Category Archives: literature

nature in books

All rivers sacred

My people live together in ways based on the premise that human beings are separate from and superior to other aspects of reality – our rights valued more highly. It has not been so in all cultures. Our society, with its values, assumptions, stories, laws, flows of power and action, is based on this perspective.

We have lost sight of our place in reality – we live without respect for our context within the universe. We live out of relationship with the local environment around us. This is delusion, insanity.

One of my personal prophets, Thomas Berry, says, “So too every being has rights to be recognized and revered. Trees have tree rights, insects have insect rights, rivers have river rights, mountains have mountain rights. So too with the entire range of beings throughout the universe. All rights are limited and relative. So to with humans. We have human rights. We have rights to the nourishment and shelter we need. We have rights to habitat. But we have no rights to deprive other species of their proper habitat. We have no rights to interfere with their migration routes. We have no rights to disturb the basic functioning of the biosystems of this planet…. We own property in accord with the well-being of the property and for the benefit of the larger community as well as ourselves.” The Great Work, Bell Tower, New York, 1999.

Can we learn to see ourselves in new ways? Can we learn to properly value other natural entities as having their own intrinsic rights in relation to our own?

Three rivers, the Whanganui, the Ganges, and the Yamuna, each held sacred by local people who live in relationship with them, have been assigned legal status and protection as a living entity, equal to that of a human being. There will be complications and mistakes in this new journey together, but this seems to be an important  awaking, baby steps toward sanity and healing.

New Zealand River Granted Same Legal Rights As Human Being, Guardian, March 16, 2017

India court gives sacred Ganges and Yamuna rivers human status, BBC, March 21, 2017


Mouse hunting

My thoughts are with the local coyotes as they are in the regional news this weekend.

That was when they came on the coyotes, two females hunting in the open. They were a mile or so from the hollow that fed Bitter creek, not a place Deanna would have gone looking for them. It was a clearing where fallen trees had opened the canopy, letting the sun onto a patch of forest floor that now grew thick with a red carpet of new blackberry leaves. At first she thought they were dogs, they were so big: thick-furred behind the ears like huskies, and much stockier than the scrawny specimen she’d seen in the zoo or any western coyote she’d seen in photographs. These two appeared golden in the sunlight, arching their backs and hopping through the foot-deep foliage, one and then the other, like a pair of dolphins alternately rolling above the waves. They were on the trail of something small and quick beneath the leaves and grass. Probably a vole or a mouse. They paid no attention to the pair of humans who stood with their boots frozen in the shadows. Focused entirely on their pursuit, their ears twitched forward like mechanical things, tracking imperceptible sounds. Like two parts of a single animal they moved to surround and corner their prey against a limestone bank, tunnelling after it with their long noses. Deanna watched, spellbound. She could see how efficiently this pair might work a field edge, pursuing the mice and voles they seemed to prefer. No wonder farmers saw them often and feared for their livestock; if only they knew that they had nothing to lose but their mice. It occurred to her as she watched them that this manner of hunting might actually be helpful to ground-nesting birds like the bobwhite, because of the many passages it would open through the tight clumps of fescue.

~Barbara Kingsolver, Prodigal Summer, p 196-7

Barbara Kingsolver, Prodigal Summer - book cover from

Stayed up late enthralled with a new Joni Mitchell book. Delighted to rediscover in her a fellow dreamer –

 I intended to become a hermit when I bought my land in Canada. …

That was after I wrote “Big Yellow Taxi.” I bought the land a year or two after that. I was never going to come back. I was just going to live up there. I thought, “I will never get bored on this piece of land.”

It’s magical. It really is. The mundane aspects of it are magical and then there are two or three things every year that are spectacular — pink rainbow, comets streaking through the clouds, low to the ground. Amazing things. Not to mention I’ve got a blue heron that I have a relationship with, that lives in my bay – big bird. A robin followed me around one year. Everywhere I went, he was hopping around behind me.

From Joni Mitchell: In Her Own Words, by Malka Marom (2014), 60.

In honour of our first lasting snow…

Yesterday afternoon set in misty and cold. I had half a mind to spend it by my study fire, instead of wading through heath and mud to Wuthering Heights. … I took my hat, and, after four miles’ walk, arrived at Heathcliff’s garden gate just in time to escape the first feathery flakes of a snow shower.

On that bleak hill top earth was hard with a black frost, and the air made me shiver through every limb. … The snow began to drive thickly. I seized the handle to essay another trial; when a young man, without coat, and shouldering a pitchfork, appeared in the yard behind. He hailed me to follow him, and, after marching through a washhouse, and a paved area containing a coal-shed, pump, and pigeon cote, we at length arrived in the large, warm, cheerful apartment, where I was formerly received.

It glowed delightfully in the radiance of an immense fire, compounded by coal, peat, and wood: and near the table, laid for a pleasant evening meal, I was pleased to observe the “missis,” an individual whose existence I had never previously suspected.

~Chapter II, Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte

Apple harvest moon

On a mellow evening in September, I was coming from the garden with a heavy basket of apples which I had been gathering. It had gotten dusk, and the moon looked over the high wall of the court, causing undefined shadows to lurk in the corners of numerous projecting portions of the building. I set my burden on the house steps by the kitchen door, and lingered to rest, and draw in a few more breaths of the soft, sweet air; my eyes were on the moon, and my back to the entrance, when I heard a voice behind me say– “Nelly, is that you?”

~Chapter X, Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte

The Feast

In honour of the newly blossomed roses & peonies, the bees humming away in the blooms, and the season of waking to morning coffee on the patio nearby…

The Feast

The laden arms of the oak, the elm,
and the agitated hunger of the small jays,

the fat globes of white sugarmum
where bees suck love,

and you, in the morning shade,
sipping hot coffee,

the taste of the new day sharp
and alive on your tongue,

are a chorus that says,
Indulge: the world is abundant —

this loving, dying world
to which we are given,

out of which we have come —
O body of the world,

eat with joy
the body of the world.

~The Book of Blessings: New Jewish Prayers for Daily Life, the Sabbath, and the New Moon Festival,
By Marcia Falk

It rained and it rained and it rained.

7 days of rain in a row. Not a constant downpour, but 7 days with rain in them is still noteworthy here. Love it! Those cool, fluffy gray days! Light sprinkles and straight-down showers with no wind – a rare occasion for umbrellas!

It rained and it rained and it rained. Piglet told himself that never in all his life, and he was goodness knows how old — three, was it, or four? — never had he seen so much rain. Days and days and days.

“If only,” he thought, as he looked out of the window,” I had been in Pooh’s house, or Christopher Robin’s house, or Rabbit’s house when it began to rain, then I should have had Company all this time, instead of being here alone, with nothing to do except wonder when it will stop.” And he imagined himself with Pooh, saying, “Did you ever see such rain, Pooh?” and Pooh saying, “Isn’t it awful, piglet?” and Piglet saying, “I wonder how it is over Christopher Robin’s way” and Pooh saying, “I should think poor old Rabbit is about flooded out by this time.” It would have been jolly to talk like this…

It was on this morning that Owl came flying over the water to say “How do you do,” to his friend Christopher Robin.

“I say, Owl,” said Christopher Robin, “isn’t this fun? I’m on an island!”

“The atmospheric conditions have been very unfavourable lately,” said Owl.

“The what?”

“It has been raining,” explained Owl.

“Yes,” said Christopher Robin. “It has.”

“The flood-level has reached unprecedented height.”

“The who?”

There’s a lot of water about,” explained Owl.

“Yes,” said Christopher Robin, “there is.”

“However, the prospects are rapidly becoming more favourable. At any moment — ”

“Have you seen Pooh?”

~Chapter IX In Which Piglet Is Entirely Surrounded By Water
Winnie the Pooh, by A.A. Milne

This life, a blessing come
by turning to and from the star
that gives us morning

Excerpt from the song Morning
~Carolyn McDade, (c) 1998

Went to Carolyn’s song circle this spring – so much wonderful nature imagery!

When I heard this poem on Bob Chelmack’s The Road Home recently, the imagery of the falling snow filling the air so aptly captured the extraordinary experience of the warm-weather great fluffy flakes that filled the space between me and the mountain in Jasper that I had to share it.

Last night, an owl
in the blue dark
an indeterminate number

of carefully shaped sounds into
the world, in which,
a quarter of a mile away, I happened
to be standing.

I couldn’t tell
which one it was —
the barred or the great-horned
ship of the air —

it was that distant. But, anyway,
aren’t there moments
that are better than knowing something,
and sweeter? Snow was falling,

so much like stars
filling the dark trees
that one could easily imagine
its reason for being was nothing more

than prettiness. I suppose
if this were someone else’s story
they would have insisted on knowing whatever is knowable — would have hurried

over the fields
to name it – the owl, I mean,
But it’s mine, this poem of the night,
and I just stood there, listening and holding out

my hands to the soft glitter
falling through the air. I love this world,
but not for its answers.
And I wish good luck to the owl,

whatever its name —
and I wish great welcome to the snow,
whatever its severe and comfortless
and beautiful meaning.

From the book, “What Do We Know: Poems and Prose Poems” by Mary Oliver (2002).

Snow drifting in the air

Tracking reinspired

One of my childhood favourites was Mark Trail’s Book of Animal Tracks, a book brought into the household collection from one of my parent’s childhood bookshelves. (As a child I often pondered the surprising appropriateness of the author’s name – a penname? Or the inevitable outdoorsman career choice with a name like that, like lawyers with the surname Law? To my disappointment I discovered recently the solution to that puzzle –  this childhood figure’s perfect name is due to his fictional status.)

It was a delight to find a track around the farm and to take its features back to Mark Trail’s little illustrated book to play the matching game. A similar joy that birdwatchers (or listeners) find in identifying a bird call.

There’s something special about encountering wild animal signs first-hand. It’s a connection, tangible proof of asynchronously shared space with these often unseen near-neighbours.

Cross country skiing around Jasper earlier this winter I encountered several intriguing trails that rekindled my interest in track mastery. On the first afternoon’s trip we cut our own fresh trail, then on the 2nd morning when we followed it again, an interesting fresh track revealed that an animal had frolicked around the base of a tree. Backtracking, I saw it had come from the direction we had come the previous day. The trail shortly disappeared into thin air. I peered to the near and far side of our ski trail – a blank slate of snow – only to discover that the cheeky creature had trotted in right up our own ski trail: hidden its tracks in ours. We also spotted some Whitetail deer feeding on grass, and, as they thoughtfully vacated on our approach, we were able to look at their digs. Some stand-offish elk studied us from behind the trees, and I was delighted to later come across the field of snow they waded through to arrive there.

Obviously, track photography is another skill I can work on! It’s tough!

In Jasper I acquired 2 remote teachers: I discovered two excellent tracking handbooks to be my lesson books – Mammal Tracks & Sign: A Guide to North American Species, by Mark Elbroch, and Tracking & The Art of Seeing: How to Read Animal Tracks and Sign, by Paul Rezendes – carefully selected for stock at the Friends of Jasper shop. Of course, first-hand mentorship is best for these kinds of lessons, but it’s a start.

Of course I am a beginner and a dabbler yet – to really become adept I have a long road ahead. Learning the appearance of a particular kind of animal’s track is one thing, but the layer upon layer of complexity makes it a lifetime’s study! Animal behavior – what attracts and repels each species; why they move and how; what speeds do they travel and what gaits do they use – which produces variation in the track arrangement and print registry. That old book of Mark’s initiated me, but I’ve got a long way to go!