Monday, May 31, 2010

Red-Winged Blackbirds and Cattails

On May 14, I attended the Environmental Writing workshop sponsored by the Burke Museum.

I especially enjoyed the workshop taught by Lynda Mapes who writes a column called Natural Wonders for the Seattle Times. She taught us the techniques she uses to prepare for writing these articles, which she calls immersion reporting.

She begins with research, including looking at old maps, current maps and books on the subject. When observing the subject, she suggested: 1) show up and be quiet and be present for at least three minutes 2) take notes and 3) background the subject: look at everything that is happening around it. Then she organizes her notes, outlines her article and walks away from it (usually overnight) before revising for the final publication, which includes fact checking and sentence polishing.

Then she sent us out into reclaimed area south of the Center for Urban Horticulture, which was once a gathering place for local tribes, then a dump for the City of Seattle, and currently a recovering wetlands known as Union Bay.

I was particulary struck by the cattails which lined the ponds and took copious notes about them. The seedheads reminded me of cotton candy, and when I touched them, they felt like spider webs, sticky and capable of being teased apart only with difficulty.

I was also struck by these striking birds with red bars on their wings swooping all over the marshlands. I had only seen a red-winged blackbird once before, in Wisconsin, and had no idea they lived in Seattle. It turns out they love marshland and build their nests, partly with the cotton fluff from the cattails, near the water.

Thanks to Doug Plummer for permission to use his photograph which is one of many beautiful photos featured on his web site in his daily photos.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

This Unique Day

The habit of ignoring our present moments in favor of others yet to come leads directly to a pervasive lack of awareness of the web of life in which we are embedded.
Jon Kabat-Zinn,
Wherever You Go, There You Are

For the past month I've adopted a new practice of writing down at least one unique moment in every day. I already keep track of my appointments in my calendar, and my accomplishments in my journal. And I record phenological events, year after year, by noting events, like the linden trees that are just beginning to blossom, in a Book of Days.

But I was looking for something different to record in my the weekly planner, Leaves from the Tree of Time, that I created for 2010 and so I decided to start recording unique moments, those moments in each day, never before experienced and not likely to be experienced again.

I'm enjoying the fruits of this practice. It helps me notice what is going on around me in an entirely different way. I know poets who write a haiku every day and photographers who take a photo every day (I love Doug Plummer's daily photos). And I also benefit as a writer from the time spent choosing just the right few words to capture these images as if they were snapshots.

Here are some of my favorites:
April 6: A guy walks into Online Coffee and announces that Jesus blesses all of us
April 7: Pepe (the Chihuahua) licks a cherry blossom fallen in the parkway
May 1: I startle a crow, so close I can feel the wind from his feathers
May 2: A bald guy reading by flashlight behind three umbrellas in the doorway of the shoe shop

My recent trip to the beach was full of unique moments. Here are a few:
May 8: A black swan flies over my car on the Astoria Bridge, going south
May 8: Steam rising from the asphalt, sunshine on rain-soaked pavement, Route 26 between Astoria and Portland
May 8: After the rain shower, a coyote in the bushes shakes water off its fur like a dog, Route 26 between Portland and Astoria
May 8: Crossing the Astoria bridge north, it looks like I am driving into the sky
May 9: Floating on my back in the swimming pool, overhead white clouds float by in a blue sky, four birds fly by, high as the clouds and going the same direction

The photograph is one I took in the pool at the place where I was staying on Long Beach. I have been taking a class on photography called Eyes of the Heart with Christine Valters Paintner of Abbey of the Arts and it is changing the way I see things, a topic for another day.