Our first flock of evening grosbeaks alights in the apple tree below the terrace this morning. The return of these winter birds forms one of the small markings on the sundial of our natural year. Each such little first-of-its-kind event records an advance in the seasons — the first ‘okalee’ of a returning redwing in the last days of February, the first song of the woodcock in March, the first bluet of spring in April, the first rasp of a katydid’s wing in August, the first heath aster blooming in September, the first red maple leaf drifting down Hampton Brook, the first skim of ice along the edges of the pond, the first falling snowflake. They are all small indications of the wider, profounder changes taking place in the sky and on the land.

To Know a Place

couple walking along autumn pathHow many of us still feel the grip of place — the long span of a life traced out in the growth of trees planted by someone you knew, a family history measured in memory and change, the sudden clutch of knowing that it will end, life and memory both, that love and sorrow cannot be separated? To learn the names of trees and grasses, the times of their seeding and flowering, the glimpse they offer into the grand cycles of nature is to see your own life written there. To know the geography of a place is to know why we have always made stories in which our own human stuff is indivisible from the stones and creeks and hills and growing things.

—Kim Mahood in Position Doubtful: Mapping Landscapes and Memories, Scribe Press, 2016.
Photo by Cathy Yeulet

To Understand a Story

footprints on sand dunes in death valleyTo fully understand any story you must begin with its setting — in this case the spare and aching Great Basin country running east from the Sierra Nevada, a land that rises and falls in an endless iteration of mountains and valleys. A march of desert, 200,000 square miles of it, backlit crenellated hills stretching north and south: a touch of trees in the high places, a drift of luminous clouds across empty territory, of lonely highways through deep and lovely valleys. A threadbare blanket of ragged shrubs draped across the land, the scent of dust and sage in the afternoon air…

—Christopher Norment in Relics of a Beautiful Sea, University of North Carolina Press, 2014.
Photo of Stovepipe Wells sand dunes, Death Valley National Park, California, USA, by Richard Semik.

Freeing Your Life with Words

woman in a park writing in her diaryThere were baby cardinals in the apple tree that spring, scraggly and brownish. We began bird watching and were even visited by an indigo and a painted bunting. Clarence planted winter wheat around the yard and soybeans in the summer so I wouldn’t feel boxed in by tall corn. I enjoyed watching the soybeans sprout, grow and develop fuzzy pods. Sometimes tornadoes passed by…
I wrote poems about morning in our yard and about light. I wrote tornado poems. I wrote about Clarence and his wife Grace. I set a stool in a corner of the yard looking over the field sloping toward the woods and wrote poems about corn and wheat and seeds and crickets. I wrote about my own overgrown garden…

Places can inspire poetry… I look for places made of poetry for me, places alive with history, wildlife and mystery. Then I move in if I can.

—Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge in poem crazy: freeing your life with words, Three Rivers Press, 1996.
Photo by Valentin Simeonov

So Roomy is the Universe

moonrise over harvested fieldBut near, the crickets are heard in the grass, chirping from everlasting to everlasting, a mosquito sings near my ear, and the humming of a dor-bug drowns all the noise of the village, so roomy is the universe. The moon comes out of the mackerel cloud, and the traveller rejoices. How can a man write the same thoughts by the light of the moon, resting his book by the side of a remote potato-field, that he does by the light of the sun, on his study table? The light is but a luminousness. My pencil seems to move through a creamy, mystic medium. The moonlight is rich and somewhat opaque, like cream, but the daylight is thin and blue, like skimmed milk. I am less conscious than in the presence of the sun: my instincts have more influence.

—Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), June 18, 1853, in The Journal: 1837-1861, Edited by Damon Searls, New York Review Books, 2009.
Photo by Miloszg