Tunes for a Monday Morning
On loss and transfiguration

Lines for winter

Snow 1

Snow 2

In quite a number of previous posts, I've quoted a range of writers on the value of rooting ourselves in the land on which we live -- of learning its flora, fauna, and folktales, and becoming part of a local community that encompasses human and animal neighbors alike. I mark these passages because they resonate with the life and art I am creating now, rooted on a quiet hillside in Devon. But there are, of course, other ways to experience a deep connection with magical world we live in, and so today I offer a passage presenting an alternative view.

Snow 3

In her beautiful little volume Writing the Sacred Into the Real, American poet and essayist Alison Hawthorne Deming notes that while geography is a touchstone for her imagination, this is not confined to geography of the state where she makes her home. Travel, she writes, is also a spur to keener attention and intimacy with place:

"Touchstone is a word used almost exclusively these days for its metaphoric meaning -- a thing which serves to test the genuiness or value of anything. The origin of this definition is mineral -- a smooth dark stone used for testing the quality of gold or silver alloys by rubbing them against it and noting the color of the mark made on the stone. I know one of the pieties of nature writing says that one can only have intimacy with nature and form community by staying in one place, answering to it and for it against the culture's assaults. But when I have tested my own experience for its genuineness and value, I find that I have consistently deepened  my understanding of the intricate weave between nature and culture by learning about them in different places.

Snow 4

"I consider it implausible that human culture will settle back into an agrarian way of life in which geographic mobility is shunned in the interest of staying put. Human beings are thrilled by the technological prowess that keeps them moving all over the planet and beyond. We are not going to stop these movements, unless, of course, disaster demands it of us.

"For those who wish to celebrate an agrarian way of life, I hold no antagonism. Indeed, there is much to admire in the long study of one place. But what interests me, and what feels useful at this time in history, is to transpose what can be learned from more settled lifeways to the change and velocity of contemporary life. How, in a culture that is in love with its freedom and mobility, can individuals learn to conserve and preserve not only their own backyards but what is likely to become someone else's backyard in a year or two or twenty? The essay, or poem, or story can become a paradigm for reestablishing the spiritual intimacy with nature that we have lost from physical intimacy.

Snow 5

Snow 6

"I know that mobility can install an ethic of impermanence, of leaving one's mistakes and failures behind, rather than fixing them and fostering healing. But America is no longer an unsettled land, and as it grows more crowded, its membranes more permeable to the rest of the world, one finds that pulling up stakes and moving on leads one to face the same mistakes and failures played out in a new setting. We live in the same old story of fallibility and over-reaching goals that has been the bane and boon of human existence from the start. It does us good to face up to that -- our stunning potential for messing things up -- for without such awareness, we don't feel the need for restraint. And we do need mechanisms -- morality and law, plans and paradigms -- to restrain us, because it is our nature to dominate, control, and succeed against competition. For all our goodness, we are not benign animals."

Snow 6

Snow 7

Later in the volume Deming speaks of the role of "literature of place"  in fomenting cultural change:

Language, she says, "makes us the speed-learners among species, and this power can be used to ill or good. All good literature helps to renew language -- to restore its capacity to link the inner life with outer experience and to sing the song of the soul on the stage of history. And environment literature, at least since Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, has had a remarkably tangible impact on both the ethics and the politics of conservation. This literature has created a common language with which to bear witness to, praise and lament our wounded relationship with nature. It has made more sensuous, and therefore more real, our increasingly abstracted relationship with flora and fauna. It has made invaluable discoveries of science accessible to readers untrained in scientific disciplines, discoveries essential both to understanding our predicament and finding remedies for it. It has served as a collective act of preservation for places lost, lifeways lost, species and cultures lost, forests and mountainsides and rivers lost, and faith in our own kind lost.

Snow 8

"I don't mean to say that when a forest is gone you can replace it with a poem.  When a forest is gone, you cannot replace it. But with written words, you can bear witness, you can hold a memory of the forest for others to experience and celebrate, you can grieve over the loss and rage against the forces that have leveled the forest -- and through grief you can fall in love with forests again, and through that falling you can believe again in the human capacity for love and in the faith that we might learn to protect what we love."

Yes, yes, yes.

Snow 9

Snow 10

The photographs here were taken early Sunday morning, when I woke to find the hills dusted with snow: the only snow we've had all this mild and soggy winter, and thus especially magical and welcome. I dressed hurriedly, whistled for Tilly, and slipped outdoors before it all disappeared, climbing our hill as the bells of the village church broke through the morning mist. We crested the hill on icy paths, came down again on ice turned to mud, then crossed a field leaving footprints that melted behind us as the morning warmed up.

By the time we passed beneath the old oak and turned onto our homeward trail, the snow had all but vanished. Back home, it was entirely gone. Howard was up now, making tea as Tilly burst through the door into the kitchen, paws muddy, eyes gleaming: It snowed! It snowed!

Snow 11

Snow 12

For one brief, enchanted moment we had tasted true winter. And now I am ready for spring.

Snow 13

Snow 14The passages above by Alison Hawthorne Deming are from Writing the Sacred Into the Real (Milkweed Editions, 2001). The poem in the picture captions is from Selected Poems by Mark Strand (Knopf, 1990). Both are highly recommended. All rights reserved by the authors.

Comments

Thanks for some positive words this morning, Terri. Sometimes I despair at the seeming callousness with which the woods in my county get cut down for more homes, more car dealerships, more schools. This way of reframing grief is very helpful to me...it will go into my journal later today.
Looks like your dusting of snow was slightly more than what we got here a few weeks ago. It is truely magical while it lasts, but with Brigid's Day behind us I too, am ready for Spring. Have a wonderful day.

The Poem on the Page


The poem on the page
is not the tree,
not the snow on limb
not the corrugated bark,
nor the gathering
of old leaves at the foot.


It is but a palimpsest,
cartoon, sketch of snow,
a word not wood,
shadow and shade,
just a web to catch
the tree's soul.


The poem is something
to carry home
after a long walk,
and a cold one,
a bit of print
to read by the fire.


It is memory of tree,
limb, foot, bark, cold,
and the long mazed walk
home in the gather of dark.
Coat off, fire on.
Memory rimed.


©2016 Jane Yolen all rights reserved

thank you for sharing the magic of snowfall into this steamy summer night here in the Land Down Under

Coat off, fire on.
Memory rimed.

I love this! Thank you, Jane!

I particularly enjoyed your poem and Mark Strand's this morning.

Thank you, Jane and Terri!

How magical - a morning of evanescent winter. I'm so glad you went to meet it before it disappeared.

I liked the article, especially the part about preserving a piece of land that is only borrowed for a while, because it speaks to my own questions lately. I think perhaps if we had a wider sense of love and responsibility for all the world, we wouldn't preserve our backyards because they were *ours*, but because they were part of the beautiful, tender world.

In my country people are living in special trees so they don't get cut down, writing poems of protest, teaching others the native ways of caring for nature. This seems like art to me. Powerful, beautiful, proactive art. It inspires and stirs other people. I hope we can use art in all its forms to encourage people to believe they can stop the forests being felled and the rivers being trashed. But its hard to fight the heavy sense of powerlessness. Every month or so another tree disappears from my neighbourhood skyline to make way for a pool or patio or new house. I would despair if it wasn't for my small space online where I can talk about the trees in the hope even one other person will hesitate to cut down any of their own.

Hi Terri

While viewing these beautiful photos and reading the text, I wass reminiscing about Winter thawing into Spring and walking through the wet, March woods of New York State. Such a journey, even though imaginative, brings back the innocence, need and creaitivity of a child to return to his or her primal state, to be part of nature and the forest. This small poem kind of captures that.


In The Woods Again

Among the wet trees

and mud soft

as molding clay,

I fell to my knees

and fathomed a child.
______________________________

Loved this posting,
Thank you!
Wendy

Hi Jane

Love how you characterize the true composition of a poem and bring it home to both the fire and the reader. Beautifully voiced, this poem haunts with its natural details and definition.

a word not wood,
shadow and shade,
just a web to catch
the tree's soul.


The poem is something
to carry home
after a long walk,
and a cold one,
a bit of print
to read by the fire.
__________________________
Yes! exactly!

Thank you so much for sharing!
A delight to read,

My Best
Wendy

I Have Seen

I have seen the white mountains,
Like pale feathers, silently calm.
I have seen snow come down
Like small messages of secrets.

I have thought much of the cold
So crisp, so my hand holds out
To catch the tiny pinwheels
Of dividing water, from somewhere.

I have been somewhere
There is only fog and rain.
The snow avoids some places
But waters hold such mysteries.

I have lived long enough
To not expect certain things.
I am open to the wide wild
Poetry in the water and the air.

One day I expect to see this poem and others that curl up and then display
Something I have known all my life until you have explained the mind
Of where poetry and where we are, are part of the great mystery. I will
Not need an autograph. I will know so much more than mere ink and paper.

Lovely as seeing a drop of rain, small but magnificent.

Yes, that next to last stanza was the one that held me closest. "A bit of print" indeed. A bit of precious print. Thank you!

That last line is breathtaking, Wendy. Oh, what your words can do!

Goodness. These poems today are exquisite. Phyllis, I particularly liked the repetition of "somewhere" and your use of the somewhat shadowy words of "secrets" "mysteries" and "certain things". This poem is lovely. I adore the entire last stanza.

Terri,
These pictures are wondrous. Serene and playful at the same time. Today's embedded poem moved me, but it was your own words at the end of today's post that gave me chills. So glad you had a bit of true winter. I hope Spring comes soon and with wild abundance.

Much love,
Edie

Gosh, thank you. I'm taking this one to my writer group, and maybe send it out here and there, too.

Thanks all for the comments. Much to think about.

Jane

five perfect lines, not an easy thing to do.

Jane

"Open to the wide wild..."--YES!

Jane

Hi Phyllis

A drop of rain is such a beautiful thing - especially when it becomes kalidoscoped by the sun. Thank you so much for your exquisite comment. I deeply appreciate!

Take care
Wendy

Hi Edith

So glad you enjoyed the poem -- but when one returns to the woods after a long time, the ground swelling with moisture and everything a luminous green -- the child's spirit returns and so does the gratitude. Thank you so much for the lovely comment!

Take care
My Best
Wendy

Hi Jane

Yes, you are so right when writing these smaller/shorter poems. It's hard! And I thank you so much for your lovely comment. I deeply appreciate it!

Take care
My Best
Wendy

Hi Phylllis

This is an exquisite poem and I love the entire thing, the context of it, the language and the it experience it conveys. I absolutely adore these lines

I have been somewhere
There is only fog and rain.
The snow avoids some places
But waters hold such mysteries.

I have lived long enough
To not expect certain things.
I am open to the wide wild
Poetry in the water and the air.
___________________________________________

Yes, "open to the wide wild/poetry in the water and the air".I know that feeling and perfectly understand it. I am drawn to light on water, the sound of wind, light sealing the air with its glow and its secrets. So beautifully and wisely said!

Thank you for this!
Much enjoyed,
Wendy

Thank you Edith, Jane and Wendy. You're support is a gift I hold close to my heart. And of course Terri, who began all this.

Thank you Terri, and Jane for your beautiful poem. I've needed this these last few days, reading about the great and terrible loss of our beautiful World Heritage Tarkine forests in the Tasmanian bushfires. The last fragments of the forests of ancient Gondwana have burned, and unlike Eucalyptus they did not evolve to live with the threat of regular fires. They will probably never recover, and there's nothing I or anybody can do...except remember and bear witness...memories of trees in bits of print.

Gorgeous, Jane.

As much as I deeply loved the desert landscape on the outskirts of Tucson in southern Arizona, I found it harder and harder to live there over time as every year more of the landscape I loved was swallowed up by housing estates, Walmarts, etc. etc. Here in Chagford, we're in the Dartmoor National Park area, where building is (theoretically) more controlled, so change is slower...though thanks to our current government, local planning regulations are being overturned by beaurocrats in London and we have a big new estate going in at the entrance to the village. And not even an estate of affordable housing for local families, which is what we need, but overpriced retirement homes to attract the money of rich people from London. Money for the builders, that is, and they aren't local companies. (sigh)

So short and yet so perfect.

Lovely language in this one, Phyllis, especially this:

I have seen snow come down
Like small messages of secrets.

Thank you, dear. I hope spring comes soon too -- we're ready!

We all live with such loss these days. How will we bear it?

Thanks Terri

I truly appreciate your thoughtfulness!

Take care,
Wendy

Thank you....I am always grateful for the way poems come from a Mythic Moor.

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