Grass Journal Podcast

Hudson Gardner

We Are All A Part. A podcast about protecting the wild in the the Anthropocene. Stories, poems, interviews, and walks outdoors. grassjournal.co

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Thoughts about being present and ignoring obstacles—to focus instead on what you can do. Credits to the young hawthorne tree that has taken root on a hillside where I boil tea. Subscribe at grassjournal.co

Apr 24

4 min 52 sec

There is a little piano against one wall of this house I live in. I play it from time to time. When I first began, I noticed all the melodies I played were sad. I knew I had some sadness in me. Actually, I knew I had a lot. But, I didn’t really know what to do with it. So I played the piano most days, but the songs were always pretty sad.For one reason or another, I have been carrying some sadness based on grief for a few years. It has been hard but not without its lessons. I think that sadness can teach us about what others feel. So I’ve learned that. But there is a point when the lesson has been learned, but the sadness still hangs around.And then about a week ago I was looking at the field below the house where I live. In the sky above a few hawks circled. A group of renegade chickens, who escaped months ago from a coop and went wild, took notice of the hawks and fled under the porch—their shelter.And just before that, I had stood up from the table. But this was different than the hundreds of times I had stood up from a table recently, because for years I have been dealing with knee pain—but at this moment, there was none. Yet, I noticed my muscles tighten, as if trying to protect myself from pain that was no longer there.I stood watching the chickens cower, and thinking about pain. About how mental pain becomes physical, and physical pain becomes mental—about how pain works its way into us, and hangs around.It’s not that I haven’t done my best to grieve, or get rid of pain. I have really tried. But I failed. Yet in this moment, noticing the lack of pain, I felt the way my body still held itself tense around pain that wasn’t there. I thought about the chickens hiding from the death of the hawks. I thought about what it is to protect oneself. And I thought about vulnerability, and how opening is needed to allow healing. I knew all this, and have practiced it too. Yet somehow in feeling my body respond automatically to pain that was no longer there, I saw a different way forward.Later that week, I listened to Wilson Wewa, a Northern Pauite elder, tell the story of the grieving woman and the sage grouse.Long ago, before there were people, there was a woman. She was crying, crying, crying endlessly because her husband had died. She was utterly and completely overwhelmed with grief. Her people did not understand her grief, and they did not know what to do. So she grieved alone. She was carrying so much pain. And so she went out into the desert all by herself. While she was out there alone, she heard a noise. She walked to the top of a rise and looked down. There, down below her in the sage was a group of sage hens. And they were dancing. They were in a big circle, and they were having a good time. And at the end of their song, they would open up their wings and let out a big joyful whoop.One of the sage hens noticed the woman crying. So she came up to her. And she said to the woman that she should not grieve uncontrollably. And the sage hen said that our grief is not good for us when it makes us sick. The sage hens then taught her a song that she sang. And she found comfort in the song.When she came back to her village, she brought the song and the dance, and she taught the people.I listened to this story, turned it over and over in my mind. And the words came to mind: Pain is a Practice.It is a practice because it’s something that we have, whether we want it or not. A practice is something you have to work on. So the practice of pain is a choice. Though this practice is not a comfortable one.As I wrote the poem Pain is a Practice, something left me. And something came in, too. But I don’t know if this pain I carried for a long time is gone forever, in my knee, or in my mind.But, I do know one thing: the grief has passed. It has stopped making me sick. And I hope that going forward, I can play other songs on the piano, and write other words than the ones that are sad.Pain is a PracticeWhen I stand up from the table, I shift slightlyto allow my weight to land on my right leginstead of the left.Twisting under weightseems to bother the left knee.When I write I try to make the wordscome out in long sentences and paragraphs, again.But I cannot.Pain has modified my ability to write stories.Each sentence written has to hold what it needs— like me, in each moment.I can’t always tellwhat is good for me. In that way, pain is a practicebecause it shows what hurts.It’s important to keep up the practice, of painto not let it slip awayinto numbness.Because, I’ve learned, the pain will still be there.I am getting in good shape this spring because I am planning to walk five hundred miles, or morestringing together a rough route on CalTopoon Shoshone, Bannock, Crow, and Blackfeet land.And so, just recently, I noticed my left instep is weaker than my right which causes my knee to sway slightly inward. My suspicion is that this most subtle instabilityis behind a nebulous knee pain I’ve had for years.And so I practice: little exercisesto strengthen my footand suddenly, the pain is gone!But,my body remembers.It has been sensitive to that pain for years.Yet now that it’s goneit still won’t let it go.The pain might come back at any time, my body thinks, and Ithink, because I am also my body— I think, without thinking: I must stay safe from pain.Yet, this protective notion protects the trauma, not me.This is not the painful practice that will be a freedom from pain.This practice of protecting the painmight create an imbalance that brings it back again.And so I have to let it go.I heard a Pauite elder saythat endless grief can make us sickand even hurt those who love us.We have to learn to be human beings again, he said.“We are small. And we don’t know everything.Nature can teach us things.”Caught in my mind,I forget I have a bodythat can work out the inside problems by itself. By a simple moving through the world.What it takes, is this subtle noticing a mind of care, for my own wants and needs.A hand to the wind—A vision through the drainageof down trees, and bogsto get to that far ridgewhere the walk doesn’t end, but, beginsat next days first light.Then Again,and again, and again, and again…. Subscribe at grassjournal.co

Mar 12

10 min 3 sec

A story about following a coyote’s tracks in fresh snow. And, in turn, thinking about my own life. Full text below.Piano and story by me, Hudson Gardner. Tracks by coyote and deer. Snow by earth.…At the base of the hill, past the muddy shopyard and cattle fences, across the bridge that planks over Chimacum creek, and just before the salmonberry groves, were two perfect prints in the fresh snow.Light snow filled in the almond shaped grooves, with the gradually tapering tips softened by fresh flakes that fell overnight.The tracks were staggered, by just a few inches, almost one atop another. About an inch long, they went nearly through to the dark ground. They were the tracks of a young black tailed deer.We followed them, leading away from the road, down a path through a low boggy area where gravel had been spread in late summer. Halfway through the bog, the tracks met a coyotes—coming the opposite direction. Though the coyotes were fresh: not hours, maybe not even minutes ago had his-her warm breathing body passed this spot. So we followed the tracks, one going forward, one backward, and read the animals stories.Late in the night the deer had been walking north. Early this morning, the coyote was headed south. At one point, the deer tracks split and headed west, into a thick cedar bog. The coyotes backtracks continued clearly up the hill.The coyote showed a habit of winding around, following their nose. A shuffling around spot in the snow revealed a hole down to bare grass, where the coyote had ambushed a rodent in their track.Further up the hill the coyote had deviated from the main line of path, heading into a field. Another hole, another rodent crunched. That brought the count to at least two rodents for breakfast, probably in the space of less than five minutes.Around an alder copse the tracks went, then to a little rise in the ground. And then they stopped.There was a little circle of melted snow and ice, where they coyote had, at some point late last night, curled up to sleep. And beyond that little circle, a path of older tracks led away into the distance, marking where he-she had come from.Standing, looking at this little place of rest, the choice made no sense. It was open on all sides, with no tree cover. But the longer I looked, the more I realized how perfect of a place it was. The grass all around was flattened, giving good sight lines in all directions. By barely lifting his-her head, the coyote could see hundreds of yards in all directions. Yet, due to their location on the small rise, they couldn't be seen until they either heard someone approaching, or saw them. It may have been the most protected place, as far as sight lines and escape routes, in a square mile of hills, forest, and bog.From the little melted circle of rest, the coyote's tracks led into the distance, toward a farm house and a few hills. Beyond there, I knew that a lake lay, and somewhat remote young forests interspersed with clearcuts. The coyote may have come all the way from up there, or he-she may spend a lot of time in this field, hunting the plentiful voles and mice. I would never have known this story, but for the rare snow that told it to me.Following this track in the snow got me thinking about my own story. I set out a while ago to write in a way that was like a river: vital, ever moving, multi branched, yet still knowable. Formed, and form-ing, ever changing, never staying the same, yet having some sense to it. I wanted to write like that. And in learning to write that way my life itself has inevitably taken course changes.Life always seems hazy to me, a constant process of testing. And yet there are these crystalline moments, where it seems like everything has led somewhere that it all makes sense, like how a river always has a source. Yet just as that feeling is grasped, the solidity and good feelings tend to dissolve again.I wonder if there are more trails I can follow, larger than my own knowing. To be supported by, yet not be exploited by. Such things make me think of my best times. I think of when I have felt understood, or made something worth understanding. And like I told someone recently, these crystalline moments seem like little guide posts I have hammered into the ground as I've gone. And from some perfect place of rest, on a low hill, it may be possible to look back at them. And then to wake up, and keep on going....That was backtracking, and I hope you enjoyed it. You may notice in this episode that I avoided using the word "it" when referring to the deer and coyote. That is because the word "it" often refers to something inanimate, something without consciousness. I don't believe animals lack consciousness, I believe they feel things just as we do—have memories, stories, and lives—so I prefer to use the word "he-she" when I don't know their gender, or "they" instead of "it". Just something to think about.I love you. Take care — Hudson Subscribe at grassjournal.co

Feb 17

6 min 50 sec

In this episode, I share a poem I wrote, and a little about my writing difficulties and successes over the last year or two. I really like this poem, and think it is one of my best. So I hope you find something in it too.Music Credits: Liberty Bell by Darkside. Subscribe at grassjournal.co

Jan 5

11 min 55 sec

Credits:Piano by Hudson Gardner, Fire cracklings by fire, Wind by Earth UntitledTrackless trackless mountain cloudwhat do I ask to be?To be you, to be you.Coming—going into nothingwhat do I ask to see?To see you, to see you.Trackless trackless mountain pathwhere do I ask to go?To find you, to find you.Trackless trackless meadow of flowersWhat do I ask of you?To believe you.To believe you.Does it ever feel, to you, like you are doing what you were made to do? I wonder if everyone has some feeling like that, at some point in their life. It comes in and out, like static on radio, for me.I think the idealized life is often said to be “in balance”—work-life balance, family balance, relationship balance, or balancing your checkbook (just kidding). Maybe a life that feels aligned is one of balance? Yet, for me, those moments where I feel properly “in the flow” aren’t continuous. Which leaves me wanting them when they are gone, which, in a way, creates imbalance.I read recently that the idea of balance in the natural world is actually misguided. The natural world is a chaotic series of successions. A forest burns and fireweed sprouts. Aspens, their roots underground and safe from fire, send up shoots in every direction, eventually shading out the fireweed and almost anything else. In fifty to a hundred years the aspens grow huge and die and fall, just in time for the seedlings of fir and pine and hemlock, which grew from seeds brought there and cached by birds and mammals, to rocket skyward.The idea of balance, this unattainable thing (if we’re being honest), is applied to human lives, since it exists in nature, right? What if it doesn’t exist in nature, what then? Maybe our lives are actually not meant to be balanced, and the attempt to seek some perfect balance is impossible. It makes us chase that “in the flow” feeling, which sets up life to be a series of ups and downs. Life is and always was and always will be a series of unpredictable events. There is no perpetual balance within uncertainty. Maybe life is more like an infinite act of rebalancing, or, you could say, flowing.And yet nature functions well, and we do too. Nature has us beat in that it does not worry about balance. It just expresses, in all its mystery, the breath of life. And I feel myself, myself, what I am made to do, if I am honest, is to do the same.Yesterday Anna and I drove the truck up the mountain to a creekside trail we found a year ago. We went down it together, amazed at the colors and motion of butterflies that seemed to spontaneously appear in the sunlight. The aspen trunks were white and snow lay in crevices along the path. We wound down to the river and walked along it for a while, then found a meadow. I set up my tent, just for fun, and used a small camp axe to buck some wood for whoever would have a fire there next. Anna laid in the sun, or watched the river flow by.Over Anna’s chest and down the left side of her body hung a massive, thick braid. I picked up the end of it. “Remember biking the road up to Big Bear?” I asked. “Yeah, I was just looking at photos from then”, she said, “and three years ago we did that ride. After we got back I went up to Washington and stayed with Brit and Sam and then went to my mom’s house and cut off all my hair.” “Three years of growth,” I said pulling lightly at her thick braid.To realize three years had passed since then felt funny and sad at the same time. Because, mostly, this flow of experiences we name Life doesn’t always flow easily or clearly. The pain of the turns can be acute. And yet, they all flow together somewhere, and get bunched up in memory, and then you can sit on a rock in the spring sun in the mountains and think about all the times when things weren’t so good, and the times also when they were good, and then come back to the time right now—which is really all the time we have. And it’s strange to think of, that there is a physical representation of all that time that hangs beautiful and thick from Anna’s head—of a thousand thousand strands braided together—of three years of growth. Subscribe at grassjournal.co

Dec 2020

6 min 38 sec

Thanks for tuning in to this edition of Grass Journal, titled: Coming Into Contact With Ourselves.In this episode I discuss wilderness with Beau Vandendolder. He is a doctor of Classical Chinese Medicine, licensed acupuncturist, and Alexander Technique practitioner. He is also a dear friend, though I have seen him only sporadically over the five years we have known each other. He and I have one of those rare connections that seems to not rely on having to see each other that much. I've only had a handful of friendships in my life like this one, and so I am really glad to have him on the podcast to talk about his view of wilderness, medicine, and getting off the trail of life.Thank you for listening and I hope you enjoy our conversation. Subscribe at grassjournal.co

Nov 2020

50 min 50 sec

Beautiful intro music by Anna Pallotta, cover of Regina SpektorDear anyone,I hope the world isn't hurting you too much these days. What have you been up to? Today the sun came in through the clouds and the south facing windows. It made me remember how important it is to notice things like that. For a span of time, to have just a few thoughts of my own.But, I know you have felt a lot of that lately. Being alone has been the theme lately. As I looked at the lonely looking clouds I listened to some music this morning. And that reminded me of how great it is to share a feeling with someone else. To be able to talk and to share things.—The sun was bright as I trespassed through the grassy field filled full of broken down cars at a turn in the gravel road. Through the fragrant woods I walked, to a trail flagged by hanging plastic tape. Up into the ferns and alder slopes, then along and above a draw into the darkness of a spruce wood. Out into the sunlight again on the flat of a ridge I went. Then down a gravel logging road, looking into the trimmed firs on both sides for a way through the ferns and stacked thinning piles. I struggled through the head high brush for a time and then saw a few boulders seated amidst a low natural spring, where deer, squirrels, and birds come to drink. In the distance a pileated woodpecker seesawed his way up a tree trunk, and in the distance were bright maple leaves signalling a direction to walk in. Following my eyes, to where looked best, I came to a two-stemmed cedar near a little marsh. I cleared some brush off the uneven ground. I sat down and gathered a few twigs. I started a fire in a folding wood stove to make doug fir tea.As the tea simmered I used a small axe to notch a rotting alder so as to mark, from a distance, this space I had found by the brightness of fresh cut wood. I gathered handfuls of alder twigs to stoke the small fire. I fed the fire and smelled the smoke of the alder, and the spicy smoke of a few cedar twigs.After the fire burned down I sipped tea, and watched the light fade in the West, through the tree trunks. Far below a car or two passed. Not too far aside from where I sat a gravel road ran where people would sometimes walk their dogs. But no person ever came back to where I was. In this space, not silent, not far away, I came to contemplate. Indeed, to think on certain things.I have heard of such a place—kept in mind, or in physical space. A place of refuge. Yet the tendrils of certain things still creep in. The sound of a car below, a plane above, of someone walking their dog—calls me back to a moment out the window with a small chickadee, eating seed. A truck blasted by on the road above, which made the chickadee flee, to the grape vines above the ground. As the world shrinks smaller, the footprint of our sounds grow larger. And where is the wilderness left to be seen, burned by fires, trees, no leaves, salvage logged and steel cabled, to the cry of more people who need jobs to live on.And it all sinks into me, in this quiet place under these young trees. A deep breath, then another, as the light fades further and the leaves open their own stomata to breathe. And I breathe too. And so we together breathe.“We practice in order to cultivate a sense of agency. To understand that a range of responses are open to us. We practice to remember to breathe.To have space in the midst of adversity.To remember our values,and to seewhat we really care about.We practice to find support in our inner strength,and in one another.” — Sharon Salzberg Subscribe at grassjournal.co

Nov 2020

6 min 46 sec

Dear subscribers, You can find my podcast on all major platforms now. Also, every episode will also be sent out on this newsletter. Here are some links:Spotify • iTunes • ListenNotes • Google • TuneInLast week, I sat down at my birch table and recorded this episode more or less on accident in the bright late October sun.Things discussedCommunityHow spiders move in the fallRentRootednessPaying attention to beauty Subscribe at grassjournal.co

Oct 2020

13 min 10 sec

Sangre De Cristo Mountains above TaosThis newsletter is now a podcast too. I will send an email when the podcast is available on all podcast platforms. I also have a donate button on the bottom of this post.I have often felt confused in my life about how I fit into the world as an artist. Or in simpler terms, how my ideals can coexist with a world that is inevitably not ideal. Partly, the confusion I feel is about finding my place, my work. While I know what matters to me, I've had a hard time actualizing it.This poem, from my Body of Water manuscript, is my way of writing about this confusion. It was written when Anna and I were driving around in our car in Northern New Mexico, looking for a place to live in Taos. We slept in canyons and closed campgrounds and somehow it was cold and rainy almost every day; which, at 7,000 feet, when your car is packed with your worldly belongings, is not the ideal situation. It means dealing with wet gear on top of socks, boxes, and kitchen stuff.Looking back, it was just a month or so of this kind of situation before we found a small adobe apartment in Talpa, a spot in the road just outside of Taos. But for some reason, when enmeshed with the difficulty of finding a place time seems to drag, and everything feels impossible. Nowadays, I am still not sure what my path is towards offering something. I think I hit on it when trying to understand my confusion in this poem: I want to be someone who goes out into the larger world, then comes back to the human realm with something to offer. And maybe the offering will only be who I become. There is a saying in Buddhism and probably in other places: the messenger becomes the message.Confusion is a kind of loop. So what do I come back to again and again? The idea that I want to be a steward of something. Just a caretaker. Not to leave a permanent, indelible mark, but to maintain something, even restore something—heal something. Then be ready to pass it on to the next person, place, animal. Again, and again, and again. But how do I do that with no money, no platform, no place particularly in mind? Being in community seems to be part of it. But to have a home, a place, and somewhere to steward isn’t as easy as it sounds. It’s not that I want to start some kind of foundation. I just want some kind of living space on the edge of a field, with trees behind, and a stream nearby, that I take care of. Maybe a place people can come by and feel at peace in. And then, to be able to work on writing, and to make enough money in an ethical way. That’s the entire goal. This poem also has notes of pain and chaos—about a murder that happened down the road from our little apartment, about the barbed wire people relentlessly string and layer everywhere to protect their property, and the dogs that will chase and attack you if you get too close—all done to protect what people have worked hard for.Yet for me, I don’t desire protection of my hard earned work. I want my work to be open to all, accessible to all, free for all. I don’t want to profit off my hard work, or protect it.That’s what I have to say about this poem.Reader Note: Please flip your phone to wide orientation, or read on a laptop for proper line breaks.Taos means Red Willow. The people of Taos Pueblo call themselves The Taos People, and a long time resident of Taos in general is called a Taoseño. The Red Willow People.Taos — Being BornFirst night of wood smoke.First flow of water.First time picking trash from the acequiaamidst old rocksplaced by hands passed on.Clear water runsbelow roadspast dogsunder barbed wire hungby someone.And after a hundred yearsfalling downand rustingin the water.Across streams are strandsof old, bad barbed wire as ifwater were something to be protected from life—Though I see no sign saying this or that.And a man was shotjust a hundred feet down streetfrom where this acequia flowsunder barbed wire.At the end of a roadI open a smooth wire gateand walk past wild rosesand along Rio Chiquito,where an acequia is blocked, pools—the water floods a field.Six old apple treesgrow above the dry streamthat sometimes has water.Their fruit hangs heavy above strands of rusty barbed wire.~~The water less every yearsixty degrees between day and nightpeople grow things still—burn brush fireslate at night.An old man stands, and says“The best wayis to go into the fieldand make a fireand cut them stalksand cook them on the fire.Asparagus       in the storecomes five hundred milesten days old          by the time it gets here.Isn’t the same thingas what grows out of this groundbeneath my feetthat I cut      and I cook,      and I eat.”Rocks rise on the edge of a piñon plainwhere I was born.There were treesmostly: cottonwoods.Hills, arroyos, dry rockclean streamsthe sun rising or settingcrystal blue skies.And children don’t notice heat or cold, or what is a homeuntil they lose it.Patterned portraits on yellow sand, red, green, or white.Roasting chiles, eating at night.No sky as clear as a desert,no mind as clear as desert airno thoughts as clear as one that looks backas I enter again.Taos, New Mexico—against the mountains—aspens high—piñon lowlands,rio grande cañon, hidden down low—entering the world through our tent flapafter all night rain and cold.Clouds shredding overdark black mesa    eyes filling with tearsfor no reason I know—hands tremble to light the fire—all night rain, and cold.~Arroyo of rock chunksby rainwater, sand drytracks of another personlong gone by.~Slept in a closed campgroundfrost night before, and aftertent coveredwith glossy pitch from a drought stressed pinesticky zipper stuck and brokeon the tent. Our home.Taos.Low clouds and the huge view, coming down in the caradobes, as long ago, and cedar stick fences.Tiny backroads, colored old graveyard.Taos.Twist aroundto a coffee placea man talks, for an hour— “the grizzlies eat nuts of the white pine but they are dying to the bark beetle so bears come lower, for corn and get shot.”Taos.What work is mine?Where did I end up?Four years back was told to speakfor what couldn’t. Yet I haven’t.Taos.Still rainingsnow highwater flowingfrom the mountainsto keep what grows in the lowlands alivenear Taos.Tempted to say: I will do the sameto places quiet I goand I sit, I saynothing.Then come down to townslike a spring that flowswithout ending, or offering anythingbut itself.Taos. Subscribe at grassjournal.co

Oct 2020

9 min 56 sec