How to Grow Poets and Philosophers

“A township where one primitive forest waves above and another primitive forest rots below – such a town is fitted to raise not only corn and potatoes, but poets and philosophers for the coming ages.”
Henry David Thoreau, Walking

It is not too late for us. True, children are the future and we need to begin nature education early, but if we want to raise young naturalists and a future generation to save the planet, we must become naturalists ourselves. And that, my friends, means becoming a poet and a philosospher!

Good naturalists are good poets and philosophers as well as good ecologists. Loving and saving nature comes down to what we see in her and what she means to us. These are poetic and philosophical questions! Is the natural world a vast source of raw material to bend and use for our needs and amusement, or is it vital and mysterious presence that demands her own dignity and respect?

We see nature for who she is in wild places. For Thoreau that meant the woods and swamps around 19th- century Concord, Massachusetts. For us, it means the few remaining wild places that still remain close to where we live.

One wild place that is suitable for raising naturalists and poets and philosophers is Hitchcock Nature Center in Honey Creek, Iowa (near Omaha). On Saturday morning, September 13th, we will gather for a Saunter in the spirit of Thoreau’s Walking. I’ve missed our summer Saunters as many of us have – so we shall saunter again. Gather at the Hitchcock barn (not the lodge) at 7:30 am. We will finish by 10:00. Prepare for a hike and a discussion of Walking ( available at this link: Please let me know if we can expect you at .

And please note these upcoming New Tree School events:

Seeking Nature and Planting Trees, Friday October 3rd, Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge, Prairie City, Iowa (contact Jack for more information).

A Day with Mark Hirsch and That Tree: a morning Saunter and afternoon nature photography workshop, Saturday October 11, Hitchcock Nature Center (see posts below).

A word from Mark Hirsch

Mark and that tree.

“My experience with That Tree started out so organically and then it evolved into my unintended adventure. It seems odd to describe it this way but I have developed an incredible friendship with a tree. The valley of That Tree and her surrounding realm have become a place I am so familiar with. Her changes through two full growing seasons and now as I am well into my third, it has been like watching my children grow up or watching my grandparents age. As she has changed, so have I. My time in the forest with That Tree has been very solitary. The introspection combined with my solitary observation has provided me with a truly transformative and therapeutic adventure. I look at the world differently.” – Mark Hirsch, photographer and author of That Tree.

Spend an autumn day with New Tree School and Mark Hirsch in the oak woodlands and savannas of Iowa’s Loess Hills. Saturday, October 11 at Hitchcock Nature Center in Honey Creek. Morning session: Sauntering and conversations, 8:30  – noon. Afternoon session: Nature photography with a smart phone workshop, 1:00 – 4:30pm. 

Each session is $45/$80 for both. Enrollment will be limited to keep each session small, so contact Jack Phillips ( to reserve your place and to learn more about this amazing event. To learn more about Mark Hirsch, visit

A New Tree School saunterer finds snow-on-the-mountain (Euphorbia marginata) in Iowa's Loess Hills. Photo by Robert Smith.

A New Tree School saunterer finds snow-on-the-mountain (Euphorbia marginata) in Iowa’s Loess Hills. Photo by Robert Smith.

Thoreau’s Perverse Back Yard

Henry David Thoreau, the philosophical leader of our Saunters and the spiritual patron of woodsy wanderers everywhere, had definite ideas about landscape design. In Walking he vigorously advocates for wildly native neighborhoods right in town:

“Yes, though you may think me perverse, if it were proposed to me to dwell in the neighborhood of the most beautiful garden that ever human art contrived, or else of a Dismal Swamp, I should certainly decide for the swamp.” 

He would even prefer to have his house in the middle of that wild thicket:

“I often think that I should like to have my house front on this mass of dull red bushes, omitting other flower pots and borders, transplanted spruce and trim box, even graveled walks – to have this fertile spot under my windows… 

Many of us share in this native plant perversity so we might as well embrace it, celebrate it! We will do just that on our next and final Saunter of the summer. We will share ideas on how to plant native plant communities in our yards and seek out wild and lovely trees and shrubs that would make Henry David envious. For me, I want to visit gooseberry, wolfberry, bladdernut, toothache-tree, bee-tree, mossy cup, dogwood, coffee-tree, shadblow, and many others with fanciful names and wild dispositions. This is the ecosystem that sustains us and that we should welcome into our lives and homes.

Saturday, August 2nd at Hitchcock Nature Center in Honey Creek Iowa, 7:30 to 10:00am. See previous posts below for more details. And please let me know if you can come.

Saunter on,


Walk Like a Camel

From Walking:
“But the walking of which I speak has nothing in it akin to taking exercise, as it is called, as the sick take medicine at stated hours – as the Swinging of dumb-bells or chairs; but is itself the enterprise and adventure of the day. If you would get exercise, go in search of the springs of life. Think of a man swinging dumb-bells for his health, when those springs are bubbling up in far-off pastures unsought by him! Moreover, you must walk like a camel, which is said to be the only animal which ruminates while walking.”

– Henry David Thoreau

Let me first say that we are not in the habit of chewing regurgitated roughage during our Saunters. That is not the kind of chewing or walking that Thoreau prescribes. Rather, we saunter. That is, we walk with intention but without agenda. The goal is not exercise, but we do get that along the way. Neither do we intend to botanize, but we usually learn some plants along the way. Butterflies and birds accompany us whether we want them to or not. And uninvited bits of philosophy surprise us. These are all wonderful, but not the reasons we saunter. If you join us this Saturday morning, you will discover why we saunter and exactly what we’re chewing and ruminating.

We’ll meet at 0730 on Saturday, July 26 in front of the barn at Hitchcock Nature Center in Honey Creek, Iowa. We’ll be in the bush from 0800 to 1000, so bring water, wear long pants and sturdy shoes, and apply bug and sun protection. You may also want to bring binoculars and field guides. Please let me know if you’re coming (Jack at 402.571.7460/ Read Thoreau’s essay Walking again or for the first time to prepare. You will easily find it free on Kindle or Google, or linked in previous posts below.

(There is no tuition for our Saunter series, but we do encourage a one-time contribution of $20 to help our programs.)

Wild Friends and Feral Lovers

“Give me for my friends and neighbors wild men, not tame ones. The wildness of the savage is but a faint symbol of the awful ferity with which good men and lovers meet.”

This line from Thoreau’s Walking describes our time together on Saturday mornings. I believe, like Thoreau, that wild nature is human nature and that we can be enlivened by spending time together in the woods and prairies. I’m looking forward to our Saunter this Saturday morning because I could use a strong dose of ferity!

And no more rain outs! There are plenty of places to take cover, so we will saunter rain or shine. Please let me know if you can join us for a Summer Saunter on Saturday morning, July 12 from 0730 to 1000 at Hitchcock Nature Center in Honey Creek, Iowa. Matt Low from the English Department at Creighton University will share insights on nature, nature writing, poetry, and seeing. 

Don’t forget water, long pants, sun screen, bug spray, or any other items for your comfort on the trail. Please contact me for more information at 402.571.7460 or Please let me know if we can expect to see you.