What Shall Be Grand in Thee

Swift wind! Space! My Soul! Now I know it is true what I guessed at;
What I guessed when I loafed on the grass,
What I guessed while I lay alone in my bed…and again as I walked
     the beach under the paling stars of the morning.

My ties and ballasts leave me…I travel…I sail…my elbows rest
     in the sea-gaps,
I skirt the sierras…my palms cover continents,
I am afoot with my vision.

Whitman, W. (2007). Leaves of Grass: Original 1855 Edition. Mineola, NY: Dover.


I left the house early this morning on a bike ride. The air was cold for late-June, and a strong wind blew from the northeast. Rain was forecasted for the afternoon, but already clouds were forming, heavy-bottomed and steel gray. My objective was two-fold – to see if the purple flowers of the swamp milkweed had opened and to catch sight of the muskrats at work in the ditch. Surprised to see muskrats a few weeks before, I’d revisited the ditch daily hoping to catch sight of them again. Finally last Saturday afternoon, I saw them. Propping my bike between my legs, I stood above the culvert and watched them swimming, diving, reappearing, hard at work in their food gathering. Barely moving, barely breathing, I stood in their shadow and – frame-after-frame — photographed them.



Pausing at the ditch this morning, I saw the muskrats were not at home. I peddled farther east to the swamp milkweed, but found it had not opened. I headed south, then, cold wind to my back and scanned the ditches for new sights. Above me swallows and mourning doves perched expectantly along electrical lines. Beside the road, the pinks and whites of fleabanes and yellows of groundsel dotted field edges.  In marshier recesses, sedges and rushes stood stalwartly amid a sea of flowering grasses. Wildflowers I had waited for weeks to blossom — Canada anemone, Indian hemp, meadow rue, golden Alexanders, Lady Slippers, harebells, blue flag irises, white yarrow, brown-eyed Susan’s, vetches, and goat’s beard – now colored the ditches in splashes of whites, golds and yellows, pinks, blues, purples and fuchsias. I parked my bike at the first sighting of a flowering showy milkweed, and wading through the thigh-high grasses, was immediately enveloped by the perfume of Indian hemp and milkweed. I thought, as I had often in the spring, that if the scents of spring and summer could be bottled, my dresser would be covered with the perfumes of chokecherries, plums, poplar leaves in late-April, lilacs, sweet clover and milkweed. I smelled deeply the fragrance of the flowers and thought how right the monarch butterflies were about this plant. Weed to humans; sustenance to monarchs; nirvana to the lone bicyclist pedaling in the cold air of a late-June morn.



I turned for home at the grain elevator. The clouds hung more heavily now ‘though the sun still shone through intermittently. Heading into the wind, I concentrated on peddling, and I wondered, what prompts early morning bike rides in the face of the wind and cold, in the face of impending rain? What causes one man to pick up his camera to photograph flowers? What prompts another to hike mountain passes? What requires a man to take flight above June fields in his paraglider? What inspires a woman to venture into the dark woods in search of hidden wonders? What, I wondered, is the impetus behind such ventures? Is it curiosity? Is it the individual spirit demanding expression? Is it communion with nature? Is it communion with oneself? Is it a need for delight? Danger? Joy?

Is it as Herman Melville wrote in Moby Dick:

What shall be grand in thee…must needs be plucked at from the skies, and dived for in the deep, and featured in the unbodied air.



Half-way home, I parked my bike to photograph narrow-leaved cattails. In but a week’s time, the cattails had gained height and formed double spikes. In some, the staminate were already casting their pollen. At the water line, plantains were sending up flower stems. I knelt on the wet ground to get closer. What was the impetus behind my venture, I wondered, angling my camera to better understand the rise of stems from the rootstock, the upper branching, the flowers yet to blossom. What was the drive behind my interest? Standing again, I breathed in sharply. Deep across the wheat field a young deer watched me intently. As she entered the wheat, I pulled out my camera and focused.



Whitman, W. (2007). Leaves of Grass: Original 1855 Edition. Mineola, NY: Dover.
Melville, H. (2008). Moby Dick: or The Whale. Project Gutenberg Edition [EBook #2701].



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