touring the forest

“Touring the Forest” and “Leaning Over the Rails”

In Winter 2024: Climate Crisis, Poetry by Jennifer Phillips

touring the forest
Photo by Alexey Malakhov on Unsplash

Touring the Forest

This will help you to remember

what a forest was. This one, North Temperate.

Might have been where we are standing.

Here, adjust the strap

around your forehead, rest this over

the bridge of your nose. Click the button.

See.

The light has greened and dimmed like beer-bottle glass.

If you look up it will seem as though

that lace antimacassar your Great-grandma tatted

(do you know those old crafting words?) is floating

on the surface of a pond

as you stroll across the bottom like a beetle.

Turn on the sound with this dial above your ear.

That rhythmic cheet-cheeting was made by insects.

See, ahead a clearing? There is grass,

home to percussive grasshoppers and crickets,

it looks knee-high. Soft, you think.

But if you walked through it, it would feel

like warm velcro or emery-paper tugging at your ankles.

There would be rustling.

Clouds of insects would startle upward on transparent wings.

Soon you will hear a squawking.

Look to the right for the flash of blue and white.

A Blue jay, then another. Corvid family,

along with crows, but smaller. Smallest

in this North Temperate forest program

is the kinglet, grey and black and teaspoon-sized

up in the soft pyramidal brushes

of the fir trees. Those are Hemlocks with their tiny cones –

look down at your feet – their just-as-tiny spatulate needles

with the whitish vein (push here for the micro-magnifier)

gloss on top, matte underneath – those disappeared

when the hemlock adelgids came. Those trees like mounds of

green thunder-cloud and the rugged black-barked trunks

stubbed where the low branches broke off, were White pines.

Here's a sniff of the sap you'd be smelling.

Step here to feel the deep give of the needle carpet

under you, centuries of late-summer shedding.

Notice how the air-temperature

has fallen ten degrees under the canopy.

Stoop here. Put out your hand: this is Club moss

looking like a miniature fir-forest, damp and

cool, both stiff and soft, like your beard

when you have come in from a March rain.

Walk ahead down the track that perhaps

deer might have made, browsing away the shrubs:

notice on the left the pink flowers – like the undersides of

tiny sugar umbrellas for a birthday-cake,

Kalmia latifolia, the buds like pinker ones seen from the tops.

The bush with oval leaves,

edges gently scalloped like wavelets along the keel of a boat –

feel the rough bottom, the delicate smooth top,

like a child's skin moist from the bath,

note the clusters of cones the size of cufflinks

that look like dollmaker-carved wood

now the seeds have fallen out.

Click to the red speckly spring catkins

looking paint-spattered.

That was Alnus incana, the speckled or hoary alder.

Look to the right, down the calm rows

of same-sized trunks and high above a needled canopy

so thick you have lost the sky.

These were plantations of Red Pine

grown for timber (click for commercial uses).

You can't hear your steps,

thick silence underfoot the color of rust or cinnamon

can be disconcerting the first time you enter.

Volatile oils. In the heat of summer

you might imagine you can feel

on the soft down of your forearms

the pine scent rising

from the past.

Leaning Over the Rails

In the Barents Sea, between Svalbard and Lofoton

Leaning over the rails as the sea churns by us,

scanning for aerosol jets, crescent fins,

slivers of black or grey backs keeping us company.
We have such a longing to lay eyes on them

the way children crave the comfort of favorite teddies

or chewed and tattered blankets

as tokens of love and the safe world's holding.

If dolphins are riding our wake like Maseratis,

if Minkes are circling in an industry of herring-wrangling

that seems joyful, there must be hope for us.

Something remains intact and unbothered

in the agitated whirl of our loud passage.

If humpbacks still sing over the roar of oil

and cylinders and sparks, then surely we

have some small share remaining of innocence.

We seek the glimpse, a shadow, a bulk of mystery

gracing us for a few moments

in its own unfathomable curiosity, an untranslatable eye.

A paddle of tail we've come to recognize

popping up like those lollipops

our guides carry to call us to our own groups,

announcing — just for now — you are numbered one of us.

We laugh, we point, we jog across the deck to follow

someone else's finger held out straight

like a warning angel shouting: There! There!

About the Author

Jennifer Phillips

Jennifer M Phillips is a bi-national poet, a retired Episcopal Priest and AIDS Chaplain, gardener, grower of Bonsai, painter, and has been writing and publishing poetry and prose since age seven. Phillips grew up in upstate New York and has lived in Britain, New England, New Mexico, St. Louis, Rhode Island, & Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Her work has won several awards, has two poems currently nominated for a Pushcart Poetry Prize 2024, and has appeared in over ninety journals. Her two chapbooks are Sitting Safe in the Theatre of Electricity (iblurb.com, 2020) and A Song of Ascents (Orchard Street Press 2022). A poem is like a little brass pan to carry fire's coals through the winter, and so she writes.

Read more work by Jennifer Phillips .