Yearning

Somewhere there are sheets of blue ice
stitching up the last of the open water,
but I am not there, only memory serves
to dish up that young woman in her
new figure skates, striking out
over the frozen pond, what those living
in worlds of water call a small lake,
and Boom! the ice cracked,
widening its reach, not dropping her
into its frozen depths, rather simply
expanding its domain, as understanding
began to dawn in her bright mind the reach
and breadth of the natural world, and she
but a minuscule fraction of the dance;

Getting used to hearing those thunderous
reverberations took time, but time itself came
easily in those days, the world not so heavy
on her soul, experience not yet demonstrating
that what could be loved beyond measure
could likewise be transformed into searing pain,
even though it would take years to unravel
youthful confusion, that innocent open heart
unable to close down, giving herself away
then for fleeting feelings that were not genuine,
and so she bonded more fully with trees and stars,
the aurorae and giant granite boulders, hunkered
down in below freezing temperatures,
the grey wolf by her side, seeking to capture
a slice of that inky, star-pocked sky;

And springtime brought crackling ice,
as brilliant blue-white sunlight urged solid
into liquid once again, and when the loons
ululated their lilting cries, splitting open
early mornings defining daybreak, I knew
water had opened, as cycles renewed
themselves and freezing water shimmered
invitingly, the return of these seasonal
friends paddling along, nine babies trailing
behind, and I dove in, ears frozen to numb,
slashing out and out to greet them,
they nonplussed, ducking under repeatedly
to get a fix on this giant warm-blooded
fish in their midst, deducing no harm
to their offspring or to themselves,
and they looked me straight in the eyes,
theirs blazing scarlet in marked contrast
to brilliant black and white feathers,
yearning then to be nowhere else
but in their midst;

And you would think why did she leave
that Paradise, as highways widened
and encroached and algae blooms permeated
once-crystalline waters, bass floating dully
under rocks large as small dwellings, while
surrounding lakes burgeoned overfull
with what money bought and exploited;
still this yearning won’t stop, and my heart
returns to simpler times, in a world
seeming open and free.

Common Loon ~ credit: Shutterstock

Lakeside

Have you ever heard something fall
under water, the dull scrape
of a fishing weight onto granite rock,
the drag, fisherman on the surface,
oblivious to you hiding, suspended
alongside dull mossy green bass,
still and not struggling between
crevasses of boulders, tumbled by time
into that glacial abyss; now tugging
his thin nylon line free, only to break
calm waters to cast again, this time
perhaps successfully;

The shafts of brilliant sunlight
as they pierce the shimmering pond,
how they illuminate that same boulder,
glint of metal on stone, almost too startling
for limited vision, breath taken in order
to descend, lungs now burning,
foolish gill-less fish, unable to remain
submerged indefinitely;

And now I rest under the bluest sky,
breathing in, exhaling that thin mountain air
without effort, cracking of beaks breaking seed
or the snoring of dogs, discerning sounds
as if in command of my own destiny, which,
as we know, is as indistinct a fabrication
as those distant lakeside conjurings.

The Turning

She knew it was safe, now her feet chose a path leading far
from dark uncertainties, of boarded-up options into an oasis
of light, a clearing of both heart and mind, a dendrological dive
into oneness with nature, which tree was which, identifying
those whose leaves dropped with the chill and those
that remained, holding space in that jigsaw landscape;

Forays down to the wellhead were spongy with moss, layers
of leaf and needle underfoot, trickling underground streams
flowing beneath quasi-soil draped over granite boulders
and pooling into a still point where, aboveground, stood
a granite casing with crude wooden cover; deeper still, tethered
to the bale of a three-gallon pail, lay the object of desire, cool drink
or promise of a steaming kettle as the vessel was cast into depths
repeatedly until just the right toss dredged itself clear and icy cold;

Filling buckets for each hand to grasp before carefully replacing
the cover, hoisting the weight of water and heading uphill, back
to the moonglow arc of light softly radiating from the cabin, tinge
of woodsmoke in chill air, teapot gently rattling on iron grates,
home was harbor into which her boat slipped silently
and without complaint;

And part of her began to grasp the value in releasing, shedding
non-essentials, detritus to which one could become accustomed
as if plugging all the holes, those islands of free-ranging thought,
could confer security somehow, would grant serenity, tranquility
of mind first and finally; still, peace was innate when she was able
to handle the shake-down, that honest meeting, self to self, dark
to light and back again, the terror of un-being confronted,
a deer caught in crosshairs, vole surrendering to the fox;

And as the seasons turned like leaves in the wind, dancing,
spinning, settling; as ice and snow gave rise to muck and flow
and the lake groaned and shifted, turning impossibly heavy crust
over into crystal prisms glinting in the narrow shafts of sunlight;
as the waters opened up and the loons returned, echoing
their mournful cries into a deepening dawn and dusk, she, too
began to thaw and sense, as if the first time, creation awakening
in her bones, and her own heart likewise took flight and soared
like the great blue heron, circling freely in those endless cerulean skies.

Lake lies beyond the granite boulder you see in the distance.
Looking across the water where we could ski when the lake was frozen.

All photos taken many years ago on a cheap camera. Not nearly as good quality as the newer equipment, but these photos framed the memories. Aloha.
© Bela Johnson

Pine Trail

The cabin was bought fully furnished from an elderly couple who left behind what would now be considered valuable antiques. Two small bedrooms replete with horsehair beds, a combination Glenwood wood/kerosene kitchen stove; round golden oak drop-leaf table poised beneath a large section of windowpanes overlooking a screened-in porch, curved-glass china cabinet. Depression era dishes were stacked on open kitchen shelves; warm woolen bedding, cotton sheets and quilts were folded neatly in open wooden cupboards. The bathroom was small but serviceable, thick rectangle of well-worn mirror hung with clear plastic art nouveau style clips; a metal stall shower with grommeted cotton curtain. A small porcelain corner sink with a metal corner shelf poised above. Perched atop the buttermilk painted wooden cabinet lay a matched set of the palest yellow and green celluloid brush, comb, hand mirror.

The sofa was circa 1940 and a lovely light shade of rose with carved cherry wood feet and armrest ends. An upholstered wing-back chair; braided oval rug. If you visited your grandparents and grew up in the 50’s like I did, you’d know how the place smelled musty with wool and mothballs, how items were carefully handled, stowed, preserved. Pots were aluminum, mixing bowls a glazed Pyrex glass. Even the silverware begged to be used like the round aluminum biscuit cutter with black wooden knob handle. The serrated bread knife remains with me still, unlike stamped tin baking pans and the round plastic black and white kitchen timer. A yellowing if accurate electric wall clock was likewise lost somewhere along the way.

Every morning except in winter, I woke to the lilting cry of loons and stumbled out to sun winking through white pine and hemlock as it rose over the cabin, shedding splintered light on the mountains defining the other side of the narrows. Every evening around four, the sun began its descent behind those same hills and the evenings cooled some ten degrees to accommodate comfortable sleeping. Then out to the small porch where I’d banked a single bed on a metal frame against the logs of the outer cabin wall and loaded it with several pillows as backrests. It was there I sat, sublime and attentive in the flickering candlelight. Senses tuned to waves gently lapping rocky shoreline; birds ruffling feathers as night descended with a familiar finality.

Then the moon rose over the water as shafts of light bounced and shimmied and fanned its calming surface, while a billion stars flickered overhead like carefully constrained fireworks seeding themselves in the inky infinity of the heavens.

Version 2

Barkskins

Listening to an Annie Proulx’s Barkskins on audiobook while painting today, I think I am no storyteller. A poet, yes. Fleshing out characters for a story seems intrusive somehow, as though I were borrowing another’s eyes so that I might view the world in a different way. And in return, the spirits behind those eyes would have a right to claim real estate in my brain, intruding on what little peace of mind I currently possess in these crazy times.

Yet I am ever enthralled by the talented storytellers among us. Proulx at eighty-plus must have spent years researching the late seventeenth century forward, telling the tale of how abundant forests of the northeast, along with their original inhabitants, were impacted and stripped of a way of being forever. First the French settlers who came to New France (now Canada) to seek their fortunes in the lumber business and how they related to its native human inhabitants (the Mi’kmaq, pronounced Mikmaw). Then as lumbering migrated south into Maine and New Hampshire, the English imposing settlements where they wished, nevermind the tribes who had lived, loved and traversed these places for generations. The horrors of eminent domain, as these interlopers insisted the land belonged to whomever worked it – and they could not fathom how living in harmony with nature and residing in wigwams could possibly constitute any rights whatsoever. For the part of the Indians, they could not comprehend the white man’s obsession with surplus. One elder simply could not grasp why white men had to build such large homes with such high roofs – did they expect visits from giants? Confusion also stemmed from the concept of land ownership, something I’ve struggled with for years while holding title to my own real estate. Stewardship has always been our way of life, no matter where we’ve lived.

The relationships Proulx entertains possess the power to pull me into the story to the point that I find it difficult to put it aside. After thirty-four years in the Maine woods in a place known to be summer grounds for Wabanaki tribes, I only begin to apprehend the fullness of history of that place thanks to Proulx, although I always felt the magical nature of the forest. Knowing the varieties of trees from lumber families in that region, things begin to click. The land’s profusion of hemlock and birch stemmed from the clearcutting of more valuable species like white pine, maple and oak, which I was aware of in a general sense. Yet to understand those markets in a richer way is to finally mourn the loss of place in the name of displaced wildlife and native people. And even though Hawaii is clearly our home now, how could I forget those formative years in which I was lucky enough to reside that close to the heartbeat of Mother Earth’s woody breast?

 

IMG_0119
http://www.bestmainewaterfront.com

Fishways

Onto the written page they march, good little minions
of inspiration cultivated since childhood, dipping pen
into wells of collective memory, stories taking shape
like the smooth drape of river water flowing
over the Penobscot Dam, where I would sit
and contemplate the lot I was dealt that brought me
to that stark beauty where ice, wind and water honed
and fashioned bones and spirit, remaking refinement
into rugged woods nymph, intrepid wanderer,
philosopher’s stone placed into trembling hands;

To these ancient Wabanaki fishing grounds came
lumberjacks floating logs down sacred rivers,
suffocating sustenance with their detritus and paper pulp,
displacing people versed in surviving extremes, easily
pushed now to the fringes of their own flesh and blood
on land nobody wanted until outsiders came and took charge,
populated it with brick and steel and drunken street brawls,
sending refugees like rats into alleyways where they sat noisily
mumbling incoherencies, greasy caps pulled low
across weary faces etched with soot, intoxicated
on sterno strained through grimy socks and rammed
down throats parched raw from lack of dreaming,
a pebble’s throw from the river, giver of life, mother
of fish, silently dying like the last breath of spring;

Time changes little of the nature of places, there is
wildness percolating in deep crevasses of memory,
every rock and watercourse recalls its origins in obscurity
like the things we forgot, misplaced keys or human conscience,
and when the last fish is caught, there are traces that remember
in the dormancy of darkness and it will be discovered
when the last plume is plucked and the osprey soars no more
and something dredges from the depths like a slow-moving thing
winding up the ancient fishways like it did when time was younger,
gills flexing lifeblood, scales shimmering in the moonlight.

dsc04793