Artful Land Care

Archive for 2019|Yearly archive page

To Be Better Than We Are

In Landscape, Reflections, Theology on September 29, 2019 at 12:32 pm

“It is not from ourselves that we will learn to be better than we are.”
Wendell Berry

The canyon was tuff.  Sometime ago, long before my memory or that of my parents, a volcano erupted and spread ash across this New Mexican landscape.  When the hottest of ash returns to land it welds itself to one another and creates welded tuff rock.  Over time, the not so hot ash slowly compacts itself into consolidated tuff rock.

We walked the sand wash upstream to the mouth of the canyon.  Unlike the wide open sage canyons of our youth, this canyon is no more than forty or fifty feet wide at the mouth.  Unremarkable, Belinda and I walk past the mouth’s vegetative slopes.

A good stone’s throw up canyon it narrowed.  The slopes lost their laid-back lean in favor of a more vertical nature.  Favoring terminology of wall rather than slope the canyon walls narrowed as we walked.  When the wash was little more than two or three feet wide and the walls closed in overhead, the canyon had lost any feel of what I think of as canyon.  But then that feeling was of another land culture.  The people of this landscape, though, add a descriptor to this canyon ground: slot.  Slot canyon fits well for the walls become so steep, so vertical, few plants find even the smallest of a perch to settle upon and live.  And should a seed make its way to some mid-wall ledge, the chance of enough rain finding its way between the walls to afford the seed a chance toward bringing for the life within is small.

The canyon walls of ancient tuff are of consolidation type rather than weld.  It’s nature is similar to that of the sandstone outcroppings found in my youthful canyons.  Like that sandstone, the toughness of this tuff rock is that which can be whittled away by rubbing a good stick against it.

The wash swings to the right and as we come around the canyon widens, for a moment.  Off center the wash stands a fir tree.  Maybe sixty or seventy feet tall.  It had somehow been birthed in this canyon; somehow had tenaciously held its ground in its youth; somehow had thrown deep and meaningful roots into the tuff to become what was before us.  A feat of life?  A natural life?  Or little more than the nature of sacred existing between tree and tuff and the water who made this canyon—who evaporated and returned another day to nourish the seedling in times past.

In those past times rains collected on upstream slick rock.  Rushing downstream, the water, with a tenacity only water knows, encouraged tuff to loosen, break from its rock brethren, and settle in the wash bed who now mimics our boot soles. The tree who grabbed hold of this landscape, made it hers, grown and lived and birthed untold cones who were washed downstream to make their own attempt at creating tree-life, now stood tall with roots exposed where one with hardly a slouch could walk beneath and know something of care, grandeur, and the sacred.

To sit in this place is to sit within sacrament.  The blue sky eases its way into the canyon, blessing the tree, the walls, and the tuff sand wash.  The tuff walls accept the lightest of sounds as its own; hallowing a silence where the gift of breath itself is revered.  To sit still, moment upon moment, is to allow the place to become something of what it would be without our intrusion.

A lizard moves in stop and run spurts clinging to the canyon wall.  A small stone, no larger than a piece of sand dislodges and falls to the wash floor.  A bird arrives and settles into the tree.  Soundless at first it moves from branch to branch.  Then stops.  Chirps. The sound is sharp and clear. But the walls allow no feedback.  However, the sound moves down slot.  For moments later multiple chirps arrive from below.  Chirps are given up and down canyon, the place settles, knows their voices, and their hymn consecrates place.


In Poetry on May 19, 2019 at 10:00 am

Should reincarnation include animals,
then I hope for the duck.
What life is so wonderful,
as one who can swim,
fly, and walk.


In Landscape on April 28, 2019 at 10:00 am

When the sun warms and turns to April there is little reason to travel far from home.  Yet spring is the time of year when church, business, and non-profit meetings come out of the woodwork.  Created within each of us, I imagine, is a springgene of sorts kicking in an emotional calling to engage in spiritual search.  Sometimes with others.  Sometimes alone.  After winter’s indoor confinement and outdoors heavy coat and boots and pants and gloves, the light jacket of spring pulls upon an ancient inclination to watch newborn grass break ground, rabbits browsing upon breaking leaves of greasewood, or a hawk catching an updraft.  However, much life has shifted from the body’s seasonal nature; too often we are left with little more than meetings and conferences to fill our post-winter emotional and spiritual needs.

Luck has it my away from home April meetings were canceled.  Allowing springs call to give an ear to wind and an eye to landscape.  Such good fortune should not be wasted but known for the joy to use winter’s learned skills of living quietly and slowly.  In this season of rapid change, a bit of gentle listening and watching may just bring one close as Creation crafts birth, remembrance, and reconciliation. Yesterday’s mundane of cold and motionless explodes in this season—minutes, hours, days—to movement and action.  To miss a spring moment is to miss a multitude of unknowns.  The thought has me turn my collar up against a light but chilly breeze, leave the farm behind, and walk toward the ridge.

The drainage ditch is flowing unhurriedly as I reach it.  A hen mallard slips from the reeds and ten hatchlings furiously paddle behind her. She stops paddling, the current carries her down through the brood to the last hatchling, she groups them up and moves them further upstream away from me.  A good move, the ridge is downstream.  I turn and walk away from them.

To the east a farm still has three-foot cornstalk in the field from Novembers harvest.  Folk have turned cow-calf pairs into the field who now feed on  the dry cornstalk.  Grasses will soon have the height and sugars to become this season’s feed.  Maybe the stalk will be enough, without buying more feed, to get the cattle to grass.  The farmer to the west has stored feed remaining and is busy discing last fall’s cornstalk into the dirt.  With a steady sound of a tractor behind me I reach the old wood-plank bridge that crosses a branch of Toppenish creek.

The creek is high, but its movement even less visible than that of the ditch.  Cresting its banks sometime in the last few days, the creek tells the flood plain of warmer weather upstream.  The road on the other side of the bridge has water flowing over it for the next thirty feet or better.  Crossing to dry road means getting wet.  Just how wet depends if water comes over my boot tops.  I take the chance and hope for no more than two or three inches of water.  A couple steps and I know luck isn’t mine today as boots fill with water who remembers itself as melting snow forty miles upstream.  Fine then.  I’ll count on a decent circulatory system and feet warming boot water.  Soon.  At water’s edge I leave the dirt road and walk downstream.  Finding a piece of ground twenty feet from a small eddy I sit down. Grasses rise above my head. Read the rest of this entry »

Ditch Bank

In Landscape, Seasons on March 21, 2019 at 7:02 am


My experience of spring seldom has much to do with the vernal equinox.  Most years the landscape has warmed to spring well ahead of the equinox.  Others afterwards.  Seldom does the feel of landscape match the relationship between sun and earth.  Not so this year.

The snow melt-off has begun.  Spring grass may be long off but sinew of arms and legs feel the green lying in the ground.  I give thought to folk still residing in the clutches of sub-zero weather and snow, but it slips away as fast as I slip on ice hiding below the melting slush.  Unstable footing is life for the next few weeks as slush turns to the ground below to miserably cold mud.  Mud that clutches boot just long enough for either the foot to slip out or the body to lose balance.  Either way, mud becomes intimate sooner or later.  No reason to complain though.  Just a few days ago it seemed winter had a good mind to hang on through spring’s season—leave spring out in the cold—and meet summer for the first time.  Sun had a different opinion and I am happier for it.

East-west ditch banks know this lingering transition of winter and spring better than anyone. The sun and earths relation may be in equinox, but ditch banks in this landscape know the sun’s mid-day run lingers to the southern horizon.  The north ditch bank who faces the sun knows it well and welcomes its heat.  Soon a sliver of ground breaks through the snow. As that bit of dirt warms the sliver spreads and soon the north ditch bank is clear.  The southern bank who faces north tells a very different story. Sunlight leans over its back on its way to the northern bank without so much as a hello.  Lying in its own shadow the southern bank looks to the north with an icy stare.

A natural truth resides in the east and west ditch bank relationship.  They are sister and brother of their home ditch.  They are birthed of one dirt.  They have the same spring water running past their shoulders. Yet in this season they are treated differently.  They experience two different worlds.  Associated life is similar.  North bank worms know warming spring ground while southern worms continue to live in winters grasp.

A thing or two from east-west ditch banks.  We are birthed of one landscape, one valley, one continent, one earth, one creation.  We carry the same imagination, same inhibitions, same fears, same sanctity.  Contrary to what many of us would like to think, nothing sets one human apart from another, except the ditch-bank.  In our raising we find ourselves on two sides of one ridgeline, two sides of one track, different sides of one city, experiencing sun and shade, wet and dry and wet, hope and despair similarly but differently.  Little wonder our culture is different from our kin’s just across the way.

Ditch banks may be no more than dirt, but on this spring day they help us recognize folk who think and act differently than ourselves as kin. For after all, each of us are little more than walking dirt of the ditch-bank.