Editor’s Desk: In Our Backyards

POSTED September 27, 2023 IN


Constance Miles is a dear friend and poet. Recently she sent a poem, West Country, which describes her back yard teeming with life.

West County

To escape the heat, I don’t emerge until dusk,
like a hummingbird moth, flitting from flower
to flower. I deadhead roses, dahlias, snapdragons,
gather tomatillos for salsa, sun golds and grapes
for drying, pink pearls for crisps. The black-
berries still offer themselves and will become
jam to last the year. It’s harvest and we’re
awash in the abundance of this land.

A mountain lion leaps across the road in
front of our car and we are breathless, smitten
with it’s magnificence, sleek and swift, a vision
that will be with us for days. I have lived here
for forty years and never encountered one
before. My body tingles with knowing he
is nearby.

A family of deer enter the driveway, a buck,
a doe and two tiny spotted fawns.
Stilled, we glance at one another, a
timeless moment. Then they are off.
For now they have spared the rhubarb
and geraniums. Some of the Peruvian
lilies, growing behind a large aloe,
are too high for their reach and
the spice bush, propagated from the
one across the road, has survived this
year as well.

The foxes stake claim to the
dance floor, garden paths, picnic tables.
We hear them from our outdoor bed, see
them by day, by dusk. The possums, raccoons
and wood rats churn the compost pile. The
skunks forage on fallen millet and seeds
beneath the bird feeders. Their fluffy
black and white bodies, lithe and fairy like,
surprise us at night, as we exit the back door.

We feel blessed to be community with the
wild ones, savoring our awareness of one
another. If they were gone, there would be
a kind of loneliness, perhaps even a longing.
If we were gone, I imagine, the land would
still be theirs, as it was before we came.

Constance Miles

Constance, along with her partner and dear friend of mine, Barton Stone, sleep outside in a clearing in their garden. And, when I say garden, I mean a wildly prolific jungle of flowers, foliage, and bushes among meandering pathways. This poem “West County” is a favorite of mine.

Her poem reminded me of a time when Michael and I moved from our place in San Fransico, where we occupied five levels in a newly constructed building. It housed our offices, a sound studio, a room for our archive tapes, photography studio, and living space. From that urban setting we traveled (with 2 moving vans) to a rural 88 acre old mineral springs resort, Duncan Springs. It was located on the side of Duncan Peak just west of Hopland, California. We purchased this property with three other couples. (refer to earlier “Editors desk “Camber and the Pack Rat” with picture of the Victorian dance pavilion in the middle of the woods on the property)

As a joke, our friends made a special greeting for us by moving our bed outside. Much to the surprise of our fellow residents we took on the invitation by sleeping outside under the stars for the rest of the summer. Each evening when we set out for our nightly slumber we’d invite our kitty, a shy calico we called Penelope, to join us. Surprisingly she would only venture out with us when the moon was full. Otherwise, she would choose to stay in the comfort and safety of a chair in the kitchen. Our nights would be filled with the snorting and snuffling of rooting wild boar, night birds calling out to one another, and other rustlings that we left to their own adumbral investigations. The night was full of activity, not of human making. Most mornings we would wake with deer grazing right next to our bed.

A most attentive listener from New Mexico recently wrote to me when he heard our most recent interview with Margaret Renkl: Rejoicing with Nature in Our Own Backyards. (#3794 and #C0591). I highly recommend her recent book In the Company of Crows.

Here is what Stephan wrote who, I must say, may very well be a future guest on New Dimensions. You may remember Stephan from the last “Editor’s Desk” dedicated to the passing of his dear cat, Minnie.

Dear Justine,

What an absolute joy to listen to you and Margaret Renkl this morning. “The natural world” could not have been a better topic to discuss. I grew up in 40s/50s in southern Wisconsin in a rural community of 2,000 people and experienced the natural world every single day. It was a blessing and a privilege. As youngsters, there were no boundaries in the natural world and everything was new to us. Since my retirement from the foreign service, living around the world in million plus cities, often in high rises, it was a relief to be able to retire to the mountains of New Mexico where my Danish born wife and I have lived for going on 20 years. Our house borders a national forest with thousands of acres behind us and we see all the subtle changes in the woods and are able to observe all manner of animals from hummingbirds to Black Bears. (I operate a website called http://www.blackbearsmatter.org) The peacefulness of this place is our baseline and anything that deviates from that is very noticeable to us.  

 Margaret Renkl was the perfect guest and, as usual, you were the perfect host. What she said about writing was spot on. For many years I wrote cables and reports for the government and this daily task helped me in my retirement. I have now written 14 books; seven of which deal with our political climate, culture and our society at large. Two are about Holocaust survivors. The latest two (one in English and one in Danish) deal with my fifty years of living among the Danish people (“Passing for Danish” and “Den falske dansker”). All of my books are available on amazon.com. To be good at one’s craft requires dedication and daily practice along with determination and a willingness to be self-critical… and brave enough to share what we write with the world.

 Twenty-five years ago a Danish author, Tor Norretranders, wrote a book about consciousness and our need to “touch the world”. It is available on Amazon.com in case you’re interested. The Danish title was “Mærk verden.”

[The User Illusion: Cutting Consciousness Down to Size  by Tor Norretranders | Aug 1, 1999]

 I will leave you with one of my quotes from one of my books: My name is Aron. “Even the lowliest insect struggles to survive, not because he knows why but because he knows he must.” We are the insects in the natural world and it’s about time we build on the survival instinct and realize that, like every spider that’s being saved from the drain, we have choices to make, and part of the responsibility we have as human beings is making those choices about our environment.

 Keep up the great work you do.
 Stephan Helgesen

 P.S. Thanks again for helping me with my sadness over the loss of our cat, “Minnie.”




P.S. I just ordered Stephan J Helgesen’s most recent book Culture Held Hostage: Liberating America’s Endangered Values

  • Suggestions for Searching

  • Categories


    We are a 501(c3) not-for-profit educational foundation. We depend on listeners to sustain this life enhancing broadcast. Donations are tax-deductible.

    Links & Technical Help
    Find Radio Stations
    New Dimensions is the longest running, most successful independently produced radio interview program on public radio!
    Stations Login Here
    Subscribe to Spotlight
    Subscribe to our free weekly themed program newsletter “Spotlight” for our latest interviews, best-selling programs, and more delivered right to your inbox.
    © 2010-2024 newdimensions.org All Rights Reserved
    Skip to content