Nature writing with my students

By Neva Knott

Prompt: The image of an owl soaring through the night.

I love the darkness and the damp wonder of fall in the Pacific NW–it’s a time of secrets, not those we fear to tell but a time nature reveals her secrets in the details of changing color. Soft grays of dawn unfold to misty mornings that eventually dry and the crayon blue sky of October carries the day to the evening. In the evening, the day birds in the holly tree near my house stop, suddenly. The sky fades back to grey and the temperature drops as the dogs andI take our last walk before dark. Even down town, with the city’s lights ablaze, a fall night is deep and solid and black.

This is the time of deer and coyote and owls. To see an owl in the urban wilderness is a rare gift. I have known this secret only once, in another Pacific NW night. December, in Portland, and that owl found refuge from the snow storm on the branch outside my window. I found him there, feathers aflutter and neck swiveling, leaning toward my secrets as I considered his.

A robin, a church, a garden

By Neva Knott

March 15.

Yesterday, Saturday, we awoke to snow. Light flurries, swirling but not sticking. Dry snow and a cold wind coming up off the low end of the Salish Sea. Ted and I walked for an hour, through our neighborhood, up toward Trinity. A few people were cleaning brush at the church grounds and I greeted them. I am drawn to that place, Trinity Lutheran Church. I wanted to tell them I was baptized there, that it was my grandparents’ church, that everyone in my Cooper bloodline has walked up those steps and crossed the threshold into that church.

But, I didn’t. I kept my secret and we walked on to the field behind the school.

The snow kept falling. I let Ted loose of his leash and he ran quickly and was out of sight. Once I had my eye on him I paused to take a picture of the sign in the winter garden:

I stood and pondered; this garden embodies a life I’d like to live. The sign took me back to a college photo project I’d titled “Wisdom Comes from Watching Nature.” Just this morning, I’d been talking with my sister, restating my belief that we will all need to grow our own food in twenty years; we will need that level of self-reliance.

This garden, a visceral truth I feel walking past the church.

We walked on, traversing the school yard as the snow continued to swirl around us, melting before it landed on the grass. The robins were out. I counted at least twenty of them, moving in an arc, keeping forward of our approach, spanning out across the field to peck and forage.

March to April.

We walk past the church and to the school each day now, with the world shut down. No one is ever there, in the quiet and peace. On Sundays it’s sad to see the church closed and empty. On one of those holy days, I stood for a moment and let my mind recede into memories there of grandma in her Sunday church coat and gloves, and Grandpa–always a bit impatient as he pulled the car out of the garage. It was raining that day; nonetheless, I felt their love:

On another rainy day, and another, I find worms on the sidewalks. I pick up each one and return it to the grass, a habit I’ve since childhood. I think of the robins and of the circle of life.

April 21.

Today, as we made our way to Trinity and the garden and the school, the trees snowed, covering the ground with a flurry of cherry blossoms, pink and delicate. A man has been working in the garden; I’ve seen him I time or two, silent and solitary, dedicated. He does not look up as we pass by. Today I notice he’s left the door to the greenhouse open. Last year’s kale is shoulder high and going to flower.

The blossoms continue to fall and I look up, past the roof of the greenhouse and to the top of an apple tree in the garden. A robin perches there, red breasted, proud. And then, hearing birdsong from across the field, flies up to the top of a spruce and sits, watchful, on high.

April 22.

This evening, as we made our way, I found a cracked robin’s egg on the sidewalk. Blue and hatched. I found a robin’s egg in this same place last spring.

I remembered, and I hope.