I sit by a backyard campfire. I look around me. In front of me is a pile of sunflower stalks I cut from the prairie garden and piled there to be slowly burned over the winter. Just last month these stalks were full of life, yellow blooms with nectar feeding bees and butterflies. Yet now they lie dead and brown having completed their role for the season. The birds and squirrels have already eaten much of the seed they produced but some seed now lies on the ground waiting to germinate in the Spring and continue the cycle of life. I am prompted to reflect on my own life up to now, what role I have played, the choices made, to look back at my own path of life.
I made a stop in a wooded wild this morning and contemplated among Fall’s dying leaves. I came to this: This place is intimately, intricately, intertwined with life and death. As am I. How glad I am I made this stop.
Sunday afternoon I sat in the backyard listing in my mind the wild plants in our yard (some that were here and many I have seeded) of which the seed or fruit is used by birds for food. I was pleasantly surprised by the inventory: Lambsquarter, Giant Ragweed, Prairie Coneflower, Gray-headed Coneflower, Boneset, Goldenrod, Aster, Sunflower (6 species), Rosinweed, Blue Sage, Compassplant, Black-eyed Susan, Pokeweed, Poison Ivy, Red Cedar, Mulberry, Hackberry, Nightshade, Partridge Pea, Wild Strawberry, Chickweed, Pigweed, Dayflower, Dandelion, Pokeweed, Purple Coneflower, Milkweed, Wild Ryegrass, Indiangrass, Big and Little Bluestem, Switchgrass, Purpletop and Sidoats. First line in the forward to Aldo Leopold’s book A Sand County Almanac comes to mind: “There are some who can live without wild things, and some who cannot.” I cannot.
Fall deepens. Turn back the clocks tonight. The temperature this morning was 27. One week ago it was a record high of 88, today it will only get to 48. I am sitting by a backyard campfire. The tomato plants near me, which were fresh and green yesterday, are dead, the leaves drooping toward the ground. The ski poles which have served as tomato stakes all summer can now be removed with hopes of using them for what they were made for next month. All summer I have looked forward to a Fall day that would allow me to sit here by a fire, even at mid-day. It is noon right now. I feel the bright sun on my back, yet the air is cool. It is about 40. It is a pleasantry to sit by the fire and write. Sitting by a fire is an ancient and still common human activity, well, common in low income communities. And low income communities are still common. Yet, I suppose my kind of fire sitting is of a wealthy sort. I have the luxury of burning wood without using it to cook or heat. It is an entertainment for me. I have a ready supply of wood to burn from broken branches in my yard, without having to walk far distances to acquire it. I sit by the fire for leisurely pleasure, not for productive necessity as would be the case, for example, in a rural African village. For me, it is a luxury, there it is a need. I like to tell myself it is healthy for me mentally, emotionally, spiritually to sit here. But that is me trying to find a productive reason to do it. Really, I sit here just because I like to. So I am glad I get to. It is something I do not have to do, it is something I get to do. It is like being alive. I do not have to be alive, but I am glad I get to be. I am lucky I get to live in a place where I get to sit by a fire in my backyard.
One thing I do not want to do here by the fire is think. That is my aim whenever I am in a wild, to not think. By that I mean dwell on matters involving making decisions or problems to solve. I try to just observe and listen. Reflection is okay and unavoidable really. That is where the writing comes from. Not thinking is a discipline to be learned. One learns to shut off thinking upon entering a wild. It takes practice, but with practice, before long, it becomes automatic and welcome. It is in those times, I am most aware and in touch with the feeling of being alive. Perhaps, that is why I like it, that is why I do it, why it never gets old, is never boring, because it is always so full of the life in me and in all the wild around me.
Walked in the woods today. Saw a surprise butterfly, even after 27 degrees night before last. I saw fruits of a Wahoo tree and Ground Cherry, stood under a very big Cottonwood tree, listened to the crunch of colorful dead leaves under my feet as I walked, and got to sit and write on the bench that made itself by falling out of a tree and landing alongside the path. These words came:
I sit in a wild
life all around me and sound.
I tumble into a timeless calling
like a leaf falling
end over end
past where my time would bend
like the tree that bends over the path,
as I fall into a kind of timeless math.
This wild it seems is a place void of the pace
that dictates my every day,
in here, in this wild,
it has somehow slipped away
and I continue falling into a timeless calling
feeling that what is here, in this wild,
in the leaf, in the ground, in the air, in the birds, in the tree,
is more than I can see, is more than me,
yet, is within me.