half-Wing
The Bad-Wing
The Sweetheart
The Betrothed
The Bride
The Old Maid
The Little Beggar
The Neighbor
The Laugher
Grateful Midget
The Confederate
The Scribbler
Tissue Moth
Chalky Wave
Three-Spotted Fillip
Small Necklace
The Gem
Pistachio Emerald
Ruby Tiger
Purple Plagodis
Blackberry Looper
Blurry Chocolate Angle
Long-horned Owlet
Moon-lined Moth
Horrid Zale
Honest Pero
Dappled Dart
Fluid Arches
Shy Cosmet
Delightful Dagger






Citrus
Navel
Seedless Navel
Valencia
Kumquat
Madarin
Lue Gim Gong
Parson Brown
Blood
Sour
Corniculata
Temple
Buddha’s Hand
Tangerine
Tangelo
Minneola
Ruby
Marsh Pink
Jaffa Sunrise
Snow
Rough
Eureka
Lemonange
Winged
Sweet Mary Ellen
Key
Kaffir
Humpty Doo
Ugly



Minerals

tuff, tufa, chalk
sard, talc, chert
flint, gneiss, salt
glaucodot
orpiment
chalcedony
chrysoprase
chrysocholla
lead, arsenic, uranium
aquamarine
beryl, spinel
The Silicates: rock crystal, amethyst, smoky, citrine, rose hogg, phantom
The Corundums: ruby, sapphire
The Fluorites: Rogerley, Blue John, Glory Hole
Sleeping Beauty turquoise
Iceland spar
olivine
pumpkinite
watermelon
moonstone
sunstone
bloodstone
Habits: geode, fibrous, concentric, radiating, massive, prismatic, straw, botryoidal
Fractures: conchoidal, hackly, uneven, splintery
Effects: Schiller, Widmanstatten, fluorescent
Sizes: monolithic, boulder, cobble, nodule, pebble, grain, dust






Cattle

Holstein
Jersey
Guernsey
Kerry
Cracker
Pineywoods
Moiled
Blonde d’Aquitaine
Lingo
Balancer
Glan
Tux
Blaarkop
Baldy
Salorn
Krishna
Anatolian Red
Jamaica Red
Square Meater
Beefalo
Hays Converter
Speckle Park
Tuli
Heck





Please note that the poems and narratives on this site are copyrighted and may not be reproduced without the author's permission.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Some Waterfalls

Reach Falls in Portland Parish, Jamaica 
Reach Falls in Portland Jamaica was a fantastic place to spend the day in late spring. We were lucky to have a lot of water flowing but not so much to keep us from entering the two caves behind the cascades. You can explore the sapphire pools above the falls in complete solitude, unlike the tourist crush of Dunns Falls. Portland parish was a magical vacation. We stayed just outside of Port Antonio. This isn't the land of hustlers and all-inclusive resorts. It is the home of jerk, surfing in Boston Bay, Blue Mountain coffee, Frenchman's Cove, the Blue Lagoon, and Errol Flynning down the Rio Grande on bamboo rafts. There is no better country to be a vegetarian traveler in. Who else has a great traditional vegan culinary tradition like ital?  We felt safe enough to hitch rides into town. The people were fun and generous.






Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, Big Sur California

About 30 minutes south of Carmel, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park provides one of the most beautiful waterfall views in America. I'm sure there is a way to actually get down there, but it would certainly be "unofficial" and it was unknown to us. This picture was taken from the Overlook Trail which hugs the hill on the north side of the small bay. Unfortunately, there weren't places to sit and spend a long time, just a narrow walkway. Luckily, we didn't mind because we were on our way to Pfeiffer Beach, just north of here.  If you are ever driving Highway One between Cambria and Carmel, don't be a fool and pass by this state park.


Pfeiffer Beach (not to be confused with Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park)




Unnamed falls on the La Mina river in El Yunque, PR


Who doesn't love their own personal tropical waterfall?  El Yunque National Forest in Puerto Rico is chock full of verdent and enticing falls. We hiked the La Mina trail like so many other visitors. Surprise! It rains a lot in the rainforest. The downpours scared a lot of people back up the trail. La Mina falls itself is packed with swimmers and gawkers. If you hike upriver from La Mina falls, you will find a series of equally beautiful waterfalls that you can swim in by yourself. In particular, the next fall just above La Mina is fantastic. You have to climb down a hidden, steep, muddy path. Once down there, you might as well be in another world. As an added bonus, we saw the famous gem of a bird, the Puerto Rican tody. Its emerald and scarlet feathers shone in the wet foliage above the water.  This picture is of a small waterfall that had found a crack in a large boulder and, over the years, carved a permanent trough along its length.  El Yunque is a waterfall-lovers paradise.


Puerto Rican tody from http://www.elyunque.com/birds.html


Yosemite and Bridal Veil Falls in Yosemite National Park

Friday, October 14, 2011

Raising Ox Beetles (Strategus antaeus)

Raising Ox Beetles in Central Florida is easy. All you really need is a lawn that you don't spray with insecticide. Your house will also become a popular hangout for Florida sandhill cranes and armadillos.


Florida Sandhill Crane at our door


If you want to raise them yourself, you will have to start in the mid-spring through summer months. Keep your eyes open because you need to catch a male and a female. Even if you just find a female,  you will most likely get fertile eggs, but if you want to be sure you have to have both! Males come in two 'flavors,' major and minor. Majors have large horns, minors have small horns. Females don't have horns at all. They can be found scuttling about on your driveway, your lawn, on the edges of woods especially after a rainstorm. They also are attracted to porch lights and black lights, but never in great numbers. Alternatively, you can also lift up the turf grass (unsprayed of course) and look for grubs in the roots of the grass. You are likely to get a green june beetle this way, but hopefully there will be some of the larger ox beetle grubs. Finding a pair is the hardest part!


Strategus antaeus major male

I have a small five gallen fish tank with a solid plastic top only opened about 1/3. I fill the tank about 2/3 full with a mixture of
1/3 organic compost soil
1/3 sand
1/3 crumbled rotten wood (hardwoods, not softwoods)

I keep the tank on my back porch and out of the sun. Obviously, you don't want any sun light to hit your tank directly! It helps to keep the tank outside because it keeps the humidity levels up. Humidity is very important for all stages of development. I also spray water into the tank regularly. You don't want any standing water in the bottom of the tank, but they need moisture. Think of how much it rains in Florida.

During the summer months, I ferry beetles in and out of the enclosure. Children are great at searching and capturing ox beetles. I only put one male in there at a time and typically only keep an individual in there for about a week before letting them go. You can put as many females as makes sense for the size of your tank. This works well because it guarantees lots of eggs. I also feed them a chunk of banana once in awhile. I'm not sure if this is required considering I only keep them for a week at a time. After a month of ferrying beetles you can stop. You have just concluded the hardest part of raising ox beetles.

You are now faced with eight months of spraying water three times per week. After about a month, start gently mixing plain dog food pellets down into the soil every so often. Don't put too much dog food in there or it will get moldy and rot. After four or five months of this, you should start seeing grubs up against the glass of your aquarium.

Your larva will pupate and compact the soil around themselves for protection. The compacted soil is not necessary, but I always try to be very careful at this stage. They are very vulnerable to damage and their injury will follow them into adulthood. I remove and pupae I find to another container with soil so the remaining larva don't mangle them.

 Now is the time to start checking your pupae daily. Eventually, an adult will emerge. Just like butterflies, they emerge in a "soft" state. Their elytra are pale-colored and easily damaged until they harden.
Normally, they remain underground at this stage.

Here is a major male I raised before he hardened:
Strategus antaeus major male before hardening

After a few hours, the caramel orange color of its elytra will match the deep maroon of its head. Once they are completely hardened, they can be released to the wild.

Raising ox beetles is easier and every bit as fun as raising butterflies!

For some close-up photos of another major male, go to this post.



Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Olivia Brophie and the Pearl of Tagelus Update

Release of Olivia Brophie and the Pearl of Tagelus is scheduled for March 2012.

Editing of the text is complete. Whew! I must have read the entire book another ten times this month.

We are currently working with an artist on the cover design and line drawings. June at Pineapple Press has been fantastic to work with on this project. She is very candid with her opinions yet sincerely open to my input.











Here are the steps in the process of working with an editor. We started three months ago:

1) I sent my final version of the manuscript to Pineapple Press. This version of the manuscript isn't to be confused with the version I originally submitted almost one year ago.

2) First Edit and Conceptual Suggestions. June sent all of her edits and suggestions in a "change-tracking" Word document.

3) I accepted the changes I agreed with, added notes to changes I didn't agree with, made new additions, and re-wrote sections of the manuscript to maintain consistency or adjust to conceptual changes. In the original manuscript, I had written some passages that shifted the POV. We decided to keep the POV with Olivia so those passages had to be re-written. Other changes we considered that weren't technically errors were the ages of some of the characters, confusing scenes, and a new chapter title. Conceptual changes were the toughest part of the editing process. Grammatical errors are easy once you find them. Changing a detail of the story like a character's age can have conflicts and implications further in the story. I found the only way to deal with a change like that is to read the manuscript again from start to finish with that change in mind. It is amazing how the nuances of a character naturally manifest themselves in ways that you didn't really plan or craft.

4) Another round of edits and conceptual suggestions.

5) A PDF version of the manuscript is created with title pages.

6) Edits are made to the PDF version. I found a word-choice habit that I hadn't noticed before at this stage. It is insteresting how a new format and font illuminates the text in a whole new way.

7) Re-read PDF version. No changes!

Next steps:

7) Write a dedication.

8) Working with artist on cover art and interior line-drawings.

9) Wait for galley proof. This version of the document will have the artwork in place and everything will appear as it should in the printed version.







Monday, October 3, 2011

The Lightning Forest Chapter One: The Lightning Forest


      The Florida Atlas has divided the state into 18 areas of cultural significance, regions where particular social and cultural attitudes dominate and define the area. One area is called Big Bend, one the Bass Capital, one the Space Coast.  The Citrus Belt is known for the significant orange farming in the area.  Surfers frequent the Surf Coast. The Atlas tested population samples from throughout the state to draw its cultural isobars. I live in a section defined as “No Dominant Region Perceived” in interior Central Florida that wraps around the Citrus Belt and a tourism corridor. Apparently, where I live does not have enough identity to create a significant generalization. There are not enough citrus farms. The ferneries are going out of business. We are caught in time after the turpentine and cattle ranching eras but before its inexorable and permanent conversion into suburbia. And we sure don’t have any tourists. We fall below the map-line marking the southernmost boundary of Southern Culture and above the line marking Latino cosmopolitan and retirement Florida. South of the cotton, the peach butter, she-crab, and red silty rivers.  North of conch, calypso, and canasta.

      Either way, it is no coincidence that the area deemed “No Dominant Region Perceived” is also predominantly interior scrubland. Scrub is a rare, uniquely Florida ecosystem dominated by deep, clean, white quartzite sands that once served as Pleistocene dunes on an ancient beachfront. At first glance, it is ugly. Trees are dwarfed by the largely infertile sand that heats up extraordinarily well in the sun and cools off especially fast at night. Rainfall is plentiful, but disappears so quickly into the sand that an hour of sun burns off any sign of the passing storm. The extreme temperature fluctuations, lack of water, and infertility make the familiar plant-life of Florida wilt and die out here. This is a wet desert. Only the toughest, most versatile trees and plants survive, and very few of them actually thrive. Most of the leaves are small, hairy, or waxy; many of them fold up or wilt during the day to conserve water before refreshing themselves at night.

      There are starry nights filled with fireflies, crystalline springs, and enough bears to take them for granted. Within a few miles, you can buy fresh frog legs, boiled peanuts, a bushel of oranges, and a gun. Turn right and you can pick a flat of your own blueberries. Turn left and you can buy a pound of fresh-cut gator tail and a string of river catfish from the St John’s. But you won’t find a grocery or discount store in over 30 miles. People still stop their cars to catch-up when they see you in the yard or walking your dog. There are still leisurely curved roads garnished with old trees, hanging moss, and slow speed limits. There are even older roads jutting into the wild unknown. Sandy and overgrown, they quickly disappear into impassable. Every late winter and spring, we get to worry about fires. Every late summer, hurricanes.

      Here, there is a long-legged tiger beetle that is white. There is a giant white millipede, a white lizard that swims in the sand, a white wolf spider, a white snake, and a large white frog that has given up on ponds.  In other parts of the world, white animals are either albinos and lead very short lives because they are so conspicuous, or they are adapted to live in polar regions where they have a camouflaged advantage in the snow. Out here, just like in the Arctic, white animals are the beautiful culmination of the world in which they live. Out here, just like in the desert, animals swim in the sand and organize their lives around the scorching sunlight. They are born from the marriage of moonlight and white sand, swimming deep into the hot dunes during the day and breaching the surface during the cool, silvery nights.

      I am thinking about why the Florida Atlas was unable to identify my cultural significance as I hike into the forest that borders my home. And it is a good question. Cultural identity is confusing enough in this state. Primary experiences are for the most part limited to tourist attractions and beaches. The mythical identity of the Florida follows tourists home to other parts of the country. The primary experience of visiting the beach is very strong here, but it reduces the majority of the state to an unknown landscape with no significance.

      Wild Geronimo was imprisoned in a Florida prison, far from his Arizona home. Florida’s Ocseola was imprisoned in South Carolina where he is buried even today. Displacement was once a method of violent subjugation, breaking the connection between spirit and land. Now, displacement is the lifestyle of choice. Most Florida residents weren’t born here. Most would identify some other state as Home, the vault of their spirit. The combination of a weak mythos and the practice of displacement has created a doubly difficult population to enamor with scrub’s gritty charm.

      People may read about the scrub in books, but very few actually embrace it as a definition of their identity. Scrub is a subtle curmudgeon. The scrub rewards the patient and humble. But most people speed through here in their cars to get somewhere else. In an ironic twist, many of Florida’s most revered cultural icons wrote specifically about the interior lands.

      I am reminded of a passage in Palmetto Leaves by Harriet Beecher Stowe in which she chastises the tourists to get off their steamships and walk into the forest if they want to find flowers and experience the beauty of Florida. The flowers do not grow to make your life easy. You have to work for them. You can’t see Florida by staring out at it from a steamship, or from an air-conditioned car, or from a carefully-crafted tourist experience.  Getting off the steamship is an instruction for scrub attunement.

      It is early morning in February, and the sand is heating up quickly in the sun.  This is called the Seminole State Forest, but even it is a sort of no-man’s land, a wild corridor between the better-known Ocala National Forest and the Wekiva River basin. Few people come here and, when they do, they go to a public access point much further south. The state is in an epic battle to keep all-terrain vehicles off these paths and fire roads. Fences go up to block the access but they don’t last long. I’ve seen trees cut down and barbed wire severed to circumvent entrance gates. I actually don’t mind the ATVs using the trails. There aren’t enough people out here to make it a nuisance and they help keep the trail clear. Once in awhile I find litter, but I have never actually seen or heard another human while hiking.

      The insects are quietly rising up with the dew steaming off the leaves. Cultural philosophies start to fade. The sandy fire road ahead of me is filled with animal tracks. Deer, fox, pocket gopher, hog, and sandhill crane. In places, there are so many tracks that I can’t be sure of any identification. Sun-bleached oak limbs lay in the wire grass and sand like whale bones. Ant-lion pits dimple the sand. There are hundreds of circular openings about the thickness of a pencil tunneling down into the sand. These are the homes of white wolf spiders.

      Every so often, I see the secretive curvy line where a legless scrub skink swam beneath the sand looking for worms and other prey. The scrub skink is one of many scrub endemics, animals that live nowhere else in the world. Fossorial animals typically evolve in dune-based deserts such as the Sahara. The fact that Florida has endemic fossorials is a testament to the island-like isolation of scrublands in the state.

      An old gopher tortoise burrow opens up near the trail. The burrow itself might be 30 feet long and 10 feet deep. The gopher constructs a berm at the entrance of the burrow to keep the rain out. It makes the perfect vantage point for watching the world pass by. Gophers are porch-sitters just like we are, and they are often seen gruffly observing the comings-and-goings of speedier (and thus inferior) creatures, just like we do. There are tracks on the sandy berm of the other animals you might find inside the burrow: indigo snakes, rattlers, the big-eared Florida mouse, opossum, bobwhite, and gopher frogs. Over 60 different species have been known to use gopher tortoise burrows for shelter. A few, such as the gopher frog, actually depend upon the burrows, especially during brush fires. I’m not quite sure how the snakes, mice, birds, and frogs all get along down there but I’ve never seen a ‘No Vacancy’ sign at the entrance. If there is a soul in this land, if there is a spirit, it resides down in these burrows. Unfortunately, 34 tortoises are buried alive every day in Florida as developers pave new roads and build new houses. Deep in the sand, a rag-tag band of animals listens as a bulldozer seals them beneath Progress.

      This forest is a sanctuary for snakes. On previous hikes, I’ve seen indigos, corals, short-tails, crowned, ribbon, corn, rough greens, the beautiful Florida blue garters, hognose, diamondback, bold moccasins, and what might be the world-record pygmy rattler.  Living in the scrub demands tolerance, even affection, for snakes, ticks, biting insects, and spiders. Those who choose to fight are doomed to lose the battle. The badge of scrub living is continuous insect bites located in every possible nook of your body. Usually, you don’t even know what bit you or when. This morning, I haven’t seen any snakes at all and I’m suspicious of it.

      I walk through dwarf oaks, palmettos, rosemary scrubs, and stands of cheery dahoon holly. Everything is so short, I swear I could leap over the tree tops. I can hear the single questioning note of the towhee that is usually present in these woods. Eastern towhees are part of the scrub soundtrack. It is a comforting sound, ingrained into my expectations. Towhees are very curious and he flits about close to me, always near the ground. His white-ringed eye blinks. I like to imagine that it is the same towhee that follows me for hours, like an amenable hiking companion.  Ahead, he flashes across the path. His sharp black head and rust-red brush mark along his side blaze in the sun. Every five to ten seconds he repeats his upward-sliding note and he never tires of it. Less a virtuoso than the mockingbird, he has nevertheless mastered a simple creative expression and he is perfectly happy to live inside of it. Assuredly, he sets out each morning on his routine from branch to branch, preferring the low shrubby oaks, announcing his complete presence in the moment. His selection of branch, position of foot, his rapid heart and puffing chest are all serving one purpose. His contentment is a challenge to intruding males, to amorous females, to me.

      Songbirds here, in general, travel in roving gangs called the mixed flock. Mixed flocks always have titmouse, chickadees, gnatcatchers, cardinals, and one or two kinds of woodpeckers, harries or red-bellied. Total numbers for each flock tend to be 20-30 birds. Other common mixed-flockers are nuthatches, warblers, and towhees. There may even be an indigo bunting or summer tanager. In this multi-cultural group, the birds seem to prefer the company of other feathers and are very tolerant of humans. A warbler will perch inches from your face as he peeks under a leafy lichen for a snack. Once, on the outskirts of a mixed flock I was following, I tracked a mysterious haunting call that sounded part dove, part trogon, part mechanical crank. It took several hours to finally spot the typically silent yellow-billed cuckoo lurking about and calling for rain, rightfully outcast for its brood-pirating ways. Other vagabonds can be found following the mixed flock such as red-shouldered hawks and blue jays. But the mixed flock seems a happy Babel; tiny birds flipping about, chipping a multi-lingual pidgin, flashes of yellow, blue, scarlet in the trees.

      Stepping out of some underbrush, I immediately reach down to start pulling off the ticks and chiggers sprinting up my leg. Ticks are year-round residents in the scrub and the act of searching for and killing them is almost an unconscious habit. (By the way, the best method is to just grab the ticks between your thumb and forefinger and yank them out. Slathering them with nail polish or gasoline just makes them bury their heads deeper into your skin.)

      I’ve walked into a live oak grove that I have never seen before. The swampy hammock nearby has provided enough water to grow live oaks of the non-scrub variety. These oaks are much taller than their sand-stunted relatives just a few yards away. I can’t put my arms around the trunks. Their thick limbs soar overhead into arches covered in mosses and ferns. Hanging moss drapes in huge undulating sheets all the way down to the ground. Sunlight streams through, green and gold, in crepuscular rays. The air is thick with breathing. Grass spreads out in the shade, a lawn richer than any fancy neighborhood’s. Tiny purple and yellow flowers dot the ground. I find several ground orchids blooming. I could not have walked into a finer royal chamber. The whole timeless world opens before me. I am the first person ever to see this grove. I am weeks away from civilization, decades away. My cell phone has no service, my watch is broken.

      But most of all, most of all, the jessamine vines are blooming, filling the trees with canary yellow trumpets and the gentle scent of apricot. Jessamine vines are thin and tough like wires. It is difficult to see where they grow until the blooming season. Invisibly, the vines twine up trunks and shrubs until they reach top and explode into the sun. Each small leaf also sprouts a brightly twisting yellow blossom. Is there a better ceiling in the world than this? I vow to dismantle my bed and, piece by piece, and reassemble it out here. The sunrise must be devastating.

      Jessamine is very common, but it is so rare now to see this sight; old trees with hundreds of old vines covering everything with flowers. The sheer weight of flowers in the canopy must compete with oak wood in enormity. Stowe loved the jessamines and so do I. In her day, Stowe would have returned home carrying long garlands of the jessamines that she collected. Now, it would seem a sacrilege.

      All around me, the blossoms are falling, filling the grove with soft scent and color. I twirl around in the grove, arms outstretched, laughing, maybe crying. I’m drifting through shadow and sunray falling, falling. Every slight breeze shakes a citron flurry into the air. Blossoms come from 50 feet above. The canopy shivers. What dream are these flowers falling from? They appear out of nowhere. Unfurled in the light, they release and give themselves to the air. Everything slows. The cottony insects rise with the dew. The towhee calls to me. Everything stops mid-air. I fall to the ground, laying face-up, surrounded by oaky giants, the improbable rain of golden pollen and petal, green light.

      Eventually, of course, time starts again. The modern brain seems incapable of resting in paradise forever. But I am relieved to experience a natural fragility that I’ve only read about from Stowe’s time. Too many historical texts sound like descriptions of a different planet, a Florida that is completely gone. At least, I have this grove. I walk to the far end looking for snakes. There is always a snake in paradise. I am at the back edge of the grove, the last oak, the last jessamine.  I step out, through the bubble, through the window. Suddenly, the sun! Bright, alive, and burning. Around me, enormous pines tower into the sky. Each one has topped-off by wind decades ago and has matured into the thundercloud shape that longleaf pines typically grow into. Perhaps these trees were here when the turpentiners roamed the area a century ago.

      Then I notice a strange thing. Every single pine here has the telltale slash from a lightning strike. Long splintering gashes run from the treetops, circle around the trunks, and thrust straight down into the sand. I’ve certainly seen struck trees before, but always one tree at a time, more of a curiosity than a rule. Lightning is never supposed to strike twice. Here, every tree is destined to be struck. Some of the slashes are old, some of them are more recent, swelling and glistening with saps and terpene resins as they heal. I look closer. There are scars on scars. Lightning strike on lightning strike, cris-crossing each other. Cross-hatchings look like hieroglyphs.  Tallies. One old pine has more scars then I can count. There are a few trees where the bolt was fatal. Everywhere I look, the history repeats itself, over and over. Lightning and tree and sand, bonded together by a mysterious pact. The ancient ritual has been practiced here for millennia.  Their psalms are written by burning tongues. Lightning marks the tree, lightning marks the earth. Here, one step away from Stowe’s fairyland of jessamine and sunlight stands a gruesome forest of deistic vengeance.

      I search for an explanation. Why are there so many lightning strikes in this one place? I want to believe there is a geophysical reason. A subterranean formation must exist that encourages the polarization of ions. Maybe a special underground spring that glows with energy or a giant iron and nickel meteorite buried just beneath the surface.  Suddenly, my predicament becomes apparent. My heart races. The hair stands up on my arms. I am alone, miles from safety. I look up. Lightning might strike at any moment. Lightning is guaranteed. Where are the flowers, the charming birds, the sanctuary wood? This is too much energy for one place. I am dangerously exposed. Who am I, this one small and quick man, to be standing here? A dynamo beneath me calls out to the angry sky.

      The language of the deep forest differs from other landscapes by its immediacy. The vast prairies, mountains, deserts, pelagic, and arctic landscapes appeal to our timeless sentiments. Their palettes are broad and subtle. Their details are subsumed under larger, universal themes. The sky is always fills at least half of the senses. In contrast, the forest appeals to clautrofiliacs.  Its sky is filtered out and shaded. Its universe is discovered in the tiniest of detail. It threatens those who desire platitudes carved on tablets. Pause for a minute, fall asleep, lose yourself in philosophical contemplation, and the forest overcomes you like the jungle over stone temples. Its savagery is never seen from afar, a band of native warriors on a prairie hill or a pirate ship on the sea’s horizon. The forest’s savagery hides behind trees. Close. Hungry. Its dark secret barely registers in the consciousness of those who do not actively seek it out.  Lightning, the most immediate of phenomena, strikes against the most immediate of landscapes and somehow created this timeless monument.

      Florida is well-known as the lightning capital of America, if not the world. As a state, we easily outpace every other state in air-to-ground strikes and in fatalities. Lightning is what I fear the most here, more than rattlesnakes, sharks, and alligators. Lightning can slam you while you sleep or float lazily through walls like a tiny star. Lightning can travel over 10 miles to strike you with the force of five suns. I remember a map that outlined lightning strike frequency. The Lightning Map had two small areas that are the highest strike areas in Florida. The worst of the worst. These hot areas have over 50 land strikes per square mile per year. One is over the eastern side of Tampa Bay, near Thonotosassa, Mango, and Plant City. The other is right here where I am standing, a bull’s-eye in the middle of the state.

      Lightning itself is a very complicated and misunderstood event. If you know anything about lightning, it is probably a popular cartoonish image you’ve seen of a positive ionic charge in the clouds and a negative ionic charge coming from the earth. The free electrons equalize in a catastrophic bolt. How the electrons actually polarize between earth and cloud is not completely understood. Some believe friction between raindrops and convection separate the charges. Some believe falling rain picks up polarized charges from Earth’s natural electric field. In short, we know what happens, we just don’t know how.

      Ionic polarization is usually not enough to actually produce lightning. There needs to be a catalytic event that ignites the bolt, compelling it to complete the circuit. It is now known that cosmic rays from outer space play a critical role in initializing lightning by pushing the energy equation over the threshold. In an example of the incredibly intricate balance of the universe, lightning then returns the favor to outer space. Like the kickback from a rifle, the force of a lightning bolt produces several counteracting phenomenon upward into the ionosphere. Discovered in the 1990s, these beautifully colored plasma eruptions known as sprites, blue jets, and elves are actually quite common above storms. They are too brief, faint, and hidden for most ground observers to notice. So new to science, the reason for these discharges is still speculative.

      A low-frequency radio emission is often sent back into space along with the sprites when a large lightning bolt strikes the earth. The lightning-born radio waves follow the magnetic lines surrounding Earth and interact with the radioactive zone known as the Van Allen belt. The Van Allen belt protects the Earth by absorbing harmful radiation and cosmic rays from the sun. However, this protection has a cost to modern life. The circuitry in satellites quickly breaks down inside the belt. Sending astronauts into orbit inside the belt is dangerous, even deadly. Luckily, there is a safe-zone in the middle of the Van Allen belt where astronauts and satellites are protected and quite safe. This safe zone is mysteriously clean of radiation even though solar storms frequently overwhelm it. For years, no one knew how the gap was swept ‘clean’ until James Green of NASA correlated lightning-spawned radio wave activity with the removal of the dangerous particles.  Lightning cleans the gap, allowing mankind to send satellites and astronauts safely into orbit. Cosmic rays flood the safe zone with radiation and then ignite the lightning that then cleans the safe zone once again. Lightning is the connection, the emissary between the cosmos and Earth.

      Cosmic ray to cloud to lightning bolt to tree to sand to sprite to Van Allen belt to cosmic ray.

      Lightning acts horizontally here as well. In fact, the scrub forest owes its existence to it. Like the pine sandhill and other upland habitats, lightning is the spark that cleanses the forest undergrowth with fire. Every scrub tree, plant, and animal must account for fire. The smart ones befriend it. Pine trees are the wick, the bait. They tempt the clouds to close in, like bass in a weedy hole. A flint on steel, fire blows down and spills out through the oaks and grasses. Trees eagerly sacrifice themselves to let the deep root survive. Fire is the skeleton key that operates the sand pine’s cone, a kumiki puzzlebox holding future generations. Fire is the flood that coaxes the rosemary’s seed to sprout. Fire keeps the land open, keeps the sands clean and loose. The sand skink swims in that root-free ocean. The human desire to control fire, to suppress it, explains the demise of the scrub as much as outright development.

      If Florida is the lightning capital of the world, then I am standing in the middle of its hot and glassy heart. Around me are monuments marked by ancient texts, healed, marked again. Monuments bound deep into sand and outer space. These pines fulfill their destiny. They are the revered of their kind.  The heroes. If I hadn’t hiked out here, if I hadn’t decided to walk just a few steps further through the jessamine curtain, nothing would have changed. The ancient Greeks had a word for a person or place struck by lighting: Elysium. Elysium was also their word for the heroic afterlife, for paradise. Here, in the middle of Florida, in this forgotten and ugly scrub, in my backyard, is Elysium manifest. A paradise struck by lightning. And now my heart is struck as well.

      The speed of our internal time clock and the limited scale of our perceptions both conspire to limit our understanding of the world. Moments outside of ourselves are brief before the brain intrudes and the attention span snaps. Landscapes that demand more from us, that ask too much of us, are sacrificed by our preconceptions. We force the scrub to our wills.  Level those pines, plant our houses, destroy every flicker of wild life around us. We engineer our environment so it fits comfortably to our bodies.  Stop the fire so the roots intrude and the universe’s monuments are erased, so the white animals fade into ghosts.

      The dynamo still whirs beneath us.

      What does it mean to live out here, in the lightning forest, beyond the testability of cultural definitions? I don’t want that definition anymore. I want off the steamship. 




Please note that the poems and narratives on this site are copyrighted and may not be reproduced without the author's permission.