Tag Archives: Nature

Look About You, Nature is Everywhere

“The poetry of earth is never dead.” On the Grasshopper and Cricket,

John Keats

Most people who know me know that I love being outside. I love to feel the sun warm on my face, the breeze muss my hair, and the air on my skin. My psyche needs to be in  it every single day.

I also love to notice the changes in the weather; even during a humid heat wave, I like to detect the subtle temperature differences in the air from one morning to the next.

Nature surrounds us if we only just pay attention.

  • Observe a robin doggedly digging for worms on dewy morning grass or rabbits grazing on some clover
  • Enjoy the cool shade on a hot day under a mighty oak tree
  • Watch a yellow swallowtail butterfly flit among purple coneflowers
  • See flowers on a tree where there were just buds the day before or
  • Find wild edible berries

Even in the heart of a big city, you can find  and appreciate nature.

There are a lot of edible wild plants growing in and around the city. But to be safe, check out some of our foraging  books at the library.

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~Maria, who enjoys long meandering walks in the woods, along the lakeshore, and all over town

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Plenty to Celebrate

It seems that a lot of people are mourning the loss of summer right now.  I’ve never been a fan of the excessive heat and humidity, but I can understand the reluctance to let go of activities we traditionally associate with warm weather.  So rather than packing away your gear with a heavy heart, why not find ways of extending your favorite hobbies into the colder months?

For example, even though you may be scrambling to collect the last of your harvest right now, your gardening days don’t have to be over when you run out of zucchini.

Fallscaping: Extending Your Garden Season Into Autumn by Nancy Ondra

A Gardener’s Guide to Frost: Outwit the Weather and Extend the Spring and Fall Seasons by Philip Harnden.


Speaking of which, those of us who enjoy cooking (and eating!) local, seasonal foods have been looking forward to that harvest.  In addition, dropping temperatures signal the return of baking season.

The Taste of the Season: Inspired Recipes for Fall and Winter by Diane Worthington

Autumn: From the Heart of the Home by Susan Branch

The Fearless Baker: Scrumptious Cakes, Pies, Cobblers, Cookies, and Quick Breads That You Can Make to Impress Your Friends and Yourself by Emily Luchetti


And people who love the outdoors know there’s no reason to head inside yet.  Hiking, birdwatching, and many other activities can become fresh again with the change of seasons.  (In fact, depending on your sport, the ability to wear more protective gear and clothing can be a plus!)

Fall Color and Woodland Harvests: a Guide to the More Colorful Fall Leaves and Fruits of the Eastern Forests by C. Ritchie Bell

The Bumper Book of Nature: A User’s Guide to the Outdoors by Stephen Moss

Backyard Bird Secrets for Every Season: Attract a Variety of Nesting, Feeding, and Singing Birds Year-Round by Sally Roth.


So even though summer’s days are numbered, autumn gives us plenty to celebrate.

-Denise

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Go Outside!

Author's photo, McConnells Mill State Park, Slippery Rock Gorge

It’s that time of year again that I wait for all winter long—being outside! As soon as the weather warms up, I move almost all of my everyday activities outdoors: dining, reading, and yoga. And before I moved to Chatham Village, I even sometimes played my flute outside! As I walk around my co-op every evening, I’m always amazed that I seem to be the only one enjoying the quiet, the beauty, the cool night air while everyone else seems to be inside.

The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh has lots of great ideas for outdoor living, whether you enjoy gardening, camping, or bird watching. And don’t forget about the library’s great stash of beach reads for your next vacation, home or away.

Author's photo, Downtown Pittsburgh from Mount Washington

The need to be outside is important for everyone’s health and well-being.

Ever since I’ve been a little girl, when my mother ordered my brother and I to “go outside!” I’ve been doing just that, and I’ve been hard-pressed to come back inside. That is, until the mosquitoes start biting.

~Maria

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Spring Fever!

crocusYesterday The New York Times published a lovely editorial praising the robin as the harbinger of spring. The editors wrote:

Somehow the robin stands for all the birds migrating now, the great V’s of geese heading north, the catbirds that will show up surreptitiously in a month. It also stands for the surprise of spring itself, which we had begun to fear would not arrive. We have all been keeping watch, as though one morning it might come sailing over the horizon. And now it’s here — the air a bit softer, snowdrops and winter aconites blooming, the bees doing their cleaning and the robins building their nests again.

As Denise mentioned yesterday, Sunday’s equinox marked the official beginning of spring, and in celebration I’m engaging in all sorts of seasonal activities. From watching the peregrine falcons at the Cathedral of Learning guard their newly laid eggs to checking up on what the fashion world‘s elite have in mind for post-sweater weather, all things spring have caught my attention. My reading taste has spring fever, too, and I’m checking out lots of books related to nature and the outdoors.

John Fowles The TreeThe other day I stumbled across John Fowles’  The Tree, a naturalist classic whose website describes it as a “moving meditation on the connection between the natural world and human creativity, and a powerful argument against taming the wild.” The newest edition boasts an introduction by Barry Lopez, whose own nature-oriented meditations I’ve recently enjoyed in magazines like Tricycle.

The Tree is light enough to bring it with me on walks, another favorite warm weather Wanderlust : a history of walking / Rebecca Solnit.activity of mine. In the fall, I moved into a new house, so I’m looking forward  to discovering the changes warmer seasons bring to my new neighborhood.  As I read Rebecca Solnit’s Wanderlust: A History of Walking,  my mind can wonder about walking as I wander around.

The spell of the sensuous : perception and language in a more-than-human world / David Abram.One book that’s inspired many a musing since I read it is deep ecologist David Abram’s The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World, a philosophical reflection on the ways nature may have shaped humans’ linguistic and perceptual evolution. In lyrical, moving prose, Abrams imagines our place in nature as participatory and reciprocal–both seeing and seen, feeling and felt–by the network of animals and landscapes we’re part of.

Springtime inspires my political activity as well. The more time I spend in our beautiful habitat, the more I appreciate and want to protect it. Locally, concerns about the environmental effects of natural gas drilling in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus shale and uncertainly about how our state’s elected legislature will handle it motivate me to stay informed about the subject and tell my state representatives how I feel.

In terms of my personal habitat, I’m preoccupied with all of the possibilities for a raised bed garden I’m planning. To prepare, I’m consulting every gardening resource I see (including my wise coworkers), and tomorrow I’m attending Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy’s free lunchtime lecture about rain barrels and rain gardens.

Reading, walking, gardening, and generally growing give me plenty to do as the days lengthen. I hope spring fever also brings you lots of ways to spend your ever-increasing hours of sunlight!

–Renée

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a hawk visits the library

A few days ago, some of the librarians and patrons here at CLP Main were lucky enough to catch a rare sight: a large, white and brown bird landed in one of the mulberry trees just outside of the main entrance, and proceeded to eat her lunch: a freshly caught squirrel. 

While we aren’t exactly expert bird-watchers, we do know where to look to identify a feathered creature, and our guess is that this particular bird is a juvenile red-tailed hawk. That might explain her unusual perch.  As WQED’s Kate St. John writes on her blog Outside My Window: A Bird Watcher’s View of the World, juvenile hawks can be boldly unruffled by human proximity when they’re hungry.  This particular hawk was equally blasé about the nearby humans, the below-freezing temperature, and the ferociously icy winds that stirred her feathers.

Because the mulberry tree is relatively short and very close to the building, the hawk’s position created the  opportunity to get very close to a truly impressive natural sight and take some photos! Lucky for us (but not for the squirrel). 

A caution, gentle readers, some of these shots are a little graphic.

juvenile red-tailed hawk with squirrel

juvenile red-tailed hawk with squirrel

juvenile red-tailed hawk with squirrel - lensflare

juvenile red-tailed hawk with squirrel - twisting tree

juvenile red-tailed hawk with squirrel - paparazzi

juvenile red-tailed hawk with squirrel 10

 juvenile red-tailed hawk with squirrel - eating

Happy New Year, everyone.  May you clobber the squirrelly troubles of the past year with clear-sightedness, feathery grace, and talon-sharp fierceness and internalize their lessons to fuel your flight in the year to come.

-Renée

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Wendell Berry: The Peace of Wild Things

berry

Photo by David Marshall http://www.davidaaronmarshall.com uploaded to Wikipedia with his permission, under Creative Commons "Share alike" 2.0 license.

When I think of Wendell Berry, I think of the Dalai Lama, Henry David Thoreau, and Gary Snyder, all extraordinary human beings whose lives I admire and ideas I cherish, particularly when it comes to our collective place in the larger ecosytem that is our world. “Hero” seems too ordinary a word, “saint,” perhaps too hyperbolic to describe who they are. To borrow from another culture, somehow, “bodhisattva” seems just right, because these individuals share an all-embracing compassion for the sentient life forms with which we share this little spinning ball we call home.   That lesson is one which they wish to share with others to raise awareness of who and where we are, while making this a better place and enhancing the potential quality of all life .

Personally, I came to Wendell Berry not through his luminous environmental works, or his fiction (Remembering is one of the best, most moving short novels I’ve ever read), both of which I’ve enjoyed, nor his advocacy for sustainable agriculture, but  through his poetry.  His volume of poems Farming: a Handbook (which is contained in his Collected Poems) has always been a personal favorite of mine.  In addition, certain individual poems by Berry I’ve run across over the years have spoken to me deeply.   What is most unusual about this for me is that, generally, I’m not much for the narrative approach he takes in a great deal of his work. But somehow he manages to take all the elements most important to him, merge them into a style I’m decidedly indifferent to, and win me over in a big way.

Which brings us to “The Peace of Wild Things,” one of his more well-known poems.

The Peace of Wild Things
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

The first thing I’m struck by is the thought that Mary Oliver probably loves this poem and William Logan probably does not.  The second thing that occurred to me after reading this poem is what an archetypal experience it describes.

What “happens” in the poem is something we all experience, a part of being human: the fear and doubt about our condition, who we are, and what we do.  Many of us, rural and city dwellers alike, get up in the middle of the night and read or worry or drink tea or walk.  Robert Frost, in an uncharacteristic city setting, addresses the very same existential situation in his poem “Acquainted With the Night.” 

Acquainted With The Night

I have been one acquainted with the night.
I have walked out in rain –and back in rain.
I have outwalked the furthest city light.

I have looked down the saddest city lane.
I have passed by the watchman on his beat
And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.

I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet
When far away an interrupted cry
Came over houses from another street,

But not to call me back or say good-bye;
And further still at an unearthly height
One luminary clock against the sky

Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.
I have been one acquainted with the night.

Both poems find their narrators heading out into the night seeking something: solace, resolution, peace of mind.    Though Frost’s poem seems darker and is decidedly more impersonal, both characters head into nature, the rural dweller to a secluded spot, the city dweller out beyond the city limits, beyond the furthest city lights.  Note that the “luminary clock” that Frost’s narrator sees is at an unearthly height, suggesting in fact that he, too, is coming closer to nature as he gazes upon that natural luminary clock, the moon.

Berry’s protagonist does find that solace, that peace of mind that s/he seeks, amongst “wild things” in the natural setting from which we come and to which we will return.  There is an essential grounding in nature for human beings and this is the core message of all of Wendell Berry’s work, be it lyric, prosaic, or in the actual tending of the land itself.  The character in “The Peace of Wild Things” is out of balance and instinctually heads out into nature to right her/his compass.  Berry is telling us that it is this balance that must be put to rights, the balance between nature and man, in all that we do and how we go about doing it. 

As with Mary Oliver’s most famous poem, “Wild Geese,” there is no attempt to portray nature as benign or Disneyesque; it is not that kind of peace they are speaking of.  It is understanding our position in this world in an almost pre-cognitive way, understanding that nature simply is: it is not good or bad, and it should never be taken for granted.

The peace of wild things is existence in the moment, a peace wherein fear and forethought and demonstrative grief are unknown.  Berry points to the beauty of the water but balances that calming image with the great heron feeding, the natural way of things.  Oliver’s wild geese, too, are not of the Thomas Kinkade variety.   They call out

—————————————harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

With such agreement as this amongst Berry, Oliver, and Frost, three of the greatest American nature poets of the 20th century, the message should be seen as an important, essential one.

To live in the world we must be of the world, not set apart from the natural order, but an important part of that order, with all the moral rights and obligations that an extraordinary situation such as ours makes manifest.

– Don

PS  If poetry isn’t your thing, there is an essay entitled “A Native Hill” by Berry in his collection The Long-Legged House that describes a scenario remarkably similar to “The Peace of Wild Things.”

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Mary Oliver’s Red Bird

Even at her most agnostic, her most atheistic, Mary Oliver was always a spiritual, even a religious, writer. Her embracing of nature is all-encompassing, recalling the preoccupation of no less a poetic figure than William Wordsworth. In recent years, as seen in her last few books, she has evinced a new-found faith beyond the more general pantheism that always seemed to be just below the surface of many of her finest poems.

I have to admit, I approached this newer work with the kind of trepidation one has when hearing of a life-altering event involving a close friend; confronting a new-found faith in others that one does not necessarily share can be a daunting thing, most especially when it concerns an old friend. I’m happy to report that, as may be seen in her new collection of poems, Red Bird, this faith is not only a logical extension of her previous beliefs, it in fact firmly accentuates what has come before.

Mary Oliver’s wide appeal beyond the usual poetry reading community is easy to understand; her poems are rendered in simple basic vocabulary, are no less beautiful for that simplicity, and concern the everyday world around us. Her perception of things is acute; she points out in nature what we all might see if we took the time and had the patience to truly look. Beyond capturing the moment, she also supplies the resonance from which meaning may flow. When she is good, she is transcendent. When she is average, she is at least always interesting. Red Bird is a volume that may be read straight through and then bears, in fact induces, repeated readings. It is cohesive in that its overarching theme is present throughout. There are more than a handful of excellent poems here. Listen to this excerpt from Straight Talk from Fox:

Don’t think I haven’t
peeked into windows. I see you in all your seasons
making love, arguing, talking about God
as if he were an idea instead of grass,
instead of stars, the rabbit caught
in one good teeth-whacking hit and brought
home to the den.

Highlights include this poem, along with Invitation, Night and the River, There is a Place Beyond Ambition, We Should Be Prepared, This Day and Probably Tomorrow Also, the fabulous Of Love, I am the one; well, I could go on. There is even a powerful political poem, Of the Empire, that telescopes the general to the particular in a most damning fashion. If you listen closely, you may find there is a message just for you, as in the beginning of Invitation:

Oh do you have time
to linger
for just a little while
out of your busy
and very important day
for the goldfinches
that have gathered
in a field of thistles…

There is a wisdom here, the wisdom of long life, of loss, of longing, and of acceptance. But most of all there is beauty, a beauty not to be missed.

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