Poetry Friday: Lost by David Wagoner

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The poetry round-up this week is hosted by Michelle Kogan.

I haven’t felt like writing these past two weeks, nothing I have to say seems worthy of being written, or perhaps the real reason is the sense of confusion and anxiety I feel well up every time I try to address what it is that I feel and think.

My  children have hunkered down in their Brooklyn apartments, working from home and trying to stir as little as possible into deserted streets for the occasional trip to the grocery store or laundromat.  They sound tired, stressed, uncertain, and more than just a bit without a sense of hope.  The future, even tomorrow, seems full of dread.  Once their self-quarantines have come to an end, they plan to drive up to the farm for as long as necessary.

Here in upstate New York, farm life goes on for one and all.  I can see lights twinkling  from the dairy down the valley early every morning, and the cornfields everywhere around us are already being prepped for Spring planting.  The feed store, which I visit at least once every week, is still a busy place.  Yesterday was warm, which made me commit to putting through the order of summer flower seeds I’d been pining after.  The Angora goats arrive in two weeks, and I went ahead with plans to build a small pen for them within the barn.  The flock will be sheared soon, and I am getting ready with plans for their gorgeous fleeces.

It’s important to stay abreast of the news in times like these, and so I dip in here and there to learn what I can.  Little of the news is good, it seems, and then I read about good people doing good deeds. It brings to mind Fred Rogers’ observation :“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”  There are many people helping out there, rising to the occasion, doing the hard things necessary to keep others safe and well tended to.

And there is Nature, free of charge, offering her comforts, too…

Lost by David Wagoner

Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.

Poetry Friday: Cantata for Woodland and Orchestra by Ralph Murre

This week’s Poetry Friday is hosted by Rebecca Herzog at Sloth Reads 

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As this first week of March ends, most of our snow and ice have melted away.  For the last two evenings, I’ve seen geese fly up our valley and continue on north.  My garden beds have emerged, and I can see where I need to clear and weed when the days get just a bit warmer.   We are entering that just-before-the greening time, when the landscape around seems to be breathing gently, getting ready to stretch and awake fully again.   March seems to have come in like a lamb this year…but is welcome, never the less.

Cantata for Woodland and Orchestra by Ralph Murre

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There, just there — where the first cellos
of March come in, before the oboes
or the ides — there, the brooding

before budding or cranes return,
before clarion brass of calendar spring,
the thing made of maple and ice,

there, that dripping, the ripping of the long,
white garment, there, the giggling
of flutes, perennial roots waking in cold soil.

At last, a roll of timpani just
before this symphony season’s end,
a thunder of freeze unfreezing.

Cymbal crash of lightning tightening senses,
there, the tension as a hundred violins go wild,
waking your lover, waking your child.

Crescendo!
Innuendo of greening in the plop
of that first drop of the applauding rain

and it’s over again — there’s a silence
so profound we can hear the stirring
of the deep unknown, and underground.

Brooklyn days

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Last Sunday, while I tended to the sheep and dogs at the farm, my family gathered in Brooklyn to celebrate our youngest’s 25th. birthday.  After brunch and a visit to the nearest bookstore (no Smith gathering ever takes place without one of these), they made their way to my old apartment in Carroll Gardens where the above picture was taken: 475 Sackett Street.

I was 25 when I lived in this brownstone, starting out in a career in publishing.  The handsome gentleman in the green baseball cap was finishing up his last year of law school in Boston at the time, and we had vague plans for him to join me in New York City when it was time for him to begin his own career.  In fact, vague plans marked everything at that point in my life, from career goals to marriage to Scott.  I was thrilled to have found an editorial job at a big publishing house in Manhattan, thrilled to be living in two floors of an old brownstone with a patch of garden in the back, and thrilled to be independent at last.

Every morning, one of my room mates and I would march over the Brooklyn Bridge  in our trench coats and white Reebox sneakers (work shoes were in the big bag slung across our shoulders, along with manuscripts to be read or copyedited, and lunch), and catch our separate subways to work.  And every evening I would meet friends, new and old, somewhere in the Village or Chinatown or Little Italy for a cheap meal, since there were so few restaurants in Carroll Gardens at the time.

At night, we would often sit on the front stoop, drinking more cheap wine, listening to the old fashioned Italian music playing from the apartment next door, and watching the street life of Brooklyn, circa the early eighties.   This was a time before “gentrification” and “hipsterization” – the trendy Brooklyn of today where all three of our children live.  Little old Italian ladies in black cloth coats and sensible lace up shoes trundled up and down the streets with their metal shopping trolleys, picking up coffee and meats and pastries in shops that hadn’t changed their decor since they first opened their doors in the thirties and forties.   Newcomers like us were just starting our working lives or finishing up graduate school, those who were on their way to better things or already there, lived across Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn Heights.

I can’t remember much about being 25, and my memories of life in that brownstone are a series of gauzy memories seen through the filter of many decades: the early morning view of Manhattan as I walked towards my work day, the way sunlight would stream through our oversized brownstone windows and cast shadows on our postered walls, the exhilaration of turning the lock in the front door and hurrying off  to start a brand new day.

Perhaps that’s what I remember most about being 25, in that particular space and time: everything was possible.  As we went our separate ways, my room mate and I would turn to each other and say, only partly in jest: “Let’s carpe our diem!”  And that’s as good a philosophy even today…

Poetry Friday:Mending Mittens by Larry Schug

Today’s Poetry Friday round up is hosted by  Karen Edmisten

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In an effort to preserve my sanity in the era of the current occupant of the White House, I took myself off Facebook and Twitter, switched from NPR to music and podcasts about books, sheep, and true crime, and from MSNBC to either the Food Network or HGTV whenever I had the inclination to turn on the television.  I can vote and I can help get out the vote, but I can’t keep sane if I attempt to keep up with current events, and I pay for the effort when I veer off course.

For example, I made the mistake of checking out The New York Times yesterday, only to discover that Mike Pence is now in charge of the CDC’s efforts to contain and deal with the coronavirus.  Mike Pence??!! And, just like that, I spiraled into a mood of rage, anxiety, and helplessness – I was once again conscious of  living in the age of Trump.

Then I received a message from a friend inviting me to a fundraiser at a local brewery for a local family whose daughter has cancer.   This reminded me of a fund raiser I had just been to in support of our town’s Fuel Fund, where money is raised to help those in need of support meeting their winter heating bills.  And, I thought ahead to the free summer camp I will be teaching at in an effort to provide children with positive experiences during those summer months.  I live in a rural area, mostly corn fields and dairy farms, where life is not easy for a good number of people, and yet there are also a good number of people volunteering in so many ways to make those lives just a bit easier.

I’m not sure where I found the poem below, or even when I saved it into my poetry file, but I’m glad I did.  I rather read it over and over again, than keep up with the current state of affairs in our country.

Mending Mittens by Larry Schug

Mending my leather mittens
for the third time this winter,
I sew them with waxed string
made to repair fishing nets,
hoping they’ll last
until the splitting maul rests
against the shrunken woodpile
and the hoe and spade come out of the shed.
Suddenly I find myself praying.
Blessed be those who have laced together
the splits at the seams of this world,
repaired its threads of twisted waters.
Blessed be those who stitch together
the animals and the land,
repair the rends in the fabric
of wolf and forest,
of whale and ocean,
of condor and sky.
Blessed be those who are forever fixing
the tear between people and the rest of life.
May we all have enough thread,
may our needles be sharp,
may our fingers not throb or go numb.
May each of us find an apprentice,
someone who will take the needle from our hands
continue all the mending that needs to be done.

Sunset

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“To photograph is to hold one’s breath, when all faculties converge to capture fleeting reality…”
― Henri Cartier-Bresson

I feel as though I hold my breath every evening as I watch the sun descend behind Bunker Hill.  Sometimes, I am happy just to be a part of the experience, at others I feel compelled to photograph it.  These images are from last evening, when peach transformed into pink and then a dull violet.  I found the shifts in color to be unexpected, and that violet to be more muted than I thought it would be.

The sheep are all back in the barn by this time of evening, and so it’s usually just Bowie and me who are graced by Nature’s last light show of the day.  I am all about the visual, while Bowie is intent upon what she hears: deer making their way through the woods, bats circling silently, the village dogs calling out their evening messages.  Darkness takes me indoors to the farmhouse, while Bowie lopes off into the pastures to make her perimeter checks – a white wolf against the inky black sky.

Poetry Friday: Christmas Sparrow, by Billy Collins

Today’s Poetry Friday is hosted by  Library Matters

A terrific commotion brought me downstairs last week to find a Cooper’s Hawk trapped inside the screened in area of our front porch.  He had flown right through the screened door, tearing the netting into two equal half which were now flapping sadly in the wind.  Hawks of every variety are a common sight here, they love swooping up and down the valley, scanning for prey.

They are just as wary of me as I am of them, so seeing one this close was an amazing experience.  For quite some time, he attempted to fly through various parts of the porch, throwing the weight of his body against the screens in the hopes of getting back out.  Growing increasingly frustrated with each failed attempt, he perched at last on the wood rack, looking about with great agitation.  To  my surprise, I could see that he was panting from all the exertion, much like a dog does – tongue out, mouth wide open, a fierce panic in his eyes.

By this time, my dog Sophie had arrived to inspect the situation, and had begun barking loudly.  Thinking that it was best to leave the poor fellow to figure his way out in quiet peace, Sophie and I retreated to another part of the house.   When we returned to check a few hours later, I was thrilled to see that he had managed to escape, leaving behind just a few rents in the screens, and a giant blob of poop.

The Christmas sparrow in Collins’ poem below came to mind when I remembered what it felt like to watch that trapped hawk, to imagine what it must have felt confined in a space where he could feel the wind and yet not fly away.

Christmas Sparrow –  by Billy Collins

The first thing I heard this morning
was a soft, insistent rustle,
the rapid flapping of wings
against glass as it turned out,

a small bird rioting
in the frame of a high window,
trying to hurl itself through
the enigma of transparency into the spacious light.

A noise in the throat of the cat
hunkered on the rug
told me how the bird had gotten inside,
carried in the cold night
through the flap in a basement door,
and later released from the soft clench of teeth.

Up on a chair, I trapped its pulsations
in a small towel and carried it to the door,
so weightless it seemed
to have vanished into the nest of cloth.

But outside, it burst
from my uncupped hands into its element,
dipping over the dormant garden
in a spasm of wingbeats
and disappearing over a tall row of hemlocks.

Still, for the rest of the day,
I could feel its wild thrumming
against my palms whenever I thought
about the hours the bird must have spent
pent in the shadows of that room,
hidden in the spiky branches
of our decorated tree, breathing there
among metallic angels, ceramic apples, stars of yarn,

its eyes open, like mine as I lie here tonight
picturing this rare, lucky sparrow
tucked into a holly bush now,
a light snow tumbling through the windless dark.

Poetry Friday: Snow-Bound by John Greenleaf Whittier

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It’s been sleeting here all the night before and into this afternoon. Snow and wind are predicted for later this evening and into the night.  Every tree and branch is coated with a layer of glass, and the barnyard gate needs a mug of hot water before the latch is willing to yield.   I managed to get the sheep out of the big barn and up to the shelter of the pole barn for the day, and I can see them now, sitting all lined up in front of their now-empty hayrack, gazing out at the valley in serene rumination.  Even Bowie, immune to bad weather in her bear-like coat, is staying in the barn for a change.

Other than the steady thrum of sleet against windowpanes, and the occasional whoosh as snow slides off the roof, it is quiet.  I have not seen a single car make its way up or down the valley, or the hill where the farm sits.  I have books, embroidery, and knitting by my side, and no other plans than to stay by the fire while the storm does what it must do.  Being snowbound has its gifts.

Snow-Bound by John Greenleaf Whittier
All day the gusty north-wind bore
The loosening drift its breath before;
Low circling round its southern zone,
The sun through dazzling snow-mist shone.
No church-bell lent its Christian tone
To the savage air, no social smoke
Curled over woods of snow-hung oak.
A solitude made more intense
By dreary voiced elements,
The shrieking of the mindless wind,
The moaning tree-boughs swaying blind,
And on the glass the unmeaning beat
Of ghostly finger-tips of sleet.
Beyond the circle of our hearth
No welcome sound of toil or mirth
Unbound the spell, and testified
Of human life and thought outside.
We minded that the sharpest ear
The buried brooklet could not hear,
The music of whose liquid lip
Had been to us companionship,
And, in our lonely life, had grown
To have an almost human tone.

What democracy looks like

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Ever since the last election, I have sealed myself off in a news free bubble.  The outright corruption, misogynistic arrogance, and open racism of the current Administration makes keeping up with the news bad for my mental health.  Hence the bubble.

Yesterday, however, I ventured out of it in order to meet Tedra Cobb.  She is running for Congress against the despicable Trumpette,  Elise Stefanik; an uphill battle in a district that is very Republican.

The drive to the library in Glens Falls,  through towns such as Fort Edward and Hudson Falls, is depressing. The North Country is stunningly beautiful, and yet poverty and all its struggles are very much in evidence in these old towns, and in pockets everywhere.  The economic and social needs of NY-21 are many, clearly.

By the time we arrived, the room set aside for the town hall was standing room only, but room was made and a large crowd of people gathered outside the open door when there was no more room to stand.  It was an informed and respectful crowd, and she was informed and respectful candidate.

I was most moved by the central concern in the room: the crushing cost of health care for the elderly, and how so many of the people in the audience were coping with caring for partners with dementia and Alzheimer’s at great financial and emotional cost.  There was a quiet desperation to their carefully worded questions, and one could sense a struggle between their need to maintain their dignity even as they articulated their concerns.  There was compassion in response – from others in the room and from Tedra herself – which these questioners seemed to take comfort in.  At the close of the meeting, this sense of comfort lingered in the room as people talked, shared notes, commiserated, before getting into their cars and soldiering on.

I’m glad I stepped out of my bubble to attend.  It felt good to be reminded about the essence of democracy: concerned and informed citizens, organizing on the behalf of the community and for the community.  It was a relief, actually, to be a part of activism once again.

 

Grey days…

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We’ve had a long stretch of slate grey skies and a bedraggled looking landscape.  I think I last saw the sun for all of ten minutes yesterday, just as it was getting ready to set.  Growing up in India and subject to the annual monsoon season, I am not unfamiliar with sunless skies for days on end.  So, the bleak mood that starts to permeate my being as a result of North Country grey skies has been somewhat of a puzzlement to me.

I was thinking about all of this during morning chores today, when it was quite clear that jolly old Mr. Sun would not be making any sort of appearance.  With the exception of a few barks from Bowie, and Roscoe’s intermittent crows to let the world know that day had come, the valley was utterly quiet.  It occurred to me that part of what makes endless grey days  so difficult to cope with, is the fact that winter in our valley is so quiet.

Grey monsoon days came with a soundtrack: pelting rain, the rumble of thunder, the crack of lightning,  water gushing down the drainpipes and through the streets.  Monsoons had sound, and that sound made up for a lack of sunshine – which sounds odd, but seems to have been my experience.   The monsoons of my childhood also had drama, sometimes it would rain so hard that I could not see beyond the tip of my nose.  And, Indian monsoons always had color – the hot pink slash of a turban, or turmeric gold of a sari was visible no matter how hard it rained.

I guess one way for me to get through these grey days is to call up those monsoon memories of old; reminisces of a long ago childhood in a faraway country, where color and drama were part of every season.

 

Office space…

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It’s been another weird winter. Last winter, my first here on the farm, we had more ice than snow.  Since I didn’t have sheep last winter, I could afford to stay in and pay no attention to conditions in the pasture.  This winter, we’ve had more rain than snow, and the flock certainly keeps me ever mindful of conditions by the barn and in the pastures.

But, no matter what the weather, we trek out from the barn to the pole barn early every morning and back in just as  evening begins.  Being a novice at this shepherding thing, I understood that it would not be good for the health of my sheep to keep them cooped up in the barn all winter long, and I imagined that the pole barn (covered on three sides but open to the elements on one, would therefore be the place they spent their days.

Well, my sheep, with their lovely fleece, had plans of their own.  They do make their way to the pole barn for their morning hay, but then they meander all over the pasture, finding this or that spot to settle down for a good period of serious rumination.  But, soggy conditions have now led them to have to consider another option: a wedge of rocky land at the far reaches of the pasture; their new “office”.

Here, they gather for most of the day, coming down occasionally for a drink of water, a quick snack of hay, a lick or two of their mineral block.  That’s where I found them this sunny afternoon, when we were all determined to be out under blue skies and sunshine, no matter how cold it may be.  It’s the perfect spot for their office, and they were very kind about letting me in to share their space, and their view.

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