ALL THINGS LITERARY. ALL THINGS NATURAL.

A blog for those who desire a more creative relationship with the natural world.

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

THE PLAIN OLD STICK: INDUCTED INTO THE NATIONAL TOY HALL OF FAME

IN THE MEADOW where our dog loves to run, you'll find slash piles of deadfall - broken limbs, twigs, branches - piled in neat mounds awaiting snow deep enough to make burning the debris safe. Gathering the wood may seem like work, and for the volunteers who do it, it is. But it's also child's play, reminding us of when we built forts from discarded lumber, or pretended to be beavers, piling sticks into wigwam like structures, scrambling on our knees into the drafty bellies of these precarious dens.

DOGS, especially, love to fetch and carry sticks, chasing them, propping them up between their paws to snip away at the shoots sprouting from the main branches, peeling the bark away, sharpening their teeth on the smooth, hard grain.

And now, the stick has officially been inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame, housed at the Strong National Museum of Play. Just when parents are struggling to afford high-tech gadgets, there's an inexpensive option - even free! According to Patricia Hogan, curator at the museum, in order to be inducted into the Toy Hall of Fame, a toy must be "part of the lives of many kids, preferably over several generations." Thus quotes Allison Ross in her article posted on the Children and Nature Network site.

This morning, national newscasters reported dire predictions of hundreds of store closures during this Christmas season, an unprecedented occurrence during the busiest shopping season of the year. But perhaps this curtailing of consumerism isn't a bad thing. Less consumption of goods means less usage of the earth's resources, and hopefully MORE USE of the things we already have. Perhaps we'll see more families playing in the park, or walking in the woods. Perhaps more neighborhood kids will team up to build snowmen, gathering stray sticks for arms, snatching a carrot from the fridge for a nose, wrapping that tattered scarf around Mr. Snowman's thick white neck.

We used to have a family tradition on the ranch where in December we would hike around, looking for a straggly Ponderosa Pine that needed to be thinned. This tree would become our Christmas tree. After Christmas, we would pack away the decorations, wind up the strings of light, and take the tree out by the wood pile. The gangly limbs would be sawed off (the dog would invariably run off with one), and the trunk of the tree would be cut into logs. We would set aside these still-green logs and let them dry for an entire year. The following Christmas Eve, these were the logs with which we'd build our Christmas Eve fire. We would sit around the woodburning stove after dinner, reading a cowboy version of The Night Before Christmas, listening to the wood crackle and pop.

As I get older, I look forward to finding new ways to simplify life. Paring down possessions, spending time instead of money, rejoicing in friends instead of frills. Several years ago, I started taking along a Story Stick with me on my River Writing Journeys for Women. As we circle up in the evening to share our journaling, we pass the Story Stick around. I've taken that same stick with me to schools where children, too, have taken turns holding it as they tell their stories. Over the years, the wood has grown smooth and shiny.

Kudos to the Stick. To the trees that grow them. To the children who play with them. To the dogs who chase them. To the birds who build their nests with them. To the fires they light. To the lives they enlighten.

(Page is a Senior Associate with the Children and Nature Network.  To learn more about this grassroots nonprofit that sprung up as a result of Richard Louv's book Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder, go to http://www.childrenandnature.org/.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Featured Author: Wendy Johnson, at work in the wild and cultivated world


"How does a gardener go about learning the raw truth of a place?" Wendy Johnson asks in Chapter One of Gardening at the Dragon’s Gate. "Every spot has a voice, a particular taste, a breath of wind unique to itself, a shadow, a presence. The best gardeners I know slow way down in order to receive the tidings of the land they are bound to work."

I met Wendy Johnson this summer through Natalie Goldberg. Wendy's friendship with Natalie goes back several decades and it is a blessing to call them both friends.

If you're a gardener, don't wait to add Wendy's new book to your collection. If you’re a writer whose work is informed by the natural world, you'll quickly find yourself immersed in the beauty of her carefully cultivated prose.

In this same chapter, appropriately titled “Valley of the Ancestors,” she writes about slowly pacing Redwood Creek, where thimbleberry and red osier grow in abundance. She writes of the ancient silver salmon that come there to spawn in the winter, “a fish more primitive even than the prehistoric redwood trees that shelter their ancestral breeding grounds.”

Several years ago, I spent five days on the BABINE RIVER in British Columbia during the salmon run. The river, 160 wild kilometers of prime black bear, grizzly, salmon, and eagle habitat, flows through the “Valley of the Eagles and Bears.” Four different ecosystems come together there. You will find Suboreal Spruce and Cedar Hemlock, tall narrow Engelmann Spruce and soft-leaved Balsam, all growing abundantly. Even Alpine tundra. Every turn of the river brought a new vista, a new adventure, and a new memory... Here is the place where we snagged salmon from the river for our supper.


How does one go about learning the raw truth of a place? We learn by breathing its essence into our being. By opening our eyes to its hidden nature. By being there, in that place, with clear intention. By honoring each moment with our attention. We also learn the raw truth of a place by remembering the stories that tie us to that place, and by telling those stories to one another. Hidden within the heart of the stories we keep is the deeper meaning of our lives.


During this season of blessings and good tidings, I urge you to walk outside, perhaps down a familiar trail, perhaps on a path of freshly fallen snow. Take a moment to inhale the turpentine scent of evergreens, the musky smell of fallen leaves, the smell of burning hardwood as smoke rises from your chimney and spirals into the winter air.

Think of the stories that tie you to the landscape where you live. Pick up Wendy’s book and discover the wild and cultivated world that is your home.

Read New York Times article and view photos and slideshow.