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Sep 11, 2000

Turn, and Return

I did get home.
A process of reassemblage.
Reassembling a Self torn asunder by too much caring, too much concern.
These take us out of ourselves, which is the path to ecstasy, but we are tethered to our flesh, and to the facts of Life. Encumbered by the pain that caring costs us, and which being alive guarantees us. The Self is both a shield against this pain, and the focal point for it.
But if we know pain, we also know joy.
These two are but the extreme ends of a continuum of feeling.
To live is to feel it all.
We like to say the joy outweighs the pain.

Somewhere between them, a numbness which also serves us well. Habits of enjoyment that are less than Joy, but better than pain. There the reassembly begins. I listened to a baseball game on the car radio, the broadcast like a beacon, drawing me back across the onion fields of Ontario, back to the tumult of America.
Back to endless noise and news.
Back in New York, I flick on the news,
I fall back into habits,
reluctantly, at first,
but soon relaxing into routine.

You might say the ultimate goal of spiritual practice is to make the routine extreme.
Or vice versa.
Itís another way of saying,
Everything All At Once In One Place Here Now...
the Unique become ubiquitous.
But here Iím reduced to the usual play of opposites.
The true object of spiritual practice does not conform to words.
Easier to forget, falling into routine.
Forgetfulness is the best anesthetic.

It is my goal not to forget.
Not to ignore.
Not to miss the thing thatís right in front of my face
(which has been know to happen,
even in the Park).

My practice in the Park is a sort of hyper-routine.
If we look closely, and consistently, routines reveal irregularities, and auguries of the origin and the ultimate may be found therein.
That is one sort of practice, and easier to follow than the sort I went through at Lake Erie. The penetrating moment, the condensation of spiritual crisis, I suppose that is what Iím asking for, after all, and all the time,
but Life is not really lived that way.

That sort of moment is a vision of something beyond this Life. A glimpse earned more through circumstance than practice. But the circumstance is simply being alive, and practice can help us to manage Lifeís coruscating moments, which are all ecstasies, though we may call them griefs or joys.
Tears are the ecstasy of grief,
and tears Iíve known,
but let them fall in ceremony,
taught by the intersection of Life and Land and Love.

Such a gift I have learned to elicit, but only through a humble practice,
offering all my attention,
(though I do not ask it)
attention in return.


Back in the Park I notice, for the first time this year, a retraction of the foliage. This is not a projection of my inner state; this is real. The lowering angle of the sunís arc reinforces the sense of change. Iíve been away, and the turn towards Winter has begun.

[link] [1 ref]

Sep 04, 2000

Labor Day

Well, hereís what I have so far. I put it on its own page, as itís a bit on the long side. With more to come, perhaps. Iím pushing it a bit, but Iíll edit later, if need be. I wanted to have a post on this day, late though it is.
And I promise to find a way back home.
You know I wouldnít leave my faithful readers stranded on the shore of Lake Erie.

[link] [1 ref]

Aug 25, 2000

Setting Sail on a Sea of Briars

[link] [1 ref]

August 13, 2000

Looking for the Future Among the Meadow Grasses

Now the Summer is coming to fruition.
The heat is finally in motion.
August upholds the seasonís reputation,
as July did not.

I sweltered through a perfect Summer Saturday, and found it full of Life. Birds that had been reticent while nesting, or simply absent, are now abroad again, the new broods swelling their numbers. Insects abound, despite the pesticides, and herbaceous plants seem to spring up magically, growing by leaps and bounds.

The Wildflower Meadow is coming into its glory, and all of these phenomena are well displayed there.
To hear me speak of the Meadow, you might think thereís more to it than there is. Itís just a small field, a strip, really, on a gentle slope that falls down to the North Woods, and the Loch. The Bridle Path, and a paved transverse road run along the crest of the slope, and there are usually joggers, bikers, and police vehicles going by. Itís not isolated, by any means, but if you look in the right direction, you can certainly get lost in it.

The mown lawn is an oddity of human culture. More than suburban status symbol, grass is linked to our ascendancy: the harvest grains we coaxed from wild grasses were a prerequisite for the expansion of civilization, and urbanism. But let a patch of open ground grow undisturbed, and it wonít resemble a putting green. You may be surprised at what comes up, and how fast.

That's the idea behind the Wildflower Meadow. Historically, the Park has been pruned and manicured, with little left between woodland and lawn, save for some ornamental flower beds and shrubbery. The Meadow has been allowed to grow out, as a transition zone between field and forest. Actually, it's carefully tended, and the native wildflowers and "weeds" have been purposefully planted, to simulate a more "natural" landscape. This effort is not without its ironies. Meadows are indeed transitional, unstable, environments, and what appears to be an overgrown field requires as much attention as any lawn, in order to retain its desired character.

Shifting ideas of Nature have shaped the Park over the years. I'm generally in sympathy with the current management philosophy, which embraces a practical, rather than aesthetic, naturalism. Local plants, and a less manicured (hence wildlife-friendly) landscape are worthy values, though they are sometimes given more lip service than action. The Meadow is the most successful of only a handful of similar projects in the Park. That a ďback-to-natureĒ naturalism should be fashionable is an index of a growing green consciousness, which is rooted in a deeper, essentially spiritual, trend, of which my practice is also a reflection (and reflection is my practice).

In the Meadow, scale changes.
It was just a stretch of hillside in the Winter, without a hilltop. A striated expanse of flattened grasses; a few dry stalks still standing. You could walk across it in two minutes, and think nothing of it. Even in Spring itís slower to recover its verdure than are the surrounding woods. But in the last few weeks itís reached eye level, with stands of Pigweed and Timothy; Pokeweed and Daisy; Asters; Coneflowers; Goldenrods; and others; more than I can name. I try to learn them as I can, which usually means when they flower, and you can pin them down in the field guide.
Just now, itís Joe-Pye Weed leading the way.

When the plants match your own height, you begin to appreciate the bugís-eye view of things. I feel Iím on the verge of entering their world physically, wending among the stems and blossoms, but the voyage can only be undertaken optically. Employing the binocular, you can see deep into the scene, without disturbing it. By changing the focus, one can move among shifting layers of vegetation, seemingly seeing straight through tangles that cannot be otherwise traversed.

Here is a whole other world. Itís almost like an undersea domain. Is gravity held in abeyance? Arthropods move up, or down, or sideways, in powered flight, or clambering upon the foliage, even floating through the air, along with pollen grains, and tiny silken-tasseled seeds. Birds dart in and out, picking off seeds and insects. Sunlight renders leaves translucent, and any breeze sets all to shimmering, destroying depth perception.
Itís a space allowing any vector you can imagine.

But even here, amid the insect buzz and chirping birds,
An alien sound.
Itís technology on the hoof.
Yes, cell phones are everywhere, even in the Wildflower Meadow.

Some will complain about cell phone etiquette, (which sounds like a good idea), but much of the irritation caused by these devices is simply that of change, like the itch one feels at the site of a healing wound. At least thatís the optimistic view, but it must be acknowledged that cell phones, and other expanding communication technologies, have genuinely altered the Park experience. This is something that has happened within recent years, and you donít even have to be using one of the things (I donít) to be affected.

In fact, all of social space is changing in response to our accelerating technological unfoldment, but it used to be that the Park, in particular, was a place where you went in order to get away; to be out of communication.
Thatís no longer the case.
If you so wish (and many do), you can be in touch anywhere, any time, and all the time.
This condition seems to be a fait accompli, and it transforms the nature of public space.

It used to be that public space was governed by its very publicness. Actions and attitudes were conditioned by the shared nature of the space. The fact that the space was open to all provided the orientation point for the individual. It was indeed an ďopenĒ space, in which there could be a center of attention.

Now, everyone radiates their own private space, and attention is cast in all directions, without a central focus. Absent parties are brought into contact, while those present are irrelevant to one another, no longer sharing a generalized, public, viewpoint. The expansion of multiple interconnected private spheres is in the process of filling up the once open space we all shared together, or squeezing it out of existence. The result is no longer open, but packed full of connections and cross purposes.

This is not so much good, or bad, as it is simply what we are doing, but it does seem to me that the condition we are achieving, while unlike our historical circumstances, has much in common with what goes on in the Meadow, or under the Ocean, or in any cubic foot of brambles.
Such spaces are not empty zones, in which something might happen, but highly charged continuums, in which all sorts of things are happening simultaneously, at close quarters.
We shall be predicated on what we select, out of a density of happenstance.
All of life shall be a meadow.

As I said, this is the optimistic view.
It is, however, in accord with my own Gnosticism, which understands our progress as a vector intent on returning to the Original state, which was a spaceless density, containing all possibilities.

If this is where we came from, and where we are going, one may wonder at the purpose of the open, public space, which our history has passed through.
What is this bubble in the timestream which we have lived in?
To employ an entomological metaphor, let me suggest a cocoon.
A moth larva spins itself a protective space, a silken bubble in its environment, where it can undergo its metamorphosis undisturbed. Just so, Culture has been the extruded silk which the human animal has used to create a protective space, insulating ourselves from the ever intersecting purposes of the natural world.
Within this zone, we have been shedding our old form of being, or rather, constructing a new one.
We have become a different animal altogether.
Todayís rate of convergence suggests that we are nearing our hour of emergence.
But donít hold the phone.
And donít think that my time spent in the Meadow is an escape, a getting-away-from:
Iím getting ready for the Future.

[link] [1 ref]

August 02, 2000

Not Deadly, but Bittersweet

Cool and damp, Summer has developed, much like the Spring.
July is gone, usually our hottest month, now lost in a long, gray week.
Rain, and more rain, and when there is no rain, only a dim, diffracted light,
diffuse reminder of the absent Sun.

By this time last year, heat and drought had singed the Park, withering grasses, and turning soil to dust. This is probably better, weíre still making up for the drought. But not a single ninety degree day in July?

The weather infiltrates oneís mental state.
Interiorizing the drabness, I drift aimlessly, barely kept awake by a faint breeze, emanating from future events Iíd rather not face.

Will the Sun ever shine again?

My posts have slowed a bit, I know. Itís the slowness of Summer, to some extent, but also pressures from the everyday world... all the usual stuff.
My travails are trivial, no doubt.
Still, Iím struggling to keep up the pace; Iím trying to manage at least one a week.
Iím committed to that much.
I suppose Iím committed to it all.

Maybe itís trying to tell me something.
I donít know how many times Iíve tried, unsuccessfully, to get a picture of the Bittersweet Nightshade.
It just wonít work out.
Granted, itís a thin vine, with little flowers, hard to focus on, but Iíve photographed other things of equal difficulty.
I think itís the plant.
Nightshades have a dark reputation. Bittersweet sometimes gets mixed up with Deadly Nightshade, which is a confusion unto itself. Thereís an American plant known as Deadly, in the same Solanum genus as the Bittersweet (itself an introduced species), but the name (in a process typical of colonialist taxonomy) is borrowed from a reminiscent European plant of the genus Atropa: the famous Belladonna. That is the Deadly Nightshade of legend and witchcraft, and a powerful drug plant it is. Bittersweet Nightshade is regarded as poisonous, but itís potency is not of the same dimension as that of Belladonna.

Still, the plant has some power, if only to concentrate my mind, through meditation on its resistance.
To resist the dolorous spirals of individual psychology, we may look to the Holidays, which provide orientation on a broader scale. Today, or yesterday, or perhaps on the 6th, but about this time, is Lammas, the Celtic celebration of the start of the harvest season.
We really have no such Holiday on our schedule, any longer.
Advances in transportation and refrigeration have made all kinds of produce available virtually all the time. We forget that our food is not just a commodity, but a direct link between the Earth and ourselves.
Friends who frequent the green-markets remark on the quickly passing parade of fruits and vegetables, and how narrow the window of opportunity is, for many local crops.
The fruits of the season were the flowers of the Spring.

Thanksgiving is the closest we come to a harvest holiday, but itís celebrated far too late, at the back door of Autumn.
Lammas inaugurates the procession of harvests. The Mulberries are gone, but now the birds are finding black cherries, while crabs, and haws, and tree nuts ripen, each in its own time.
They will not want for watering.

The sun, of course, will shine again.
It managed an appearance this afternoon, eliciting a steamy sigh from the well soaked city. More thunderstorms are forecast, but thatís just August as usual. Iím hoping that weíll have it all wrung out, and hung up to dry, by the weekend. Maybe I can start to harvest some photos of the swelling fruits.

In the center of my fuzzy photo of the Nightshade, you can find a focused patch, showing the Nightshade berries, even while flowers still linger on the vine. Green now, they will ripen to bright red, always one of my favorite transformations.
Humans do not eat the berries, but wildlife will.
Just another harvest, though to us, the plant remains resistant.
Even so, it has its place,
along with rain, and drear, and dumb distractions of a sultry afternoon.
These may bear fruits as yet unguessed at.
What we cultivate will be our choice, but we can only choose from what will grow for us, under our local conditions.
It is our fate to accept the bitter with the sweet.

[link] [4 refs]

July 25, 2000

A Bug in the Bugs

Back from a brief vacation.
Five nights, bits of Long Island.
Itís good to get away,
but the Return
is always more to the point.

Back in the City,
itís not so different from the marshland,
or the coastline.
A density of opportunities.
Every niche is occupied.

The Park is something different.
Not escape from, but restraint of,
the City.
An act of restraint,
undertaken by the City.
An Ascesis of the City.

Or so it pleases me to think of it, in deference to what I like to call my own Asceticism, though that may be a euphemism.
Asceticism may appear as withdrawal, or as refusal, but its essence is resistance.
Resistance to temptation.
That the momentum of the City was stayed, at the very center of Manhattan, was an act of great restraint, a temptation resisted, for which I remain thankful.

These thoughts surface as I ponder my recent post on the parade assaults, the inadequacy of which response still troubles me. Perhaps thatís a proper position to be in, with respect to such an event. I wonder on my need both to address the matter, and to ignore it. And now I find myself in a similar position regarding the West Nile Virus, and pesticide spraying.

Actually, the mosquito-borne virus is a concern closer to my heart, but I would likely be unaware of it, if not for the human-borne mania surrounding it. Iím not immune to public health concerns, and certainly we have the right to defend ourselves, but from my perspective, the general poisoning of the environment is not an appropriate response to a relatively minor threat from a specific organism.

But Iím practicing a mode of thought which will lead me to actually support the virus, as an entity with as much right to existence as any other. Itís just doing what comes naturally. If I had a strong enough magnifier, I could go out looking for it. Of course, I donít really want to get it. Iím not at high risk, despite being bitten by mosquitoes in the park. The mortality is generally at the far ends of the actuarial table: most people exposed donít become symptomatic. From a statistical viewpoint, we might be better off letting the ďepidemicĒ run its course, and building our own resistance. It would be one thing if we could attack the virus itself, but our current strategy is likely to succeed only in breeding a hardier carrier for it. The real problem is the afflicted birds. Their plight is harder for us to address, and itís likely that their ability to deal with the disease will be a key factor in determining its ultimate threat to us.
Mosquitoes you will always have with you,
to paraphrase another sometime ascetic.

So the temptation is to be noble, and reasoned, about my resistance to the spraying.
But the real asceticism is in admitting that my interests are purely selfish.
Iím not likely to get sick, but lots of innocent insects could die, and looking at bugs is one of the best things going, this time of year. Butterflies and Dragonflies are great through the binocular. I even got a look at a Cicada on the wing, itís slow, wavering flight, bulbous form, and metallic sheen reminiscent of a 1950s movie space ship. Some small insects will allow magnified viewing through a hand lens. Youíd be surprised at the tiny monsters lurking in the pretty blossoms.
My turning away is really a turning toward their level of reality.
My faith is that their reality represents our birthplace, and remains our birthright, no matter what we have erected in-between us. Immersion in that world is salutary, and, moreover, a necessity for maintaining our perspective amid the myriad realities of this splintered Creation.
If our senses had no limit, if we could see in all directions at once, we would never turn away from anything.
As it is, we must ignore one thing, in order to see another. To keep the Whole in view, when all attention is drawn in one direction, someone must look the other way.
Such is the direction of the Ascetic gaze.

To justify myself then, or to say how it is that responsibilities are distributed among us, and how, though I try to care about some things, I really care about others, but that I do care...

A Triad:

Three Sorts of Things to be Done

There are some things which everyone must do;
There are some things which must be done, but not everyone will do them;
There is something which must be done, that only you can do.

Iím looking closely, in order to discover, and thereby accomplish, the third necessity. To do so may entail looking the other way, but somebody has to do it.


July 18, 2000

Get 'em While You Can

[link] [1 ref]

July 11, 2000

Marginal Behavior

Here's a contradiction: thermodynamically, heat equals motion, but the heat of Summer seems to slow us down, rather than increasing our speed.
Actually, itís a matter of scale: our bodiesí behavior slows to avoid overheating on the cellular level. Weíre just not accustomed to identifying the heat with speed. We say ďIím too hotĒ, not ďIím too fastĒ. It amounts to the same thing, under the microscope, but we only make the connection while waiting for a watched pot to boil. Then again, thereís the notion of that cultivated boil-over, the ďLong Hot SummerĒ, when our natural lassitude is overruled in an orgy of expenditure; physical and psychic; fast and hot.

All of which goes to show that the metaphorical relationships between Culture and Nature are not simple, or direct, or consistent.

Since I use the Park as a tool for examining such relationships, I find myself feeling obliged (if somewhat impotent) to address the recent incidents of mass sexual harassment, which occurred in the Park, pursuant to the Puerto Rican Day parade. The news has been widely reported, and I provide no links. The topic opens any number of cans of worms, most of which Iíd prefer to avoid. While Annelids are themselves of interest, I canít afford to get bogged down in talk-show confrontation and vulgar psychologizing. (Perhaps one day we'll discuss the psychology of bogs, but that's another subject.)

I started out thinking that these incidents were not within my purview; not really a Park matter, as such. They had more to do with crowd (i.e. mob) issues, which have plagued various of the city's parades over the years. The fear which the Park engenders usually has to do with confrontation in isolated areas, especially at night. The present events happened on the margins of the Park, in daylight, and in front of many people; conditions which should mitigate against such lawlessness. This proves much more unsettling than the odd rape or murder occurring in some secluded shadow.

Still, if the attacks were not of the Park, they were contiguous, and thereby related to it. The relaxation of rectilinearity at the Park's edge suggests the breakdown of social codes which hold our "animal nature" in check. This is the same premise as the pastourelle: the sexualization of the natural landscape, (and its inhabitants), which must be held at bay by the strictures of the civilized urban environment.

One thing Iíve learned in the Park is that margins are always interesting. This is a basic ecological principle. Wherever there is a margin; an edge; a border between types of environment; wood and meadow; ocean and shore, there you will find more; more species, (drawn from both spheres); more interaction; more possibilities. Things heat up, so to speak.

The Park is but a green sliver in the cityís stony flesh. In a sense, itís all edge. Perhaps it did offer the environment which made it possible for atrocity to ferment. It provided refuge; a place to congregate with impunity. It had freely flowing water; a necessity for drinking or dousing. And it offered prey.
All the same things that the migrant birds come for.

Let me stop this sophistry right now.
Iíve heard too many critiques of this situation couched in the terms of the natural, and the social, sciences. Mob, or male, psychology; or maybe you prefer evolutionary genetics?
Itís a political choice, of course.
Do these disciplines have something to say in the matter?
Certainly, but they do so in specialized languages, not fully understood, even by their speakers.
Everything else is interpretation: you might as well be dealing with poetry. Or mythology. Or religion.

Mostly, we start with our own cherished belief, then selectively extract ďexpertĒ evidence out of context, arguing backwards, towards our premise. Thatís the opposite of how science is supposed to work, but typical human behavior. Observed even in scientists.

Weíve always had our reasons, but weíve never exhausted the Mystery of why we are Bad.
Some would say itís in our Nature.
I say itís in our nature to make our own path, a cultural road that can lead us away from behavior that shames us, ďnaturalĒ, or not.
It is our duty to do better than this.

Science can help by articulating nature, revealing every sort of sexual strategy, from females that eat their partner while mating (mantis), to male gestation (sea horse).
Which behavior is more "natural"?
We have choices.
Nature will not justify our decisions.

If we choose to be Good, we can learn much from nature.
Both through her interpreter, science, and also through direct, (ecstatic), immersion.
But neither way will dispel the Mystery.
Both paths offer suggestions, but few answers.
And no guarantees.
The paths converge at our point of existence, and end there.
The next step is ours: it commits us.
Let us not violate our commission.
Let us step beyond the margin we inhabit.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

These notes are scrawled upon the margins of the Arboretum, addressing matters beyond my means, if not my implications.
But I fear Iíve said little of use about this blight.
I know not what to do, other than to oppose it, in my heart, at the least.
Iíd like to think I would have helped, had I been there, but how likely is that?
I wasnít there: I know better than to patronize such an occasion.
I protected myself.
Only natural.

For myself, I have made this place, this parallel Park.
It is open to all.
Nor will its gates be barred.
I will trust, more out of hope than belief, that anyone who finds somewhat of worth here is beyond (if not incapable of) such deplorable deeds as have been elsewhere done.
And even if some ruffians show up, I mean them no harm.
I'll do no worse than bore them.

[link] [4 refs]

July 04, 2000

Independence From...?

Our Nation's Natal Celebration is ever referred to by its date, and it marshals Summerís symbols, as much as those of nationhood. Still, more attention is given to the rubric of this day than to many another official Holiday.
Proud of ourselves, we are.
And not without some cause. Or, at least, I will allow that America is ďThe Greatest Country In The WorldĒ, and other such patriotic pieties.

The thing about Home is that those who live there always feel that way about it.
Even the Wasteland is but a debasement of the best place.

We are not yet totally debased, but lax, perhaps. Lazing in the lap of Summer, lingering into the long twilight, careless with firecrackers.

The incendiaries, in conjunction with the flag, recall not so much our war of origin, as that later, vaguer conflict, the War of 1812. Bombs bursting in air; flag still there...all of that business.
We barely remember what that war was about. A generation after the Revolution, Enlightenment ideals had given way to a less philosophical confrontation. Our National Anthem is a relic of that war, and the Park contains another: the Blockhouse, where the flag still flies, albeit with some added stars. Built in 1814, it remains upon the rocky northern height, guarding against a British attack that will not come.

George Washington famously warned against foreign entanglements, yet what are we, other than entangled? We pride ourselves on independence, but what are we independent of? Britain? We still rely upon Her language. Our racial and ethnic tensions are rooted to this day in the colonial entanglement of ďoldĒ and ďnewĒ worlds. The Blockhouse looks out over Harlem, a Dutch name now borne by another peopleís ghetto: a presence which unjustifiably dissuades some from visiting the north end of the Park.

In America, we exalt the individual, but who among us stands alone?
Self and Other; Individual and Community; Citizen and Nation; these are dialectic names for the same old Mystery.
We might use this occasion to learn Its ways.

A Nation is not Nature, and one cannot closely study the natural world and still feel independent. The body of the Goddess is woven of relationships. Predator and prey are interdependent, conflicting only as individuals. If we no longer need fear being eaten, still we may learn something from those plants which want us to eat them.
They are dying for their country, while teaching us the art of cultivation.

Is it wrong, then, to feel a puff of Pride?
In Self, or Country, is it not justified?
Can preen in one, but not the other?
Has not Pride its uses?
Ah, there forever lies our crisis:
The worst sins bear the best excuses.

Exalt the All, with individual humility.
No contradiction, on a deepening Summer evening.
Be glad of Home,
but remember that the World beyond defines it.
Let each voice join in song, in anthem,
the one that we have overwritten,
a palimpsest of our desires:

And there with good fellows,
Weíll learn to intwine
The Myrtle of Venus
With Bacchusís Vine.

In the shadows gathering beneath the Blockhouse, Fireflies flicker silently.
This is their season.
Theirs are fireworks worth patronizing.
Let the bombs burst where they may.

[link] [1 ref]

June 28, 2000

Home and Away

Took a field trip out of the Arboretum and into the Wild.
Not too wild, maybe, but getting wilder.

Doodletown is an abandoned community. Now incorporated into Bear Mountain State Park, the area is replete with revolutionary-era history. Supported by local iron mines, the town prospered into the 20th century, but declined when the mines closed, after WWII. By the end of the 1960s it was a ghost town. Most of the buildings have since been leveled. A private graveyard still overlooks a small reservoir, and a decrepit road defies the encroaching brambles. Tangles of Barberry and Rose are now home to a notable variety of nesting birds: Warblers; Woodpeckers; Grouse; not to mention the butterflies...
Fifty miles north of the City, the area is recommended as one of the best birding spots in our general vicinity. In need of a change of scene, and with the first full day of Summer to celebrate, I arranged an excursion, through the good graces (and Volvo) of my friend Matt. DMTree's mainspring (CEO? CPU?), Jim, was also induced to make the trip.

Now, I know I've presented the Park as an apparently endless Cornucopia of interesting material, but it never hurts to see things from another vantage. And it's always good to get out of the City, especially once the humid heat of Summer arrives, as it has. Besides, the Park is over crowded now, with everyone who can't get out of town seeking such relief as can be found hereabouts. In this regard, the Park performs its civic duty, but is less attractive to me. More than ever, it's best to be there early, and preferably on a weekday; circumstances which are not often easy for me to arrange.

We arrived at Bear Mountain early enough, and found our way down to the old Doodletown Road, at the heart of the nesting territory. The trail led among tumbled slopes and fallen trees, with traces of the old town peeking through the swelling underbrush. We walked amid a buzzing, wheezing, ringing, twittering soundscape, the vibrations of which permeated the whole environment. Birds and bugs were everywhere, from the ground to the top of the canopy. At least we could hear them all around; seeing them was another story. Oh, we could see the insects all right, the ones that swarmed about our heads, anyway. Plenty of butterflies, too: Swallowtails and Hairstreaks; Anglewings and Fritillaries; Browns and Blues; and more. But the birds; well, Iím thinking I should have done better with those birds.

I donít mean to put a bad face on the experience, but the truth is that this little encounter with nature-in-the-raw was profoundly humbling, and certainly serves to put Central Park in perspective. The ďreal worldĒ conditions (such as they were in that strange landscape, at once decayed and rank with growth) were much harder to negotiate than the artfully orchestrated precincts of the Park. There, whole flights of migrants are compressed into a small, accessible area, making for relatively easy viewing, especially if one knows the ways of the place. On the breeding grounds, itís the birds who are at home, and seeing them is not so simple.

The enterprise was not as well planned as it might have been, (is it ever?), and the timing could have been better. The foliage is heavy now, obscuring the views, and courtship displays have given way to fledging. The young birds were not quite ready to leave the nests, so we didnít see them, either. And I was concerned with my friends, afraid that this might prove an unrewarding introduction to birding. I tried to impart all of my wisdom in the matter, which pretty much boils down to: Find a Bird; Then Look at It. They seemed to enjoy themselves in spite of my instruction.

After weíd blown the best part of the morning getting oriented, we finally did start to see some things. Deer, and a Garter Snake, and yes, a few birds. We waited a while, which is often what it takes, and eventually Warblers appeared, flitting among the trees, and bobbing through the underbrush. We had good views of the promised Hooded and Cerulean Warblers, but I must say I did feel a bit inept. Things were different than in the Park. I swear, the birds moved faster: they knew where they were going, and I didnít. I had a hard time sorting things out; even birds I know well looked somehow different. Vultures were circling; we did manage to separate Black from Turkey.

A number of obvious things hit me a couple of days later, which is not a good reaction time for this sort of thing. That blur that looked like a football pass? Ruffed Grouse. That low level, red-brown bird that Matt kept reporting? Eastern Towhee. The most ubiquitous song of the day? American Redstart.
I think.

Let it be said that the plants presented no such problem.
Or, actually, they did, but they didnít stress me so.
Exactly what was going on, in terms of the regeneration of the formerly inhabited area, is beyond my botanical abilities to understand fully.
But I sure did get to see a lot of Tulip Trees.
Again, I realized that it would have been great to be there earlier, to see them in bloom, but then we would have missed the Mountain Laurel, which blanketed the higher elevations with white blossoms. There were native Sycamores, too, not those Planetrees you see all over town. The Sycamores were hanging out on the bottom land, as is their want, while the Tulip Trees seemed to march up the slopes, where they appeared to be giving the Oaks and Hickories a run for their money.

I could have spent the whole day looking at the flora, and thatís part of the problem: Iím just not prepared for the sheer density of the real world.
Or itís expansiveness.
Nowhere in the Park can you find a view like this one.

Or can you?
Three days after descending into Doodletown, I was still a bit vague. But it was the Traditional day of Midsummer, June the 24th, and observation was in order.
Maybe this was the real Holiday?

One thing the Park helps me do is to reorient myself.
Often, this is done by following habitual paths, but my overdose of wilderness had disabused me of the need to seek out the more remote areas I typically favor. Instead, I wandered rather aimlessly through the populous southern half of the Park, more bemused, than bothered, by the crowds. It crossed my mind that if this was Midsummer, and Sumer, (or is it Somer?) is really Spring, then there really is no early Summer, since the season ďofficiallyĒ began but three days ago. Fair enough, then. Summer is a full-blown thing; no little-bit-of-Summer; no easing into Summer; it arrives as epitome, forgoing gradation.
Iím pretty sure there is a late Summer, but weíll have to wait and see.

Worrying about this sort of nonsense, I almost missed the Catalpa flowers. Theyíre among the more lavish of our native tree blossoms, but Iíd been inattentive; preoccupied with birds and such. There arenít many of these large-leafed trees in the north end of the Park, so Iíd made a point of looking for them earlier in the week, and was taken aback to find that the blooms were gone from a grove near Cherry Hill.

The largest Catalpa in the Park is near Gapstow Bridge, on the 59th Street Pond, and it blows later and longer than the other specimens. I saw plenty of Catalpa blooming along the highway on the way to Bear Mountain, but that wasnít going to make up for missing it at Home. Fortunately, the tree was still going strong. Access was impeded, however, by the latest rehab project, which has the Pond area fenced off for the Summer. I couldnít get the proper close-ups, but I managed a few pictures; evidence, at least. Donít even ask about the Osage-orange, or Sassafras, or Tupelo, or any of the other things I failed to show you this Spring. Too much to keep up with; and too late now; no turning back. Maybe weíll see some fruits, later. Otherwise, itís ďwait till next yearĒ. Come to think of it, even when you see the thing, itís still ďwait till next yearĒ.

Summer is Here and Now.
Enjoy it.
Thereís plenty of room in these longest days. Too much for me to stay out from dawn till dark. But Summer evenings are inviting, and I found myself revising my habit: ignoring morning; working my way up from the south end of the Park; and making for Turtle Pond at dusk.

Turtle Pond, (which is in fact full of turtles), is mid-park, underneath Vista Rock and Belvedere Castle, just south of the Great Lawn. Itís western shore is inaccessible, hard against the butt end of Shakespeare in the Park, which happened to be in session on this fine evening.

I must admit, I hadnít come without a reason.
Let me call it a Hope, and not an Expectation, for I think that expectation may have been part of my problem in Doodletown: what happens is never quite what one expects.
Perhaps it was a species of Faith.
Mostly, it was a note in the Bird Log, which Iíd seen earlier in the week, relating a somewhat unusual occurrence for the Park: Black Skimmers over Turtle Pond at nightfall.

This had been going on for several days, but I hadnít been able to fit it into a tight schedule. There was no telling whether they would keep showing up each night. No knowing what brought these coastal birds to this modest bit of wet amid the green amid the City.
They changed a pattern, just as I had.
A man gazed at the water and asked if I was waiting for the Skimmers? Heíd been there till 9:00 yesterday, but they hadnít shown.
No Expectations, but...
I walked away, moving along the bank, loosing the light...
Ten minutes to 9:00, and wait, yes, thatís definitely something, black on top, white on the bottom, forked tail, fast. Yes, definitely a Black Skimmer. An amazing sight! Racing across the Pond, leaving a trail like a jet plane, no, actually itís just above the water, plowing the surface with its bright red lower mandible, which is a good deal longer than the upper one. Textbook feeding behavior, but this was not a textbook. This was real.
Even when you get what you expect, the experience is different.

I watched the Skimmer incessantly circling the Pond. It never stopped moving, but it kept changing the pattern of itís circuit. Even so, it revisited the same paths over and over. Often just a few feet from my spot on the shore. After a little while, it was joined by two more, and then another. Four, or was it five? The little group of birders that had formed had trouble keeping count, as the Skimmers sped about, in tandem or on intersecting paths that disappeared into the darkness at the other end of the Pond, then zoomed back into view.

Yes, this was Real, in the way that life is ďrealĒ, if not in the way that the wild woods beyond the City are more ďrealĒ than the Park's. One location does not obviate the other, but they provide mutual perspective, creating a sense of depth, as in the parallel scopes of the binocular.
Each, in absence, is as a dream, to one who must engage the other.
A Midsummer nightís dream.

Stage lights from the Shakespeare Theater tinged the waters with unnatural illumination. The Skimmers flickered through a shimmering reflection of fluorescent blue, their trails flashing across the Pond like meteors across the sky. Here was a conjunction unknown to any natural reality, except for the one we live in.

The play was over, and I finally left.
The Skimmers were still going, but thatís their business.
By that time, it was too dark to know for sure what I was seeing, but I didnít care.
Iíd finally found my way Home from Doodletown.

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June 20, 2000

Sweet and Stinky, Summer Arrives

Even as Iím working on this post, the Summer Solstice is occurring.
Usually, itís on the 21st, but Leap Year throws things off a bit, in the course of making its correction. This year, the Solstice is at 9:46 PM, EDT, so the 21st remains the first day of Summer. Many Traditional cultures begin the day at sunset, a marker more concrete, in its way, than the abstraction of midnight, which seldom really marks the mid point of the darkness.

As with Christmas, the celebration has slipped a few days from the exact time of the Solstice. June the 24th is Traditionally Midsummer, the half-way point of the year. We donít make much of the occasion, saving our Summer holidaying for the 4th of July.

I meant to have more of a post together, but Summer is the season of laziness, so I donít.
Iím not talking about the constrictive, hibernating laziness of Winter; this is expansive laziness; relaxation to the point of liquidity.

Lie back,
breathe deep,

Oh yes, Summer has many odors...

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June 18, 2000

Fatherís Day

Iím put in mind of another way in which we differ from most living things; in that we form familial bonds that last throughout our lifetimes.
To be bound up in generations intertwined is not the way of Life, as such. Parents must give way to children, who must themselves become parents, and give way. A path is made through Time, but it is only opened through departures.
Our species makes that path into a chain, which links, if it does not bind.
Our continuance of the reciprocal relationship between parent and child mirrors the self-awareness that characterizes genus Homo. The recognition of the Self, and of the Parent, are identifications of the same order. Human Culture provides a context in which these identities need not be limited to breeding behavior.

As I think of my father, in his age, and my youth, I realize that he knew, and communicated, in his own way, many of the Mysteries that I have pointed at in these pages. That I have had to learn them for myself, despite his efforts, is a measure of the degree to which Humans also participate in a nature which seeks no more than continuity, without regard for consciousness.
Dadís consciousness has always been an inspiration to me.
Much of what I do in the Arboretum is a recapitulation of the nature walks that we habitually took when I was a child. Most summer Sundays found us looking at bugs, or plants, or stars, or whatever it might be. What was clear was that it was all interesting, and that it all mattered, in some crucial way; a way requiring our attention.
That we frequented nature parks, rather than amusement parks, was perhaps an economic indicator, but there was an implicit assumption, almost a morality, as well: a premise I have sought to live up to, ever since.
What my father seemed to suggest to me was that, no matter how restrictive circumstances might be, we always have access to larger worlds of nature and of culture. These worlds are virtually free, and they repay attention with a sort of pure value (an ecstasy), worth more than anything which can be bought.

If every parent could teach this lesson to their offspring, the World would be a better place. Itís a lesson that anyone can learn, but it can only be taught by someone who Knows. Iím thankful that my Dad is one of those.

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