connecting the nests

Over the last three weeks, I’ve been watching a mourning dove nest as its fate unfolds on a roof support beam along the building across from mine. I have a perfect, straight-across view through the spotting scope I set up in my living room. The whole affair started with a flurry of nest-building activity. In mourning doves, the female builds the nest as the male brings materials. This male was so industrious in bringing sticks, his mate appeared agitated trying to handle the growing stockpile as she shaped the nest beneath and around her. The rudimentary nest was completed in a day. After two weeks of incubating, with the female sitting at night and the male during the day (according to one of my bird natural history books), the eggs hatched. Now the parents continue to sit, but more gingerly. Suddenly from under the protective breast, a head atop stringy neck reaches up to be fed.

Each of the dozens of times I have peered through the spotting scope, I’ve been struck by the force of the proceedings. The persistence of the male bringing stick after stick after stick. Parent dove tight on the nest, eyes blinking, long tail extending out the side like the fletching of an arrow, day after day after day.

The dove’s nesting cycle can be nearly invisible when seen just for a moment. However, there is a fierce energy in the connecting of nests through the millennia of a species. Perhaps it offers a way to consider faith — trusting what came before and translating that to current conditions, not over-thinking things, and being true to one’s nature.


For a long time now, probably since I was a kid, I’ve wanted to research and write an encyclopedia of all things nature. The Naturpedia project provides a microscope built of language, indulging in luxurious details — slow motion revelations about the nature that is in and around us. It represents a place where wide-eyed curiosity meets midlife reflections.

Perhaps the most compelling motivation I have is that, in creating my own catalog, I can start from scratch. There are so many things I read about or formally studied but didn’t carry with me beyond the campus grounds to apply to the bigger picture. Now, decades later, with a different perspective, with experiences of the “good, the bad, and the ugly” under my belt, I understand more clearly what matters, what I value. And it’s all right under my nose, coming from looking more closely. I’d like to retrace the process of photosynthesis from my college biology 101 class, fitting it together with the desert moss that dries up, turning a dormant black for as long as necessary, re-greening in a heartbeat with the onset of moisture. Dinosaurs have roamed in my imagination, but now how joyous to fit them into each layer of the geology in my midst, and track their relationship with mammals and birds. There are places where the moss rises from the Kayenta sandstone right next to a dinosaur track! They are two brush strokes of the interconnected life force that I’m keen to celebrate word by word.

Click here to check out the beginnings of this new blog. I will be adding posts frequently, aiming to populate it with all kinds of topics that I find intriguing, and that I hope others might too. And this very world will continue with its wondering and wandering.

outside the box

On a recent field class with a biologist who knows a ton about lichens, I tried to absorb the stories and facts as seamlessly as the lichens absorb the minerals in the air. Dr. Van Der Merwe unpacked so much great information that my cognitive capacity couldn’t keep up except with the help of a notepad. Lichens, pure and simple, are outside the box. They defy what one conventionally might think of as a type of organism. Here are a few cool tid bits:

  •  A lichen is a composite organism made up of a fungus and an alga or cyanobacterium. Each component can live on its own but when together, the resulting lichen species (classified by the fungus species, which is the dominant partner) looks totally different.
  • Lichens take hold on whatever is in the environment, from bark and shrubs to cryptobiotic soil and rock.
  • Here in the desert, many plants have waxy coatings so they don’t lose water. Not so with lichens, nor do they have roots. Everything they need they get from the air. Indeed, scientists use lichens as barometers of air quality.

Thinking of the amazing realm of lichens, I feel the voice of Walt Whitman and his ecstatic writing style in Leaves of Grass. He might write something like:

Ah, glorious, creative lichens! Colorful earthbound palette! What are you made of? What are you part of?

Speaking of the constituents and the wholes they create, I soon will add a science-oriented blog covering flora, fauna, natural history and phenomena, and more, catalogued alphabetically for easy reference. One of the first posts will be on lichens. I’m excited — having the two blogs will encourage a deeper interplay between what meets the outer eye and what reflects within.

all in a footstep

Call me crazy, but lately I’ve been obsessed with the ground that passes beneath my feet, trying to notice the details of what it feels like to walk on sand compared with gravel, pavement, or a rocky trail.

All kinds of things pour into the footstep’s experience — the amount of pressure on the sole, the degree of stability and predictability in the leg movements, how much the heel is involved, and for that matter, how much the mind is involved. Especially on pavement, my mind can engineer a digression, favoring thoughts over the sensation of knee lift or footfall. Sand can be super soft, radiating extra action into the calf and hip, or semi-soft, in which case the foot feels the shoe gently imprinting itself into the earth’s skin. Walking on stream-carried sand is firmer than on windblown sand. The cadence of walking in gravel can be astonishing to the ear. What occurs to me occasionally is hearing the change in volume of the gravel crunch depending on if the foot is rising or falling.

In the elegant gem of a book How to Walk, Thich Nhat Hanh suggests the following: “Invest one hundred percent of yourself into making a step. Touching the ground with your foot, you produce the miracle of being alive.”

If someone asked you what the process of walking is all about, where would you begin?


Language & Leaves

Sometimes when I sit down to write, I get lost, wondering if playing around with words isn’t just a way of pretending to address something important while avoiding deep-seated feelings.

A while back, after three years of writing an opinion column for the local newspaper, I gave it up, mainly because I felt I was writing the same column over and over. And what was that column? My attempt to communicate a sense of disconnect between ourselves as humans and our place, a cultural forgetfulness (for I believe we can remember) of being in harmony with air, water, animals, plants, sky, earth. I never succeeded in articulating this, rather trying to point to it in different topical ways. I still feel a persisting sadness about this separation from the web of life.


After a long-lived autumn, a big wind passed through last night, stripping the cottonwood trees. Things feel restless. Each leaf could be a word — let them fall, finding new configurations. A mimicking of this change of seasons through writing is the “cut-up” poem (inspired by the Dada Movement and later, author William Burroughs). Take a page of text, cut it into pieces and rearrange them, creating a word collage. It’s a way to upend, or at least point out, habitual writing (and hence thinking) patterns.

image.jpgFallen leaves in East Snowmass Creek, Colorado, by Andrea Holland. To see more of Andrea’s photography, check out her website.                  

My cut-up, after dismembering a page from an article on ravens, picking every fourth line and then piecing a new creation together:


drops pebbles into a pitcher of thermals

steals wedge-shaped

superstitions uttering yellow

voices Aesop

harasses habits and cliches

soars with greed and grace

distinguishes between prophets, tricksters,

historians, and tourists

employs sticks lined with

animal song

raises a brood of beauty