Sunday, March 27, 2011

Finding Wild Florida

"Lie with your ear to the ground. Let birdsong trace its complexities onto your eardrum."

Susan Cerulean, nature writer, Floridian, biologist and educator, writes these instructions in the elegant (if alarmingly short) anthology she co-edited, The Wild Heart of Florida: Florida Writers on Florida’s Wildlands.

Eighteen months ago I came to live – part-time and unwillingly – in Miami. I did not expect to find much wilderness. To my surprise, I have spent more time camping in South Florida than I ever have in Seattle. Perhaps that’s because Miami is easier to leave behind. Or because I prefer sweating to shivering. Whatever the reason (and in spite of the best efforts of developers, pro-business legislators, and oil-spillers), I recognize more tree and bird species in South Florida than I do in Western Washington.

There is no recycling in our eighty-unit Miami apartment building – though it’s called “Nirvana” (really!) – but less than an hour’s drive west of our home is a fifteen-mile bike-loop through the Everglades. Our metal coffee mugs are often rejected at cafes (public health hazard, they say), but eighty miles southwest lies the wonder of the Middle Keys.
On Long Key, you can pitch a tent just five feet from the calm emerald lips of the Atlantic Ocean. I did that this weekend and hardly left my campsite for two days. I sat at the picnic table and watched sanderlings flip small piles of dried seagrass in search of a meal. I scribbled in my notebook until Ursa Major rose like a question mark in the sky, asking Orion and the Pleiades what to make of happenings on the blue planet below. (A punctuation mark to the question that fills all my notebooks.) Orion pretended not to hear while Atlas’s daughters just shrugged. They’d never much cared for pointless questions.

I let birdsong and birdtracks trace their complexities onto my eardrum, as I asked myself another question that would only make the those seven sisters shrug: What will become of South Florida? 

For now, the sanderlings splay seagrass with their blunt beaks, until two black-headed laughing gulls swoop from blue sky toward green waves. Fifty (or seventy? one hundred?) sanderlings rise from the mudflat as a single being, flying away from the shoreline and then back and then away again, seeming to disappear like smoke. (And I pack up my tent and notebook and head to Key West.)

Friday, March 11, 2011

A Harborview Haiku and American Sentence

Life's garden shelters…
soil, sun, weed, root, rock. Bright shoot
cut, will grow taller.

As in our bodies: a break might mend more strongly than a bone unscarred.

Peggy Weiss and me, July 2010
Peggy Weiss, the Art Manager (aka Miracle Worker & Duchess of Art-Healing) at Harborview Medical Center, orchestrated my six-week immersion in the grit and wonder and pain of King County's public hospital and regional trauma center last summer.

Later this month, a Haiku and American Sentence I wrote one afternoon, thinking of Harborview's View Park, will be distributed via meal trays to all the hospital's patients. I am inviting them, along with their friends and family members, as well as Harborview staff and volunteers, to create their own poetry. I look forward to sharing it with you.