Going to ground

black gum leaves

Poets are popularly supposed to have their heads in the clouds, but not me. Some days, I rarely look up. Why bother? There’s so much to see right at my feet.

glass 2

Even still, I can’t avoid the occasional view of the clouds. I’m not sure what this shard of glass is doing in the middle of a well-used trail. I had a bit of a Chicken Little moment before I figured out what the hell it was.


Some people are obsessed with the idea of a sky-father watching over them. But the ground has eyes, too. Finding these puffballs right after the shard of glass, I’m reminded of the Aztec kenning for the earth: mirror that smokes.

leaf nut

Views of autumn foliage from a moving car quickly grow tiresome. It’s much more rewarding to do your leaf-peeping one leaf at a time, I find. And again, the ground is the best place to look — you don’t need binoculars.

birch leaf with fly

With the temperature in the mid-50s, every pool of sunlight has its sunbathing flies. I almost expect to see them rubbing their front legs together to get warm.

muddy spring

A little farther along the trail, I find another piece of misplaced sky: a patch of mud from an almost dried-up spring shining blue from animal excrement. A Google search of “blue mud” turns up the idiomatic phrase “full of blue mud,” meaning “full of shit.”

tiny cup fungi

A log-end down by the stream bristles with white polypores. But when I bend close, it’s these pinhead-sized cup fungi that catch my eye instead. They remind me of spider mites, seemingly trying to compensate for their diminutive size by being as red as possible.

water strider

The stream has been reduced in many places to a series of large puddles. The only ripples on the surface come when the water strider changes position, which it does twice a minute or so. I watch it for a while, fascinated as always by the saucer-shaped dimples under its feet, like a literal demonstration of Einstein’s discovery that gravity bends space.

white wood asters and white pine

On the way back up the road, I’m charmed by the view of a white wood aster against a large pine tree. Whatever the rest of the tree might be doing against the sky almost doesn’t matter. I’ll have all winter to look at things like that.

19 Replies to “Going to ground”

  1. Stopping with each step to look close, the problem is that with each observation the details grow more populated, so you have to decrease your steps and look yet closer. That in turn reveals even more to see and so you slow down even futher. You face draws closer and closer to the ground, each step divided from the way forward, until you are standing utterly still, eyes popping at the complexity of it all, until you suddenly jerk back and realize you just had your nose in some deer shit. Even the sublime has a sense of humor.

  2. It’s so great to live vicariously through your explorations. Thanks for sharing it – I miss out on quite a bit during the school year – I’m deep into studies at University already.

    Fall is my favourite seasons, and unfortunately school starts here too. I’m so fortunate to have a river valley four blocks from my house to go on quick runs for study breaks! I love to watch the fall colours change. It’s neat to see things through your lens too. The macro shots reveal nature in fresh ways.

  3. I love the title of this post. I’ve only heard it in the context of hunting (i.e. rabbits “going to ground” when they retreat to their holes), so it’s interesting to consider other meanings of the term.

    (Assuming, of course, you weren’t being chased by armed humans while you took these photos!)

  4. A perfect fall walk. Yes to all the things under our steps. I bent down the other day and found the lower jaw of a very tiny mammal while I was reaching for something much more colorful.

  5. Hi, all – Thanks for the comments.

    Avery – I’m glad you’re finding the blog useful for study breaks. I would actually call the close-ups here semi-macro shots, though I guess it’s all relative. To me, it’s not true macro until you can see the bristle on the fly’s leg, and I don’t have the lens for that yet.

    Lorianne – That’s the only context in which I’ve ever heard the phrase, too – a hunted creature retreating to its burrow -but I thought a little creative licence might be in order. Originally I had a more elaborate philosophical framework involving a figure vs. ground contrast between city and country, but it bored me, so I rewrote the post.

    robin andrea – Have you ever dissected an owl pellet? They tend to be full of tiny mammal jaw bones and such.

  6. I have been meaning to thank you or the golden rod tea suggestion, it was interestingly detoxifying.
    But now I am nudged out of my remissness by “full of blue mud” Thank you so much for researching that! I have seen it so often (both in the natural and human world) and now can use it appropriately!

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