From a Front Porch
I live on the second floor of a century-old brick house in the avenues of Salt Lake City, a recent transplant from the valleys of Western Montana. As such, the foreign swirl of traffic disturbs me out of sweet, dark sleep nightly. Giggles, rummaging clangs in trash cans, and private-public arguments ring through the alley below—a thoroughfare for domestic disputes and private conversations heard too keenly. I smell burnt toast from the apartment building adjacent nearly every Tuesday and Thursday morning. Why do they keep burning the toast? Change the setting, I think, as I toss and turn into a newly urban lifestyle.
In Montana, it is easy to recognize the natural world, as it clearly dominates the urban. Here, though the occasional willful raindrop careens through a polluted screen, and the soft scent of some distant sage sneaks through on the odd forbidden breeze, I feel almost wholly disconnected from the land around me, sitting amidst my lofty abode in the polluted sky. I would like to alter this perspective by embarking on a practice of witness in the style of the late Aldo Leopold. While I may not have access to the “liberal education” provided by the ample farm woodland that Leopold enjoyed in his natural education, I do have a front porch, my one piece of sacred ground (Leopold 73). I commit one full day of my body and mind to observation from the confines of my little deck, accompanied by a plant identification book, a laptop for the occasional read, and a bottomless cup of strong coffee, and will report back with details.
Morning, or sitting in rain.
From my front porch at 8am, it’s quickly become clear that I, unlike old Aldo, am not the sole owner of all the acres I can walk over, nor am I willing to awaken at dawn. Last night’s rain cleansed the mountain firs, the oak-brush hills, and the oil-slicken city streets—even found its way to the round yellow cushions that pad my porch chair, and now, to the seat of my pajamas. An old man with wispy hair rustles by with his miniscule, panting dog, speaking in familial tongues only a dependent species could love. Dozens of poised people adorned in vibrant scarves have sauntered into the salon across the alley, dragging bags filled with devices meant to distract. But here I am, distracted by the human when I intend to explore the entirety of the biotic community. But was it not the interplay of the biotic community, weather, and human that changed their wardrobes from those of shorts and tanks to sweaters and scarves? Autumn begins to play its part. Yet the bees still happily buzz through the Trumpet vine crawling onto my porch railing from the ground below. Upon further investigation, I find a thriving community of gardeners who detest this vine for its “sinister...spreading roots that submarine underground far from the original plant and pop up suckers everywhere. Fighting rampant trumpet vines is a war you can’t win without herbicide” (Bender). Sounds too much like the habit of homosapiens towards multiplication and survival—doesn’t it? Though sunlight has yet to reach my seat, it dances and twirls within the lime-green leaves of the Trumpet vine, proclaiming a new day, “announcing [its] place in the family of things” (“Wild Geese”). I feel more peace than I have in a while.
Afternoon, or a story of neighboring trees.
A tired, tall Sugar Maple stands before me, half-brown leaves bending to the suggestion of a cool breeze. I consider William Denison’s desire to explore the enchanted interplay of the biotic community of Douglas Fir treetops in western Oregon, and notice that I, too, am visiting the realm of treetops. Epiphytes are plants that grow on other plants but do not kill them, like Spanish or Hoary-fringe moss. Denison climbed trees to understand. I stare at a tree to try. Brown lichen covers a majority of the trunk, and though I can’t discern what type or relation