Poetourism

ThetfordVillageStore

This past week I was acting tour guide for a new found poetry group called Found Poetry Frontiers, a spin-off group from the PoMoSco project devised by fellow Found Poet (and Vermonter) Susan Powers Bourne.

Each week, the designated guide explores his or her local area and then creates found poems about it to share with the group. Meanwhile, other participating poets can share poems they create about the same area.

This week, I wrote seven poems about Thetford, Vermont, ranging in topics from its history to its topography to its politics to its poets. You can see the ones I wrote here. You can see the full Thetford collection here (including those of other participating poets).

While I enjoyed the process of mining my town and its history for found poetry, I think I enjoyed reading what others created even more, seeing my “hometown” through others’ eyes. Here’s one of my favorites.

On Monday, we’re headed to Mumbai, India. Are you interesting in joining as poet, reader, or both? You can read the details here.

Reading Challenge month 6 ~ A book your mom loves

paddle-to-the-sea

Stumped, I tell you. I was stumped.

Mom loved to read. We all did. That was plain as day. My growing up houses had overflowing bookshelves and stacks of reading material on kitchen counter tops, desks, and bed side tables. Mom always had a half-devoured book by her chair and a to-be-read shelf in the bedroom. We exchanged books through the mail in regular shipments between Florida and Vermont. “This one’s worth reading,” she’d say. “Have you read the latest Khaled Hosseini?”

But one she particularly loved? A treasured book? A favorite book?

I skrinched my brain hard to think of one and felt so deeply sad that I didn’t know. Isn’t that something you should know about your own mother?

I could make an educated guess. She had favorite authors: Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro, Carl Hiassen. As a kid she loved dog and horse books: The Black Stallion, Black Beauty, Lad a Dog.

Then I remembered Paddle-to-the-Sea, a book she had given Hyla years ago. I mean, she gave Hyla books all the time, but those were ones she found in her travels that she thought would appeal to Hyla’s interests. This one was one she’d also had as a child.

A loved book.

Paddle-to-the-Sea is the story of a little wooden canoe carved by a boy in the Canadian wilderness, just northwest of Lake Superior. He sets the canoe (and its carved paddler) onto a snow-covered hill near his home and waits for spring. When the melt begins, Paddle slides down the hill into a river that feeds the lake, and so begins his journey through the great lakes and out to the sea.

He follows the river, the waves, the currents, the storms, the waterfalls, the locks. We follow along.

Paddle doesn’t speak. He doesn’t have thoughts that we’re aware of. It’s always clear that he’s a something—not a someone—and yet I developed such a fondness for Paddle. I was rooting for him all the way. I worried for him when he was temporarily trapped in a beaver pond, or approaching the blade of a river-side saw mill.

It’s a short book. I read it in half-an-hour in a dwindling afternoon in July. I read it with a voice in my head. A voice something like my own, reading her child a story on some long gone July afternoon.

A story is a current. A story is a voice. A story is a wave, a journey, a seeking. A story is a memory and a thread. A story is the way someone’s love is joined to someone else.

I’ve got a cat on my shoulder as I type this. And my own girl on the porch swing. She’s deep in her own book on a perfect summer afternoon. What’s her favorite book?

I’ll go ask.

~~~~~~~

Our books for month 6:

We’d love to know what you read this month. Please leave a comment telling us about it!

The category for the coming month is:

Month7

We’ll see you back here on August 11!

~~~~~~~~
This post is part of our multi-year reading challenge. We’d love to have you join us for the whole challenge or any portion. Take a look at the checklist to see the current category (in green). We’ll announce the next category on the 9th of each month.

Friday Five ~ Or is it Saturday?

The Fourth is tomorrow, so the long weekend starts today and that has me a bit confused seeing as it feels like a Saturday, but the radio schedule sounds like a Friday and, come Sunday, I’ll think it’s Saturday, too, and be disappointment to know that Monday is truly Monday.

If that makes any sense.

Maybe making sense isn’t what this weekend is about. Maybe it’s about staring at the clouds, humming with the bees, listening to goats browse, falling into a book, looking for shooting stars, and watching a marshmallow turn just the perfect shade of gold.

While I look for my coherence, here are a few things of interest from the past week. I hope you all have a wonderful holiday, weekend, Friday, Saturday, Sunday!

~ The birds now have plenty to eat, so we have a new visitor to the bird feeders, to Gryfe’s endless fascination.

Gorging

~ We planted a sour cherry tree last spring (and named him Apsley, after you know who). Last year, Apsley gave us three cherries. This year, I count at least a dozen, and they’re just stating to turn red. I can’t wait until I have enough to can the way my great grandmother did, but this year I think we’ll just eat them straight from the tree and remember how it felt the first time we were surprised by the shuddery jolt of a sour cherry.

Reddening

~ Last Friday I took Hyla and her best friend, Leah, to Boston to see The Weepies. They put on a beautiful show and it was such a treat to be there, but the best part of the whole thing was the wide grins on those girls’ faces each time they heard the first notes of their next favorite song. Which, basically, was every song. Here’s one absolutely gorgeous example from that show.

At the Wilbur

~ I made myself just one promise in this, my 50th year, and that was to become more serious about my writing. Specifically, to write more poems and start submitting them for publication. I was prepared for early rejections, so was thrilled to have two poems accepted from my first submission to a small journal called Straight Forward Poetry. I’m still pinching myself. Many grateful thanks to Straight Forward for giving me a much-needed confidence boost!

Issue Nine!

~ I finished reading a terrific book this week. It’s Kate Atkinson’s A God in Ruins. Have you read it, too? It’s been a long time since I read a novel that I admired so much. The beautiful sentences, the fully-dimensioned characters, the natural dialog, the intricate yet clear plotting, the rich details. If you haven’t read it yet, I won’t spoil any of it here for you. I can’t wait to read everything else this author’s written.

So… now… the sun is out after a week of rain. This morning, after cleaning the house, we dragged the kayaks out of storage and maybe I’ll find myself floating on a river sometime soon. The hammock and the fire pit are in place. There are hard things in the world. There are easy things. Sometimes it’s not easy to tell the difference. But there’s a book to read, an album to put on the stereo, a poem to write, a dog’s soft ears to stroke, and, if we’re lucky, fireworks exploding high over our heads and just a bit beneath the stars.

Will ye no come back again

The Devil in Disguise

Most of the time, things aren’t as complicated as you worry they’ll be, but it’s also true that things are rarely as simple as you hope they’ll be.

A kitten. A cat. A small furry being with big eyes and ears and an even bigger personality. A system of organs and arteries and veins. A way of being part of a family. You can never clearly see the end from the beginning.

Langourous

We brought Hudson home at four months old, a “brother” to the little grey kitten that Hyla wanted. Different breeds, they fought and loved each other like brothers. They yinged and yanged.

Hudson was tiny. Big ears, big wide eyes. Shy and scared (both kittens had been raised to that point in cages at the breeder’s home—our wide-open living room was a terror for them at first), he bloomed into magnificent purring if you cuddled him in a blanket cave.

At first I thought his purr would be the biggest part of his personality. How little I knew.

We didn’t see eye to eye, this cat and I. He grew up and he was demanding, pushy, acquisitive. He purred loudly. He meowed loudly. He claimed the dog’s bed in front of the fire as his own. He stole food from plates (and the dog’s bowl, while the dog was trying to eat). His kingdom included the kitchen counters and the sink, the beds, the pillows, Michael’s lap the minute he sat down after chores.

He loved bread, waffles, pancakes. He tasted (and ruined) more than one proofing dinner roll and draining goat cheese. He’d chew through a package of biscuits or cookies just to have a taste.

He loved water. Take a shower in the morning and you’d hear Hudson “ree-owing” outside the bathroom door, demanding to be let in so that he could lick the shower floor clean of droplets. If you wanted to call him out of hiding, all you needed to do was turn on the tub faucet and he’d magically appear, leap onto the edge of the tub, and start lapping at the stream of water.

He strutted around knowing full well this house, this life, was his.

He apologized to no one. I resented and admired him. I wanted to love him the way I’d loved all the other cats before him, but things are rarely as simple as we hope they’ll be.

This cat with changing names—Acorn, Thistle, Whirligig, Purmort, Hudson*—often brought out the worst in me (impatience, anger, frustration), but he was always just who he was. No compromising. He could be entirely willful and frustrating one minute, then on your lap the next, exposing his belly for scratches the way a dog would, luxuriating in being touched, purring like a perfectly tuned engine.

Hyla and the Aby

That cat. He drove me nuts. But of course I loved him. We all loved him. And he loved us. Particularly Michael, who is far more patient than I am.

That cat. He was just nine when he died on Saturday, but he packed a lot of everything into those nine years.

He’s out under the big maple tree now. We buried him with a pancake and some baguette and some fur from his brother.

When he was little, so very little, he used to chase me when I went upstairs to the bedrooms. I’d be on the stairs, just a few steps from the bottom landing, and he’d bolt up next to me, rise up on his tiny rear legs, and bap-bap-bap-bap-bap my ankles with his soft front paws, claws retracted. We called it “Hudsonizing.” Unexpected and uniquely him. He did it constantly during his kittenish years, then more rarely.

It never failed to make me smile. I’m smiling right now. And also crying.

~~~~~~
* We eventually settled on “Hudson,” short for Mr. Hudson, the Scottish butler on the original Upstairs, Downstairs television series. The title of this post comes from the title of one of the show’s episodes, which featured Mr. Hudson in a visit to his native land, and is also the title of a poem/song, long used as a Scottish farewell.

Reading Challenge month 5 ~ A book that became a movie

Forest light

Far From the Madding Crowd, page 1, paragraph 1. We meet Gabriel Oak and his broad smile: “the corners of his mouth spread till they were within an unimportant distance of his ears, his eyes were reduced to chinks, and diverging wrinkles appeared round them, extending his countenance like the rays in a rudimentary sketch of the rising sun.”

Bathsheba Everdene arrives in her “waggon” two pages later. Momentarily stopped, and believing she’s unobserved, she unwraps the looking-glass packed among the rest of her belongings, surveys herself, and smiles, and again the light arrives (recalling Gabriel’s rudimentary sketch?): “It was a fine morning, and the sun lighted up to scarlet glow the crimson jacket she wore, and painted a soft lustre upon her bright face and dark hair.”

Five pages later, Hardy is describing the light of the twinkling stars, the color of the stars, the “sovereign brilliancy of Sirius” that “pierced the eye with a steely glitter, the star called Capella was yellow, Aldebaran and Betelgueux shone with a fiery red.”

It was around then I began to notice that, whatever the prominence of Gabriel, Bathsheba, Sargeant Troy, Mr. Boldwood, and the other human characters of Hardy’s tale, light is the true protagonist of Far From the Madding Crowd.

Once I started noticing it, light was everywhere. It streamed through a knot-hole in a folding door, “a dim light, yellow as saffron”. It rose and faded, appeared and disappeared, flapped “over the scene, as if it reflected from phosphorescent wings crossing the sky.” It shone pale-y, and brilliantly. It was scarlet and orange and yellow and white. It glittered and bristled, obscured and revealed. It cast shadows in strange places and illuminated where shadows normally are.

It came as sun light, moon light, star light, candle light, lantern light, fire light, hearth light, lightning.

At Gabriel’s lowest moment, when he realizes his entire flock of sheep—his livelihood, all he possesses—is lost over a cliff’s edge, he surveys the scene and Hardy describes not Oak’s posture, face, or feelings, but the light:

Over [an oval pond] hung the attenuated skeleton of a chrome-yellow moon, which had only a few days to last—the morning star dogging her on the left hand. The pool glittered like a dead man’s eye, and as the world awoke a breeze blew, shaking and elongating the reflection of the moon without breaking it, and turning the image of the star to a phosphoric streak upon the water. All of this Oak saw and remembered.”

Later, imminent tragedy (the loss of a season’s harvest) is averted when Gabriel notices “on his left hand an unusual light,” a glow that indicated that somewhere, not far away in that dark Wessex night, something was on fire.

Later still, June 1, sheep-shearing day and everyone who matters has gathered at The Great Barn to shear the sheep (oh, you must read at least the start of this chapter!). And then, when the work is done and they’ve all assembled at the long table for a celebration meal, the sun is going down, and it is “still the beaming time of evening…the western lines of light raking the earth without alighting upon it to any extent.” A gentle caress of light, a tender almost-touch as the light leaves the day: “the shearers’ lower parts becoming steeped in embrowning twilight, whilst their heads and shoulders were still enjoying the day, touched with a yellow of self-sustained brilliancy that seemed inherent rather than acquired.”

Can you read that and not picture the moment, feel the sun on your own shoulders, feel the tiredness and glow of day’s end when good work is behind you and the air is cooling?

Over and over, light kept stopping me. I no longer really cared what would happen to the other characters, though I assumed, this being Hardy, it would all end in tears.

Not so. I won’t spoil the ending for you if you haven’t read it, but this is an early Hardy novel. It ends with a glow, with a raised lantern whose “rays fell upon a group of male figures gathered upon the gravel in front, who…set up a loud ‘Hurrah!”

~~~~~~

As I write this, I’m sitting in a strange-to-me room and the light is strange, too. It’s coming in at angles I’m not used to, bouncing off of neighboring houses and in through unfamiliar windows. And it’s slithering over my hands as if to hold them, tug them, pull them away from the keyboard and out into the world.

But I can’t stop thinking of the light in Far From the Madding Crowd. The light fashioned by words alone, in paragraphs and broken lines. The light that sparkles on the ocean. The light filtering through the trees to the ferns on the forest floor. The light of headlights sweeping across the yard as the car pulls in to the driveway. The light flickering on a white screen in a darkened room. The light through venetian blinds, lying like glowing bars on a wooden floor.

The light of the morning. And the dimming of the day.

~~~~~~~

Our books for month 5:

We’d love to know what you read this month. Please leave a comment telling us about it!

The category for the coming month is:

Month6

We’ll see you back here on July 11!

~~~~~~~~
This post is part of our multi-year reading challenge. We’d love to have you join us for the whole challenge or any portion. Take a look at the checklist to see the current category (in green). We’ll announce the next category on the 9th of each month.

Pasture perfect

Gate

It took some time, as most good things do, but we finally expanded the goats’ pasture this spring by a large degree.

The three original goats came from what was essentially a dry lot—a spotlessly clean pen where they were fed a mixture of hays and other farmer-provided food year-round. They were healthy and gorgeous and knew nothing about eating the way goats were made to eat: browsing.

The pen we put them in when they arrived was fairly dry also because it was newly formed and nothing much was growing. We spread a bunch of meadow seed and, between that and nature, the pen grew a nice carpet of green stuff. The girls explored and gradually began to graze. When Willow was pregnant, she’d eat anything and became a champion nibbler of stinging nettle and burdock. Her sons followed her lead. Everyone else took note. Now they’re all champion grazers. But it’s still not browsing. Goats love woody, stemmy, leafy things that grow tall, above their heads.

Also, it’s always bothered me that they were penned. Caged. I know we can’t just let them roam the valley. They’ll get lost or hurt or eaten. It’s just not feasible. They have a really nice pen. A really nice barn. They have most everything a goat would want. Sure, they don’t have a tower, but you can’t have everything, right?

But now they have a pasture. Room to explore. Room to get lost in. Room to get away from each other if they wanted it.

I think it’s actually a bit intimidating for them in a way, and, let’s face it, a lot more work than just lounging around the barn, waiting for us to deliver the hay, but they’re out there, exploring, nibbling, stretching their necks to reach for a tantalizing leaf, just the way the goats are supposed to do. We can’t wait to see how this affects the milk and cheese.

For now, it’s just a pleasure to watch them wandering into the brush, tasting and savoring, and then napping in the tall grass. And when I go into the pasture with them, we’re still a herd together, exploring.

p.s. The addition of the new fence gave us a new little “pocket” of space between the existing pen and the new pasture. M did some mental figuring and bought some fence posts. We spent Saturday clearing out a new fence line, digging post holes, and stringing some polywire between the two fences. Now we have a new enclosed bee yard, surrounded by electric fencing. Will it be enough to dissuade a bear? We’ll find out soon. We bring the new bees home tomorrow.

Complication

New line

Switch

Borderline

Altered view

New fence line

Brave Westie

New digs

First nibbles

Willow vs. honeysuckle

Bear proof?

Fragile

Doris watches

Warm impermanence

As I watched

Not too long ago I was whining about the cold weather. And then the switch was thrown and now we can’t keep up with lawn.

I told myself to watch for it this year: the transition from winter to spring to summer. And I paid attention, darn it, I did, and yet the change still happened without my noticing.

Somehow, without the interference of time, the goldfinches changed out of their chalky pale green overcoats into bright yellow blazers. The cherry tree was suddenly weighed down by a garland of pink blossoms. The morning light slid into the bedroom windows before the alarm clock sang.

When H was a baby, we stared at her softly fuzzed head for hours, swearing to each other and ourselves that we’d miss as little as possible of her growing up. So how come I didn’t notice the moment when I could no longer pick her up? When was the exact minute when she became taller than I am?

Everything feels full of change right now.

I know. I know. The only constant is change, or some such rubbish. But you know how sometimes things just chug along quietly and in a known way for months or even years on end? Those are not these months. Not these years.

A boy we’ve known from infancy is suddenly tall, confident and in control of his long limbs, heading off to college in the fall.

The girl we call our own is taking center stage in her school musical and somehow knows how to do the final bows like a pro.

The dog is seven years old today and still looks like a puppy, except for the new frizzle of grey fur under his chin.

One member of my reading group is moving far away. Another is selling her beautiful house. Another is in Armenia. Another spends half the year in Arizona. When is a group no longer a group?

The rose-breasted grosbeak appeared at the feeder on Monday—after a winter away—wondering why we hadn’t filled the feeder lately (he hadn’t heard about the bear, apparently). When did the winter birds go and the summer birds arrive?

The orchids on the windowsill by my desk keep budding, against my expectations. I see the buds. Every day I see the buds get larger. Every day I think, If I just sit still long enough and pay attention, I’ll see this bud open. And I never do.

It’s as if I can’t look hard enough, or I that my eyes register only the most blatant changes. That there’s magic happening behind every rock, inside every tree, beneath my feet and when I look away, however briefly, I miss the trick. The hand is too fast, the nickel is hidden behind the ear, the card up the sleeve.

The only thing I’ve ever been able to watch and see the progress in front of my eyes is the rising or setting sun.

The sun. The one thing I’m not supposed to look directly at.

Well. Things will change whether or not I see them. Even while I’ve tapped away on this keyboard, the light has changed and afternoon is turning into evening. I can’t pin anything down. Every moment is rippling away. And you and I, right now, are still here, listening to an old tune and thinking what to make for dinner.