Episode 2 of Thinking on My Feet: Doc Bullis’s Virtual-Radio Trail Report (Mid-June)

Welcome to the second episode of Doc Bullis’s Virtual Radio* Trail Report. Today’s episode is brought to you by Mystery Rot™, a subsidiary of 2015, The Hottest Year on Record.

* Not an actual radio.

Friends, allow me to tell you a little bit about my walking habit. My town—Bellingham, Washington—has an incredible wealth of trails. Not all of the area is pedestrian-friendly, but trails, and systems of trails, are numerous. With only a few miles of pavement stomping necessary, it’s possible to string together a whole day’s calm by rambling through interurban forests, undeveloped woodlands, and neighborhood networks. Some trails are in designated parks; others have been established through long habits of use by dedicated walkers.

For the 23 years I’ve lived in western Washington, I’ve attempted to maintain basic health and mental equilibrium by hiking several days a week.  (Some days I ride my horse or binge on tortilla chips instead. The former works very well, the latter not quite so much.) Daily walking, especially when I can be on the trail for an hour or more, is a way to derail my anxious thoughts, which otherwise steam-engine through my brain—thoughts I amplify if I sit at the computer intending to write but instead read news websites and despair about the rapidly worsening condition of our planet. When I get up and go outside, get on a dirt trail and move my legs, some kind of kinesthetic therapy takes place. I burn off the stress hormones—adrenaline and cortisol—induced by all the bad news, and replace some of my despairing, spinning, anxious thoughts with serene thoughts, creative ideas, and images of natural beauty.

Sharpie on paper, June 2015

Sharpie on paper, June 2015

I’ve been meaning to write about this natural beauty for some time. I’ve been slowly learning to draw and paint, following a parallel urge to create visual versions of what I find in these coastal Cascade lowlands and foothills.

My impulses to draw and paint have taken on additional urgency from the distress my local nature is currently experiencing. We on the west coast of North America are experiencing The Hottest Year on Record. Last winter, our mountains got just 22% of normal snowfall. Since spring, El Nino conditions have meant that most of the rainstorms usually saturating our landscape have bypassed us. It’s possible that this dryness will be prolonged, as part of a new pattern of regional heat and drought that are part of a changing global climate. The Pacific Northwest is hot, folks, and our forests are hurting.

I know this with a deep dread that feels different from my usual anxious dread. For years, I’ve been able to alleviate anxiety by taking myself to the woods. Now, the woods are in distress, and they are are distressing me back.

What am I going to do? I’m going to keep walking the trails. I’m going to tell you what I experience. I’m going to bear witness, to bring you words about the peril and the beauty I see.

So what did I see this week? Let’s get to the Trail Report.

Noises Heard:

  • Swainson’s thrushes along North-South Trail. Love those fluting, upward-spiraling notes! Apparently, the males use these songs to warn other males away from their nesting territories.
  • The sound of leaves falling. Whaaaa? Seriously: it’s only June, and with this year’s warm, early spring, the trees have gone all in on leaf production. Even on still days, blackened alder leaves—rotted from early heat? Some kind of fungal infestation? —slowly drift to the ground. Meanwhile, more alder leaves, big-leaf maple leaves, and cottonwood leaves continue to flourish and proliferate on every available stem.
Not actual huckleberries.

Not actual huckleberries.

Berry Update: Salmonberries done; thimbleberries ripe and delicious. Salal berries forming from heather-like buds, which appear to be fewer this year. Tiny green huckleberries forming. Elderberries plentiful: abundant and striking red throughout the woods.

Wildlife Sighted: Downy woodpecker on fir trunk along Upper Loop Trail. Douglas squirrel at Five Cedars One Nurse Log.

Wilddeath Sighted: Dead mole on North-South Trail; dead mouse on Maple Cathedral Trail. Not sure what to make of these deaths: no indications of predators. Are these further victims of Mystery Rot?

Thanks for listening, and please stay tuned for next week’s episode, in which I’ll be having another episode!

Introducing “Thinking on My Feet, Doc Bullis’s Virtual-Radio Trail Report”

Welcome to Episode 1 of “Thinking on My Feet, Doc Bullis’s* Virtual-Radio Trail Report”

*Not an actual medical doctor.

This episode is the first of a ten-episode season of my new blog-based radio show, Thinking on My Feet. Here, you’ll find berry updates, wildlife sightings, and noises heard. Stay tuned as I spend Summer 2015 hiking local trails and attempting to self-heal. Along the way, we’ll appreciate natural beauty, consider eco-news from elsewhere on the Internet, and try to reconcile instances of metacognitive dissonance.

Since you’re reading this as digital text, you’re probably uncomfortably aware that you’re not listening to this trail report with your actual ears. “Jennifer,” you want to tell me, “your blog is not a radio. You haven’t given us a file we can listen to. Please stop deluding yourself and making us uncomfortable.” And I say, Please go along with me here. Embrace the synesthesia, the weird swapping of senses. I have to do this radio show in writing, to maintain my contact with the written word. I need visual images, and, if I join the 21st century soon and get a phone with a built-in camera as my family keeps urging me to do, will post some photos from the trail. I may even post—and here I give you fair warning—gratuitous pictures of my horse*. Mostly, I want to share with you the audio that plays in my head while I’m walking around.

*Not an actual trail horse.

And now, a word from our sponsor.

Thinking on My Feet is made possible by a grant from Solitude, The Balm to Introverts Everywhere ™.  Solitude is proud to introduce Thinking on My Feet’s Cast of Occasionally Recurring Characters: folks I encounter from time to time on the trail—some in person, some only in the form of clues they leave—who kindly refrain from engaging me in lengthy conversation.

Thinking on My Feet’s Cast of Occasionally Recurring Characters:

Pipe Guy. Early 20s, moderate beard. Sits on a mossy stump beside the junction of two neighborhood connector trails smoking blackberry tobacco, the scent of which makes me think of my long-departed maternal grandfather. Pipe Guy always hears me approaching from around the bend and, if the breeze isn’t carrying pipe smoke in my direction to alert me to his presence, kindly makes a preemptive remark about the weather so as not to startle me.

Labradoodle Guy. Late 60s. “Walks” two different Labradoodles on alternating days. Greater Labradoodle is blond, boisterous, off-leash; always jumps up and muddies my shirt. Lesser Labradoodle is sandy-brown, boisterous, also off-leash; always jumps up and muddies my pants. “Don’t worry!” shouts Labradoodle Guy from eighty yards down the trail. “He’s friendly!”

The Commuters. Two young men, possibly college students, wearing messenger bags. Bump through the woods on West Ridge Trail riding fixed-gear bikes (not mountain bikes) at high speed as though late for class. Always nod to me wordlessly without taking their eyes off the trail. They are concentrating on not wiping out.

Phone Lady. Mid-fifties, high-volume, patient. Phone Lady engages in cell-phone communication with her elderly mother, for whom she needs to repeat herself frequently. If I had to have phone conversations like that, I’d do it from the trail, too. Phone Lady always greets me Scots fashion, giving me a thumbs-up with her free hand.

Dog Groomer. Mystery character, known only by what s/he leaves on the trail: variously located tufts of dog hair. Hair is white with an orange tinge, medium-length, wooly, often in clumps straight from a dog brush. Judging by volume of hair, the dog is enormous.

Trail Builder. Slowly but diligently constructs new trails through dense woods. Not authorized but obviously skilled; willing to haul and hand-chip deadfall trees to make walkways through muddy areas (complete with 4” PVC culverts to channel water under). Appears to do a little work every day, though I have never seen him/her in action. Hypothesis: Trail Builder is motivated by desire to avoid walking on a stretch of noisy, foot-punishing, crusher-gravel trail built by the Parks Department a few years back. Sharing this motivation plus a love of exploring new footpaths, I appreciate Trail Builder’s work.

Weeder. I have never encountered Weeder in person; I have only seen evidence of her or his passing. Weeder digs up small specimens of non-native plants and leaves them to dry and die in the trail. Occasionally digs up native plants, causing me to puzzle over Weeder’s motivation. Maybe Weeder just likes to dig.

Feeder. Places birdseed on a stumps and feeds the squirrels in two different locations (Fallen Maple Log and 5 Cedars 1 Nurse Log). When I see a new pile of food set out, I’m always tempted to leave a note informing Feeder that feeding wild squirrels is counter to their survival: the squirrels could become dependent on human feeding; they may not teach their babies how to find food on their own; the overabundance of peanuts and sunflower seeds may discourage the squirrels from foraging for other foods they need to meet their nutritional needs, etc., etc. Interestingly, the squirrels in these two places are native Douglas squirrels (small, reddish-brown), not the larger, more-aggressive gray squirrels that have invaded much of the West. Is it possible that Feeder is intentionally (though misguidedly) supporting the Douglas squirrels against this encroachment on their habitat? Is it possible that Feeder is also Weeder, one person on a mission to purge this forest of non-native invaders? If so, why does Weeder-Feeder not go after the rapidly proliferating blackberry vines or English holly bushes in these woods? So many questions.

Flagger/Blazer. Possibly Trail builder; possibly multiple characters. Places various markers (spray-paint dots, colored-plastic surveyor’s tape) on tree trunks to designate trail routes, property boundaries, and who knows what else. Future utility lines? Loggers’ selections? Development plans? Flagger/Blazer is an ominous presence, hinting at changes coming to these woods.

Thank you for listening, and please tune in next weekend for Episode 2 of Thinking on My Feet, Doc Bullis’s Virtual-Radio Trail Report. Next time, I’ll have our first actual Trail Report, including Berry Update, Noises Heard, and Wildlife Sighted.

 

 

You’re Invited! Poems and Stories about Animals at Good Shepherd Center, Seattle: Tuesday, Nov. 18, 7:00 p.m.

I get to be in a reading with Bethany Reid, Rick Clark, J. Glenn Evans, Douglas Schuder,
and David Horowitz. Please come! Here are the details:

BOW-MOO-MEOW: Poems and Stories about Animals
7:00 p.m., Tuesday, November 18, 2014
Room 202, Good Shepherd Center, 4649 Sunnyside Avenue North, Seattle (Wallingford)

Telephone: David D. Horowitz, 206-633-2725
E-mail: David, rosealleypress@juno.com
URL: www.rosealleypress.com

Gratitude for Words of Encouragement

Joannie Stangeland’s latest collection of poetry (Ravenna Press, 2014)

Many, many thanks to Seattle poet, editor, and winemaker Joannie Stangeland for her write-up of Impossible Lessons as her Saturday Poetry Pick yesterday! Her lovely words are here.

In a wonderful coincidence, I’ve been reading her new book, In Both Hands. The poems there are haunting, replete with precise images of beauty and loss. I’m falling in love with, and going to school on, these incredible poems.

Be sure to read another recent post of Joannie’s, in which she describes her current writing projects.

Reading with Bethany Reid on Thursday, January 16, in Redmond

Winner of the Gell Poetry Prize 2012

Sparrow: Poems by Bethany Reid

I’m thankful for an abundance of opportunities to share poetry in the New Year. Next week, I get to participate in the SoulFood Poetry Night at Soul Food Coffee House in Redmond, Washington. I’ll be reading with Bethany Reid, whom I also had the privilege of interviewing for the Blog Hop last February. She’s author of the poetry collection  Sparrow, which won the Gell Prize in 2012.

The poems in Sparrow are gorgeous. Bethany writes about growing up on her family’s cattle farm, about her daughters and horses (I especially love her poems about horses)–and in language that’s precise, original, and felt by the body. I got to hear her read some of the poems in Bellingham last October, and her voice lends these poems an even-more pleasurable presence.

SoulFood Coffee House is located at 15748 Redmond Way; click here for map and directions. Our reading will start at 7:00, followed by an open mic at 8:00. Please join us if you can!

Artist Profile in the Bellingham Herald

Yesterday, the Bellingham Herald ran an Artist Profile of me in advance of my chapbook launch next Wednesday. The interviewer, Margaret Bikman, had me discuss details about my writing process and my attraction to poetry in order to shed light on the poems in Impossible Lessons. If you’re interested in those things, or in learning more about my mysterious past, please check out the interview here.

Happy weekend, and thanks for reading!
Jennifer

How Do I Get My Hands on This Book, You Ask?

Dear Readers,

Please go ahead and judge this book by its cover, which I like very much.

Please go ahead and judge this book by its cover, which I like very much.

As promised, I’ve figured out how to get my new chapbook of poems, Impossible Lessons, to you if you’d like a copy. Here are four ways:

1) If you live in Whatcom County, Village Books now has copies upstairs in the Poetry Section; look for the “Local Authors” display. *

2) If you can come to my book launch celebration at Village Books on July 10 (7:00 p.m.), I’ll sign your copy and probably also give you a hug.

3) If you live elsewhere in the U.S., please email me at jenniferbullis (at) comcast (dot) net and give me your mailing address. I’ll email you back with my mailing address; you mail me a check for $10, and I’ll mail you a signed copy. Postage is on me!

Please know that if you buy through Amazon, neither my publisher (MoonPath Press) nor I receive any income for the copy. That’s why I’m plugging these other options. However, I do encourage you to visit the Amazon page for Impossible Lessons so that you can browse the first several poems of the book and read the embarrassingly sweet blurbs that some poet-friends of mine wrote for the back cover.

4) If you live outside the U.S., please do order your copy through Amazon.com. Their magical international sourcing elves will ship it to you for much cheaper than I can arrange.

Thank you, dear readers, for all your support and enthusiasm about this book! I’m delighted that it’s finally here to share with you!

Cheers,
Jennifer

* If you live in Whatcom County and your name happens to be Lee, John S. (of John and Lee), John S. (the other John S.), Luci, Marya, Jeff, Sherri, Jeremy, or Carol–you all know who you are–don’t you dare buy a copy! I will be delivering yours to you in person.