Alone With My Thoughts

There is no exact edge. No point in these woods where deciduous forest turns to one dominated by conifers. Rather there are broad transitional zones where the woods contain both evergreens and hardwoods. It has long been my observation that these areas are used as travel corridors for many mammals. These areas are a blend of cone bearing trees that keep their foliage throughout the year and trees that hold dense leaved canopy in the warmer moths and shed their foliage as the weather gets cooler and the sun hugs the southern horizon.

These areas may offer a natural compromise; a homogenized concoction of nature’s best. It is the sterling agreement between plant communities that accommodates the ability of a natural ecosystem to succeed. There is no war between competing factions. A natural infusion of the right time, the right place, the right set of circumstances, and the right species seems to be a part of the equation that creates the perfect amalgamation and a unique ecosystem.

It occurs to me that we are taught from an early age that much of nature is based on the survival of the fittest. In truth this is a poor human interpretation of the natural world. The ecosystems that presently exist on this planet are widely varied and volatile. Each has evolved, over millions of years, by an unintended system of compromise that fits the varying climates of this great planet. From deserts to tropical rain forests, from the great blue seas to the highest peaks, and from equatorial regions to the polar ice caps natural ecosystems have developed that make each area rich and unique.

Whether you believe in evolution or divine intervention our present ecosystems are the product of both competition and compromise. While it is true that individual plants and plant communities competed with each other it is also true that over long periods of time these same plants adapted to the environments in which they tried to survive. In effect the plants (and plant communities) compromised, by changing, in order to carry on.

As I stand here, surrounded by the living forest full of birds singing, branches dancing in a gentle breeze, overhead foliage photosynthesizing, it occurs to me that our human interpretation of the natural world is so often misguided. We see in the world what is familiar to us rather than what actually occurs. Our intent is to control our environment so we see the planet as a fractured set of random events rather than the perfect orchestra playing a flawless symphony. In fact if there is one sour note that Gaia has played during this otherwise superlative concert it has been her experience with homo sapien.

We meddle with what we do not understand. Worse we think we know it all when we know nearly nothing. We believe all riddles can be solved with our perception of the three dimensional world when mathematics demonstrates there may be at least eleven different dimensions. It seems that we can’t help ourselves. We bounce around erratically like a pinball in a game machine. Sometimes we make the lights blink, alarms sound, and points are scored. More often the ball is drained into the belly of the machine bringing the game closer to the end.

As I stand here, alone with my thoughts, the silhouette of a white-tail doe and her fawn can be seen on a not so distant ridge. The doe stops and looks in my direction. She lifts her nose in the air. The wind blows towards me so she cannot catch my scent but she still moves her fawn in a westerly direction and they slip out of my site over the brim of the ridge. There is no question that she knew I was there amongst the hemlocks, oaks, maples, and white pine. It is doubtful she saw me at that distance. Perhaps it was simply a sixth sense she utilized that we humans find difficult to recognize. Perhaps she listened to what her unconscious told her. Perhaps we humans should do the same.

Written for www.wildramblings.com in August, 2011.

  • Xman

    Very nice piece of writing. However, cf. “famous Darwin quotes wrong, says scholar” on google for yet another take on the great man’s ideas….

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    Yes, I am aware of the issue of Darwin being misquoted, and he was.  In fact his thinking still influences parts of modern evolutionary theory and modern evidence like DNA, at times, seems to bolster some of his early theories.  In my fantasy world I would get to have an interview, through time and space, with one of the great geniuses, Charles Darwin.

    Thank you kindly for reading.

  • Barbara

    Your thoughts are pretty awesome Bill, in line with mine as you no doubt know by now, and with those of many of your readers and friends. But it takes you to express them so beautifully. And to share those fabulous photos of bits of nature. Truly humankind is nature’s biggest mistake in many ways, and yet there are many who understand your thinking at a deep level, like the deer who slid silently into the forest. Perhaps those of us who appreciate Gaia and the turmoil in Earth’s patterns today can help in some small and quiet ways to regain the balance that humankind has so thoughtlessly tossed aside…ignorance perhaps, greed for sure and much more and I could go on, but instead I’m going to contemplate the beauty contained in this essay. Thanks as always Bill for sharing your thoughts.

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    It’s time for us to face the truth.  Looking into the mirror and seeing something not so pleasant is difficult.  Still, there are many, many wonderful people who see the errors of our ways.  Now is the time to end the silence and speak from the heart.  Now is the time to change what is wrong.  The sun is getting closer to the horizon and it will be setting soon. 

  • http://www.landingoncloudywater.blogspot.com Emily

    Such a thoughtful, bittersweet post. “There is no war between competing factions. A natural infusion of the right time, the right place, the right set of circumstances, and the right species…” This made me catch my breath at its simple but powerful truth. I can sense your deep reflection here, Bill, and it makes me wish more people would go out into the woods like you do and just be still, take it all in, let it speak.  

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    Thank you Emily.  Bittersweet would be accurate.  For someone who sees the world like I do I still carry much hope.  I write with hopes that I change the attitude or life style of just one person.  A small, but insignificant contribution, but maybe the volume gets louder as information passes from one to another.  Let’s hope so. 

    I know you do your part too.  And I thank you for that.

    Everyone should read http://www.landingoncloudywater.blogspot.com/ .  It is thoughtful and beautiful.

  • http://nature-drunk.com Nature-Drunk

    Wow! Breathtaking photos, Bill. And, I wholeheartedly agree with you about the sixth sense idea. Silence often brings that to us if we are patient enough to listen.

  • http://alsphotographyblog.blogspot.com/ Al

    Beautiful photos. But I’m often pessimistic about the future of our species. Some of us will survive, there are simply too many to die out except in an unimaginable catastrophe. But I think we’re living far beyond what our planet can support, and I think the reckoning will be this century.

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    Thank you for the wonderful compliment.  I am strictly an amateur photographer but I enjoy taking pictures of the natural world.  I’m guessing there are more than a few “unknown” or unrecognized senses, and eventually we will be able to catalog them as we become more familiar with the mysteries of both our own brain and the planet’s energy fields.  Silence helps us to filter out all of the noise, internally and externally, to become more aware of our capabilities.

    You are one smart person.

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    I’m somewhat pessimistic about the human species but very positive about the planet.  It has survived worse and will survive challenges again.  The real question is will humans let their good side rule?  Will we let the planet guide us and give up on the idea that we know better?

  • http://everyday-adventurer.blogspot.com/ Ratty

    I agree that the planet’s ecosystem is not only competitive, it is also cooperative. I believe that if any animal, even humans, become a problem, the rest of the planet will eventually cooperate to solve that problem.

  • Teresaevangeline

    What an excellent piece of writing and the photographic layout is outstanding.  I hope you don’t mind, but I put your large photo as my desktop background. I love that purple and green. 
    Forgive my foolish ways, but what is the black bird?  It looks part turkey, part egret, part grouse….

    It’s my understanding that Darwin said it’s not so much about survival of the fittest, but about those who are capable of adapting and making the necessary changes. It seems so apropos now, with all of us really needing to look at how we can adapt to a changing world.

    I appreciate your statments about other dimensions. It’s something I look at and find fascinating. I have no doubt of their existence. One of the constants for me in the last few years is learning to be a better listener, to learn to read my own inner sense, interpret if necessary and act accordingly. It’s amazing what comes through when we quiet our mind and body.

    Very nice post.

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    So far that system has worked Ratty, a very astute observation.  That humans manipulate threats is a problem, though.  I’m guessing we’ll eventually figure out that our meddling is a very bad idea.  The alternative to our not figuring this out is nearly unthinkable.

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    I’m flattered that you would use my photo for the background on your desktop.  Of course its OK.  The bird is a hen turkey.  She had young ones hidden nearby at the time and was keeping an eye out for them.  Darwin was so far ahead of his time its incredible.  A large brain, no doubt.  He is the most misquoted person I have ever known about or read.  Even today many people do not believe in evolution.  They feel it has to interfere with their religious beliefs.  I understand the difficulty of changing a belief system but it doesn’t have to be either/or.  I combine a deep sense of spirituality, science, and a love for our planet with great ease.  It all makes perfect sense to me.

    With regards to different dimensions that humans do not easily experience, it is difficult to believe in something you cannot see, hear, feel, or touch.  Most of our knowledge in physics beyond what we can actually experience is based in mathematics.   It is a very complicated subject as you know.  But you are right, beyond the mathematics, string theory, and quantum physics there is a not so obvious place, a feeling, a dimension, that we can get in touch with if we take the time to become aware of it.  There is part of my brain (and many people experience this) that constantly tells me what is happening somewhere else without me having any conscious knowledge of the exact scenario.  I don’t know where it comes from, or how it works, but it is very real.  It has something to do with the time/space continuum.  It is a whole level of awareness that I am now just discovering (for the last 30 years) and sometimes it scares the heck out of me.

  • Teresaevangeline

    I just want to add, Bill: I have very similar experiences….   An awareness of what’s happening elsewhere, yes. For me, science and mathematics are tied in with spirituality, and yes, a deep love for our planet. They all go hand-in-hand.

    Thank you for a deeper understanding of where you’re coming from.

  • Paul Dobbs

    What a pleasure to follow your observations and thoughts!  These two have sent me down a psychological road.

    “We see in the world what is familiar
    to us rather than what actually occurs.”

    “Worse we think we know it all when
    we know nearly nothing.”

    In her book Animals in Translation,
    Temple Grandin proposes that we humans tend to abstractify. That is,
    our brains move quickly from a small amount of data, a limited set of
    perceptions, to the step of “connecting the dots,” forming a
    concept. Then that concept heavily influences our further
    perceptions, tending to limit them to those that support the original concept
    and so on. In some ways this has worked well for us as a
    species—we’re very good at “screening out” what’s extraneous to
    our objectives and then “zeroing-in,” and then applying our
    concepts to other situations, and this has enabled us to build what
    we call civilization. But the liabililty is that now we so often
    just don’t see—truly see, that is absorb and process—what’s in
    front of us, or at least not very much of it. Grandin believes that
    animals, and autistic persons, don’t abstractify. Since they don’t
    get so carried away with interpreting and concept making, they can
    really see much more of what is in front of them. On the cheerier
    side, she offers a remedy. She believes that one way we can
    succeed in paying more objective attention to what’s actually in
    front of us is to study, and just plan value, animals and autistic
    people, who are in many ways our superiors in the arts of
    observation.

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    And that elsewhere might be right in front of us, surrounding us, or in our rear view mirror. Just simply being aware and connected is an art unto itself. 

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    Thank you Paul.  It was nice meeting you recently.  Temple Grandin was a gift to our planet and humanity.  She is a person with extraordinary abilities that should change the way we think.  Her “abstractify” theory is beyond brilliant and shows how an ability that we humans have evolved to have as a matter of our own survival can also be a disability as well.  And this vein of thought goes further.  If it is true that the intellectual part of our brain occupies the same area as the instinctual part of our brain, it is quite possible that our instincts have been severely reduced as our intellect developed (as a species).  That means that we must work harder to be aware of our instincts and find ways to get back in touch with a world that is unfamiliar to the human being.

    Thanks  so much for reading.

  • Wendysarno

    Beautiful, Bill. Again you teach me even as you inspire me with your poetic descriptions of your forest. I love knowing that where the deciduous and the confer realms  intermingle, the wildlife finds passage. Last night I watched a PBS program on Fractals. One group of researchers has done some work to see if the branching pattern of one tree could be seen repeated in the pattern of tree growth in the whole forest. Would it be a fractal? And they found it was. The forest it seems is not a random collection of various large and small trees, but bears the pattern of limb growth of any individual tree. We may think we can’t see the forest for the trees, but if we really look at any one tree, we will see the whole forest. Here is the link to the pbs show: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/fractals/

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    Fascinating.  I wonder if branching patterns were similar for particular species or intermingled between different kinds of trees.  I’ll watch the show and find out for myself!

    Yes, forests are not as random as we perceive, there are many reasons they do what they do.  Still, we have to keep in mind that random genetics allows for expansion or improvement of a species.  One of the beauties of the living world. 

    We can see the forest for the trees.  We just need to stop being so discerning.  See comment about Tample Grandin below!

    Wendy, thank you for reading!

  • Patricia Lichen

    Bill, here’s a quote I came across recently that I’m thinking you might appreciate as much as I do: “”When asked whether I am pessimistic or optimistic about the future, my answer is always the same: if you look at the science about what is happening on earth and aren’t pessimistic, you don’t understand the data. But if you meet the people who are working to restore this earth and the lives of the poor, and you aren’t optimistic, then you haven’t got a pulse.”  It’s written by Paul Hawken, in Hope Beneath Our Feet: Restoring Our Place in the Natural World

    –Patricia Lichen, http://www.patriciaklichen.com/

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    Thank you.  Perhaps the most hopeful thought I’ve heard in a week or two.  Yes, there is a lot of good people working on solving these issues but the most critical issue is finding leadership that can resist corporate $, tell the Gods to honest truth, and convince the general public to come along. 

    Patricia, you are wonderful, as is your website.  Please, everyone, visit http://www.patriciaklichen.com...

  • http://swamericana.wordpress.com/ Jack Matthews

    Bill, I think it so fortunate that you can stand in the woods and contemplate the merging of ecosystems — conifers and hardwoods — and from that derive judgements of such a wide scope.  Competitive, cooperative, an orchestra is out there, out beyond our houses, our boxes.  I agree that we should listen to the unconscious, letting things mull.  It used to be — I don’t know about now — that the Taos Pueblo council meetings had as much silence as they did talk, letting things come up after reflection (Waters, The Man Who).  The orchestra’s musical score has a sour note, the greed, the social hierarchies, the city mainly.  Most people have lost touch with nature, their unconscious, the notion of silence and reflection — too many bills to pay, etc.   A fractured world, as you write.  I like your photos a great deal, especially the turkey hen on the log.  That last photo of the blue-purple flowers is just plain gorgeous.  I am told by people that are close to me that I don’t say much and that I can sit silently for an hour (and I don’t imbibe) or more.  I have no problem with that description for I am letting events like the wind and the clouds and the roadrunner come through me.  Like you, I think, alone with my own thoughts I am comfortable and it puts me in nature, not out of it.  As I have sat in the field, I hear the chickadee but I also hear the funeral dirge of oil compressors sucking the marrow out of this good earth to power the city.  Yes, homo sapiens is the sour note and its instruments need to be put in storage.

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    Let it be known to all, Jack, that you and I play similar instruments, in the same orchestra.  Although it may seem inconsequential to most. I am proud that we stand, sometimes alone, for what we believe.  Thank you, my friend, for the complete understanding you reveal in your comments to my writing.

  • http://craftygreenpoet.blogspot.com craftygreenpoet

    Excellent post, and so true that we interpret nature based on our own pre-occupations and expectations. We are alienated to such an extent that we have lost that awareness that the deer still has

  • Mike B.

    As usual, great stuff! I often think about how ecosystems existed before humans, and they’ll still be here after we’re gone. Though humans have changed many of them, they will continue to adapt.

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    We are all part of one living organism.  The planet Earth.  Thanks for reading Mike.

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    Yes, and somehow we think we are superior.  I don’t get it!

  • Out On The Prairie

    Very well written. I was asked how I see what many would pass over and laughed how it is so easy when out in nature.It is always nice to have you stop by my blog.

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    Thanks.  I stop by your blog because it is full of wonderful words, great photos, and life in the prairie. 

  • http://montucky.wordpress.com/ Montucky

    Before I forget, let me say that your photos are both excellent and gorgeous!

    The thought of many dimensions beyond the simple three is interesting. I consider it much of the time while in the back country. When many miles from the trail head, I love to follow animal trails, principally deer, elk and sheep, just drifting along them through the forest. It’s amazing what one sees and learns and feels, doing that, and after many decades of it I find a great comfort in just being in such circumstances; and also an understanding.

    I would argue that only when one achieves that understanding, the one of feeling the natural condition and the many elements that compose it, does he truly belong to this world in which we all find ourselves.

    Very sadly, most in our species appear to be getting farther away from that point, not closer to it. And so, how will they ever know where they belong?

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    Thanks for the wonderful compliment on the photos.  You are the master, no doubt.

    And yes, I could not agree more, when we can “feel” the natural world is when we become part of it.  It’s not about adventure, or excitement, it is about being one with nature.  A very astute observation I might add!

  • Lynn Biederstadt

    Are most of your walks alone and/or with dog? Thank you for taking me with you.

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    Most alone with hound or hounds.  These days especially because of my slow pace.  Me and the woods.  The place I oughta be.  Now to heal and get back out there.

  • http://findanoutlet.wordpress.com/ Find an Outlet

    I guess I don’t understand how the 7 billion people here on earth can possibly not destroy it. Yet breeding, in nearly every community of the world, is encouraged and rewarded no matter what the quality of life or consequences to that people or nation or planet as a whole. When a nation attempts to curb its population it comes under attack for violation of human rights, or the people themselves commit murder by choosing one sex over another. Most people of the world have no access to any retreat—to them, the natural world is a cruel one. A pang of guilt strikes me at every complaint I utter or rant I write as I consider the wretched lives of millions of (mostly) women on this planet—many of whom accept, pass down, and continue to enforce their own submission. Are we not having this conversation because we are fortunate enough to be allowed to think for ourselves? To have the freedom to consider science and mathematics and spirituality at all? I am struggling with the concept of oneness.

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    I would be hard pressed to argue with your point of view.  Most, but not all of the evidence, points to a sharp decline of the human species at some point.  And yes, women and children have suffered the most in regions where poverty abounds.

    But even in these parts of the world where we are more economically advantaged (at least temporarily) our society hides from the elephant in the room, over population.  Believe it or not population control would hurt big business.  Their entire plan is based on an ever expanding economy and that can only be sustained with more people and larger populations.  The individuals who control these corporations and all of this money are so greedy they are willing, ignorantly, of sacrificing all our futures for their immediate and insatiable lust for wealth.

    And that is precisely why the average person must recapture our government from the clutches of these horrible people who now control almost all of our representatives and the two major parties.  There is no other sane coarse of action.  While we have any democracy left we must spread the word and retake our own future, and the future of the planet.

    And I’m not talking about violent revolution but rather a real, true revolution at the polls.  Let the pen be mightier than the sword! 

  • http://findanoutlet.wordpress.com/ Find an Outlet

    But Bill, hasn’t it always been this way? There have always been warrior cultures, brutal cultures. Who are we to say we must fix them? Perhaps our view of poverty only reflects our personal understanding of it. What about before there was an America? Peoples of the world have been enslaving each other from the beginnings of mankind—America has only been here a short time in comparison. I agree that most, but not all, modern corporations have greed at their core—but they, as well as the media, are relatively new influences. High infant mortality rate, disease, local wars, etc., kept populations in check for thousands of years. Have modern campaigns to halt this, not just by corporations but by society in general, made things worse?

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    Intriguing, and you are correct about the history of man.  Yes there has always been human oppression on humans and upon the earth and all of its elements, living and nonliving.  That simply does not make it either right or acceptable.  When we stop struggling to prevent travesty, especially when our hearts we know it is wrong, we loose our best human quality-compassion.

    I have not lost hope that we can struggle successfully to correct, no change, our human direction.  And yes, this includes major population control.  But you are right, in the end, if we do not arrest our flaws, nature will take control and reduce humanity to past history. 

    And the earth will continue without us.  And that is not hard to imagine at all.

Nature Blog Network