A New Tree School saunterer finds snow-on-the-mountain (Euphorbia marginata) in Iowa's Loess Hills. Photo by Robert Smith.

A New Tree School saunterer finds snow-on-the-mountain (Euphorbia marginata) in Iowa’s Loess Hills. Photo by Robert Smith.

Thoreau’s Perverse Back Yard

Henry David Thoreau, the philosophical leader of our Saunters and the spiritual patron of woodsy wanderers everywhere, had definite ideas about landscape design. In Walking he vigorously advocates for wildly native neighborhoods right in town:

“Yes, though you may think me perverse, if it were proposed to me to dwell in the neighborhood of the most beautiful garden that ever human art contrived, or else of a Dismal Swamp, I should certainly decide for the swamp.” 

He would even prefer to have his house in the middle of that wild thicket:

“I often think that I should like to have my house front on this mass of dull red bushes, omitting other flower pots and borders, transplanted spruce and trim box, even graveled walks – to have this fertile spot under my windows… 

Many of us share in this native plant perversity so we might as well embrace it, celebrate it! We will do just that on our next and final Saunter of the summer. We will share ideas on how to plant native plant communities in our yards and seek out wild and lovely trees and shrubs that would make Henry David envious. For me, I want to visit gooseberry, wolfberry, bladdernut, toothache-tree, bee-tree, mossy cup, dogwood, coffee-tree, shadblow, and many others with fanciful names and wild dispositions. This is the ecosystem that sustains us and that we should welcome into our lives and homes.

Saturday, August 2nd at Hitchcock Nature Center in Honey Creek Iowa, 7:30 to 10:00am. See previous posts below for more details. And please let me know if you can come.

Saunter on,


Walk Like a Camel

From Walking:
“But the walking of which I speak has nothing in it akin to taking exercise, as it is called, as the sick take medicine at stated hours – as the Swinging of dumb-bells or chairs; but is itself the enterprise and adventure of the day. If you would get exercise, go in search of the springs of life. Think of a man swinging dumb-bells for his health, when those springs are bubbling up in far-off pastures unsought by him! Moreover, you must walk like a camel, which is said to be the only animal which ruminates while walking.”

– Henry David Thoreau

Let me first say that we are not in the habit of chewing regurgitated roughage during our Saunters. That is not the kind of chewing or walking that Thoreau prescribes. Rather, we saunter. That is, we walk with intention but without agenda. The goal is not exercise, but we do get that along the way. Neither do we intend to botanize, but we usually learn some plants along the way. Butterflies and birds accompany us whether we want them to or not. And uninvited bits of philosophy surprise us. These are all wonderful, but not the reasons we saunter. If you join us this Saturday morning, you will discover why we saunter and exactly what we’re chewing and ruminating.

We’ll meet at 0730 on Saturday, July 26 in front of the barn at Hitchcock Nature Center in Honey Creek, Iowa. We’ll be in the bush from 0800 to 1000, so bring water, wear long pants and sturdy shoes, and apply bug and sun protection. You may also want to bring binoculars and field guides. Please let me know if you’re coming (Jack at 402.571.7460/ jackphillipsrca@gmail.com). Read Thoreau’s essay Walking again or for the first time to prepare. You will easily find it free on Kindle or Google, or linked in previous posts below.

(There is no tuition for our Saunter series, but we do encourage a one-time contribution of $20 to help our programs.)

Wild Friends and Feral Lovers

“Give me for my friends and neighbors wild men, not tame ones. The wildness of the savage is but a faint symbol of the awful ferity with which good men and lovers meet.”

This line from Thoreau’s Walking describes our time together on Saturday mornings. I believe, like Thoreau, that wild nature is human nature and that we can be enlivened by spending time together in the woods and prairies. I’m looking forward to our Saunter this Saturday morning because I could use a strong dose of ferity!

And no more rain outs! There are plenty of places to take cover, so we will saunter rain or shine. Please let me know if you can join us for a Summer Saunter on Saturday morning, July 12 from 0730 to 1000 at Hitchcock Nature Center in Honey Creek, Iowa. Matt Low from the English Department at Creighton University will share insights on nature, nature writing, poetry, and seeing. 

Don’t forget water, long pants, sun screen, bug spray, or any other items for your comfort on the trail. Please contact me for more information at 402.571.7460 or jackphillipsrca@gmail.com. Please let me know if we can expect to see you.

Native Subsistence

In Walking,Thoreau writes:
“I derive more of my subsistence from the native swamps which surround my native town than from the cultivated gardens in the village.”
We have few swamps around Omaha – even fewer than when I was a small boy sauntering wildly on summer days. But we do have a wild place from which to derive our subsistence. Come and saunter with us at Hitchcock Nature Center on Saturday mornings in July. See details under the Summer Saunters post below.

Saunter on,

July Saunters

Our beautiful Saunter last Saturday took us through some extraordinary habitat. We have hiked Badger Ridge many times, but the soft quality of light and the colors of solstice greens (so many shades and hues; how could we settle for calling them all “green?”) took us to a new place entirely. Every morning brings new light, new rhythms, and a different world from the day before.

Our vantage on that ridge gave us leaves from all sides. Bur oaks from below and from above are not the same tree; the myriad creatures that live on, in, and around them stake their lives on that. How poor we are for knowing them only by sight!

I have enjoyed our Saunters and look forward to the next. Some of us will attend the Tallgrass Prairie and Oak Savanna Fire Science Consortium seminar on the 28th, so we won’t have a Saunter this week. But we will gather at 0730 on Saturday, July 5th to saunter forth once again. And we will continue on Saturday mornings at Hitchcock Nature Center through July.

If you haven’t joined us a Saunter or are wondering how one saunters, read the previous posts on this site and more importantly, read Walking by Henry David Thoreau.

As always, please let me know in advance if you plan to join us.

Happy summer. Check for ticks.


Sauntering Badger Ridge

Sauntering Badger Ridge

New Tree School sauntered Loess Hills oak savanna last Saturday morning. Summer Saunters will resume on Saturday, July 5 at Hitchcock Nature Center in Honey Creek, Iowa. Contact Jack at jackphillipsrca@gmail.com if you’d like to come along.