Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin.      [With nine photos.]

The lichen old man’s beard doesn’t sound very wild, but when you see clumps of it growing on tree branches, fine pale-green filaments waving in the wind, you wonder, What is this stuff?, I’ve never seen anything like it. Great hair-like masses growing on trees!

This is not wildness in the sense of being unruly, savage, or dangerous, but more in being strange, curious, unexpected, or even whimsical. Old man’s beard is a curiosity because so seldom met with in the woods. It lives only where air vapor is unusually wet, as in damp or foggy areas along the coast where winds off ocean currents bring moisture onto forested shores.

In such places old man’s beard thrives by seeming to live on air—or, more accurately, air laden with moisture, giving a hoary, wild look to the trees it attaches to.

P1020316 96-omb-1P1020280 96-omb-2P1020284 96-omb-3P1020307 96-omb-4P1020308 96-omb-5P1020314 96-omb-6P1020309 96-omb-7P1020311 96-omb-8P1020315 96-omb-9Northern parula warblers make their nests in old man’s beard, using it for shelter and protection, not to catch prey. To me it is a reminder of how much of the substance of plants is derived from carbon dioxide in the air. The other chief ingredient being water, in this case airborne as well. Producing exotic growths that seem to sprout from nothing. Except air isn’t nothing, it’s just that human eyes can not see it, so it comes across as a magician’s trick.

This post rounds out the gallery of wildness I’ve been preoccupied with this summer: tree bark (302), lichens (303), crab shells in strange places (304), Indian pipes (305), fungi from above (306), fungi from underneath (307), flowers (308), shore life (309), fallen trees (310), standing trees (311), ground webs (312), and now one particular lichen—old man’s beard (313).

My aim in this series has been to illustrate the kinds of events I engage with through photography, presenting as much a portrait of my mind as of my physical surroundings. Without my mind, none of these posts would have appeared. My mind is always on the near end of my situation, providing a certain perspective; what I actively engage is on the far end, providing an object of my experience, again as seen from my mind’s point of view. This kind of situated seeing (hearing, touching) is the essence of phenomenology, which makes up a good part of the matter I deal with in this blog. Which I hope to expand upon in my next post.

Thanks for watching the show. I remain y’r friend and brother, –Earthling Steve

Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin.    [With nine photos.]

Sheet webs, funnel webs, fairy webs, ground webs—whatever we call them, they show up when moisture condenses on their delicate strands, making them suddenly visible where formerly it was easy to overlook them. On the foggy morning of August 3rd, I awoke to find myself surrounded by such webs like so many white handkerchiefs spread on the moss to dry. They called to me, and I was immediately engaged with them, knowing I had to work fast before they’d be gone. These webs are wild, as fireflies and hummingbirds are wild.

Camera at the ready, I stalked them one by one in what turned out to be one of the most difficult photo assignments I ever took on. Their gossamer nature was so flimsy, it simply vanished before my lens. But I knew they were not imaginary, so kept at it until I captured enough pictures to post to my blog.

P1020343 96-webs-1P1020342 96-webs-2P1020325 96-webs-3P1020296 96-webs-4P1020254 96-webs-5P1020303 96-webs-6P1020304 96-webs-7 P1020332 96-webs-8P1020320 96-webs-9No matter how delicate it was, I knew each web was a trap. With the one who laid it stationed in the escape tunnel at the heart of the web—until I made my approach. Then she shot down the tunnel and was gone, placing her handiwork at my mercy. No matter how carefully engineered, every spider web is as wild as wildness gets. It is an instrument for snaring and killing prey.

The webs are not supposed to be visible to those preyed upon. Fog or dew highlight each strand, warning the susceptible away, undoing a long night’s work. But that only adds to the hit-or-miss wild quality of each spider’s endeavor. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. Life in every case is a gamble with no winnings guaranteed. Exactly the kind of situation that hooks me into engaging with the improbable facts of life.

Every one of us is vulnerable, all the time—driving on the highway, dreaming in our beds, eating lunch, going on vacation. A bright young woman, a college student, fell while hiking the Precipice Trail in Acadia National Park several weeks ago, fell onto rocks below, and was pronounced dead at the hospital. We seldom realize the risks we are taking in making ourselves happen as we do. Flying insects do not sense the web waiting below them—until condensed moisture gives it away.

It is the wildness around me that I engage and makes me vigilant, giving my life a fine edge, rousing me to consciousness. And beyond that, to posting pictures to my blog about consciousness itself so we can all realize what sorts of situations we’ve gotten ourselves into, and what we can do about it.

Take care. I remain y’r brother and friend, –Steve from the same planet you’re from.

Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin.    [Including 11 photos.]

Standing trees are the joy of the biosphere, that thin but vibrant layer around the Earth that is home to all life we will meet in our lifetimes. As descendants of tree shrews, we revere trees and woods as our proper habitat. We are wild because they are wild. Our proper reach is the height and breadth of a tree. Beyond that, our grasp is severely limited.

Trees are my closest neighbors and therefore teachers. I bow to each as I pass for it knows a wider and more varied life than I do if I stick to the company of my own kind. Trees know birds, fungi, insects, spiders, mammals. Trees know and respect water. I would be tree minded, tree conscious. Tree wild. My secret name is Spruce, Fir, Pine, Birch, Oak, Hemlock, Hackmatack.

We might think trees are stupid for standing in one place for so long, but they really get to know that one place at every hour of the day and season of the year. Without shelter, they live the fullness of those hours and seasons, while we retreat indoors, turn on the heat and the light, and dream of far exotic lands across the sea or in the heavens. Trees, unlike us, are smart in being who they are, where they are. Rooted in different terrains, each is unique because conditions in every terrain are unique. A tree is the history of its coordinates on Earth written in growing wood. It could only be what it is in that place. Trees have integrity. As Thoreau said, “Nothing stands up more free from blame in this world than a pine tree” (Journal, Dec. 20, 1851).

Consider these trees I have met in the month of July.

P1000900 96-Trees-1P1010911 96-Trees-2P1020224 96-Trees-3 P1020237 96-Trees-4P1010978 96-Trees-5P1020177 96-tree-6P1020160 96-trees-7P1020168 96-tree-8 P1010972 96-Trees-9 P1010933 96-Trees-10P1010969 96-Trees-11The trees have spoken; I did my best to watch and listen. Each tells a different story in a language of its own. I didn’t get many of the particulars, but I got the gist. A powerful sense of what it means to live outdoors in this climate. To be alive to this place in this era. To be fundamentally wild and free without having any ability to run away. Trees have to stick it out, whatever the situation. To be who they are in that place. To understand the meaning of integrity in an extremely difficult situation.

Powered by sunlight, trees live by drawing gallon after gallon of water from the soil upward to their needles and leaves, in the process moderating the climate at ground level, sheltering life lower down, creating habitats where sensitive creatures can thrive. Through the agency of tall trees, forests work as a whole for the good of all. The global benefits of forested land—wild land—cannot be overstated. When forests of trees disappear, what remains is a dry planet like Venus or Mars.

That’s the true situation that sponsors conditions favorable to life. Wild conditions that never came off a drawing board but were earned through trial and error, not intelligent design. Conditions that cannot be duplicated once their wildness is tamed and lost. Think watersheds supplying water to every farm on Earth and every great city. We are still wild creatures of forested watersheds, testing the limits to the trickle of water that gives us our own life. To this day, in each case, that life depends on trees.

Let us celebrate our wildness, yours and mine. I will leave it at that. I’m still here, more or less conscious, like you, doing my best. Y’r friend, –Steve from Planet Earth.

Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin.    [With eleven photos.]

Fallen trees are the bane of any forester because they are “wasted” wood. But in a forever-wild preserve, they are just one more stage in the life of a tree. Their job now is not to add new growth or host populations of insects and birds but to build soil. Every generation of forest trees thrives on the remains of those who have gone before.

To observe the transformation of solid wood into fertile soil is a lesson in recycling and regeneration. Not only for trees but for forests complete with microorganisms, worms, insects, reptiles, birds, and wildlife in general. For what I call wildness as the characteristic state of terrestrial life.

I am fortunate in having access to a forever-wild preserve, where I have taken the following pictures, starting with an old birch with one last limb still connected to moisture in the soil, still supporting photosynthesis in its dwindling quota of leaves. Then illustrating stages of decay until old stems become one with the Earth from which they sprouted roughly a century ago. Fallen trees are as much an integral part of a forest as standing trees are for they are the future. Where do seedlings take root but in the duff on the forest floor made from fallen needles, leaves, and remains of ancient trees?

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Not neat, groomed, and pretty perhaps, but a forest doing its own work in adding new substance to old soils, not the work of mankind in cutting that substance off the land. While taking these pictures, I was accompanied by birds darting through the woods, insects, mushrooms rising from damp soil, shrews scuttling in every direction—all beneficiaries of forests that lived long before their time. Today is not made of brand-new stuff, but is built from the recycled detritus of yesterday. That is the secret of wildness:  How to turn what was into what is, what is into what is to be.

Documenting such progressions is one of the joyful engagements of my later life. Why else am I here if not to bear witness to what a long series of life situations has taught me in such brushes with wildness as these? Our home planet is doing its work all around us; our job is not to remake the Earth to our specifications, but to fit ourselves into a program that has built the world we are born to from scratch over the past 4.5 billion years. That is, to reassert and celebrate the wildness of our own minds, which we can begin by respecting the wilds around us.

Sweet woodland dreams. I remain y’r friend, –Steve from Planet Earth.

Reflection 309: Wildness 9

August 22, 2012

Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin     [Including 12 photos.]

At the mercy of tides, waves, wind, rain, snow, ice, and direct rays of the sun, salt water shores can be as wild as any place on Earth. Too, the interaction between air, land, and sea produces life in great variety and abundance. Which only enhances the wildness.

When I walk along the shore of the estuary, I walk the border between aerial, terrestrial, and aquatic worlds. Given the nature of tides, that border shifts back and forth, giving an advantage now to one, now to another form of life. That ebb-and-flood sponsors one of the wildest interactions on Earth, creating a great mixing zone where three worlds collide, revealing the life force that flows from the ever-shifting balance between life’s chief essentials, which we take for granted at our peril.

Shorelands offer a glimpse of life in the raw because everything is subject to change as driven by the shifting relationship between Earth, sun, and moon. Aside from inevitable change, there is nothing dependable here. Each instant must be seized on its own merit, never to be recreated. Life exists now, and now, and now, and so on forever.

Each of the following photographs transfixes one particular instant as if it were a butterfly on a pin, seemingly giving the lie to what I have been trying to say. But even I cannot retrace my steps along the shore in search of the same vision. You had to have been there in my shoes to see what I saw—these precise arrangements of kelp holdfasts, kelp blades, mussels, rockweed, barnacles, periwinkles, clamshells, sea stars, and crabs.

P1010736 96-shore-2P1010737 96-shore-3P1010738 96-shore-4P1010739 96-shore-5P1010742 96-shore-6P1010743 96-shore-7P1010787 96-shore-14 P1010748 96-shore-8P1010750 96-shore-9P1010758 96-shore-11P1010765 96-shore-13bP1010791 15-shore-15

When habitats change as rapidly as shorelands do, everything is up for grabs all the time. It takes concentrated mental effort to keep up with what’s happening. Which, I believe, is why our consciousness streams as it does from moment to moment, quickly outdating each passing impression. Danger or opportunity may lurk in the coming instant, so we have to follow the action as it develops. Even to the point of trying to anticipate what’s coming next.

As a result, our situations change like scenes in a film, this happening, then this, then again this. Succeeding situations flow into engagements with events such as incoming tides or walks along the shore. Conscious life is not a state of being aware but a process of making ourselves happen in keeping with the ever-changing situations we construct in our minds. So much happens in any given day, an accurate record of our conscious engagements would fill many volumes a day. Consciousness is the ultimate extreme adventure, bar none. Yet when asked what happened at school or at work today, we mumble, “Nothing much; just the usual.” As if the coming-in of today’s tide was not a unique event in the history of the world.

Blink, and you miss it. That is the nature of consciousness in the wild. The nature of situations, engagements, and life itself. Mine certainly; and I assume yours.

As always, my message is:  Stay engaged. I remain, y’r friend and brother, –Steve from this planet we share in common.

Reflection 308: Wildness 8

August 20, 2012

Copyright © by Steve Perrin.   [Including twelve photos.]

People have long been attracted to the sexual parts of plants as if their lives depended on them, which, in most cultures, they do. If flowering plants didn’t rely on pollination to propagate, we wouldn’t be here. But in many cases we dissociate flowers from the fruits they eventually bear, classifying the one as a sort of decoration, the other as food, finding different benefits in each.

I find joy in the flowers of many plants whose seeds or fruit I have no interest in eating. Particularly in flowers that grow in the wild, not gardens. To me, such blooms are the epitome of wildness that I receive as a gift from damp soil and sunlight. They announce that the natural world is in good working order, and my duty is to celebrate that wild order by paying my respects to the messenger. So I find myself engaging with flowers through their seasons, marking time by the sequence of their scents and colorful shapes.

My life is situated among flowers. I am always aware of them, and aware of myself being aware of them. They do not exist in some outside world; they exist in my depths. I go looking for them when I think they are due, and when I find them, I stop, bend down, and take notice, confirming them and myself in equal portions. If ever I fail to do so, I will know I am near death. Flowers are that vital, that mysterious, that profound.

Here be a few flowers I have photographed in late June and July of this year: Indian pipes, pinesap, whorled loosestrife, partridgeberry, mullein, beach lavender, and helleborine.

P1010453-96-Ip P1000856-b-290-6_96P1000892 96-fl-2P1000958_BI-7-2-6-2012_4_96P1010052 96-fl-4P1010256 P1010834 96-fl-6 P1010837 96-fl-7P1010451 96-fl-8 P1010851 96-fl-9P1010853 96-fl-10 P1010871 96-fl-11 Could anything be more startlingly wild than that selection of flowers? Colorful and orderly, yes, but who could have predicted such an array? And there are plenty more where they came from in our amazing biosphere. I could make a case that consciousness is given us to appreciate flowers, because, as I said above, our lives depend on them. I believe in putting flowers at the heart of my existence where they belong.

Maybe you do the same. I’m still here being myself. And being Y’r brother and friend, –Steve from This Earth

Reflection 307: Wildness 7

August 17, 2012

Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin.     [Twelve photos.]

My attention these days focuses on wildness, so it comes as no surprise that that’s what I find all around me, with my personal consciousness situated in the middle of it. Situated amid wildness, that’s right where I place myself because that’s what excites me. And what excites me is what I engage with. Like the underside of mushrooms, which I recently discovered.

Driven by Wildness. Sounds like a James Dean or Marlon Brando movie from the 50s. But, no, this is the 20-teens, and I’m playing the central role in this one. Me and a troupe of mushrooms. But under each one is a hidden world, often with a hidden population of wildlife, so I’ve been checking them out lately because, in my current situation, that’s what engages me.

Take the following, for example.

P1010501 96-fungi-bot-1P1010346 96-fungi-bot-2P1010371 96-fungi-bot-3 P1010438 P1010569 96-fungi-bot-5P1010572 P1010594 P1010595 96-fungi-bot-8 P1010659 96-fungi-bot-9 P1010958 96-fungi-bot-10 P1010966 96-fungi-bot-11 P1010988 96-fungi-bot-12 Wildness is where you find it. You find it where you look. You look where you are engaged. You are engaged where you are situated. You are situated where your earlier life has led you. You are led where you find more of what excites or arouses you. What excites you is your personal kind of wildness.

So here I am, peering under the caps of mushrooms, looking for excitement. Finding it where I never looked before. Just me and the slugs. And all that spore-producing apparatus, which is what fungi are all about. And mycorrhizae (underground water-gathering networks) are all about. And coniferous trees, beech trees, and many orchids are all about. Here is my life-support system in plain view. All it takes to find it is a little bending down, and a macro lens on my camera.

This is my life world. My universe. Now inside my head where I can grapple with what it all means. Could anything be more important than coming to terms with that? I don’t think so. This is my personal adventure, which no one can help me with except the self I am led to be.

The sad truth is that much of the hubbub in the outer world of human affairs distracts me from pursuing the adventure of a lifetime. If I don’t take it on, no one else will. I am on my own here, but if I don’t accept the challenge, I wouldn’t be me. And if I am not me, who am I then? Probably a captive of someone else’s project—for their benefit, not mine. No, I’m after my own brand of wildness, and in these posts I am showing you what I’ve discovered so far.

I picture you making headway in pursuit of your own brand of wildness. Together, we’ll make a world that truly engages us both. There’s room for everyone of us—all seven billion, each conscious to the max, engaged with personal excitement no one else can feel because no one else is situated in exactly the same place.

That’s a lot of mileage from fungi. Hope you’re making progress, too. Y’rs, –Steve from Planet Earth.

Reflection 306: Wildness 6

August 15, 2012

Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin.    [Nine photos.]

This post deals with fungi from the top-down as we conventionally see them. The following post deals with them bottom-up as seen from underneath.

Fungi are creatures of the wild, forming relationships we know-not-of underground. Most of us don’t know what we don’t know about fungi. Except that some people eat some of them some of the time. A few of the most attractive are deadly if you do eat them, so we tend to shun them as of questionable character.

If it weren’t for fungi, many of our favorite trees would die of thirst. We’d notice that right away because we wouldn’t exist, either. Particular species form relationships with particular trees, the fungi supplying water to the roots of the trees in exchange for a share of the sap intended to nourish those same roots. That way, fungi don’t need sunlight or photosynthesis, so their fruiting bodies can assume any color that suits them. What we are most familiar with is the fruiting bodies (reproductive organs) of the various fungi, what we call mushrooms, whose job is to spread their spores to keep the race of fungi widespread and healthy.

People who hunt mushrooms are hunter-gatherers, which takes them into wildlands where most people don’t go. We now think of supermarket mushrooms being grown in basements in New Jersey and Connecticut. But the exciting ones have not been domesticated, and are worth a trip outdoors in spring, summer, or fall. I show a few of those in my neighborhood in the following photographs.

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Wild as they are, these photos don’t capture the truly wild side of mushrooms, which is the side as seen from underneath the cap where a different world comes into view. I refer you to my next post, Reflection 307, coming up August 17. Meanwhile, stay engaged.

Y’r friend, –Steve

Reflection 305: Wildness 5

August 13, 2012

Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin.     [Twelve photos.]

Indian pipes (or Native American pipes) are damp soil come to life. No need for photosynthesis: they get the energy they need from the soil, not the sun. So they have no need for pigments that absorb red and violet rays in sunlight—reflecting green rays to our eyes. Indian pipes reflect all colors of the spectrum equally, so look white. Not powered by sunlight, they can live deep beneath the leaf canopy directly on the accumulating duff of the forest floor. Their loyalty is downward, not up.

These are flowering plants, one blossom per stem, which produce seeds. I can find no mention on the Web of how they are pollinated—or even if they are pollinated. I haven’t seen insects hovering around them. This mystery adds to their wildness. But to me they always look wild every time I see them, which this summer is every day because it’s been so wet.

Here are photos from this July. See if they don’t look wild to you, too.

P1010164-96-IpP1010170-96-Ip P1010375-96-Ip P1010377-96-IpP1010378-96-Ip P1010393-96-IpP1010396-96-IpP1010433-96-IpP1010453-96-Ip P1010606 96-Ip P1010824 96-IpP1010830 96-Ip Cosmologist Brian Swimme is big on gawking before the mysteries of the universe. That’s me when I confront Indian pipes, each time self-appointed gawker-in-chief. That’s what I get for living in my head as I do, facing one wild situation after another, trying to figure out what sort of world I live in, but never getting it right, round after round of engagement. Such is the human predicament. We get into trouble when we think we’ve got things figured out. Particularly once we start telling others how it is, as if we actually knew.

Pride is for all those others—that is the message of Indian pipes. We humans do better on a diet of humility. Getting out of our heads is not possible. If we could get out, we’d be in no world at all. We can’t get out of our heads because that is the price we pay for the smattering of consciousness we are allowed in one lifetime. Gawking is the best we can do, and being grateful for that gift. Consciousness is about learning our limits.

That’s it for now. I remain y’r true brother, –Steve from Planet Earth.

Reflection 304: Wildness 4

August 10, 2012

Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin.      [Seven photos.]

Most people don’t associate crabs with spruce cones or pine needles, but in my world of wildness, I do. Crabs and spruce cones go together because crows scour the shore for crabs, then fly up to shoreline trees to eat them, and drop the remains where the trees drop their needles and cones. When I hike the shore trail beneath those trees, there they are together, crab claws, shells, needles, and spruce cones.

The gang of eight crows on the island has its favorite scavenging shores at low tide where members pry under fronds of rockweed, always posting one member as lookout for intruders. Making my daily rounds, I am greeted with cries of outrage whenever I approach Shipyard Point, the shore east of Dead Dog Beach, or the rocky easternmost shore. In such areas I find the most crab parts scattered along the trail.

Visually, the structure of the cones and the crab parts go together, as if they had an affinity that crosses the line between conifers and crustaceans. It is that jarring affinity connecting the two that strikes me as particularly wild every time I see it, making for a more complex world than I would ever imagine on my own. It is one thing to understand how crabs and cones come together, but another to actually feel that link in my bones.

Check out the following photos and see what you think.

P1010347 96-crab P1010366 96-crab P1010367 96-crab P1010507 96-crab P1010512 96-crab P1010515 96-crab P1010518 96-crabThe serrated edge of wildness, that’s what I see in these pictures, telling of a larger reality than I customarily live out every day. The world is larger than my philosophy, if I will but let myself see it. Feather moss and blue-tipped crab claws, who’d have thunk it? There it is nonetheless. Seize it or pass it by, the choice is ours to make. We can grow into our lives, or insist on remaining the same.

The question is, Who am I today? Who are you? On that note, I remain y’r friend, –Steve from Planet Earth.