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Posts Tagged ‘Mountains to Sea Trail’

[with poems by Donald Hall and Charles Martin]

Have you ever imagined, while walking a well-worn woodland trail, simply stepping off into the forest? What if you moved just ten feet, twenty, into the trees? Would you be standing on a spot untouched by human feet for years? Decades? Forever?

I considered this years ago when I led, with my son Josh as co-leader, a little crew of Boy Scouts on a 10-day canoe trek in the Boundary Waters Wilderness of northern Minnesota. We camped each night on the shore of different lake. Some mornings (sunrise 0400) while they still slept I walked away from the water into the trackless forest. Did the last human rest on this lichen crusted boulder more than a hundred years ago, a French voyageur taking a break from trapping? A thousand years ago, a young Anishinaabe scout hunting meat for his village? Ten thousand years ago?

Now Josh spends every day it’s not raining trekking the Blue Ridge & foothills as a surveyor. When did a human foot last jump this creek or climb this unforgiving steepness? This corner marked by a chestnut ten feet in girth – today Josh must discover the remnant of its stump. How long must the earth rest from the tread of human feet before all sign of our passage is erased? How far is it from here to the middle of nowhere?

Last Saturday I joined a trail crew to maintain a little section of the Mountains-to-Sea trail near Elkin. The MST is a work in progress – departing Elkin hiking east, you follow Rte 268 most of the way to Pilot Mountain. Our day’s assignment was an orphan – 1 ½ miles of footpath leading away from the road and on through the woods with no trailhead or connectors. Probably no one had walked this way since it was last maintained in 2020.

Everywhere a little sun penetrates the undergrowth thrives: Goldenrod, Burnweed, Wingstem, Boneset, all manner of grasses native and exotic – summer asters up to eight feet tall, especially through the Duke Energy right-of-way beneath power lines. Add obstructions from grapevine, Smilax, fallen trees and in one single year the trail had become impenetrable, almost disappearing except for the white circular MST blazes on the trees.

In a few more years it might have lead to the middle of nowhere. Which is how you get to the middle of everywhere. Which is the trail I want to walk.

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Surface

The surveyor climbs a stonewall into woods
scribbled with ferns, saplings, and dead oaktrees

where weltering lines trope themselves into stacks
of vegetation. He sees an ash forced around a rock

with roots that clutch on granite like a fist
grasping a paperweight. He stares at hemlocks

rising among three-hundred-year-old sugarmaples
that hoist a green archive of crowns: kingdom

of fecund death and pitiless survival. He observes
how birch knocked down by wind and popple chewed

by beaver twist over and under each other, branches
abrasive when new-fallen, turning mossy and damp

as they erase themselves into humus, becoming
polyseeded earth that loosens with lively pokeholes

of creatures that watch him back: possum, otter,
fox. Here the surveyor tries making his mark:

He slashes a young oak; he constructs a stone
cairn at a conceptual right-angle; he stamps

his name and the day’s date onto metal tacked
to a stake. His text established, he departs

the life-and-death woods, where cellular life keeps
pressing upward from underground offices to read

sun and study slogans of dirt: “Never consider
a surface except as the extension of a volume.”

Donald Hall

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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Both of today’s poems are from Poems for a Small Planet, edited by Robert Pack & Jay Parini. This next one by Charles Martin stuck to my soul like beggar lice – I’ve imagined myself stuck in a dry spell for the past several weeks. I can’t resist the epigraph by Randall Jarrell, one of North Carolina’s most luminous poets. While waiting for lightning to strike I’ll learn to endure the rain running off my chin.

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Reflections after a Dry Spell

++++ A good poet is someone who manages, in a
++++ lifetime of standing out in thunderstorms, to be
++++ struck by lightning five or six times.
++++ — Randall Jarrell

And the one that took this literally
Is the one that you still sometimes see
In the park, running from tree to tree

On likely days, out to stand under
The right one this time – until the thunder
Rebukes him for yet another blunder. . . .

But the one who knew it was nothing more
(That flash of lightning) than a metaphor,
And said as much, as he went out the door –

Of that one, if you’re lucky, you just may find
The unzapped verse or two he left behind
On the confusion between World and Mind.

Charles Martin

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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[My immense gratitude to the Elkin Valley Trails Association for imaging, creating, maintaining, and improving the Mountains-to-Sea Trail from Stone Mountain State Park to Elkin and onward east through Surry County, North Carolina. And for inviting this lunkhead with a shovel to join in.]

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2016-10-17a Doughton Park Tree

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[poems by Jeanne Julian]

The cosmos blossoms by the rotting stump.

“That’s not scary.” We’re hiking through the Haunted Forest with Amelia, age 5. Tree limbs drip with giant cobwebs and red-eyed spiders, bats dangle, skeleton hands reach up from pine needle cemeteries beside the path. The crew has outdone themselves decorating this stretch of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail that, except for the month of October, is nicknamed the Enchanted Forest. Now Amelia stops and calls, “What’s that?!” at the skull-faced ghost bound up in chains, but it’s more curiosity than apprehension.

Past the Halloweeny stretch, though, I see something well off the trail that causes me to stop and exclaim, “Look!!” An immense fairy ring coaxed forth by last week’s rain: chain of mushroom caps that loops and twists and branches through the pines before doubling back on itself. On and on, a new arc & angle appears every place we look. At the word fairy Amelia is instantly engaged. What sprite danced here before us? What might be hiding beneath the ghost-white caps?

I’m thinking, Dang, that is one big organism, mycelia threaded through at least a half acre.

Amelia is thinking, Wonder . . . wonder . . . wonder.

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The Reservoir

I’m looking for Wildcat Road.
There’s a “Free Manure” sign,
two blossoming magnolias, and a boy
who, up here, gives this passing car
an over-the-shoulder glance
as he walks. I’m going the wrong way.
But, here’s a turn for a road
sharing the reservoir’s name.
Clouds cover the sun and move on.
Light sweeps the hills, harried by gloom.
Birches whiten and fade again.

There’s the expanse of lusterless
water through leafless trees:
I’ve found it, rounding a bend.
Angle and clouds shift, and
the landscape remembers its colors
as if a lady’s fan had opened
revealing a scene in lapis, henna, and rhinestone.

We sat her, on this rock,
years ago – April then, too – learning
to touch, and in late summer embraced
there, on the dam where youngsters
scrawl their names indelibly.
In the silence, eddies of air sound “hush”
at my ear. Those antique fans were meant
to conceal, weren’t they, and
we in shadow to forget.

Jeanne Julian

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These three poems are from Blossom and Loss by Jeanne Julian (Longleaf Press, Methodist University, Fayetteville NC, © 2015). The delicate volume follows the seasons with all the imagery and metaphor that organic cycle can reveal. Sometimes the captured moments, the vignettes, the narratives are so personal they become cryptic, but as I read on I discover my own stories flowing forth to fill unspoken phrases. Thus does poetry enlighten and inspire. Thus does it become, in the words of Andrea Hollander, entertaining and useful.

The cosmos blossoms / by the rotting stump. from Jeanne’s poem Loss and Blossom

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Haunted

Each Halloween we hang
ghostlets in the tree,
by morning off they’ve blown.

My friends’ lost boy: how
had he been retrieved? By whom?
Alone? What varnish glossed his veins?

In the hospital they hung
on every beat and breath,
clung to any chance

until their changeling offspring
splintered, vanished, leaving a hollow
husk for them to burn

like autumn leaves or questions or endless
mourning muddled with routine,
travail of the telling and retelling,

dread burden of cereal in bowls
recalling a pajamaed imp held
in the lap, reading The Giving Tree aloud.

How unstoppably he must’ve lapped it up,
a lacquer lulling the limbic brain
until the one dose shoved him over

that last callow October. Still each Halloween
children clamber up the steps for sweets.
“See, I am a butterfly,” the smallest says.

Jeanne Julian

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Melting

The snow that attacked so frantically while we slept
has blistered into water on the branches.
We also melt ut not as completely as Baum’s witch,
who cannot suffer water. Remember the crooner
in the small-town lounge, that ersatz L.A. club,
who kissed you on the left eyelid
when you were twelve? Remember that first
swig of Colt 45 Malt Liquor? Remember the cocoon
of oblivion that sucked you under before
the scalpel splayed your belly flesh? Remember
how the pressure of one finger spirals
your inner hold into ripples of languid indifference
to all but feeling?
One day too soon you’ll let go for good.
Dripping from the eaves, the fresh liquidity
will patter on unheard while you dissolve –
easily, let us hope, easily, and neither up nor down, while
on the roof the newly fallen expanse, unsullied,,
luxuriates under the sun.

Jeanne Julian

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IMG_7491

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[with 3 poems by Jenny Bates]

Yellowthroats sing from three compass points. Who triangulates whom? One sings, flits, sings and a farther one answers, flits, answers. I stand motionless in the mud beside the lake’s lazy inflow. I want a bright bird to fly from his thicket and show himself to me.

As I stare into the leaves, still no success with my x-ray vision, something moves beside me. Down low. A muskrat six feet away is swimming upstream utterly unconcerned. I turn only my head. It reaches up the bank for a tasty green, swims some more, jeweldrops of water on its whiskers. It stops to scratch its nose. It swims on.

I look up and a yellowthroat is watching me.

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Triangulate: to discern your true position within the vital features that surround you.

After a couple of weeks with Jenny Bates’s books I learned not to read her poems to ferret out their meaning but to read to enter the poetry. Stare at the Pleiades in the night sky and they slip away from you; look slant and the Seven Sisters reach to you from the darkness. Let a line of Jenny’s verse slip into your awareness with eyes half closed, fortuitous inadvertency.

An intimate acquaintance / that leaves nothing but / earth.

I learned not to read Jenny like a field guide but like I read the breeze greeting sweat on my back when the trail stretches uphill, like I read the sun’s flagrant liason with blackberry blossoms.

Bent twig alphabet, language mist-twist
revises with no sequels, no chapters that leave-off.

I learned to read Jenny not like a genealogy of contracts and progeny but exactly like a genealogy of creatures and connections and the family of the one.

The bee does not claim originality as it takes
something from every flower.

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3 poems by Jenny Bates

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Merlot and Thyme
++++ with a Hummingbird Chaser

I uncork old resting places, no maps needed.
Just strange-tongued travelers of
++++ bird, wine and spice.
I sip Merlot, write in cloud-light
++++ missing mother’s voice
Conversations become riddles, coaxing the truth
out of her children, eventually.
Thyme and tarragon fill the clear jar
in front of me: I smell her there
++++ in herbal comfort.
No still dark corners to hide in her memory,
she emptied her children like clearing a table
set by despair, without lingering.
With an edge that never dropped off.

Hummingbirds have no brink to pass to their young.
Wisps of winding birds tousle leaves, jiggle air under
++++ diving, dancing, levitating.
Homing devices, trade routes birthed into them.
Swift and common lessons to grow by. Shade brings
++++ less frantic maneuvers.

I wear pink and grey – the first colors I liked
++++ as a child.
My grandparents farmhouse in Northern Michigan
was grey with pale pink shutters.
Dove colors for a delicate landing grandmother
would say. I hear mom in the background talking to
bees, kittens, mule, land. For a city girl, she could
ambush nature, then heal its wounds.
++++ No time was distant then.

 

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Engagement Rings

Morning insect yoga.
Grasshopper extends himself
in heat-stretching air.
Jumps into space, disappears.
No fossil fuels, no footprint.
Fly stuck to a metal merry-go-round,
a centrifuge so man can stick to
ceilings in his quest for flight.
Prometheus moth wings dismantled,
grounded, still-payment for
bringing man fire.

I walk earthling steps, marker-less,
circling your grave.
Mob of ants scurry in loops,
larvae in pincers turn you from
solid to liquid to solid again.
Jealous in my exile,
++++ lucky ants get to spend time with you
you continue in unending generosity.

The angel tree had sung a copperhead
right out of his skin.
I bring it, fresh and warm to my
neighbor who sculpts it into
suspended twists.
Hung it through a metal ring
at the studio door.
Bow Tie markings coiled to dry,
venom empty, benign husk.

Heat draws new flycatcher parents
to drink from your round water bowl
filled each day to the brim.
Parched squirrel’s half cry bubbles out,
scampers then hangs in shade relief.
Skinks run full speed in swirling chase
across the deck.
++++ don’t come out of the nest too soon . . .
++++ ++++ don’t fall . . .
the newly hatched chick yawns,
bellyful of ground up ants.

 

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How to Spell Sorrow

It’s beautiful, your words,
but I’ve read better in the eyes of my dog.

In spider webs and spider spaces.
When hummingbirds leave, you feel it –
empty air without fashion.

You put more sweet water out anyway,
wait for Buddhas and fools.

You wonder about ellipsis of Truth
wrapped in coyote calls.

You watch a groundhog prostrate like a saint
on the gravel drive – surrender play or
cooling his belly on the stones.

you see a murder of crows line their toes
straight and tight along the split rail fence.

Gripping the wood like text on your arms
becoming the word on your hand.

You curl your fingers into your palm
twist and spell – Sorrow.

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“Merlot and Thyme,” “Engagement Rings,” “How to Spell Sorrow” by Jenny Bates from her book Slip, Hermit Feathers Press, September, 2020

Jenny lives in the North Carolina foothills and is an animal whisperer and helping hand at Plum Granny Farm, an organic local farm in Stokes County, North Carolina.

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Header Artwork © Linda French Griffin

2016-10-17a Doughton Park Tree

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[with poems by Ryan Wilson and A. R. Ammons]

I didn’t intend to count birds when I set out Tuesday morning. Just a nice weekly hike to Carter Falls and back, a weekday’s solitude – I’m not sure I intended anything more than cooling my brain and heating my muscles. Tamping down the trail maintenance we completed last Saturday. Following the season’s advance into winter.

But then a heron flew out from under the footbridge as I crossed Grassy Creek. Whoever coined the phrase a force of nature was probably in the presence of a Great Blue Heron. Up close they are mute and fearsome. Flying they arouse precognitive awe. When Linda and I encounter one feeding we address it by its nickname: “Hello, Spike.” When one passes overhead we think, “Pterodactyl.” Great Blue demands that one notice.

After gasping at the heron’s sudden flight, I began noticing birds. If they had been calling and singing during the preceding mile my striding deliberation had shut them out. Now they were continuous and various. Counting, I recede and the birds advance.

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Below are two favorite poems which I return to regularly. They strike me as creating a continuum – the advance of a life toward discovering its meaning, the advance of a life toward its end. I read these and I recede into the lines, but as I read them I expand into my self.

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At Carter Falls trailhead a Black Vulture perched overlooking; I scanned up past the parking area and saw the roadkill possum the vulture was waiting to ripen. At the Powerhouse (the riverstone foundation, all that’s left of the old generating plant) a Kingfisher daggered up the river and disappeared above the spray. I pulled an index card and a pen out of my pack. Here’s what I came home with:

Great Blue Heron / Belted Kingfisher / Northern Flicker / Red-Bellied Woodpecker / Black Vulture / Turkey Vulture / Carolina Wren / Carolina Chickadee / Tufted Titmouse / Golden-Crowned Kinglet / Eastern Phoebe / White-Breasted Nuthatch / Blue Jay / Eastern Bluebird / Cedar Waxwing / Pileated Woodpecker / Red-Shouldered Hawk / Chipping Sparrow / Northern Mockingbird / American Crow / Common Raven

And since I wasn’t carrying binoculars I’ll just include the numerous chippers and chirpers in the thickets as LGB’s (little gray birds, also sometimes known as LBJ’s, little brown jobs).

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Face It

A silence, bodied like wing-beaten air,
Perturbs your face sometimes when parties end
And, half-drunk, you stand looking at some star
That flickers like a coin wished doen a weill,
Or when you hear a voice behind you whisper
Your name, and turn around, and no one’s there.
You’re in it the, once more, the stranger’s house
Perched in the mountain woods, the rot-sweet smell
Of fall, the maples’ millions, tongues of fire,
And there, whirl harrowing the gap, squint-far,
Than unidentified fleck, approaching and
Receding at once, rapt in the wind’s spell –
Pulse, throb, winged dark thar haunts the clean light’s glare –
That thin that you’re becoming, that your are.

Ryan Wilson
from The Best American Poetry 2018, first published in The New Criterion

Ryan Wilson was born in Griffin, Georgia and resides in Maryland. Of this poem he writes, “Face It was written in West Virginia at a mountaintop cabin belonging to my great friend, Ernest Suarez. During a break near dusk, I stepped out onto the porch, from which one can see more than fifty miles on a clear day. I was tantalized by a hawk hovering in the western gap, how it seemed to approach and to recede at once on the wind, never near enough for me to identify its species, or even its genus.”

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Finishing Up

I wonder if I know enough to know what it’s really like
to have been here: have I seen sights enough to give
seeing over: the clouds, I’ve waited with white
October clouds like these this afternoon often before and

taken them in, but white clouds shade other white
ones gray, had I noticed that: and though I’ve
followed the leaves of many falls, have I spent time with
the wire vines left when frost’s red dyes strip the leaves

away: is more missing that was never enough: I’m sure
many of love’s kinds absolve and heal, but were they passing
rapids or welling stirs: I suppose I haven’t done and seen
enough yet to go, and anyway, it may be way on on the way

before one picks up the track of the sufficient, the
world-round reach, spirit deep, easing and all, not just mind
answering itself but mind and things apprehended at once
as one, all giving all way, not a scrap or question holding back.

A. R. Ammons
from The Best American Poetry 2018, first published in Poetry

Archie Ammons was born outside Whiteville, NC in 1926, attended college in Wake Forest, NC, and taught at Cornell for over 34 years. He was guest editor of The Best American Poetry 1994. He died February 25, 2001. A two-volume set of his collected poems was published by W. W. Norton in 2017.

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2014-07-13 Doughton Park Tree

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