Thursday, October 29, 2015

What to do about trees

What to do about trees, for she had room:
Have an orchard. But isn't that thinking
About twenty years ahead? So she went
To the tool room for her spade in November;

Took that and four apple saplings down
Onto the flat by the road, and began. Years she

Did this, working up and around the rise
Of better ground. Pears, cherries, quince

Abounded, but the plums got blight, and had to
Be started over. She was too old to harvest
Or even get shade from nut trees, they're so slow;
Uncoupling crop from objective, she anyway set
Them out, along with all the rest. Last, she 

Thought of mulberries. The hens could have
Really used those. Oh, well. She ordered,
Even this late in life, and planted once more,
Even as those old hens looked on amazed:
Something to offer folks not yet alive.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The rhythm of the work

The rhythm of the work is to set down
Her padded bench, a flat, and trowel at the
End of a bed and drop as if in prayer,

Reach for the trowel (bent for her old
Hand at right angles), dig, then grope for a pot.
You may see each hole is deep and wide enough
To exactly take the root ball. She carefully
Holds this in her shade, tips the damp
Mass in, packs with trowel, repeats all -- three

Or four times -- then stands. Behind her, some
Four plants glow green in any six feet of bed.

The rhythm of this work, when best, resembles
How monks or nuns in supplication glide
Easily to the floor, centered, unconcerned

With body or mind, then rise, then glide again,
Outcomes not sought, nor merit earned.
Right to the end of the bed she goes,
Kneeling to simply do with her rough hands.

Just about her favorite thing

Just about her favorite thing is to
Unseal bright papery packets and
Set out flats of germination soil
The length of her bench, then scratch in parallel

Along each flat, with a stick, five lines for seeds.
By and by, the covered infant sprouts appear;
Or don't, in which case repeat until satisfactory.
Under her grow lights, not great ones, but good enough,
The seedlings make two leaves and then two more:

Here she makes more flats, with this time in
Each flat eighteen pots, filled with dampened
Rooting soil. A hole in each pot waits

For one tiny plant; the soil to be pressed
Around the taproot and tiny rootlets, then
Very gently watered -- from below, pouring
Over the flat's lip a tea of comfrey.
Really she overdoes it, making hundreds,
In every kind, of vegetable starts, far more
Than she can plant, but is fine with that; most
Everyone she knows will willingly give them homes.

That's her means, in old age, of making
Happen a kind of revolution. There are
In towers far away, those who would
Not have us eat what will not make them rich.
Go, little plants! Feed free souls free food.




Thursday, October 22, 2015

What's more than luck

Padding along among roots and stobs in shade,
I take the north-slope path to see old friends:
red huckleberry and mountain hemlock

subsisting on nurse logs amid moss; vanilla
leaf, false Solomon's seal, sword fern, bracken,
sorrel, twinflower, wild ginger, salmonberry,

maiden-hair fern, ninebark, viney maple.
They seem well; it's steep shade and deep
mouldering duff. Enough rain has alighted

upon this slope for centuries to build tall firs,
straight cedars, twisted, hoary, wrangling maples.
Yet the riverbed below seems troubled, shrunken.

Stones I never see have suddenly shown
themselves, shouldering past dried caddis cases
and empty snail shells, standing in dessicated air.

Here no trout hide from tiring current,
awaiting mayflies. No osprey hovers above,
awaiting trout. The river has shifted from

its bed, lifted past every thirst, and gone
to fall somewhere in the world as flood.
A slug has blundered into dust in broiling

sun and is in trouble. Not one for caressing
slugs, I break two twigs for chopsticks, and move
the mollusk to, I hope, a better place.

In fellow feeling I expound to the slug
my sunstruck orchard, panting flock,
failing well and kitchen garden hard as ice.

We'll all of us start shifting soon, I tell it,
as ants shift from a burning glass. From here on
you and I will need what's more than luck.

Monday, October 19, 2015

There are rooms in a life

There are rooms in a life that may sometimes
Have someone in them; but they are guests there.
Even when one most loves, one may find,
Really, a solitude that begins at this wall,
Ends at that wall; the rest is not entirely ours.

As years turn and suns, moons and stars
Rise up and fall like rain by every window
Even one's hands will shrivel soon enough

Right at the ends of one's arms, as hands
Of strangers. But to fret at this discovery
Of emptiness arrived at and emptiness 
Made clear by moon's dance with water,
Sun's dance with dust, by endings never sought

In even that one room that is one's own, is
Not worthy of even that we call our life.

All our guests deserve from us restraint.

Little enough we can offer them as it is;
In a short while each vacates each room,
Feeling for the light switch as each goes.
Evening comes. Do not grieve the door.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Walking four miles

Walking four miles with my friend is about
Ailing knees and ankles. Also hope. We do
Laugh about this, but we are being stalked, we
Know. So we walk. I need black walnuts
In my forage bag, for dye; her small dog
Needs exercise to keep from growing frantic;
Good reasons, but we need no reasons.

For years we have wanted little talk; just to go
On for several hours, in file or by two as the trails
Unreel before and behind. Perhaps a stop by
Rapids or a view with hippie nut bars and a sip.

May be another mountain will call to us soon,
If we can trust our knees. If not, may be we'll
Let our knees lie, and try it anyway. Wilderness
Even, and if we come not back, do not mourn.
Say instead: those two were what friends are.






Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Wassail

In August, but this year in July, Gravensteins:
golden fleshed, generous, kind to cook,
ciderer and ring-dryer. She tries everything,

but mostly butter: a large crockpotful
of peeled rings, quartered, lightly cloved,
cinnamoned and nutmegged will make

six pints and one short jelly jar. After
that, the old Egremont Russet, Cortland,
Honeycrisp and Jonagold come all together;

what can she do but slice them all in quarters,
toss them into her dedicated shredder,
pour pomace into a burlap bag

and hang that, with her father's pulley
and old hemp rope, to a maple branch?
Juice will run for hours, collecting

in a tub beneath; at evening she dips gold,
pouring through filter and funnel into quarts --
forty-five glass jars or more, most years.

Last, she'll think of cider (but not too much),
making in a cool jug by adding wine yeast.
In seven days or less she will sing to trees.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Much, much more

Rattling around in her potting shed once
she came across packets five years old;
had not heart to toss the things away.

Popping the lid from an empty parsley shaker,
she tipped the packets' contents in and stirred.
Ten flats she sowed at random with this mix,

come March, that first year; a month earlier
thereafter, as springs grew warmer. Bits of green
appeared, some here, more there. She'd prick out any

that went to a second pair of leaves, and give them
each its own square pot. What might they be?
Some Red Russian, curly or Lacinato

kale, some radishes, turnips, beets. Six kinds
of lettuce, collards, cabbage -- Dutch or red --
some spinach, also chard. Carrots, kohlrabi

and parsnips never showed, but she allowed
enough's a feast. Those that proved up
were hardened off in April, then set out

in beds on a grid, each as its turn came next 
from the flat. That shaker lasted half a garden 
half a decade. Nothing the catalogs

had taught was even tried. Whatever she thought 
they'd said to do with seeds, well! The seeds 
knew more than seedsmen, and much, much more than she.

The grace at the heart of the world

She's not much for recipes. The bowl sometimes
invites her, and she oils it, cracks a duck egg 
or two, throws in a bit of stock or well water,

maple syrup and leavening, and says to it:
sit there and I'll be back with something for you.
"Something" might be a beet leaf, or an apple,

or a spray of young mint -- once it was a whole
handful of chives. Chopped and thrown in,
the whatever might vanish under oats or rye,

buckwheat flour, or crumbs from the last loaf,
and then salt -- late, so as not to insult the yeast.
Last, she may tug the spelt barrel from beneath

the counter, and dip a porcelain bowl into
the cool brown powder five -- six -- seven 
times. She stirs the makings between heaps

with a pair of chopsticks. Never quite
the same thing twice! In summer she'll oil
a crock pot and turn the lump in to bake;

in winter, a Dutch oven. In either case,
the secret is prop the lid onto a chopstick,
letting a little steam out over time.

The end is not the prettiest bread you'll ever see,
nor the best tasting, she'll admit. But slice it,
add a little butter to it still hot,

and sit, eating slowly, in a western window
as the sun goes gold, then falls. Are you not
now the grace at the red heart of the world?




Sunday, October 4, 2015

There is no reason not to do so

There is no reason not to do so, I guess,
Her father told her years ago, meaning
Even a girl could lie out nights watching the
River of stars twist slowly overhead.
Eventually she'd made sense enough,

If quietly, of popular science books,
Star charts, reports in a yellow-bordered monthly,

Not to be much bemused by Venus' popping up
Only near two horizons on the ecliptic.

Reaching you her binoculars, she'd show you
Europa, Io, Ganymede, Callisto -- 
A string of pearls never still; or perhaps
Saturn's ovoid appearance, or jeweled
Orion's belt, depending on times and seasons.
No one she knew in that town was so into

Night, at least for gawking upward. She once drove,
Only herself in the car, to Palomar and climbed,
Tentatively, up a catwalk by a darkened window

To squint at the mammoth instrument in repose.
Old now. The years were kind enough; great job,

Dear friends, good spouse, grandchildren. Still,
Often she joins star parties. And then finds

Some pert lad at hand, showing his Andromeda.
Oh, she might say much! But lets him have his way.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Learning to walk

It's not that she hasn't been doing this all along:
She'd walked to school as yellow lozenges, oozing screams,
fumed past her along hot asphalt. She'd splashed the creek,

anxious for a path, then built it herself, kenning
to use her father's axe without lost blood.
She'd walked from Springer Mountain north, chatting in

her offhand way with bears, a big cat and a ghost.
She'd walked the halls of academia and then the hills,
big ones, bringing seedling trees to snug up to

the raw stumps of firs machines had eaten.
She'd walked to a job for decades, block after block
of homes with eyes of black glass inching

past her tired, angry shoes. Now, late in life,
she keeps a small dog bereft by her parents'
breathing stopped. The dog has taught much:

when to stop and sniff; how to attend with one's
whole being the business of squirrels. Bound
by the leash, that necessary thing, they two as one

take in, absorb, imbibe, inhale, entaste
all the arriving and leaving of the living things.




Friday, October 2, 2015

The things to do

The things to do: bring an egg from her
Hens, a found apple, beet leaf, cat's-ear foliage,
Ensuring freshness even in October.

The skillet she heats, oil frisking.
Here's egg: break yolk, turn once or twice;
Insert chopped fruit and greens, with salt and pepper;
Now turn again, wait, remove from heat,
Give all to a spelt wrap. As she sits to her meal, a
Sun rises, invests her eastern window, spills in

To caress and warm six thick maple boards
Of her grandmother's table. Whatever remains to be

Done's already forgotten: the meal an emblem
Of all her morning cared to be.