Discover more from Nurse Log Notes
Why Nurse Log Notes?
Becoming a Member of the Future Nurse Logs of America
[They] who are not busy being born, are busy dying. [And in dying they are being born.]
-Dylan (a remix)
“Very truly, I tell you, unless a tree falls to the earth and dies, it remains single tree; but if it dies, it becomes a nurse log birthing new life.”
“I am the way, the truth, the nurse log.”
-Jesus (a remix)
Image shared courtesy of Natalie Ramsland over at
Nurse Log Notes
When I moved my newsletter over to Substack at the end of last year (Musk-run Twitter shut down Revue, the platform I used previously), I decided to change the name from Resisting Empire, Remixing Faith to Nurse Log Notes. Recently, a number of folks have noticed and asked about the change. Here’s my thinking.
I love the titles Resisting Empire and Remixing Faith so much so that the first is the name of one of my books and the latter is in the subtitle of my first book. I see both of these as part of ongoing projects I continue to work on; one of them (Remixing Faith) is the title of a new book project I’ve long been sitting on too long, the other is a essentially the name of a series of mini projects (also see here) I hope will become something bigger one day. But, as much as I love these titles, I didn’t like them for the title of this newsletter, partially because I felt the pairing was always a little clunky but I didn’t want to break them a part and have to pick just one. Another reason is while they’re both active, conceptually connected to my passions, and very specific calls to people of faith, they didn’t feel open enough to match the breadth of topics I want to write about.
Nurse Log Notes is a gentle image, a metaphor from the more-than-human world that names both an object, the Nurse Log, and a process, that ecosystem the Nurse Log is responsible for creating. Notes well that names an obsession of mind. I am in love with taking, keeping, organizing, and developing notes. Most of the things I write about have behind them notes upon notes that I’ve been keeping for years. The original idea behind Nurse Log Notes was in fact a “digital garden,” or personal wiki, you can find the remnants of that nurse log here.
I do not know when I first learned of the nurse log but I know it was while we were living in the Pacific Northwest. It is likely that it was one of the members of our Quaker congregation who originally turned my attention to nurse logs that lay in the forests all over the the Northwest. It was not unusual to pass one by on a hike through LaCamas Park. Since then, like anything that you start paying attention to, I see them everywhere.
Nurse Log as Renewal and Resistance
I am unable to find the original source to this image.
The Nurse Log is:
is a fallen tree which, as it decays, provides ecological facilitation to seedlings. Broader definitions include providing shade or support to other plants. Some of the advantages a nurse log offers to a seedling are: water, moss thickness, leaf litter, mycorrhizae, disease protection, nutrients, and sunlight…Nurse logs may therefore provide some measure of protection from these pathogens, thus promoting greater seedling survivorship. -Wikipedia
A nurse log is an ecosystem where death and decay become interwoven with the emergence of new life. The tree’s death is what brings about the possibility, the opportunity, of new life. Besides its natural beauty and the singularity of each nurse log I come across, I am attracted to the idea that the nurse log is an image of renewal and resistance from the “more than human” world.
Much of my interest and work has been on trying to articulate a model of renewal that honors the past, while not being beholden to it. Words I have found helpful to describe this is “conv/ergent” (meaning conservative and emergent), remix, and “faithful betrayal.”
But it is the nurse log that keeps drawing me into deeper wonder. These other examples are human made, the nurse log is a gift of wisdom rooted in “the religion of creation.”
The nurse log is the past, present, and future being worked out simultaneously.
It shows the importance of the old, the power of tradition as living (even when it appears to be dead), and the frailty of new life that requires support, nurture, and protection so that it can fully take.
The nurse log resists the categories of empire: it is gift economy. It is giving, replenishing, sacrificing, growing, being born in the midst of dying. Its life is shared and offers protection to the vulnerable, it refuses polarity and binaries. It is an ecosystem that is cannot be abstracted into a list of values or commodified and compartmentalized. It is change. It is tradition innovating. It is remix.
This is why I named this newsletter nurse log. I find the nurse log inspiring. I hope for us to see our traditions as living and changing, renewal rooted in the richness of the past, while allowing for, supporting, new life to spring forth to life. I see it as a counter image to the cut trees of empire. The nurse log is a generative image that reminds me of what I am trying to do. It focuses my attention. Old and New together. It encapsulates resisting empire and remixing faith but cannot be contained by either.
Query: What from the more than human world do you find to be itself a holy text, inspiring, demanding wonder, sharing wisdom?
Image from Flickr by Larissa Sayer
The Self-Empyting Nurse Log
I asked Natalie Ramsland ofwhy she is drawn to nurse logs after she sent me the Future Nurse Logs of American image at the top of this issue. I love her response:
I like how a nurse log breaks down cultural norms of what it means to be a winner, of success defined at the level of the individual. I like the contrast of apparent brokenness and humble usefulness.
As a Quaker originally from outside the Christian tradition, it makes so much sense to me when Richard Rohr, Alexander Shaia and others talk about how the first gospel and the first Christ is in creation itself. The nurse log is some badass self-emptying at a scale we can see, touch, smell, and observe over time. (Fun fact: if you look up “self-emptying” on google on the way to remembering the word “kenosis” you may find yourself learning about a self-emptying robot vacuum)
The Peace of Wild Things
Written and read by Wendell Berry
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
Thanks for reading,