Say Hi to Kathy, or, My First Full Week at Hartman, or, What I Learned About Where I Am

A picture of crowded with shrubbery and trees with a yellow sign in front that says "Trail Not Maintained Difficult To Find"

Welcome back (or just welcome) to the blog. Can you believe it has already been a week since we last talked? Or, more accurately, as I presume most people reading this maybe just discovered the site, can you believe it has been 30 whole seconds since you skimmed through last week's introduction post? Wild, regardless.

And speaking of wild things, I spent a bunch of time in the woods last week! And apparently zero time studying segues! That's right, folks, this past week was my first week working, in earnest, on my Visiting Artist poetry project.

Of course, I have visited Hartman before, but my first visit with the set intention of writing poetry as this year's Visiting Artist was Wednesday, the 13th of June, 2022 A.D. around 1:30 PM Central Standard Time. It was my 9883rd day on Earth (according to Google). I had driven straight to the reserve from work, wearing work clothes that were not conducive to hiking through the woods. Nevertheless, I pushed through.

My first stop at Hartman was at the Nature Center Building so I could say hello to all the rescued critters housed within it. While doing so, I was particularly charmed by a nice little Fox Snake named Kathy.

When I visited Kathy, she was perched up on a pile of plants, her yellow eyes beaming behind a very cute pale pinkish snout. I do not claim to be a Snake Whisperer, but I will say that Kathy's demeanor was, is, akin to a friendly southern grandparent beckoning you to the front porch to drink some sweet tea. Kathy did not have any tea to offer, but that is okay.

A brown Fox Snake resting on a pile of green plants with a nametag on their glass tank tank that says "Hello, my name is Kathy"

After my brief meeting with Kathy, I read the short biography that the QR code on her tank links to (that you can also read here). Reading through her life story made me think about the various lives each of us humans lead within our one actual life (BOGO sale at the life store). One of the defining tenets of this project, as I currently envision it at least, is the Whitmanian idea of multitudes. The different hats we wear, so to speak. Today I am in a floral bucket hat, but tomorrow maybe a Pac-Man trucker cap. Right now I am waxing poetic about the human condition, but in a few hours I will be watching the NBA Finals, complaining to no one about how it is too easy to draw a foul in today's game.

But beyond the various beings that we all are all at once, I am also interested in the people we are in succession. The past lives, past identities, most, if not all of us, have collected over our years.

Kathy was once a freshly hatched Fox Snake, with somewhere between 10 and 20 little Fox Snake siblings, maybe slithering around a marsh or meadow, maybe a river valley. At some point she moved on out and found herself within Waterloo proper, presumably drawn to the city lights after watching the 1998 film, Babe 2: Pig in the City. Now she is enjoying life, welcoming people like me to the Hartman Nature Center.

An image of Babe the pig from the 1998 film Babe: Pig in the City staring out at a city's skyline
Now that's what I like to call a Pig in the City

And that, I suppose, is where our paths intersect. My life, too, has been built of different phases. Not just long fell swoops like childhood, teenage years, years as a young adult, years as a slightly less young adult. But even further broken down. The years where, before anything else, I would have identified as a musician. I try not to wrap my identity too much into my labor anymore, but years spent as a teacher. Those few months a while back when I was really into perfecting my vegetarian tuna salad recipe. And months spent as someone I was not particularly happy with being (separate from the tuna salad months, to be clear). Now I am enjoying life, being welcomed by Kathy to the Hartman Nature Center.  

But racking up these different identities comes along with the continual process of letting go of many of them. And that brings forth a certain form of grief that can be hard to reckon with. It is difficult to come to terms with the realization that an old favorite movie doesn't do much for you anymore, or that you have no interest in a hobby you once thought could be your whole life. Even more difficult is coming to terms with the relationships, the people you inevitably lose when you step out of the various stages of your life. The difficult task of accepting that they too are building a life out of the various smaller lives they lead, and that perhaps you will only remain in one of those smaller lives.

And so, that fateful Wednesday (and the next day too), I took all this into the woods with me and wrote some poems about it. As I walked the trails, I thought about the enormity of everything around me. The oaks that have endured decades and decades of life, the river that has flowed for centuries. I thought about what it all has meant, still means to so many people. How, as long as this area is conserved, it will possess thousands of different identities for as many different people. How it will be home to hopefully endless cycles of wildlife. How, just as I am walking through it writing some poems about it and the 1998 film Babe 2: Pig in the City, a hundred years from now, perhaps someone else will be walking through it writing poems about it and the 2098 film Babe 3: Pig in the Cyberpunk City.

How, long after Kathy is gone, more Fox Snakes will be shedding and regrowing their skin.

By the way, while we are talking Babe and multitudes, just a reminder that Babe 2: Pig in the City is directed by George Miller, the same person who directed 2015's enthralling action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road.

I will leave you with that fun fact, and also, to prove that I am doing the whole poetry thing, I also leave an excerpt of a poem, tentatively titled "Loops" that I wrote in the woods.

Soft waves roll a crushed coke can to the lake's surface/ tadpoles race in loops, swimming from doom/ A friend texts me a trailer for a new Star Wars series/ It is a cash grab, but kids will love it, I'm sure/ I remind myself how I loved the Phantom Menace in 1998/ Soft waves roll a crushed coke can/ Spiders crawl on the remnants of a beaver dam
Picture of a lake with large trees on the opposite shore