(Becoming a Naturalist, Part 41.)
by Jack Phillips
Last Sunday we released the wild potentialities of the cosmos after reading poems in a downtown coffee shop and sprouting some of our own. If you dig deep enough you can find the wild soil under our cities and within our souls, being made of stuff and histories that together make us earthlings and earth. So after reading Joy Harjo’s My House is the Red Earth we commenced to plant native oaks well-grown from acorns we collected (just right over there) in the oaky-woods and savannas that have somehow escaped human hungers and progresses so-called.
We are often met with puzzlement at our method of planting trees with poetry (as one might prefer hand tools of another sort) or writing a poem with an acorn or drinking coffee with a shovel. But such comes naturally to the planters of our gang as we vibrate the web of life with creativities of our own, the energies of our ancient strand.
And likewise the nature-writers one finds in the general population sometimes find our ephemeral poetics too fleeting to follow into the woods, caring less for breath-songs than the published word better preserved. We do love our books but find page-bound language less tolerant of pond water than the loose-leaf of speech, of muddy fingers and feet.
And some find it odd that a wild oak should suddenly appear near the corner of 13th & Jackson and many have told me so. But this very oak and her kindred of shoot and skin and limb and wing made the humus that nourished the humans natively here and made invading hordes jealous for this land. And it is this very oak and kindred of water and sky and breath and amber that give dreams to the night and dawns to tomorrow.
Our little oaks have not been poodled and patented and come in a can but are primal recitations of countless trips around the sun, uncultivated and uncivilized a species older than our own. And growing here in a place razed of their ancestors they chant the earth-words of this land. This is bur oak, Tashka-hi on the lips of indigenous people still belonging here, and planted by poets longing to be earthly here and wilder becoming.
Members of The Naturalist School and Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts plant Tashki-hi in urban Omaha, her ancestral home. (Photos by Chelsea Balzer and her phone.)