Spirit, in Place

Spirit, in Place

Bluffs and streams surround me.
Those who like to think themselves
native to this place when its indigenous
people were eradicated from the state
long before Roundup was even remotely
considered a hazard to a biology that would
include them if they were still here,
like to think it’s part of the Ozarks,
even if it’s a bunch of foothills to the north
with bluffs scattered here and there.

As for those bluffs and streams,
I walk trails that skirt them, cross them,
offer great views of them. Or I float
the streams, sometimes right beside
those bluffs, taking in the beauty
they hold in an eagle carrying a fish
to its nest, or an aged cedar clinging
to a hundred foot cliff, or a green heron
at the foot of that cliff watching
for a fish the eagle may have missed.

Will I ever consider myself a native,
when my mind always goes back to
the blue water of lakes that were great
long before I knew them, or a river
that flows from one lake to another,
rushing over a cataract midway,
or land that lies flat before it meets
mountains that aren’t afraid to be called
foothills of the Alleghenies?

When there is spirit of place in both,
where I witness both peace and struggle,
where I can try to forget my own struggles
and become a part of the peace
that surrounds me, is there any difference?

This is my response to earthweal weekly challenge: SPIRIT OF PLACE, where Brendan asks us to “write about the spirit(s) of place where you live and have your being in.”

The Commons at Niagara

The Commons at Niagara

Passing from one great lake to another,
would this not seem a natural course?
But who could pass treacherous rapids,
or the mighty cataract they surround?
Of what use a river, if not for transit?
But let that not halt the progress of man.

Of what use a river falling great heights
if not to be harnessed for industry?
And so it came to be, mills and plants
along its rushing course, amid the islands
that divide those cataracts, atop the walls
that once were a stately gorge.

But oh, the steep price of progress
and the unbridled power of industry.
Far from sightly, the discharge
of chemicals to air and water
and the scars they leave the cost
of harnessing the power of nature.
If not for visionaries.

Free Niagara became the cry of those
who followed Olmsted’s lead.
And so they did. Land along that gorge,
beside those rapids, and on the islands
at the very brink of the falls,
once claimed by commerce,
became parkland for the people.

From one century to another,
and now another, the trails and paths
of Olmsted and Vaux continue to offer
views that show no sign of those past scars,
only the beauty of this natural wonder
at the Niagara Reservation, the Commons
that displaced an industrial wasteland.

 

This is my response to earthweal weekly challenge: The Commons, the prompt from Brendan which as us to “describe that half-wild, half-human habitat of sharing and sustenance in your locale?” The Niagara Reservation, later named Niagara Falls State Park, was New York’s first state park. I lived in the area for most of my life and often visited the Falls, sometimes several times a month.

Off prompt, but shared with Day 29 at napowrimo.net.

Aerial view of Niagara Falls from Niagara Falls Public Library
Black & white image: former industry along the Niagara Gorge, from Wikimedia commons
(click photos for larger view in new tab)

 

Weasels Everywhere

Weasels Everywhere

I saw one on the suburban shore of the Niagara.
Too large to be someone’s pet ferret, it puzzled me.
Mike set me straight. They had been seen
across the river on Grand Island. Mink.
And now, in Missouri. I think. Or thought.
The first time, swimming across a river –
what I would call a stream after a life on the Niagara –
to hide among trees and roots tumbled downstream
in a flood. It was low water the second time,
when I saw one ten miles away, loping along the shore.
The last time? Same place as the first, but the trees
and roots were long washed downstream, rivers doing
what rivers do. Farm country and woods, where
I might expect to see a mink. Or did I? River otters
are native to Missouri, and more common.
Too large for mink, and no white markings.
But what’s the difference? Indeed, why
differentiate? Both are beautiful,
and in their place. I’m sure both would
respect the other’s territory, that neither would
take it upon themselves to destroy the other’s home.
So I paddle, in both places, hoping for a glimpse
of that peace that seems so foreign to the outside world.

This is my response to earthweal weekly challenge: EVERWILD, where Sherry Marr asks us to “write from that place of holding onto wildness of soul, to balance the wild love and wild grief we swing between on any given day, at this time of utter unpredictability, when Mother Earth herself is providing us with comfort in our grief, even while she herself is bleeding.”

Off prompt, but shared with Day 21 at napowrimo.net.

Image source: Missouri Department of Conservation

All Is Not Lost

All Is Not Lost

Three candy wrappers.
One crushed water bottle.
I empty my pockets of
souvenirs collected on the trail.

The same two weeks later,
when I return to walk
the two-mile, winding trail
in this hundred acre preserve.

I’m not the only one. Crews
of workers are always present,
maintaining this showcase
in the state capital.

Driving to buy groceries, I follow
a pickup and watch the driver
rolling coal as he cuts off a compact car.
A plastic bag blows across the street.

I pull into the store parking lot,
eye a space as a car backs out.
Pulling away, the driver drops
a cigarette butt from her window.

I watch a teen kick a water bottle
in his path. Just one more part of
the problem, I think, until he picks it up
and drops it into the can at the entrance.

Rolling coal – Some diesel pickup owners deliberately accelerate
to dump black smoke from their exhausts.

This poem is my response to earthweal weekly challenge: RADICAL HOPE.

Off prompt, but also shared with Day 7 at napowrimo.net.

Photo: clipart.com

Momentary Permanence

 

Momentary Permanence

I paddle and I paddle,
each stroke offering reward.

A bass, thrashing
in a futile struggle to escape
the grasp of an eagle
that swiftly rises from a river
in a slow January crawl.

The graceful nature
of a sycamore’s white lines
against a blue March sky,
just as beautiful the full green
bloom of its leaves
in the coming months.

A dragonfly, the imperceptible
breeze of its lustrous wings
welcome in August heat
as it flits from a tree branch
to the bow of my kayak
to reeds that line the shore,
never still for long, until
it reaches the gray arm
of a tree rising from the river,
pausing to let me pass.

I drive and I drive,
each trip offering reward.

Children who greet me
with open arms, engage
in long talks of events
new and not-so-new,
as if they are one.

Conversations starting up
where they left off,
leaving off where they
are bound to start
once again.  And again.

A granddaughter
who will read to me
the memorized tale
in her favorite book.
One who will walk with me,
a fast crawl more her speed
when last we were together.
Both milestones
in the passing years.

Places that never grow old,
never have when I was close
and never will,
even in my absence.
The sight of maple trees
when oak and hickory
have become my norm.
The blue of rivers,
waterfalls and lakes,
now that I’m surrounded
by muddy waters.

All of this welcome to me.
Permanent bonds, even
with their temporary nature,
like golden sycamore leaves
as they drift beside me, caught
in the swirl of my paddle,
as if to remind me
they will always be with me,
even if waiting inside graceful lines
against a blue November sky.

This poem is my response to earthweal weekly challenge: EVERYTHING IN THE FOREST IS THE FOREST.

All in the Mind

 

All in the Mind

Pretend you don’t know that more than two miles
of trails are tightly wound within just one hundred acres,
a jewel of sorts within this not-so-urban city, the capital
of a mid-West state, that the sight of deer
or turkey crossing your path, is not unusual,
or that a hundred feet are all that separate a savanna
from a hillside populated with hundreds-year-old oak trees
on one side or bottom land growth on the other.

Feel daily morning walkers on manicured trails
brush past you at a calorie-burning pace,
eyes straight ahead, unaware –
or perhaps long-forgotten to them –
that each area is managed to demonstrate
the various habitats and the bio-diversity found,
and in many cases disappearing, within their state.

Be thankful for the butterfly on milkweed,
the turtles sunning themselves on the pond’s shore,
the snake climbing within a lightning-hollowed oak,
the texture of that oak’s weathered bark,
or the coyote peering from tall grass, all waiting
for your camera to capture their subtle beauty.

Find the words to describe all of this.

This poem is my response to earthweal weekly challenge: WILD MIND,
where Brendan asks us,
“How does green fire take root in the thought of our poems?”

I’ve written about the Runge Conservation Nature Center (Jefferson City, Missouri)
in blog and poetry before. Here is one with photos.

 

Shared with Open Link LIVE — February Edition at dVerse ~ Poets Pub.

 

Getting a Leg Up

Getting a Leg Up

All is not so dire. No handicap,
that limb out of the water,
no third leg on its back as heat
is gathered from light.
The swan moves in arcs
no wider, circles no tighter,
than others in its circle.

Climate may change, but
instinct will prevail,
while we continue to burn
fossils, exchanging heat
in the chilling future
we bring upon ourselves
as we hold up a wet finger
when we already know
which way the wind blows.

If we accept that wind,
marry it to the light, will they
carry us into the future,
open this ever tightening circle
in which we find ourselves?

This poem is my response to earthweal weekly challenge: THE SWAN.

Is it normal for a swan to fold one of its legs up onto its back? Yes.

~ click image for larger view in new tab ~

More Than One Day ~ prosery

More Than One Day

The ills that have befallen our world are a direct result of our actions, from discarded waste that would choke the creatures we profess to cherish, to weather conditions that will not improve, no matter how heated the discussions, if nothing is done to change the practices that harm the very air we breathe. We are partners in her course and must turn it in a direction that would cherish nature.

Some will talk of the labors that have brought advances to mankind and ask why we should not enjoy those benefits. If that be your stance, then take a holiday. Just one day. And bring no book, for this one day we’ll give to idleness, mindful that for every day that follows we must accept our responsibility and put forth the effort needed to reverse those ills we have placed upon our world.

 

This is my response to Prosery: Bring no book! With Prosery, the challenge is to write a piece of flash fiction with a 144-word limit (here, exactly 144 words). Included in the bit of prose is to be a complete line from a poem. For this prompt, the line to be included is from”Lines written at a small distance from my house,” by William Wordsworth.

And bring no book; for this one day
We’ll give to idleness

                            – William Wordsworth

Also shared with earthweal weekly challenge: NATIVE TO THE NOW.

Image source: The Conversation

Straight Talk (or, Mule to Machine)

Straight Talk
(or, Mule to Machine)

There is a bend,
abandoned, but not,
in the course of this stream.

Man could not be satisfied
with direction that winds,
so took a straighter path.

What commerce desires
is a direct route, and mules
will not stand in its way.

Though traffic may follow
the straight path, the alternative
still holds its rewards.

I paddle this stretch, almost
a pond in its nature, with banks
home to muskrats and swallows.

Bass jump, no sign of water
chestnut, once invasive as man
in this quiet little stream.

One way or another,
we make our mark,
for good as well as bad.

This poem is my response to earthweal weekly challenge: THE JOURNEY, which asks us to write “of the Earth’s own journey into this strange, post-Holocene era? How is your journey entwined with that tale?”

Completed in 1825, the Erie Canal opened commerce from the east coast to the Great Lakes and the Midwest. Running east-to-west, it was dug to a depth of four feet. Networked with other canals in the state it became the New York State Barge Canal (now the New York State Canal System).

In 1918 the canal was modernized and three sections of Tonawanda Creek (at the western end, the only natural waterway used for any distance on the old Erie Canal) were straightened (creating islands) to accommodate larger and deeper barges. From 2010 to 2012, water chestnut (an invasive species) became so thick in the area described in the poem that a mechanical harvester was used to clear it out.

Photo: (invasive) Water Chestnut in Tonawanda Creek, 19 July 2011

Shared with Open Link Night #305: December Live Edition at dVerse ~ Poets Pub

Prelude to Silence

Prelude to Silence

In the silence of a butterfly’s wings
passing on its final flight,
I listen to a falling leaf, no quiet
as full as its rustle among its fellows
that lie in wait for a new season,
and another, prelude to the return
of the silence of butterfly wings.

This poem is in response to earthweal weekly challenge: A BIODIVERSE POETRY, where Brendan asks, “What is the sound of life that is complex, intermingling, evolving and sustaining?”