June 20, 2016

May in June

For those of you who have been here since the very beginning of Landing on Cloudy Water, you might remember my early attempts to learn and document the names of what I saw growing around me. First there was the snowdrop, then the Siberian squill, then the forsythia, then the tarda tulip, and finally the wild columbine. Well, a child came into my life a bit after all that, and naming him, I suppose, claimed my attention. I am happy to say, though, that he is now at the age where he wants to know what he's seeing, and that has given me new cause to do the same.

So, I bring you yet again, a series in wild identification: Plant Literate! (Although I seem to be always a month behind, and have no time for individual posts, so it will most likely happen in bursts. Ah, well. Better something than nothing, is my current motto.)

This is a doubly-sweet endeavor because what I've been learning these past months has been focused on the growing and blooming things in our yard, the edge along our driveway, and the marsh behind our house. Already most of these wildflowers are long gone with the light-blocking leaves, so who is to say how much of anything I'll document this summer, but that's half the fun, too: we'll just have to wait and see.

Here is what I've identified so far, following the order of the photos above. Please feel free to correct me if I have something wrong. I'm learning.
1) Wild ferns
2) Halberd-leaved violets
3) Early meadow rue
4) Wild lupine (this one I'm not totally sure of, as it was quite a bit smaller than most lupine I've seen, but it's the closet I've been able to get)
5) Garlic mustard (which, I've been told, spreads like crazy)
6) Sand violet (I think?)
7) Wild geranium
8) False solomon's seal
9) Dame's rocket
10) Jack-in-the-pulpit
11) Wild Columbine

We also have true solomon's seal, bloodroot, cleavers, a patch of creeping charlie along the driveway that I naively believed was just a lovely flowering ground cover (good thing someone smart advised me not to transplant it to a border area along one of the gardens), and a host of fast growing bushes and vines that I haven't even started to try to identify. I suppose that alone could keep me busy for much of the summer.

As always with these kinds of posts, I place this information here for me, so that I might come back to it next year when all these names evade me, but I hope it's helpful or interesting to a few of you, too.

It's the longest day of the year today, friends--9:42 pm just now and still light seeping in through the windows--so, let us welcome whatever this summer will be. Cheers to you all on this solstice. Isn't it incredible how much of the world bends toward the sun?

June 7, 2016

What I've Been Into - Spring 2016


Today is the last day of school for my students, and although I'll continue through the end of the week with my colleagues in workshops and other wrap-up activities, summer has arrived. It's been another wonderful year, but I can't think of one solitary person who doesn't love these two words put together: summer break. Summer break! Oh, for a few months in which to go where the wind blows me, do what the whims insist! Perhaps I'll show up here a bit more? Or perhaps I'll disappear still deeper into this marsh that is my back yard, what with its wildflowers and ferns and maples and oaks and ash and cottonwood and beech and tamarack stands. I am rippling with contentment. Can you tell? Like the leaves. Like the air, blue and redolent, and so very very close. 


  1. The Progress of Love by Alice Munro -- The entire collection is wonderful, but "Miles City, Montana" struck at my heart with a force.
  2. The Small Backs of Children by Lidia Yuknavitch -- I took a class with Yuknavitch in April, and although this book jumped around a bit too much for me, I do appreciate the way that--as she explained in class--the body is given a point of view. I am interested in reading her much acclaimed memoir The Chronology of Water.  Here's her TED Talk.
  3. The Liar's Club by Mary Karr -- Started, but did not finish. A bit too similar in feel to The Glass Castle (although I know The Liar's Club came first...).
  4. The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie -- I've only been hearing about this book for a decade. I'm so glad I finally made a point of reading it, because it's very clear why this is required reading for a lot of middle schoolers.
  5. Knockout by John Jodzio -- There is never a dull moment in Jodzio's fiction. His sardonic style and subject matter is generally not what I gravitate to, but he's a Minnesota writer who I've worked with in various capacities, and I have to champion his work. As I read through these stories--"Great Alcoholic-Owned Bed and Breakfasts of the Eastern Seaboard" being one of my favorites--I kept thinking, "John, how do you come up with this stuff?" Here's a cool interview he did with MPR.
  6. May Day by Gretchen Marquette -- A lovely collection of poems that center on loss: of a lover, a brother, a place. Marquette is another Minnesota writer who I have recently connected with, and it's been great bringing some of her work into my Minnesota Writers May Program class, especially  "Colossus" and "Ode to a Man in Dress Clothes." Here's another MPR story featuring her book.
  7. The Wilding by Benjamin Percy -- This was the most "male" book I've read in a long time (father, son, grandfather, hunting, war, machinery, bears), but a lot of it connects to the natural world in a way I respect and enjoy. And Percy lives in Minnesota now, and I've been meaning to read something by him for a while, so I'm glad I finally did.
  8. Of Mice and Men, The Things They Carried, Merchant of Venice, and lots of short stories and essays ("The Woman Warrior," "Memory and Imagination," "Boarding School in Switzerland," "A Clean Well-Lighted Place," "Barn Burning" "Superman and Me" (...should I go on?) -- all curriculum rereads.
TV & Movies:
  1. Nurse Jackie, Seasons 1-4 -- Addiction is real, people. This show pulled us in because of that fact. (And Zoey! Love her character.)
  2.  Interstellar -- We watched this in two chunks (parents of a young child, hello!), so maybe that was why it didn't amaze me? Decent story. Eh.
  3. Gravity -- Non-stop thrill ride, for sure. Some amazing special effects. It's interesting to me, though, that the scene that stays with me the most is when the protagonist finally makes it into a spaceship--safety--and all her racing and movement stops and she just...floats.
  4. Mile, Mile and a Half -- A documentary about a group of friends who set out to hike the John Muir Trail, and document the entire thing with film, photography, music, words. The cinematography alone was enough to keep me watching this one.
  5. Into the Wild -- I never view movies with my semester classes, but this May Program I'm taught a course called These Wild World, which focuses on nature writing, and this film was perfect for that group in so many ways. Gah. Alex Supertramp is a complex character--easy to love and hate--and that's one of the reason why his story is such a great watch.
  6. House of Cards, Season 4 -- The earlier seasons were better, but I am just waiting for all that nastiness in the first seasons to come back and bite the Underwoods in the butt.
  7. Game of Thrones, Season 6 --  Because we can't not watch.
 Finds & Arrow Signs:
  1. "How it Slips Away" -- An essay of mine up at Two Hawks Quarterly. It's kind of a sad one -- dreams deferred, I suppose -- but it was fun to write. Check it out, if you want!
  2. "Song of Myself" by Walt Whiman -- I always forget how much I love this looooooooong poem until I reread it (well, at least parts of it) in spring.
  3. "The Old Naturalist" -- A local blog run by an educator that helped me identify a few bird calls. 
  4. This article about final gifts to students (Thanks, Pat!)
  5. They Could Live With Themselves by Jodi Paloni -- I haven't read this one yet, but Jodi is another VCFA alum who is making waves in the literary world, and I am really looking forward to reading this collection of stories this summer. 
  6. This licorice + sea salt chocolate from the Icelandic brand Omnom might be the best chocolate I've ever had in my life. No joke.
  7. The beach in March -- Because: 90' and no humidity is good for the soul (in doses).
How about you? What will you be doing this summer?