Wednesday, February 25, 2009

and again

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

Konza again

February 14th.
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

Konza rambles -- part III (Feb 7)

“Back again, it’s Saturday…umm…I don’t know, (dates don’t matter.)


“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!…”

[tape off]

“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.”

Konza rambles -- part II (Jan 31)

("I wonder if the tape recorder is going to pick up the sound of the wind in the grass?")

"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."

Monday, February 9, 2009

Konza rambles -- part I

[crunch crunch crunch crunch footsteps]

  • “January somethingth, cold. Really, really cold, and windy, big watercolor skies, but…

[breathe, laugh]

“That’s what I kept thinking -- big watercolor skies…(God, my hands are getting cold, holding this tape recorder.) But it’s peaceful, I needed to come, I had to come, I…

So I’m out at Konza. Obviously. There’s nowhere else to go.

“(Crows in a field, just staring at me, lifting from the trees.) And it’s incredibly quiet. And lonely.”


“Grey. Brown. And the grass is sort of waving. (Just crossed the bridge.)



“It’s a little weird to be saying things out loud. And wrapped through a couple of layers of scarf. (My glasses are fogging up too.) But I guess I have this continual monolog running through my head anyway. To articulate it is sort of odd – the words are just tumbling out. But that’s why I walk – because it’s a time to just let the ideas tumble out.

(“Fence poles, barbed wire wrapping around. I wonder how old those are?”)


Experiment -- Creating a sense of place


Although I already have a tendency to type like I talk, I decided to do a little experiment and actually type what I talk -- I've begun carrying a tape-recorder on my what's-now-become-weekly excursions to Konza prairie so that I can listen to what really falls from my mouth, unedited. I'm trying to use these immediate thoughts to ascertain the ways by which a person (i.e. me) builds a relationship with a landscape, layers meanings into a place, preserves (conserves? a bit of exploitation there too, simply through communication) memories in images/words.

Anyone who's tackled transcription knows how difficult, how painful it is to flatten inflection and pause into fonts, and how difficult, how painful it is to recognize just how ungrammatically you speak -- please forgive my raw attempts to put ideas into words into uniform letters on a screen. Same with photographs -- how do you fit the immensity, the brilliancy, the experience of a place into a 3 1/2 x 5" rectangle of momentless pixels?

But also please let me know if this little experiment actually works, please walk with me through Konza Prairie


Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Things to take into consideration when waiting for the sun to rise before walking to work


Waking to the chill of the February darkness, but taking the time to stretch the spine in every luxurious direction, to find the ends of the fingers and toes then wiggle them before rolling out from under the warm blankets.

Smelling the new shampoo, "Mountain Rain" scent. (Having spent far too much time at the store Saturday, uncapping every bottle to find the perfect one.)

Talcum powder softening the skin puff by puff.

Mmm, cinnamon-almond coffee cake melting sweet pools of butter.

Finishing yesterday's paper, thinking about tracking primates in Panama, mapping the ocean floor, joining any one of those grand adventures out there. Or biting NYC's mayor on the thumb.

Strapping the sandals over the socks, putting the thermos in the bag, and stepping out into the bright world.

Light on the tree-tops, sparkles on the sidewalk, smiling under layers of scarf.

Greeting the neighbor, the man getting coffee, the stranger waiting for the "walk" sign.

Watching breath dissipate in little clouds of alive-ness.

Seeing the largest flock of geese imaginable -- thousands of them branching into tiers of "v"s, horizon to horizon, nary a honk, conserving their breath against the cold sky.

Promising the poor ruffled pigeons that everything will warm up soon, the sun! the sun!


Realizing that you really shouldn't just stand there smiling at pigeons and geese and people and this beautiful beautiful world is when it's 5 degrees out and you're wearing sandals.