Haunted in the Forest

Haunted in the Forest: Witchy Ghost of a Plant Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Witchy Ghost of a Plant
Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer

Leaf Skeleton Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer Leaf Skeleton
Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer

Jaw Bone Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer Jaw Bone
Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer

Tree Canker Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer Tree Canker
Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer

Costume Change Chrysalis Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer Costume Change Chrysalis
Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer

When life throws scary at you, what do you do? As we increasingly consider mental and emotional health issues and strategies, I find that my answer is that I go to the forest. Of course, I go there when things are going smoothly too, but I agree with Henry David Thoreau when he wrote, “When I would recreate myself, I seek the darkest wood.” He, in fact, recommended the “most dismal swamp,” but that is a little too slimy for me. I will stick with solid soil.

A few weeks ago I spied a bat dangling from the bricks on my front porch as I gazed at the moon just as I had asked my young students to do. It reminded me of how in Janell Cannon’s picture book Stellaluna, a young bat survives a predatory owl’s attacks, falling “down, down…faster and faster, into the forest below.” She clings to a branch until her strength gives out, then “down, down again she dropped” into an unlikely predicament. Bats and harvest moons are iconic figures of this season, and as I ventured out for a sanity walk in the Cache National Forest, everywhere I looked I saw more.

Fall forests are full of chilling scenes, and I was first struck by a gruesome sap bleed from a gaping evergreen canker. The yellow ooze seeping seemed beautiful somehow. I don’t remember ever being so captivated by a wounded plant, and because I lingered, I also spotted a chrysalis containing a caterpillar’s costume change on a neighboring tree. Next to that were the witchy remains of other withering forbs.

Beneath my hiking boots was a toothy jaw grinning amid fragile leaf skeletons scattered on the forest floor. Even as I swapped away the cobwebs I didn’t see ahead until it was too late, the eerie beauty of nature eased the tormenting worries in my life. There’s a Chinese Proverb that says, “You can only go halfway into the darkest forest; then you are coming out the other side.”

A good walk outside is great for the distressed heart and mind. I needed to find the unlikely power in autumn icons. As Mary Shelley wrote for Frankenstein, “Beware; for I am fearless, and therefore powerful.” Next time you are frightened by the unknowns or scarred by the realities, consider falling into a forest.

I’m Shannon Rhodes, and I’m wild about Utah.


Images: Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Text & Voice: Shannon Rhodes, Edith Bowen Laboratory School, Utah State University https://edithbowen.usu.edu/
Additional Reading Links: Shannon Rhodes

Additional Reading

Wild About Utah Posts by Shannon Rhodes https://wildaboututah.org/author/shannon-rhodes/

Cannon, Janell. 1993. Stellaluna. New York: Harcourt Brace & Company. https://www.amazon.com/Stellaluna-Janell-Cannon/dp/0152062874/ref=sr_1_1

Shelley, Mary Woolstonecraft. 1818. Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus. https://www.gutenberg.org/files/84/84-h/84-h.htm

Thoreau, Henry David and Brooks Atkinson. 2000. Walden and Other Writings. New York: Modern Library. https://www.amazon.com/Walden-Other-Writings-Modern-Library/dp/0679600043

Utah: A Love Story

Utah: A Love Story-Zion National Park Courtesy US National Park Service
Zion National Park, Courtesy US National Park Service
“…[A] word of caution: Do not jump into your automobile next June and rush out to the canyon country hoping to see some of that which I have attempted to evoke in these pages. In the first place you can’t see anything from a car; you’ve got to get out…and walk, better yet crawl, on hands and knees, over the sandstone and through the thornbush and cactus. When traces of blood begin to mark your trail you’ll see something, maybe.”

Ed Abbey penned those words waxing elegiac on a barstool in Hoboken, New Jersey. I read them decades later on yellowed pages in a rain-drenched tent somewhere in the Northwoods of Wisconsin. When the rain stopped and summer ended, I enthusiastically disregarded Abbey’s first cautioning. I jumped into my car and rushed to the desert.

Another decade has passed since then, and Utah has become home as I’ve spent those years heeding Abbey’s instructions: walking and crawling over sandstone, through thornbush and cactus, blazing trails with spots of blood, finding and falling in love with places. The Colorado, the Green, the San Juan; Bears Ears, Cedar Mesa, Comb Ridge; Arches, Bryce, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, and Zion; the named and nameless places in between—the cloven topography where we slogged through flash flood debris, broke through the ice of slot canyon pools, and howled at the setting sun flashing shades of red we’d never seen. After a time, the trails I blazed no longer led to vistas, but to memories.

It’s not just the canyon country I fell in love with, though. I came for the desert, but I stayed for the mountains. And after walking their well-blazed trails, I shambled down the ones overgrown and choked with disuse; and when those ran out, crawled on hands and knees. And I saw things. More importantly, I found something: perspective—of place and of home—perspective gained from the many secrets divulged by mountains and running waters, red rock amphitheaters and alpine meadows. It has been a great privilege to share the stories of those places with you all. They are my love letters to their secrets. My family is off to find and fall in love with new places, now, but I’ll always be Wild About Utah!

Photos: Courtesy US National Park Service
Additional Sound: Courtesy & Copyright J. Chase and K.W. Baldwin and Friend Weller
Text: Josh Boling, Edith Bowen Laboratory School, Utah State University https://edithbowen.usu.edu/
Additional Reading Links: Josh Boling Utah A Love Story

Sources & Additional Reading

Abbey, Edward, Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness, Ballantine Books (January 1, 1971), https://www.amazon.com/Desert-Solitaire-Wilderness-Edward-Abbey/dp/0345326490

Boling, Josh, Author Page, Wild About Utah, https://wildaboututah.org/author/josh-boling-boling/

    Josh’s Pieces:

  1. Old Ephraim, The Infamous Northern Utah Grizzly, Wild About Utah, Aug 7, 2017, https://wildaboututah.org/old-ephraim-the-infamous-northern-utah-grizzly/
  2. Tree Talk, Wild About Utah, Feb 27, 2017 https://wildaboututah.org/tree-talk/
  3. Water-Liquid Life, Wild About Utah, May 23, 2017, https://wildaboututah.org/water-liquid-life/
  4. The Urban Ecotone, Wild About Utah, Nov 6, 2017, https://wildaboututah.org/urban-ecotone/
  5. Kokanee Salmon in Utah, Wild About Utah, Oct 9, 2017, https://wildaboututah.org/kokanee-salmon-in-utah/
  6. Fire, Wild About Utah, Aug 13, 2018, https://wildaboututah.org/fire/
  7. Wild Cats, Wild About Utah, Dec 10, 2018, https://wildaboututah.org/wild-cats/
  8. A Desert’s Paradox, Wild About Utah, Dec 15, 2018, https://wildaboututah.org/a-deserts-paradox/
  9. The Language of Ravens, Wild About Utah, Feb 189, 2018, https://wildaboututah.org/language-of-ravens/
  10. Wild Children, Wild About Utah, Jan 8, 2018, https://wildaboututah.org/wild-children/
  11. Wild Neoteny, Wild About Utah, Jul 9, 2018, https://wildaboututah.org/wild-neoteny/
  12. Josh’s Raven Encounter, Wild About Utah, Jun 11, 2018, https://wildaboututah.org/joshs-raven-encounter/
  13. Wilderglyphs, Wild About Utah, Mar 30, 2018, https://wildaboututah.org/wilderglyphs/
  14. Hidden in Plain Sight, Wild About Utah, May 14, 2018, https://wildaboututah.org/hidden-in-plain-sight/
  15. Greenback Cutthroat Trout, Wild About Utah, Nov 19, 2018, https://wildaboututah.org/greenback-cutthroat-trout/
  16. Habitat Heroes Explore More Utah Biomes, Wild About Utah, Apr 8, 2019, https://wildaboututah.org/explore-utah-biomes/
  17. Josh Explains Wild Neoteny, Wild About Utah, Aug 19, 2019, https://wildaboututah.org/josh-explains-wild-neoteny/
  18. A Solstice Vignette, Wild About Utah, Dec 16, 2019, https://wildaboututah.org/a-solstice-vignette/
  19. Beaver Creek Greenback Cutthroat Trout, Wild About Utah, Feb 25, 2019, https://wildaboututah.org/beaver-creek-greenback-cutthroat-trout/
  20. The Henry Mountains’ Bison Herd, Wild About Utah, Jan 14, 2019, https://wildaboututah.org/the-henry-mountains-bison-herd/
  21. The River, Wild About Utah, Jul 15, 2019, https://wildaboututah.org/the-river/
  22. The Bear River’s History and Contributions, Wild About Utah, Jun 10, 2019, https://wildaboututah.org/bear-rivers-history-and-contributions/
  23. Habitat Heroes Explore Utah Biomes, Wild About Utah, Mar 4, 2019, https://wildaboututah.org/utah-biomes/
  24. Why I Teach Outside, Wild About Utah, Nov 11, 2019, https://wildaboututah.org/why-i-teach-outside/
  25. Utah’s Desert Paradox, Wild About Utah, Oct 14, 2019, https://wildaboututah.org/utahs-desert-paradox/
  26. Rock Art, Wild About Utah, Sep 16, 2019, https://wildaboututah.org/rock-art/
  27. You, Too, Can Teach Outside!, Wild About Utah, Apr 20, 2020, https://wildaboututah.org/you-too-can-teach-outside/
  28. Brand New Eyes, Wild About Utah, Aug 17, 2020, https://wildaboututah.org/brand-new-eyes/
  29. Snowshoes and Adaptations, Wild About Utah, Feb 17, 2020, https://wildaboututah.org/snowshoes-and-adaptations/
  30. The Henry Mountain Bison, Wild About Utah, Jan 20, 2020, https://wildaboututah.org/the-henry-mountain-bison/
  31. Imaginary Wanderings, Wild About Utah, Mar 16, 2020, https://wildaboututah.org/imaginary-wanderings/
  32. Questions, Wild About Utah, Mar 22, 2020, https://wildaboututah.org/questions/
  33. A New Beginning, Wild About Utah, May 25, 2020, https://wildaboututah.org/a-new-beginning/
  34. Karst Topography, Wild About Utah, Nov 23, 2020, https://wildaboututah.org/karst-topography/
  35. Wandering Home, Wild About Utah, Oct 19, 2020, https://wildaboututah.org/wandering-home/
  36. Equinox, or Equilux?, Wild About Utah, Sep 21, 2020, https://wildaboututah.org/equinox-or-equilux/
  37. Finding Remoteness, Wild About Utah, Feb 22, 2021, https://wildaboututah.org/finding-remoteness/
  38. Utah: A Love Story, Wild About Utah, May 24, 2021, https://wildaboututah.org/utah-a-love-story/


Questions: The Architecture of the Brain The brain can be divided into three basic units: the forebrain, the midbrain, and the hindbrain. Courtesy NIH, NINDS
The Architecture of the Brain
The brain can be divided into three basic units: the forebrain, the midbrain, and the hindbrain.
Courtesy NIH, NINDS

Buttercup, bluebell, dandelion, fern.Questions

Mountain, river, and cascading falls.

Kingfisher, lark, cygnet, heron.

Adder, otter, and newt.

What? Why? How?: my favorite wild words of all.

Each step down the trail is a question. What is beyond that ridge?

Each pause to look, a reflection. Why is this here, and how?

There’s a cognitive reflex we humans have developed over the millennia called ‘instinctive elaboration.’ Basically, when our brains are exposed to a question—whether we’ve asked it ourselves or someone else is asking—every mental resource at our disposable is devoted to formulating an answer, or at least attempting to answer, elaborating on prior knowledge and the evidence in front of us. Our brains are bathed in serotonin in the process, and the mind’s natural instinct is to relax into diligent calculation. An example: “Why do California Condors have bald heads?” Your brain has probably just been hijacked by mental images of one of Utah’s rarest and most unpleasantly beautiful species; and I’m guessing you feel great about it.

Asking questions while exploring the natural world doubles down on this process of cerebral euphoria. Our brains are already hyper aware of our surroundings when engaged with nature. Asking questions about those things with which we are engaged magnifies that awareness—focuses it.

In a dry desert wash, I bent down to pick up what I had just kicked out of the sand. I turned the small chunk of petrified wood over in my hand a couple times, admiring the streaks of color, wondering what elements were there, what organic compounds they had replaced. After several seconds, I dropped it back into the sand and looked up to realize I was in fact several minutes behind my party. They hadn’t realized I’d stopped. I hadn’t realized they’d gone. My mind had been hijacked by questions about colors in the stone.

I carry a small, thin journal with me into the wilds. I write questions in it. Sometimes, I even try to write answers. Mostly, I just get lost in thought.

I’m Josh Boling, and I’m Wild About Utah!Questions
Graphics: Courtesy National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke(NINDS), National Institutes of Health(NIH), US Department of Health & Human Services(DHHS), https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Know-Your-Brain
Sound: Courtesy & Copyright J Chase and K.W. Baldwin, Utah Public Radio
Text: Josh Boling, Edith Bowen Laboratory School, Utah State University https://edithbowen.usu.edu/
Additional Reading Links: Josh Boling

Additional Reading

Hoffeld, David, Want To Know What Your Brain Does When It Hears A Question?, The Science of Work, FastCompany, Feb 21, 2017, https://www.fastcompany.com/3068341/want-to-know-what-your-brain-does-when-it-hears-a-question

Cooper, Neil, What Effect Do Questions Have On Our Brain?, Mar 15, 2018, https://medium.com/@mr.neilcooper/what-effect-do-questions-have-on-our-brain-329c37d69948

Wild About Nature Journaling

Wild About Nature Journaling: Nature Journals Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Nature Journals
Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
As a youth living minutes from the canyons east of Salt Lake City, I spent many Saturdays with my father carrying a backpack with sandwiches and his worn field guide to North American mushrooms. I don’t remember exactly which trails or natural wonders we encountered as we walked; we never carried a notebook or a pencil. That was decades before I’d carry a smart phone in my pocket. I wouldn’t say that our experience was without value just because I lack a tangible record of it today, but I wonder why it didn’t occur to either of us to document any of it. Now, when I am out exploring, I typically have my phone at the ready, snapping photographs of wildflowers and pinecones on the trail. My iNaturalist app and field guides provide identification facts instantly, and I move on. What am I missing when I don’t take the opportunity to slow down, sit down, and appreciate the wild details surrounding me? It actually wasn’t until decades later in a Utah Master Naturalist course that I opened a page of a nature journal and began capturing what there was to be wild about exploring the mountains, wetlands, and deserts of Utah.

Nature journaling is nothing new. Charles Darwin kept thousands of observation field notes. Lewis and Clark documented our American West as well. In Jacqueline Davies’ children’s picture book “The Boy Who Drew Birds,” John James Audubon says, “I will bring …my pencils and paper… I will study my cave birds every day. I will draw them just as they are.” As a school teacher, I ask my students as we explore the magic of Hardware Ranch, Bear River Bird Refuge, and Logan River to write and to draw. We carry composition notebooks, erasers, colored pencils, magnifying glasses, and rulers in sealable plastic bags. We date and title each entry, noting the weather and our location on outlines of Utah, and then get into the details from our five senses. What do we see, hear, smell, feel, and, sometimes even taste, like when we are at Antelope Island with Friends of the Great Salt Lake naturalists learning about pickleweed?
The children don’t always have the luxury of just snapping a picture with an iPad or smartphone on our place-based field learning experiences, and I hope that their engagement with and blossoming attitudes about keeping nature journals stick. In the book “Keeping a Nature Journal,” Clare Walker Leslie quoted Frederick Franck about just this: “I have learned that what I have not drawn I have never really seen.” I know I am not alone in thinking, especially when I am not wearing my teacher hat, that I lack the skills to draw natural subjects in any recognizable way. That cannot be an excuse, though, for not taking the time to quietly contemplate what I’m experiencing, being mindful, as naturalist Ernest Thompson Seton wrote, once “the ripples of my presence settle and let nature resume,” and recording it on paper as a permanent memory. There are some who say that we should be present in the moment outdoors and create a journal entry of the most striking memories upon return, but I would submit that engaging in trying to capture nature in a field journal in the moment only heightens the entire wild experience. I’ll share two examples from my recent adventures.

Yellow Bee Plants, Peritoma lutea San Rafael Swell Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Yellow Bee Plants, Peritoma lutea
San Rafael Swell
Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Along the trail down to the banks of the Muddy in the San Rafael Swell a few weeks ago I saw what I think, based on my iNaturalist suggestions and Deserts field guide, were huge yellow bee plants (Peritoma lutea). They were gorgeous exploding firecrackers of color complimenting the deliciously fragrant blossoming bitterbrush (Purshia tridentata), so I stopped, crouched down, and took three photographs with my phone in varying degrees of zoom to capture the details. My intent was to go back to camp and draw it in my nature journal. I have the pictures, but I didn’t get around to writing or sketching a thing.

Flying Critter on My Pant Leg Cache National Forest Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Flying Critter on My Pant Leg
Cache National Forest
Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer

"The Flying Critter on My Pant Leg" Nature Journal Entry Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Illustrator & Photographer “The Flying Critter on My Pant Leg”
Nature Journal Entry
Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Illustrator & Photographer

Last Saturday I was in Cache National Forest swinging in a hammock surrounded by fluttering aspen. A flying critter landed on my pant leg, and I immediately zoomed in on it with my phone’s camera. It didn’t move, and neither did I, as I scrambled for a paper and pen. I am not as good at identifying insects with my field guides, but I took the time to really get to know this hairy creature with huge black eyes. Brian Mertins, a naturalist who has compiled tips for a better nature journal, warns that drawing from observation “burns a clear image of whatever you are sketching into your memory.” That is certainly the case with this interaction I had: the way his antennae curved down in front of his face, the speckled colors of his hard outer wing, those mesmerizing eyes staring me down for an uncomfortably long time.

I am convinced that every time I open my nature journal to that page, I will remember that day with that hairy insect, and I am also convinced that I’ll never know all there was to appreciate about that bee plant I failed to take the time in the moment to capture in my field journal. There are so many resources online about nature journaling techniques, from a formal Grinnell-style field journal to tips for drawing flowers and bugs. There are also opportunities for citizen scientists interested in contributing to Notes from Nature projects sponsored by the Smithsonian Institute and zooniverse.org to digitally transcribe field journals. Explore the possibilities to be wild about nature journaling.

This is Shannon Rhodes, and I am wild about Utah.


Images: Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Audio: Courtesy & © Kevin Colver https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/
Text:     Shannon Rhodes, Edith Bowen Laboratory School, Utah State University https://edithbowen.usu.edu/
Additional Reading Links: Shannon Rhodes

Additional Reading:

American Museum of Natural History. Keeping a Field Journal: Eleanor Stirling. https://www.amnh.org/learn-teach/curriculum-collections/biodiversity-counts/what-is-biodiversity/keeping-a-field-journal-1-eleanor-sterling

Davies, Jacqueline. The Boy Who Drew Birds: A Story of John James Audubon. 2004. https://www.jacquelinedavies.net/theboywhodrewbirds

iNaturalist, https://www.inaturalist.org/

Laws, John Muir. Opening the World Through Nature Journaling. 2012. http://sdchildrenandnature.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/CNPS_NatureJournaling_JMuirLaws_96p_2012.pdf

Leslie, Clare Walker and Roth, Charles E. Keeping a Nature Journal: Discover a Whole New Way of Seeing the World Around You. 2000. https://www.storey.com/books/keeping-a-nature-journal-3rd-edition/

MacMahon, James A. Deserts, National Audubon Society Nature Guides. Knopf; A Chanticleer Press, 1998. https://www.worldcat.org/title/deserts/oclc/37144389
All Guides: https://www.audubon.org/national-audubon-society-field-guides

Mertins, Brian. Beginner’s Guide to Nature Journaling: 12 Tips for a Better Nature Journal. https://nature-mentor.com/nature-journaling/

Smithsonian Center for Education and Museum Studies. Introduction to the Nature Journal. 2006. http://www.smithsonianeducation.org/educators/lesson_plans/journals/smithsonian_siyc_fall06.pdf

Smithsonian Institution Field Guide Digital Transcription Project, https://transcription.si.edu/

Thompson, Elizabeth. Nature Journaling Binder. 2014. https://thewatershed.org/pdf/Education/NatureJournalingWebversion.pdf