Welcome to Love of Place

To pre-order Diary of a Citizen Scientist: Chasing Tiger Beetles and Other New Ways of Engaging the World, out this October 1, 2014, go to http://osupress.oregonstate.edu/book/diary-of-citizen-scientist

Think of this as a dinner out? And a dinner date, the two of us, talking about citizen science.

Feel free to contact me at http://www.sharmanaptrussell.com or through my author Facebook page, Sharman Apt Russell.


Tuesday, August 19, 2014





August is Walt Whitman Month. Okay, maybe not. But the glorious rainy season here in the Gila Valley should be Walt Whitman month and so it is in my house, Walt Whitman, Walt Whitman, the poet I blame the most for who I am. In college, I read his long poem “Song of Myself” like the Book of Psalms. We were all meant to be Walt Whitman, children of the cosmos, male and female, young and old, plantation owner and slave. Like him, our bodies are made of earth and sidewalk. We spread sideways into nature. We burrow into people. Animals adorn us. Plants grow in our ears. We have lived a trillion summers and will live a trillion more. Unlock the doors, unscrew the door jambs, take down the walls! We experience everything. We are everyone. (We are the orange skipperling.) We go naked and undisguised to the river bank, mad to be in contact with the air which is for our mouth forever. Logic will never convince. Sermons do not convince. The damp of the night drives deeper.

In the nineteenth century, Whitman proposed to write an “indigenous” or uniquely American poetry that reflected the country’s abundance of resources, energy, ambition, and political idealism. He brought together mysticism and scientific theory and fused them in a fiery circle. He would allow for no separation, certainly not the separation of humanity from the natural world. He infected me when I was young and impressionable with his dreams of democracy and his cries of celebration. His “barbaric yawp” proclaimed that this was our job--to celebrate and be joyous.

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Friday, August 8, 2014

I walk Sacaton Mesa surrounded by cloud streets, cloud turrets, a small cloud East Asian art museum, cloud doorways arched and dissolving. It is architecture on the move. A storm builds in the east. The cloud cliffs grow taller. The prow of a ship crashes into another. Already there is rain over the Mogollon Mountains, the line clear between where water is falling and where it is not. Already I should turn back and hurry home if I do not want to get soaking wet.

I feel what the Transcendentalists might have called a correspondence. This beauty is not a doorway into something better. This beauty is my other half. This sky, this majesty, is my other self. I feel the yearning to reunite, join with the sky. In some way, we reflect each other. I am transparent, and the clouds pass through me. I have felt this before on Sacaton Mesa, and I am careful now not to get too excited or try and hold on to the moment with words. The Quaker tradition of silence works best. There is something under the words. There is something calm and whole under the words. (from Standing in the Light: My Life as a Pantheist)

Saturday, June 28, 2014



Recently I have been in Los Angeles teaching at Antioch University. A few weeks ago I was in a city in northern Spain, watching the narrow streets fill with people of all ages—coming together to eat and drink and enjoy each other. As an environmentalist, I believe that the cultural conversation has shifted to green cities—walkable, livable, lovable, filled with beauty and art--the hope now for our relationship to the planet. Cities are where 85 percent of Americans now live, where humans will use the least resources and emit the fewest greenhouse gases, where creativity sparks in the diminished spaces between us, where we’ll contain the damage of overpopulation. Long ago, in the 1980s, my husband and I were back-to-the-landers, believing we were on the cutting edge of social change. We were part of a larger cultural conversation, wanting to root our lives in soil and sun, to make the world better by making our personal connections to the natural world more direct in the shape of an onion or an adobe brick—with a home-built house and a too-big garden and two homebirths and two goats and too much goat cheese in the refrigerator. Today I am acutely aware that living in the rural West is less ecologically sound than living in places like Madrid or Portland. I am not unhappy that the ideas of my youth—the very arc of my life--have been proven wrong. I’m only relieved that the cultural conversation is still alive. I’m pleased hope still exists.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014



Today I am in Los Angeles teaching at Antioch University. A few weeks ago I was in a city in northern Spain, watching the narrow streets fill with people of all ages—coming together to eat and drink and enjoy each other. As an environmentalist, I believe that the cultural conversation has shifted to green cities—walkable, livable, lovable, filled with beauty and art--the hope now for our relationship to the planet. Cities are where 85 percent of Americans now live, where humans will use the least resources and emit the fewest greenhouse gases, where creativity sparks in the diminished spaces between us, where we’ll contain the damage of overpopulation. Long ago, in the 1980s, my husband and I were back-to-the-landers, believing we were on the cutting edge of social change. We were part of a larger cultural conversation, wanting to root our lives in soil and sun, to make the world better by making our personal connections to the natural world more direct in the shape of an onion or an adobe brick—with a home-built house and a too-big garden and two homebirths and two goats and too much goat cheese in the refrigerator. Today I am acutely aware that living in the rural West is less ecologically sound than living in places like Madrid or Portland. I am not unhappy that the ideas of my youth—the very arc of my life--have been proven wrong. I’m only relieved that the cultural conversation is still alive. I’m pleased hope still exists.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

 


Yesterday I saw a white-lined sphinx moth in the yard. A flying Escher painting! The Op Art of the Sixties reborn! Whirring, rotor-whirling away, a dervish on a mission. And then that proboscis or “drinking straw” which extends half the length of the moth’s body, a kind of magic trick--like pulling an impossibly long scarf from your sleeve. This is an insect whose life has been one long art scene, the caterpillars also highly designed: often lime-green with a yellow head, side rows of spots bordered by black lines, and a bright yellow-orange horn protruding at the rear. The horn’s function is to scare off attackers like wasps or stink bugs, with the larva rearing up like a miniature sphinx, regal and demanding, daring you to interfere with its happy life of eating. Periodically, these moths hatch from their eggs en masse and can be seen migrating toward food. Years ago, herds of such larvae were described stretched out for hundreds of yards on well-traveled roads in the Southwest. For various reasons, I doubt we will see such abundance again. I’m happy just to see this single hallucinatory blur in my yard, my first sphinx moth of the season.

--photos by Elroy Limmer

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Where an arroyo meets the dirt road, I stop and look for tracks. A few feet up the stream bed are a nice set of bobcat prints. There’s no mistaking that roundness, the leading toe, and size of the front and back feet. I also see a fox print, or maybe a small coyote. Foxes are on my mind since I saw one earlier in the day, a blur of movement that ran so quickly into the brush I spent a few minutes questioning what I had seen. Was that a fox or a wish?

That’s one good thing about tracks. They stay there. You can admire them for long minutes, imagining the animal who passed by, feeling the tangible presence of a bobcat, short-tailed, tufted-ear, delicately-spotted, charismatic, playful, predatory.

It’s another gift, the world showering us with gifts, the tail of a fox, tracks in the sand, and there--a massive dark rock with white radiating lines, a geometric pattern of dark and light, veins of quartz, cool to the touch.

Is this rock for me? I feel the need to fall in love with the world, to forge that relationship ever more strongly. But maybe I don’t have to work so hard. I have thought nature indifferent to humans, to one more human, but maybe the reverse is true. Maybe the world is already in love, giving me these gifts all the time, calling out all the time: take this. And this. And this. Don’t turn away.

(Photo by Elroy Limmer)

Monday, September 30, 2013



My Nature’s Notebook walk, those three acres behind my house and irrigation ditch, has been over-taken by an invasion of six-feet-high kochia, a drought-tolerant member of the chenopodium family brought to North America in the early 1900s from the steppes of southern Russia. Also known as poor man’s alfalfa and sometimes grown as a low-cost feed, the red-stemmed plant with slender leaves is brown now and drying, seed-heads bursting, stalks sharp, a prickly mass tangled with wolfberry and hackberry and tumbleweed—another exotic from Russia, another thorn in the side of the West. Game trails snake through this sudden dense field, paths too low and narrow for me to use. Instead I have to shoulder through, snapping, flinching, accumulating debris. My socks grow needles. My clothes harbor enemies. (Clothes are preferable to being naked, of course. What a thought.)  

 At this time of year, I stop going on certain hikes precisely because of this bad plant behavior, the way these species spread their seeds in hardened, sculptured capsules designed to catch on surfaces and be transported elsewhere: the spiny cocklebur and showering pins of Bigelows beggarticks, the common storkbill with its augurs and upward-pointing barbs, the horns of devil’s claw enclosing a shoe while the goathead pierces right through the leather bottom. Today I have no choice but to mince and barrel through these yielding waves of reproductive animosity, needing to check on my desert willow and honey mesquite and fourwing saltbush.
   
It’s the female saltbush that makes me pause and feel oddly tender, that maternal figure almost hidden—transformed, burdened-- under a massive cloak of brown, papery, four-winged seed. 

Back at my house, the native sunflowers grow up wild and well-watered in the orchard and courtyard so that they tower eight, nine, ten feet high, forming tunnels and bowers, topped by bright yellow flower-faces. It’s like living in a picture book.  I expect a giant ladybug. A talking caterpillar.