Bark

The Bark of a Venerable Cottonwood

My name is Gail and I sniff bark.

Where this began, I can’t begin to know. Being a literal, as well as figurative, tree-hugger, it likely started while getting up close and personal. Regardless, one day I discovered the warm, syrupy, cozy fragrance of cottonwood bark.This led to me to check out the aroma of an ash tree–lighter and (not surprisingly) woody. Willow–astringent. Elm–lightly astringent, woody, cool. And so forth. Then I sniffed a dying elm–it carried the sour sad smell of illness.

Trees are corporately and individually precious, and not only within the context of their value to humans. In primary school, we learned that trees are important for shade, oxygen production, lumber, nuts, etc. Nowhere was it suggested that we can have a relationship with trees, or that they have a good of their own. Generally, they are viewed as utilitarian, inanimate objects.

Researchers are now discovering that trees communicate with each other in various ways. Healthy trees benefit ailing neighbors. They do better in forests, surrounded by other trees, plants, and fungal communities. Back when I studied forestry at the University of Minnesota, these relationships were little understood, if at all. The focus was on the management of forests for timber production and in some cases, wildlife production, meaning species that humans like to hunt and kill. Being a pacifist vegetarian, some of this didn’t sit too well with me, and eventually I switched career paths.

What is my point? Pick a tree. Sniff the bark, observe it through the seasons, get a sense of its energy, note the birds, mammals and insects that visit or inhabit your tree. Become friends. Your life will be enriched.

Super-Sized Pink Moon

Rising this evening in the southwestern sky is the Pink Full Moon. Know as “Pink” not for the actual color, but for the season in which it appears. Spring. The time of blossoms emerging on trees, in gardens, and in the woodlands. The time when color returns after a winter of whites, grays. browns, and blacks.

Those who came before named the April Full Moon to honor the return of color. What a joy!

Looking out my South Minneapolis window I see emerald grass, chartreuse shrubs, and tangerine tulips. The ash trees, although always late to leaf out, swell with the promise new growth at the tips of each branch and twig.

As if the Pink Full Moon is not enough, this is also the first Super Moon of the 2021. Our beloved moon is passing slightly closer to earth, making the disc appear 12-15% larger than average.

My readers outside of Minnesota may get a chance to view this natural wonder. Here, clouds will likely interfere. But fear not! Twenty-eight days from now, the moon will once again be full, and will once again be super.

I encourage you to observe yourself month to month as the lunar cycles pass. Do you feel a difference in energy or focus as the moon moves from new to full? Personally, I tend to dream more vividly around the new moon. Around the full moon, I am more distracted, misplacing things and generally being klutzier than usual. Let me know what you experience. If the oceans are affected, why shouldn’t we, who are watery, salty creatures, also feel the pull of the waxing and waning moon?

Get out tonight and do you best coyote howl!

Worm Moon

The time has come, I decided, for me to pay closer attention the cycles of nature–the monthly waxing and waning of the moon, the equinoxes and solstices, the apparent movement of planets and stars, daily sunrises and sunsets, leaf unfurlings, floral bloomings, bird migrations, meteor showers, and so much more.

Since the beginning of humanoid existence, we lived in intimate relationship to our natural surroundings. Now that most of us dwell in homes with roofs, move from place to place in enclosed conveyances, and do our work indoors, that connection has loosened. And with that, we have lost a sense of true kinship with other living creatures of the myriad plant and animal varieties.

The March full moon is commonly known as the Worm Moon, presumably based on the emergence of earthworms. It is also referred the Sugar Moon, pertaining to the flow of maple sap. Coming up April 26 the Pink Moon will grace our skies as one of two 2021 Super Moons,, referring to an appearance of somewhat larger than normal sized disk. The designation of the April full moon as pink is said to relate to the blooming time of pink moss phlox.

Renewing a connection with the natural world reminds us that we are nothing more and nothing less than creatures among creatures, dependent on the earth for nutrition, water, and air. We humans have taken an extraordinary toll on the well-being of our planet and its denizens. Only we, person by person, can turn this dire situation around. We all know the steps–buy less, drive less, eat less (or no) meat, plant trees, lobby for the preservation and restoration of wild areas, buy organic and local, to name a few possible steps.

As you gaze at a sun-glinted lake, or see a tiny wild flower in bloom, give thanks for the beauty of the earth and for the opportunity we each have to effect healing of the environment we share with all other living beings..

“This is the Best Day of My Life”

A white squirrel licking sap from a tree. Happy day!

A gentleman in his 80th decade walks down the corridor. As we pass he pauses.

“A good afternoon to you,” he says.

“How are you doing today?” I ask, going against my personal vow to avoid trite social questions.

“This the best day of my life,” he responds.

I didn’t ask what made this a grand day. His response could have been either cynical or deeply meaningful. Not knowing the man well enough to probe, I smile and continue on my way.

Ze hayom, a Hebrew phrase meaning “this is the day,” opens Psalm 118:24. What day? Asah Adonai. The day that the Creator has created. So what? Negilah v’nismacha bo. So, we are to rejoice and be glad in it. End of story. Just do it.

Once upon a time, I called my mom, who is no more in this life, to complain, “I am having the worst day ever.”

Her response? “Well, Gail, if this is the worst day ever, then tomorrow has to be a better day. Right?”

But was it the worst day? That have certainly been some dillies since. Did that day, with its unremembered challenges, teach me something important? Are there really “good” days and “bad” days? Who are we to judge?

I am sitting at a desk in Minneapolis, looking out a window as snowflakes pass by on a 45 degree trajectory from the south. A man with a COVID mask hanging from one ear walks by accompanied a high-stepping maple brown poodle. They walk under a leafless ash tree, its twigs swaying in a light breeze. Earlier, on a brisk morning walk (3 degrees F), I watched a pair of hunting coyotes, on the lookout for bunnies or rodents. Then I spotted an albino squirrel on a tree, which despite the presence of my dog, stayed still long enough for me to dig my phone out and take a photo.

This is the day. The only day. This is the moment. The only moment. As I write this, as you read this, the moment is here, then the moment passes. We awake, we sleep, we dream, on and on, the days pass.

Summer Solstice

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Minnehaha Falls

Yesterday summer officially began. As usual, my dog and I started the day with an early morning walk through Minnehaha Park to the confluence of the Mississippi River and Minnehaha Creek. Other than a couple of fisher-people, we usually have the place pretty much to ourselves. Armed with a plastic bag and gloves, each day I pick up garbage left by visitors since the previous morning’s cleaning. It is satisfying work.

Public parks are such a gift. Natural features are protected from development and harm, and everyone is welcome. Fees are minimal; many are free. Public parks allow access to beautiful places regardless of your ethnicity, race, income, age, or gender. Think of it! We all own riverfront, lakefront, and historically or environmentally significant areas that we can visit whenever we wish.

Along with parks as great institutions of equality, we need to place public libraries. As a small-town kid one of my greatest joys on summer days was riding my bike to the library and checking out a stack of books. Anyone can get a library card and educate themselves. They can use a computer to look for a job, do their homework, or research an interest. In my adult life, when I need a change of scenery, my public library offers a quiet, comfortable place to work on writing projects. Plus libraries smell great. Like books!

My kids attended a diverse public high school in St. Paul. There they had the opportunity to excel and grow as human beings. On a daily basis they interacted with students who were born in other countries and who were culturally diverse. A few students were well-to-do, some were mid-range, as we were, and many were truly poor. With all due respect to those who send their kids to elite private schools, I believe that a real education must take place in the real world.

Public institutions are created to be bastions of equality. Parks do this well, libraries, too. Public schools certainly have a way to go in terms of funding. Our legislature would well to consider how our schools are paid for, and how to distribute funds fairly across all school districts. There is no excuse for kids in Edina, for example, to get a better education than kids in North Minneapolis, for example.

In addition to supporting and improving parks, libraries and schools, we can extend the equalizing power of public institutions by working toward universal health care, free home internet access for all, and free community colleges. I had the good fortune to teach at a great community college in Chicago for a few years. Many students were newly arrived immigrants, as well as those who had ability but didn’t thrive in their high school environments, and those who were wise enough to see community college as an affordable option for their first two years. Every American of any age or circumstance should have the opportunity to attend community college free of charge. This should be extended in the future to 4-year state colleges and universities.

In this time of social upheaval and momentum for improvement, let’s look to the equalizing power of our great public institutions as agents for societal change.