Green Frog

This morning a storm rolled through starting at about 5:30 a.m. The power went out at about 6 a.m. When the storm finally passed, dawn had broken. I went out and looked at the rain gauge. The water was still sheet washing over the drive and down at the bottom and where Persimmon creek runs over the road, everything was backed up. Water was going over the road. It comes down quick on Persimmon creek because it’s just bean and corn in the small watershed above. There is no sponge to soak things up when it comes down fast. The gauge said almost 3 and 1/2 inches (89 mm) in less than a hour.

With our tax return money I’d bought a generator but never used it yet. Most of the time, I have to be forced to do things I’ve never done. And I’ve never used a generator before so, after four or so hours without electricity, I finally un-boxed the thing and sat down with the directions. As usual, once I got it running it seemed not to be such a daunting task. The thing fired up nice and easy and hummed there on the porch and I plugged in the chest freezer and then the fridge.  We ran the generator a few hours and cleaned the house then gave it a rest when the baby was going to go down for a nap.

I went out when the wife was laying down with the baby, nursing. I walked under the oaks and out into the orchard toward the dam. I’d been out earlier in the morning to clear the beaver work and get water going out the culvert again. When I’d been out earlier the beaver had been there. He was trying to stay on top of things with the early morning rain. Usually he is only on the night shift. My son was with me and the beaver smacked at us on the water with his tail.

It was past mid-day now when I was going back out to make sure it was flowing good. And as I approached it looked like the beaver had been back out there, working on things a little after I’d left. Or else the sticks had been pushed by the water into a particularly beaver-like placement. I was trying to decide which it was when I about stepped on a northern water snake (Nerodia sipedon). He was sitting in the middle of my two spoil piles where I take beaver sticks and mud and pull them from around the culvert and pile them up on either side, depending on if I’m working with my right or left hand. I was able to get a decent look at the water snake when he stopped for a second once he’d gotten out from under my foot and before going under the water. He wasn’t too long and had a nice reddish color with bright pattern.

I wish water snakes were more fond of people. I used to look at them a lot when I was a kid and in the creek. They seemed to be a little less wary there. And I used to see a lot of them. Here on the farm I don’t see them so often and never for very long.

Just when I got busy clearing out the channel that the water runs down, through the cattle panel and to the wire cage that we have over the culvert, a medium-sized green frog (Lithobates clamitans) jumprf from near my feet toward the water. I grabbed it. It jumped out of my hand and I caught it in the air. Again, it jumped out of my hand and I caught it in the air. I laughed and put it in my pocket. Then I finished clearing the grates till the water was flowing good.

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When I was done, I took the frog out of my pocket. I always think of Arliss (from the Disney movie) from Old Yeller when I do such things. Indeed, the character in that movie is still an idol of mine. I took my green frog out of my pocket and looked at him as I walked across the dam. I’m going to say him, but I’m not sure what the sex was. Poor thing, he had a bunch of lint on him. So I took a step or two out on the dock and dipped him in the water then looked at him shining wet in the sun. He was a good thing to look at up close. So I decided I’d look at him as long as he would let me.

I laid down on the boards of the dock and rested on my elbows and forearms with my hands still cupped around the frog. Then I opened up my hands and looked at him. And the sun was shining down pretty strong on the back of my legs and the frog was in the shadow of my hat. I’ve got one of those $5 straw hats with the green, accountant visors on the front so if I moved my head too much the frog would be in the green reflected light. And there he was this frog. He was about the size of a black walnut with the hull and everything. And he sat there, free to jump away, in my slightly cupped hands.

I watched his heart beat. I watched his throat pulse under his mouth. I watched his skin dry and his nostrils open. I don’t know if those are even called nostrils but they’re tiny dots of openings at the tip of his nose. I’m under the impression that frogs breath through their skin. I watched as he seemed to change to a speckled golden color on his back. I looked at how he had his feet this way and that and wondered if he was ready to jump. Mainly though, I looked at his eyes.

His pupils were dilated and his heart was beating pretty fast. Poor thing, I hope I didn’t scare him too much. I don’t know much about what it is like to be a frog but being in somebody’s pocket that you don’t know can’t be much fun if you don’t want to be there. But he was effectively free now. And he sat there looking at me, wide-eyed. His pupils were black and ringed with gold. Where my eyes are like a hazel-blue, his were golden and black but mostly golden, beautiful golden. I don’t know how long I’d been holding him, but I think he’d calmed down and his heart was beating slower and his pupils were less dilated, when he was suddenly startled at something. His body tensed up and his eyes got really wide. I don’t know if it was a big dragon fly that was flying by or what, but he calmed down quick after that.

His body was in a new position on my hand. I hadn’t moved but his neck and chest were somehow on pressed against my hand so that I could feel his heart beating. I wondered if he’d done that on purpose. We stayed there for a long time. I was very interested in looking into his eyes. And he was seemingly equally, or perhaps more-so interested in looking into mine. But I got the feeling he wasn’t just looking in my eyes but looking at everything else as well. I tried to just focus on his eyes. I was very interested in seeing them. I was very interested in seeing any changes. And I wanted to be looking closely when he moved or jumped away. I was successful in watching his skin change color again, like a chameleon or a marlin, and become flecked gold. I don’t think it was the sun’s light doing this on his back. I think he was in control of it.

And I looked and looked at his eyes as much as a man can look at something, I looked in that frog’s eyes. The geese came down to the water to drink across the pond and I looked up at them. Then back at the frog’s eyes. A fish snatched some insect off the water-shield plants and I looked up to see the ripples where it’d happened. Then I focused back to the frog’s eyes. I thought a little bit while I was thus consumed. I didn’t think too much but I did think. I wasn’t trying to be interested in the frog’s eyes, because I was interested in the frog’s eyes. But still I thought about other things, the sun, the geese, the fish, the dragonflies. I don’t know that I was trying to do anything. I sure wasn’t trying to think anything. I guess I was just trying to be with the frog.

Here he was, this frog of mine. He’d tried to jump away from me two or three times and now he was just sitting on my hand breathing calmly, looking at me, being with me. I guess, if I was trying to do anything it was trying to be with him just like he was being with me. And he was so good at it. I did realize how bad I was at it. I did realize what a burden this mind is to try and do such things. But it was a blessing to be with him like that. I don’t know how long it lasted. Maybe it was 15 minutes. Maybe it was a half hour. I don’t think it was an hour.

It was very similar to what had happened with the praying mantis but with the praying mantis everything happened quicker. Just like with the frog, I’d picked up the mantis and he’d jumped out and I’d caught him in the air and that happened twice, just like with the frog. Then I’d taken my straw hat off and put him int it and pressed the hat to my chest and walked to the house to show my son. And when we were standing in the back yard, I took down my hat and let the mantis crawl on my thumb and hand. And I held him up pretty close to my face to look at him. And the mantis was more amazing to look at because he moved his head so much. And the way they move their head, I don’t know, there is something about it. And the mantis had eyes that were like holes in space, like they were see-through. And I wanted to look at him for a long time. But It was just a brief moment with the mantis.

With the green frog, that moment was sustained. And it struck me that being with the frog was a lot like meditation. And I understand that people who meditate have a hard time letting their thoughts come and go without grasping at them and following them. And it was the same for me, with the geese and the fish, and I was returning to my frog, just like some people return to their breath in meditation. And do you know what meditation is? Meditation is a technique to stop believing in your thoughts and know you are God. And, I don’t know that I will go into it too much here. This is better fodder for Eumaeus Pointing at the Moon. But I should say that this could be the only practice. This could be the only religion. A frog or a mantis is the only thing that you need to know the truth.

Then the green frog took a step up toward my thumb and later another step up till he was perched there. And after another long time of being perched like that with a straight shot to the water, he jumped down onto the dock next to my hands and then down the dock toward land a few hops. It was then that I got worried for him in case there were some patrolling bass or a big blue gill that might be able to swallow him. So I asked him if he’d mind if I picked him up and started to do so. And when I had him in my hand he jumped off and this time I didn’t catch him but he swam off chirping to shore.

I walked back through the orchard, along the row of hazelnuts, under the ripening plums, under the oaks, into the yard and onto the porch. I opened the door and my wife was strangely gesticulating with a paint brush in her hand. The baby was asleep and she was trying to be quiet. And she was pointing this way and that in an odd and happy manner. She was gesturing wordlessly at the the electronic devices in the house. The power was back. The whir of normalcy returned. I plugged the fridge and the freezer back into the wall. The baby woke up. We turned on the air conditioning in the room where we have air conditioning.

 

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I feel like I’ve got much to say. I’d take you on a garden and orchard walk. I’d even walk you down around the wetland. We’d have discussion on which is truly the champion Joe-pye weed (Eutrochium purpureum) on the farm. Is it that one at the edge of the wetland or the one in the plum orchard?

A mink hissed at us tonight, first time for that.

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I’ve been wanting to lay out the whole idea of where we’re at with this farming enterprise. And it doesn’t help that things are always changing. And that I’ve got levels of faith and fear and trust and love that fluctuate like the wind blows, or the rain rains, or the mercury. Which is to say, you never know. But there is some kind of assurance that’s developed. I don’t know if I can put it into words.

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In all we’ve been doing all right, I guess. I can’t complain. I’m in a better spot than when I started this thing about a year ago. Lot has happened since then. Heck, we got out of the bird business and now we’re back in it. Ya gotta love those first rooster crows on a farm where you haven’t heard them for almost a year. But here we are again and the elderberries are bending down in fruit.

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We’ve been trying to think of a farm name for over 5 years now. For a long time it was going to be “Grassy Path” and yeah, that’s all right, I guess. All flesh is grass, yadda yadda. And you walk down the grassy path to pick your apples and whatnot. And no, I don’t smoke weed. That farm name worked almost for the longest.

To name a farm is a pretty hard decision, right? But then it doesn’t really matter, does it? So anyway, I think we got one that we’re going to go with and we’re going to join the local, ‘food movement’ farmer group since we’ll have a name. And I think I’m going to start a legit farm blog. I’m getting pretty good at starting these blogs, you know? So that’ll be the beginning of really making a go of it.

Maybe we’ll sell some beef next year. Maybe we’ll sell some walnuts. I don’t know what else we would sell. We can hardly feed ourselves for goodness sake. But it’ll be good to have a website set up and maybe do some by-appointment sales to like minded folks. It’ll be good to get the word out, I think.

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For now, we’re still just raising kids on this farm. And lord knows, when the mortgage is paid off what we’re going to do. My current dream is to get a half-way decent truck with maybe one of those slide-on campers, and a good but small, fully-enclosed trailer and put a small but decent motorcycle in there and all the camping gear and pemmican and what-not you could imagine and just be ready to go anywhere, shoot some elk somewhere, take a look at Abbey country, maybe go bother those fine folks in Vermont and New Hampshire or make pilgrimage to Walden pond. Shit, maybe we’d drive to Alaska.

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Wish I had time to write more. On all my blogs, I wish I did. Oh, and there was a that story I promised about the ‘moment’ that I had with a praying mantis. Yes, I’ll get to that too. That is the trouble with intention. It tends to spoil things, like peeling petals. Anyway, I have faith. It’s gonna be all right. Some way or other, it’s gonna be all right. Keep the faith yourself. Chin up. March on in your dirty overhalls.

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What you discover depends on how closely you look. Say that again and again. Truth deserves repetition. You need to see it for yourself. You need to see it in places that you don’t expect to see it. What you discover depends on how closely you look.

I’ve seen a young spring peeper resting on my cuticle, glittering in golden sunshine. I’ve seen an eight-spotted forester moth in flashing flight like a strobe light. But you have to be out there to see it. You have to have eyes to see. She who has ears let her hear. He who has eyes let him read these words. What you discover depends on how closely you look.

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Why do I answer the Northern Bobwhite quail when he calls? He is not calling for me. I’m not trying to confuse him. I’m not vying with him for the attentions of his lover. But he calls and I answer. And it is sometimes automatic and without thinking that I answer him whistling. He is not seeking my recognition but I am giving it. Is it just because I can that I do it?

While the children roam the gardens clutching carrot and fennel, currant and sorrel and listen to Leadbelly sing loud the Bourgeois Blues on hot summer nights, while Phoebe wags her tail and Pallas Athena hides herself in rags I will write poetry when I can.

Heaven help us all, I hope you do too.

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“For there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” – Hamlet

Eumaeus is no hero. I try to content myself in service. I offer the prayer, “Help us to become masters of ourselves, that we might be the servants of others. Take our minds and think through them. Take our lips and speak through them. And take our hearts and set them on fire.

There may come a time when I can be of service with garden growing tips, phenological reminders and novel methods for sustainable living on a shoestring. Until then, read The Walden Effect.

There may come a time when I can post consistently and without fail on all the topics that I’m interested in from environmentalism to the price of a dozen eggs. Until then, read Practicing Resurrection.

There may come a time when I can manage all our gardens and livestock to feed ourselves and those in our community, when our milk cow is fat and our herd is moved daily to fresh grass. Until then, read Throwback at Trapper Creek.

There may come a time when each word that I write is pure and in practiced patience crafted to perfection. Until then, read life of the hand – life of the mind.

Eumaeus was not born but sprung fully-armed from a forehead.

Thus, there may come a time when I can give voice to your dreams and take your muddied thoughts, wipe them clean in the grass, wash them in a mountain pool and set them somewhere high enough in firmament that they’ll be visible like some rural-life beacon. Until then, read Ben Hewitt.

I offer my support to these and others still blazing that small farm trail of Jefferson’s dream. My version is the one where we rest under vine and fig while cutting the Bible into strips in search of Truth.

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I paddled out to where the waters come in. I don’t know if a canoe has a stern but my son rode in the front, paddle-less. And we stopped at an old hickory snag still standing in six feet of water. My son stood in the boat, maintaining his center of gravity, and looked down into the holy nest of a tree swallow.

I took my wife out there to visit the nest again the next day. She rode in the front with our youngest, while my 8-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter kicked slowly across the pond in life-vests. My wife stood too, less gracefully and with some trepidation because she can’t swim, and took pictures down the hole. Mother and father swallow circled overhead. So we moved off a few feet. And they came and visited the nest while we watched.

It is a quiet and wild place there in the back of the pond, where the water comes in from the northwest, ‘beaver creek’. When we glide out there, if we are quiet, we are unusual and non-threatening. And things carry on as if we weren’t there. The muskrats swim circles and bark little barks. Did I tell you about the muskrats barking? I don’t tell much anymore so it is hard for me to remember. But it is good. It is good to have places and times where the rituals of fear are forgotten. In the quiet then, the familiar forms of Man are ignored and at least for a moment you can glimpse the world through other eyes.

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Farm poetry is thus:
Bird netting works on goumi
Wife finishes building the coop
I bought a Savage thirty ought six
Late honey-berries are fatter and taste better than early ones
Tender hearts of garlic scapes cooked with asparagus need no verb to make complete
It is a poetry better lived than written, I’ll warrant you.

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The other day there was an article in the local newspaper. It seems they are selling a type of plastic storm shelter at a business in the community. Someone had purchased one. You sink these plastic storm shelters in the ground. And it was implied that they are good for people who have mobile homes. And someone was interviewed in the story saying that it was a worry when storms would come and tornadoes threatened because there are so many trees. And that person interviewed described how they would sit in their mobile home and resolve, something like ‘if it is my time, then it is my time’.

But now they have bought a plastic storm shelter. And now they will go down in the hole without resolution. And I was reminded of that Bob Dylan song ‘Let me die in my footsteps.’ For it seems that most things remind me of a Bob Dylan song.

And, you know there is nothing wrong with buying a plastic storm shelter, burying it in the ground and taking shelter there in a storm. And there is nothing wrong with staying above ground and making your peace with life. And there is nothing wrong with the philosophy of ‘staying home‘ that we talk about and love. And there is nothing wrong with going “out in your country, where the land meets the sun,” and seeing “the craters and the canyons and where the waterfalls run.” Abbey’s country.

That’s the difficult thing about all this stuff. Nobody’s right and nobody’s wrong. I guess that’s the real reason why I haven’t been writing much lately. It is learning to dance without holding your partners so tightly that I’m trying to master. There may come a time, when right, wrong, fear, ambition and the others dance with me beautifully and no stepping on toes. There will be no leader but we will follow the music. In time, we will follow the music. Until then, wait for me.

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“This is the very coinage of your brain.” – Gertrude (Hamlet’s mother)

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Catalpa speciosa, sing her praises
Now is her season to reign
Rain white blooms down
Remember her fondly again

It is best that we are remembered in our season
When our love has bright tracks
Pointing the way inside
And even the bumblers share in adoration
And are anointed
Marked kings in passing

Kings of June’s first kiss
Flying onward
Spreading the message of love
Catalpa speciosa, remember her this way
When she rains down blossoms
And you walk on flowers
Remember her this way

 

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It has been a while.

My head has cleared a little and my brain has healed enough for me to exercise some. Only occasionally will I feel dizzy. I can’t hear well with my left ear but  that could be from when Chimba caught me with a right-hook sparring, back when I used to box in Ulaanbaatar.

The brain is one thing and the mind another. I can heal my mind with the wheelbarrow now. Load by load, mind is repaired. A tri-axle dump truck of mulch is the best of therapists.

Meditation is a loaded word but I am not afraid. Walking across the orchard, balancing mulch and mindful of the uneven ground, that’s wheelbarrow meditation. There is no need to dwell on anything. The wheel makes tracks in the grass from the furthest chestnut and to the closest peach. Sometimes I dodge the crawdad chimneys. Sometimes I kick them down.

American toads trilled for the first time this spring as I went out with the twenty gauge. I was wearing a fleece over my red flannel robe with box of slugs in the pocket. I’m not trying to hurt the beavers. I’m trying to kill them.

The moon is getting bright, waxing toward blood. It shines on the water when there aren’t any clouds. Sometimes I sit in a plastic chair on the edge of the spillway. On the orchard side and under a cattle panel arbor, I lean my head against the gate-post and rest the barrel on the cedar gate. My eyes focus on nothing. The slightest silver wake shines silently led by a black beaver head. It takes a while to convince yourself that you’re not seeing things. I take a shot but I usually miss by a wide mark. The slug splashes in the water and he dives quick and comes up a little ways off and gives three pounding, angry splashes with his tail.

Once, I hit him with buckshot and he slowly dove underwater and took the next few days off. Now I only use slugs.

The dogs have had better luck killing beaver than I have. Our orange dog got pretty torn up and he’s still licking some deep wounds that we guess came from beaver. Around the time we discovered the wounds, we found a dead beaver drug to the top of the hill by the barn. When I saw it our white dog had already eaten the tail. We celebrated a small beaver battle victory.

These battles with nature are all in our minds and eventually we lose every one of them. Sometimes fighting to preserve the illusion keeps us sane. A strange kind of sanity, like beautiful, bound Chinese feet.

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Yellow-breasted warbler and Northern parula, just in from South America provide the soundtrack to all this ephemeral flower business. I’d been confusing sharp-lobed hepatica (Anemone hepatica) with spring beauty, I think, but you focus on the foliage and it is clear. I’ll have to go back and look for the seedpods of twinleaf (Jeffersonia diphylla) to collect. They make little animal mouths that can be painted to added effect.

So far, it is the year of blood-root (Sanguinaria canadensis) but I saw my first snow trilliums (Trillium nivale). False rue anemone (enemion biternatum) is colonial and almost always has five petals. ‘True’ rue anemone (Thalictrum thalictroides) is found solitary and with usually more than five petals. Remember putty root orchid (Aplectrum hyemale) flowers in the first weeks of June and remember too, the naked flower of wild leek (ramps), round the first of August.

Naming these things in the woods gives them power. It gives them wholly justified power. The deeper I dig in this business the more powerful they become. When the clump of grass-like growth in the upland forest becomes Pennsylvania sedge and the red-tailed hawk soaring over head is ignored for attention to the song of spring migrants, fresh from the Andes, then you know you are in deep. And you measure your life by the ephemeral blooms that you have in your future. “If I’m lucky,  I’ll see the blood-root bloom like this twenty more times”, they say. I love to hear people talk like that. “Go learn the sedges” they tell me. And I just might.

Amazing powers of these plants seem to have stopped the damming of a river in our Indiana. Who knew a fen and some dragonflies could overthrow the hopes and dreams of the pleasure-cruising class? Who knows but some sedges might over power dreams of lake-front property development. But learn their names and you’ll see.

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I think out loud. Very little is sacred to me. Or everything is sacred. But I could drop it all on a dime. Or I could sacrifice my life for it. Mainly, I am just a reflection seeking things to reflect. I’m a mirror looking for identity in the flat images that show on me.

Adyashanti talks about how walking on the ground can restore balance and move energy where it needs to be moved. Bare-feet are the prescription. The earth works the pressure points in your feet. And I think about the voles and moles being massaged as they push swimmingly through the topsoil.

It’s more rodents than I know what to do with.

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