Elderberry connections

13 05 2009

Shadow portrait on clearcut

I  see the clear-cut as an opportunity as much as a calamity — an opportunity to be observant as this scraped land returns to life. The land just behind my property had been cut in 1993 — 6 years before I first saw it — and I didn’t realize that it would change and shift so fast over the last 9 years. I’ve also changed a lot since then, and parts of my life have been shorn away, while others have grown and others simply changed. I regretted not paying attention to the changes going on in my backyard before, now I have a second chance at this, so taking a closer look at the clear-cut resonates with other things in my life, other second chances I hope to have. This time around I know so much more, see so much more, understand so much more, even as I also realize how vast my ignorance still is.  

Learning about nature opens up avenues to learn even more; the more I know, the more I can know, in a virtuous cycle that I feel directly on this walk. The air is floral and scented as I walk along, strong enough perfume that I wouldn’t like it if it were lingering around the counter at the department store; it’s pleasant and not overpowering in the open air. I track the smell down to clusters of brilliant off-white blossoms.

Elderberry blossomsI’m sure I’ve traced this smell down on some earlier walk — maybe many times. But now I can — or bother to — recognize it, and this smell has a name. These flowers will be clusters of Red Elderberries. In fall, bears pull sprays of berries down with a paw and surround whole clusters in their mouth, scraping off berries and, I imagine, a helping of stems, from cluster after cluster. I used to see them across the bowl of the valley behind my backyard. One time 5 bears, including a cub, were feeding at the same time in the early evening. A few years later, I would only see the twitching  and shaking of the branches, and now, the trees have shaded many of the elderberries out. But they thrive in the extra sunlight along the trail. How many years, I wonder, until they first colonize the clear-cut?

Back home, I turn to one of my berry books — Northwestern Wild Berries, by J.E. Underhill. I’ve read about them before; these berries are so abundant, it would be nice to use them somehow — but they taste bad, and even the Indians didn’t find a use for them. The Black Elderberry, a cousin if you will, is the one you’ll find in jellies and syrups; another berry book records that some people have made jelly out of them with no apparent ill effects — like almost all native berries they are probably not harmful in small quantities. I think “If it feels good, do it.” is a poor motto for life, but it seems quite reasonable advice to say: If it doesn’t taste good, don’t eat it! 

I discover something new: the Swainson’s thrush is one of the birds that feeds on this abundant berry. Probably I didn’t know its name when I read this entry before. This thrush has perhaps my favorite song, a beautiful watery warbling that seems to spiral through the air; I despaired of ever identifying as it seemed always to emanate from some mysterious cranny of the woods in the evening. Birdsongs are hard for me to look up — bird books, with their attempts at onomatopoeia, are hopeless dead ends for me. The radio came to my rescue, and if you  want to hear what they sound like, you can listen at this link:  http://birdnote.org/birdnote-transcript.cfm?id=223

They sound pretty enough on that recording, but it doesn’t really capture how they sound in the clear evening air in my back yard. I expect I’ll hear them any day now, as they arrive in mid-May.





the shortest story ever written

8 03 2008

Hemingway once wrote what he called the shortest story ever written:

For sale: baby shoes, never worn.

from http://www.slate.com/id/2185856/pagenum/2/





always engaged in revision

29 01 2008

[HIS LIFE WAS THE PRACTICE]

 

His   life   was    the    practice   of   forming   a   single

sentence  which,  as   he  grew    older,  he   tried   to

simplify,   reduce  its  compound-complex  structure

into one statement ruled by the  separate, inviolate

pronoun within which he attempted  to live,  always

engaged in revision and the act of becoming;  as the

distilled   statement   gradually   became  a   fleeting

inquiry, a mild interrogative, which he repeated and

refined,   making  it  increasingly  concise, almost, at

his  conclusion,  producing no  more  than  a  distinct

sound,  not  quite a word, less than a  cry,  which his

death  erased  leaving  the question mark hanging in

the   air,   like  a  broken  halo,  emblem  of  his  birth,

evolution and release: a full life.

STEPHEN DOBYNS

 

You can read another of Stephen Dobyns’ poems, Yellow Beak, here (recommended!): http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/16845

 

He is a poet and an author, including the detective stories featuring Charlie Bradshaw, each title of which has Saratoga as the first word.

 

Here’s 2 somethings from The Porcupine’s Kisses:

 

Look at this dark night: no stars, no moon. Look at this crowd of

people. Do you know one better than the other?

 

It isn’t yours until you can stand to see it break.

 

The Porcupine’s Kisses (Poets, Penguin)

 

His book of essays on poetry, Best Words, Best Order: Essays on Poetry, looks like a good way to pull myself further into this new world of the poem that I have started to enter. Here’s a bit more about Dobyns, from the Amazon.com review:

 

Dobyns, the author of eight volumes of poetry (and 17 novels), believes, like Baudelaire, that “each poem … has an optimum number of words [and] an optimum number of pieces of information … and to go over or under even by one word weakens the whole.” Poetry, he says, belongs to the reader, not the writer, and as readers, “at the close of the poem, we must not only feel that our expectations have been met but that our lives have been increased, if only to a small degree.” And, if that’s not challenge enough for the writer, add to it “that the conclusion of a given piece must appear both inevitable and surprising.”

Best Words, Best Order, 2nd Edition: Essays on Poetry

 

I’d add that a good story always seems that way — inevitable and surprising, just like a good life. Surprising at the time, but in hindsight, how could it have gone any other way?





talk with crowds and keep your virtue

25 01 2008

Say what you like about Rudyard Kipling — he doesn’t have the reputation in today’s world that I think he should — but his poems have a certain power. This poem on yellow paper, was framed and sitting on the floor in our hall closet when I was a kid — it defines a kind of manhood that I still aspire to. Occasionally, I almost measure up.

 

IF—

 

If you can keep your head when all about you

Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you

But make allowance for their doubting too,

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,

And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

 

If you can dream–and not make dreams your master,

If you can think–and not make thoughts your aim;

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

And treat those two impostors just the same;

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken

Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,

And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

 

If you can make one heap of all your winnings

And risk it all on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

And lose, and start again at your beginnings

And never breath a word about your loss;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

To serve your turn long after they are gone,

And so hold on when there is nothing in you

Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”

 

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,

Or walk with kings–nor lose the common touch,

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;

If all men count with you, but none too much,

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,

And–which is more–you’ll be a Man, my son!

–Rudyard Kipling