april 29/RUN

3.5 miles
2 trails + extra
53 degrees
wind: 13 mph with 23 mph gusts

Windy. Sometimes sunny, sometimes not. Ran south up above, north below. Just after turning down onto the Winchell Trail, spotted a runner heading even deeper into the gorge. Wow, I’ve hiked that bit, right down by the water, with Scott. There’s not much of a trail and it’s steep and rocky. As I ran above, I looked for them again. Nothing. Had I imagined it? I don’t think so.

Ran over some mud; it rained last night. Past the 38th street steps, nearing the oak savanna, I noticed even more mud and spots where it looked like the trail was eroding. I wondered, how soon before this bit of the trail is impassable?

Almost finished, running on Edmund above the trail, I heard a man on a bike call out, “good job guys!” At first I thought he was a coach, calling out to his athletes, but then I realized he was talking to some young kids (his kids?) biking with him. I also heard him say something like, “you need to push down harder on the pedals to go fast!”

As I passed by the short hill near 42nd, I heard some black capped chickadees singing to each other. Usually it’s a fee bee song, with the first bird singing 2 ascending descending notes of equal length, and the second bird singing 2 descending notes back*. Today I heard one bird follow the formula of “fee bee.” The other responded with one flat note. Was this second bird a different type of bird? Do they ever respond with one note? Was it a juvenile just learning how to sing? Not sure, but it was strange and delightful to hear this new song.

*sometime in April of 2024, I finally realized that the first set of fee bees were not ascending but descending from a higher note than the second set. Now, whenever I’m reading through an old entry that describes them incorrectly, I’m fixing it.

before the run

One final before/during/after for the month. Yesterday I took a break from running, but not from thinking about entanglement and mycelium and hyphae and dirt. Here are some of the things I thought about:

1 — fungi at the mississippi gorge

Earlier in the month I wrote about the mushroom caves in St. Paul, but I was curious what other fungi is around here so I googled it and found an amazing picture of “Dead Man’s Fingers,” or Xylaria polymorpha (“Xylaria” means it grows on wood, “poly-” means “many,” and “morpha” means “shapes”).

a fungus coming out of the ground that looks like human fingers

Dead man’s fingers is found in deciduous forests throughout North America and Europe where it grows at the base of rotting tree stumps. The FMR conservation team found this spooky looking fungus deep in the oak forest ravines at Pine Bend Bluffs Scientific and Natural Area in Inver Grove Heights. Maple trees seem to be their preferred host in our area, but they also favor oak, locust, elm and apple.

While most fungi either consume the cellulose of wood or the lignins, dead man’s fingers is somewhat unusual in that it digests the glucans or “glues” that bind the cells together. As they feed, they literally help break down dead or dying trees in the forest. 

Friends of the Mississippi River (FMR)

Very cool. This was found at Pine Bend Bluffs Scientific and Natural Area, which is farther north on the Mississippi. This summer, I’d like to check it out.

Then I found this:

9/13/2012: Harriet Island/Lilydale Regional Park Hike (St. Paul)

Join the hiking group for a hike along the south bank of the Mississippi River west from St. Paul’s historic Harriet Island through the former Lilydale town site. The hike passes a three-kilometer reach of the Mississippi River gorge that is known locally as “Mushroom Valley” because of the abundance of man-made mushroom caves carved into the sandstone bluffs. Mushroom growing lasted a century, from its introduction by Parisian immigrants in the 1880’s until the last cave ceased production in the 1980’s, during the creation of the Lilydale Regional Park. Some of the approximately 50 caves originated as sand mines, but other common uses were the aging of cheese (Land O’ Lakes,) the lagering of beer (Yoerg’s Brewery,) and storage (Villaume Box & Lumber.) The Lilydale Regional Park area was settled early in Minnesota’s history, but because of repeated flooding, the original town was moved up on top of the bluff. In the Lilydale Regional Park, a mesic prairie has been recreated along the Mississippi River floodplain. Shale beds in the Lilydale Regional Park also are a good place to find fossils.

Directions: From I-94 on the east side of downtown St. Paul, take the Highway 52/Lafayette freeway exit south and cross the Mississippi River on the Lafayette bridge to the Plato Boulevard exit. Go west on Plato Boulevard about 2/3rds mile to Wabasha Street and turn north (right). Proceed a short distance to Water Street and turn east (right) and then turn left onto Levee Road. Proceed on Levee Road under the Wabasha Street bridge. The parking lot is on the left.

source

This is another place I need to hike around this summer! Here’s one more link from Greg Brick, the Subterranean Twin Cities guy, with information: Lilydale Caves / Mushroom Valley

2 — mushrooms are strong!

They can burst through asphalt!

The rapid growth of mushrooms is well known, how they can come up overnight, but how they exert such force is not so obvious. The hollow stalk of the mushroom is made up of vertically arranged hyphae that grow at their tips, much like those balloon used to make balloon animals. The wall of a hypha is composed of fibres of chitin that are arranged helically and limits the ability of the hypha to expand in width. All the pressure of growth is through elongation and growth at the tip (Isaac 1999). It is this concerted pressure applied by each expanding hypha that can create the pressure to lift the pavement.

source

3 — polyphony

In Entangled Life, Merlin Sheldrake discusses polyphony (Anna Tsing does too). He mention this recording:

and discusses how each woman sings a different melody, each voice tells a different musical story. Many melodies intertwine without ceasing to be many. Voices flow around other voices, twisting into and beside one another. There is no central planning, nevertheless a form emerges….attention becomes less focused, more distributed — mycelium is polyphony in bodily form, when streams of embodiment come together and commingle.

I wrote this in my notes:

I’m thinking about this in relation to peripheral vision and movement and distribution, less focused and singular, involving a bigger picture, encompassing many voices, images, organisms, happenings (?) — the idea of learning how to hold these different voices together into a form — what would it look like to try and grasp/notice/attend to a world this way? How does that change what we notice, and how we notice it? How we experience delight? wonder? awe? how we understand the relationships between a self and other selves/communities? Less interested in the details, the focus on one person, more interested in the form we create together — the bigger picture…

I imagine this as part of my larger project on shifting away from central vision (which barely works for me anymore) and toward peripheral vision. How does peripheral vision enable me to see things in a new, potentially highly beneficial, way?

4 — more whimsy, please!

I found this poem that other day that delighted me, and reminded me that I’d like to write more stuff that taps into my strange and wonderful whimsy. Often, the things I write are too serious (I think). I’d like to write something about fungi and mushrooms that tapped into my delight of how strange and alien and gross they are.)

I’d Rather Be / Mitchell Nobis

The small blue Nissan ahead of
Me at the stoplight has a plastic
License plate holder that says I’D
RATHER BE AT A RICK SPRINGFIELD
CONCERT, and buddy, wouldn’t we
All rather be catching a tan
In the summertime lawn seats at
Some amphitheater off the

Highway, wearing sunglasses to
Protect our eyes form the sun and
The gleam of Rick’s professional
Teeth, watching his wavy dyed brown

Septuagenarian goatee
Frame his mouth as it sings “Jessie’s
Girl” with his mind on autopilot,
Wondering what he’ll have for dinner

Later as he croons Where can I
Find a woman like that?
for the
100,000th time as we
Dream of this life we’re in for the

100,000th time instead
Of cubicles and gray, teh beige
Hallways we walk for decades before
Demise? We dream, relaxed in the

Warm air we ignore for another
Decade as some gulls try to steal
Fries from a couple who are busy
Groping their fifty something bodies,

Their bodies here still, soft & alive,
Sagging in the lawn but fifteen
Again and lost in their friend’s basement
Again making out on the bean bag

In the corner, frantic in hazy
Afterschool limbo before
The friend’s parents get home from work.
They know over what’s left of a

Margarita in a can. It
Trickles green through the grass as Rick’s
Band cuts straight to the opening
Riff for “Love Somebody.” The drummer

Pounds the toms, the thuds summoning
1984 as the guitar
Chimes and harmonies swoop in and
Swallow the heating air. You better

Love somebody / it’s late, the frogs
Evaporating in the wetlands
By the offramp.

during the run

I thought about melodies and voices and sounds I was hearing simultaneously, sometimes difficult to distinguish, blending into each other. At the beginning of the run: birds, a car, my breathing, my feet striking the ground, the wind through the trees. I’m not sure if that was all of the sounds. Now I wish I had stopped and recorded some of my thoughts.

I also thought about dirt and what, under my feet and deeper in the ground, I might be disturbing/disrupting/destroying as I ran.

I probably thought about more, but I’ve forgotten it now. It scattered in the wind, I guess.

after the run

Now, after the run and after writing this log up to this point, I’m thinking about lichen and Forrest Gander and telling everyone in the house about how lichen can be killed, but if it has what it needs, it might never die (which I heard him say on a podcast I listened to this morning while doing the dishes). I wouldn’t want to live forever, but I like imagining a world in which inevitable death didn’t overshadow almost everything else. I’m not consumed by it, but it’s in all of our stories, our understandings, our philosophies, how we frame and experience joy and delight. How would we orient ourselves without that endpoint, without that guaranteed conclusion?

I’m also thinking about something I read about the biggest fungi in the world — at least the biggest that has been found and documented by scientists, the “Oregon Humongous Fungus.” Everything else I’ve heard about this fungus, and the one in Crystal Falls, MI, involves awe and fascination and wonder. In contrast, this report describes the fungus “as the baddest fungus on the block.” It’s killing tons of trees in the forest and, even after diligently trying for 40 years, they can’t get rid of it. The perspective here seems to be from timber companies who are losing all their trees/assets/profit. Interesting…

Oregon Humongous Fungus Sets Record As Largest Single Living Organism On Earth (click on link to see video of the news report + a transcript)

april 27/RUN

3.85 miles
marshall loop
38 degrees

Still wearing running tights and winter vest, but it’s getting warmer and sunnier and spring feels almost here. I warmed up quickly and had a good run.

10 Things I Noticed

  1. a new neighbor has repositioned a drain pipe so that water from their basement dumps out on the sidewalk I take for almost every run, soaking it. A few weeks ago, when it was colder, this water quickly turned to ice, now it’s only an irritating puddle
  2. running west over the lake street bridge, the river was broad and blue and rippling
  3. running east, the river was brown and flat
  4. no smells from Black Coffee, at the top of the marshall hill
  5. the branches of the trees reaching up from below the trail on the east side looked silver and dead or dormant or nowhere close to sprouting leaves
  6. wind rustling through some dead leaves, but no sound of water above shadow falls
  7. don’t remember hearing any birds or seeing any squirrels
  8. they are doing some sewer work near 7 oaks — I heard the beep beep beep of a truck backing up, then saw a huge concrete cylinder waiting to be buried below the street — how long will all of this take?
  9. encountered at least 3 pairs of walkers — I think I heard some of their conversations, but I can’t remember any words now
  10. my zipper pull was banging against my shirt at the beginning of my run, making a dull thud that I couldn’t not hear. Did it stop, or was I able to tune it out?

Things I Didn’t Notice, either because I forgot or they weren’t there: geese, black-capped chickadees, crows, dogs, anything green, other runners, purple flowers, roller skiers, sewer smells, planes, the sky, clouds, my own breathing

Writing this list of things I didn’t notice, I suddenly remember something I almost forgot: bird shadows! At least twice, I noticed the shadows of incredibly fast moving birds, passing below me. Very cool and very fast! I wondered, were these birds being helped by the wind, or were they just that fast?

Yesterday I checked out Merlin Sheldrake’s Entangled Life from the library. I’ve read the introduction so far and I’m really enjoying it. A few things to remember:

Our bodies (we) are ecosystems, composed of — and decomposed by — an ecology of microbes.

Biology — the study of living organisms — has been transformed into ecology — the study of relationships between living organisms.

I came across many complicated relationships between field biologists and the organisms they studied. I joked with the bat scientists that in staying up all night and sleeping all day they were learning bat habits. They asked how the fungi were imprinting themselves on me. I’m still not sure. But I continue to wonder how, in our total dependence on fungi — as regenerators, recyclers, and networkers that stitch worlds together — we might dance to their tune more often than we realize. 

Scientists are — and have always been — emotional, creative, intuitive, whole human beings, asking questions about a world that was never made to be catalogued and systematized. 

april 26/RUN

4.25 miles
top of franklin hill and back
32 degrees

Full winter running clothes: black running tights, green base layer shirt, pink hooded jacket, black running vest, “black” baseball cap (well, it was black, but now has faded to a brown-ish gray. I imagine, although can’t really see with my vision, that it looks gross and I should be embarrassed to wear it — mostly, I don’t care, but I am looking for a new hat), pink headband, black gloves, dark gray buff. Brr. I am over winter-in-April. Normally, I’m not too bothered by the weather, but this never-ending cold is wearing me out. I want to sit on the deck in my new chair without a coat on! I want to run in shorts!

I was cold for the first 15 minutes, but once I warmed up, it was fine. I felt strong and relaxed and grateful to be outside breathing in fresh air, being with the birds. They don’t seem to be bothered by the cold. Thought about rot and noticed all the trees down just below me. How long does it take fungi to move in and begin breaking down the wood to digest the needed nutrients? Looked it up and found an article, How Fungi Make Nutrients Available to the World, which is helpful for understanding how fungi break down trees, but not how long it takes.

Running under the lake street bridge, I saw a few Minneapolis Parks vehicles, heard chainsaws down by the river, then noticed one of the trucks was filled with twigs and branches. I thought about the fungi and all the food they weren’t getting with the removal of the dead/dying limbs. I also thought about important it is to remove those branches so they don’t fall on my head while I’m running under them.

On the stretch between the trestle and Franklin, I thought about what it might mean to shift my values away from progress and toward the fungi, including thinking about motion/moving as not always producing something “useful” for capitalism, or aimed at progress (like running to be faster or better). How do we understand and value movement — making, doing, moving — outside of the goal of improving or mastery or being used by others?

I also thought about an article someone posted on twitter this morning about tapping into spinach’s ability to sense a compound that is often found in landmines by attaching censors to them that, when triggered, send an email back to a lab. The article was terribly titled, Scientists have taught spinach to send emails, and as I read it I thought about how often these pop science articles view plants (or fungi or “nature”) only as resources/assets for maintaining or improving the lives of humans. Fungi is only valuable because of what it does for us, how it might save us from the terrible mess we’ve made of the planet, not because it’s just amazing. How dreary to think of spinach having to send emails! And, this is not teaching spinach to send emails but hacking into their communication networks to receive the data they’re sending elsewhere.

I’ve written a lot about mushrooms and fungi, here’s a poem about lichen. Lichen is another big deal for poets.

For the Lobar, Usnea, Witches Hair, Map Lichen, Beard Lichen, Ground Lichen, Shield Lichen/ Jane Hirshfield

Back then, what did I know?
The names of subway lines, busses.
How long it took to walk 20 blocks.

Uptown and downtown.
Not north, not south, not you.

When I saw you, later, seaweed reefed in the air,
you were grey-green, incomprehensible, old.
What you clung to, hung from: old.
Trees looking half-dead, stones.

Marriage of fungi and algae,
chemists of air,
changers of nitrogen-unusable into nitrogen-usable.

Like those nameless ones
who kept painting, shaping, engraving,
unseen, unread, unremembered.
Not caring if they were no good, if they were past it.

Rock wools, water fans, earth scale, mouse ears, dust,
ash-of-the-woods.
Transformers unvalued, uncounted.
Cell by cell, word by word, making a world they could live in.

—2010

april 25/RUN

6.1 miles
hidden falls scenic overlook loop*
32 degrees / feels like 25 degrees
wind: 12 mph

*a new route! river road, south/up to wabun/over ford bridge (south side)/mississippi boulevard, north/hidden falls scenic overlook/mississippi boulevard, south/ford bridge (north side)/river road, north

Ran a new route today. It’s nice to check out a different part of the mississippi river. I’ve walked on this trail at least once, and biked it several times, but never done this exact loop. Up above, it’s steep and without many fences or railings. Very cool. Noticed a few squirrels, a darting chipmunk. Heard: a robin, crows, some cardinals, the teacher’s whistle at the Minnehaha Academy playground, trickling water. Ran straight into the wind crossing back over the ford bridge.

Before my run, I began gathering notes and quotes and poems about entanglement to put under the glass on my desk. Hopefully it will help me write this poem by the end of the week. While I ran, I wanted to try and think about fungi as hidden, always in motion/doing (a verb, not a noun), and below. Had flashes of thought about what’s beneath us, and how I’m often looking down through my peripheral, even as I look ahead with my central vision. At some point, I decided I didn’t want to try and think about entanglement, but to stop thinking and see what happened. No brilliant thoughts, but now that I’m done, I feel more relaxed and happy and motivated to keep working.

I almost forgot, but then remembered when I was reviewing my notes: several times, I heard the creaking, squeaking branches and thought about old, rusty, long hidden/forgotten doors being opening — a trap door in the forest floor. I didn’t imagine past the open door or the idea that it led to the river basement (using basement here like ED in “I started Early — Took my Dog”). Still, I enjoyed thinking that I could access this door and something in my moving outside was opening a long shut door.

The idea I have right now for a poem involves playing off of these lines from Mary Oliver:

Listen, I don’t think we’re going to rise
in gauze and halos. 
Maybe as grass, and slowly. 
Maybe as the long leaved, beautiful grass

And this bit from Arthur Sze in an interview with David Naiman:

I began to think I love this idea that the mycelium is below the surface. It’s like the subconscious, then when the mushroom fruits pops up above ground, maybe that’s like this spontaneous outpouring of a poem or whatever.

Something like this?

Maybe like mushrooms, we rise
or not rise, flare
brief burst from below
then a return 
to swim in the dirt…

I want to think more about what fungi do and how mushrooms grow, and how to think about that in relation to human subjectivity/agency and a self that is connected/joined but not subsumed by this connection.

The other thing I’d like to think about more is this line from Tsing:

In this time of diminished expectations, I look for disturbance-based ecologies in which many species live together without either harmony or conquest (5).

These disturbance-based ecologies involves ecosystems that develop in the wake of a disturbance, like matsutake mushrooms that grow on pine in forests that have been clearcut. They aren’t part of what Tsing calls the cycle of promise and ruin, or deplete then move on, but something else, the something that comes in after a place has been abandoned by Progress.

Mushrooms/ Sylvia Plath

Overnight, very
Whitely, discreetly,
Very quietly

Our toes, our noses
Take hold on the loam,
Acquire the air.

Nobody sees us,
Stops us, betrays us;
The small grains make room.

Soft fists insist on
Heaving the needles,
The leafy bedding,

Even the paving.
Our hammers, our rams,
Earless and eyeless,

Perfectly voiceless,
Widen the crannies,
Shoulder through holes. We

Diet on water,
On crumbs of shadow,
Bland-mannered, asking

Little or nothing.
So many of us!
So many of us!

We are shelves, we are
Tables, we are meek,
We are edible,

Nudgers and shovers
In spite of ourselves.
Our kind multiplies:

We shall by morning
Inherit the earth.
Our foot’s in the door.

april 23/RUN

3 miles
marshall loop in reverse
66! degrees
wind: 20 mph

Ran with Scott after the rain stopped on a (finally) warm spring morning. It was so windy I had to hold my hat then take it off while running on the lake street bridge. It was warm and sunny and wonderful. We talked about Debussy (Scott) and mycelium (me) and tried to avoid loud-talking-only-slighter-faster-than-us runners. Didn’t hear any rowers or roller skiers or radios blasting from bikes. Did hear some geese honking and some crows cawing and wind howling.

Spent the morning reviewing my notes and re-reading descriptions of fungi and mushrooms and mycelium. Here are a few notes I took:

  • a different sort of We, not a me or an I, but a we, an us
  • a different way of looking/sensing/becoming aware: not seeing straight on, but feeling, looking across and to the side, down, beneath and below
  • stop looking up to the heavens, start feeling/sensing what’s below
  • a hope that is not predicated on evidence, when evidence = seeing and Knowing and fully understanding (seeing things as parts or discrete categories or individual things)
  • entangled is not separate or pure but messy and enmeshed

this is why we are all here — from my haibun and what I heard coming out of the little old lady’s phone

this 
why 
we 
all
here

why = curiosity, wonder

The why is not an explanation — this is why/this is THE reason — but an invitation to imagine differently, expansively, wildly.

we all = ecosystems, organisms, networks, asemblages

Organisms are ecosystems.
I find myself surrounded by patchiness, that is, a mosaic of open-ended assemblages of entangled ways of life, with each further opening into a mosaic of temporal rhythms and spatial arcs (Tsing, 4) .

here = a place, located in history, a specific place, not transferable or easily translatable, can’t be scaled up or turned into assets

april 22/RUN

3.5 miles
2 trails + tunnel of trees
43 degrees
light rain / wind: 15 mph

Raining today. When it stopped, I headed out to the gorge. Within a few minutes: more rain. I could barely feel it. I was more bothered by the wind. Even that didn’t bother me that much. Everything was wet and dripping. I looked at the river, but I can’t remember what color it was or how the surface looked as the rain fell. I probably couldn’t have seen that anyway because I was too far away.

Heard lots of water rushing through the sewers in the street, then water falling from the sewer pipes in the ravines at 36th, 44th, and 42nd. Just after I turned around at the 44th street parking lot, I stopped at a bench overlooking the river. It was at a slight angle above the Winchell Trail and faced St. Paul, on the other side. Next month the view from this bench will only be green leaves, but today I could see the river (even if I don’t remember what it looked like), and the trail below, and the other side.

Didn’t see Dave the Daily Walker this morning, but I did say “good morning” to one walker, and then laughed in recognition when another walker said, “What is it? Hot or cold?”

Thinking about revising a haibun I wrote a few years ago and submitting it. Could I shape it into something that speaks to ideas of entanglement and nets and mutuality?

On the Dirt Path Near Folwell Avenue

Even if you try to time it just right, when you climb the steep, short hill up to the dirt packed path you cannot avoid the swarming swath of sex-crazed gnats or the little old lady slowly shuffling by, swinging her hiking poles, a voice TED-talking out of her phone’s speaker reminding you that this is why we are all here. Do not bother the bench resting on the rim of the gorge to ask what this is. If looking through the thickly thatched oak leaves to gather glimpses of the silvery river sparkling in the morning sun doesn’t already answer everything, the bench certainly won’t be able to help.

Bugs and old ladies
wake early in July but 
so does the river.

I think I especially need to rework the last sentence and the idea of what this is. Maybe also the haiku at the end? Looking through my pages documents, I found some notes I took while trying to figure out how to write about this encounter with the little old lady. The second paragraph reminds me of a great sentence I read in an article describing entanglement. Every organism is an ecosystem.

which reminds us why we are all here…

We are here. Me and joints and muscles and bones and ligaments and lungs. Us. me
and blood and cells and electrolytes and sweat and saliva. we. me
and hands and feet, a heart, two diseased eyes, a knee that displaces. we. me
worn out running shoes, threadbare worries. we. me
and those oak trees, that wrought iron fence, this rutted, dirt path, that short, steep hill. we. me river. that we are here with the old woman who slowly shuffles in her straw hat with her hiking poles and a voice that calls out from her radio speakers, “which reminds us why we are all here.”
here. above the river and the gorge and the floodplain forest, below the bike path and the road, the cars and the boulevard.
here. in this heat and humidity and haze. here. on a monday morning. here.

We are all here.

Me
bones
joints
muscles
ligaments
blood, sweat, saliva
inhaling exhaling lungs
lungs and heart and hands
diseased eyes, easily displaced kneecaps
feet, worn out running shoes, threadbare worries
Us. All. Here.
oak trees
wrought iron fence
rutted, rooted, packed dirt path
short, steep hill
an old woman slowly shuffling in a straw hat with hiking poles
Us. All. Here.
The river
gorge

I also found a few log entries mentioning her: july 23, 2019, august 5, 2019, and august 15, 2019

The mention of the phone TED-talking is a central aspect of my poem and its critique (of what? something about sound bites and the monstrous mixing of self-help and spirituality and capitalism and the idea of blasting these words on an early morning walk outside by the gorge) seems central to what I’m trying to say in this poem and how it fits with entanglement, especially as Anna Tsing describes it. Decided to do a search on the Poetry Foundation site for “ted talk.” Found this excellent poem:

ted talk/ JENNY ZHANG

money will build anywhere
there’s a view or a coastline
all those tangled shrubs and thorny bushes
your ancestors cut through centuries ago
to claim in the name of a queen
and a king with foul smelling hair
these days even the ecotone
between the living and the dying
has to be privatized & sold at auction
all the steps between next year
and the first human year ever recorded
melted so flagrantly it became stylish to be poetic
for the end of the world
everyone’s collecting coins on every interface
a thousand identical posts about 2019
being the year of paper straws
and reusable cups
indigo dyeing from Kyoto
is the new 36 hours in Tbilisi
all the people with phones
don’t think twice about buying onboard wifi
on their way to the latest Caribbean island
still recovering from last year’s hurricanes
would it be so wrong to wish
everyone with global entry be grounded
until extinction is off the table
I don’t think I can date another
digital nomad or a normie with a dog
who doesn’t know what it’s like
to be too poor to buy their way
out of disaster
why do the rich treat blame
like it’s obscenity
or a fossil
is it because they hate seeing blood
think they are noble for taking
quick little showers
and using silicone at the farmer’s market
I have never seen someone forgive themselves
as elaborately as the wealthy
everyone who paid for their wellness
is infecting the rest of us
yes I am sick sick sick
and want to sterilize all the ruinous overseers
though it is not like me to dream so much
I have managed to hoard something
that cannot be replicated
it will die when I die
let no one say we didn’t try
to let a different kind of  life bloom
and let no one say we didn’t touch
what was there from the beginning

Okay, I can’t resist. Searching through other results for TED talk, I found this excellent poem by the wonderful Ted Kooser. Most of the search results where poems by poets named Ted; I guess there aren’t a lot of poems about TED talks, or at least ones that made it into Poetry magazine. That’s a Ted talk I’d attend!

In the Basement of the Goodwill Store/ Ted Kooser

In musty light, in the thin brown air
of damp carpet, doll heads and rust,
beneath long rows of sharp footfalls
like nails in a lid, an old man stands
trying on glasses, lifting each pair
from the box like a glittering fish
and holding it up to the light
of a dirty bulb. Near him, a heap
of enameled pans as white as skulls
looms in the catacomb shadows,
and old toilets with dry red throats
cough up bouquets of curtain rods.

You’ve seen him somewhere before.
He’s wearing the green leisure suit
you threw out with the garbage,
and the Christmas tie you hated,
and the ventilated wingtip shoes
you found in your father’s closet
and wore as a joke. And the glasses
which finally fit him, through which
he looks to see you looking back—
two mirrors which flash and glance—
are those through which one day
you too will look down over the years,
when you have grown old and thin
and no longer particular,
and the things you once thought
you were rid of forever
have taken you back in their arms.

Oh, I love this poem. I’ve posted several others poems by Kooser. I think he recently died, which is a great loss. I read a thread on twitter last year — or the year before? — discussing what a generous mentor and person he was to so many.

april 21/RUN

5.5 miles
franklin loop
45 degrees

Sun! Warmth! Spring! Felt much warmer than 45 degrees, at least once I warmed up. I remembering now, as I write this, that I was chilly for the first 10 minutes.

15 Things I Noticed:

  1. there were 3 stones stacked on top of each other on the big boulder heading down into the tunnel of trees
  2. water was dripping or streaming out of the limestone on the st. paul side — I didn’t see it, but heard it
  3. my feet were shshshshshshing as I ran over grit on the edge of the path on the franklin bridge
  4. one laminated notecard was still attached to the railing on the lake street bridge. It was the one I stopped to read last week: “your story doesn’t have to end.” What happened to the others? Why was this the only kept?
  5. at least one runner was wearing shorts
  6. the wind was in my face as I headed north on the west side, at my back heading south on the east side
  7. there were no rowers on the river and no roller skiers on the path
  8. the edge of the paved path was white. I decided it was stained from salt, not covered in lingering ice or snow — too warm
  9. the walking path under the lake street bridge on the east side is still closed off — I think Scott said the path had crumbled there. Can they (will they) fix it?
  10. there was a tree trunk down on the winchell trail that looked like a sitting person, at least to me
  11. the shadow of a bird crossed over me. I looked up but couldn’t see it in the sky
  12. lots of honking geese, sometimes the sound of their honks became indistinguishable from a yelling kid or a moving car
  13. a peloton of 6 or 7 bikes passed me. Their spinning wheels were so loud! Spinning, whirring, rumbling. My sudden thought: how loud the 200+ bikes I see at the bike races I watch must be!
  14. a deep voice off the side, carrying clearly across the road, cutting through everything, almost rattling my skull
  15. the top of a split rail fence at a steep part of the path is missing — how did that happen?

I was planning to do a list of 10, but I kept remembering more things that I noticed. I like this exercise as a way to remember things from my run.

before the run

For every other “before the run” I’ve done, I write it in a saved post before I go out for my run. Today, I was busy reading Anna Tsing’s The Mushroom at the End of the World, and didn’t have time. It takes some time to read and post all of the stuff I’m thinking about before the run. Maybe too much time? Now, after the run, I don’t have much time either, so I’ll keep this brief. Just listing a few things that I read/did before the run:

Finished re-memorizing Katie Farris’s “What Would Root”

Re-visited Farris’s beautiful poem:

In the Event of My Death/ Katie Farris

What used to be
a rope descending
my vertebrae to the basement
of my spine
grows thin.

In solidarity with my chemotherapy,
our cat leaves her whiskers on
the hardwood floor,
and I gather them, each pure white parenthesis
and plant them
in the throat of the earth.

In quarantine,
I learned to trim your barbarian
hair. Now it stands always on end:
a salute to my superior barbary skills. In the event
of my death, promise you will find my heavy braid
and bury it–

I will need a rope
to let me down into the earth.
I’ve hidden others
strategically around the globe, a net
to catch my body
in the wearing.

Thought about nets and this passage from The Mushroom at the End of the World:

Mushrooms are the fruiting bodies of fungi. Fungi are diverse and often flexible, and they live in many places, ranging from ocean currents to toenails. But many fungi live in the soil, where their thread-like filaments, called hyphae, spread into fans and tangle into cords through the dirt. If you could make the soil liquid and transparent and walk into the ground, you would find yourself surrounded by nets of fungal hyphae (137).

Thought about imagining the soil was liquid and transparent and then entering it, surrounded by nets of fungal hyphae. What if I could swim in the soil? Swim through these nets of fungal hyphae?

Wondered about networks and the comparisons Tsing describes between fungi networks and the internet (the wood wide web) and the infrastructure of highway systems. What are some key differences between how the internet and highways work?

during the run

Thought about nets and what they do, what they’re for, as I ran. Nets can trap and confine things, like fish, but they can also hold things — carry, hold together, be a container for, not sealed or airtight but open with many holes, ways to breathe. I thought about these nets as loosely holding organisms/selves together without sealing them into a self-contained, separate Subject.

after the run

There’s a lot to ruminate over with entanglement and fungi and mutuality as a starting point instead of competition. I need to sit with all some more, and maybe do some writing around/with a few lines from the book. I’m hoping to turn my thoughts into a poem for an call for work on entanglement.

In my notes in Plague Notebook, Vol 11 I made a list of words related to nets:

  • weave
  • cover
  • crossing, cross over
  • holds things, gathers things
  • tangled
  • knotted
  • a web, a weaving
  • safety net

april 19/RUN

4.75 miles
veterans’ home loop
33 degrees

Sun. Slightly warmer. Less wind. Hooray! Still wore my running tights, winter vest, and gloves, but felt like spring is almost here. Ran around the falls. They were gushing, but the creek was barely moving. Ran past the “big feet” statue. I can’t remember his name — Gunther something, I think — but I do remember that he was a poet, a hymn writer, and a politician from Sweden. Ran the Winchell Trail too. At the start of it, I slipped, but didn’t fall, in the mud. Said a lot of “excuse mes” as I encountered people from behind. Not irritated at all. A good run on a beautiful morning.

before the run

Thinking about roots and how things become rooted in the ground today. This topic is inspired by a favorite poem that I memorized in May of 2020: What Would Root/ Katie Farris. Here’s what I wrote in an entry from may 20, 2020:

I like the idea of this long, wild story, being rooted at the rock from the beginning of the poem. And I love this idea of rooting, being rooted and how the story unfolds around it. I want to spend some more time thinking about what it means to root, be rooted, take root. I’d also like to write a poem like this–with a story at the gorge–about sinking.

I used to have this poem memorized, and I think I can again, with a little practice. For now, I’m going to record myself reading it, then listen to that recording a few times while I run today.

during the run

Started by listening to the recording of myself reading the poem. It was very cool — dreamy, almost disembodied — to listen the words as I ran through the neighborhood and toward the river. Then, when the recording was done, I put my headphones away and thought about roots as I ran south above the gorge. I remember imagining my skin as more porous and open to the world and grass growing through my pores (instead of Farris’ roots).

Halfway through the run, in Wabun park, I stopped to record my thoughts. Here’s a summary:

  1. Thought about being rooted in a place, then being on the inside or the outside and how being rooted means being both in and out, or neither, at the same time. Just there, part of what’s happening.
  2. Then, I wondered, Does rooted always mean we’re tethered or stuck in one place, immobile? What would it mean to be rooted in a place while you were moving?
  3. Then: how are the roots formed? Instead of one solid, thick, sturdy root that’s difficult to cut down, what if we were a network of roots spread throughout the ground, connected and tangled with other? Roots can be networks — shallow and easy to pull out, like weeds, but multiplying and growing when you do that (rhizomes and nodes).
  4. Getting at the root, radical feminism and the root of oppression, the origin/cause of the problem I often think about the origins of my running story — there is no one root or cause or start, but a series (a network) of reasons.
  5. Chanted: root root root root/root root root root/ roo ting roo ting/root root root root/root root root root/roo ted root less I like these simple repetitions. I’d like to try chanting these for several minutes, then seeing what other words/ideas/chants might appear.

after the run

Here’s a sad, scary headline: Report lists Mississippi as one of ‘most endangered’ U.S. rivers

And here’s a hopeful story about activists making a difference and changing the future of the river: The untold story of our national park’s founding

Thinking about being inside or outside of yourself and being rooted and what of self/Self that suggests, I’m reminded of a poem I put on my reading list the other day:

Full of yourself/ Rumi

Translated from the Farsi by Haleh Liza Gafori

Full of yourself—
a friend’s touch is sharp as a thorn.
A buzzing fly drives you mad.

Forget yourself
and what friend can hurt you?
You mingle with wild elephants
and enjoy the ride.

Caged in self,
you drown in anguish.
Storm clouds swallow the sun.
Your lover flees the scene.

Outside yourself,
the night is moonlit.
Lovers drink Love’s wine.
It flows through you.

Self-conscious,
you’re dry as autumn leaves.
You bite like frost.

Melt yourself,
and winter’s frozen meadows
will become spring’s fragrant fields.

(How) can we travel outside of ourselves? What does this untether/uproot us from? I posted this quotation from Jamie Quatro in a log entry from April 19, 2018 about running as prayer:

a state of prayerlike consciousness. Past the feel-good vibes, past the delusions, my attention moves outward: I’m intensely aware of the cadence of a bird’s song, cherry blossoms weighted-down after a rain. Things light up and I experience an interior stillness that somehow syncs me more profoundly with the exterior world. It’s a paradox: only when I’m fully present in my body do I begin to experience the absence of myself.

 Running as prayer

Does fully present in a body = rooted? I’m also thinking about entanglement and Ross Gay’s critique of buoyancy and floating free (see april 12, 2022). Can we be a self, rooted in a body and a place, and still be other than ourSelf? How do I fit Rumi’s idea of forgetting the self with entanglement?

april 18/RUN

4 miles
marshall loop
35 degrees / feels like 25
wind: 16 mph / snow flurries

Before heading out for a run, watched the Boston Marathon. The thing I remember most about it was during the men’s push-rim race, when the announcer (who I think was a push-rim racer himself) talking about the racer’s gloves: they’re plastic and 3D-printed for precision, and when they bang on the metal wheel rim, they create a steady rhythm that the racer’s use for pacing themselves. Very cool. Later, I remembered this fact as I neared the end of my run.

Today, it is cold and windy and snowing again, but the birds are singing and calling — lots of fee bees — so I know spring will be here soon. Maybe by next weekend? I picked the right route for the direction of the wind. It was at my back as I ran over the lake street bridge and up the Marshall Hill. The only part where I was running directly into it was on the way back over the bridge.

Heard: the bells chiming near Shadow Falls; a dog barking and kid yelling below in the gorge; and the branches creaking from the wind again. This time the branches creaking sounded almost like a rusty hinge, with a door slowly creaking open. I like that image and the idea that some sort of door to somewhere was opening for me at that moment — and that there was something mysterious and scary about this door leading down into the woods or the earth. I like mysterious and scary.

Near the end of my run, I think after I remembered the rhythm of the gloves hitting the push-rim, I started chanting some of an ED poem:

Life is but life/And death but death/Bliss is but bliss/And breath but breath
Life is but life/And death but death/Bliss is but bliss/And breath but breath
Life is but life/And death but death/Bliss is but bliss/And breath but breath

Stopped to study the river for a minute — and to get a break from the wind — on the lake street bridge: it was a steely gray with ripples and a few eddies.

One more thing: Running above the floodplain forest and the Hiawatha Sand Flats, I heard a ferocious dog bark, then a whimper, almost but not quite, like a squeaky toy. Was the dog chasing or killing a bunny down there? Possibly. A minute later, I heard the deep voice of a human calling out repeatedly, then a steady rhythm of dog barks and sharp commands of some sort.

before the run

Scrolling through poems I’ve archived on my Safari Reading List, I found one that builds off of being dug up and excavated, but is also about returning, caring for, and re-planting:

Pear Snow/ Todd Dillard

A flood unzips a graveyard.
Cadavers sluice down Main St.
It’s my job to find the dead,
chauffeur them back to their plots.
The problem being the dead speak.
They want to swing by their old places,
check on spouses, kids grandkids
glimpsed in sepia windows
beneath the blue of evening news.
They whisper: “That tree was a sapling when I planted it,”
or: “I forgot what her laugh was like,”
or they call a dog that refuses to come.
Then, embarrassed by their weeping,
by how dry it is,
the dead ask me to take them home,
and on the drive I recite this line I’m working on
about the graininess of two-day-old snow.
“Pear snow,” I call it.
The dead say nothing
in response. The air velvets
as if it’s going to rain,
though the sky is clear,
the moon wet as the light in a child’s pupil.
Gentle, I lower the dead
back into their cradles. The earth,
for all its stripped rancor,
heavy in my shovel.
The work hard, but familiar.
The pay, at least, good.

What do we do with the ghosts that resurface, whether we want them to or not? How do we care for the stories of those who came before us?

Here’s another poem I posted last year about what the earth can yield and how we might notice it:

After the Rain/ jared Carter

After the rain, it’s time to walk the field
again, near where the river bends. Each year
I come to look for what this place will yield –
lost things still rising here.

The farmer’s plow turns over, without fail,
a crop of arrowheads, but where or why
they fall is hard to say. They seem, like hail,
dropped from an empty sky,

Yet for an hour or two, after the rain
has washed away the dusty afterbirth
of their return, a few will show up plain
on the reopened earth.

Still, even these are hard to see –
at first they look like any other stone.
The trick to finding them is not to be
too sure about what’s known;

Conviction’s liable to say straight off
this one’s a leaf, or that one’s merely clay,
and miss the point: after the rain, soft
furrows show one way

Across the field, but what is hidden here
requires a different view – the glance of one
not looking straight ahead, who in the clear
light of the morning sun

Simply keeps wandering across the rows,
letting his own perspective change.
After the rain, perhaps, something will show,
glittering and strange.

during the run

I tried to think about these two poems and excavating truths and caring for ghosts and noticing the things that are buried in the ground, but I couldn’t hang onto my thoughts. It could have been wind or the effort I was making to run in it that distracted me. Near the end of my run I thought about this before/during/after the run experiment and how it works sometimes and not others. I think I need to fine-tune it — maybe narrow my focus, or be more deliberate with what I want to think about before I head out on my run?

One other thing I remember was thinking about surfaces and depths, and the value of both. And now, writing this entry hours later, I’m thinking about how both of the poems in my “before the run” section involve water (rain) and how it brings the things buried to the surface. This reminds me of writing about water last July and Maxine Kumin’s idea of the thinker as the sinker (july 22, 2021). I’m also thinking about floating and bobbing to the surface and how humus (which I wrote about earlier this month) is the top layer of soil — 12 inches at the surface.

after the run

I want to return to the creaky branches sounding like the rusty hinge of a door. Last April, I read a poem by Mary Oliver with a hinge in it:

from Dogfish/ Mary Oliver

I wanted
my life to close, and open
like a hinge, like a wing, like the part of the song
where it falls
down over the rocks: an explosion, a discovery

I’m thinking of door hinges and poems as opening a thousand doors and the wings of the seven white butterflies and “how they bang the pages/or their wings as they fly/to the fields of mustard and yellow/and orange and plain/gold all eternity” (Seven White Butterflies/ from West Wind)

april 17/RUN

1.5 miles
winchell trail, south/42nd st east/edmund, north
41 degrees

Headed to the gorge with Scott this morning — a quick run above the river. I know I looked at the river, but I can’t remember much about it. Most likely, with this gloomy sky, it was a brownish-gray or grayish-brown with no sparkle. We talked a lot about Lizzo and what a great job she did on SNL last night, both as the host and the musical guest. The only other thing I remember right now is running the opposite way on the Winchell Trail (usually I run north on it) and noticing how much longer the Folwell hill was this way. The other way it’s steep but short, this way it’s slightly less steep, but winding (or wind-y?) and long.

before the run

Yesterday I suggested that my next dirt topic should be gardens/gardening. Here are a few ideas:

1 — tune my body and my brain

My exploration of dirt began when I started thinking about the phrase from a kids’ song, or a song often sung to or by kids: “the worms crawl in, the worms crawl out.” Here’s another kids’ song that doesn’t have the word dirt in it, but is about dirt and death and life and gardens. Both my kids sang it in elementary school concerts:

Here are a few verses:

Inch by inch, row by row
Gonna make this garden grow
All it takes is a rake and a hoe
And a piece of fertile ground

Inch by inch, row by row
Someone bless these seeds I sow
Someone warm them from below
Till the rain comes tumblin’ down

Pullin’ weeds and pickin’ stones
Man is made of dreams and bones
Feel the need to grow my own
‘Cause the time is close at hand

Rainful rain, sun and rain
Find my way in nature’s chain
Tune my body and my brain
To the music from the land

2 — Alice Oswald and “echo-poetics”

It is perhaps this blending of the ecological sensibilities learned through gardening with those of the poet that makes reading Oswald’s editorial and poetic work so compelling, and not only for the many pleasures it brings. It also offers an acoustically informed aesthetic, a way of re-tuning how we think about and make beauty and meaning in verbal forms, especially those inspired by the earth’s processes, things, places. Principled with the desire to bring living things unmediated into text, Oswald’s writings illustrate a heightened and recursive sensitivity to the acoustics of environment, with the ear, of course, in its critical role as converter of signals. They recognize sound as summons, access, and mode. They value gardening (and other physical work) for the ways it creates possibilities for encounter by situating the body in motion and out-of-doors. They invite and invent expressive forms that are organic to these encounters, or that modify existing forms so they are apt and up to the task. They reveal a rootedness in rhythm, syncopation, harmony, or some other musicality within the external world. They practice acute hearing and engage in humble, patient, and empathie listening. They gesture toward the sonic rounding out of envi-ronments and their many natural, social and cultural complexities. And they practice accretion as a writer’s technique inspired by a natural process. Thus Oswald begins to define what I might term an “echo-poetics.”

Voice(s) of the Poet-Gardener: Alice Oswald and the Poetry of Acoustic Encounter/ Mary Pinard

3 — digging work

It’s certainly true that when you’re digging you become bodily implicated in the ground’s world, thought and earth continually passing through each other. You smell it, you feel its strength under your boot, you move alongside it for maybe eight hours and your spade’s language (it speaks in short lines of trochees and dactyls: sscrunch turn slot slot, sscrunch turn slot slot) creeps and changes at the same pace as the soil. You can’t help being critical of any account of mud that is based on mere glimpsing.

“The Universe in time of rain makes the world alive with noise” / Alice Oswald

Digging/ Seamus Heaney

Between my finger and my thumb   
The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.

Under my window, a clean rasping sound   
When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:   
My father, digging. I look down

Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds   
Bends low, comes up twenty years away   
Stooping in rhythm through potato drills   
Where he was digging.

The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft   
Against the inside knee was levered firmly.
He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep
To scatter new potatoes that we picked,
Loving their cool hardness in our hands.

By God, the old man could handle a spade.   
Just like his old man.

My grandfather cut more turf in a day
Than any other man on Toner’s bog.
Once I carried him milk in a bottle
Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up
To drink it, then fell to right away
Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods
Over his shoulder, going down and down
For the good turf. Digging.

The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head.
But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.

4 — listening work

People often ask me what I like best about gardening. . . . The truth is it’s the sound. I don’t know anything lovelier than those free shocks of sound happening against the backsound of your heartbeat. Machinery, spade-scrapes, birdsong, gravel, rain on polythene, macks moving, aeroplanes, seeds kept in paper, potatoes coming out of boxes, high small leaves or large head-height leaves being shaken, frost on grass, strimmers, hoses . . .

“The Universe in time of rain makes the world alive with noise”/ Alice Oswald

Poems are written in the sound house of a whole body, not just with the hands. So before writing, I always spend a certain amount of time pre- paring my listening. I might take a day or sometimes as much as a month picking up the rhythms I find, either in other poems or in the world around me. I map them into myself by tapping my feet or punch- ing the air and when my whole being feels like a musical score, I see what glimpses, noises, smells, I see if any creature or feeling comes to live there. Then, before putting pen to paper, I ask myself, “Am I lis- tening? Am I listening with a soft, slow listening that will not obliter- ate the speaker?” And if, for example, I want to write a poem about water, I try to listen so hard that my voice disappears and I speak water.

“Poetry for Beginners” for the BBC’s Get Writing/ Alice Oswald

5 — In Search of our Mother’s Gardens*

*a reference to the powerful essay by Alice Walker, “In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens,” that I often taught in my Fem Theory classes.

things to think about while running:

  • How can I “tune my body and brain to the music of the land”?
  • What is digging work? Where can/do we do digging work?
  • What are the sounds of my backyard garden?
  • What can I plant in my garden this year?
  • Why do I love doing physical, outdoor work? How is digging/gardening/weeding work different from listening/noticing/caring/writing work? How is it similar?

during the run

Ran with Scott, and we didn’t talk about gardens or digging until the end, when I mentioned gardening, digging, and the digital story about my mom. He suggested that I look up the lyrics for Peter Gabriel’s “Digging in the Dirt.”

after the run

Here are a few lyrics from Gabriel’s “Digging in the Dirt”:

Digging in the dirt
Stay with me, I need support
I’m digging in the dirt
To find the places I got hurt
Open up the places I got hurt

The more I look, the more I find
As I close on in, I get so blind
I feel it in my head, I feel it in my toes
I feel it in my sex, that’s the place it goes

This time you’ve gone too far
This time you’ve gone too far
This time you’ve gone too far
I told you, I told you, I told you, I told you
This time you’ve gone too far
This time you’ve gone too far
This time you’ve gone too far
I told you, I told you, I told you, I told you

And the refrain at the end, repeated several times:

Digging in the dirt
To find the places we got hurt

And here’s the video, which I can’t embed). Wow, the imagery in this fits with so many things I’ve been discussing! Worms, digging as excavating deeper truths (I think I’ve mentioned this before), death, dust, grass, pebbles, sand, rocks, mushrooms speaking! (in the video they spell out “help”).

video: Digging in the Dirt/ Peter Gabriel

addendum, 18 april 2022: almost forgot to add this image from my notes for my memoir (still in progress) about my student and teaching life”

planting a seed, lower right

Instead of cropping out the key part — the picture of a plant growing inside a head in the lower right with the text, “planting a seed” — I decided to post the entire image. When I taught feminist and queer classes a decade ago, my aim was to plant seeds. Not to force ideas on students or to expect instant results — where they could immediately “get” something or be transformed, but to introduce ideas and offer up invitations that might, in the future, lead to transformation and deeper understandings.

april 16/RUN

4.2 miles
marshall loop + extra
30 degrees

Still winter. Still wearing running tights, vest, a thick orange sweatshirt. I wish it were warmer but, with the sun, I didn’t mind the cold. Soon, it will be too warm — at least, for me. The most memorable thing that happened on my run, beside what I write about below, in my “during the run” section, was seeing a big bald eagle soaring in the sky. I was running down the hill towards the lake street steps on the st. paul side, and there it was. I stopped for a minute to marvel, both at it, and my ability to still see and identify a bird flying above me. After I continued running, I thought about the bird flu that’s happening in Minnesota — a few days ago, I read a tweet about an owl family at Lake Nokomis that is suspected to have died from it. So sad to think about all of these beautiful birds dying. How big of an impact will this have on birds here? Looked it up and found an article. The picture of the owl, and the words about the young owls in the article — “extreme neurological distress”, is haunting.

before the run

Just as I was about to write that today’s “before the run” would offer a brief break from dirt, I realized that what Ocean Vuong is talking about so beautifully here in the video below, is what their mother planted for them: the ability to look patiently at the world in wonder and awe and with joy.

transcript:

“Brief But Spectacular Take on Reclaiming Language for Joy” on PBS News Hour

When my mother passed in 2019, my whole life kind of contracted into 2 days. And what I mean by that is that when a loved one dies, you experience your life in just 2 days: today, when they are no longer here, and yesterday, the immense, vast yesterday, when they were here. And so my life, as I see it now, is demarcated, by one line: the yesterday, when my mother was with me, and now, when she is not.

I think you realize that when you lose your mother, no matter how old you are, you’re suddenly a child; you feel like an orphan. And so I went back to the blank page, which is the only safe space for me, the only space I have control over. And I guess I learned that by putting one word after another. The beauty is that we’re all going to lose our parents, and in this sense, death is the truest thing that we have, because it’s the one thing we are all heading towards. And when language can lift the veil, we can see each other.

My mother never really understood my vocation and my work. She couldn’t read. It perplexed her, you know. Why would all these folks come to hear your sad poems? But, when she came to my reading, she started to see how my language landed in other people’s bodies. And after a while she started to position her seat to look at the audience and she came to me one day and said, “I get it. People’s faces change when they’re listening to your lectures, to your words.” My mother taught me something, that you can look at something, at people and scenarios endlessly and still find something new. Just because you have seen it, does not mean you have known it. And so, the vocation of the artist, is to look at something with the faith that whatever you’re seeing, will keep giving meaning to you. And I think that patient looking was what she gifted me and it has to do with her sense of wonder. We think of terms like refuge, immigrant, war, survivor and we rarely think of wonder and awe. But I think when it comes to families and being raised by folks who are survivors, they keep wonder and awe closely to their chest. I learned so much from my mother’s joy in response to the world and the life she lived and that informs my artistic practice.

thoughts to ponder while running: what seeds did my mother plant for me? how does language land in our bodies? how do we grow the seeds from our ancestors in our bodies? what does it mean to look with patience? how do we find new meanings? if what we look at gives meaning to us, what do/can we give to it? what can look mean beyond literal vision/sight?

during the run

Without really intending it, the last question, “What can look mean beyond literal vision/sight?,” was the one that I remember thinking about. Here’s how it happened: Running above the floodplain forest, through the tunnel of trees, I started hearing the gentle whooshing of car wheels above me. Whoossshhh whoossshhh whoossshhh in a steady rhythm. Then I heard something creaking just below me — the wind passing through the trees, making the bare branches creak or groan. Is it only the wind pushing a branch, or is this squeak from branches rubbing against each other? Or both? Or, am I hearing a squirrel or a bird or something completely different? Anyway, I thought about that creaking sound and how its cause is invisible and unknown/uncertain. Then I thought about something I read this morning in Elisa Gabbert’s excellent essay, “The Shape of a Void: Toward a Definition of Poetry”:

They [poets] write in the line, in the company of the void. That changes how you write — and more profoundly, how you think, and even how you are, your mode of being. When you write in the line, there is always an awareness of the mystery, of what is left out. This is why, I suppose, poems can be so confounding. Empty space on the page, that absence of language, provides no clues. But it doesn’t communicate nothing — rather, it communicates nothing. It speaks void, it telegraphs mystery.

By “mystery” I don’t mean metaphor or disguise. Poetry doesn’t, or shouldn’t, achieve mystery only by hiding the known, or translating the known into other, less familiar language. The mystery is unknowing, the unknown — as in Jennifer Huang’s “Departure”: “The things I don’t know have stayed/In this home.” The mystery is the missing mountain in Shane McCrae’s “The Butterflies the Mountain and the Lake”:

the / Butterflies monarch butterflies huge swarms they
Migrate and as they migrate south as they
Cross Lake Superior instead of flying

South straight across they fly
South over the water then fly east
still over the water then fly south again / And now
biologists believe they turn to avoid a mountain
That disappeared millennia ago.

The missing mountain is still there.

Poetry writes around what’s unknown or missing or can’t be seen. So, maybe the creaking noise of the wind or a tree or something else is a poem–a noise being made around an absent tree or the invisible wind? That was a lot of words for me to try to translate my sudden flash of understanding, which only lasted from the lowest point of the trail, where the four fences meet, to the top, past the old stone steps!

I remember also thinking that it’s difficult to set out on a run with a specific task — think about this! — and stick to it. Sometimes it works, often it doesn’t. Instead of stubbornly trying to make the ideas come, I try to let go and let whatever happens happen. For me, running helps with this; I’m putting enough effort into running that I usually can’t give too much energy to thinking about this or that thing. Right after having this thought (if I’m remembering correctly), I stopped thinking and started listening, then whoossshhh whoossshhh

after the run

As I started writing about the creaking noise, which might have been a tree, I was reminded of a beautiful poem I posted last summer:

Cello/ Dorianne Laux

When a dead tree falls in a forest
it often falls into the arms
of a living tree. The dead,
thus embraced, rasp in wind,
slowly carving a niche
in the living branch, shearing away
the rough outer flesh, revealing
the pinkish, yellowish, feverish
inner bark. For years
the dead tree rubs its fallen body
against the living, building
its dead music, making its raw mark,
wearing the tough bough down
as it moans and bends, the deep
rosined bow sound of the living
shouldering the dead.

Getting back to Ocean Vuong and their words about grief, I want to think more about what we might plant in the ground for future selves, or future generations, and what understanding of time that requires. Maybe tomorrow my focus will be on planting seeds and gardens and gardening time?

addendum: found the whole poem about the monarchs’ missing mountain migration:

A Walk as Bright and Green as Spring as Cold as Winter/ Shane McCrae

At forty most often neighbor even as / We walk together

Want everywhere we go to go home everywhere

but oh / Oh did you see the story

About the butterflies the mountain and the lake

the / Butterflies monarch butterflies huge swarms they

Migrate and as they migrate south as they

Cross Lake Superior instead of flying

South straight across they fly south

over the water then fly east

still over the water then fly southlllllagain and now / Biologists believe they

turn to avoid a mountain

That disappeared millennia ago / And did you

know I didn’t no one butterfly

lives long enough to fly the whole

migration / From the beginning to the end they

Lay eggs along the way

just / As you and I most often neighbor / Migrate together in our daughter

over a dark lake

We make with joy the child we make

And mountains are reborn in her

I love this poem. I’ve done some research (google + google scholar) trying to find the scientific study that claims that monarch migrate around a missing mountain, but can’t find anything. Why does it matter? It doesn’t have to be scientifically true (as in, proven through a close study/set of experiments), to be a wonderful bit of information — whether there’s evidence or not, I like imagining that’s what they’re doing, but when scientists are invoked (in the popular headlines about this topic), I’d like to read more about what scientists actually said and how they came to this conclusion.

april 15/RUN

3.5 miles
trestle turn around + extra
29 degrees / feels like 20
wind: 15 mph

Cold and windy. Again. Ran north, thinking I would have the wind at my back. Nope, in my face. Difficult. As I got closer (but not too close) to the porta-potty under the lake street bridge, it suddenly opened and a runner ran out. He was ready to go, I guess. Also saw a woman ahead of me walking down the service road to the Minneapolis Rowing Club. Rowers on the river today? If there were, I didn’t see or hear them. Ran past the trestle and stopped at the recently replaced steps. Then took them — about 30 steps, I think — down for a closer look. The river, with the sun reflecting the blue sky, the brown trees, the gray stone, looked almost mauve to me. Mostly brown, with hints of blue and gray and dark pink — where/how was I seeing pink? Saw a few fluttering birds, some ice on the edge of the entrance to the trail.

Almost forgot, but was reminded by hearing a dog bark here at my desk: Running south from the trestle, across the road from the fancy houses on Edmund, I heard a dog barking a deep, low bark in one of the houses. Then another a few doors down dog joined in. The second bark sounded almost like the impersonation of a frantic bark, like an unhinged kid trying to sound like a dog. I wondered which it was — a real bark or the copy of a bark? I never did find out, even as I listened for several minutes.

before the run

Today’s dirt topic: dust. Dust as the great equalizer (we all come from dust and return to it); how we are dust and more than dust; dusting as a sacred chore; dust as a fine powder we inhale/absorb without noticing; toxic dust; environmental racism and who does/doesn’t have access to cleaner air

1 — Dust Poem/ Philip Jenks

The idea was.
At least in theory,
Dust was a bad thing.

There was a bowl
Of it. At another
Point in time
The conclusion
Was reached
That everything
Was of it.

No season, no
Nothing to measure
To measure against
So no love or hate.
Left us without no
Moorings or so my
Father told me

Vanity tables of it?
Isn’t that what a vanity
Table is for?
What happens to
As its failings accrue?

No mission but to be clean.
Of itself.
But existing (time)
And problems there –
The problem of now
We are back here.

See the whole dust problem’s
No measure.
All’s dust, check.
All’s virtuous, check.
So why not live it up then?
And thus, YOLO etc. etc.

{These fok whirr pretty smart.
Thing is, even in
The dust bowl, the
Idea, a very American
One was that something
Wasn’t dust.
I wasn’t.
The Bowl wasn’t.
The dust wasn’t.

Since Ecclesiastes,
Been trying this one on.
(how’s that working out for you?)
One needn’t be geologically
Or for that matter
Psychologically trained to
Begin unpacking the diffident
And sometimes strained
Relation the nation holds with
All that is vanity.

The poet’s explanation of the poem was helpful for me in trying to dig in:

And I don’t say of myself much, or “I” much. I sometimes even just do search replace and take out “I” and put in “it” to try to take myself out as some small measure of humility.

“What happens to
As its failings accrue?

No mission but to be clean.
Of itself.

Dust Poem in PoetryNow

The idea of an “I” — writing as an “I,” being an “I.” How to navigate between a recognition that we are both more than dust and only dust (“All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return.”–Eccleasiastes 3:20)? What is the “more” and how do we express/live it in ways that don’t deny the dust and in which our humility doesn’t erase our own existence? Is this too vague sounding? This question of being an “I” — having a unique voice, claiming a space — without doing violence to others (being too arrogant, taking too much) is one of the primary questions I struggle with in my life/writing. I tend to be too humble, too quick to erase or replace my “I”.

2 — Dusting/ Marilyn Nelson

Thank you for these tiny
particles of ocean salt,
pearl-necklace viruses,
winged protozoans:
for the infinite,
intricate shapes
of submicroscopic
living things.

For algae spores
and fungus spores,
bonded by vital
mutual genetic cooperation,
spreading their
inseparable lives
from equator to pole.

My hand, my arm,
make sweeping circles.
Dust climbs the ladder of light.
For this infernal, endless chore,
for these eternal seeds of rain:
Thank you. For dust.

I like how Nelson connects the chore of dusting — an everyday act of labor — with the deeper substance/s of life: tiny particles of ocean salt, algae and fungus spores, winged protozoas. For Nelson (and Jenks mentions it in his poem too), dust is more than dust, it is life, everything — and dusting is more than chore, but our access to that life.

Nelson’s reimagining dusting as sacred, reminds me of a poem I posted earlier this year, or late last year, Drift, which is about, among other things, rethinking the possible joy in shoveling snow.

3 — Dust/ Dorianne Laux

Someone spoke to me last night,
told me the truth. Just a few words,
but I recognized it.
I knew I should make myself get up,
write it down, but it was late,
and I was exhausted from working
all day in the garden, moving rocks.
Now, I remember only the flavor —
not like food, sweet or sharp.
More like a fine powder, like dust.
And I wasn’t elated or frightened,
but simply rapt, aware.
That’s how it is sometimes —
God comes to your window,
all bright light and black wings,
and you’re just too tired to open it.

Dust = fine powder we inhale, surrounding us but often unnoticed. For Laux, truth as dust

dust: fine, dry powder consisting of tiny particles of earth or waste matter lying on the ground or on surfaces or carried in the air.

4 — Household Dust and Our Health

My 100+ year old house in the middle of the city gathers a lot of dust. I don’t often think about what all that means, and what all I’m inhaling/absorbing inside. Yikes.

As sure as the sun rises, houses collect dust. It gathers on our knickknacks and dirties the carpets. More than just dirt, house dust is a mix of sloughed-off skin cells, hair, clothing fibers, bacteria, dust mites, bits of dead bugs, soil particles, pollen, and microscopic specks of plastic. It’s our detritus and, it turns out, has a lot to reveal about our lifestyle.

For one thing, dust is far from inert. Those shed hairs and old skin cells can soak up a constellation of contaminants originating from consumer products that we bring into our homes. Other environmental contaminants can be tracked indoors on the soles of our shoes. So in addition to fluffy hair and garden dirt, dust can hold a witch’s brew of persistent organic pollutants, metals, endocrine disruptors, and more.

Not only does dust hold a long memory of the contaminants introduced to a house, but it’s also a continual source of exposure for the residents. Dust gets resuspended when it’s disturbed and will recirculate throughout the house, picking up substances before returning once more to the floor. “Year over year, dust accumulates in the home,” says Miriam L. Diamond, an environmental chemist at the University of Toronto. Even after regular cleaning, it still accretes because homes are tightly sealed environments, and the dust gets entrenched in carpets and crevices. Dust from an old house may retain legacy pollutants such as DDT that were banned almost half a century ago, she says.

Tracing the chemistry of household dust

5 — Dust, Toxins and Environmental Racism

So, we’re breathing in a lot of bad shit inside our individual houses — toxic chemicals that may not have even be used for decades. What about in our neighborhoods? And which neighborhoods are subject to more toxic and why?

At MCEA we believe in seeking justice for communities that have been harmed by historic and ongoing toxic pollution and contamination. By design and neglect, this harm has affected Black, Indigenous and other communities of color to a much greater extent than white neighborhoods.  Whenever municipal development is proposed in these communities, a necessary first step is to make sure the voices of neighboring community members are engaged and respected. Key decisionmakers must invite community members to the table to work towards a goal of eliminating new, harmful sources of pollution in neighborhoods experiencing systemic pollution and poor air quality.

The East Phillips neighborhood of Minneapolis is one of these communities. This neighborhood continuously ranks as having some of the worst air quality in Minneapolis, and it is still being harmed by one of the most brazen and widespread urban polluters in Minnesota history.  An insecticide manufacturer at East 28th St. and Hiawatha Ave. polluted the neighborhood with arsenic from the 1930’s to the 1960’s, resulting in a massive cleanup of contaminated residential yards. 

The area surrounding this Superfund site is recognized in state law as being overburdened by pollution. State law requires that no permit shall be issued by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency in the area “without analyzing and considering the cumulative levels and effects of past and current environmental pollution from all sources on the environment.” 

The City of Minneapolis has proposed building a new “Hiawatha Campus” adjacent to the former manufacturing site to house city offices and vehicles. 

Ensuring community voices are heard in East Phillips

Environmental racism: Although the proposed project is expected to reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions in city operations, this would come at the direct expense of local environmental quality by increasing pollutants from traffic near this site. As a neighborhood that is 83% Black, Indigenous, and people of color, the East Phillips community would be expected to bear the brunt of the impact for the “greater good,” which is an unacceptable trade-off. Racism has recently been declared a public health emergency in Minneapolis. Knowingly increasing the amount of pollution in a neighborhood primarily populated by Native American, Latinx, East African and Black communities will only exacerbate this problem and demonstrate the hypocrisy of the city’s words.

Poor governance to bring new toxicity to the ‘Arsenic Triangle’

during the run

Did I think about dust while I was running? I tried. At one point, I remember thinking about the invisibility of dust and how it’s in the air, as opposed to dirt on the ground or sandy muck in the water. I also thought about breathing and breath and how dust travels between lungs.

after the run

Here’s something to add to the list of invisible things around us all the time, and another possible reason why I have “sinus episodes” so often: dust mites

Dust mites are microscopic, insect-like pests that feed on dead human skin cells and thrive in warm, humid environments. They are not parasites that bite, sting or burrow into our bodies. Instead, people who are allergic to dust or dust mites are reacting to inhaling proteins in dust that comes from dust mite feces, urine or decaying bodies. Any inflammation of the nasal passages caused by dust mites is considered a dust allergy.

Dust and Dust Mites

april 14/RUN

3.5 miles
2 trails + extra
32 degrees / feels like 22
wind: 20 mph with 33 mph gusts
light snow

Cold and windy. Snow flurries covering my eyelashes. Winter is back. Glad I went out for a run, but some of it wasn’t fun. The best part: running closer to the river on the Winchell Trail, glancing out at the gorge, seeing everything smudged from the snow falling — almost like looking through a fogged-up window. I also liked how the dirt and grass were white in the corners where the snow was sticking, like a dusting of powdered sugar. Near the end of the run, right after I made it through the tunnel of trees and past the old stone steps, 2 walkers clapped for me. As I ran by, I wasn’t quite, but I think that’s what they were doing, because I was out there, running even in these bad conditions. I’ll take it. How many times in my life will I have people randomly clap for me?

before the run

1 — a tool used to loosen and bury things in the ground

The planet seen from extremely close up is called the ground. The ground can be made loose by the human hand, or by using a small tool held in the human hand, such as a spade, or an even larger tool, such as a shovel

We bury our dead in the ground. Roughly half the dead are buried in boxes and half the dead are buried without boxes. A burying box is an emblem of respect for the dead. 

Besides burying the dead in the ground, we bury our garbage, also called trash. Man-made mountains of garbage are pushed together using heavy equipment and then pushed down into the ground. The site of this burial is called a landfill. The site of the dead buried in boxes is called a cemetery. In both cases the ground is being filled. A dead body in a box can be lowered into the ground using heavy equipment, but we do not consider it trash. When the dead are not in boxes and there is a man-made mountain of them we do use heavy equipment to bury them together, like trash. It is estimated that everywhere we walk we are walking on a piece of trash and the hard, insoluble remains of the dead. 

Also buried in the ground are seeds, which we want to see when they emerge from the ground in their later form–that is, as plants. Plants rising from the ground are essential to life. To bury a seed it to plant it. 

When flowers arise from the ground, colorful and shapely in an astonishing variety of ways, the living are made especially happy.

After a while, the flower that has been separated from the ground dies, and we throw it in the trash. Flowers are often planted where the dead are buried in boxes, but these flowers are never cut. That would be horrible. Whoever did such a thing would be considered a thief. Thoseflowers belong to the dead.

Observations on the Ground“/ Mary Ruefle

To bury is not always to get rid of, but to honor, attend to, plant. A shovel is one tool we use to do this.

2 — digging in and developing foundations

List: Things I have shoveled: sidewalks, snowdrift, holes (for outhouses and bridge abutments and potatoes), driveways, fill pits Also, footings for rock walls, tie-ins for for cribbing, horse shit, dog shit, mule shit, a grave for a songbird caught in an early frost. Coal, gravels, dirt, straw, mud, cedar chips, muck, bark, left-over acorn hulls from a squirrel’s midden, water from a gooey ditch. Once, I lifted a dumb spruce grouse from the middle of the road in a shovel, carried it twenty yards to safer ground.

Look around—an urban subway system, the pilings of a shipyard dock, the basement of your house. Shovels, more than bootstraps, are the secret to success.

from Dirt Work

shovel = digging in = finding home, a place to stay. settle, attend to = remember, praise, honor

“Dirt work is foundation work.”

3 — the Golden Shovel

The Golden Shovel = a poem + poetic form + a way to honor others/ancestors + a place (where the seven pool players play) + a helpful constraint

The Golden Shovel is a poetic form readers might not — yet — be familiar with. It was devised recently by Terrance Hayes in homage to Gwendolyn Brooks, whose centenary year this is. The last words of each line in a Golden Shovel poem are, in order, words from a line or lines taken often, but not invariably, from a Brooks poem. The results of this technique can be quite different in subject, tone, and texture from the source poem, depending upon the ingenuity and imagination of the poet who undertakes to compose one.

Introduction: The Golden Shovel

The Golden Shovel/ TERRANCE HAYES

after Gwendolyn Brooks

I. 1981

When I am so small Da’s sock covers my arm, we
cruise at twilight until we find the place the real

men lean, bloodshot and translucent with cool.
His smile is a gold-plated incantation as we

drift by women on bar stools, with nothing left
in them but approachlessness. This is a school

I do not know yet. But the cue sticks mean we
are rubbed by light, smooth as wood, the lurk

of smoke thinned to song. We won’t be out late.
Standing in the middle of the street last night we

watched the moonlit lawns and a neighbor strike
his son in the face. A shadow knocked straight

Da promised to leave me everything: the shovel we
used to bury the dog, the words he loved to sing

his rusted pistol, his squeaky Bible, his sin.
The boy’s sneakers were light on the road. We

watched him run to us looking wounded and thin.
He’d been caught lying or drinking his father’s gin.

He’d been defending his ma, trying to be a man. We
stood in the road, and my father talked about jazz,

how sometimes a tune is born of outrage. By June
the boy would be locked upstate. That night we

got down on our knees in my room. If I should die
before I wake. Da said to me, it will be too soon.


II. 1991

Into the tented city we go, we-
akened by the fire’s ethereal

afterglow. Born lost and cool-
er than heartache. What we

know is what we know. The left
hand severed and school-

ed by cleverness. A plate of we-
ekdays cooking. The hour lurk-

ing in the afterglow. A late-
night chant. Into the city we

go. Close your eyes and strike
a blow. Light can be straight-

ened by its shadow. What we
break is what we hold. A sing-

ular blue note. An outcry sin-
ged exiting the throat. We

push until we thin, thin-
king we won’t creep back again.

While God licks his kin, we
sing until our blood is jazz,

we swing from June to June.
We sweat to keep from we-

eping. Groomed on a die-
t of hunger, we end too soon.

And here’s the original poem from Gwendolyn Brooks:

We Real Cool/ Gwendolyn Brooks

The Pool Players.
        Seven at the Golden Shovel.

We real cool. We   
            Left school. We

            Lurk late. We
            Strike straight. We

            Sing sin. We   
            Thin gin. We

            Jazz June. We   
            Die soon.

during the run

I tried to think about shovels and digging in and things planted instead of buried, but I think I was too distracted by the wind and the snow to remember anything.

after the run

Thinking more about Mary Ruefle and whether or not to read the collection, My Private Property, from which her prose poem about ground comes. Found and read/skimmed an LARB review about it, with a great definition of poetry:

In her introduction to Madness, Rack, and Honey, Ruefle suggests that poetry maintains its mystery by always being a few steps beyond us. She likens attempting to describe poetry to following a shy thrush into the woods as it recedes ever further, saying: “Fret not after knowledge, I have none.” Ruefle proposes that a reader might “preserve a bit of space where his lack of knowledge can survive.”

Human Lessons: On Mary Ruefle’s My Private Property

Also, scrolling through twitter, found a great passage Ada Limón in her interview for Michigan Quarterly Review:

‘I want to know how we live. How do we live?’. And I mean that in a curious way, but I also mean it in a wondrous way. Because sometimes I think — wow, we do this! And other times I think, how do we do this. It is out of sheer amazement that the question comes out of me — because it is really remarkable to be alive. But the ebbs and flows are just so intense. And I think acknowledging how hard it is, is actually part of the wonderment. You know that’s part of the awe. And I don’t think I knew that until I had experienced my own realization about mortality.

She also offers a great definition of poetry:

that’s what poetry is. It doesn’t just point out the world. It makes it strange to us again. So that we can remember wonder. 

And, one more great thing about not knowing and uncertainty:

When I began as a poet, I thought it was all about knowing. I thought it was about truth, and beauty. And every poem I read, felt wise to me. I could read Anne Sexton, Philip Levine, Lucille Clifton and I would find this deep wisdom. So I thought that’s what I should work towards, a knowingness. And then, the old cliché – and it is a cliché because it’s true – that the more you learn, the more you witness, the more you realize you don’t know. And I think I’m very scared now of certainty. Even when someone says, what’s your opinion about this? Often, I’m like, I don’t know. I don’t 100% know. And that’s because the world is changing so fast. And I can have a sense of morality, of course, and right and wrong, and goodness, but beyond that, I hope I can remain porous and open enough to not think that I know all the answers. And I think a lot of harm comes from that false certainty, that is so attached to our egos, when not only are we completely convinced that we’re right, but to be proven wrong would be almost deadly. And I don’t ever want to be in that position.

What is Enough for a Poem? An Interview with Ada Limón

april 12/RUN

4 miles
marshall loop
40 degrees

When I started my run, I wasn’t sure where I was headed, except north. At some point, I decided to cross the bridge and run the marshall loop. Not much sun, lots of gray and brown. The river was a dull blue with small waves from the wind. Don’t remember many birds, except for a few crows. I felt cold when I started, in tights, shorts, a long-sleeved shirt, a sweatshirt, and warm when I was done.

before the run

Thought about expressions and songs with the word dirt in them. Here’s an incomplete list:

  • dirt bag + Teenage Dirt Bag
  • dirt nap
  • dirt bath
  • dirt ball
  • as old as dirt
  • dish out the dirt
  • dig up some dirt
  • hit pay dirt
  • as poor as dirt
  • eat dirt
  • Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap
  • Dirty Laundry
  • opp.: clean up my act
  • dust: Another One Bites the Dust
  • dirty and low down

dirt = dirty = bad = undesirable, unwanted = death = uncivilized = impure = contaminated So much to say about how being clean (and not dirty) is partly about establishing/protecting status and power over others and the earth, and about establishing boundaries and hierarchies. Also clean = pure = discrete = uncluttered, not messy = neat = separate

during the run

Thought about the hierarchies that the vilifying of dirt creates, then thought about the binaries too, when things are divided into pairs, with one member of the pair being better/having more power and status: clean/dirty, white/black, rich/poor, men/women, culture/nature, mind/body. Then I thought (again) about how much these unjust distributions of power are connected and decided entangled was a better word. Connected almost seems too neat, like they’re linked in some row or continuous chain. The webs of power overlap and aren’t neat or linear. This lead me to remember Ross Gay’s criticism of buoyancy and the idea that we are free, able to float above, untethered. We are entangled — down in the dirt with everything and everyone else.

Later running on the bridge, I stopped briefly to read one of the many yellow tags attached to the railings. It said, “this is not the end of your story” and had a hashtag. I didn’t stop long enough to read the # carefully, but it was something like #youarenotalone Was this about suicide prevention? Nearing the bridge from the St. Paul side, I saw a sign: Citywide Clean-up Campaign. The phrase, “clean up your mess” came into my head and it bothered me to think about a clean-up campaign beside the message about your story not ending — one wants you get rid of something, the other to not. I thought about the violence of cleaning as eliminating, erasing, removing, expunging, rendering non-existent or having never existed.

after the run

Here, in the second half of a poem by Aracelis Girmay, is another way of saying, “taking a dirt nap”:

from Kingdom Animalia/ Aracelis Girmay

one day, not today, not now, we will be gone
from this earth where we know the gladiolas.
My brother, this noise,
some love [you] I loved
with all my brain, & breath,
will be gone; I’ve been told, today, to consider this
as I ride the long tracks out & dream so good

I see a plant in the window of the house
my brother shares with his love, their shoes. & there
he is, asleep in bed
with this same woman whose long skin
covers all of her bones, in a city called Oakland,
& their dreams hang above them
a little like a chandelier, & their teeth
flash in the night, oh, body.

Oh, body, be held now by whom you love.
Whole years will be spent, underneath these impossible stars,
when dirt’s the only animal who will sleep with you
& touch you with
its mouth.

“when dirt’s the only animal who will sleep with you”

Girmay’s mentioning of bones and dreams and plants, reminds me of something else I looked up before my run but decided to save for later: the kids’ song Garden Song, or what I refer to as “the inch by inch song”– “inch by inch, row by row/gonna make this garden grow.” Here’s the verse I’m reminded of:

Pullin’ weeds and pickin’ stones
Man is made of dreams and bones
Feel the need to grow my own
‘Cause the time is close at hand

So much about dirt is the mixing of life and death, growth and decay. Dirt is where we come from, where we’re going.

april 11/RUN

4.8 miles
Veterans’ Home loop
49 degrees

A wonderful morning for a run. Sunny, warm, mostly calm, not too crowded. Saw Dave the Daily Walker at the start of my run. “Good morning Dave!” Ran south. Noticed the river a few times, sparkling in the sun. Heard lots of woodpeckers. The falls and creek were rolling along. I heard Minnehaha as I ran above it, over to the Veterans’ Home.

My favorite sound was the unexpected duet between a roller skier’s clicking and clacking poles and the sharp steady beak of a woodpecker. My second favorite sound was the way water gurgled and gushed in spurts out of the sewer pipe below the 44th street parking lot.

before the run

today’s theme for dirt: gravel, rubbled asphalt.

1 — definitions of gravel

Here are a few definitions from the online OED:

gravel (n): a material consisting of coarse sand and water-worn stones of various sizes, often with a slight intermixture of clay, much used for laying roads and paths. 

gravel (v): 4. To set fast, confound, embarrass, non-plus, perplex, puzzle; and 5. of a question, difficulty, practice, subject of discussion, etc.: To prove embarrassing to; to confound, perplex, puzzle. Also U.S. To irritate, to ‘go against the grain with’.

2 — gravel in the gorge

Looked up gravel in the Gorge Management plan from an extensive study in 2002, and found out this about what I’m above near the start of my run:

Sandberg Loamy Coarse Sand is found within the savanna areas near the end of 36th Street and sloping areas to the north. Depth to bedrock is generally more than 60 inches and the soil is excessively drained. The soil has an available water capacity to a depth of 60 inches and an organic content in the upper 10 inches of 2%. A typical profile is as follows:A — 0 to11 inches; loamy coarse sand
Bw —11 to 27 inches; coarse sand
C — 27 to 80 inches; gravelly coarse sand.

3 — gritty gravel

I like the grit of gravel under my feet as I run. I’ve written about it a lot: the sibilant sound, the soft slippery slide when I run over it.

4 — dirt and gravel words

Had a vague recollection of posting a tweet that talked about words that were like gravel. It took me several minutes to find it, but I finally did! It’s from a log entry on august 21, 2020:

 I’ve been thinking about how useful and wonderful it is to record myself reciting a poem and then listening back to the words, which are often correct but sometimes wrong in unexpected ways. I found a tweet yesterday, which doesn’t totally fit with this memorizing but connects:

“transcriptions rly show how much of our talk is dirt & gravel, how clear thoughts have to be panned for like gold 

yet all the human pleasure is in the gravel, in the second-guessing & laughter & short sighs, the repetitions & amens, the silences where thoughts turn & settle

One bit of “gravel” I find in my recitation recordings is when I struggle to remember a word or phrase or line. Such delight in hearing the moment of remembering and the struggle to achieve it! What would it look like to transcribe that into a poem, I wonder?

august 21, 2020

5 — Oswald and the Tin-extractor

Reading the bit about panning for gold, I’m reminded of Alice Oswald’s Dart and her lines about the Tin-extractor (pages 17-18):

you can go down with a wide bowl, where it eddies round bends
or large boulders. A special not easy motion, you fill it with
gravel and a fair amount of water, you shake it and settle it and
tilt it forward. You get a bit of gold, enough over the years to
make a wedding ring but mostly these dense black stones what
are they?

he puts them in Hydrochloric acid, it makes his fingers yellow,
but they came up shiny, little wobbly nuts of tin

and the stones’ hollows hooting back at them
off-beat, as if luck should play the flute

can you hear them at all,
muted and plucked,
muttering something that only be expressed as
hitting a series of small bells just under the level of your
listening?

you rinse it through a shaking screen, you take out a ton of
gravelly mud for say fifty pounds of tin…

Dart / Alice Oswald

6 — Mary Oliver and gravel as dust as death

One section of The Leaf and the Cloud is titled, “Gravel.”

from 3.

Everything is participate.
Everything is a part of the world
we can see, taste, touch, hold onto,

and then it is dust.
Dust at last.
Dust and gravel.

8.

Listen, I don’t think we’re going to rise
in gauze and halos.
Maybe as grass, and slowly.
Maybe as the long leaved, beautiful grass

I have known, and you have known—
or the pine trees—
or the dark rocks of the zigzag creek
hastening along—

or the silver rain—

or the hummingbird.

9.

I look up
into the face of the stars,
into their deep silence.

10.

This is the poem of goodbye.
And this is the poem of don’t know.

My hands touch the lilies
then withdraw,

my hands touch the blue iris
then withdraw;

and I say, not easily but carefully—
the words round in the moth, crisp on the tongue—

dirt, mud, stars, water—
I know you as if you were myself.

during the run

Difficult to remember now that the run’s done, but I remember listening for the grit under my feet and thinking about how I like feeling something under me as I run. Also thought about Wittgenstein and the importance of rough ground, how smooth surfaces offer nothing to grab onto, to notice. And how uneven, gravelly ground offers a good distraction from the effort of a run.

Running past the Wabun playground, I suddenly remembered the time that Scott ran up the slide with the kids and into the metal bar at the top with his head. If he had hit it just right, or just wrong, he might have died — at least that’s what we thought when it happened. He was fine, but as I kept running, thinking about dust and death, I had a quick flash — how different life would have been for me and the kids if he had hit it wrong and would have been gone for more than a decade now. Thankfully the thought evaporated quickly, replaced by the rush of the river as it roared over the dam, and the ache in my legs as I ran down the steep hill below the Veterans’ Home.

I know I had more thoughts than that, but they’re all gone now.

addendum, 12 april: I almost forgot. I chanted about gravel to keep my pace steady and my mind focused (or distracted or shut off?):

gravel gravel
pebble pebble
rock / rock /
stone / / /

Nothing that creative, but it worked as a chant and I liked the sharpness of rock and the way stone stopped the sound, making room for 3 beats of silence.

addendum, 23 april: Re-reading this entry, I think I like this chant slightly better:

gravel gravel
pebble pebble
rock rock stone /

after the run

Searched “walt whitman gravel” and this was the first result:

Walt Whitman

A high nutrient amendment comprised of compost, rice hulls and chicken manure. A little goes a long way. Blend with existing soil at 25-30% by volume and follow with a thorough irrigation immediately after planting. Walt Whitman when used at an appropriate rate will provide adequate fertility for plant establishment.

Contains: Wonder Green™ Compost, Rice Hulls, Chicken Manure

American Soil and Stone

“Walt Whitman when used at an appropriate rate will provide adequate fertility…”. Yes, this sounds about right—with his excess of words and exclamation points and enthusiasm for everything, I always need to use moderation when reading Whitman!

Also, searched “gravel” on Poetry Foundation and found this haunting poem. Wow.

An Ordinary Misfortune [“She is girl. She is gravel.”]/ EMILY JUNGMIN YOON

She is girl. She is gravel. She is grabbed. She is grabbed like handfuls of gravel. Gravel grated by water. Her village is full of gravel fields. It is 1950. She is girl. She is grabbed. She is not my grandmother, though my grandmother is girl. My grandmother’s father closes the gates. Against American soldiers, though they jump over stone walls. To a girl who is not my grandmother. The girl is gravel grabbed. Her language is gravel because it means nothing. Hands full of girl. Fields full of gravel. Korea is gravel and graves. Girl is girl and she will never be a grandmother. She will be girl, girl is gravel and history will skip her like stone over water. Oh girl, oh glory. Girl.

april 10/RUN

3.25 miles
trestle turn around
51 degrees

Spring! Spring! Spring! Sunny and warm. Shorts with no running tights. Lots of birds singing and drumming and casting big shadows across the path. Near the end of my run, I saw the shadows and stopped briefly to catch a flash of a soaring bird. An eagle or a kestrel or a hawk? It couldn’t be an owl, could it? Do they fly that high? Didn’t hear any rowers and barely noticed the river — even when I stopped at the overlook at the end of my run and was looking straight at it. I think I noticed the dirt trails leading down to the gorge the most. Heard some dogs barking down in the gorge. Ran past a peloton on the road. Saw some graffiti on the door of the porta-potty under the lake street bridge. Overheard a conversation, or one brief bit of a conversation:

walker 1: “I’ll just have to get up tomorrow and go to work, and forget about it.”
walker 2: “uh huh”

This reminds of something I heard yesterday from one biker to an other: “They don’t have a leg to stand on to fire him.” A leg to stand on? I don’t hear that expression that often anymore. Also, why was “he” being fired, and from where?

before the run

This popped up on my twitter feed:

https://twitter.com/shaetlan_rose/status/1512848196682366979

Very cool. Read the article in The Guardian, then the study it linked to: Language of fungi derived from their electrical spiking activity. Here’s a summary:

Mathematical analysis of the electrical signals fungi seemingly send to one another has identified patterns that bear a striking structural similarity to human speech.

and

The research, published in Royal Society Open Science, found that these spikes often clustered into trains of activity, resembling vocabularies of up to 50 words, and that the distribution of these “fungal word lengths” closely matched those of human languages.

Mushrooms communicate with each other using up to 50 ‘words’, scientists claim

I find this interesting — how they did it, by placing iridium coated spikes in their nerve centers and measuring electrical impulses, then analyzing the impulse clusters and comparing their length to human languages — but I’m particularly struck by the researches explanation of why this matters:

a modified conception of language of plants is considered to be a pathway towards ‘the de-objectification of plants and the recognition of their subjectivity and inherent worth and dignity’ [28].

Language of fungi derived from their electrical spiking activity

So, to care for and grant dignity and worth to fungi we need to understand them to be as “smart as us” — that is, able to use language? Why? Even as I enjoyed reading this experiment and thinking about fungi communication as language, I wonder about its purpose and why we need fungi to speak in ways we can understand in order for them to have value. And, why do we assume that, 1. human language is the most valuable (or complex/sophisticated) and/or 2. to value something it needs to be like us? Perhaps I’m reading too much into their claim?

I found a comment at the end of the article that offers a useful critique from a slightly different perspective than mine:

This kind of anthropomorphic work would do well to define terms including words, language, information, and communication. These are technical terms in communicology and in linguistics but are indiscriminately used in this research. Plants do not produce meaning but merely exchange information. They do not, therefore, communicate in any human way. Language is not merely a syntactical system, as implied here. Language consists of the necessary components syntactics, semantics, and pragmatics. In short, the image of the human cast over the findings is inappropriate. It is also not needed to make the research interesting.

comment on article from I Catt

I also found this poem about a type of mushroom (Ophiocordyceps unilateralis) that invades carpenter ants:

The Ants/ Matthew Rorher

Nothing is more important to the ant
whose exoskeleton has been breached
by mushroom spores that are now
controlling his nervous system
and compelling him to climb to a high leaf
only to die and release the spores
over the whole forest
than this poem about his sad plight.

Otherwise his life is meaningless.
Forage. Chew. Recognize by scent.
Abdication of the will. A huge wind
that comes and sweeps his fellows
off the grass. When he dies up there
in the treetops the mushroom grows
right out of his head and breaks open
lightly dusting the afternoon.

Everything he thought he was here
on Earth to do has been left undone.
Through the trees
the spores move on their sinister ways.
I put down the science magazine written
for elementary school kids
in which I have briefly disappeared.

during the run

Stopped at the end of my run to record some of my scattered thoughts during the run:

  1. Remembering the poem about the parasitic mushrooms and the carpenter ants that a poet found in a kids’ science magazine. Why and how do we lose the wonder we had as kids?
  2. Then I was thinking about care, and why and how we care about things. What do we need to care? Do we care about things we can understand? That we know? That have use value for us? What about things that make us wonder and delight in their strangeness? Why can’t that be a reason to care?
  3. Finally, I was thinking about Alice Oswald and something she said in an interview about otherness and how our encounters with the land and nature are ones of encountering that which is alien and other to us. So, we don’t recognize nature in how it’s like us, or we’re like it, but in how it is strange to us.

after the run

Found Oswald’s words, or my rough transcription of them, from a podcast:

I exert incredible amounts of energy trying to see things from their own points of view rather than the human point of view.

It’s a day long effort to get your mind into the right position to live and speak well.

citing Zizek: we can’t connect, be one with nature. It’s extraordinary, alien. It’s this terrifying otherness of nature that we need to grasp hold of and be more courageous in our ways of living with it and seeing it.

Landscape and Literature Podcast: Alice Oswald on the Dart River

Does it always have to be terrifying? Can we access this strangeness through wonder and curiosity, and marvel that there is so much that is different, and more, than us?

Thinking about this idea of connecting to “things” and nature through making them like us, anthropomorphizing them, I just remembered a delightful poem I posted by Lisel Mueller this last fall:

Things/ LISEL MUELLER

What happened is, we grew lonely
living among the things,
so we gave the clock a face,
the chair a back,
the table four stout legs
which will never suffer fatigue.

We fitted our shoes with tongues
as smooth as our own
and hung tongues inside bells
so we could listen
to their emotional language,

and because we loved graceful profiles
the pitcher received a lip,
the bottle a long, slender neck.

Even what was beyond us
was recast in our image;
we gave the country a heart,
the storm an eye,
the cave a mouth
so we could pass into safety.

april 9/RUN

4.5 miles
ford loop
49 degrees

Ran/walked the ford loop with Scott. Sunny and warm with a bright blue sky. Wonderful. Stopped at the 2 overlooks on the St. Paul side. Heard and saw rowers on the river! The first time this spring, I think. Also heard someone playing guitar on a rock below the Monument that juts out over the river. Heard lots of birds, encountered lots of walkers, some runners, a biker or two.

Right after we finished our run, as we walked by Becketwood, I saw something flash in the trees. At first I thought it was a squirrel jumping, but Scott said it was an owl! Excellent. It took me about a minute to see it, but when it flapped its wing, I did. My favorite part: the owl was facing the other way, but they turned their head to check if we were still there. What an awesome head swivel!

before the run

Although Entangled Life never lapses into polemics or preaching, the book has an evangelical message all the same: humanity is neither innately special nor truly dominant; rather, we emerge and are sustained by a web of interspecies interdependence and diverse kinship; and our human notion of individuality is chimeric. The book is a call to engage with fungi on their level. “Is it possible for humans, with our animal brains and bodies and language, to learn to understand such different organisms? How might we find ourselves changed in the process?” Like fungi, “‘[w]e are ecosystems that span boundaries and transgress categories. Our selves emerge from a complex tangle of relationships.”

The Mycophile’s Plea: On Merlin Sheldrake’s “Entangled Life”

and

The underlying questions of Entangled Life, and other mycophilic media today, are: How can we be more like fungi? How are we already like fungi? How can we, as Paul Stamets puts it, ally ourselves with the fungal kingdom? How can we mycologize ourselves and our world? How can we break down our waste for fuel and sustenance, rather than let it accumulate in garbage dumps, oceans, and bloodstreams? How can we organize ourselves flexibly and responsibly so each part of the social web gets what it needs? If we fail and our own species does not survive the next few centuries, we can at least trust that a resilient species of fungi will evolve to consume the copious remains of our civilization and renew the planet again.

The Mycophile’s Plea: On Merlin S

Written in my Plague Notebook, Volume 11:

The need for new understanding, metaphors for working together (and living together) — and NOT as individuals. Beyond Darwinism and survival of the fittest and competition. Survival of the fittest/dog-eat-dog world are dead metaphors.

Plague Notebook, Vol 11/ Sara Lynne Puotinen

Found this video from the BBC about the “wood wide web”:

Near the end, the voice-over says: “scientists are still debating why plants seem to behave in such an altruistic way.” Why are these collaborations and symbiotic relationships and networks understood as altruism? Looking up altruism, I found these definitions:

1unselfish regard for or devotion to the welfare of otherscharitable acts motivated purely by altruism
2: behavior by an animal that is not beneficial to or may be harmful to itself but that benefits others of its species

definition from Merriam-Webster

Plants and fungi are not being selfless, if selfless means doing things for others that don’t benefit, or maybe even harm, you. I dislike the term altruism, btw. This is not sacrifice of individuals, or individual groups, for the good of the whole. The idea of altruism is tied up with the old, outdated understanding of us as individuals who either act selfishly or purely selflessly.

during the run

Tried to explain some of this stuff about mycelium to Scott. Also ranted about altruism. Mentioned how the discussion about the wood wide web focuses more on marveling at trees and how they communicate, and much less on the amazing fungi network and the cool stuff fungi do. Trees are the actors, with fungi only the medium. But, fungi are actors too, just in a way that we don’t see or understand as easily. Also ranted against TED talks and how formulaic and forced they seemed. Scott got distracted when I asked him what scientists who study trees are called. He couldn’t think of it. The particular type I was trying to remember was: forest ecologist.

after the run

Mushroom Hunting in the Jemez Mountains/ Arthur Sze

from The Glass Constellation

Walking in a mountain meadow toward the north slope,
I see red-cap amanitas with white warts and know
they signal cèpes. I see a few colonies of puffballs,
red russulas with chalk-white stipes, brown-gilled
Poison Pie. In the shade under the spruce are two
red-pored boletes: slice them in half and the flesh
turns blue in seconds. Under fir is a single amanita
with basal cup, flarinannulus, white cap: is it
the Rocky Mountain form of Amanita pantherina?
I am aware of danger in naming, in misidentification,
in imposing the distinctions of a taxonomic language
onto the things themselves. I know I have only
a few hours to hunt mushrooms before early afternoon rain.
I know it is a mistake to think I am moving and
that argarics are still: they are more transient
than we acknowledge, more susceptible to full moon,
to a single rain, to night air, to a moment of sunshine.
I know in this meadow my passions are mycorrhizal
with nature. I may shout our ecstasies, aches, griefs,
and hear them vanish in the white-pored silence.

mycorrhizal = entangled

april 8/RUN

4.75 miles
Veterans’ Home loop
39 degrees
wind: 12 mph, 21 mph gusts

Sunny and windy and cold. I’m ready to put away my running vest and tights. Headed south to the falls. Noticed how the river was sparkling in the distance as I ran above the gorge. Heard kids yelling at the Minnehaha Academy playground. I thought I heard someone yell, “Girl! Girl!” in an accusing way. Kept listening. The underlying hum of all the noise seemed menacing, not like kids having fun on the playground, but kids being mean to each other. Was I hearing that right? Watched the creek as it rumbled over the falls. Later, going down the hill above Locks and Dam No. 1, I noticed a small eddy in the water. I almost stopped to stare, but didn’t. Thought about how many benches were occupied with a person sitting, admiring the view. Descended to the Winchell Trail and appreciated the bare branches and the empty space they offered. Heard the sewer pipe at 42nd gushing water.

before the run

Today’s dirt topic is: fungi, decomposition, entanglement, mycelium. Here are some words/ideas I want to gather:

1 — decomposition of the self

RG: One of my favorite metaphors when I talk about joy is a mycelial metaphor. It’s like the story or the fact that in healthy forests, there’s constant communication happening in the soil. It’s a shuttling of nutrients that is trying to make this system work or this system live. Anna Tsing, The Mushroom at the End of the World does a lot of this in thinking about ruins, capitalism, and stuff. But I consider it a childish notion of joy, I’m just saying it’s not joy, I’m saying it’s something else and something that I’m not aspiring too actually, it does probably like the feeling of being a really free discreet individual, not beholden. That is a kind of joy or happiness. I like the word buoyant, you can lift above everything as opposed to what we know biologically, etc. is the case, that doesn’t happen, [laughs] it just doesn’t happen nor is that my aspiration. If it is my aspiration, despite my best intentions, I don’t want it to be. My practice is toward entanglement, toward recognizing.

DN: Is it toward a decomposition of the self? Like when I think of the way these mushrooms are the result of death but they’re also the processors of death 

RG: Yeah. One of the things that’s so great about a garden is that you’re studying a kind of mutuality. A healthy garden has a lot of the life that comes from decomposition and it seems like hanging around that alerts us to decomposition but it also alerts us to what emerges, what happens in a garden, what happens from decomposition which is food and flowers, then which is related to all these critters, like gazillion critters that are making this happen.

Between the Covers Interview with Ross Gay

2 — mutuality and symbiosis, underneath and on the edges

A mycelium is a network of fungal threads or hyphae. Mycelia often grow underground but can also thrive in other places such as rotting tree trunks. A single spore can develop into a mycelium. The fruiting bodies of fungi, such as mushrooms, can sprout from a mycelium.

Mycelia are of vital importance to the soil. They break down organic material, making its raw materials available again for use in the ecosystem. On top of this, 92% of plant families interact with fungi. This kind of symbiosis is termed mycorrhiza. Hyphae are also an important source of food for insects and other invertebrates.

Mycelium

The term “mycorrhiza” is assembled from Greek words for “fungus” and “root”; fungi and plant roots become intimately entangled in mycorrhizal relations. Neither the fungus nor the plant can flourish without the activity of the other (see pages 137-139 for a more detailed discussion).

The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins/ Anna Tsing

Ross Gay: And it’s basically sort of talking about how mycelium … the more and more we know, is that like, you know, healthy forests are really connected. And there’s all this shuttling of nutrients and all of this other information. Like this knowledge beyond anything that we can ever comprehend. But finally, we’re starting to like, tap it a little bit, or become aware of it a little bit. But she’s sort of talking about how mushrooms themselves and that whole sort of world, they resist things of like scale, the way the plantation, the logics of the plantation have a certain kind of relationship to scale, you know. Like, if we could make like, 10 of these, how do we figure out how to make a hundred of these. How do we figure—

Ross Gay: You know, mushrooms resist capitalist logics. They just resist it.

Ross Gay: They’re kind of funny that way, you know.

Franny Choi: Wait, how do mushroom’s resist that, like, plantation scale?

Ross Gay: Because you can’t plant mushrooms like that.

Ross Gay: You know, you can’t—you know, to some extent, you can. But certain mushrooms, like she’s studying this mushroom called matsutake mushroom. And it comes when it comes, you know.

Ross Gay: And people who know—and a lot of the people who know who are foragers are sort of marginal people. So, in the margins, there’s this different relationship. And folks are selling them and all this stuff. So they’re in a kind of market. But the market is this other kind of market.

Ross Gay vs. Entanglement

3 — precarity and alienation

To live with precarity requires more than railing at those who put us here (although that seems useful too, and I’m not against it). We might look around to notice this strange new world, and we stretch our imagination to grasp its contours. This is where mushrooms help. Matsutake’s willingness to emerge in blasted landscapes allows us to explore the ruins that has become our collective home.

Matsutake are wild mushrooms that live in human-disturbed forests. Like rats, raccoons, and cockroaches, they are willing to put up with some of the environmental messes humans have made….

…the history of the human concentration of wealth through making both humans and nonhumans into resources for investment. This history has inspired investors to imbue both people and things with alienation, that is, the ability to stand alone, as if the entanglements of living did not matter. Through alienation, people and things become mobile assets; they can be removed from their life worlds in distance-defying transport to be exchanged with other assets from other life worlds, elsewhere….Alienation obviates living-space entanglements. The dream of alienation inspires landscape modification in which only one stand-alone asset matters; everything else becomes weeds or waste.

The Mushroom at the End of the World

4 — the fungus among us

The Puotinen family farm, sold in 2005, is located 12 miles from Crystal Falls, Michigan in the Upper Peninsula. It’s where my dad, in the late 50s, went to high school, and where my Grandma Ines, in the 70s (I think?) worked as a secretary at a gas company. As a kid, living in North Carolina or Virginia or Iowa, I would visit it in the summer. I never went to the Humoungus Fungus Festival, but I remember hearing about it.

It was three decades ago when the Armillaria gallica was discovered near Crystal Falls. 

The city since has celebrated the world’s largest continuous mushroom by playing host to the Humongous Fungus Festival. The living organism spreads over more than 37 subterranean acres, weighs an estimated 100 tons and is about 1,500 years old.

The fun fungus among us

And here’s the trailer for a new documentary about the fungus. Nice!

5 — mushroom valley

Wondering about what kinds of mushrooms exist here at the Mississippi River Gorge, I searched and found out about the caves of Mushroom Valley in St. Paul.

According to the boast, it was the mushroom capital of the Midwest. “Mushroom Valley” was the informal name for several miles of the Mississippi River gorge in St. Paul, including what are now Plato, Water, and Joy Streets. The mushrooms were grown in the more than 50 caves dug out of the soft St. Peter Sandstone bluffs. Although called caves, they were man-made, often beginning as silica (sand) mines and later used for various purposes. One cave operated by the Becker Sand & Mushroom Company was the largest of all with 35-foot ceilings and nearly a mile of passages. Its wonderful hybrid name epitomized the valley and the multiple uses of the caves found there. Other uses included the aging of blue cheese, lagering, storage, and even nightclubs.

According to the article, these caves began in the 1880s. The last was cleared out in the 1980s with the creation of Harriet Island-Lilydale Regional Park. Wow. Reading a little further, the more known name for these caves is the Wabasha Street Caves. You can take a tour and hear stories about their speakeasy past. The caves housed an underground nightclub, Castle Royal, in the 20s. They were used again for growing mushrooms (and cheese and beer) in the 30s and up until the 80s.

6 — call for poems on entanglement

Do I want to try and submit something for this call for poems?

EcoTheo Review invites poems that explore the relationship between ecology and theology, our senses of nature and place as well as our senses of spirituality and divinity. For our Summer print issue we will be particularly interested in work that addresses themes of entanglement. How do the root systems of plants and the architecture of mycelia, lichens, etc. reflect and contrast human forms of entanglement? In what ways do images of wrestling with spiritual beings inspire and trouble us? Where do you find hope and where do you long for healing in our entangled bodies? 

EcoTheo Review

7 — Arthur Sze

Entanglement/ Arthur Sze

Before sunrise, you listen for deer beyond
the gate: no signs of turkeys roosting on branches,
no black bear overturning garbage bins
along the street. The day glimmers
like waves undulating with the tide:
you toss another yellow cedar log
into the wood stove on the float house;
a great blue heron flaps its wings,
settles on the railing outside the window;
a thin low cloud of smoke hangs over the bay.
When you least expect it, your field
of vision* tears, and an underlying landscape
reveals a radiating moment in time.
Today you put aside the newspaper,
soak strawberry plants in a garden bed;
yet, standing on land, you feel the rise
and fall of a float house, how the earth
under your feet is not fixed but moves with the tide.

*I put a post-it note on the cover of Sze’s collection of poems: “so many references to failing vision in later poems.” For example, in another section of this poem, Sze refers to floaters — “floaters in my eyes wherever I go.” Floaters can indicate a retinal tear.

AS: I do. I want to personalize it and say that again, this came very slowly over time. Years ago, my son picked up a mushroom on a lawn and I was like, “Don’t eat that.” I didn’t know anything about mushrooms, I was just like the alarm father saying, “Wait a minute, you don’t know what you have there, you could die from it.” Then a few months later, my son and I saw that at Santa Fe Community College, a local mycologist, Bill Isaacs, was teaching a mushroom identification class and I thought, “This would be great bonding for father and son. We’ll go out and hunt mushrooms. This will be fun and we could learn something.” My son loved the idea. He was really into it, so we signed up and every Saturday for eight weeks in the summer, we joined this group and we would go out into the mountains of Northern New Mexico, and hunt for an hour. We’d bring back everything we found and we’d lay them out on park benches, and tables and Bill would say, “Oh, you’re going to die from this one.” He was the head of the New Mexico Poison Control, so it wasn’t just learning the choice edibles, it was  learning this whole arena of new knowledge. Then it fascinated me to see the early, middle, and late stages of the mushroom. It also fascinated me that I couldn’t identify any of them by looking in a field guide. I didn’t know what to look for. In the rocky mountains, there are different varieties, there are all these special nuances and Bill would say, “Well, why didn’t you dig out the bottom below the surface because we need that information?” I was like, “Well, I didn’t know how to do that. I just cut it off at the ground.” He’s like, “You missed crucial stuff.” It was like this whole learning of a new ecology, a new field that I loved going out into nature every Saturday and Sunday. We did it for like six summers. Again, it wasn’t like, “Oh, I’m going to learn mushrooms and that’s going to be like this metaphor for language.” It was just a wonderful thing to do with my son. I got really excited by it. Of course, the edible ones are delicious. It was a lot of fun and it was also a challenge. I began to really like going into an environment and knowing, for instance, if I go to the Santa Fe Ski Basin, and I’m at ten thousand feet where ponderosa pine is too low, I’m not even going to find any of the boletes and chanterelles, the really choice edibles. I’ve got to get higher up into the spruce and fir. I loved learning breeding a landscape, like even before looking at a mushroom, I had to look at the vegetation and what wildflowers were blooming. It was a way for me to really experience nature in a kind of detail I had never done before, then to be hunting the mushrooms, collecting them, and also scattering them in these baskets. It just became a whole new field of learning. Then ultimately, I began to think I love this idea that the mycelium is below the surface. It’s like the subconscious, then when the mushroom fruits pops up above ground, maybe that’s like this spontaneous outpouring of a poem or whatever. You can be too logical or whatever. 

Between the Covers with Arthur Sze

during the run

I didn’t really think about mushrooms while I ran, but I did think about decomposition as deconstructing and undoing as I ran over the asphalt that is reverting to dirt in the first stretch of the Winchell Trail. I thought, when things break down through decomposition, they aren’t being destroyed, with nothing to replace them. Instead, something new is created. I thought, in vague, broad terms, about the different ways humans and industry and birds and water and soil and rock are entangled. I wonder what was the difference between the terms “symbiosis” and “entanglement.” Finally, and for more time than anything else, I thought about Arthur Sze’s poem and his lines:

your field
of vision tears, and an underlying landscape
reveals a radiating moment in time.

I reflected on the underlying landscape as layers that can’t be seen with your eyes, only smelled or felt or imagined. And I delighted in the idea of so much happening, so much present beneath me that I couldn’t see, that I didn’t need to see, for it to exist or to affect me or to be connected to me.

after the run

I want to know, What is the distinction between symbiosis and entanglement? Found the article, Entangled Flourishings: Ideas in Conversation with Resisting Reductions, with the following description: “Dominant paradigms of ecology reduce life into ‘parts,’ failing to articulate the symbiosis of such communities, or of organisms as intricately nested collectives. To understand organisms, we must use the language of symbiotic ecology.” Here’s an awesome phrase that should be the title of a poem, or a line in a poem:

organisms are ecosystems

Skimming through the article, I found a part which reminded me of what I had already read in Tsing before leaving for my run. Symbiotic relationships are mutually advantageous. But to be entangled doesn’t necessarily guarantee that the interactions will be beneficial. In the article, the authors argue that this means the relationship is one of ongoing negotiations, where “the relationship is dynamic. It is constantly negotiated. At any one time, plants or fungi may be giving more than they receive, or vice versa.” If I’m reading Tsing correctly, the affiliations/connections aren’t a one-to-one relationship or set of negotiations, but part of a much broader network of entanglements with a wide range of organisms having an impact on each other in a broad range of unanticipated ways:

But many ectomycorrhizas are not limited to one collaboration: the fungus forms a network across plants. In a forest, fungi connect not just trees of the same species, but often many species. If you cover a tree in the forest, depriving its leaves of light and thus food, its mycorrhizal associates may feed it from teh carbohydrates of other trees in the network. Some commentators compare mycorrhizal networks to the Internet, writing of the “woodwide web.” Mycorrhizas form an infrastructure of interspecies interconnection, carrying information across the forest.

The Mushroom at the End of the World

I’m ending this packed post with a couple paragraphs from an essay for Guernica, “Mycelium“:

Everyone is excited about mushrooms this year. A friend says it’s because they thrive amidst decay and death, making new life under the rot. I’d never noticed before this summer that the forest is half rot, half life. All the fallen trees, twisting slowly into the ground, all the mushrooms growing on the downed trees, and speckling the trunks with their Turkey Tails and Chicken of the Woods and Shelf Mushrooms. I used to think of the woods as a slowly changing place, turned by seasons, but it’s constantly in motion. If I could get closer, closer, maybe I could hear the leaves sprouting and disintegrating, the fungus spreading underground, and bark cells multiplying.

Out at Echo Lake, I notice all the birches that take root in the rotting stumps, making their homes from decay. How strong those curved roots are, how cunning to find purchase here, in what might look useless. I notice trees perched on cliffs, clinging with curled roots to the dirt, and impossibly arched trunks that reach out over rivers or other trees. My favorite is the pine tree that tilts further and further toward the lake each year but is somehow still alive.

Mycelium / Rachel May

Something to try on a future run: notice and remember the decay. Make a list of what’s rotting, and what’s growing out of that rot.

april 7/RUN

4.25 miles
top of franklin bridge and back
37 degrees
wind / rain / snow

Ran in the afternoon, after returning from Austin. A huge wind gust almost blew me off the trail as I ran through the Welcoming Oaks. Later, the tornado siren went off. Because of the wind, I was concerned. Called Scott to check. It’s severe weather week and today they’re testing the sirens. Whew. With all the wind and snow and sirens, I don’t remember looking at the river. Did I? Yes! I just remembered. I admired the snow flurries looking like mist hovering right above the river. Very cool.

I chanted, mostly in my head but a few times out loud, the Christina Rossetti poem, “Who Has Seen the Wind?”:

Who has seen the wind?
Neither I nor you:
But when the leaves hang trembling,
The Wind is passing through.

Who has seen the wind?
Neither you nor I:
But when the leaves bow down their heads
The wind is passing by.

Anything else? Lots of black-capped chickadees. A Minneapolis parks vehicle approaching with a double set of headlights — 2 at the normal spot on the bumper, and 2 up above on the roof.

before the run

Today dirt = mud and sinking down into the earth. Found this poem by a Minnesota poet, Joyce Sidman (search term: mud):

text:

Sun
slant low,
chill seeps into black
water. No more days of bugs
and basking. Last breath, last sight
of light and down I go, into the mud. Every
year, here, I sink and settle, shuttered like a
shed. Inside, my eyes close, my heart slows
to its winter rhythm. Goodbye, good-
bye! Remember the warmth.
Remember the quickness.
Remember me.
Remember.

text

hashtłʼish = mud

About This Poem

“‘Muddy’ is inspired by the motion and cadence of Diné words. Looking at it on the page, one sees kinetic text and hears onomatopoeia, so the repetition of ‘tł’ish’ reenacts the sound of someone stepping in mud, and then the word itself turns into a poem.”
Orlando White 

Mud as where you sink and settle during winter, and the sound of squishing through mud.

during the run

Tried to notice the mud. Mostly, it was on the edge of the trail. I ran over it to avoid 2 walkers. Biggest (and yuckiest) bit of mud was right by the big boulder near the sprawling oak just above the tunnel of trees at the grassy spot between the walking and biking trails. A vehicle had driven through it, leaving deep, muddy tire ruts.

after the run

One more poem:

Body/ ALICE OSWALD

This is what happened
the dead were settling in under their mud roof
and something was shuffling overhead

it was a badger treading on the thin partition

bewildered were the dead
going about their days and nights in the dark
putting their feet down carefully and finding themselves floating
but that badger

still with the simple heavy box of his body needing to be lifted
was shuffling away alive

hard at work
with the living shovel of himself
into the lane he dropped
         not once looking up

and missed the sight of his own corpse falling like a suitcase towards him
with the grin like an opened zip
         (as I found it this morning)

and went on running with that bindweed will of his
went on running along the hedge and into the earth again
trembling
as if in a broken jug for one backwards moment
               water might keep its shape

bindweed: invasive species that can clog harvesting equipment

april 5/BIKERUN

bike: 20 minutes
run: 1.2 miles

Rain and wind. Short workout in the basement. Had to pump my bike tire up again. Definitely a leak. Took me only a minute to pump it up. I was reminded of how much I struggled to do it a few months ago when I hadn’t done it in a while. Thought how important habits/habitual practices are for me. Watched most of the 2018 Ironman television coverage while I biked. Listened to Taylor Swift’s Reputation as I ran. Have no memory of what I thought about.

before the workout

Day 3 with dirt: loam. Thinking more about compost and soil and humus, I suddenly remembered loam. I discovered this word a few years ago and it has made it into at least one of my poems. Some definitions of loam use the word humus, others don’t.

 3. A soil of great fertility composed chiefly of clay and sand with an admixture of decomposed vegetable matter.

from Oxford English Dictionary online (via local library)

noun

a fertile soil of clay and sand containing humus.

from Oxford Languages (Google’s dictionary)

Doing a brief search on loam and humus, I also found discussions of the distinctions between sand, silt, and clay. According to an answer on Quora, the difference is about particle size. This answer also offers the following distinction between loam and humus:

Loam is a mixture of clay, sand and silt and benefits from the qualities of these 3 different textures, favoring water retention, air circulation, drainage and fertility.

Humus is a highly complex substance still not fully understood. It is a stable and uniformly dark, spongy and amorphous material which come from the mechanical degradation of organic matter. Humus is fertile and gather all properties suitable for optimal plant growth. It is formed by complex chemical compounds, of plant, animal and microbial origin

Searched “loam” on Poetry Foundation and found a few poems:

Loam/ Carl Sandburg

In the loam we sleep,
In the cool moist loam,
To the lull of years that pass
And the break of stars,

From the loam, then,
The soft warm loam,
We rise:
To shape of rose leaf,
Of face and shoulder.

We stand, then,
To a whiff of life,
Lifted to the silver of the sun
Over and out of the loam
A day.

Things to remember: the whiff of life, the silver of the sun

Speaking of loam as the whiff of life. Here’s another poem that I love:

Unveiling/ Gail Mazur

I say to the named granite stone, to the brown grass,
to the dead chrysanthemums, Mother, I still have a
body, what else could receive my mind’s transmissions,
its dots and dashes of pain
? I expect and get no answer,
no loamy scent of her coral geraniums. She who is now
immaterial, for better or worse, no longer needs to speak
for me to hear, as in a continuous loop, classic messages
of wisdom, love and fury. MAKE! DO! a note on our fridge
commanded. Here I am making, unmaking, doing, undoing.

MAKE! DO! I love the different ways to read this, as: making do, managing, getting by, finding a way with limited resources and make something! do something! create act.

Just one more poem with loam in it. Powerful. Loamy roamers rising.

The Theft Outright/ Heid E. Erdrich

after Frost

We were the land’s before we were.

Or the land was ours before you were a land.
Or this land was our land, it was not your land.

We were the land before we were people,
loamy roamers rising, so the stories go,
or formed of clay, spit into with breath reeking soul—

What’s America, but the legend of Rock ‘n’ Roll?

Red rocks, blood clots bearing boys, blood sands
swimming being from women’s hands, we originate,
originally, spontaneous as hemorrhage.

Un-possessing of what we still are possessed by,
possessed by what we now no more possess.

We were the land before we were people,
dreamy sunbeams where sun don’t shine, so the stories go,
or pulled up a hole, clawing past ants and roots—

Dineh in documentaries scoff DNA evidence off.
They landed late, but canyons spoke them home.
Nomadic Turkish horse tribes they don’t know.

What’s America, but the legend of Stop ‘n’ Go?

Could be cousins, left on the land bridge,
contrary to popular belief, that was a two-way toll.
In any case we’d claim them, give them some place to stay.

Such as we were we gave most things outright
(the deed of the theft was many deeds and leases and claim stakes
and tenure disputes and moved plat markers stolen still today . . .)

We were the land before we were a people,
earthdivers, her darling mudpuppies, so the stories go,
or emerging, fully forming from flesh of earth—

The land, not the least vaguely, realizing in all four directions,
still storied, art-filled, fully enhanced.
Such as she is, such as she wills us to become.

note:

  • Dineh, “the people,” what the Navajo called themselves
  • for Frost = The Gift Outright / Robert Frost … discovered this was the poem he read at Kennedy’s inauguration, through this helpful analysis, Political Poeticizing (found when I searched, “Robert Frost settler colonialism”)

One more thing: Returning to the idea, in Sandburg’s and Mazur’s poem, I’m thinking about the smell of loam. Here’s something helpful I found:

We feel something deep in the smell of that fresh-soil, and it is one of those mysteries that takes us back to a place in time.  The smell of soil invokes something so deep that it never really can be described. Can you describe the smell of soil in a forest, freshly tilled field, or in a swamp?  Have you ever wondered if fresh tilled soil has always had the same sweet aroma? 

Actually it’s not the soil we smell but the bacteria that enters the soil through the geosmin.  It’s the bacteria that is producing the chemical that we smell.  The smell will be different depending on where the soil is found.  Healthy, productive soils should smell fresh, clean and pleasant or have little odor at all.  If the soil smells like ammonia or has a rotten odor that is a good indication there is poor drainage or lack of oxygen in the soil.

The unique smell is because soil is not just dirt.  Healthy soil is living and is a complex ecosystem with an abundance of bio-diversity.  “Land, then, is not merely soil; it is a fountain of energy flowing through a circuit of soils, plants, and animals”. Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac, 1949.  Soil…..”the Latin name for man, homo, derived from humus, the stuff of life in the soil.”  Dr. Daniel Hillel

The Smell of Living Soil

One more link: What your soil is trying to tell you with sound, smell, and color

april 4

4.3 miles
minnehaha falls and back
39 degrees

Ran in the early afternoon. This morning it snowed. By the time I went out to the gorge, it had all melted. Ran south to the falls, listening to the birds. When I got there, I ran by the creek and the statue of Minnehaha and Hiawatha. The creek was high. Not rumbling over rocks, making its way to the falls, but flowing and oozing and spreading across the grass. Noticed an adult taking video of some kid near a bench. A thought flashed: watch out (the kid was fine). Then I heard the falls, roaring. Wow. I glanced at them but I don’t remember how they looked, just how they sounded. Too small of a falls to be deafening, but much more than rushing or gushing.

before the run

Day 2 on dirt. Uh oh. I can feel myself becoming overwhelmed with ideas and directions. This morning I learned about humus (and remembered reading about it in a poem recently that I can’t seem to find right now…where was it? something about a few feet or 2 feet of humus?). Thought about soil and gardening and things decomposing and recycling. Started with a re-reading of a poem I found the other day:

Ode to Dirt/ Sharon Olds

Dear dirt, I am sorry I slighted you,
I thought that you were only the background
for the leading characters—the plants
and animals and human animals.
It’s as if I had loved only the stars
and not the sky which gave them space
in which to shine. Subtle, various,
sensitive, you are the skin of our terrain,
you’re our democracy. When I understood
I had never honored you as a living
equal, I was ashamed of myself,
as if I had not recognized
a character who looked so different from me,
but now I can see us all, made of the
same basic materials—
cousins of that first exploding from nothing—
in our intricate equation together. O dirt,
help us find ways to serve your life,
you who have brought us forth, and fed us,
and who at the end will take us in
and rotate with us, and wobble, and orbit.

Love this line:

It’s as if I had loved only the stars
and not the sky which gave them space
in which to shine.

And the idea of dirt as the skin of our terrain, made of the same basic materials — our democracy, taking us in at the end and rotating wobbling orbiting with us.

After reading this poem, I decided to look up “dirt” in the Emily Dickinson lexicon.

dirt, n. [ME.]

Earth; mud; soil; humus; ground; [fig.] grave.

Emily Dickinson lexicon

Remembered reading humus in some poem (will I ever remember where) and decided to dig (ugh) into it some more:

ˈhyü-məs
geology a brown or black complex variable material resulting from partial decomposition of plant or animal matter and forming the organic (see ORGANICentry 1 sense 1a(2)) portion of soil

Merriam-Webster dictionary

Then I found an article by Lulu Miller for Guernica:

Traditionally, humus was believed to be the dark matter left behind in soil after all organic material — leaf litter, dead bugs, acorns, etc. — had finished decomposing. It was thought of as a shadow of life. A liminal layer, whose betweenness gave it great power. Its molecules were of no interest to microbes or rock eaters, and thus could remain stable for centuries. Gardeners spoke of humus with reverence. Soil rich in humus was healthy soil; it held water and air and prevented the leaching of nutrients. It was a site of transfiguration, where inhabitant became architecture, where the ground beneath your feet remained, in some defiance of Chaos, the ground beneath your feet.

How exactly does humus evade the unforgiving forces of decay? That’s when jargon tends to roll in. Scientists speak of “humification,” “humic acid,” “humin.” They reference the pH levels of humus, its negative electrical charge. Hold tight, though, through the glazing of your eyes, and you might hear a tremble in an expert’s breath. Play the jargon backward, at double speed, and you might hear the word “ALCHEMY.”The catch, as scientists Johannes Lehmann and Markus Kleber argued in a study published in Nature, is that humus doesn’t exist. The molecules that comprise it are more like, as Lehmann puts it, “a smoothie.” A blend of various microorganisms, their bodies and residues becoming so small — so like molecular dust — that even hungry microbes can’t easily find them. There is nothing so numinous about humus. Its strength comes from the diminutive, in molecules that go unnoticed.

Humus / Lulu Miller

…which led me to a podcast I’m hoping to listen to soon with one of the scientists Miller mentions in this essay: Dr. Johannes Lehman – Soil Humus | In Search of Soil #12

Another search yielded this great essay on The Fat of the Land blog about humus. When I read this passage, I instantly thought of an interview I had just read with Alice Oswald.

First, from The Fat of the Land:

Soil is slow but never still. Its myriad processes never start or finish, they renew. Like the ocean, its movement is fluid. Indeed, the same forces that influence the ocean’s tides pull at the water table, mimicking that briny ebb and flow the way a sloth mimics a monkey.

humus / The Fat of the Land

Then what Oswald says:

What is the I of a landscape? It’s always water. Everything being tidal — fields and woods. Ebb and flow/ up and down. Everything as a tide, even the seasons, watching the leaves coming onto the trees, day by day, like a tide.
The thinking part of a landscape is the way the water levels are changing

Also in The Fat of the Land post, she describes the differences between dirt and soil:

Dirt is what gets on your hands in the garden, what splashes onto the sides of the car or tracks into the house on your shoes. Soil is a dance: lifeless minerals animated by electrostatic reactions, architectural aggregates constructed by chemical and biological bonds, microorganisms and invertebrates endlessly consuming and converting plant residue into nutrient-rich organic matter, a million miles of tiny root hairs tunneling and conversing by exchange with the forum of particles that surrounds them. One fingernail-full of soil is more complex than Shakespeare’s entire canon, and its poetry is just as striking.

This distinction between dirt and soil made here reminds me of something else I stumbled across as I tunneled through rabbit hole after rabbit hole: dirty nature writing:

a genre of fiction called “dirty nature writing,” a term coined by Huebert and fellow writer Tom Cull in the New Quartely, a Canadian literary journal. Nature writing, popularized by authors such as David Thoreau, refers to works that focus on the natural environment. This genre includes essays of solitude, natural history essays and travel/adventure writing. 

“Nature writing traditionally imagines nature as this pristine thing … that exists outside of us and outside of human impact,” says Huebert. 

Alternatively, dirty nature writing acknowledges the messiness of nature today, explains Huebert. “To think of nature as something separate from human nature isactually problematic in a lot of ways”, he says. “I try to confront nature in its contaminated state honestly and openly, [and] not believe in a false binary between nature and human existence.” 

‘Dirty Nature Writing’: Your New Favorite Genre?

Often (as much as possible) present in my thinking and writing about dirt or soil or the gorge or water or “nature,” is the awareness of the messy, complicated, entangled relationships that exist between the natural world and humans.

At some point during a search, I found a link describing the difference between compost and humus:

Humus is the end result of the decompositions process, whereas compost is a word that identifies a phase of the decomposition process where decomposing plant material provides the most benefit to the soil. 

Humus vs. Compost: What’s the difference?

The article continues by describing the differences between organic material (dead animal/plant materials that are in an active stage of decomposition) and organic matter (final, fibrous, stable material left after organic material has completely decomposed — humus). Then it offers this image of bones/skeleton:

Organic matter has been broken down so completely that it cannot release any more nutrients into the soil, so its only function is to help maintain a spongey, porous soil structure.

Organic matter is essentially the bones of organic material. Once the meat has been completely broken down and absorbed into the soil, all that remains is a skeleton.

Humus vs. Compost: What’s the difference?

And suddenly, I remembered a poem that I posted a few years ago that I’d like put beside these discussions of decomposition as organic material breaking down. This poem fits with my discussion yesterday, adding flies and maggots to the list of beautiful creatures:

Life is Beautiful/DORIANNE LAUX                           

and remote, and useful,
if only to itself. Take the fly, angel
of the ordinary house, laying its bright
eggs on the trash, pressing each jewel out
delicately along a crust of buttered toast.
Bagged, the whole mess travels to the nearest
dump where other flies have gathered, singing
over stained newsprint and reeking
fruit. Rapt on air they execute an intricate
ballet above the clashing pirouettes
of heavy machinery. They hum with life.
While inside rumpled sacks pure white
maggots writhe and spiral from a rip,
a tear-shaped hole that drools and drips
a living froth onto the buried earth.
The warm days pass, gulls scree and pitch,
rats manage the crevices, feral cats abandon
their litters for a morsel of torn fur, stranded
dogs roam open fields, sniff the fragrant edges,
a tossed lacework of bones and shredded flesh.
And the maggots tumble at the center, ripening,
husks membrane-thin, embryos darkening
and shifting within, wings curled and wet,
the open air pungent and ready to receive them
in their fecund iridescence. And so, of our homely hosts,
a bag of jewels is born again into the world. Come, lost
children of the sun-drenched kitchen, your parents
soundly sleep along the windowsill, content,
wings at rest, nestled in against the warm glass.
Everywhere the good life oozes from the useless
waste we make when we create—our streets teem
with human young, rafts of pigeons streaming
over the squirrel-burdened trees. If there is
a purpose, maybe there are too many of us
to see it, though we can, from a distance,
hear the dull thrum of generation’s industry,
feel its fleshly wheel churn the fire inside us, pushing
the world forward toward its ragged edge, rushing
like a swollen river into multitude and rank disorder.
Such abundance. We are gorged, engorging, and gorgeous.

during the run

I have a vague feeling that I thought about soil and humus and decomposing leaves the trail, but I don’t remember any specific thoughts. When I reached the falls, I put in my headphones and listened to the podcast about humus that I mentioned earlier. I enjoyed listening to it as I ran, but I kept getting distracted, which is not unusual for me with science stuff. I’ll have to try listening to it again.

after the run

Finishing up this entry, about 6 hours after my run, I’m returning to the worms and the maggots and the flies and wanting to understood more about the “dance” (that The Fat of the Land blog mentions, cited above) and how it happens.

“Soil is a dance”:

  • lifeless minerals animated by electrostatic reactions
  • architectural aggregates constructed by chemical and biological bonds
  • microorganisms and invertebrates endlessly consuming and converting plant residue into nutrient-rich organic matter
  • a million miles of tiny root hairs tunneling and conversing by exchange with the forum of particles that surrounds them

I’m finding poetry about the invertebrates. Can I find some about the other parts?

april 3/RUN

4.05* miles
minnehaha creek path, between lake nokomis and lake harriet
40 degrees

*Scott’s watch said 4 miles, mine 4.1, so I’m splitting the difference here. Also did the .05 because my total miles was at a .45 and needed the .05 to round it out.

Ran with Scott along the Minnehaha Creek trail between lake nokomis and lake harriet. Nice. Not too cold or windy, relaxed. An easy pace with several walk breaks. I haven’t run this route in many years. Crossed over the creek several times, noticing the water: blueish gray, gently flowing, almost whispering its splashes.

before the run

At the end of my post from 2 days ago I decided on my project and, of course, I am already abandoning it, or maybe just wandering with it a little? This wandering is one joy of my undisciplined approach to writing/engaging/being in the world. The project/challenge: do a different B Mayer “Please Add to this List” experiment each day. Yesterday, I picked my first one: “Compose a list of familiar phrases, or phrases that have stayed in your mind for a long time–from songs, from poems, from conversation.”

I began a list:

  • You’ll get no commercials
  • There’s a new girl in town
  • As long as it’s gum and that’s for me
  • Life is life, and death but death, Bliss but bliss, and breath but breath
  • I am the wind and the wind is invisible
  • Think of a sheep knitting a sweater, think of your life getting better and better
  • Like sands through the hourglass, these are the days of our lives
  • Wake up in the morning, feeling sad and lonely. Gee, I got to go to school
  • What a world, what a world!
  • Heaven, I’m in heaven, and my heart beats so that I can hardly speak
  • Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens
  • What do you do when your kid is a brat?
  • Pious glory
  • The buzz saw snarled and rattled in the yard
  • I’m a wheel watcher
  • Remember I love you, I won’t be far away. I’ll just close my eyes and think of yesterday
  • I’ll be yours in springtime when the flowers are in bloom. We’ll wander through the meadows in all their sweet perfume
  • Of course you do
  • Eastbound and down, loaded up and trucking’
  • Hey y’all
  • trouble is inevitable, and the task, how best to make it, what best way to be in it
  • You were not there
  • All will be revealed
  • And you never will be
  • Tell all the truth but tell it slant
  • Try to remember the days of september
  • the boobie hatch
  • the worms crawl in, the worms crawl out, the worms play pinnacle on your snout
  • Miss Suzy had a steamboat, the steamboat had a bell. Miss Suzy went to heaven, the steamboat went to…

Then I stopped. I started thinking about “the worms crawl in, the worms crawl out” and remembered my sister Marji singing that to me when we were kids, then us gleefully singing it together. Something clicked. I thought about worms and dirt and death and graves and really gross things about bodies and being delighted in singing about those gross things and Diane Seuss’s commencement address and her invoking of these lines by Walt Whitman:

I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,
If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles.

I decided what I really want to do this month is study dirt. It’s fitting for April as I begin to notice dirt again as it emerges from under the snow. It also follows nicely from Oswald and her emphasis on physical labor — working in the dirt and gardening, getting your hands dirty — and minerals all the way down. And, it returns me to my extended exploration of both ghosts and haunting and earth/rock/stone/erosion. So many different ways to wander and wonder with this word!

I’ll start today with a little more on “the worms crawl in” song. Here’s how I remember singing it when I was a kid:

Did you ever think when the hearse went by
that you would be the next to die?
They wrap you up in thick white sheets
bury you down 6 feet deep.

All goes well for about a week
then your coffin begins to leak.
The worms crawl in, the worms crawl out
the worms play pinnacle on your snout.

Your stomach turns a slimy green.
Pus runs out like thick whipped cream.

It starts getting fuzzy at this point in the song. It would end with something like, “And that’s where you go when you die.” I can’t quite remember. I decided to look it up. Found some interesting things about it. Here’s a brief summary from Wikipedia:

The Hearse Song” is a song about burial and human decomposition, of unknown origin. It was popular as a World War I song, and was popular in the 20th century as an American and British children’s song, continuing to the present. It has many variant titles, lyrics, and melodies, but generally features the line “the worms crawl in, the worms crawl out”, and thus is also known as “The Worms Crawl In“.

And here’s a cover that adds many more lyrics than I remember and sounds like the Violent Femmes:

There are LOTS of variations of this song. Check out the comments on this post for some of them. I’m fascinated by this song as part of an oral tradition of poetry — the poem/words aren’t owned by any one poet, they travel and transform. The best (most compelling, memorable) are kept as people recite/sing it, the others discarded. What holds it all together is: “the worms crawl in, the worms crawl out.” If I’m getting it right, those lines are iambic dimeter — 2 feet of unstressed/unstressed.

This focus on the worms reminds me of Cornel West and how, in lectures and the film, The Examined Life, he liked to say:

For me, philosophy is fundamentally about our finite situation. You can define that in terms of being towards death, featherless two legged linguistically conscious creatures born between urine and faeces whose body will one day be the culinary delight of terrestrial worms. That’s us. Beings towards death. At the same time we have desire, why we are organisms in space and time, and so desire in the face of death. 

When I was a kid, I loved singing this song, took delight in the grossness. It didn’t scare or haunt me with it’s reminder that I would die one day. Now, as a middle-aged adult, it doesn’t either, even as I encounter more death and reminders of death. I actually find it comforting (is that the right word?) or helpful to think about the relationship between bodies and dirt and worm food.

during the run

Because Scott and I were talking about many different things (most of which I can remember now), we didn’t talk about “the worms crawl in…”. Possibly we didn’t talk about it because he never sang the song as a kid and doesn’t find it fun now. Boo. I do remember remarking on all the brown and noticing the mulched leaves on the ground. Thinking about things that decompose or have decomposed.

after the run

Not much to add here, except this poem I found when searching, “worms and poetry”:

Feeding the Worms/ Danish Lameris

Ever since I found out that earth worms have taste buds
all over the delicate pink strings of their bodies,
I pause dropping apple peels into the compost bin, imagine
the dark, writhing ecstasy, the sweetness of apples
permeating their pores. I offer beets and parsley,
avocado, and melon, the feathery tops of carrots.

I’d always thought theirs a menial life, eyeless and hidden,
almost vulgar—though now, it seems, they bear a pleasure
so sublime, so decadent, I want to contribute however I can,
forgetting, a moment, my place on the menu.

april 1/RUN

5.7 miles
franklin loop
36 degrees

With the sun and hardly any wind, 36 degrees felt warm and like spring. Ran north on the river road trail, noticing how the floor of the floodplain forest was covered with snow. The river was calm, brown in the middle, pale then darker blue as it reached the shore.

Tracked a plane in the sky in my peripheral vision. When I tried to spot in my central vision it disappeared. Visible from my peripheral, then hidden in my central. It took 3 times of switching between the two before it showed up in my central. Was that because my brain adjusted, or because it had reached a part of my central vision that still has cones cells?

4 distinct smells:

  1. cigarette smoke from a passing car
  2. pot down in the gorge
  3. breakfast — sausage, I think, from Longfellow Grill
  4. fresh paint from the railing on the steps leading up to the lake street bridge, being painted as I ran by

Noticed how the snow and ice emerging from cracks and caves in the bluff made them easy to spot from across the river.

Before the Run

I wrote the following shortly before heading outside for my run:

A new month, time for a new challenge. As is often the case, I have too many ideas at the beginning of the month. It takes a few days (at least) to settle into something. I could read The Odyssey, then Oswald’s Nobody, but I think I’d like to wait until it’s warmer and I’m in the water for open swims. I’ve also thought about doing more on walking, starting with Cole Swenson’s chapbook, Walking, or reading the book on green that I bought last month. I’m unsure. Just now, I came up with another idea, after looking up a quotation from Emily Dickinson that I found on twitter the other day: Reading through some of ED’s correspondence with Higginson. Will this stick? Who knows.

Here’s the ED quotation that inspired my search, as it appeared at the end of a twitter thread by the wonderful poet Chen Chen:

To live is so startling, it leaves but little room for other occupations

@chenchenwrites

And here’s the original in ED’s letter to Thomas Wentworth Higginson from late 1872 (14 years before her death in 1886):

To live is so startling, it leaves but little room for other occupations though Friends are if possible an event more fair.

letter

I’m thinking about what, if any, difference it makes to add that last bit about Friends. My first reactions: adding it depicts ED as a social being, not the recluse she is popularly known as, and it tempers the pursuit of astonishment as the only one we do/should have time for. Second reaction: is it mostly (or simply) a polite (and/or affectionate) acknowledgement of Higginson and his friendship? Third, and related to my first reaction: being startled/astonished/in wonder needs to be tempered. To be in that state all the time is too much, at least for me.

Reading Chen Chen’s thread, I found this great idea: “deep delight as a compass, a map.” I really like this, and I’m thinking about how I might switch out the word delight for wonder. Now I need to revisit the terms “delight,” “wonder,” “astonishment,” “joy,” and “surprise.” That might be a great challenge for the month too: thinking/reading/working through these different terms?

Getting back to ED’s letter, I found a description of the change is season from summer to winter in it that I’d like to remember:

When I saw you last, it was Mighty Summer‹Now the Grass is Glass and the Meadow Stucco, and “Still Waters” in the Pool where the Frog drinks.

letter

Grass is Glass and the Meadow Stucco? Love it!

I just looked up “startle” in Ed’s lexicon. Here are the two definitions offered:

  1. Shake or twitch due to terror or unexpected surprise.
  2. Be filled with fright; become shocked.

It also directed me to see “start.” Here are those definitions:

start (-ed), v. [OE ‘to overthrow, overturn, empty, to pour out, to rush, to gush out’.] (webplay: quick, quickened).

  1. Spring to attention.
  2. Become active; to come into motion.
  3. Begin; to come into being.
  4. Incite; startle; suddenly bother; abruptly rouse with alarm; movement of body involuntarily due to surprise, fright, etc.
  5. Begin a trip or journey to a certain destination.

And, here’s a poem from ED with startled grass:

PRESENTIMENT is that long shadow on the lawn
Indicative that suns go down;
The notice to the startled grass
That darkness is about to pass.

note: presentiment = foreboding

Returning to the letter and connecting to something else I found in an article titled, “The Sound of Startled Grass” about how composers are inspire by ED:

But I think composers are attracted to more than just her [ED] poems’ musicality. She repeatedly presents herself as a music-maker, surrounded by music. Her experience is constantly musical.

The Sound of Startled Grass

Connected to this quotation, here’s something ED writes in the letter:

These Behaviors of the Year hurt almost like Music – shifting when it ease us most. Thank you for the “Lesson.”

letter

During the Run

I think I only thought about some of these themes very briefly as I ran. I recall running, listening to birds singing, feeling the sun shining, and then wondering about how it would feel, at this moment, to be startled by a darting squirrel or a lunging dog or a reckless bike. I wasn’t, and I soon forgot about being startled. I also remember thinking about the sound of startled grass — how would that sound? And then I thought about what startled grass might look like, how it might startle us. Then I thought about the grass on graves and Whitman’s uncut hair and ED’s “The Color of the Grave is Green”:

The Color of the Grave is Green –
The Outer Grave –  I mean – 
You would not know it from the Field –
Except it own a Stone –

To help the fond –  to find it – 
Too infinite asleep
To stop and tell them where it is – 
But just a Daisy –  deep – 

After the Run

After bookmarking it at least a week ago, I finally read Diane Seuss’s fabulous Commencement Address to the Bennington Writing Seminars posted on LitHub. I didn’t anticipate how it might fit with my before and during run thoughts, but it does, particularly the bit about grass and graves and the dead speaking to us, and us giving our attention.

A thought: Could we be the startled grass, surprised, shocked, fearful, but astonished, in wonder, alive and willing to reach down to the dead to give attention and life to their stories and to tell our own? For this to make sense, I should probably spend a little more time with Seuss’s speech…

Wow, I’m no closer to figuring out what my theme will be for this month. Here are the possibilities that I discovered in the midst of writing this entry:

  1. Read, explore ED’s correspondence with Higginson
  2. Define delight, wonder, astonishment, joy, surprise. Find poems that offer definitions
  3. Grass (dirt is also mentioned in the speech)

addendum: 5:20 pm

So, I have figured out what I want to do for my challenge this month. In honor of National Poetry month, I’d like to return to where my recent love of poetry began: with Bernadette Mayer’s list of writing prompts that I discovered in an amazing class in the spring of 2017. I’m hoping to try a different experiment every day. I want to do this so I can push myself to be stranger or more whimsical or ridiculous (in the wonderful Mary Oliver way) in my writing. Lately, it seems like I’m too serious. A goal: to craft a poem that I feel is wonderfully strange enough to submit to Okay Donkey.