A Rehearsal of Wind

A December sky
left ducks to shiver
and take refuge
in the swamp grass
of September.
I walked backwards
on my journey
around the lake today,
feeling my sojourn
was one of rewind.

No amount of huddling
could bring summer back.
As a child of warmth,
I could not return to August sun.
It had faded into hiding,
where worms measure daylight
by the segment.

By Harding Stedler

ducks sheltering in grass on a winter pond


After graduating valedictorian of his high school graduating class, Harding Stedler went on to earn his B.S. in Ed., M.S in English Education, and his Ph.D. in English Education as well. He taught writing courses under the umbrella of the English Department in universities where he taught. In 1995, he retired from Shawnee State University in Portsmouth, Ohio, with 34 years of service. He now makes his home in Maumelle, Arkansas, and is an active member of the Poets’ Roundtable of Arkansas as well as the River Market Poets in Little Rock.

Photo by Ben Thomasian

Late Avalanche

Spring comes early this
year, showering Earth with buds,
after a waterless then smoke-filled
season, the sense of growth

Hopefully, there is no whirlwind
stirring, not a bank of snow
waiting silently around the corner,
plotting his swift assault

But if there is a snow to come,
all these sounds can be briefly
swallowed in muffled powder,
we will bud again.

By JD DeHart


JD DeHart is a writer and teacher. His poems have appeared in Gargouille and The Other Herald, among other publications. DeHart blogs at jddehartpoetry.blogspot.com.

Valley Forge

The wind bit hard at Valley Forge one Christmas.
Soldiers tied rags on their feet.
Red footprints wrote on the snow.
–Carl Sandburg, ‘Washington Monument by Night’

 the rolling hills of Valley ForgeJune is a beautiful time of the year in southeast Pennsylvania, although I readily acknowledge this region does not hold a patent on that distinction. But by June in these parts, the green flag of spring is fully unfurled, and the May flowers that were brought by the April showers have been here a month, not yet wilted by the heat of the ensuing summer season. The streams are full, life abounds, possibilities seem endless and real. Maybe that is why June is the most popular month for weddings. It was for us, June the first in fact. But most popular choice does not mean the only choice, and as it happens, the month of August is the second most popular for nuptials, obviously not just in Pennsylvania, but nationwide. A mildly interesting factoid at best, but it got me thinking about the seasons. And since I was hiking on a fall morning through Valley Forge National Park, thoughts of the significance of the changing seasons here specifically.

The image of Valley Forge that first comes to mind for most people, is the harsh winter George Washington and the Continental Army suffered through in 1777-78. A defining moment in our history, and an example of the spirit of America we still draw strength from today. The house that Washington used as his headquarters that bitter winter still at stands a lovely spot at the confluence of Valley Creek and the Schuylkill River. The stark beauty of the snow covered rolling hills and open meadows in winter is both evocative and enduring. As you drive along Route 23, a two lane road that runs through the center of the park today, you often encounter whitetail deer, present today here in far greater numbers than in Colonial times. Washington’s troops were not rationed with venison, but their salvation did come from nature.

As John McPhee explains in his book,The Founding Fish, the spring run of shad from the Atlantic Ocean thru Delaware Bay, and up the Delaware River to the Schuylkill at Valley Forge, was the manna for the Continental Army. Washington himself maintained a shad fishing operation on the Potomac at Mount Vernon in Virginia, and was familiar with the species. And that would have included knowledge of the sometimes cyclical nature of the species, the abundance of any given year’s migration being somewhat a matter of chance. But the shad arrived along the Schuylkill in sufficient quantities in 1778 to literally flesh out his emaciated company of soldiers.

currents of the Schuylkill RiverBut in the late spring and early summer, the rolling hills and fields bisected by the currents of the Schuylkill River are a natural treasure as well as an historical one. This was not unappreciated by our first President, who despite the doubtless grim images he retained from that encampment, returned to Valley Forge during a break from the grueling work of the Continental Congress in 1787. In addition to touring the former sites of his army’s winter encampment, he went fishing. Fishing in the Schuylkill River for perch, and nearby streams for trout. Anglers note here, they were most likely white perch (Morone americana), free to roam upstream from the Delaware estuary and river, unencumbered by the numerous yet to be constructed dams, the same circumstance that allowed the shad to run upstream as well. Point being, it is an enchanting place, which even a bitter wartime winter couldn’t totally obscure.

The Revolutionary War Archives, maintained by the Sons of Liberty, records these notes on Washington’s visit, from the pages of his own diary. In Washington’s own words: “Monday, 30th, July. In company with Mr. Govern’ Morris went into the neighborhood of Valley Forge to Widow Moore’s a fishing at who house we lodged.” This structure (Widow Moore’s), still a private residence just outside of nearby Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, is located a short distance from both French Creek and Valley Creek. Even today these are trout streams, although not the original native brook trout Washington would have caught, but more lately introduced browns and rainbows. And although I have not caught the same trout here as Washington, I probably have caught some in the same places. The house that Washington used as his headquarters that bitter winter still at stands a beautiful spot at the confluence of Valley Creek and the Schuylkill, probably

Washington continues in his journal: “Tuesday, 31st, July. Before Breakfast I rode to Valley Forge and over the whole cantonment & works of the American Army in the winter of 1777-­1778 and on my return to the Widow Moore’s found Mr. & Mrs. Rob’ Morris. Spent the day there fishing & lodged at the same place.” As part of the same trip, he traveled east, and fished a bit in the Delaware River near Trenton. I find this trip to be of particular interest personally, both from my point of view as an historian and an angler. Washington, only ten years after the fact, returned on a short pilgrimage to his old camping grounds. Millions have done so since, including me. And I have frequently fished these same waters, from the Delaware to the Schuylkill Valley, These serene and placid waters I fish here were once troubled waters indeed, and standing thigh deep in these waters you can’t help but feel the pull of both the current, and the past.

The beauty of what is Valley Forge National Park today, is due in large part to the strangeness of the this landscape in this part of the country, where open prairie-like fields have long since been converted to farms, then largely to subdivisions. If there isn’t another “Liberty Mews” or “Freedom Fields” development in planning nearby, I’ll eat my three-cornered hat. But in the park, the vistas and field ecosystems remain, and wildlife thrives. Some like the whitetail deer have flourished to a fault. Their burgeoning population has caused management problems and wreaked uniquely ungulate havoc on the local gardens in the communities bordering the park. Smaller mammals like squirrel, raccoon, porcupine, skunk, and opossum and sundry smaller critters are common. An occasional beaver or river otter is sometimes spotted in the river. And rarely, a black bear makes an appearance, and the media takes note.

It is a warm mid-day, but as I make my way from the fields to the tree covered ridge to seek shade with a view, I see several deer browsing unnaturally on the slope to my left. I wonder at what point they will retreat into the wooded glen on the far side of the ridge, and that does not occur until I am far too close to them. Looking lean, but not unhealthy, they slowly move into the woods, stopping to look back in my direction several times. I sit against an old Sycamore, one of the trees native here from before colonial times. Wild flowers are interspersed in patches amongst the tall grass, and blackbirds and swallowtail butterflies materialize as I relax my gaze into the landscape.

A cottontail races across the path I just ascended, disappearing into the tall grass. The grass stirs in the slight breeze, and before long I become drowsy from it’s rhythmic waving, and from straining to discern more deer, or perhaps a fox on the far ridge, but nothing moves in front of me, save the grass, butterflies and blackbirds. A solitary squirrel chirping at something breaks my reverie and and places my impending nap on hold. I stand and begin to walk again, topping the small spine of earth and following its slope in the direction of the river. A chipmunk with a peanut in his mouth darts in front of me, halting my progress until he scoots away. Chipmunks are indigenous to this place, peanuts are not. I guess that he didn’t seem wild enough to someone to fall under the auspices of the “Do Not Feed the Wildlife” signs.

The point on the river where I am heading is where Valley Creek, a trout stream, empties into the Schuylkill, a coolwater/warmwater fishery. It was at this point very early one June morning thirty some years ago, that this groom and half of my wedding party went fishing. Not for white perch or trout, as did the Father of our Country, but feisty smallmouth bass. Given the aforementioned beauty here at this time of year, a late morning ceremony at the church, and my general disdain for “traditional” bachelor parties, it was tuxedos at ten, but waders at five. And if you’ve never lipped a fresh from the river, two pound smallmouth and held it up against the glow of a rising sun on your wedding day, I heartily recommend it. But less dramatically, if you find yourself near Philadelphia at some point, why not plan to be among the one and a quarter million people who will visit here each year, as Carl Sandburg once did? And if you do, bring your camera and fishing gear. You will make good use of both.


Photos by Kenneth Emmerling and Wayne Heinze

spring will arrive

little girl with snowflakes in spring as she leaps off the bus, our oldest daughter announces that spring will be arriving in three days, and my whole body leans in to receive the news. i can feel my spine lengthen like a long, peaceful breath. i stand taller, easier. have we arrived? the winter has been mild but lifeless, punctuated with moments of teasing warmth. i have nearly convinced myself this is how it will always be: a day of relief, followed by the long swallow of dreary afternoons. i am tired of chai tea, sinking into the couch, quilts too heavy to kick aside, fogged glass, scarves. the other day i wore a necklace that suffocated me. my neck broke out in hives. even my body says: we need space.

the grey has gone on for days, for miles.

i am a porch person. i come from porch people. i can still feel the sharp sting of grandma k’s green plastic porch carpet on my knees, and i do believe i learned much of how to become a human being on that porch: how to listen, to share, to play, to read, to love. i can still smell the sweet musk of cigarettes from grandma gorbett’s back porch, where dozens of us gathered with coffee and chips ahoy every sunday, a tribe of mishmash cousins and aunts and somebody’s boyfriend and somebody’s neighbor. last year, when we built our own house, a wide front porch was first on my list. i think my soul is set to the rhythm of rocking chairs and night crickets, their echoing song as good a mantra as any: shanti, shanti, shanti. peace, peace, peace.

i would like to unzip, unswaddle, unswathe, wake up, hike up, stretch out along the length of a porch and stay awhile.

the sky has been blue for the past two days, with clouds mountainous and otherworldly.

the trees have not bloomed yet, and i know it will happen overnight, which itself is such a surprising feat. we often think of spring as a flirty, flippant season: color and vibrancy, spring break, spring fling, spring has sprung. but there is such immense work involved in bringing forth blooming life from months of brittle desolation. the blossom comes not in spite of the winter, but because of it, straight through it. the dormancy is where the work is, and unseen, on the molecular level, in a silent language only the marrow of the branches know.

how we vastly underestimate the humble, exhausting work of change and rebirth, in all of god’s creation.

how often are miracles arduous, and miracles all the same.


Coreen Schaefer is an educator and writer living in Cleveland, Ohio. She currently serves as a dean at an all-girls high school. Coreen oftentimes sees the majesty of nature through the lens of young children, as she is a Girl Scout leader and mom of three. Her daily prayer is to follow Mary Oliver’s lead: “Pay attention. Be astonished. Write about it.” She keeps a blog of reflection at world with round shoulders.

Photo by Richard Semik

Bonsai

Once, to sell myself
I sent a bonsai,
The logic being,
You have the seeds, the tools,
All you need is me to get the thing blooming,
And the man who got that became closer,
Invited me to his family’s home
Where the bonsai was on show
Looking amazingly healthy,
Amazingly, with all its leaves, midwinter.
When I saw this he and his wife coughed
And his wife said they all fell off
But knowing you were coming
I made paper ones
And stuck them on.
That, to me, was love.
And I’ve had loves where leaves fall off,
But no one makes new ones.
And some bonsai do lose their leaves.

By Henry Berry


Henry Berry lives in a rambling old house in the rural Vale of York, England. His writing focuses on external and interior, mental landscapes inspired by intimate contact with the countryside immediately around his home. Click here to read Henry Berry’s Blog.