Category Archives: Nature

My Teaching Voice

Since leaving Lake Arrowhead three years ago I’ve been having trouble hanging on to my voice. And not just my voice really, but also my words. Sentences and paragraphs and pages of text I should be writing but that I push aside for a good novel or a movie or a great new recipe involving bacon, sweet potatoes, rigatoni, mascarpone cheese and fresh sage (this, a recent distraction—the dishes are still soaking in the sink).

I’m sure it’s not only that I am in mourning.

Some of my writing inertia could be due to a mind busy with other things—new things, like teaching college speech and all that entails… learning innovative technologies, tackling a new curriculum, slugging through online faculty required “teaching”courses, trying to lacquer my wild mane into some semblance of what my imagination believes a professor’s hair should look like…oh so many time consuming diversions.

Still, I know I should also be writing creatively.

I’m sure it’s not only that I am in mourning.

When I left Lake Arrowhead, a pain planted itself firmly behind my breast plate and I can’t shake it. I can’t walk it off, though my dear husband and I take many beautiful nature walks every single week. I can’t read it off, though I take time to immerse myself in many an enjoyable book. I can’t yoga it off, or massage it off, or wine it off. It is sewn in, gorilla glued, bolted; it is chained to my heart.

But that cannot be the only reason I do not write.

I did, in fact, write quite a bit a year and more back. (The book is about Lake Arrowhead.)

SouthernCAjuly2015 001

Lake Arrowhead, CA

But I’m sure it’s not only that I am mourning.

I adore Wisconsin, and the weather here suits us perfectly. The vast greenness of the place in summer, the orange-red-yellow-green autumns, the take your breath away white frozen winters. A lake so big it looks Pacific. Lake Arrowhead, amplified.

Mourning comes to some of us for a visit. For me, without my children and my grandchildren, it stays. It has moved in to the quaint little Cape Cop home on the tree-lined avenue where we now live. It’s here to stay.

There, I’ve said it.

Missing Lake Arrowhead means missing a million moments that can never be regained—with my kids, with my grandchildren, with my friends, with all the people I was so fortunate to know. And as much as I love the cardinals and Canadian geese (and I love them a lot!), there is something sad about knowing that I will never happen upon a bear or be awakened in the night by the ungodly howl of a pack of coyotes closing in on its prey.

So, my voice began to falter a while back and has gone somewhat quiet of late.

My husband began to worry, so I finally forced myself to sit and write tonight, but as little as this accomplishment is, and as much as I love him, I cannot give him much of the credit for bringing me to my chair, for opening the blank page, for placing my fingers on the keys and letting them speak for me, expose me, help me… nor can I take any of the credit myself.

It came not from knowing that I should do it, it came instead as a magical gift from a miraculous profession.

Teaching.

Thinking I needed more family photos on my office walls, I drove over to Walgreens this afternoon to pick up some photographs I had ordered. They are beautiful photos of our newest granddaughter, Adaline Lorene, and her big sister, Jasmine, who visited us here in Wisconsin this past June.

As you can see, they are worth the ache. My girls.

     Anyway.

On my way back out to the car I stopped to ask a young man (who was coughing uncontrollably as if he might be choking) if I could help him. Just a simple, “Are you okay? Can I do anything?”

The young woman next to him, obviously his companion, said, “I recognize that voice! Do you remember me?”

The coughing continued, but she ignored it. She walked toward me. “I heard your voice and I said, ‘That’s my speech teacher!””

Of course, I remembered her, a lovely person and a good public speaker, animated and organized. We hugged. Her manfriend, ignored, coughed his way unaided to their car.

“Does he need help?” I asked. “Does he need the Heimlich? Because I’ll do it.”

“He’ll be fine,” she said. “It’s wonderful to see you.”

She recognized my voice. Here, in Kenosha, a town of roughly 100,000 people. She recognized my voice.

It seems silly, perhaps. To place so much value on recognition. But I do. I suddenly felt a little less alone. The sharing of a past. In Lake Arrowhead, a teacher never goes out without encountering a former or present student, which sometimes unnerved me. I never realized how important it was to my self-image, to my belief that I was connected to the community. I knew that I loved my students, but I didn’t perhaps understand how much I needed them.

Today I was given back a small piece of my voice, reflected through a young woman’s memory. I still feel the pain, I still crave the everyday closeness of my grandchildren, and I still miss the bears, but I can write, and that’s a soft and soothing salve for my soul. I’ll take it.

FallWinter2015Mostly 200

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Filed under Depression, Gratitude, Lake Arrowhead, Nature, Reading, Teacher, Voice, Wisconsin, Writing, Writing Advice

But Night Crawler is so much more Evocative

Our yard in May contains the world. Wisconsin teems with life. For many of us living in climates where the temperatures are at or below freezing for so many months of the year, this is a heady experience. One day you’re wearing your jacket and mittens and looking at everything brown and gray, and almost like Dorothy’s arrival in Munchkinland, the next moment goes blindingly Technicolor.

IMG_1086

A Few Minutes Ago…

It is grass that melting snow washes to emerald green. Tiny lime-colored leaves on black branches. Tulips, orange, and pink, and red. Daffodils, deep yellow and apricot. Lilacs, deep purple, lavender, and white.

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Munchkinland

Robin’s breast russet, and then those impossibly lovely blue shells their babies shed in unexpected places. I find one on the metal chair on the front deck. Cardinals, still here, looking tropical now, the crimson against the green. Red-winged black birds. White herons. Orioles, as orange as the fruit we feed them.

The sky at day, a brilliant blue, at night diamonds and velvet.

 

My husband calls me out to the yard.
“You have to see this.”
It’s dark and slightly cool. Wet.

“Look.”
He shines a flashlight across the lawn, catching the quiet, clandestine movements of thousands of earthworms.
They are everywhere. The lawn is undulating like the surface of a lake. I’m afraid I’ll hurt them.

He bids me come. “Step slowly. Lightly.”

I’m sure I shouldn’t be out like this, could never tread lightly enough. I say a quick prayer. “Please don’t let me do any harm.”

We stand together watching the glistening movement as the worms slide back into the ground. Everywhere the light hits them, they move. We talk about what they are doing. We’ve never learned.

I suspect they come up out the earth and the rich dark loom to gulp in the sweet, sweet air. My husband suspects it’s for sex.

We know very little about the life of worms. Such a common thing to know so little about. We feel silly, and are sure these must be things our parents were born knowing. Like the call of a mockingbird.

Then, a voice inside me says, Thibookworm-151738__180s is why they’re called night crawlers, Lori. And I know I am a complete dolt. How could this simple fact have escaped my attention all these years? Though it’s no excuse, night crawlers is not a term I ever remember being used in my family. Just earthworms, or simply worms. We didn’t fish, and we didn’t garden much. Out of sight, out of mind.

But “Night crawlers” is so much more evocative. Briefly, I picture little worm-sized, worm-shaped zombies crawling out of tiny worm-graves, marked by little crosses and a mausoleum or two—“Here lies Squirmy, Beloved Father and Husband”—our entire lawn a movie set for a new Tim Burton story.

graveimage                   How could I miss this?

“They’re good for the garden,” I say. (We’ve just planted tomatoes, peas, beets, onions, peppers, lettuce, and broccoli.)
“Yes.”
As we walk back to the house, I think, “And fireflies will be next.”

 

Rachel “Lori” Pohlman, Copyright 2016

*For some interesting facts on worms, such as the fact that, yes, there is some sex involved in night crawling (but that’s not all they do), go to: http://blog.nwf.org/2014/02/ten-things-to-know-about-earthworms/.

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Filed under Humor, Nature, Night Crawlers, Seasons, Uncategorized, Wisconsin, Worms, Writing

Tatonka!

My computer screen scrolls my pictures. I’m sure many of yours do, too. Today, after my first full week (which was only 4 days long!) of work teaching high schoolers to become legal Wisconsin drivers, I came home to an empty house and decided to celebrate with music and a little bit of wine and writing. To be honest, my house is never empty, because I have dogs. They are not tatonkas, but they are furry and large (considering the extent of my downsized cottage).

I’m thinking of tatonkas because of this picture.tatonka!

The tatonkas pictured here are not real bison, of course. We are just three friends pretending to be tatonkas at a wonderful country western eatery and music venue located in downtown Chicago. It’s the picture that came up first when I turned my laptop on tonight. Sometimes a thousand words can be useful to describe a picture.

People who know me well know that I am a big fan of wolves—that I have aligned myself with the Defenders of Wildlife for many years, in part because of the hard work they do to protect wolves. Wolves, you may be thinking, are not tatonkas.

True. But everything is connected.

In the beginning of this story, there is a girl laying in the back seat of a 1972 Oldsmobile reading a book. It is a hot summer day and the car has stopped somewhere in South Dakota because the driver, my dad, and the copilot, my brother Billy, have come across a herd of buffalo. “Sis! Sis! Put down that book and get out here and look,” Billy says. “Bison!”

The girl, me, barely looks up. “What’s the big dif?” she asks. “Big cows.” (To be fair to the girl in the backseat, she has spent the bulk of her childhood reading because…well, there are all sorts of both good and sad reasons for that…and she has been living in the Midwest, a land that is loaded with large four-legged bovine creatures…she just doesn’t see the “big dif.” She is young.)

Fifty years later, she is still reminded of her disdain for the tatonka herd. And she is sorry.

Little did she know that the camping trips of her youth would have such an impact on her future world view. As she matured, the girl learned that such sights were akin to great magic. In 1990, when she saw Dances With Wolves for the first time, she was shaken to a degree that can only be described as cataclysmic. Tears. Yes. Weeping. Yes. Regret?

That, too.

Tatonka! If you’ve seen the movie, you are picturing the lovely faces of Kevin Costner and Graham Greene as they connect over the Native American word for buffalo. Just as she did. Finally.

And she began learning more about endangered animals, and history, and love… Eventually, she became a teacher. And eventually, she became a better sister. But never good enough. She bought Billy a beautiful sculpted bison one year for his birthday. She understood that her father had taken her to the wild and free places to observe and to appreciate the creatures of the world. And that her brother had always understood.

More years passed and the girl invited her brother and husband and dear friend to her graduation ceremony at a small college in Washington State. And what did these people see while driving to Goddard College in Port Townsend, WA? A herd of tatonkas, majestic in the green, green grass.

The girl’s brother, Billy, is gone now. Her father, too. But the wolves, and the tatonkas, even more strongly, are making a comeback. So we continue to celebrate and play tatonka when the time is right. The girl stops to catch her breath when she reads a story or sees a picture that reminds her of the great struggle every living creature makes, and must continue to make, to remain. To be remembered, revered, and yes, loved.

All creatures, great and small. All creatures.

Mahalo.bedtimesundanceGood Night.

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Filed under Buffalo, Camping, Dances With Wolves, Nature, Work, Writing

Bumblebees on a Cool Wisconsin Morn

Mr. Bumble

Mr. Bumble

One of the many things I love about my little railroad cottage in Wisconsin is the abundance of fat, furry bumblebees who feed from the flowering hostas that surround the front porch. I love the bumbles, perhaps perversely, partially because they ignore me entirely. Playing hard to get, so to speak.

The other critters ‘round here notice me. The baby bunnies that were around last month became instant pancakes when I walked into the yard, their floppy ears laid flat along their backs, their little shoulders melting into the grass.

Peter Bunny

Peter Bunny

The baby birds stared at me, perhaps wondering if I was about to produce a juicy worm out of my pocket.

BabyBlue

BabyBlue

The mosquitos most certainly notice and adore me. They come, one and all, to create a moving halo around not just my head, but my entire body, each time I step outside. They want to become intimate. Here, they say, let us land on the flesh of your eyelid, the back of your hand, the tender skin at the back of your ankle. We love you.

I do not care for the mosquitos.

I have not taken their picture.

I love everything else. The cardinals, I expected to see only in the snow, but they are here all year. Red streaks against the blue sky. Scarlet flutters among the green branches. They are a bit reserved, I’d say, but they acknowledge me as I pass by.

The squirrels and chipmunks romp around, and sit up straight and still to say hello.

The robins are a part of the family. The butterflies dip and swirl around me. The deer plunge through the underbrush right before me, taller than I could reach, and very, very fast.

The bumblebees ignore me.

They have long tongues. They can get the nectar out of the deepest flower tubes. Their buzz is soft, as I imagine their fur to be. They move slowly. I don’t startle them at all.

Bumblebees do not produce extra honey, I’ve read. Just enough for their own tribe. They have a huge impact on the number of blossoms in my yard. I cherish the bumblebees. I cherish the flowers.

And yes, it is a cool Wisconsin morn.Bumblebees 006

Mahalo.

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Filed under Nature, Writing