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Posts Tagged ‘Ecopoetry’

 

[with 3 poems by Robinson Jeffers]

Linda is preparing to read Thy Friend, Obadiah to Amelia, age 6. A young Quaker lad in colonial Nantucket is befriended by a seagull, which is not entirely to his liking. Linda shows Amelia the cover and explains that the story happened a long, long time ago.

“Even before cell phones?” Amelia asks.

“Oh yes, and look at the picture. See the horse and cart? This was even before cars.”

Amelia grows grave and pensive. “Did they have candy?”

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A six-year old lives within essentials. Even though candy is not a daily treat it must exist. Get into the car after kindergarten and immediately pull Tammy from the bottom of the bookbag, indispensable diminutive fox companion from infancy. And laughing. A joke, a gift, a tickle, a sudden surprise are all occasions for the essential vitamin of laughter.

Sometimes I’m not sure I remember what are essentials (except cheese, yes, must have cheese). It doesn’t help when Siri informs me my screentime increased 59% last week, nor is it helpful to argue with Siri that the preceding week was artificially low because his battery had funked out on me. Step away from the electronics, Sir. When Linda and I have taken a break from worldly worries and return from a long walk in the woods, we usually hear ourselves saying, “Hoo boy, we needed that.” Something essential about such an interlude.

Essential things. Clues abound. For Christmas I gave my sister and her partner a book of poetry I often return to myself. I had mentioned my recurring anxiety dreams and last week Mary Ellen asked how I was coping (nice to have a sister who’s a psychologist). I blurted, “When I read my copy of that book I gave you it helps.”

Essential? Poetry? When I can’t be walking in the woods I can be in the wild with Robinson Jeffers.

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Return

A little too abstract, a little too wise,
It is time for us to kiss the earth again,
It is time to let the leaves rain from the skies,
Let the rich life run to the roots again.
I will go to the lovely Sur Rivers
And dip my arms in them up to the shoulders.
I will find my accounting where the alder leaf quivers
In the ocean wind over the river boulders.
I will touch things and things and no more thoughts,
That breed like mouthless May-flies darkening the sky,
The insect clouds that blind our passionate hawks
So that they cannot strike, hardly can fly.
Things are the hawk’s food and noble is the mountain, Oh noble
Pico Blanco, steep sea-wave of marble.

Robinson Jeffers (1887-1961)

things and things and no more thoughts . . .

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Rock and Hawk

Here is a symbol in which
Many high tragic thoughts
Watch their own eyes.

This gray rock, standing tall
On the headland, where the seawind
Lets no tree grow,

Earthquake-proved, and signatured
By ages of storms: on its peak
A falcon has perched.

I think, here is your emblem
To hang in the future sky;
Not the cross, not the hive,

But this; bright power, dark peace;
Fierce consciousness joined with final
Disinterestedness;

Life with calm death; the falcon’s
Realist eyes and act
Married to the massive

Mysticism of stone,
Which failure cannot cast down
Nor success make proud.

Robinson Jeffers (1887-1961)

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Credo

My friend from Asia has powers and magic, he plucks a blue leaf from
+++ the young blue-gum
And gazing upon it, gathering and quieting
The God in his mind, creates an ocean more real than the ocean, the salt,
+++ the actual
Appalling presence, the power of the waters.
He believes that nothing is real except as we make it. I humbler have found
+++ in my blood
Bred west of Caucasus a harder mysticism.
Multitude stands in my mind but I think that the ocean in the bone vault is
+++ only
The bone vault’s ocean: out there is the ocean’s;
The water is the water, the cliff is the rock, come shocks and flashes of
+++ reality. The mind
Passes, the eye closes, the spirit is a passage;
The beauty of things was born before eyes and sufficient to itself; the
+++ heartbreaking beauty
Will remain when there is no heart to break for it.

Robinson Jeffers (1887-1961)

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These three poems are collected in The Wild God of the World, An Anthology of Robinson Jeffers, Selected, with an introduction, by Albert Gelpi, Stanford University Press, 2003

Thy Friend, Obadiah,written and illustrated by Brinton Turkle, Puffin Books; a Caldecott Honor Book in 1970

And the Christmas present I gave Mary Ellen and Wendy is The Poetry of Impermanence, Mindfulness, and Joy, edited by John Brehm, Wisdom Publications, 2017

Additional references: Return; Rock and Hawk; Robinson Jeffers at The Poetry Foundation.

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2016-10-17a Doughton Park Tree

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I believe this globed earth not all by chance and fortune brings forth her broods, but feels and chooses

[with a longer poem by Robinson Jeffers]

The winter-gray trunks reveal their true nature. Stick-straight tuliptree, angled encroaching oak, perfected symmetry of beech, funky slipped-disc hickory – now in the rarified morning after frost, all mysticism stripped from the breath rising up Dutchman Creek, the trees allow us to know their inmost inclinations, their gestures and attitudes freeze-tag obvious: Fill this space. Drink the light. Every drop.

Summer is the mystery, all bluster and concealment. Signature leafshapes swallowed in jostling overflow of green – in winter we discover how they do it. Branches ramified ever finer, each species has invented its own geometry, each distinct inscrutable math of its evolving. Here they crouch and rise and stand and lean behind our house, here they create this little patch of forest just like all other patches and utterly unlike any but itself.

These trees aren’t old. Maybe seventy years since last the loggers passed. Perhaps that white oak is a hundred. One big silverbell beside the water has had time to cast her progeny up the ridge, seven generations. The early prodigies succumb to shade – dogwood, hornbeam. Not many pines remain, mostly a few holy snags favored by woodpeckers.

This winter we first realized a respectable Liriodendron had fallen last summer, twenty-inch diameter and a hundred feet from the house but we never heard the crash, parallel to power lines so we never lost light. She rests beside a sister that lay down before we bought this place forty years ago. The old tree is almost returned to earth; the newly fallen still clings to a few black leaves. Up the hill, in full sun, another sister is at least double their size, heaving our driveway, flaunting her strange orange-yellow flowers a hundred feet high, prodigal with her seedlings.

I am old. Seventy soon. God speaks that tuliptree’s name in the space it fills, in jadegreen leaves and roots that smell of musk and camphor. How difficult is it for me to imagine my name also on God’s lips, imagine some webline of my self will extend its existence onward when the frame that supports it collapses, when the blood, the electricity cease to flow? Dutchman Creek will still complain after heavy rain. The twigs will twist to find their places. Light will fill a new day and expect to be drunk. Every drop.

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now all’s empty, a bone bubble, a blown-out eggshell

 

De Rerum Virtute
[The Virtue of Things]
++++ Robinson Jeffers (1887-1962)

++++ I
Here is the skull of a man: a man’s thoughts and emotions
Have moved under the thin bone vault like clouds
Under the blue one: love and desire and pain,
Thunderclouds of wrath and white gales of fear
Have hung inside here: and sometimes the curious desire of knowing
Values and purpose and the causes of things
Has coasted like a little observer air-plane over the images
That filled this mind: it never discovered much,
And now all’s empty, a bone bubble, a blown-out eggshell.

I believe the first living cell had echoes of the future in it

++++ II
That’s what it’s like: for the egg too has a mind,
Doing what our able chemists will never do,
Building the body of a hatchling, choosing among the proteins:
These for the young wing-muscles, these for the great
Crystalline eyes, these for the flighty nerves and brain:
Choosing and forming: a limited but superhuman intelligence,
Prophetic of the future and aware of the past:
The hawk’s egg will make a hawk, and the serpent’s
A gliding serpent: but each with a little difference
From its ancestors—and slowly, if it works, the race
Forms a new race: that also is a part of the plan
Within the egg. I believe the first living cell
Had echoes of the future in it, and felt
Direction and the great animals, the deep green forest
And whale’s-track sea; I believe this globed earth
Not all by chance and fortune brings forth her broods,
But feels and chooses. And the Galaxy, the firewheel
On which we are pinned, the whirlwind of stars in which our sun is one dust-grain, one electron, this giant atom of the universe
Is not blind force, but fulfils its life and intends its courses. “All things are full of God.
Winter and summer, day and night, war and peace are God.”

the sun will be strangled among his dead satellites, remembering magnificence

++++ III
Thus the thing stands; the labor and the games go on—
What for? What for? —Am I a God that I should know?
Men live in peace and happiness; men live in horror
And die howling. Do you think the blithe sun
Is ignorant that black waste and beggarly blindness trail him like hounds,
And will have him at last? He will be strangled
Among his dead satellites, remembering magnificence.

I believe that man too is beautiful

++++ IV
I stand on the cliff at Sovranes creek-mouth.
Westward beyond the raging water and the bent shoulder of the world
The bitter futile war in Korea proceeds, like an idiot
Prophesying. It is too hot in mind
For anyone, except God perhaps, to see beauty in it. Indeed it is hard to see beauty
In any of the acts of man: but that means the acts of a sick microbe
On a satellite of a dust-grain twirled in a whirlwind
In the world of stars ….
Something perhaps may come of him; in any event
He can’t last long. —Well: I am short of patience
Since my wife died … and this era of spite and hate-filled half-worlds
Gets to the bone. I believe that man too is beautiful,
But it is hard to see, and wrapped up in falsehoods. Michael Angelo and the Greek sculptors—
How they flattered the race! Homer and Shakespeare—
How they flattered the race!

the beauty of things means virtue and value in them

++++ V
One light is left us: the beauty of things, not men;
The immense beauty of the world, not the human world.
Look—and without imagination, desire nor dream—directly
At the mountains and sea. Are they not beautiful?
These plunging promontories and flame-shaped peaks
Stopping the sombre stupendous glory, the storm-fed ocean? Look at the Lobos Rocks off the shore,
With foam flying at their flanks, and the long sea-lions
Couching on them. Look at the gulls on the cliff wind,
And the soaring hawk under the cloud-stream—
But in the sage-brush desert, all one sun-stricken
Color of dust, or in the reeking tropical rain-forest,
Or in the intolerant north and high thrones of ice—is the earth not beautiful?
Nor the great skies over the earth?
The beauty of things means virtue and value in them.
It is in the beholder’s eye, not the world? Certainly.
It is the human mind’s translation of the transhuman
Intrinsic glory. It means that the world is sound,
Whatever the sick microbe does. But he too is part of it.

De Rerum Virtute
by Robinson Jeffers (1887-1962)

collected in The Wild God of the World, An Anthology of Robinson Jeffers, Selected, with an introduction, by Albert Gelpi, Stanford University Press, 2003

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it means that the world is sound

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I
now all’s empty, a bone bubble, a blown-out eggshell

II
I believe this globed earth not all by chance and fortune brings forth her broods, but feels and chooses

I believe the first living cell had echoes of the future in it

III
the sun will be strangled among his dead satellites, remembering magnificence

IV
I believe that man too is beautiful

V
the beauty of things means virtue and value in them

Robinson Jeffers, the Poetry Foundation

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IMG_6432

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[New Year’s Eve, poems by Mary Oliver and Jane Mead]

“Are spirits’ lives so short?” asked Scrooge.
“My life upon this globe is very brief,” replied the Ghost. “It ends to-night.”

The worm Ouroboros eats its tail, every day renewed, ever renewing. Cycles unending. The Neuse River snakes to New Bern, clouds lift inland, each little feeder stream is filled. Rain, ice, lichen eat the stone, phosphate creeps its migration through generations: rock to soil, leaf to masticator, herbivore to predator and all decomposing back to soil. I breathe out what the tree breathes in and breathes out for me to breathe. And the cycle we mark today: the dying Year gives birth to the New.

So many cycles. One enormous round. Every thing connected, interconnected, and we sense ourselves as spokes of the wheel or sometimes the never-ceasing motion of its rim that grinds along the path that is our life. As daylight diminishes it grows harder to hold onto our imagining of that wheel, its endless turning, that path it pursues still stretching on beyond the horizon. Harder to hold onto hope that the path’s end is indeterminate and out of sight.

Yes, it grows harder in these years of death’s overwhelming harvest to push aside imagining our own death. Too many deaths, COVID and otherwise, to pay attention; too many deaths to ignore a single one. In a few minutes I’ll set this page aside when my son arrives. He’ll leave Amelia here while the rest of the family attends their next-door neighbor’s funeral. A sudden death – our friend M was not old or ill. A shock to the fragile wall we build around our own mortality. Linda and I find ourselves tallying all the deaths that have touched us this month. The man who fixes our cars. A friend’s best friend. Names and faces more than we ever expect, doesn’t it seem? Death hunches at our shoulder, sometimes intrusive, sometimes silently lingering, sometimes perched like a moth that’s invisible until it flies into our face.

Tonight at midnight we will celebrate the Newborn Year but perhaps with even more enthusiasm we’ll celebrate a moment’s permission to ignore its haggard, dissipated forebear. The Old Year dies in winter darkness; death, the ultimate consuming dark. But notice – twelve days enfold the span of solstice to new year’s morning. The Ghost of Christmas Present senescent and dying yet retains some presence within us. Twelve days already lengthening, light seeping in even before the old year succumbs. Perhaps endings and beginnings are false markings along the ever-flowing course. Perhaps encircled by death it is possible, vital even, to engage with life. Perhaps death itself is not darkness but enfolding light.

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White Owl Flies Into and Out of the Field

Coming down out of the freezing sky
with its depths of light,
like an angel, or a Buddha with wings,
it was beautiful, and accurate,
striking the snow and whatever was there
with a force that left the imprint
of the tips of its wings — five feet apart —
and the grabbing thrust of its feet,
and the indentation of what had been running
through the white valleys of the snow —
and then it rose, gracefully,
and flew back to the frozen marshes
to lurk there, like a little lighthouse,
in the blue shadows —
so I thought:
maybe death isn’t darkness, after all,
but so much light wrapping itself around us —

as soft as feathers —
that we are instantly weary of looking, and looking,
and shut our eyes, not without amazement,
and let ourselves be carried,
as through the translucence of mica,
to the river that is without the least dapple or shadow,
that is nothing but light — scalding, aortal light —
in which we are washed and washed
out of our bones.

Mary Oliver  — 1935-2019
this poem first appeared in The New Yorker, January 2, 1989

 


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I Wonder if I Will Miss the Moss

I wonder if I will miss the moss
after I fly off as much as I miss it now
just thinking about leaving.

There were stones of many colors.
There were sticks holding both
lichen and moss.
There were red gates with old
hand-forged hardware.
There were fields of dry grass
smelling of first rain
then of new mud. There was mud,
and there was the walking,
all the beautiful walking,
and it alone filled me –
the smells, the scratchy grass heads.
All the sleeping under bushes,
once waking to vultures above, peering down
with their bent heads they way they do,
caricatures of interest and curiosity.
Once too a lizard.
Once too a kangaroo rat.
Once too a rat.
They did not say I belonged to them,
but I did.

Whenever the experiment on and of
my life begins to draw to a close
I’ll go back to the place that held me
and be held. It’s O.K. I think
I did what I could. I think
I sang some, I think I held my hand out.

Jane Mead — 1958-2019
this poem first appeared in The New Yorker, September 20, 2021

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Mary Oliver was a guide to the intersection between human life and the natural world; her voice affirms the expression of person in nature in person and affirms that no voice can fully express that oneness. Jane Mead, who for years was Poet-in-Residence at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, NC, expected poetry to move people to preserve the earth; at the end of her life she was a guide to the landscape and ecology of dying.

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Doughton Park Tree 2021-10-23

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I thought I saw a Merlin. Facing into the stiff onshore breeze, harrying above the dunes: fierce raptor profile, fleet spitfire, wings cocked at the wrist – falcon.

I wanted to think it was a Merlin I saw, last week at Bogue Banks for Thanksgiving, as it veered away from me, slipped sideways and rolled, master of current and draft. I still wanted it to be a Merlin when it arced back overhead, whirled into a perfect stall, snatched a perch at the tip of the spar where the surf warning flag flies.

It drank some water trapped in a crease of the wood. Tawny waistcoat, single-barred tail, face tattoos – this hunter was not a Merlin. Just its much more common little cousin.

Why did my heart skip when I first spotted it? Why did I want so much for it to be a Merlin? I haven’t seen one in years; I’ve only ever seen a very few. The last time I saw a Merlin, Linda and I were alone together on a rare vacation, January in Nags Head, doing what we love: hiking the dunes and maritime forest and half-freezing ourselves in the salt rime. Driving to Hatteras next day we spotted a Merlin perched above the salt marsh, watchful in regal disdain. Merlin – rare visitor from the mysterious north. Merlin, power and magic. Merlin mythic. Merlin romantic.

Is it just its name that makes it so? Falco columbarius per Linnaeus, Esmerejón in Spain and Mexico, Dværgfalk in Denmark and Norway, 55 names listed in Cornell Ornithology. Learning its name accompanies learning its field marks, habitat, range. But what do I really know about Merlin? How to read shifting wind while stalking the wood rat a hundred yards below? Folded wings, little rocket, full velocity strike , blood and hair? What name, Dream Hunter, do you give yourself?

We see the Merlin’s little cousins all the time here in the NC foothills, especially in winter perched on wires above the mouse-gleaned fields. I saw one driving home from the beach. Actually, four. And last week my brain knew what I was seeing above the strand even before my eye would admit it, even before it swooped in for me to take closer look . . .

. . . and turned upon the current of air. Watchful for movement in the sand, ultraviolet signature of mouse urine, it raised its wings, their sharp fast flutter, fixed, motionless on high. Only one little falcon can do that. And I know its name.

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The Windhover
Gerard Manley Hopkins – 1844-1889

I caught this morning morning’s minion, king-
++ dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
++ Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
++ As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
++ Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird,—the achieve of; the mastery of the thing!

Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
++ Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!

++ No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
++ Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermillion.

[This poem is in the public domain.]

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Windhover is a British name for the European Kestrel, Falco tinnunculus, a dead ringer for its close relative the American Kestrel, Falco sparverius. They are the smallest of the falcons and one of the very few birds that can hover motionless in still air, in this case watching for its usual prey, the field mouse.

The Windhover has long been one of my favorite poems. Oh my, where does this magical and mysterious language come from?! What hidden realm is revealed in these lines? Read it aloud to hear Hopkins’s incantatory music. How does he do it?

One of my most striking memories is the Saturday morning Tony Abbott recited The Windhover at Weymouth Center for the Arts and Humanities to call to order a meeting of the North Carolina Poetry Society. As he approached its last line Tony slowed , each word deliberate, and upon gash gold-vermilion there was one unified sharp intake of breath among the entire congregation before we erupted in applause.

Gerard Manley Hopkins was a Jesuit priest; he dedicated The Windhover To Christ our Lord. The poem, like the fierce undaunted Kestrel, breaks open the blue-bleak embers of our dull, unreflective spirits to reveal the fire, the power, and the glorious mystery of creation which surrounds us.

[more Gerard Manley Hopkins at The Poetry Foundation]

 

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2019-02-09 Doughton Park Tree

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[with poems by Jonathan Revere, Maggie Dietz, William Butler Yeats ]

Actually, that’s a Herring Gull.

Day 7 of our Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness adventure and Josh and I are feeling pretty fit in the lead canoe this morning. We’re almost across Ima Lake to our next portage, the other two canoes lagging. A quarter mile to starboard on a high bluff we spy a campsite of Girl Scouts watching and waving. We paddle our manly J-strokes and pay no attention to the big rocky crag jutting up out of the lake to port.

Until Fury rains from the skies.

Actually, more like flaps and squawks. Atop the crag one big frizzed-out Herring Gull chick gangles from its nest and Mom & Dad are divebombing our canoe. Josh and I whoop and splash and all but capsize as we invent a whole new series of paddle strokes.

We finally manage 50 yards of headway; the attackers call truce and return to the nest. Josh and I take a break while we check our heads for gull guano. The Girl Scouts seem to be convulsing – dreadful concern or laughter? And here come Matt and Greg and Little Brad around the point. They’re fixated on the Girl Scouts. They haven’t even noticed us.

Josh and I scull the canoe around and take a sighting. Hmmm. Direct line from us to the crag to oblivious canoe number two.

“Hey guys! Here we are! This way!”

Matt, Greg, and Brad are twenty feet from the crag when the gulls open fire. The guys cower so far below the gunwales they can’t even get a paddle into the water. It’s a couple of minutes before Josh and I can even breathe for laughing, then we start hollering that they’re going to have to put some distance between themselves and that rock.

The guys end up paddling with their hands, scrunched down in the canoe like drowned haversacks. Finally they catch up to us and they ain’t laughing. Or showing their faces to the Girl Scouts. At least we can’t see any fresh blood.

The five of us cool off for a minute. We look back. Around the point come Everett and Big Brad in canoe number three. Hmmm.

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Gull Skeleton

In the first verse I find his skeleton
nested in shore grass, late one autumn day.
The loss of life and the life which is decay
have been so gentle, so clasped one-to-one

that what they left is perfect; and here in
the second verse I kneel to pick it up:
bones like the fine white china of a cup,
chambered for lightness, dangerously thin,

their one clear purpose forcing them toward flight
even now, from the warm solace of my hand.
In the third verse I bend to that demand
and – quickly, against the deepening of the night,

because I can in poems – remake his wild eye,
his claws, and the tense heat his muscles keep,
his wings’ knit feathers, then free him to his steep
climb, in the last verse, up the streaming sky.

Jonathan Revere

POETRY magazine, April 1971, The Poetry Foundation.

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Seasonal

Summer-long the gulls’ old umbra cry
unraveled ease
but certain waves went by, then by.
The sky shook out the days.

The seabirds’ hunger rose in rings,
flung rock-clams to their shatterings,
raked gullets full, the bone-bills scraped.

High noon: oceans of time escaped.

++++++++++ *

All winter we slept benched together,
breakers, sleepdrunk children in a car
not conscious where they go.

We kneaded bread, kept out the weather,
while old suspicions huddled by the door,
mice in the snow.

++++++++++ *

In spring, the leaving bloomed—
oak leaf unfurled, a foot, resplendent
vigorous, aching to shake loose
but still dependent.

One morning moongreen loaves
rose into bones that rose to lift
our skin like sleeves,
our time together’s revenant.

++++++++++ *

Perennial fall, come cool the cliffs,
bring quiet, sulfur, early dark.
Represent as you must: dusk, dying, ends
and row us into winter’s water:

The body, wind-whipped, forms stiff peaks,
ice settles in the marrow bone.
At the chest, the live stone breaks against the beak,
beak breaks against stone.

Maggie Dietz

from Perennial Fall. Copyright © 2006 by Maggie Dietz. Reprinted in POETRY magazine online, The Poetry Foundation.

 

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On a Political Prisoner

She that but little patience knew,
From childhood on, had now so much
A grey gull lost its fear and flew
Down to her cell and there alit,
And there endured her fingers’ touch
And from her fingers ate its bit.

Did she in touching that lone wing
Recall the years before her mind
Became a bitter, an abstract thing,
Her thought some popular enmity:
Blind and leader of the blind
Drinking the foul ditch where they lie?

When long ago I saw her ride
Under Ben Bulben to the meet,
The beauty of her country-side
With all youth’s lonely wildness stirred,
She seemed to have grown clean and sweet
Like any rock-bred, sea-borne bird:

Sea-borne, or balanced in the air
When first it sprang out of the nest
Upon some lofty rock to stare
Upon the cloudy canopy,
While under its storm-beaten breast
Cried out the hollows of the sea.

William Butler Yeats

reprinted in POETRY magazine online, The Poetry Foundation.

 

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Yeats wrote On a Political Prisoner at the beginning of 1919 as the Anglo-Irish war for independence was about to explode. It refers to a woman he admired and loved (scholars differ on her exact identity) who had been imprisoned for her strong nationalistic beliefs. Yeats supported Irish home rule but had become disenchanted with radical politics, and the poem reflects that ambivalence in describing the woman’s mind as bitter, abstract thing while still admiring her patience and gentleness in befriending the gull.

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The Terror of Gull Rock occurred in June, 1996 when I and my son Josh as co-leader shepherded a little crew of Boy Scouts through the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northern Minnesota. Nine days on the water, 28 lakes traversed, 33 portages (carrying packs and canoes) = 70 miles afloat and afoot. We lived to tell the tales and there were plenty of tales. Thank you for all that paddling and for eating my cooking to Everett, Greg, Matt, and Brad, and to Big Brad our summer intern. There ain’t no place more glorious than the middle of nowhere.

 

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IMG_1609

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[with 3 poems from ecotone]

Several winters ago I built a trail behind our house down the steep wooded slope to Dutchman Creek at the edge of our property. In the forty years we’ve lived on these four acres the trees have grown to spread interlocking arms into a canopy of deep shade; the impenetrable blackberry thickets have marched along elsewhere; deer have eaten all the poison ivy. Now to reach the creek there is only the steepness to contend with.

There was no obvious tread for me to follow except a deer trail I adopted for one leg of one switchback. It took a month or two of Saturdays to rake, hack, hoe, and level about an eighth of a mile of narrow footpath. Even on cold days I shed layers. Sweat and sore shoulders – gifts for Saul, Amelia, and Bert. They will climb back up the hill from throwing rocks in the creek without the scratches and itches their Dad and Mom endured.

As that winter began to fade I returned to the trail to pace its length and decide where to widen, where to stack more native stone for steps. Just into the woods beyond the powerline right-of-way, just before the first switchback, the litter of last autumn’s leaves was dappled white. I knelt to see. Tiny delicate petals, notched fingertip leaves – rue anemone; about a dozen plants blooming to border my trail and nowhere else down the slope. No, wrong, let me restate that. Not my trail – the grandchildren’s trail. The earth’s trail.

 

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Anemonella thalictroides — Rue Anemone

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ecotone is published by the Department of Creative Writing and The Publishing Laboratory at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. The ecology of the featured poetry, essays, and fiction is described in the journal’s apt defining statement: ecotone (n) – a transition zone between two communities, containing the characteristic species of each; a place of danger or opportunity; a testing ground.

These selections are from ecotone number 29, fall/winter 2020, “The Garden Issue.”

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Invasives

The love we walk around with is a dull
tool – though it hangs from our belts with a rusty grace,
like planets expertly wired in a model of space
that slowly turns when whoever built it pulls

some secret string. The other love, the cold,
sharp one, the one that keeps a quiet place
behind our lungs, is harder to see, its face
(some tools, of course, have faces) unreadable.

But I know it, in my life, from the way it makes
me see the lovely world as lovely. Rain,
bull thistle, rabbit tracks, a friends’ face, even,

might be its face. Or does it have your face? a lake’s
face? a galaxy’s? Or phlox? the profane
honeysuckle or maybe tree-of-heaven?

Nathaniel Perry

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Pavement

Arlington, Virginia

Asphalt, bituminous, concrete, cement –
the whole place is case-hardened, carapaced.
The air shimmers with heat; tree roots can’t breathe;
no poured libation seeps down to the dead.

When we were children, this was open ground,
farm field once, where we scraped and scrounged, intent
on grubbing up that other world, the past.
Old wounds – the Minié ball, the arrowhead –

spat blood here. Now the grimy runoff seethes
into the storm drain from the parking lot.
This is the way we cloak our own unease,
muzzling what the cracked clay might have said.

The pavement lies tight-lipped, impenitent.
The scabrous memory writhes here, underneath.

Maryann Corbett

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Nectar

Here, late in August, when even the bean fields
are heavy with pods, it is blossoms that I want,
not the fruit of the season, not the acorns

and buckeyes that the squirrels are carrying off.
I want nectar, the death-defying food of the gods,
honeydew, or the distilled winelike sap of apples

and pears, anything intoxicating enough to make
an insect eat in spite of summer storms, three days
of wind and cold, enough to blow us all off course.

Trapped indoors, twelve, fourteen, now sixteen
monarchs cling to the mesh in the far corner
of the cage where the sun last appeared.

I’ve exhausted my garden, already raided
the parks, brought home coneflowers and
daisies, clover and black-eyed Susans.

Pulling on muck boots, I drive to the ditches
looking for goldenrod, and blue-eyed grass –
all the stuff the makes my family sneeze.

I want the best that the earth has to offer,
not the produce, but the promise of immortality,
that these butterflies, through their children

and grandchildren, will live forever, will fly away
and rise again among the Texas bluebells, will mate
and return to us each spring. I crush an orange,

garnish it with flowers, set a butterfly on the sticky
rim of the saucer. I roll out her proboscis
until it touches the sweetness, and she drinks.

Cathryn Essinger

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Photographs by Bill Griffin. Header Art by Linda French Griffin.

 

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2020-09-08b Doughton Park Tree

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[with 2 poems by Robert Pack]

If we keep it we’ll have to kill it. My Daughter-in-law is holding the whelk she’s discovered in the shallows near Lookout Bight off Shackleford Banks. Knobbed whorl, indigo interior of striped nacre, bigger than a baby’s fist – she suddenly drops it back into the water. The shell’s inhabitant has shifted its operculum and startled her as it crawls across her palm.

She picks the shell back up and we lean close as she turns it over and over. Perfect. Beautiful. We can’t keep it or kill it, elegant gastropod, primal sea snail. I remember Nana boiling the big shells she gathered from the sound below her house but I don’t recall ever eating conch chowder, only the procession of pink and tangerine lining her sun porch, mother-of-pearl inside but intensity steadily fading through the years.

What can we keep? What can we take with us? Not life. Maybe just the things life has touched. Sixty years later I still hold Nana’s conch shells in memory. I still see my Mother bending to capture a lettered olive rolling in the surf (while all I spot are shards). Tomorrow I will still hear my Granddaughter’s laughter as she splashes across the sandbar to see what her mother has found, and I will watch them together lower the magical creature back into the brine.

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These two selections are from Robert Pack’s All One Breath (Green Writers Press, Brattleboro, Vermont, © 2019). Many of the poems live intimately with nature, whether wild Montana where Pack lives now or the New England of his memories. Some of the poems are stories peppered with wit, unexpected turns and outcomes, subtle puns. I laugh at loud at some of his poems, tear up at others. The entire book, seems to me, weaves the thread of connection from place to place, from life to life – nearing the end of life, Bob Pack teaches us what we carry, what we can keep, what we might leave for others.

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Bear Grass Interval

++++ At roughly ten year intervals
this globe of minuscule white flowers
clustered on a dense green stalk
appears profusely in the vernal woods
of mountain-range Montana,
so the entranced observer stares
at what appears to be
a galaxy of stars that has now drifted down
and settled softly on the earth.
++++ Ask anybody who has witnessed
this phantasmagorical display,
and they will swear
that they have never seen
a spectacle so tranquil
and serenely beautiful.
++++ Yet I imagine beauty
here on earth does not
originate in the beholder’s eye,
but dwells out there inherent
in the humming universe
as one of Plato’s fundamental forms
beyond the realm of time and space
that still can harmonize discordant thought
and woo the tides of the recumbent air.
++++ You ask how this far-out belief
affects my life; am I
less self-absorbed and less defined
by personal diminishing
to primal and concluding nothingness?
++++ Perhaps if everyone would pause
to gaze upon the Bear Grass flowers
glowing on the mountainside,
and view them as if willfully designed,
a combination of sweet symmetries
and startling randomness,
then they would feel less separate,
less lonely, less irrelevant, content
to play the quiet role of witnesses.
++++ But now, right now, the galaxy
of Bear Grass flowers is not visible
and will not reappear
for an uncertain interval,
assuming earthly time
still measures disappearances,
the emptiness lost love and friendship leave
forever achingly behind.
++++ I do not know if I’ll endure
another interval – a wandering
beholder of the momentary woods –
until Bear Grass returns to grace my sight
and holds there, astounded
and suspended in delight

Robert Pack, from All One Breath, Green Writers Press, Brattleboro, Vermont, © 2019.

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Sandhill Cranes Dancing
++++ ++++ ++++ for Patty

++++ At dawn the Sandhill cranes, their heads
splashed vivid red, initiate
their mating dance, circling each other
on long, narrow legs tanning their huge, gray wings
in slow, dreamlike deliberation.
++++ They throw sticks from their pointed beaks
into the air to flaunt their mating skills.
Their whooping echoes out across
the same dew-sparkled field
where they’ve returned each spring
for twenty years since we, my wife and I,
initially began to keep our watch.
++++ A forest ranger we’d not met before
stops by our house to ask if we have seen
the grizzly bear tracks in the mud
beside our border stream. He tells us that
the constellation Ursa Major will
appear tonight effulgent
right above us in the northen sky
and that he likes to stay awake at night,
with just his telescope for company,
to calculate how long it takes
red-shifted light to reach the earth.
“My favorite is melancholy Saturn,”
he declares and its attendant moons,
each one with its own orbit, hue, and size.
“My hope is that I’ll find a hidden moon
that no one has observed before;
it would preserve my name.”
++++ He says that stars right now are being born
and burning out, collapsing on themselves,
that due to universal entropy
in maybe fifty-billion years
all matter will thin out and dissipate,
so that no memory and no
intelligence – none would survive.
++++ And even I, who own no telescope,
can comprehend terminal emptiness;
it’s no less thinkable than is
next May without our being here to watch
the cranes perform their dance as if
their tossing sticks into the dawn
and catching them might signify
that everything returns again
to re-enact past happiness.
++++ Yet in our bones we know that soon
our bearing witness must conclude,
just as the green field must turn brown,
which it, alas, has been designed to do.
So let us pause again in misty light
to watch those red crests blur and disappear
above the waving trees, and listen hard
as medleyed crane calls float away
and fade into a murmur in the air.

Robert Pack, from All One Breath, Green Writers Press, Brattleboro, Vermont, © 2019.

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[Note: When I was growing up my family used the word conch to refer to every big spiral gastropod on the North Carolina shores and sounds. What we were actually finding, usually just pieces of their shell in the ocean surf but the living, crawling creatures in Bogue Sound, were whelks. The big ones, true whelks, are in the family Buccinidae, but whelk is also a common name applied to various unrelated varieties of sea snail. The true conch, family Strombidae, lives in Florida and farther south; again, many unrelated species of sea snail in different families are also colloquially referred to as conch. Whatever you call them, discovering a complete unbroken abandoned shell on the beach is worth a big whoop and holler.]

Photos by Bill Griffin. Header art by Linda French Griffin.

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2020-11-03a Doughton Park Tree

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[with two poems by Robert Pack]

We almost didn’t walk that extra trail. It was noon when my grandson and I finished the 3.3 mile Elliot Coues loop at Fort Macon State Park. Across the salt marsh we’d watched egrets glide and settle; crouched for fiddler crabs and ducked for banana spiders in the maritime forest; climbed the highest dunes on Bogue Banks for a view of Beaufort Inlet. Now we were sweaty, parched, almost back to the car when we came to the little afterthought of a side trail.

We almost didn’t walk down to the sound and around the tannic pond. Almost passed without noticing the sleek ratsnake where it eyed us motionless from the bank before it glided back into the sedges. Almost didn’t turn up the short spur to discover the ibis ignoring us, nonchalant, preening.

Almost didn’t but we did. Maybe my grandson will remember saying, “Come on, Pappy, that’s enough pictures,” or maybe he will remember the glistening head, jewel eye, periscope neck while we waited a full minute for the snake to flick its tongue a second time.

Rat Snake, Elaphe [Pantherophis] obsoleta

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For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth the beasts; as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they all have one breath. +++++++++Ecclesiastes, Three

My introduction to Robert Pack was as co-editor with Jay Parini of Poems for a Small Planet: Contemporary American Nature Poetry (1993). This year I bought his most recent book, All One Breath (Green Writers Press, 2019). Bob Pack has been called one of America’s best “nature poets” but the “nature” of his poems opens its arms wide to embrace every human experience. Perhaps that’s the final task of poetry: to acknowledge and explore every thing we have in common with each other and with every creature, particle, planet.

These two poems speak to me as old guy who wants to show my grandkids all I see. And as young guy still with everything to learn.

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Crossing the Bridge

++++++++++++For Stanley Bates

++++When old age shall this generation waste,
++++Thou shalt remain in midst of other woe
++++Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou sayest:
++++Beauty is Truth, Truth Beauty,
++++That is all ye know on earth, and all ye need
++++to know.
++++ ++++from “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” John Keats

And now it is my generation
that has gone to waste.
I have outlasted my best friends;
no one is left but me
and this elusive, talking urn.
So I will play along with this
engaging fantasy as if
the late philosopher Stan Bates
and his exploratory mind were here
to tease me with the concept of
statically engraved eternity
and help me to distract myself
from the engulfing sense of emptiness
by thinking about thinking while
assuming thought is able to
protect us from the thoughts we think:
discoursing with a meditative urn,
conversing with you when you are not here.
I will interrogate the urn
by asking what it means by its
notorious and enigmatic claim
that Truth and Beauty are identical,
and I’ll conjecture that the far side
of the urn, the side I cannot see,
shows a tableau of a familiar scene
in early spring of a carousing stream
still edged with a fine filigree of ice
and highlighted with puffs of mist
like miniature ghosts. Across the stream
a tree has fallen like a walkway
for a spirit, should he need a passage
to the undepicted shrubbery
beyond the sleek stones on the other bank.
The spirit is, of course, invisible,
as you are now, but I can hear
his wafted flute notes as he passes by
in lilting harmony with the swirled stream’s
incantatory whispering –
as Keats could hear soft sweetness in
the silence of those “unheard melodies”
and I can hear you praising the audacity
of Keats’s baffling paradox.
I’m guessing that you would agree that this
impressionistic woodland scene
is beautiful and I’d be pleased to have
the urn give it artistic permanence,
but since all permanence is an
illusion, the urn’s vain assertion
in undoubting certainty
cannot be true, yet knowing that
it is not true – nothing is true
that does not change and disappear –
surely is true, despite our wish that we
might be less permanently sorrowful,
and sorrow no more than a shadow
on fresh snow, the murmuring of wind
amid the drying meadow grass.
But I cannot delude myself or long
be unaware of the surrounding emptiness,
pretending that you’re here and we
are entertained by speculating what
the urn might understand about
our need for solace in its offering
of friendship to its onlookers.
Stan Bates, philosopher, is gone – he is
not here on earth to quip he is not here.
Consummate connoisseur of classical
conundrums, maestro of mimetic mirth,
steadfast, devoted, generous – it’s true,
as well, he was a realist of woe
for whom grief was the bond for all of us.
And I think that it is beautiful.
There is a slender, sloping bridge
of wooden planks and wooden rails that I
have crossed a thousand times on my way home
and paused to watch the white-tailed deer
come out to drink, arpeggios
of water sliding silver from their lips,
and I can recollect those seasons when
determined beavers made a dam
and built a hutch, a perfect dome
Euclid himself might have designed,
and once at dusk, but only once,
I saw a pygmy owl swoop down
on soundless, outstretched wings
to snatch a vole beneath the snow,
his golden eyes like harvest moons
whose radiance delineates the dark.
I’d need a million, eulogizing urns
to keep such earthly memories alive,
even for just a fleeting interval –
as if, dear Stan, they could be kept for you.

Robert Pack, from All One Breath, Green Writers Press, Brattleboro, Vermont, © 2019.

 

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Giving Thanks

Two ponderosa pines define
the entryway that leads –
this clear and midday afternoon –
down to the shore of Holland Lake.
My son helps lift my outworn body
over the smooth gunnel of our fishing boat,
and off we go in the direction of
the gliding loons who dip and disappear,
leaving behind the lilting echoes
of their melancholy calls.
Framed by a could, and eagle
streaks toward its enormous nest
above the forest maze
and misty labyrinth.
++++ The mountain on the lake’s far side
offers meadow of gold Balsamroot;
a pregnant doe lifts up her head,
pausing at the water’s boundary.
About four boat lengths past
the swirl where the resounding waterfall
foams out and merges with the lake,
a cove reveals a beaver’s hutch
remarkably symmetrical –
each branch and twig packing into place –
suggesting some unchangeable design
has been revealed to me.
Simply to look, to hold in memory,
was all that my senses needed to achieve,
and all wished-for contentment could embrace.
But not quite so – such satisfaction
left still more to be desired:
++++ I needed to express
imagined gratitude
for pulsing light reflected from
round purple stones that murmured
with the undulating tide.
I needed to bestow high praise,
as if such praise could be received
and sheltered safely in the forest haze;
I needed to give thanks for symmetry,
and all its variants
in the unfolding Aspen leaves,
in the emerging needles
nearly shining row by row
on the awakened Tamaracks.
I needed to commend
the shaded slopes and crevices
for their fine tints and multimarked hues;
I was uplifted and impelled
to offer unrequited praise
for the melodic interlude
of disappearing loons –
as if such mournful singing was
and unanticipated gift beyond.

 

Robert Pack, from All One Breath, Green Writers Press, Brattleboro, Vermont, © 2019.

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Needham’s Skimmer, Libellula needhami

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Photos by Bill Griffin. Header art by Linda French Griffin.

 

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2020-11-03b Doughton Park Tree

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[with poems by Dana Gioia, Eric Tretheway, Raymond Carver]

Do unto those downstream as you would have those upstream do unto you.
++++++++++++ — Wendell Berry

Upstream a hemlock is dying. Riparian giant, it drops needles, roots loosen, and during a thunderstorm it crashes. No more cloak of deep shade for the musical first order stream. Warming water can’t carry oxygen. At the next rainfall the current clouds with silt.

Stonefly and mayfly nymphs smother. Every gilled thing diminishes. Shiners depart their riffles or starve. Brookies follow.

We are all downstream. Maybe the hemlock was maimed by acid rain, sulfur oxides from a power plant 500 miles north. Maybe it couldn’t withstand the attack of invaders (adelgids) from 5,000 miles east. Maybe cycles of heat and drought had robbed its resilience.

All connected. Not a metaphor – a gut truth. That first order stream feeds the Chattahoochee and Atlanta’s millions drink. This morning I made my coffee from a cloud stalled over the Blue Ridge. We are all downstream. Watchful, listening, thirsty.

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Stonefly nymph, shed skin after emergence of adult

 

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Becoming a Redwood
++++ Dana Gioia

Stand in a field long enough, and the sounds
start up again. The crickets, the invisible
toad who claims that change is possible,

And all the other life too small to name.
First one, then another, until innumerable
they merge into the single voice of a summer hill.

Yes, it’s hard to stand still, hour after hour,
fixed as a fencepost, hearing the steers
snort in the dark pasture, smelling the manure.

And paralyzed by the mystery of how a stone
can bear to be a stone, the pain
the grass endures breaking through the earth’s crust.

Unimaginable the redwoods on the far hill,
rooted for centuries, the living wood grown tall
and thickened with a hundred thousand days of light.

The old windmill creaks in perfect time
to the wind shaking the miles of pasture grass,
and the last farmhouse light goes off.

Something moves nearby. Coyotes hunt
these hills and packs of feral dogs.
But standing here at night accepts all that.

You are your own pale shadow in the quarter moon,
moving more slowly than the crippled stars,
part of the moonlight as the moonlight falls,

Part of the grass that answers the wind,
part of the midnight’s watchfulness that knows
there is no silence but when danger comes.

from The Gods of Winter. Copyright © 1991 by Dana Gioia. Graywolf Press, St. Paul, Minnesota, http://www.graywolfpress.org. Reprinted in Poems for a Small Planet: Contemporary American Nature Poetry. Edited by Robert Pack & Jay Parini, A Bread Loaf Anthology, © 1993, Middlebury College Press.

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Resurrection at West Lake
++++ Eric Tretheway (1943-2014)

Ringed by dark palisades
of spruce and this cold, black
bowl of water, I understand again
about words, how folded wings

can open, lift into flight:
love, when it batters us,
or death, when we sense its swoop,
a wendigo stirring in shadows.

This one-crow sky leans on my bowels.
My eyes are admonished
by witch fingers of naked poplars
forming their mute adjurations.

And social voices fall silent too:
crows, chickadees, whiskeyjacks
contain their clatter, squirrels
grow mute as pinecones.

Up on the ridge behind me
thin, bone-white remnants
of the deepest snowdrifts glow,
skeletal under the hackmatacks.

Out of these enigmatic evergreens,
around imponderable granite mounds,
beneath one flapping black rag
of crow, spring’s surge begins again.

from Poems for a Small Planet: Contemporary American Nature Poetry, edited by Robert Pack & Jay Parini, A Bread Loaf Anthology, © 1993, Middlebury College Press.

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Whitetail Shiner, Cyprinella galactura

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Three days is about the longest I could live without water. You too. Aquatic ecology – it’s all about us. For our final class exercise, Erin gives us twelve factors and has us draw lines to depict how each impacts the other. Swirls and waves and cycles. I used green ink to show beneficial effects and red for detrimental:

 

 

Add your own lines and circles!

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The River
++++ Raymond Carver (1938-1988)

I waded, deepening, into the dark water.
Evening, and the push
and swirl of the river as it closed
around my legs and held on.
Young grisle broke water.
Parr darted one way, smolt another.
Gravel turned under my boots as I edged out.
Watched by the furious eyes of king salmon.
Their immense heads turned slowly,
eyes burning with fury, as they hung
in the deep current.
They were there. I felt them there,
and my skin prickled. But
there was something else.
I braced with the wind on my neck.
Felt the hair rise
as something touched my boot.
Grew afraid at what I couldn’t see.
Then of everything that filled my eyes –
that other shore hung with heavy branches,
the dark mountain range behind.
And this river that had suddenly
grown black and swift.
I drew breath and cast anyway.
Prayed nothing would strike.

from POETRY, June, 1986. The Poetry Foundation.

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Measuring Turbidity — Little River

 

Measuring dissolved oxygen

 

Measuring pH

 

 

The Southern Appalachian Naturalist Certification Program is an adult education opportunity created and administered by Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont and the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Their mission – connecting people with nature. SANCP certification requires completing eight weekend-long courses; I took my first course, Birds of the Smokies, in May, 2017, and finished my final course, Aquatic Ecology, on July 25, 2021.

Many thanks to the ecology superpowers of Erin Canter, Manager of Science Literacy and Research and master of making connections; to John DiDiego, GSMIT Education Director; and to Jeremy Lloyd, Manager of Field and College Programs.

Field diagram by Bill Griffin. All photographs by Bill Griffin. Header art by Linda French Griffin.

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2020-09-08b Doughton Park Tree

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Warpaint Shiner – Luxilus coccogenis

[with poems by Robert Wrigley and Kenneth Rexroth]

Rheophilic. Current loving. The shiners and darters face upstream while the swift clear river fetches them good things to eat. Nymphs of dragonfly, stonefly, alderfly have hooks on their feet to creep after prey across the slick stones. Salamander larvae protected in the cobbles breathe oxygen washed over their gills by the flow.

And the most unexpected, the strangest, the most fully adapted to current: the water penny – one with the rock, clinger and creeper, beetle larva, flexible carapace completely shielding it from the torrent. One among multitudes in the punch and spray, swirl and eddy, immersed in the flash and grasp of water from which all make their living.

All things flow. The first ancestors of all mayflies clung or crept or climbed or burrowed and now there are 600 species of mayfly. Symbols and images spin an unbroken thread which if I think about it I call thinking. Words whirl into new meanings. Today we dunk our faces in the Middle Prong to share its life. Tonight the current will fetch us good things to dream. Tomorrow will be a whole new river.

[* 600 species of Mayfly in the United States, 3,000 species worldwide.]

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Anything the River Gives
++++Robert Wrigley

Basalt, granite, tourmaline, the male wash
of off-white seed from an elderberry,
the fly’s-eye, pincushion nubbins yellow
balsamroot extrudes from hot spring soil,
confetti of eggshell on a shelf of stone.
Here’s a flotilla of beaver-peeled branches,
a cottonwood mile the shade of your skin.
Every day I bring some small offering
from my morning walk along the river:
something steel, blackened amber with rust,
an odd pin or bushing shed by the train
or torqued loose from the track, a mashed penny,
the muddy bulge of snowmelt current.
I lie headlong on a bed of rocks,
dip my cheek in the shallows,
and see the water mid-channel three feet
above my eyes. Overhead the swallows
loop for hornets, stinkbugs, black flies and bees,
gone grass shows a snakeskin shed last summer.
The year’s first flowers are always yellow,
dogtooth violet dangling downcast and small.
Here is fennel, witches’ broom, and bunchgrass,
an ancient horseshoe nailed to a cottonwood
and halfway swallowed in its punky flesh.
Here is an agate polished over years,
a few bones picked clean and gnawed by mice.
Here is every beautiful rock I’ve seen
in my life, here is my breath still singing
from a reedy flute, here the river
telling my blood your name without end.
Take the sky and wear it, take the moon’s skid
over waves, that monthly jewel.
If there are wounds in this world no love heals,
then the tings I haul up – feather and bone,
tonnage of stone and pale green trumpets
of stump lichens – are ounce by ounce
a weight to counterbalance your doubts.
In another month there won’t be room left
on the windowsills and cluttered shelves,
and still you’ll see me, standing before you,
presenting some husk or rusty souvenir,
anything the river gives, and I believe
you will love.

from Earthly Meditations: New and Selected Poems by Robert Wrigley, © 2006, Penguin. Reprinted in The Ecopoetry Anthology, edited by Ann Fisher-Wirth and Laura-Gray Street, © 2013, Trinity University Press, San Antonio, Texas.

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Common Snapping Turtle – Chelydra serpentina

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Lyell’s Hypothesis Again
++++ Kenneth Rexroth (1905-1982)

An Attempt to Explain the Former
Changes of the Earth’s Surface by
Causes Now in Operation — subtitle of Lyell: Principles of Geology

The mountain road ends here,
Broken away in the chasm where
The bridge washed out years ago.
The first scarlet larkspur glitters
In the first patch of April
Morning sunlight. The engorged creek
Roars and rustles like a military
Ball. Here by the waterfall,
Insuperable life, flushed
With the equinox, sentient
And sentimental, falls away
To the sea and death. The tissue
Of sympathy and agony
That binds the flesh in its Nessus’ shirt;
The clotted cobweb of unself
And self; sheds itself and flecks
The sun’s bed with darts of blossom
Like flagellant blood above
The water bursting in the vibrant
Air. This ego, bound by personal
Tragedy and the vast
Impersonal vindictiveness
Of the ruined and ruining world,
Pauses in this immortality,
As passionate, as apathetic,
As the lava flow that burned here once;
And stopped here; and said, ‘This far
And no further.’ And spoke thereafter
In the simple diction of stone.

Naked in the warm April air,
We lie under the redwoods,
In the sunny lee of a cliff.
As you kneel above me I see
Tiny red marks on your flanks
Like bites, where the redwood cones
Have pressed into your flesh.
You can find just the same marks
In the lignite in the cliff
Over our heads. Sequoia
Langsdorfii before the ice,
And sempervirens afterwards,
There is little difference,
Except for all those years.

Here in the sweet, moribund
Fetor of spring flowers, washed,
Flotsam and jetsam together,
Cool and naked together,
Under this tree for a moment,
We have escaped the bitterness
Of love, and love lost, and love
Betrayed. And what might have been,
And what might be, fall equally
Away with what is, and leave
Only these ideograms
Printed on the immortal
Hydrocarbons of flesh and stone.

from The Collected Shorter Poems. Copyright © 1966 by Kenneth Rexroth. New Directions Publishing Corporation, http://www.wwnorton.com/nd/welcome.htm. Reprinted in The Ecopoetry Anthology, edited by Ann Fisher-Wirth and Laura-Gray Street, © 2013, Trinity University Press, San Antonio, Texas.

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Stargazing Minnows grazing — Phenacobius uranops

Greenside Darter – Etheostoma blennioides

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The Southern Appalachian Naturalist Certification Program is an adult education opportunity created and administered by Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont and the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Their mission – connecting people with nature. SANCP certification requires completing eight weekend-long courses; I took my first course, Birds of the Smokies, in May, 2017, and finished my final course, Aquatic Ecology, on July 25, 2021.

Many thanks to the ecology superpowers of Erin Canter, Manager of Science Literacy and Research and master of making connections; to John DiDiego, GSMIT Education Director; to Jeremy Lloyd, Manager of Field and College Programs; and to all the educators and staff at Tremont.

Psephenidae field sketch by Bill Griffin. All photographs by Bill Griffin.

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Mayfly nymph – Order Ephemeroptera

Water Penny – family Psephenidae

 

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2020-11-03a Doughton Park Tree

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