my dkhometree blog

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dkhometree-bookshelf-header-770pxSense of online self

I call it dkhometree because I’m D.K. (Dennis Koenig) and this is my home tree on the web, from which you can browse the rest of my webwoods.  It’s a personal blog with no mission; just a place to share some things with friends, wanna-be friends, and curious followers.

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Oak Tree Trilogy Part 3 – Buddy’s Oak and Dad’s Question

A Balsamean of the bug tribe

A Balsamean of the bug tribe

Trees get so much attention in this drifting journal, The Balsamean, because they are easier to write about than people are, and trees often make better friends than most people do, and the tree fairies would sprout leaves green with envy in the middle of winter if I gave as much time to humanity as to them.

This is another long post, about 3,000 words, but it has lots of pictures, one of my favorite poems (a famous classic), and a piece of original art by The Balsamean.

It took a year to write this.  It’s not that I took a year to start it.  I worked on it dozens of times beginning last September.  The earlier versions were close to 6,000 words, and told too many stories that deserve articles of their own.

If not for too many long sentences, this would be an easy read.  But my readers are sharp.  And it’s especially readable if you just take a seat, slow down and act like the world moves at the speed it should, not the one it does.

Don’t read it in a hurry.  It took a year to get here.
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Good Again and Again

Human minds cling to negatives more than positives.  This helps us prepare for the next time a negative comes around, and lets us experience a positive anew again, unprepared for the pleasure.

Every year I marvel as in childhood, uplifted a little out of myself, as if it were my first time walking in the woods at night during the first accumulating snow of the season.

A Meditation on the Company of Trees, Aided by Forest Nymphs

During a slow sylvan saunter, if I stand still more than move, in bodily senses and in palpable transcendent essences I find reminders that nature made me to thrive among immortal woodland spirits, in refuge from the illusory blessings of merely mortal society.  I cannot exceed the company of trees, nor regret deep solitude among them.

Each phase of nature, while not invisible, is yet not too distinct and obtrusive. It is there to be found when we look for it, but not demanding our attention. It is like a silent but sympathizing companion in whose company we retain most of the advantages of solitude … — Henry David Thoreau, Journal, November 8, 1858

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To Build a Fire

When in doubt, have a campfire.  It has straightened my bent condition many times.

Balsamea Campfire 200512

Yours truly tending a winter campfire at Balsamea in 2005

My favorite passage from the 1908 short story, To Build a Fire by Jack London (1876-1916):

“Working carefully from a small beginning, he soon had a roaring fire, over which he thawed the ice from his face and in the protection of which he ate his biscuits. For the moment the cold of space was outwitted. The dog took satisfaction in the fire, stretching out close enough for warmth and far enough away to escape being singed. When the man was finished, he filled his pipe and took his comfortable time over a smoke. Then he pulled on his mittens, settled the ear flaps of his cap firmly about his ears, and took the creek trail up the left fork.”     Continue reading

The Best of Being

Silvanus, Roman god of woodlands and boundaries. Often portrayed with a hunting or watch dog.
Roman marble statue at the Museo Nazionale Romano in the Baths of Diocletian, Rome, Italy. Photo by mharrsch under Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.
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This is more evidence of how I entertain myself by blogging without a care for the poor readers.  It is three or four blog posts in one, because that’s the way I had fun.   If you don’t enjoy part of it, just scroll down.  If you don’t like any of it, please feel free to post a comment about that.  You might even just say, “What a waste of time.”  It has not been wasted on me.

It started out as a report on two more species of lichens at Balsamea — cousins of the British Soldier lichen that I wrote about recently, and about the taiga/boreal forest biome, including the usual pretty pictures.  It ended up here:

Research for my article on British Soldier lichens (Cladonia cristatella) — a type of reindeer lichen — enlightened me about two more species of Cladonia living here at Balsamea.

It seems that one of them is Cladonia stellaris.  The other looks like Cladonia rangiferina.  I have not seen common names specific to each of these (as in “British Soldier” for C. cristatella), but some sources refer to Cladonia in general as reindeer lichen.

Below are four more pictures from the May 12, 2012 photo inventory of fungi, mosses and lichens at Balsamea (long overdue for species identification).  This time, in addition to close-up pictures, I have views of their home turf.  I should remember to always get a shot of the surrounding biota when collecting specimen photos.  It’s nice to see where they live.

In the picture below, the Cladonia lichens are the whitish patches surrounded by dense, soft, green moss.  This little forest opening is surrounded by balsam fir, white pine and spruce trees, and the grayish white tree trunk clusters seen here are gray birch (very common at Balsamea).

Small forest opening near northeast corner of Aranyaka Maze containing lichens I believe are Cladonia stellaris and Cladonia rangiferina.  It is otherwise covered with moss, surrounded by Balsam Fir, Gray Birch and White Pine trees.

Below: a closer view of the two Cladonias; the pale green balls of stellaris and the white sprays of rangiferina.

They grow very slowly — 1 or 2 mm. per year.  They are dry and brittle, especially during the summer, and can survive on minimal moisture.

Closer views:

Cladonia stellaris.  As these "balls" range from about 1 to 5 inches across, imagine how many years they have been growing ... at 1 or 2 MILLIMETERS per year!  I should make a sign for the deer: "Please don't eat or walk on the Cladonia."  I have seen pictures of them in houseplant arrangements.  I my experiment with a little of that ... very little.

Cladonia stellaris

Sorry about the blurry picture.  I’ll replace this when the current snow-pack is gone.  As these “balls” range up to about 6 inches across, imagine how many years they have been growing … at 1 or 2 MILLIMETERS per year!  That information should make folks think twice about where they put their feet or picnic blanket.

Cladonia rangiferina

Cladonia rangiferina

Varieties of Cladonia grow in many places around the world, but these species prefer boreal and tundra regions.  Here on the northern edge of the Adirondack Mountain Region in far northeastern New York state, a short drive from Canada’s border on the Saint Lawrence River, Balsamea lies near the southern edge of the North American taiga biome (boreal forest), consisting of vast realms of boreal forest covering much of Canada, Alaska and some of the far northeastern United States.  Boreal forests also cover massive areas across the northern latitudes of the Eastern Hemisphere.  The taiga is the largest biome type on earth.

Boreas and Oreithyia, 1896 (oil on canvas), by Evelyn De Morgan (1855-1919) / © The De Morgan Centre, London

Boreas and Oreithyia, 1896 (oil on canvas), by Evelyn De Morgan (1855-1919) / © The De Morgan Centre, London

Boreal means “of the north or northern regions,” from the Greek boreas, meaning north wind.  Boreas is the Greek god of the north wind, shown here kidnapping Oreithyia, to become his wife after he wrapped her in a cloud and raped her.  Boreas is known for violence.  Later she became the goddess of cold mountain winds.  All this time I’ve been referring to our north winds coming from Boreas, but they may have been Oreithyia’s doing all along.

When I use a picture like this to illustrate someone or something I mention, it is usually just for the fun of it, to share something interesting or beautiful.  I usually learn at least some basics about the work and its creator.  I hope you don’t mind my sharing a little of what I learned about this artist, despite her biography being far off-topic.

Among many works of art depicting the abduction of Oreithyia, in various media such as pottery, etching, painting, sculpture, drawing and relief, the painting shown here stands out as the most attractive, to my eye.

The painter, English woman Evelyn De Morgan (1855-1919) created dozens of renowned, prominent works among 102 oil paintings and over 300 drawings, during a roughly 45-year professional career spanning some of civilization’s most dramatic upheavals.  She had strong interests in social reform, spiritualism and music.  Sharing spiritualism with her husband, William (also an artist) they practiced automatic writing.  Combining her spiritual and social reform views led to many paintings of spiritually, mentally and sometimes physically strong women from throughout history, mythology and the Bible.  Throughout her work, I see the influence of her favorite Renaissance artist, Sandro Botticelli.

Here at Balsamea, nature is the only artist, and lichens are a series of amazing miniature masterpieces.

Near the start of this article, I said that I became “enlightened” to the nature of Cladonia lichens.  In learning about these lichens, and in direct experience of them, seeing, touching, and photographing them, I say sincerely that I am “enlightened,” at least a bit, in two senses.  First, I learned some things in botany, ecology, mythology and art.  (What I have shared here is only a little sample of things I explored.)

Second, the experience of learning a little more about the amazing diversity of the gift of Balsamea feels enlightening.  It is an enlightening experience of Balsamea.  It reminds me how, as I love to say, there is no solitude in a forest.  Thoreau agreed.

Each phase of nature, while not invisible, is yet not too distinct and obtrusive. It is there to be found when we look for it, but not demanding our attention. It is like a silent but sympathizing companion in whose company we retain most of the advantages of solitude … Henry David Thoreau, Journal, November 8, 1858

Really?  Are these bony lichens companions to me?

People rarely offer the kind of companionship “in whose company we retain most of the advantages of solitude.”  If they do, it’s often when doing something like watching television or sleeping together, where, although you are conscious of each other to a degree that you might regard as companionship, the moment is nearly as good as one of solitude.

I have enjoyed moments of deep companionship with a person who did not detract from qualities of being in peaceful forest solitude, even while consciously together, awake, attentive to each other in a special way that is hard to describe.  The character of such an experience is neither  solitude nor companionship.  It is unity.

My forest companions at Balsamea offer me glimpses of my truly inalienable unity with nature, through attention to their companionship, and through being a companion to them.  Their relationships with me are portals to growing awareness of the unity, of my belonging, with them, to a magnificent something that is greater than the sum of its uncountable parts.

For me, the ultimate glimpse of unity seems like a loss of the sense of separateness, a loss of the feeling of barriers between self and other things, whether physical or psychological barriers.  It is an experience of self and other as the same, while still paradoxically radiant with diversity, which is fully within a kind of awareness that feels singular.

It is where my distinctions between companionship and solitude dissolve, as raindrops meld and disappear into puddles, yet remain of the same substance.  It is as if the consciousness I usually know releases its self-containment, like having a body made of everything.

It is a natural experience of the true nature of our relationship with nature.  It is not something to seek.  It is there already.  It is hard to imagine any human being not experiencing it from time to time.

I suppose that for someone who has never experienced it, or not enough of it, they truly know loneliness, in a forest, or anywhere, and it must be horrid.  Neither companionship nor solitude will satisfy that hunger.  They need that merger of companionship and solitude, dissolving into each other.

The companion offering an opportunity for a merger that retains the qualities of solitude could be a cloud, a flower, a pet, a snowstorm, a painting, a piece of music, a garden, an insect, a lover, a friend, an activity, a lichen, or some grouping or set of things, activities or people.  Ideally, it is found in all things and all people, but we think too much to experience it that much.

I open the doors not by thinking or asking or searching, but by simple presence of self with other, unlocking my way with keys such as attention, time, quiet, deep observation, fully experiencing the thing or the activity, with all the senses, and with thought, contemplation, and imagination, all the things I naturally do, if I take the time, and let go of the past and future and other places, to stay present.  Then the lichen becomes a portal to a glimpse or moment of realization of unity, and to the satisfaction neither solitude nor company can bring.

Yes, even without doing drugs!  It’s cool to get high on things without eating or smoking them.  Being in the woods would be no fun otherwise.  (Not to say there’s necessarily anything wrong with eating and smoking things.)

Usually having glimpses of unity are not good times to drive a car or go grocery shopping.  However, it is a practical experience for me.  I come away from it with a reassuring sense of knowing that the unity is always there, that I am immersed in it, gently swaddled in a manner or a kind of consciousness within which it is easier to operate this mind-body machine and its connections with others, something like a metaphysical amnion.

It makes a mother of the earth, a father of the sky, brothers and sisters of the mushrooms and lichens, without having to be a Pagan.  It banishes loneliness, melts fear, and brightens the heart.  It’s just an experience of the best of being, or, as they say, being as being.

I believe there is a natural basis for the experience, and that it is necessary to our nature.  It is too natural to need anything supernatural to make it real.  But if you sense some extra-real thing going on that I don’t, I guess it’s okay as long as you don’t step on the dry, brittle Cladonia stellaris.

What is one of the portals to glimpses of unity that opens easiest for you?  (Besides orgasmic intercourse.)  Drop it into the comment bucket below, or whisper it secretly to only me.

Okay, I’m done entertaining myself for a while.  I hope it was fun for you, too.

  • Emerging from the Snow (myeverydayphotos.wordpress.com) – by Teri J. Pieper, someone who really knows how to get close to nature, right down at ground level.  Wonderful photos of little things that take being fully present to notice them, and to capture such good pictures of them.

Wildflowers extend lawn mower life and inspire love

It TAKES TIME to smell the roses!

Red clover

I suspect it will be a recurring theme in my scribblements, as it is increasingly recurring in my head: half the joy of a blessing is sharing it.  That leaves me with a puzzlement: I also find joy in quiet privacy and seclusion.  It’s not easy to share things in isolation.

Maybe my self-exile has developed to the point of being ready to capture the other half of the joys of quiet privacy and seclusion: sharing them.

This probably has something to do with the creation of TheBalsamean.com.

I have lots of clover in my yard. Last year there was more red clover than white; this year more white than red.  They, along with many other flower-producing plants, moved into my lawn and life naturally, after the house builder’s “lawn” died (good riddance) in 2010, the year he “planted” it.

My yard is a place for nature to show what she can do with an open space, a chance for her to decorate my home.  I’m grateful to her for showing me lovely things every time I step out the door.

In 2011, I counted at least 20 kinds of wildflowers through spring and summer.  I lost count somewhere over 20.  This included so-called weeds, such as dandelions, which I only wish flowered longer.

White clover

Lately every day I see butterflies and bumblebees browsing the clover flowers. Besides their beauty, these critters are important pollinators.  More pollinators, more fruit.

I grew up conditioned to enjoy a blanket of nice, dense green grass.  A golf course looks nice.  It has its own kind of attractiveness … at a price.  However, the birds I watch from this window near this keyboard like my lawn the way it is.

I could create a monochrome green lawn at considerable expense in lawn products and water to create something that would not naturally grow here, or I can keep what nature provides freely, without running the water pump to sustain them, in a kaleidoscopic range of colors and shapes.  For me, the choice is obvious.

grass

As with Hallmark and card-giving occasions, I suspect that solid green, “weed-free” lawns are an invention of lawn-product makers.  How did the Scottish inventors of golf maintain their greens before Scotts lawn products came along?

In some areas where I have tossed a little grass seed here and there over the years, the grasses have taken over almost completely, without the help of weed-killers, fertilizers, or lime.  They are hardy grasses, the ones that naturally want to grow in this acidic soil and hard winter conditions.  They are the right grasses for my yard, where my yard lives.  For as long as the wildflowers want to grow before grass takes over, I will let them.

This year a new Balsamean moved into the front yard.  Daisies.  Scads of daisies.  Loads of them, spreading rapidly.  Now THESE, we have in such great abundance, and they take to a vase so well, I don’t mind cutting some.  They bloom for a long time, in a succession of new blooms timed over several weeks.

Please don’t mow the daisies

With this natural cornucopia, I don’t have the heart to mow the “lawn” until the wildflowers have matured, so they can reproduce.  But new ones occur each season.  So I’d have to avoid mowing altogether to let them all grow.  Beginning this year, my strategy is to reduce the size of the areas that I mow, to let the wild things flourish at least around the perimeter.  And, throughout the lawn I mow around some patches of wildflowers.  “Lawn mower gardening.”

I have a small clearing out back, a few hundred feet from the house.  It was a logging header about a dozen years ago.  Everything grown on it got completely wiped out during the house construction, because that’s where I let them bury tree leftovers from clearing space to build the house.   We did not replace the topsoil.  I did not seed it.  (Actually, I’ve been tossing pine, spruce and balsam cones into it.)

Blackberry flower

Blackberry flower

Over the period from 2005 to 2010 (the year it was excavated), I kept that area mowed.  Since then, I let three-quarters of it regrow naturally.  The other quarter I mowed.  In the spring of 2011 and 2012, as snow melted in the mowed area, it turned to deep mud.  Being the cover over buried tree stumps, I wondered if it would cave-in under me.  (Among small depressions, there was one serious cave-in back in a corner, big enough for the dog to get in there.  What a job it was to fill that cavern.)

In the un-mowed area, we have FAR MORE beautiful, natural grass per square yard (among a plethora of wildflowers and loads of new berries).  This year (2102) I’m not mowing all of that formerly mowed portion of the back lot.

It is very hard to get a clear shot of a pollinator when it is busy

Instead, I’m mowing only a walking path through it.  Each year I’ll alternate the mowed path from side to side, to let the non-mowed parts go to seed.  That seed will fill the area with grasses.  They are coming along great … tall grasses of four kinds, among other plants.

It’s not just a tactic to avoid mowing.  I enjoy mowing and snow clearing.  They are forms of moving meditation.  But I do like to reduce wear-and-tear on the machines, and reduce consumption of fuel and production of pollution.  Still, these are side-effect benefits.

The objective is to let the yard fill with things that naturally want to be there, and they are all good things.    This year blackberries flourished.  If I don’t do SOME mowing, they will take over, and they are no fun to walk around in, especially barefoot.  Thorny.

Many people would be aghast at what a “terrible” lawn I have.  This is just one of the many reasons it is such a good thing that I’m the only one who has to live here.

I like the yard more every year.  I look forward to what it will produce next year.

Bless all its natural inhabitants for extending the life of my lawnmower!

When I sit and think seriously about such things – the beauty I live in, and the freedom to enjoy it in seclusion – I mean really think about it, contemplate it, meditate upon it, as is what happens while striving for the perfect photo, then studying the thing in the photo as I cannot do with my naked eye in the field, then writing about it and choosing how and where to incorporate the photos into the writing – then go out again and see them, these friends of mine, happy and free, inspiring me to love – well, seriously, when I give it this much attention, it brings me to tears to be so blessed.  Seriously.

“Inspire me to love?”  Yes.  As the love of beauty grows, so grows the beauty of love.

Yeah, so I’m a tree-hugging flower-brained pinko pussy.  So sue me.

What are your thoughts on any of this, large or small?  How does your garden grow?  Use the comment box here or contact me privately.