tree deity

'Tree Herder' sculpture from recycled materials by Paul Rodriguez, found trailside @ Lake Roland, Balt County, Maryland, USA. © 2017 S. D. Stewart

‘Tree Herder’ sculpture from recycled materials by Paul Rodriguez, found trailside @ Lake Roland, Balt County, Maryland, USA. © 2017 S. D. Stewart

I came upon this woodland spirit during a sweltering late morning hike/bird walk. I’m thankful that it’s there watching over the trees. I was surprised at how many fellow humans were also out sweating in the woods. Trail people are always so friendly, even when it’s in the upper 90s and the humidity feels like we’re all floating in warm bathwater. One runner stopped to talk birds for a few minutes. Others just smiled or said ‘Good morning!’ One of my admittedly unscientific axioms, solely based in anecdotal evidence, is that people are much likelier to make eye contact and greet each other in the woods than they are on the street. Why is this? It is the power of the trees, I suspect. We are all happier in the woods, whether we know it or not. Nature has a calming effect and these days that effect is needed more than ever. As always at this time of year I have been struggling with the heat and not going to the woods has made it worse. But today I took up arms in the face of summer’s brutality and I’m glad that I did. For me there is no substitute for a couple of hours amidst the greens and browns of the forest. I feel it is my true home.

prettyboy reservoir

Prettyboy Reservoir, Baltimore County, Maryland, USA. © 2017 S. D. Stewart

Clouds near Prettyboy Reservoir, Baltimore County, Maryland, USA. © 2017 S. D. Stewart

field report: woodpecker redux

Recent intelligence gathering indicated the presence of a group of likely overwintering red-headed woodpeckers, including two adults, at another park in the area so I went to investigate. Again I found them immediately, as they were actively foraging and calling frequently. Their ‘rattle’ call is quite distinctive and often precedes a visual ID. Lighting was more favorable today, so here are a few photos accompanying a report on my findings.

Adult Red-headed Woodpecker at North Point State Park, © 2015 S. D. Stewart

Adult Red-headed Woodpecker strikes the classic woodpecker pose at Black Marsh, North Point State Park.

Adult Red-headed Woodpecker at North Point State Park, © 2015 S. D. Stewart

Adult Red-headed Woodpecker at Black Marsh, North Point State Park.

Adult Red-headed Woodpecker at North Point State Park, © 2015 S. D. Stewart

Adult Red-headed Woodpecker at Black Marsh, North Point State Park.

Red-headed Woodpecker at North Point State Park, © 2015 S. D. Stewart

An immature Red-headed Woodpecker glares at the photographer, North Point State Park.

After spending way too much time attempting to photograph the woodpeckers I continued on from the Black Marsh Wildlands into the rest of the park. First I took the Powerhouse Trail.

Powerhouse Trail at North Point State Park, © 2015 S. D. Stewart

Powerhouse Trail at North Point State Park.

Rising up out of the woods before me came the trail’s namesake…

Powerhouse at North Point State Park, © 2015 S. D. Stewart

Powerhouse at North Point State Park.

Powerhouse at North Point State Park, © 2015 S. D. Stewart

Powerhouse at North Point State Park.

The property that is now North Point State Park was formerly a local attraction known as the Bay Shore Amusement Park during the first half of the 20th Century, and there was streetcar service extending to the park from the city (extremely hard to imagine today in this rabidly car-centric region). This concrete monolith provided power to the streetcars. Now it serves as an informal art gallery for graffiti artists:

Powerhouse at North Point State Park, © 2015 S. D. Stewart

Inside the powerhouse at North Point State Park: ‘Find the roots of everything.’

After leaving the powerhouse I took a spur trail to gaze upon the Chesapeake Bay.

Chesapeake Bay from North Point State Park, © 2015 S. D. Stewart

Chesapeake Bay from overlook at North Point State Park.

Friendly people had left sand art on the beach.

Sand art at North Point State Park, © 2015 S. D. Stewart

Friendly people were here…

After scanning the Bay for waterfowl and only finding a few bufflehead and a single double-crested cormorant, I left the park and drove farther down the peninsula to where it dead ends at Fort Howard, the former coastal artillery headquarters for Baltimore. Fort Howard has a rich military history, which I will not go into here but you can certainly read about it to your heart’s content elsewhere on the internet. The park is rather bedraggled and largely unused, likely due to its remote location. But there are some nice spots. Of course I only photographed the horrible ones because that’s just how I am.

Brandon Shores Generating Station, © 2015 S. D. Stewart

The Brandon Shores Generating Station, viewed from Fort Howard. A 2011 NRDC report based on EPA data described it as releasing the second highest amount of toxic air pollutants annually in the U.S.

Despite the glaring lack of visitors, there are more picnic tables and trash cans at Fort Howard than I’ve seen at any other park. I was curious about the trailer in the photo below but simultaneously afraid so I chose not to get any closer. I thought if I called the number someone might be willing to divulge the contents but then this person would have my phone number. So I didn’t call. I find that life is an ongoing process of weighing the pros and cons of situations like this.

Fort Howard Park, © 2015 S. D. Stewart

Scenic picnic area where I chose not to consume my lunch. (Note: if you call the number please leave a comment below.)

After passing the scenic picnic area I came upon this:

Fort Howard Park, © 2015 S. D. Stewart

Menacing…

Again, I wasn’t sure what to do here. Were they keeping women locked inside or barring them from entry. I couldn’t tell, but I didn’t hear any cries for help and without bolt cutters there was not much I could have done. So I left. No doubt this decision will haunt me for quite some time…

the smallness of saving

there are, of course, those early spring moments, late in the day, after a cold front has passed through and left the air clean and clear, and the yellow light bursts through the young lower leaves of the cottonwood tree as they sway in the cool breeze, and it looks like a crowd of people waving with kindness, pure of truth and dazzled with light, while above, the horizontal rooftops bisect the sky, and the crabapple tree looks its best, wearing the white finery of full bloom, and the birds hurry from all around to perch in its boughs as the yellow light falls across them, making them look so proud. and the feeling this brings may last just a few seconds, a minute or two at most, but it is saving, a saving feeling rippling through a body.

this is not happening

Stage directions: Early April. Temperature outside the workplace claws its brutal way to 96 degrees, the highest recorded temperature in the United States for the day. No, this is not Death Valley…or is it. I am at a loss. The sun beats down with relentless fury, portending bleak times ahead for the mad captain of this ship.

I.  When the heat descends, the city upends. Delirium sets in within hours. Citizens spill out into the streets in a jumble of hot bodies and rude noise. The secrets of indoors suddenly become the public spectacles of outdoors. Sidewalks strewn with condoms. Arguments on front stoops. Dogs shuffle with constant tongues hanging. The pavement shimmers. Desperation spreads like smallpox, every sun-bleached surface contaminated. Crime soars. Murderous intent quickens. We are all immersed in the cacophony.

II.  Morning, I ride the white-pink gauntlet of Calvert, the cherry trees having all plotted the night before to explode in a synchronous burst of clotted blossoms, their rich fragrance drenching the air. Evening, opposite direction, strong winds shower me in white-pink snow, the pavement scattered for a moment with spring’s transient joy.

III.  The suddenness of everyone outside alarms me. Days before, winter still proffered its shield. Now inside is hot and none of us want to be there, though the basement calls to me with its cool concrete floor. How I wish to lay my fevered face against its chilled surface.

IV.  At night, strange explosions reverberate in the thick air, like automatic gunfire or heat thunder, ricocheting from east to west and back. I pause in the glow of the sodium lamp, my skin bathed orange. Abort mission, return to home base.

V.  Morning breaks open the day like a grey egg. And once again there is nothing to fear.

seaside

At times I can go back to St Ives more completely than I can this morning. I can reach a state where I seem to be watching things happen as if I were there.

Now if this is so, is it not possible—I often wonder—that things we have felt with great intensity have an existence independent of our minds; are in fact still in existence?

—Virginia Woolf, “A Sketch of the Past”

I stood in the grass, breathing in stories of stunted pitch pines. The house, grey clapboard weathered in sea air, loomed behind me. I remember walking on zigzagged boardwalks over brackish marsh. Jigsaw puzzles in yellow afternoon light, pouring across the floor like liquid pollen of no real substance. I still hold this yellow light. The stretch and scrape of the screen door spring as it opens, the loud slam as it shuts. Riding bikes down sand-strewn streets. Comic books and chewing gum. Beach grass swaying in salty breezes. The rising dunes in purple evening light.

what i saw today

© 2012 S. D. Stewart

Evidence of beavers.

© 2012 S. D. Stewart

American Sycamore

pictures of you

© 2012 S. D. Stewart

Attachment fantasy.

© 2012 S. D. Stewart

What’s underneath.

© 2012 S. D. Stewart

Forest confection.

© 2012 S. D. Stewart

Broken bones.

© 2012 S. D. Stewart

Bear urinal.

© 2012 S. D. Stewart

Self-portrait.

angel giants stomp with long necks stretched

I dream about people I don’t even know, sometimes after I think about them so so much that I feel like I almostbutnotquite know them. I dream about people I know and my dream-mind puts them in places I know well, but then they are different…there’s a stream, for instance. The landlord is a squat petty thug and the place is a dump and I’m wondering why my friends want to rent it, other than that they are cheap and like old rotting buildings and, oh, there’s a girl using a sewing machine in the basement. We see her in the picture window as we walk by. Everyone waves. And I guess that is reason enough. I ask my friend if the landlord will clean up the place first and he says no. There is clothing lying on the floor and junk everywhere. That night we have an “art party” there. I don’t even know what an art party is, but apparently it is pretty crazy. People were walking on the walls. It may have been dark and people may have been glowing. Later I wake up (for real) with a staggering cramp in my left calf. Probably all that wall-walking with necrotic dream limbs. Waking life, hmph. There is a light that never goes out there is a light that never goes out there is a light that never goes out. Glad that’s off my sunken ship of a chest. Anyway, I’m climbing up this rocky incline to get to the stream above. When I get there I yell down to the others. There’s no bank up there. The water almost sloshes over the side. This is on a street I used to ride my bike on all the time. There is no stream. A map of my town imprinted on my brain at some point. My dream self makes good use of it. More interesting now than it used to be. Or maybe everything gets less interesting as we get older. Try to surprise me. It can’t be done. I dare you. Outside dreams, of course. The other night an industrial toaster suddenly fell out of a ceiling panel in the dream room next to me, followed by the man there to install it. That surprised me.

Three years before his death at age 41 Franz Kafka wrote in his diary, “I have seldom, very seldom, crossed this borderland between loneliness and fellowship.” He was speaking of his refusal throughout life to accept offers that would open the door to social, even public life. That is what I do. I refuse offers. I am a refuser. Of offers. I listen to dark wave and brood instead. I am a brooder. A refuserbrooder. I concentrate on shunning contact.

The summer is a slow time. But what happens when autumn comes. What happens then. Everything begins to die, that’s what. It’s delicious. The earth opens its pores and accepts all this decaying matter into itself. Nutrients are restored. Birds collect dried seeds from dead flowerheads. The trees remove their clothing with no trace of shame. Their spindly exposed limbs shake and shiver in the October winds. The days shorten and the light takes on a golden cast. All my dendrites tingle. Sleep comes on deeper and shrugs off slower.

As I spun the pedals closer to my building this morning I caught the scent of roasting coffee on the morning breeze. And I forgot about all the fool drivers I’d not so gladly suffered on my ride. Maybe there is an antidote for every poison shoved down our throats. Maybe it takes a lifetime to find them all.

in the pines

© 2012 S. D. Stewart, Oregon Ridge

Monday afternoon, along the creek, I found a copse of pines and entered there. It was a day of reckoning, I reckoned, facing forward, rooted in time’s peat. I crushed the needles in my hands and breathed. A white-throated sparrow flitted at my feet. It was a moment, in the pines, and I lived it.

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