I am a writer.
Or, I guess I should say I was a writer.
I was a journalist for years back in Dallas and I loved it. I loved meeting people and hearing their stories, sometimes good, sometimes bad. As a friend of mine from college said, “everyone has a book inside of them” adding, “it’s just that most of them you’d rather not read.”
I loved finding threads of meaning in seemingly innocuous details (hey, I have a BFA in theatre, I’m dramatic; it’s what I do). Like when a copywriter asked me why I liked being the home and garden reporter. “Because the way you decorate your house is a clue to who you are and who you want to be when you’re totally alone.”
“God, I’m never inviting you over for dinner. I’m color blind,” he said.
But I got laid off four years ago, and I’m not exactly known for my discipline, so here I am: a sometimes-writer who has forgotten what to say.
My creativity, even while surrounded by the majesty of this high desert, seems to have taken that long-past pink slip and decided it was a ticket to watch as much Masterpiece Theatre while eating burritos as humanly possible. That is to say, my muse abandoned me. Even selling my TV didn’t bring her back (because, let’s be honest here, everyone in Big Bend says they don’t have TV, but you all know everyone’s hunkered down anyway watching Netflix and Hulu on their computer screens. Same diff, people.)
Thank god I was accepted into Tierra Grande Texas Master Naturalist class of 2012. It has helped me remember that I don’t have to say anything at all.
"In a fire, not everything burns," we were taught. Along with, “not every tree gets to grow up.”
Over the course of the weekend we hiked Mt. Livermore and tried desperately to soak up the knowledge of The Nature Conservancy’s Associate Director of Field Science John Karges, Texas Parks and Wildlife Botanist Jackie Poole and CDRI Executive Director Dr. Catherine Hoyt. And what we learned from them sounded like prose flowing effortlessly to the page:
"Rattlesnakes can taste the air."
"Trees have living libraries, you just have to know how to read them."
"A worry of ravens is the same as a murder of crows."
Through these lectures I suddenly remembered that Mother Nature has her own language that hangs like fruit all around us. Everything she does serves as the template we use inside our own private worlds. Love and heartbreak, fear, vice, narcissism, humiliation, triumph, and perseverance, it’s all there, playing out in the natural world over and over serving as a sentinel for us, like the play inside the play of Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
"This 'Tripod Tree' is an Alligator Juniper that has had its heart burned out and is still alive” or “males in the lizard family heighten their colors and/or do push-ups to attract the females” and "Most Texas rivers are dammed." (Remind you of anyone?)
What’s the old quote? “There are no new ideas, there are only new ways of making them felt.” Well, did you know that, like the wolf, the Grasshopper Mouse howls at the moon? Or that a female frog of one species will never respond to the calls of male frogs from different species?
The window into our behavior doesn’t come from laying on a couch endlessly answering, “Tell me about your mother.” In fact mysteries are revealed everyday inside the biologies of wind, rain, fire, plants and animals. "Fire makes its own weather, makes its own wind."
I’d forgotten that somehow.
So thank you Master Naturalist class of 2012. I am awake and aware again. I await your next move.
After all, “nature bats last.”
This essay appears in the August edition of The Big Bend Gazette.