Monday, December 14, 2009
The prairie in winter then -- cold and grey. And icy. Very icy -- most of the path icy -- so that I had to pay attention to where and how I stepped, and/or do the boot-shuffle across slippery patches. Someone had been out skiing, someone else snowshoeing, but from what I understand, both activities are against the rules. Rules. Sigh.
I should be somewhere skiing right now. Somewhere else, where I could swoosh swoosh swoosh through the tall grass, across that big horizon, somewhere between white earth and white sky (Digression, sorry: digression away from this comfortable little apartment, from this inane little micropolis, from this computer, from this lifestyle; digression away to the prairie, to the big open grey icy prairie, newly shaded with snow, cold under the clear night sky. I should be out skiing right now. But no skiing at Konza. And no being out at Konza after sunset. No camping. No straying from the path. Paths. Rules. Trammels. No room for digression...)
Back to what Konza can offer, then, that day three weeks ago is it already? when it was just me and the cold grey wintry prairie. A study in noises. Not so much landscapes -- the snow had decided to sublime, a thick mist hovered in every hollow, mystery, mystery, beauty -- but soundscapes:
Sounds! Tweeterings of robins -- I think every red-breasted little bird in the state had decided to come to Konza to sing of the snow; the air vibrated with songs and wingflaps, joy.
Sounds! Twinklings of grass -- the breeze was relatively calm, but if I paused, listened carefully, I swear I could hear frost-coated blades tinging together, acres and acres of tiny windchimes.
Sounds! Crunch crunch crunch, huff huff puff, that's all I really heard, unless I stood still -- just my footsteps, my bootcrunches -- real crunches, loud crunches, not just gravel crunches, but cold crystal-breaking crunches; I huffed and puffed and crunched around to the first loop, then skipped and hopped and twirled and stomped -- Cr-crunch! Crunchcrunchcrunch! Crrrrrrrrrrunch! CRUNCH! -- out across the path. Must have looked silly, sounded silly, but who can resist fresh snow, leaving dizzy tracks all the way down the trail? Besides, there was no one else there. No one else wanted to go to a cold, grey, icy, misty, crunchy prairie. I wasn't disturbing anyone's peacefulness.
Peacefulness. Pause. Beauty. Winter.
Forecasters predict lows around zero tonight, another storm Wednesday. The robins will be cold, the prairie grey, wind-swept with snow.
Monday, November 30, 2009
Sunday the 22nd, another beautiful day. I went "backwards" again, winding alongside the wooded creek to begin with, saving the prairie for the end. That way, rather than start off eager, inspired, cold wild happy, only to lose interest and have to plod through the last few miles, I get to warm up my legs, my mind a little before walking out onto (into?) the bright windy landscape.
Of course, that does mean that I start off bored, slightly disgruntled. But I'm usually so desperate to walk somewhere anywhere that I don't mind too too much that I have to drive all the way out to the trail, park my car with all the others, share the place with joggers and children wandering off trail.
Maybe it was just that I was excited to finally get out of the woods, or maybe it was that I'd just run into a friendly couple that was obviously enjoying their hike the day the place, but when I hiked up the hill and emerged at the top of the ridge, views of grass grass grass sky sun, mmmm.
Then I started seeing sights, thinking thoughts, clouds and grasshoppers and a bright red gate!
The cows were there again. This week, they didn't just stare at me, rather continued to happily munch away at the forbs by the fence. I took a few photos (color!) and was about to continue on when I heard a nonchalant "moooo" off to my left, from among the bushes/grasses alongside the trail. Umm? There it was! A rogue cow! (I don't know why "rogue" sprang to mind, but it was free, defying the fence, feasting on the ungrazed vegetation! Hooray for the rogue cow!) More photos, as it joined the same frame as its poor fenced companions; I couldn't help but attribute some sort of symbolism to the scene.
Interesting, though, when I got back to the bridge by the beginning/end of the trail, I was extremely annoyed to see a family standing down by the creek bed, throwing rocks into the water. They weren't rogues; they were rule-breakers, sign-ignorers. I want to sploosh in the water too, people, but "Stream monitoring project. Please stay on trail." Isn't it the same instinct, though, to tend toward wildness, delight? Layers of culture inhibit deeper, rawer appreciation?
Ugh, Konza. Trails. Signs. Rules. Experiments. People.
(That said, it was beautiful out there again this past Saturday -- grass rustling with warmth, horsetails sweeping the sky.)
Thursday, November 19, 2009
For whatever reason, I decided to loop counter-clockwise, took the right-hand fork in the path with a delicious sense of spontaneity (little things). What did I see? Well, turkey, deer, trees, path path path, same old same old, no? No, completely different views, that .
I was so excited to see this tree -- really see it -- that I completely forgot to turn onto the first loop, didn't realize it until a mile later, when my fingers were stiff and purpley-blue and I was beginning to wonder why the route seemed longer from this direction.
Meanwhile, I crossed paths with the other hiker -- not a hiker at all, but some guy out jogging in some sophisticated all-black spandex gear. I think he saw me first, flapping my mitten-tops in an attempt to get blood circulating through my fingers. Oh. (That's why I prefer to have places to myself -- I don't have to worry about looking like an idiot -- can flap my arms and clap my hands and sing and dance and crawl around looking for crickets without having to explain to other people what exactly I'm doing. The birds, the wind, the prairie either understand or don't care.)
Much later on, after I'd found the turn for the second loop (you'd think I'd be able to manage not to get lost by now. Three trails, for goodness sake. I make a terrible geographer.)(Then again, I wouldn't feel lost at all if I didn't have to follow the paths and could just let the landscape dictate my direction) , climbed the big hill up to the grassy ridge / fenceline, and felt a little burst of rain, I encountered another person out braving the cold blustery weather -- a red-cheeked, flannel-wearing and hiking-stick-bearing man who was clearly delighted to be out in the wind and rain. We both smiled and murmured something to the effect of "beautiful day, eh?" before continuing onward.
And it was beautiful
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
I was there for probably half an hour, mind empty in a non-meditative way. (Don't even have any "tra la tra la"s or "twee-oo"s to type in here, really nothing, just
I suppose if you sit anywhere long enough, something is bound to happen. It came in the form a grasshopper. Granted, insects had been chirping about all morning, but I didn't really care to notice them until one little green thing leaped right in front of me then just sat there too, balanced on a blade of dry, rustly grass, as if challenging me back.
I could turn this into a much longer story / reflection on perception / amusement / the nature of grasshoppers and people and prairies, but really, to summarize, I ended up spending the rest of the morning crawling around on my hands and knees in an attempt to photograph insects. I can't say that any of the images are spectacular, but it's somehow telling that on a day with such big blue skies, I only used the "macro" setting on my camera.
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Getting ahead of myself, though, losing the immediacy. Back to the 24th. Rain in the forecast, big grey clouds in a low sky. Felt a few sprinkles, kept going anyway (something I've come to learn, as in actually finally believe and act upon, is "so what if it's raining.")(I guess a few months in a temperate rainforest will teach you that life get's pretty dull if all you do is sit inside and stay warm.)
Maybe it was the light? Or just my mind, more focused, but I saw the mailbox again, there standing dark at the top of a hill. How could I not have noticed this the dozen other times I'd walked the path?
(I opened it up this time, just to confirm that yes, in fact, it houses interpretive brochures. Somehow that's far more disappointing than real mail, or even nothing. My imagination could have done more with an empty mailbox than one full of tidy lists of numbers and names.)
Anyway, onward. I'd thought the day had been sponsored by turkeys -- they were everywhere, glarbeling at me from out in the grass, -- but soon ran into a new curiousity: cattle? New rotation in the grazing patterns established by scientists studying the impact of ungulate herbivory (i.e. hungry cows).
It was a little surreal. They'd been mooing merrily away until I approached, then they must have caught whiff of my leather boots or chocolate-filled pack because they stopped. Stopped mooing, stopped eating, just stood there. Cows in a field. Silent. Staring.
Monday, October 12, 2009
But oh there were little "science stations" everywhere -- metal boxes, fences, gates and more gates. The bison had tags in their ears. The gates had locks. The fences had grass on one side, forbs on another.
The sky was grey, cold bitter wind, rumors of snow swirling in the air, autumn.Drove to the top of a hill and looked out across acres and acres and acres of grass, but wasn't allowed to just slip away, head cross-country, dip into the woody ravines, climb along the flinty ridges, just lay down in the middle of a field and watch the clouds grey grey grey. So many shades of grey, though you can't tell without sitting, site-watching. Instead it was just sad, somehow, to see the prairie so poked, prodded, abused, divided. Differentiated. Trammeled.
Back then again the next day, to the same old path. Greyer, colder, wind tearing sprinkles from the sky. Made the place feel even smaller, to have had my eyes opened to roads, fences, boxes beyond my immediate experience. I was at my own pace, but didn't have to look where I was going, just let my feet follow the path. (Maybe that's what it is? You don't actually engage in a place when you follow a path, you just go where it tells you to go, see what it tells you to see. There's no choice.)
At the same, delightful to return to familiar spots, to see oh! the burn from last spring is as full of grasses, rich as ever, I'd never have known it had been black, charred, bare just months ago had I not seen it, returned.
Each time I go back, I have to revise my perceptions -- not totally erase and rewrite, but revise, add layers, depth, dimension. Fascinating to study, but I don't want to be told what to study, I want to explore, see what, as Robert Frost would say, sticks to me like burrs in a field.
Monday, October 5, 2009
Instead of making me feel familiar, welcomed, the swell of place-based memories -- turkey-sightings, path-turning, wind wind wind -- exacerbated my loneliness, my alienation. I can like the feel of the sun and the smell of the sage but I just can't like the place. Too many paths, fences, signs, other people. Too far away from my back door. Konza. It's all I have. That makes me hate it more.
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
“I’m back again, this frosty and misty April morning. I think it’s the 11th? 10th? Mmmm, and the birds are singing and the grass is greening and everything smells so springing. We got rain last night, turned to frost. The drive in was through clouds – waves of clouds, -- then it opened up and here I am. I haven’t been here for a while; we’ll see how it looks after the deserts of the Colorado Plateau.” (10.1)
The little creek is flowing; I can hear it before I even come to it. I never realized that it makes noise, oh it’s trickling and burbling and laughing as creeks should. I wonder why that’s always such a soothing noise. I guess if you’re traversing the prairie or the desert, then that sound of water rushing… (10.2)
I think it was William Least Heat-Moon in PrairyErth who was chiding Kansas for having the meadowlark as the state bird, as do something like five other states, but that’s the first bird whose song I learned to identify and I’m still so happy to see them sitting on the fence wire; I like meadowlarks. Lark, larklark. I like meadows; I like larks. Put them together and you have that song, that song of spring and sunshine – lark! (10.3)
Burn! I just realized – I was so lost in my thoughts, then I got to the turn, the first junction with the trail, and wow! Oh I was wondering why it looked so bald ahead, but I thought it was just something to do with my sunglasses. So. I don’t know, it’s sort of beautiful. Hmmm. (10.4)
I wonder how they keep the signs from charring. (10.5)
I had no idea that outcropping of rocks rings all these hills! I should have realized, but I never thought about it. The burn has uncovered more – some little scraggly bushes, trees still sticking up. Odd to see the very distinct lines where they mowed and controlled – the idea of ‘controlling’ fires fascinating too… I was thinking that this ought to be a similar experience to walking across salt flats, where you just have this flat lifeless monotone, alien landscape. It should seem… I don’t know how to explain it – sensually it’s the same, but here it’s such a different perspective – a hope, a renewal, this is all going to regrow. It’s potential… it’s… I don’t know. I keep saying ‘I don’t know,’ I don’t know… (10.6)
Burn only on one side, I keep looking back and forth right to left, grasses so soft and feathery, traditional landscape with hills and mist in the distance, and the other side just black with these pools reflecting the sky, such a different idea. Back and forth, grass and… I think the burnt landscape feels more alive? Now the grasses are just brown and dead, then over here, it’s just water and earth… and [laughs] sky. (10.7)
I just want to splash in the puddles and roll in the mud! Like a buffalo, I suppose. Oh, I know I’m not allowed to (because it’s Konza. Rules.) but oh… (10.8)
Why is it I can’t get the same feeling anywhere else? Watching movies or talking to people or reading a book. Not the same as the wind and the sun and even the rain, even fire. I was thinking that, as we were doing the Refuge essays, that people turn to different things for solace – to baseball, to family, to words – to reconnect with the world outside themselves and in so doing reconnect with themselves. [“Them,” I say, “them,” as though I’m not one of “them,” I’m a wild creature, not a social specie.] We’re not supposed to – now that’s interesting, ‘supposed to,’ according to Taoism, Buddhism – need anything outside ourselves, but I can’t remember, can’t appreciate the wind (or it’s absence) without it there.
I don’t even like Konza, compared to anything. I mean, I’m following this six-mile path over and over again, I can’t go splash in the puddles and I can’t go pick up stones and I can’t I can’t I can’t. But at the same time, nobody can control the wind, nobody can control the clouds, so I get that slight taste of something, something bigger than me, than us…
I hate cities, I hate buildings. I don’t want to say I hate people, but I just never feel this way, the way I feel out here… (10.9)
I just want to keep walking, walking and walking and walking without any responsibilities and goals. Here to not be on this trail, just… (10.10)
These moments, you know – I don’t know, I keep saying I don’t know, but my legs just got tired and my ears are cold and the wind is blowing and [can hear wind and birds on tape!] I don’t know. What to do. Just keep walking…. (10.11)
The peepers are peeping and the robins are looking for worms. It’s all wet and adamantly spring along the creek. (10.14)
"It’s March, and I completely forgot to press the “Record” button. [On the way in, I’d disturbed a whole flock of turkeys who were munching on green stubble in the field, sent them scurrying into the sky. Hope they returned to finish their breakfast.] So we’ll try this again.
There’s a bird calling back to me – ‘twee-hoo, twee-hoo.’ It’s cold, windy, wet – it rained last night, so all the colors are out. And they burned too, so the soil is dark with charcoal and moisture [darkness! The contrast between the soil and the little green sprigs]…and oh, there’s a tree that’s fallen. I don’t remember that before, I think that’s new? A slump right here? Maybe I just didn’t notice, I can’t tell…
Anyway, everything’s wet. ‘Twee-ee-oo,’ go the birds. Green. I’ll just walk. (9.1)
I have to confess that after last night’s rain, I came out here expecting to experience that euphoric smell of spring. I keep breathing deeply [breathe], and don’t smell a thing. Maybe it’s the wind blowing it all away?
Today the light is different, at least. The sky is clouded over. (Stupid me forgot my raincoat, too.) With the sky clouded over, though, there aren’t any shadows… [abruptly interrupt thought, I’m sure I could have kept ruminating on that, but…] (9.2)
Runners! Two people running on the trail. I envy that they can do that, and at least they’re coming here – trail-running, -- but is there something you miss, by going at a runner’s pace? Different objective, I guess. (9.3)
I thought I just heard geese honking from somewhere far away. I heard them and got all excited to think, ‘Spring!,’ even though I hate geese and at home I always ugh, those obnoxious things would sit I swear outside my window and they would tease my dog. But after rereading Sand County Almanac – darn it all!, -- I’m sort of happy to hear geese. (9.4)
I’m excited that I’m talking again. I thought I was getting bored with the place, that I’d learned all it had to tell me, God, what a … not a failure or blindness, I don’t know what word I’m looking for, it was just a presumption, ugh. I’m seeing all sorts of new things; it feels different today. (9.5)
Lazy – that’s the word I was looking for, it was lazy of me. I need these cold grey days to feel alive. And here. (9.5b)
I just tried to take a picture of the path to show how bronze the grass is in comparison with the horizon, which is in one direction grey, and the other direction just this curious blue, blue-purple, the ‘blue of distance’ as the book I’m reading…(oh, what’s the title,…Solnit! By Rebecca Solnit!) or the purple of wet trees in March. But of course the camera can’t capture that; it’s something I’ll need to try painting, or just keep in my memory-file. (9.6)
Somewhere in that sea of grass, one little bird calling, ‘twee-oo, twee-oo; twee-oo, twee-oo.’
Oh I don’t have the notes right; I’d make a poor bird. (9.7)
I paused to take a picture of turkey tracks (‘take’ again, ugh), and heard this ‘ta-taptaptap, tap, ta-tap tap’ and thought it [a woodpecker] was right next to me, but I can’t see it among all these trees.
I also, a while back, took pictures of an old oak, this grand old oak. I don’t know why I didn’t say anything about it, there weren’t any words in my head [stepping up to the trunk, under that great canopy of branches], it felt mythic. [stumble for words…] I just wanted to stand under it, not talk about it. (9.8)
And I know it’s against the rules to step off the path, but sometimes rules just…hmm. (9.9)
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
Of the six elements contributing to a good life (as determined by Aldo Leopold), work and food would seem to be the most essential, air and sunshine taken for granted and adventure and love superfluous. Yet after months' of subsisting on interesting work and good food, I'm aching for air and sunshine, more so adventure. Adventure, adventure, adventure.
Thoreau's famous observation -- "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation" -- still rings true today. People tell me to start with the basics -- slog through the day, put dinner on the table -- everything else will fall into place. Sunshine, adventure, just have to wait for the weekend, the summer, next year, do your duty today and dream of tomorrow. But then tomorrow doesn't come, people get so comfortable in the day-to-day that they temper ambitions. Is it better to recognize little happinesses where you are, in what you're doing, or forever long for something else? Dare to try something new, or appreciate what you have? Can you have both work and adventure? Does either matter if the sun is shining and you don't care?
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
Sunday, the 22nd I think. Here I am. I’m already way back by ‘my’ fencepost, and nothing’s really inspired me. There was beautiful frost – the crystals, on the grass – back by Deer Hill, but now I guess the only thing I’m thinking about is that I’m wearing a different pair of boots (well, same boots, a different pair of socks) and they’re cutting into my heel. (Hello, fencepost.) I don’t know, I guess something about the rawness of it, I’m not going to stop and fix my sock, I’m just going to think with every step.
I keep waiting for the place to inspire me. I come out here and say, ‘Hey, prairie – hey sky, hey grass, -- amaze me.’ I guess, though, it doesn’t work like that.
It’s there again, the deer. And a woodpecker and a squirrel. Same place. I heard crunching in the grass, so I took off my hat. And there it is.
It’s almost so familiar now that I feel that I don’t have anything left to say. After that first rush of newness and excitement, now just crunch crunch crunch.
Driving back now, and the crows! Shadows lifting from the fields. [long pause, small voice] I like the crows.
Sunday, February 15, 2009
I wasn’t going to come this morning (I was going to come tomorrow. It’s pretty cold.), but I had nothing else. I was just sitting there and I had to come. I wasn’t sure that there would be anything new – the sky is pale, wind, crunchcrunchcrunch again.
I typed all my notes last week, so those ideas are in my head. I wasn’t even going to turn on the tape recorder, but there were turkey tracks down the path. I could envision a whole flock of them, flapping and squawking away.
Three deer, hopping off. Hopping. Loping, loping is a good word for it, through the grass, white tailed. Now I see them again on the next hill. I wonder if they’re my three deer from last week, I’m making friends with the deer. I’ll greet them good morning every time I come out.
The only thought I’ve had today (I’ve just been walking, I don’t know) but the only thought I’ve had is that I dressed like I thought the prairie should be. Except my scarf is too soft and my jeans are too blue. Boots are too tight on my toes. Today I’m just listening. [long pause, breathe.] February.
More deer, no magic today.
Experience of place depends as much on your mood as it does wildlife and the weather.
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
“It smells like spring! There’s a little bit of moisture in the air, it’s warmer. Mmmm, it smells like my desert after a monsoon. And the birds are singing. Oh I wish I could just bottle the smell for the research.
“But no, smells like this belong out here – they don’t belong in shampoos and soaps, mmm just in my nose and my mind.”
“The grass is redder today. It must be that with the moisture, the colors come out.
“This has to be my favorite part – walking through the tall grasses. The grass doesn’t seem to be as high today. Is it the dew? More mowing? But it’s still beautiful, just the morning light.”
“There’s sage in there – little tiny pockets of sage. I didn’t notice that before.”
“The land is so small, and the sky is so big. At the same time, the airplane overhead is just drowning out the peace.
“The grass is popping. It’s making little noises, sort of like popcorn. I wonder if it has to do again with the sun and the heat and the moisture. Tiny little pops.
“Way up on the hill, this part of the path is just dirt. It’s soft and quiet. I can see footprints of everyone else. Add mine to the mix. Rich, dark earth, soft.”
“Peace. I just have this sense of warm, sunny, fresh-air peace. (Fresh-air, big sky peace.”)
“I keep assigning names to things. Today I got this idea that I should draw a map and just assign names to things like “Deer Hill” and “Fencepost Ridge.” What is it that Abbey says, that “through naming comes knowing? Hension, prehension, apprehension?” I’m starting to put memories on specific places, specific corners of the trail. So “Deer Hill” back there, and looking forward to “Fencepost Ridge.” – I know it’s coming.”
[tape malfunction, who knows, cares, what I was rambling ambling]
“’The man ahead of me, he just took a picture of my fencepost!’ – that’s what I was thinking. And then I realized, ‘how absurd of me, to think of it as my fencepost.’”
“Today feels less about discovering and more about remembering, what with “my” fencepost back there, and now coming up to the one snared in the wind. But today, without the immediacy of the wind, it just doesn’t feel the same. (Oh, there it is. Hello, fence post.)”
“So I’ve been following the man in the yellow windbreaker. Instead of meditating on the landscape, I’ve been meditating on the ‘swish swish swish’ of his coat. And what he was doing out here. (And what he was doing taking a picture of “my” fencepost.)
“The modern mode of tracking: I can tell that the the man in the yellow windbreaker is not the person who has horizontal tread on their boots. When I was at Natural Bridges National Monument a few years ago and thought I was completely lost, it was only by tracking, tracking someone with horizontal boot-tread.
“Experiences in other places just flow right into experience here. I’m layering this not just with memories of this, right now (me talking into an absurd little tape-recorder), but of this summer and last summer and years before that. The skies, winds, scents, sounds.”
“Two people with horizontal boot tread! I bet it has to be a husband and wife. They bought their boots at the same time – same shop, same brand, slightly different size.
“I wonder what they were talking about when they came, this morning(?). Were they watching birds? For some reason, I picture them as, I don’t know, mid-fifties? Nice people.”
“Funny, I’ll probably always think of this place in blues and golds. Not green, just the occasional pine hunkered down. People usually think of grasslands and prairies as huge seas of green. Not this one. Not today. Not last week.”
“It smelled like spring at the beginning, and now it smells like autumn. I don’t know, just the light. The brush in the creek. Huh, it doesn’t smell like winter. Humph, it’s February.”
(“Oh, it smells like autumn, it’s got to be the leaves in the sun!)(How can seasons have smells?)
(“If I could walk this every day, just step out my back door and be here, I would be happy.”)
“Finally some little bird sat still long enough for me to pull out my bird identification book, which I opened to find the sparrows and my goodness! – how on earth am I supposed to tell the difference? There are dozens of them! And they all look the same… I’m going to have to try to distinguish the calls.
“Okay, so there’s one that keeps going “dun-dun-dun-dun, dun-dun-dun-dun” on exactly that note. And there’s another that goes [whistle] “thwoo-eet, thwoo-eet, thwoo-eet, thwoo-eet.” (Oy yoi yoi, I need my song birdbook. But it’s a little awkward to carry around with me. ) And there’s the [whistle] “dee-dee, dee-dee” one out there too.”
“So here I am, -- trying to sort out half a dozen different bird calls with my book and my tape recorder, whistling and singing – and there comes a woman, walking along perfectly happily in the sunshine. Wearing headphones. Listening to an i-pod.
“Stream’s undercut. A whole tree has fallen in. It must have just broken through, what a tremendous crash that must have made! Lots of other trees, nearly ready to go, their roots exposed.”
“Except for the birds and the smells, (Oh and the clouds, as I look up, egads! Those horsetails across the sky, just wisps) I’m not here today, I’m thinking of the past. The coyote scat, disintegrated, and I think, ‘hmm, last week that was fresh.’ And I see streams undercut and I see bootprints, I’m living in this imaginary world of a map that I’m drawing in my head and putting names on.
Crunchcrunchcrunch on the gravel and the wind on the grass, I’m forgetting to be here.
(Ahh the irony of things. ‘Forgetting,’ I realize. Forgetting implies memory.)(‘Am forgetting’? too, I can’t stop with the words. It’s the process – the “felt value” as Herb Schroeder would call it, as opposed to the other categories, “concept value” or something, “assigned value.” Felt value. I “am forgetting.)(Oh, it’s a beautiful morning.)
“Expectations. So last week I was driving in on the road and was expecting huge flocks of crows. Today, here I am, coming to my little “Quail Surprise” (I hope I didn’t call them pheasants last week, I think I did, but they were definitely quail) and here I am, I’m expecting them to be there.”
“Blue jay! I know that one! I can identify that! Because it’s so blue. (Blue. Jay.) So very, very blue, it just flapped away with it’s little red breast. Oh, and there goes another one, like little pockets of sky flying off!
“Yesterday morning, while walking to campus, I waited for the sun to rise…. Oh, there’s a deer!…”
“And another! And another! [whisper] They blend in so beautifully. A little bird came, and I got out my book and was asking, ‘who are you,’ but it flew away, and I saw something move in the woods. And then another one. And another. And I’m just standing there looking at them and they’re just standing there looking at me. I’m looking at them, clutching a bird book, wearing a cowboy hat, and talking into a tape recorder…”
[tape ends, next side…]
“I know the idea of “place” (put in quotations) is a social idea – “place” is socially and politically constructed and I can see that social and political decisions about how to manage this – to put a trail here, to give people access and tell them about it – that’s part of it. And people talk about “going to Konza” – that’s social too, but. I don’t know, it’s experienced on such an individual level. And that’s what’s acted upon in the social and political realms. It’s me walking this path, every week.”
"Layering of memories -- just last week, climbing this hill, I was doing so because the deer were here. I was so freezing cold, had turned around, was going to go back, but a different deer popped out next to me, so I paused, turned around. I said, well maybe I should at least climb the hill to get the view. I guess I'll always remember that."
“Today it’s not about the sky, it’s about the earth – the colors! The sky is pale, pale blue with a couple of those not even wispy clouds, just a thin veneer of, I don’t know, lack-of-color is all I can think of.
“But the earth -- the grasses are such an incredibly rich gold and russet.
“Watching the wind. I remember this in the grasslands, too, in South Dakota, you could get sea-sickness! The grass -- just ripples of colors and shimmer, gold.”
“The sun’s warm on my jeans already. It’s all feels (well, in terms of temperature, not texture so much) – it’s feels and sounds and sights, but no smells here.
“Smell is what’s supposed to invoke the strongest emotion. According to those cognitive neuroscientists, the nose and olifactory senses (tastebuds, etc) are just closest to memory centers – the amygdala (?). So smells are supposed to help people remember – be the strongest ties, link back to moments – but here it’s so dry and so cold (and my nose is running because it’s windy), I don’t smell anything.”
“I think of deserts, and it’s just juniper. Juniper and a whiff of sage. But oh the wind here…”
(“mmm, I’m happy enough with sights and sounds.”)
“Plane overhead, leaving these huge streaks and scars across the sky. It’s odd, the issue of scale: looking at the plane which is thousands and thousands of feet in the air, then looking down at the ground – little trees and little houses and little water towers and little roads. It’s just so big.”
(“I took off my hat. It’s much too cold to do so, but oh I don’t know I want the feel of the wind and my hair the color of the grass.”)
“It helps to have a path. I’m not actively picking my route, I’m just going wherever the neatly mowed trail tells me to.
“Well, it does take me to places that I wouldn’t go otherwise. I probably by now would have thought, ‘okay, enough with the grass,’ and would have headed off to try another surface. Or I might not ever venture down to the water because it’s beautiful up here.
“The path is both limiting and freeing.”
“I really wish I’d brought Sand County Almanac out here with me, into the wind. Books like that are just meant to be read outside.”
“A smell! A smell! I have no idea what it is, but it’s sweet and I wish I were a deer so that I could tell you what it is!
(“Though I don’t know who “you” is – I don’t know who I’m talking to…”)
“Just know that there’s… well, it’s gone now, but there was a smell…”
“Driving through North Dakota this summer, I tried to get Dad to stop so that I could take pictures of the fenceposts. They have such character, so many stories in the wood. He never did, though, he would never stop. But here too, I can stop and think, hmm, just came across an old wooden one. It’s snared in the wire, looks like it was blown in by the wind, as opposed to actually ever being planted.
(“I’ll take a picture, word’s don’t…”)
(“’Take a picture,’ I say. I’m stealing a memory from the Konza.”)
“I want to go up over the next hill, but there’s a sign saying ‘DO. NOT. ENTER.’ Half the fun of things is just exploring. The bear went over the mountain to see what he could see, but not here because it’s a ‘Research Area.’ ‘DO. NOT. ENTER.’
“What’s the difference? Here? Ten feet over! It’s a line on a map somewhere.”
(“The sky’s become blue.”)
“I wonder if, next week when I walk this again, I’ll remember each of those places where I made a recording? See I remember that place back there where I thought the sky was blue because I remember taking a photograph of it the first time I came out with my camera. I must have been struck by the exact same feel – the tree against the sky and then the fencepost next to it. I memorialized it. A place. A memory to the place, a place to the memory.
“So next week, am I going to remember walking down this stretch, talking about the future?
“Oh dear, Time and Space and all laws of Physics denied by the philosophy of geography.”
“Water’s flowing under the ice. You can actually see the surface melting. It’s not reflective any more. It’s sparkling in the sun, it’s soft. The rocks are popping out, a little waterfall is trickling.
“It’s January, for goodness sake!”
“I feel tremendously guilty – I just was walking, thinking, and heard a rustling in the grass. It sounded like something bigger than a little brown bird, so I thought “hmm, I don’t know, maybe it’s a rabbit or something.” So I took a step, maybe two steps off the path, just towards the grass (through the mowed section) and a pheasant flew up! Then another one! Then a dozen of them! Just flapped and squawked their way into the sky!”
“It was entirely my fault. I completely disturbed them, scared the daylights out of all of us.
(“And it was beautiful and immediate.”)
(“Oh, there goes a little tweeter-bird. Oh, and another one. Hmmm.”)
“So it goes. I’m back to the car. There were many more people along the last stretch, now that it’s gotten warmer in the day. I’ve walked the thoughts out of me. Mmm, that’s what I’d been hoping for.”
“Oh a dead cardinal in the road! Just this brilliant, brilliant red and there in a tiny little feathered lump. In the road. I don’t know. Just the colors today have all been brown and blue, then this shock of red."