Me Versus Nature

Spoiler Alert: Nature wins.

The Pale Murderer Cometh

Now that spring has arrived, I’m faced with an age-old question. What am I going to canstockphoto11157518murder this year? Thus far, six house spiders, two house centipedes, eight ants, an errant box elder bug, and just five minutes ago, a carpenter ant who decided startling the shit out of me by crawling on my keyboard was a good plan. It wasn’t.

I am a very conflicted person when it comes to creatures. I research the creatures I come across. I don’t know, I guess I try to understand them in the hopes I won’t shriek die, die, die while hitting them with the broom. House centipedes are fantastic hunters – they eat spiders. As much as I’d like to remember that, when I see one of them slither their way across the wall, my primal instinct takes over. Maybe at some point in human history that instinct was “Yum, snack”, but I tend to believe even cavemen pulverized those things with clubs while grunting orf, orf, orf (translation: die, die, die).

Furred and Feathered Jerks

canstockphoto20447169The rabbits have lopped off numerous tulips, leaving a trail of colorful petals across the yard. They don’t eat the flowers. They just nip them off, as if they’re a distraction from the real num-nums, the leaves. It makes me think that the rabbits in my yard are assholes.

As soon as I filled the planters with my desperate need for color canstockphoto16122084– geraniums, impatiens, and marigolds, the pots got dug out by the squirrels who a) forgot where the hell they buried their food stores last fall and b) just like a tasty nosh of fresh root.

canstockphoto20642408The house finches have taken over the old robin’s nest we forgot to remove in the fall and now they squabble outside my study window all day long. A young cardinal has taken over a feeder, choo-choo-chooing to let everyone else know it’s mine-mine-mine. A pair of Northern Harriers set up shop in the tree next door and for hours at a time, she shrieks at him to bring her food or get on with the mating, you lout.

It’s Self-Defense!

While I enjoy riding my high horse about a yard without pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizer, the downside is that I am outnumbered by the sheer quantity of creatures who would like to eat our food, live in our walls, dangle in front of our faces, snake out from under the dryer, wait for us in the shower, and in general, make us feel very uncomfortable in our living quarters. And it’s not even mosquito season yet.

canstockphoto12050597This is the first house I’ve lived in for any amount of time. Before, it was all apartments. They spray for bugs in apartments, hence the infrequency of encounters. We’ve never had our house sprayed for bugs. We’re classic DIY people who think vinegar is magic (it is, it is!) and try to follow environmental recommendations for pest control. Generally, Minnesota gets a good, cold killing season. Many of the critters are forced into retreat, marshaling their forces for the longer days of freaking out humans.

I love nature. When it’s outside. Well, not right outside. Maybe a restraining order’s distance. And I try to be respectful of life in general. There are several house spiders who reside in the corners of the kitchen. That’s fine. They eat gnats that show up when produce does. And occasionally, I talk to them. It’s when they crawl over the lip of my coffee mug that I completely lose my shit and become a serial killer.

I remember once reading about monks who walked carefully, lest they step on a creature on the ground. And I get it. I get the whole respect life, creatures have value, humans are really an invasive species thing. But critters outnumber us and if they ever develop longer life cycles, elevated thinking, and inter-species communication, we are all dead.

Your Honor, I’d like to present the first (and possibly only) piece of evidence for the Defense:canstockphoto7083768

Our client could have only reacted the way she did, in self-defense.

Your honor? Your honor?

But that was evidence sir! Why are you shrieking?

Judge: Excuse my outburst. Bailiff, please get an evidence bag for my gavel.

The Defense rests its case.

A Walk on the Wild Side

canstockphoto24627239I came in yesterday evening after digging and planting most of the afternoon, dark rings of sweat on my shirt, dirt ground into the knees of my jeans. My hands were stiff from the jarring strikes of shovel and hoe into sun-hardened clay. After a shower, I tried to sit and write. Every five minutes, I was hopping up to do one chore or another. Normally, I’d spot this as procrastinating behavior, chide myself and force myself to sit again. It’s something else, though.

With my computer crash of last week, I spent most of my days outside, sweating and filthy and in motion. My mind was free of distraction. When I work outside, nobody interrupts me, for fear of being conscripted into weeding. I can spend hours alone. I drink gallons of water, stop and watch a hawk overhead, startle voles in the brush pile, watch as a caterpillar makes its way up a tree trunk.

I live in an older suburb of the Twin Cities, surrounded by little ranch houses built in the late 1950’s. Every house looks the same – some shade of tan or white, desperate to look different with shutters or fences or yard lighting. We attempted this by ripping up the front lawn, piece by piece, and putting in perennial plants. We’re an irritant to our neighbors on one side, who alternately poison and water their lawn in rapid cycles through spring.

Our back lawn is a carpet of creeping charlie, dandelions, wild violets and thyme. The rabbits dine there at dusk. Last night, I watched four of them chase each other around our yard, or as it is known in the rabbit world, foreplay. This year, I’ve been fencing all our garden beds, in an attempt to actually have produce that we get to eat. The rabbits have fought back, leaving stubs of tulips, gallium and roses everywhere. Horny, long-eared vandals.

A hail storm that lasted all of ten minutes rained down on us late in the afternoon. Marble-sized hail bounced off the lawn and house in every direction. I could smell it before it arrived and pulled tools and gear into the garage just in time. My internal barometer worked, smelling the air before rain moved in, feeling the chill from a slight drop in temperature and pressure – it always makes me think of farmers who know when to come in from the fields and old ladies, whose bunions ache just before a rain. It’s a forgotten wildness, this abstract intuition of the physical world in which we reside.

I had forgotten over the winter, cuddled up to my devices and traversing between house and car and destination and home canstockphoto6411807again. I’d gotten wrapped up in issues that were beat to death online – that seem of finite importance when standing under a clear sky, with the sun warming my face. It only takes an hour or two in my backyard ecosystem to remind me that the world inside my study is but a sliver of life.

Sitting down at the keyboard after being outdoors makes me feel like a big, wild thing stabbing at keys in some funny meme or YouTube video. Look at the primitive try to type. Words all sound like incoherent grunting as I write, but I can hear crows cackling two blocks away and notice the stillness that suggests a light spring rain is on its way. It seems a tremendous bridge to cross – this wildness caged and sitting still, trying to funnel it all onto a cold, lifeless screen.

My mind wanders to the turkeys I startled while hiking at a regional park. There were five of them, one a male in full feathered regalia, trying to woo the others. Frogs were warbling away, in a Swamp’s Got Talent sing off. Purple martins and swallows crowd boxes to get the best spot, smacking into each other and fluttering away. The wind blew across the lake as herring gulls swooped overhead and Canada geese escorted their new fuzzy families along the water’s edge, squawking loud commands to goslings who dillydallied.

I think about writing as a state of being, once removed from life. It’s civilized, structured, a story playing out on a paper stage. I’ve often felt a distance from the life around me, too busy in my head building a narrative. I need that distance. Being an introspective introvert in a noisy world requires a buffer zone. Writing serves that purpose, allowing me to create order out of chaos, perspective out of ambiguities.

canstockphoto18451476Being outdoors is a different kind of bombardment. The immediacy of life all around grounds me in the moment. I’ve tried to write while I’m outdoors, but as I often joke with my walking buddies, I have nature ADD. There’s nothing I can do but breathe, listen, smell, observe. I am not me, with a long list of neuroses and adjectives. I just am, no more or less than the red-winged blackbirds that trill at me as I cross the marsh. The bit of wildness that remains within calls back. Me too! Me too!

Longing for the Wind

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We’ve had our first serious snowfall of the winter. I love the cold and the snow and shoveling our driveway, in a silence of the other world, where people sleep deeply and the outside sounds are muffled. I cannot hear the cars and trucks on the highway. There are no children crying, no machines running, no dogs barking – no sound but the occasional clump of snow falling off the trees. I am alone, in the presence of nature and it fills me with an indefinable longing.

This week I’ve been thinking about the longing that strikes me, on occasion, to be something or somewhere other than what or where I am. I am yelling at my daughter, having the same  conversation we’ve had for the last four years – “pick up your trail!” I am tired of this, tired of being the haranguing mother, tired of the look on her face that says she is somewhere else while this crazy woman rants at her about piddly shit. Even I am somewhere else, because I hear myself and think “that woman needs a vacation”.

I need perspective and to center myself. Mostly, I just need to go outside. Being outdoors is meditation to me. It is a window to something greater, a reminder that we do not exist in little houses with petty concerns, but are part of a whole.

For my daughter, being outside is being in a world ungoverned by adults and rules and a clock. She spends hours building forts, eating snow, sledding down the miniature hills in our yard. Occasionally, I’ll toss a snowball at her to remind her that I’m here, but other than that, we lose ourselves in the moment of just being. I work silently at my chores of clearing walks and drives. She lives in a world of her own design, sometimes just laying flat on her back in the snow, catching snowflakes on her tongue.

I took a writing workshop in college that gave an overview of American nature writers. I fell in love with Edward Abbey, Aldo Leopold, Barry Lopez, Rachel Carson, Annie Dillard, and Gretel Ehrlich. They so eloquently express the sense of wonder that I intuitively feel, but find hard to describe. I could be magically transported to the Arctic or the desert by vivid descriptions that were emotive, but not falsely sentimental or anthropomorphic.

This is the gift of nature writers and photographers, to show us worlds we might not have explored or even realized were right under our noses. Here are some blogs that make me long for the wind:

Gin Getz  Her writing and photographs are lyrically observational of the natural world. Every time I read one of her posts, I am reminded of the ebb and flow of seasons, and of the interconnectedness of humans and the wild.

23thorns  He writes wonderfully fun and educational posts about critters of all kinds, but especially about those you wouldn’t want to find under your bed. His picture captions make me laugh every time.

krahnpix He is a patient photographer, taking photos of nature at its very best. My favorite (and my daughter’s as well) is of a porcupine.

the eff stop I’ve mentioned her before in past posts, but I am absolutely envious of her backyard bird activity (this is one of several posts of the party she photographs at her feeders).canstockphoto8266521

When my daughter and I come back inside, stripping off our winter layers, I settle in for a hot cup of coffee and she snuggles in my lap, cold ear resting against my shoulder. I don’t see the clutter or the mess. I see life and grace and am grateful to be exactly where I am.