Category Archives: Blog

“POSTSCRIPT” BY SEAMUS HEANEY (THE BEST THING I READ TODAY)

Postscript

by Seamus Heaney

And some time make the time to drive out west
Into County Clare, along the Flaggy Shore,
In September or October, when the wind
And the light are working off each other
So that the ocean on one side is wild
With foam and glitter, and inland among stones
The surface of a slate-grey lake is lit
By the earthed lightning of a flock of swans,
Their feathers roughed and ruffling, white on white,
Their fully grown headstrong-looking heads
Tucked or cresting or busy underwater.
Useless to think you’ll park and capture it
More thoroughly. You are neither here nor there,
A hurry through which known and strange things pass
As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways
And catch the heart off guard and blow it open.

“Postscript” by Seamus Heaney, from The Spirit Level. © Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1996.

MURMURATIONS (AND SHOUTS) IN THE VIRTUAL SKY

A few weeks ago I got “schooled” in social media. The occasion was my first blog post for Mother Earth News, A Murmuration of Starlings”, about the swirling, shifting, switching formations of starlings in large flocks.

My point was about looking at the glass half-full: That starlings are invasive species and a scourge, yet in many ways they are beautiful. I expected some push-back, but I was unprepared for the huge and varied reaction the article received on the Facebook page of Mother Earth News. I was astonished and pleased that it received thousands (and thousands and thousands) of shares and likes. And then I began reading some of the hundreds of comments and couldn’t stop laughing. They were as various as nature itself:

The first hundred or so were of this sort:

“Wow.” “Awesome.” “Beautiful.” Breathtaking!!!! “Unbelievable!” “Mozart kept starlings—he said they gave him melodies.”

Then came:

“As bad as cane toads.” “What a flocking load of rubbish.” “This an invasive species. I have been shooting all the starlings I see.” “Bad idea to bring them here. I say let’s send them all back to Europe!” “Reading the comments here, I thought for a moment this was about immigrated Europeans and Native Americans, LOL!” “Starlings are flying rats.” “Kinda like the morning doves…just sit in the feeder and crap and ‘coo’, and ‘coo’ and crap, ALL the time.” “Starlings are a scourge on the continent.“ “They are parasitic, laying their eggs in other birds nests! Nasty buggers!!” “Those dad-burn mother flockers….”

Then there were reactions to the photo I selected, which had looked fine until it was posted:

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flickr photo by Alden Chadwick

“Somebody really messed with the filter to get it to look like that. Usually they look more like a dirty oil slick.” “Breathtaking photo.” “Photoshopping a nasty invasive species doesn’t make it great!” “This is not the true color. They’re a dingy black brown color with a minuscule touch of green.” “Their iridescent colorings are amazing!”

And then (of course) there were the irrelevant and absurd:

“Hey girlfriend. Miss you!” “Not a humming bird but hello Alexa.” “Can you do your hair like this?” “I must attempt to draw, once I get my flat tidy.” “I wonder if it’s a high roller or low roller….claireese?” “The local church has murmurations daily. Its amazing to watch.”

What did people say about the article I put so much work into researching and writing?

“Didn’t read the article; but the photograph is stunning.” “Pretty cool. There is a group in England that is collecting videos of starling murmurations and attempting to decipher the mathematics of their flights.” “Bloody starlings!!! So majestic in migration…was lucky enough to see the “smoky haze” off the coast of Brigatine NJ last fall.” Finally: “This article was an education!”

I thought that one result of this minor sensation would be that thousands of people would “flock” to my website to find out about the book from which the article was adapted. But, no. My son Nick who is an expert on social media (he co-owns the web design and marketing firm Binary Trail) laughed and said “ It doesn’t work that way, Dad.” And then he set out to school me, too.

(“Murmurations of Starlings” is adapted from A Walk in the Animal Kingdom. Learn more about it here.)

 

HILLTOPS AND RIVERS

 

IN THE JACKPINE AND ASPEN COUNTRY OF CRAWFORD COUNTY a hill rises between cedar swamps. I was poking around there in early May not long ago, searching the woods for morels, and decided to climb the hill to get some perspective. At the top I discovered the place I’d been looking for.

You can find it on a map. The upper Manistee comes nearest to the upper Au Sable there, and a long, low hill divides the two watersheds. If you climb to the crest on the west side you can look out over a densely wooded valley of cedars angling away toward Lake Michigan. Walk a hundred paces to the east side and you have an overview of another valley of cedars that angles gradually east toward Lake Huron.

Hilltops and Rivers1-lowres

artwork courtesy of Glenn Wolff

 

I’d been searching for this spot because I knew that the Au Sable and Manistee formed one of the earliest cross-country routes between lakes Huron and Michigan. Ancient people paddled their bark canoes up one river, portaged the height of land, and descended the other river. Much later, European traders, trappers, and timber cruisers used the same pathway. When the giant pines that grew here were cut down for profit, they were floated down the two rivers to mills on the shores of the big lakes.

The perspective I was seeking was partly historical and partly geological. From a hilltop in spring, before the leaves are out, you can see the land revealed, its muscles, its ribs and shoulder blades, its tendons and sinews as they were when the glaciers departed. Or you can view it as a navigation problem to be solved—is that the shortest route to the river? Or as a place to homestead, a landscape to be painted or photographed, or a resource to be plundered. In the late 1800s a timber speculator named David Ward might have climbed this very hill to scan the surrounding valleys for virgin pines. He found vast stands and laid claim to them—eventually owning 70,000 acres— and established a mill on the upper Manistee that grew into a town. On plat maps it was marked “D. Ward,” which, when spoken aloud, became “Deward,” which is how the ghost town is labeled on maps to this day.

It’s good to now and then climb to a height beneath the sky and take stock of where you are. You can see changes in the land, sense the march of centuries, maybe even get a fresh view of where you are in your life and where you are headed.

That day on the hill between the rivers, with spring bursting around me, my view of the world was softened by distance. I was comfortable up there, surveying the land.

But in the valley of the Manistee I could see a glimpse of silver. Maybe a bend in the river. Maybe a beaver pond churning with feeding trout. Suddenly I lost interest in perspective and wanted simply to catch some fish. I hurried down to the valley and busted my way into the cedar swamp and became happily lost in the short view.

 

 

(This essay originally appeared as Jerry’s “Reflections” column in Michigan Blue Magazine, Spring 2015)

 

SPRING: LOON CALL

They say spring advances fifteen miles a day, the pace of a leisurely walk, which is why I could experience three springs last year. The first was in March, in Ohio, on the shore of Lake Erie’s Maumee Bay, where new grass was sprouting in farmers’ fields and clusters of broad-winged hawks circled overhead in kettles. I counted 200 broad-wings one day, but a local birder said they sometimes numbered in the tens of thousands and even hundreds of thousands—whole galaxies of hawks spiraling slowly northward with the wind. In the marshes and woodlots were other early migrants—red-winged blackbird, yellow-rumped warbler, ruby-crowned kinglet, and a brown thrasher that perched at the top of a tree beside my cabin for an hour and performed tireless variations of “Here I am, look at me.”

brown thrasher

Brown Thrasher
photo by Steve Shelasky

Three weeks later, those same birds were showing up 300 miles north, near Traverse City. The snow was finally gone from the woods; forsythia and trilliums were in bloom. Suddenly morels were popping beneath the aspens and trout were gobbling mayflies in the rivers.

Then it was time for the third spring, so I drove north again, crossed the Mackinac Bridge into the Upper Peninsula, and followed county roads until I banged up against the shore of Superior. I had the key to a friend’s cabin but had to shovel a drift away from the door before I could open it. Remnant bergs sat melting on the beach. Overhead the sky was stacked with hawks waiting for a south wind to carry them across the big lake.

Spring is the most complicated season. It arrives with reluctance, pulling its clanking train of machinery, and we recognize that the name we’ve given it is all wrong. It doesn’t spring, it creeps, two steps forward and one back—and often it backs off entirely and you have to wait a  few days or a week before it tiptoes forward again.

common loon

Common Loon
photo by Jerry am Ende

One morning I stepped from the cabin to listen to those clanking gears and turning wheels and caught the first warm wind of the season. A familiar warbling call sounded high overhead and I looked up to see a loon hurtling past, bound for Canada. Then came another, and another, each making its ululating call.

This was the clarion announcement, the very emblem of the wild north, a song that has always stirred something deep in the souls of those who value solitude and unspoiled places. It’s the music of mist-shrouded lakes and tannin-colored ponds, a boreal timelessness best heard from a canoe. But coming from the sky above Superior it was the sound of a different wildness, one in transit, like us, winging northward into the lengthening days of the season of hope.

WINTER AND WHITE SPACE

WINTER IS A GREAT TIME FOR NOTICING the little things. Maybe a clump of snow dropping silently from a bough. Maybe a red fox trotting up the driveway. Maybe the shimmering snow crystals called “diamond dust” that sometimes, on very cold days, drift down from a blue sky.

WinterWhite-lowres

art courtesy of Glenn Wolff
visit www.glennwolff.com

For years I’ve been trying to simplify my life in an effort to be more aware of such things, but I haven’t made much headway. The effort always makes me think of Thoreau, in Walden, where he famously scolded us to “simplify, simplify,” then proceeded to weave a deliciously complex tapestry of a book. It’s as it should be. The most enduring books, like natural communities, are made stronger by their complexity. Those tens of thousands of words in intricate arrangement focus our attention, expand our view of the world, and remind us that we’re surrounded every moment by an unimaginable abundance of things. Surely our greatest achievement has been to make language a proxy for the stars in the sky, for snowflakes and flocks of birds and people on a street, for the countless sensation-packed moments that make up our lives.

Maybe we seek the spare and elemental in nature for the same reason that the protagonist in Don DeLillo’s Cosmopolis reads poetry: “He liked spare poems sited minutely in white space…Poems made him conscious of his breathing.” What if the simple life—the only one we can hope to find—is found within the white-space of the world?

But of course we’re not simple creatures. Bare moments don’t hold our attention for long. Eventually most of us require more than white space and cloud spout; more than the twice-warming flames in a fireplace; more than the monkish austerity of a single room, a candle, and a few books. Thoreau’s enthusiasm is infectious—“Think of our life in nature…rocks, trees, wind on our cheeks! The solid earth! the actual world! the common sense! Contact! Contact!”—but I suspect that we’re more interested in his boldness and passion and the complexity of his mind than in the simple life he espoused. The louder Thoreau crowed in praise of simplicity, the more convincing became his argument against it.

Yet there’s the winter landscape. This morning, after a night of fresh snow, the field behind my house was almost nothing but white space, with only a few stems of dried knapweed and goldenrod rising above it. The stems marked the snow like ink scratches on a sheet of paper. It was the sparest poem imaginable: a single letter at the top of the page, a slash in the middle, a comma near the bottom. I almost couldn’t bring myself to spoil it. But then I set off across the field in my clumsy boots, thinking of this and that––and left a meandering trail that will be there until the next good snow erases it.

(This essay first appeared as a “Reflections” column in Michigan Blue Magazine. Copyright 2016 by Jerry Dennis )

WHAT’S LIGHTING US UP: ANNE-MARIE OOMEN’S LUMINOUS CONTRADICTIONS

With “What’s Lighting Us Up” I’ve been inviting some of my writer friends to report on any books, music, movies, moments in nature, or life events that have been making them come more alive than usual. Here poet, essayist, and playwright Anne-Marie reflects on a difficult challenge in her life and discovers that there can be joy in even the toughest moments:

What lights me up these days? Contradictions. Being in paradox, touching enigmatic moments as though they were Braille, as though to decipher a mystery from the rough dots of hard experience. I hate it and I thrive on it.

In April my third memoir of a trilogy on rural life, Love, Sex and 4-H, was published. Since then, I haven’t been able to write much because my time has been divided between teaching, book promotion, and big concerns about my elderly mother. She’s 94, and last January, after four years in a home for the elderly, she fell and broke her leg. It did not heal well. She has not stood on her own, nor walked, since then. After a long and difficult decision-making process, our family moved her to a medical care facility—full scale nursing home. This is very hard; this lights me up.

What I am learning from her is not just what will happen to most of us in this new/old age, but the tender pain of how it happens. I watch her among her peers in the nursing home, and I ache for her, and I learn. In those efficient halls, with nurses bustling and busy aides in and out of an unquiet room, she is actually getting excellent care. She is getting stronger, little by little, though PT is her most dreaded part of the day. She won’t look at the therapist. She wants to go home. Home is the farm. I feel her longing like a knife; the blade bright with hope that I try not to dull without telling her outright lies. As I wheel her to get her hair done or watch her push-pull with her therapist, I feel her loss, but I see that she has gained muscle. She is interacting. She is eating. Her loss has some light around it. I can sometimes see to write by that light.

When I come home from being with her—usually two days a week—I try to honor our time together by writing down what she has said, what I saw her doing, how I came into her room to find her holding the corner of the bed quilt her mother (my grandmother) made for me, looking at the stitched name of her own mother and the date, 1973. I watch her fingers feeling the stitches; she is tracing her own mother’s name. She cannot always remember her grandkids, but she remembers her mother. She looks up and smiles, says, “Mama was here.” Then pauses, corrects, “Oh, I guess I dreamed about Mama.” I see her there, evening light falling on her shoulders, living in the past but not in the past. Because, of her, I am inside a moment and outside of time. I tell her I love her. I would not have this moment without her. I try to write those moments, to get one iota closer to meaning in a time that on the surface appears meaningless, unless we make it mean.

Mom 2This week, after two months in the facility’s therapy room, the physical therapists helped her into a standing position. I’ve attached pictures of the sequence. Here is light. Their goal is to get her to stand just enough to, with assistance, help with her toileting. It’s a hard thing: no one wants to think about that, certainly not in a blog about light, but here it is. Toileting is a matrix—who knew? It’s not just about safety and hygiene. It’s integrity, mind-body connection, physical and psychological strength, interaction, and if she can help with it, it’s so much easier on the nurses. That singular and simple goal has light around it.

So I stay present but on high alert. And I file away. This is also contradiction. My mother seems to know. She’ll look up from her favorite snack, Lay’s potato chips, and as she scatters chipflecks on her shirt, she’ll tease, “You’re the one who says, remember this and remember that.” Crunch crunch. She loves salt. She tells me stories she has told no one else—though she has told others different things. How does she choose? She lets me see her cry sometimes; tells me how much she misses my dad. She has let go of her anger toward me for many (not all) the stupid things I have done. We have finally become friends. This is light.

Many friends, and not only those in my generation, are going through similar experiences—I haven’t found a family that isn’t touched by this elder care issue and its growing complications in this medically politicized world.  I’ve come to recognize in my peers a certain charged worry when parents come up, and after living with the complexities of care-taking, an acquiescent shrug, so this is how it is. I used to hate that, to think there must be some call to action. I understand better by having observed my mother’s slow acceptance of powerlessness, even as her children take unwilling power over her life. More contradiction.

We don’t have a lot of models for how this part of life is done because every single elder’s story is unique and relates differently to family. Contradictions though—like learning to be friends with your mother only as her calendar and clock disintegrate—that’s not unusual. In the end, we do what we can as best we can with what we have and hope we’ve done so out of the right motives. We walk in some kind of shadow. But as her needs become greater, she has offered me opportunity and slow as I am, I am seeing the light. There’s a process here about our love maturing, something I somehow missed before. I don’t understand this; I know it’s true. Most of us are learning to love our way through this. Contradiction becomes mystery. Wonder. Light.

(Anne-Marie Oomen is the author of three memoirs, Love, Sex, and 4H, Pulling Down the Barn, and House of Fields (all from Wayne State University Press); An American Map: Essays (Wayne State University Press); a full-length collection of poetry, Uncoded Woman (Milkweed Editions); and seven plays. She and her husband, David Early, have built their own home near Empire, Michigan. Visit her website here.)

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THE BEST DAMNED THING I READ TODAY

Many thanks to Grove Atlantic for putting me on their review list (because of my interview with Jim Harrison here). They just sent an advance uncorrected proof of Harrison’s new collection of novellas, The Ancient Mistral, which will be released in March, 2016. The title novella, which poses as memoir, contains this, the best damned thing I’ve read today:

9780802124562“In his writing downtime… he had evolved a theory, not ready for release, he called a ‘glimpse.’ The word was not quite right but would have to serve for the time being. In short it was typified by the way reality can break open and reveal its essence like bending linoleum until it broke and then you saw the black fiber underlying it. Standing on the bridge at Niagara Falls tempted by suicide was such a moment. Or holding Alice’s little dead body before burial. In both he had seen altogether too poignantly the sweep of life. Death gets your attention.”

I have a hunch all three novellas are filled with best things I’ve read in many days. So stand by. And as much as I love Harrison’s fiction, what I’m really excited about is the January release of his new collection of poems, Dead Man’s Float. These days, which have not been easy (not that I’m complaining), nothing gives me more consolation than poems by Jim Harrison.

 

 

 

 

from WINTER COMES TO THE KEWEENAW

…In the morning the cabins were new to us. It was as if we had awakened in a different place altogether. Rain streamed down the windows, and the waters of Agate Harbor were gray and wind-streaked and bordered by rock formations capped with golden tamarack and black spruce. Beyond the mouth of the bay, in the open lake, rollers broke white against reefs. Farther out, and as far as we could see to the horizon, the lake flashed with whitecaps.

We stood before the window sipping from mugs of coffee and watching the weather change: Now it was spitting sleet. Now wet flakes hurled silently against the glass, melted, and slid to the sill. Now the sun came out and the drenched earth gleamed. Now clouds cut across the sun, and snow-pellets rattled on the ground. It was volatile out there, and we were glad to be inside, next to a heater, with a coffee-pot on the stove and a stack of books on the table.

Later we put on our raingear and went outside to explore. Sunlight sprayed through cracks in the clouds, and the cold air tasted like iron. We followed a path from the front of the cabin around outcroppings of rock and between cushions of ankle-deep moss to a natural stone patio overlooking the lake. There a wooden bench, weathered to gray and covered with a scruff of lichen, was well along on its journey back to the earth. We could see no other cabins and no other evidence of humans whatsoever, so it was easy to imagine that this rock-cleft shoreline had changed little since the glaciers departed. For ten thousand years these same waves had broken against these same rocks. This same icy rain had fallen.

Here and everywhere else we went on the Keweenaw, we became engrossed in rocks. Most of the beaches around the peninsula are in coves scalloped between headlands of bedrock and are heaped with stones of every dimension, from pebbles to boulders. Waves have sorted them by size, the smallest near the water and the largest shoved farther up the beach. They have been water-shaped into every variety of round: plates, saucers, biscuits, buns, softballs, bowling balls, and cobbles. Some are oval and some nearly but never perfectly spherical and many are flat enough to stack unsteadily until they topple.

If we found a stone we liked that was nearly round or egg-shaped and fit comfortably in our hands, we carried it with us as we walked. At first we would be reluctant to give it up, but eventually it became a burden. We would heave it toward the lake and watched it plunge into the water with almost no splash and a sound like a gulp. If the waves were small we collected skippers and whipped them across the surface. Aaron found a good one and skipped it, counting, “One, two, twenty, ninety-nine, two-hundred—a new world record!” And we looked for agates, but our luck was poor. Lake Superior agates, with their translucent red banding, are famous among rock collectors around the world. The first day, in three hours of searching, Aaron found a single pea-sized specimen with one side chipped off to reveal a vivid patch of red-and-white bands. Gail and I found none. We consulted geological field guides and a locally-published guide to agate hunting, but for the first few days we were not really sure what we were looking for…

___

…That afternoon, as on most afternoons, when dusk was starting to settle into the woods, we drove up the steep and sinuous road to the summit of Brockway Mountain to try for a glimpse of sunset and a cell-phone connection.

Brockway is a mountain in name only, barely a thousand feet above Lake Superior, and only about 1,600 feet above sea level. But it is the highest point on the peninsula and so exposed to the weather that the oak, aspen, birch, and spruce trees ringing its summit are stunted, their gnarled branches arthritic, their trunks stubby and twisted. At the prospect, where the road circles a weather station and the parking lot is lined with a crenellated wall of quarried stone, we stood and looked inland at mountainous ridges where the earth’s crust tilts toward the center of the Keweenaw. The woods on the hillsides, stripped of their leaves, appeared faintly purple, with veins of green conifers running through them and a few patches of aspens unfurling down the slopes like strips of gold carpeting. Donut-shaped Bailey Lake, with a wooded island at its center, lay cupped in the valley below. We turned and saw the woods drop below us in an accelerating arc past the bay where our cabin sat, to the lighthouse at Eagle Harbor blinking white then red then white. Everywhere else was open lake. Fifty miles away we could see Isle Royale and its archipelago rising in hazy bumps just above the horizon.

We got a few bars and separated—Aaron to the wall at the crest, Gail and I to the lee side of the car, all of us with our backs to the wind—and listened to our messages and returned calls. We shouted into the air and felt ourselves part of  a continuum. At various times people must have stood on this same mountaintop and signaled with smoke, flags, beacons, and bonfires.

Snow squalls crept across the lake. Each was shaped like an inverted thunderhead, or like a giant boot about to stomp the water. Even from twenty miles away we could see the snow-streaks beneath them, bending with the wind. Overhead, a few southbound birds shot past, trying to keep ahead of winter. The Keweenaw is a bird funnel, especially in the spring, when thousands of raptors concentrate above Brockway, circling on thermals as they wait for a south wind to carry them across the lake to Canada.

Grains of snow flung past in the wind, and gusts made the wind generator on top of the boarded-up gift shop accelerate into furious storms of kinetic energy. We could see the wind flurrying the lake many miles out. The lid of clouds cracked open low in the west and a burst of sunlight streamed through. For a minute or two everything around us flared in brilliant rose and scarlet, then the sun dropped beyond the horizon and darkness fell.

That was the moment, the very moment, when the season of falling fell into winter.

 

(Excerpted from The Windward Shore: A Winter on the Great Lakes, by Jerry Dennis. University of Michigan Press, 2011)

 

WHAT’S LIGHTING US UP: SYDNEY LEA’S ESSAYS AND THE MAGIC OF BIRD POEMS

I’ve known Sydney Lea for many years, from time spent together at the Bear River Writers Conference and through intermittent correspondence about our shared passions for fishing, birds, bird hunting, and books. Syd’s a wonderful poet and essayist, a Pulitzer finalist and a contributor to The New Yorker, The Atlantic, and many other publications, and founded the literary journal New England Review. His books have long held a special place on my shelves. His new book, What’s the Story?: Reflections on a Life Grown Long, is a collection of powerful and heartfelt brief essays that pack a great deal of punch. It was an honor to contribute this cover endorsement: “Sydney Lea just keeps getting better. What’s the Story? is a collection of beautiful, wise, and heartbreaking essays, written in prose so sharp it cuts…This is the work of an author who is deeply and hopelessly in love with the world.”

WhatstheStoryCovMKTI caught up with Syd during a busy season of travel and outdoor activities and asked him to contribute to “What’s Lighting Us Up.” He graciously contributed the following:

Someone once said of art historian E.H. Gombrich that it seemed pretentious even to praise him. That phrase, whose origin has disappeared from memory, swam back into my ken as I considered the forty-plus years of work contained in Canadian master poet Don McKay’s collected poems, Angular Unconformity. While I might not hyperbolize to quite that degree, I do confess to feeling daunted in the face of such unusual achievement as this poet’s, and am somewhat embarrassed that we, his neighbors to the south, seem to know so little of it. He is simply a major figure in contemporary poetry.

I have been reviewing McKay’s collected poems, 1970-2014, for the online mag Numéro Cinq, published by my friend, estimable Canadian fiction writer Douglas Glover. I urge all to read it, especially those interested in the natural world, and especially those addicted to the avian world. (My favorite of his volumes is called, precisely, Birding, or Desire.) Here is but one sample from his 2000 book, Another Gravity:

Song for the Song of the White-throated Sparrow

Before it can stop itself, the mind
has leapt up inferences, crag to crag,
the obvious arpeggio. Where there is a doorbell
there must be a door—a door
meant to be opened from inside.
Door means house means—wait a second—
but already it is standing on a threshold previously
known to be thin air, gawking,
stricken with illicit possibility. The Black Spruce
point to it: clarity
becomes us, melting into ordinary morning. True
north. Where the sky is just a name,
a way to pitch a little tent in space and sleep
for five unnumbered seconds.

During last year’s cold winter, McKay had me thinking harder about birds than ever, so what follows by my hand may be motivated by his (superior) example:

Keeping At It at 20 Below

It’s too cold for me to stay out long at my age,

So I trek the half-mile road below our shed,

Its earth deep-hidden beneath the white.

Far east, Black Mountain shows up, razor-edged

On a sky full of crystals. My boots on frigid ground

Are cheeping loudly enough that with these bad ears

I can’t right off discern another sound:

Pine siskins by the score. They yammer from every

Evergreen in sight. I used to plow

On snowshoes through powder, hour on hour.

It shames me to say the notion scares me now.

Still it’s hard to keep with wistfulness when air

Keeps glittering so, and creatures no bigger than thumbs

Keep at their sustenance, dauntless. Each bird tears

At bough-tips, feeding and tweeting. I focus on one

That worries the sparkling tip of a spruce-cone, eats,

Then flits to another.

                                                                                    Beyond the bird,

Beyond the emerald tree in which it sat,

Beyond the outlying mountain—well, what passes

Even beyond bright air? And who’s to sense it?

Not I. It’s birdsong that prompts such opening phrases.

Beyond all this, let time complete my sentence.

_____________

author_photo-plaid-shirt_00011Sydney Lea’s fourth collection of personal essays, WHAT’S THE STORY? SHORT TAKES ON A LIFE GROWN LONG, is now available; his twelfth poetry volume, NO DOUBT THE NAMELESS, will appear in early 2016. He is Poet Laureate of Vermont. His web site is www.sydneylea.net  and he blogs at sydneylea.blogspot.com.

ON THE GREAT LAKES: THE STORMS OF NOVEMBER

Every year on November 10 countless people remember the Edmund Fitzgerald, which sank in Lake Superior with 29 crewmen on 11/10/75. I remember also November 10, 1998, when I drove to Whitefish Point during one of the worst storms since 1975, saw Lake Superior in turmoil, and met a man who was caught in the 1975 storm in a small boat and somehow survived. If you’ve ever wondered why the storms of November are so ferocious, here’s the meteorological explanation:

“November is the deadliest month. Ask any sailor. The Great Lakes still embrace some of summer’s heat then, but the air above has turned to winter. A meteorologist for the National Weather Service once calculated that on average the greatest difference between the temperature of the Great Lakes and the temperature of the air above them occurs on November 10. That differential causes the remaining warmth in the lakes to be sucked into the air, releasing energy and creating wind. With so much energy available over such large bodies of water, even minor storms are intensified. Most of the most devastating storms on the Great Lakes have occurred on or near November 10. And it was on this day in 1975 that the mighty Edmund Fitzgerald went down with all hands on Lake Superior…”

(From The Living Great Lakes: Searching for the Heart of the Inland Seas, by Jerry Dennis (NY: St. Martin’s Press. 2003)