Trees

The catalpas are blooming, really putting on a show this year–huge crowns full of white blossoms. I suppose the climate this year contributed to this show somehow, but my research says catalpa speciosa is drought resistant and requires little water compared to other tree species.

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catalpa in bloom

Eastern Pennsylvania has not had drought lately, and two wet springs in a row have meant burgeoning iris pseudacoris and particularly floriferous honeysuckle vines in my yard. The river birch seems happy with its feet all wet; the firs–though in a slightly less waterlogged area of the yard–are, by contrast, miserable.

~

I’ve been thinking about trees because I’m reading Peter Wohlleben’s 2016 book The Hidden Life of Trees. The text reads like a friendly forester inviting readers to learn what he loves about trees and their encounters with us, with the environment (soil, air, sun, water, pollutants, pests, fungi), and with one another. I have to say I remain somewhat skeptical about the scientific veracity of his source material, but I do enjoy his warm enthusiasm for his subjects and his reminders that we humans don’t know even the smallest fraction of what goes on in the planet’s interconnected and unplumbed depths.

Although some critics object to what they see as too much anthropomorphism in Wohllebehn’s book, his use of the analogy of the human and the tree “bodies” makes his information about how trees and forests work easy to grasp.

For science nerds, there are other texts. The Hidden Life of Trees is meant to make the less scientifically-inclined reader more aware of his or her environment, to convince the average human being to consider plant life more consciously.

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I take many photos of trees; and they appear in my poems pretty regularly, not as main characters but in supporting roles–not symbolic, but actual. Wohllebehn’s book may influence my work somehow…possible inspiration? But then, the trees themselves, especially the oldest ones, are inspiration enough.

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This 200-year-old sycamore resides at Bartram’s Garden in Philadelphia

 

 

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Tending, clearing

According to the Chinese lunisolar calendar, between now and the late April rains one should tend to the graves of one’s ancestors. This period goes by the name 清明, or qīngmíng, and the weeks are designated “clear and bright.”

In my part of the world, we experience a mix of rainy and clear; but the days are warming and the grass greener. The annual winter weeds pull up easily, and the tough perennial weeds emerge before the grasses. The moist, newly-thawed soil makes levering those weeds less difficult now than later in the year.

I, however, do not live anywhere near my ancestors’ graves.

~

Clearing

Clear the patch that yields
to memory
clutch the hand hoe
and the trowel
disturbing early spring’s
small bees and gnats
beneath the plum’s
blossoming branches

Weeds encroach here
grasses grown too high
a nearby stone
toppled and broken
tells us about
forgetfulness

Insects surround
the quiet morning
active each year as warmth
moves into earth
the newt that curls
under last year’s leaf
finds sustenance

As do we
in our earnest effort
clearing as skies clear
each handful of chickweed
representing thanks
to those whose efforts
and accidents
brought us into
the world

~

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photo by David Sloan

Wet year

This year seems the wettest locally in some time. Flash floods, gray days, soggy fields, mildew in the garden (and everywhere else). Annual average rainfall per year in my region is about 50″. We have already received 107″ at just past the equinox.

Yet it has been even damper elsewhere in the USA: I have friends and family in the Carolinas, which felt the brunt of Hurricane Florence.

Despite my complaints, I prefer rain to drought. After all, one of my books is titled Water-Rites.

I’m posting the draft of a new poem today. Thankful for the sounds that comfort me.

~

All night, even as rain pounded
the crickets called and called
their high-pitched throb offering
a different perspective
on the downpour’s
thrum, a bass string’s thump
on windows, roof, the dark’s
wild fullness that we don’t
understand and thus fear.

Shiver of screech owl, damp in its
hickory-tree perch
sad dreams, body aches, waking
into memory. We animals
amid bedsheets, sweaty and tossed,
find ourselves alert, listening.
Rain drums down in long bands
and crickets sing.
~

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image thanks to Pexels

 

…Some rain must fall

Longfellow wrote that “Into each life some rain must fall” (“The Rainy Day“). The poem is an extended metaphor; here in my valley, the rain has been actual, physical, moist, sopping, wringing, drizzly, humid, soaking, and all the rest.

The metaphorical hasn’t been absent, either.

So this week, my post consists of other writers’ posts. Explore, please. All of these links offer much to enlighten the reader.

https://www.daletrumbore.com/unthinkable

https://marilynonaroll.wordpress.com/2018/09/03/now-hold-on-there-or-slowing-the-revision-process/

On first looking into Shenandoah’s submissions

https://www.vianegativa.us/2018/09/barberous/

http://www.writerintheworld.com/2018/09/03/cathedrals-and-yurts-a-reprint/

Focus

On what do I focus when I write a poem?

This question has occurred to me before, usually under the guise of someone asking the ever-vague “What inspires you to write?” Focus differs from inspiration. For me, focus seems to derive from observation and is a process of discovering meaning.

Focus helps me understand what it is I’m experiencing and to decide how to express it. I focus when I need to make decisions; in the case of writing a poem, the decision might be one of craft approach or of imagery, or a realization that the poem needs a turn to create tension or resolution. What is the hub of the poem, the real kernel at its core? To make a poem “work,” I have to have a sense of what that might be.

This type of emphasis is a form of concentration. I think we learn from focusing; it teaches the value of close study, a skill needed for analysis. It can also be a reminder of what is outside the area of attention. Focus needs context, or it ends up as navel-gazing.

For a visual example, consider Andy Goldsworthy‘s “Rain Shadows,” which are among the most transitory of his ephemeral works.

The opposite of making a snow angel, in these conceptual art pieces–and he would object to me calling them by that term–the artist lies on a sidewalk and waits until a light rain falls just enough to leave his figure on the ground. Of course, in no time, the rain fills in the figure, so he documents the “shadow” with a photograph.

Goldsworthy talks about the process, in a recent interview with Terry Gross (see link below).

I just concentrate on the rain. I’ve learned so much about rain — the different kinds of rains, the rhythms of rains. And people will say, “Oh, why don’t you just use a hose pipe?” That would be totally pointless. The point is not just to make the shadow, it’s to understand the rain that falls and the relationship with rain and the different rhythms of different rainfalls.

The “art” in Goldsworthy’s rain shadows–he also does this with snowfall–consists in a focus, a learning, a process that the viewer cannot participate in. Which is kind of weird. Unless, of course, seeing his rain shadows prompts other people to try making them, during which they will learn about rain’s rhythms and varieties.

In this way, Goldsworthy encourages focus and close attention to the world in which we live. I think I will file that under “inspiration.”

 

 

Lost trees

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Herewith, some photos of neighboring tree damage. There is an environmental aspect to huge devastating storms…some of my neighbors’ houses have been standing for over 150 years. Some of the trees are 50-90 years old.

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Not old by, say, Asian or European standards. But pretty mature and historic for the USA.

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New Jersey and Staten and Long Islands were hit much worse, as they also got sea-water surges and flooding. Here, we mostly had tree-down damages. Wires snapped, pulling out transformers and knocking down utility poles and wires.

It was a different type of storm from the ones we experienced last year at around this time (see my post from 2011).

Things are gradually returning to normal. I wish to thank, whole-heartedly, the men (and a few women) who work on the utility and tree crews and who came from all over the USA to help out. Convoys of utility trucks have been greeted with joy by all of us in the mid-Atlantic states. May we never have to return the favor–may you and your loved ones remain safe, sound, and connected! But if you do need help at any time, I hope we can return the favor.

Not a dry spell

October arrived in a remarkably ordinary way, considering how inconsistent the weather in my valley has been during the past year. There were a few clear days of brilliant sky, some heavy breezes with leaves beginning to drift into the lawn, a couple of glorious autumn days–mild and crisp–followed by a spate of rain and humid air (and toadstools and mushrooms cropping up everywhere), a further yellowing and reddening of foliage, and then, chilly rain.

This is “normal” weather for our area in early- to mid-October. Although the heavy skies and damp chill are not always welcomed by residents, including me, the gardener in me feels relieved. We need the rain and the coming dormancy. The birds relish the late, large insects that frequent gutters and fields, ponds and puddles, providing proteins for a trip south or for winter ahead. Seeds need the watering-in and the cooling-down. Trees need reminders to store their nutrients deep inside when the cold air really sets in.

And pretty soon, I will have bulbs to plant. I want the soil to be moist enough to dig up and the ground temperature cool enough to keep the daffodils still and quiet for several months.

Some years, I write prolifically in autumn; it’s as though the change in season effects a kind of transition within me, and creativity abounds. Other years, not so much. I do notice that when I spend a good deal of time out in the garden, I write more. This fall has not been that kind of season. I have been busy with writing tasks that do not exercise the philosophical or metaphysical side of myself–though I have been writing, most of the work has been reviews, proposals, pedagogy.  I will be posting links to the reviews and essays on the sidebar to the right, adding to the list…

Should fortune–and the Muse–smile upon me, there may be a few new links to poems, as well, in the coming weeks. In November, I’ll be giving a few readings locally. In January, I’ll be teaching Introduction to Poetry again, and I’m eager to try new texts for my students.

Perhaps the post-equinox period will have a creative harvest after all.