Put down your coffee before you read on, for I am about to say something astounding, and I wouldn’t want your coffee to come out of your nose or spray the computer screen.
Sometimes, even though I am the air-headed poet, I am the only pragmatic and efficient person around. This is very stressful. Poets should not be exposed to such seriousness and gravity. Poets are suppose to skip and traipse, but perhaps it is part of the suffering of a poet to occasionally have to trudge and plod; to occasionally have to be the practical, efficient and boring person in a situation.
Partly this is due to mixing farming with poetry. I wanted to be like Robert Frost. Though he did have the misfortune to get incarcerated at an University later in life, some of his best poems were written when he was younger and got his hands dirty:
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbour know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
“Stay where you are until our backs are turned!”
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, “Good fences make good neighbours.”
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
“Why do they make good neighbours? Isn’t it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.” I could say “Elves” to him,
But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, “Good fences make good neighbours.”
Robert Frost; (1874-1963) Published 1914
My wife would strongly disagree that I am ever the practical one, being of the belief I need to be inspected before I go out into the world, to be certain my shirt is right-side-out and I remembered to put my teeth in. Sometimes she seems to remind me not to forget things no man has ever forgotten in recorded history. It used to exasperate me, but I have come to see it as caring. What exasperates me is the insinuation that she is never the impractical one, and in need of caring, due to her own sort of poetry.
My wife’s poetry involves a tendency to see a reason for celebration in somewhat mundane events. I probably would limit holidays to Christmas and Fourth of July, to avoid all the bother of cleaning the house, but my wife has a joyous streak, and finds a reason to party to a degree where she sometimes resembles a burn-out. For example, I present to the court the following evidence:
My youngest grandchild just turned one. This may be a sentimental day for my daughter, as the boy is her first child, but I figure the child is at an age where he won’t remember the event, and is more interested in tearing wrapping paper than in what is underneath. It seems to me that one should limit the time and energy put into such an event, especially when we need to plant the potatoes. But does my wife put on the brakes?
It is around this time I become the pragmatic old grump. I mean, do we really have time to blow up 200 balloons? And what are you going to do with 200 balloons when the party is over?
And should the children at our Farm-childcare be running about joyously playing-with and popping 200 balloons? What, pray tell, does this have to do with farming? With using the brief sunshine of a rainy spring to work out in the muck that is the garden?
I mean, as much as I’d like to dress in a white linen suit with a black-ribbon-tie like Colonel Sanders, and drink mint juleps on a plantation porch as others do the work, I haven’t sold a hit song yet, and until I make my million I must be practical.
One thing we did to make our Farm-childcare more interesting, in the constant rain, was to buy some cute, fuzzy chicks. But they grow with amazing speed, and as their cuteness shrinks their reek increases. Someone must build a coop away from the main building. Being the only practical poet around here, the job fell on me.
The long, rectangular structure is fronted by thick, hardware-cloth of strong wire, which will allow the chickens to sleep without being nabbed by foxes or weasels or coyotes or raccoons. (A bear would be another matter.) The chickens learn to walk to the coop and roost in there even before the sun sets, (as they have very poor night-vision, and are all but blind in twilight). I then shut and latch the door, making their pillbox impenetrable. In the morning I will let them out, and they will be “free range” chickens in my garden, eating various bugs, until around the time tomatoes get red. Chickens are attracted to red, and peck holes in ripe tomatoes, so I built a pen to coop them in August, roofed with mesh to protect them from a chicken-hawk that lives nearby. (Chickens have what seems to be an instinct to keep an eye to the sky, and free-range birds hurry for cover, if anything large,even a vulture, passes over.)
The structure is simple and pragmatic, but I soon noticed peculiar additions. Why are those branches tied to the side? And do chickens really require swings?
And what’s that thing down at the bottom of the post?
A xylophone!? A flipping xylophone!? Are these chickens going to be as musical as thrushes?
And do chickens really require a bench with gnomes? A hummingbird feeder at the top of a post? How do you know chickens even like hummingbirds? Did anyone ask the chickens? The hummingbirds? And hey! That’s my grandfather’s old wooden step-ladder! Did anyone ask, before turning it into an elaborate perch!?
I’m not sure I approve of what kids are learning at my Childcare. I’m not sure I approve of what the chickens are learning, either. But I will confess that it does the soul of an old air-head good to, once in a while, be the sensible one.
As the clouds rolled back in I did make progress in the garden.
Robert Frost wrote a poem I often recite in the winter woods, as it is short and easy to remember:
The way a crow Shook down on me The dust of snow From a hemlock tree
Has given my heart A change of mood And saved some part Of a day I rued.
This poem seems to typify the way a northern mind grasps at straws of beauty, in order to survive the general state of depression that deepens as the long northern winter goes on and on and on (and on.)
After Christmas, what holiday is there? New Years? What is that? Is turning a page on the calendar really worth rejoicing about? And the birthdays of defunct people, who had far more dignity than modern politicians, tends to depress me more than they inspire me, for I am reminded how dark our days are. And finally, you have to admit “Ground Hog’s Day” seems downright desperate, in terms of holidays.
Eventually we have to become self reliant, and display the sort of guts Robert Frost displayed, finding the beauty he shared in his poem. It was a dark day, a day he “rued”, yet he found something bright, not only for himself, but for me, (for he shared it with me [and countless others] though he never knew me).
It is nice to be able to share, but apparently some at Google do not think certain individuals, such as myself, should be sharing. If they feel a certain view is politically incorrect, (such as my view that arctic sea-ice is not going to be melted away by 2013 as promised, because it hasn’t), then they will seek to prevent people from sharing their views by artificially reducing the possibility their posts will be seen on Google’s search engine. Power corrupts, and Google has apparently sunk to the level of a third world dictatorship, by virtually “disappearing” political opponents.
To be honest, I prefer being virtually “disappeared” to the reality version, for in many ways being unknown and unseen is everyday, for artists. Even Robert Frost went years without being well known, and many artists are simply not born for fame. Great singers have remained the cherished property of a small church choir their entire lives, radiating their beauty to a select few, making a poor congregation wealthy even as the world never knows what it is missing. This actually happens more often than not; the greatest comics perform before a crowd of eight at a backwater bar, as the wealthy go impoverished.
Despite obvious shortcomings, wealth and power tricks and fools people, and therefore those at Google deem it wise to stifle Freedom of Speech, and consequently live in a sort of self-created deafness. At best perhaps some think that, like members of Boston’s old, Puritan “Watch and Ward” society, they protect the innocent from some sort of “porn”, (by studying a great deal of it themselves). But the poor are neither as innocent nor naive as some suspect, and the soap that cleans a slum is not made by calling slums illegal, nor by making talk about back alleys be whispers.
In any case, where bringing up a topic such as “arctic sea-ice” once was a way to generate “hits” at a website, now it generates dead silence.
I find this a bit winter-like, and depressing. To share, and generate a will to censor rather than reciprocal sharing, is like being warm and catchinga cold blast from the north. It seems the upper crust is attempting to forbid sharing, in a sense denying the dust that delights, and leaving only a day “rued”.
The snow is glued to the swaying forest And the northern blasts can’t shake any loose. There seems no subtlety to this contest. There is something solid in the crunch of boots Across a frozen scene, something as starched As the hairstyles of evening newscasters. Where is the dust of snow falling from arched Hemlocks, jostled by crows, that old masters Wrote poems about? Is it too delicate And too precious for times given to louts? No, for the crunch of boots pontificate Of a glue that was wet, before “Ins” became “Outs”. Warm wet winds during the night, as I sleep, Makes all trees birches, with oaths they must keep.
Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against sitting in a warm penthouse sipping brandy. I’d do it myself, if invited. Nor do I have anything against an above-it-all attitude. (Brandy has that effect.) It is just that feeling above it all can result in one looking down their nose and becoming haughty, and sneering that others are mere children, mere dogs.
Be that way, if you must. The children and dog will not mind, as long as you leave them alone to play. The dog will play keep-away with a stick, delighting in the attention of ten kids running after it.
Do you know what I think? I think those who scorn children and dogs are strangely threatened by the fact children and dogs have no real interest in money or fame, and would rather play in the snow than perch in a penthouse. Therefore they want to butt in and make children and dogs see they are important. They demand respect. They will outlaw sharing, unless you obey their rules.
But life goes on outside Silicon Valley. Alas for the Googlites, who make a winter without warmth, even in sunny California.
Sometimes we so-called adults take our problems too seriously. We forget the story has a happy ending, as we climb the stairs to our personal gallows.
Even as a humorist I am guilty of bringing up so many things to laugh about that I forget joy. My sense of humor is based on the pathos of human bungling: The way we attempt to be gods, and wind up forgetting where we put our car keys. It is better to laugh about such things than to spit, but if you focus on such things too much you can forget that laughter can be quite different, and not founded upon stooges bungling, but rather upon joy.
As I care for children at my Childcare I see them laugh at all sorts of things adults have forgotten to laugh about. Sometimes it is for sheer joy: A bird lands on a fence-post and sings, and the child just laughs.
One time in the 1950’s Winston Churchill, despite his amazing efforts to save Britain from destruction, was plunged to despair by the writing he could see on the wall, which suggested the the British Empire was crumbling. An American preacher was visiting, and Churchill inquired how the man could have hope. The answer was, “I read the end of the Book.”
In other words, our Creator was not so ill informed that he created a creation where everything blew up in His face, as if our Creator was a mad scientist with test tubes. We mortals might achieve such an end, but the Creator has a slight advantage because He stands outside of time. (Even time is His creation.) We may be bound by time, like characters in a single frame of a comic strip, but the Creator, as “the Alpha and Omega”, stands outside the comic strip, and sees all the frames from beginning to end simultaneously. Considering He knew the ending before the beginning, he would have to have had a very odd sense of humor if He created a comic strip that made Him look like an ignorant buffoon, and a chump.
This is especially true if it is true that a fundamental and intangible quality of the Creator is: The only thing more spiritual than a sense of humor. Which is? It’s a thing called “Love.”
Science has yet to measure Love, but science also has yet to measure humor. But Love, I think, is what differentiates laughter over human bungling, from laughter for sheer joy.
One reason we mortals like to “get back to nature” when we are in a bad mood is because out in the landscapes of nature we see how amazing our Creator is. Even though I aggravate some of my fellow Christians by including “evolution” in the many examples of the Creator’s creative genius, to me evolution is a reason to laugh in delight.
For example, consider the hoof of a horse. We have ancient skeletons to study, and can see that ancient horses had five digits like we do. Then they had three digits. Now they are running around on their middle fingers. When a horse rears around and attempts to kick my chin past my ears, it is “giving me the finger.” Is that not a reason to at least chuckle?
Evolution has a harder time explaining other examples of our Creator’s genius. For example, there is an orchid in the Amazon that is dependent on a certain species of wasp. Without these certain wasps it cannot be pollinated, and can’t produce seed, and would swiftly die out. Therefore, to make sure that wasp comes to its flower, the orchid tricks the wasp into thinking it is a wasp. It achieves this by making a flower that not merely looks like the wasp, but smells like the wasp, so the male wasps literally attempt to mate with a vegetable, fooled into thinking orchids are female wasps.
It is hard to figure out, step by step, how evolution came up with such an arrangement. It is not as simple as five digits gradually becoming a hoof. But I’m working on it. It may help explain to me how Madison Avenue convinces some men they can successfully copulate by buying a Cadillac.
In any case, when you “get back to nature” you enter a world of wonder. I’m not talking about a city park, where everything grows because humans planted them there. I’m not even talking about well kept farmland, where the weeds are under control. I’m talking about lands where man has little to do with where things sprout, and things are sometimes more beautiful than man could ever devise.
It is there we perhaps find a hope beyond our own efforts, and a sign we are under the wings of a compassionate Creator. I have seen nature “cure” children psychiatrists can’t “help”. Children deemed “uncontrollable” and “in need of medication” become downright serene, if you allow them to throw rocks and smash the crystal surface of a pond, and pluck dandelions and puff the seeds to the winds. Furthermore, nature is not harmed by the young hooligan’s destructive behavior, and in fact nature seems to like it, and to incorporate it into a grander plan.
Pharmaceutical companies and psychologists will despise me for saying this, but the Creator kicks their butts. A walk in the woods and by a pond simply benefits boys more, and costs zero. (Financiers won’t like that either.)
In like manner, the entire “Global Warming” scam is people thinking the Creator cannot manage things, and they themselves are the almighty savior.
In some ways it is difficult to see the scam, for the con-artists pretend to be on the side of “nature,” like snake oil salesmen pretending to be “doctors”. However, just as snake oil salesmen are in a hurry to leave town before customers discover that their claims had no basis in fact, Global Warming Alarmists seek to muddy waters, oppress critics, hide their emails, avoid full disclosure, and, if need be, leave town.
This is typical human behavior and is laughable, but sometimes it reaches a degree where laughter is inappropriate. The people who claim they “help children” may become fat and rich, as the children themselves become increasingly skinny and afflicted by suffering. My humor then becomes increasingly bitter and sardonic, and drifts away from joy. In a sense I am drifting away from the very thing I stand for.
I am in need of rescue, but who can I turn to.? A psychiatrist? Forget it. A pharmaceutical company? Forget it. And so on and so forth. Forget it.
The so-called “helpers” of this world are so corrupted that I think I can see sanity in youth losing hope and preferring heroin and death. In fact a lot of other so-called “adult” behavior isn’t all that different. Maybe death is deferred a little longer, but no rescue is hoped for. Life loses its appeal.
Fortunately, if you are keeping your eyes open, a rare rescue will come to pass. It is called, “a day in June.” It is the single day each year wherein the Creator hints just how good things could be, “if only.” It knocks ordinary logic back on its ass.
Robert Frost pointed out this phenomenon when, (tongue in cheek), he created an amazingly long title for a relatively short poem. The long title was, “Happiness Makes Up For In Height What It Lacks In Length.”
“O stormy, stormy world, The days you were not swirled Around with mist and cloud, Or wrapped as in a shroud, And the sun’s brilliant ball Was not in part or all Obscured from mortal view– Were days so very few I can but wonder whence I get the lasting sense Of so much warmth and light. If my mistrust is right It may be altogether From one day’s perfect weather…
(You will have to research the end of his art yourself, because I stop at this point because he has made my point: One day a year has a huge influence.)
One such day defies science, for it is not replicated. It denies democracy, because it is out-voted by 364 other days. It is a single beam of love from the eye of One who can bring you to your knees.
And don’t tell me you have never experienced that. You may have called yourself a fool for becoming gushy, but we’ve all been there and done that. One glance, and everything changed.
When you are young the one-day-a-year-better-than-all-others may result in disappointment, for it often involves the glance of a potential lover. When you get to be an old grouch like myself you have not so great a hope for carnal gratification. The only gratification you want is one day the weather doesn’t suck. One fricking day that isn’t too hot or too cold, too snowy or too rainy, or too like a frying pan.
Guess what? I just passed through that one day a year.
It happened in all areas of my life. For example, my study of arctic sea-ice involves the potential extinction of polar bears, but O-buoy showed, between June 23 and 25, a couple of bears ambled by unconcerned about the summer thaw:
The bears are alive and well, with populations increasing.
I’m well as well, after a perfect day, not to hot, not too humid, and, just when I was thinking that maybe I should water the garden, a benign evening shower watering the garden for me, with only a few contented grumbles of thunder, which then made a spectacular double rainbow.
I include the power-lines because I am a humorist, and wise to how even this evening’s gorgeous sunset can be lessened, if your focus is a sardonic joke:
But that is not truly my focus. (To focus on a bully misses something nicer.) All one needs to do is walk fifty yards and there are no wires in the picture.
I took a lot of pictures, and all failed to communicate how vivid the rainbow was.
Nor can anything communicate what my 3-year-old granddaughter was communicating to me, as she rode my shoulders, as I snapped the shots.
You are just going to have to trust me, when I state it was my one-day-a-year, wherein the Creator trumps all other cards dealt out.
Pay attention to this lone card, when it is dealt out to you. Do not be seduced by the 364 other cards you are dealt. They only spoil the view.
Sometimes it takes a perfect day in June To remind me that defeat is not the end. Oh, it may end me, and it could come soon, But today’s rare beauty was such a friend It made morbid thoughts piffle. An old tune Found its way to my lips, and I walked With summer in my step. It could end soon But life was no longer a thing I stalked Like elusive prey, but was what I was.
How blue was the sky! How green were the trees! The sun’s touch was perfect, as was the breeze, And I felt free of desire’s cruel claws.
How can defeat ever torment and sting When you see, owning nothing, you have Everything?
While looking at the ravages time carved onto the face of Robert Frost I decided plastic surgery is for fools. I suppose some, who are maimed, might require such surgery, to avoid repulsing people with an unpleasant superficiality, but most of us are strangely improved by the battering of our features time gifts us with. This seems especially true of people who retain their sense of humor, and of beauty, despite hardship. Crafted into each wrinkle of their face is a hint that God is real, and death is not.
Robert Frost knew much about desperation, despair and darkness. He outlived his wife and four of six children, and had witnessed those dark landscapes made of a pain far worse than physical pain, misnamed “mental illness”, even experiencing a son’s suicide. How he got through it all is his secret and his triumph, and is written in his face more clearly than in any poem.
The best and most beautiful poem is but an attempt to express the self that already exists. I have no idea why it feels so sublimely satisfying to do this, for it is merely to copy. In fact I was always scolded for copying, when in school. However there are few things so fulfilling as speaking your heart, in a sense tracing what already exists with a tracing paper called “poetry”. Later, when the tracing paper is removed from the Truth you attempted to copy, you see all the imperfections. However when you first are focused on what the Creator has already created, it is completely absorbing, and you forget all your problems, even when you are tracing a problem called a heartache. That is why there is such a rhapsody in singing the blues.
An old face is no different from any other old object; it has a sort of patina that gives it value, as an antique. A young face is sort of raw, in comparison. It lacks something very beautiful the old have earned.
I was looking at my face critically the other day, noting how amazingly aged a couple of hard winters have made me, and I started to stretch my skin smooth, making the face in the mirror look like those bizarre old people, quite common in Florida, who have paid money that might have fed the poor to make themselves look weird. I burst out laughing. And when I laughed all the wrinkles gathered and made my face have far more character than I had when I was young, and was little more than a pretty boy poet.
Call it sour grapes if you will, but I suddenly felt sorry for the young, and glad to be wrinkled. Usually I cut off my beard when the weather warms, and a free scarf is no longer necessary, but this year I may keep my scruff, for a gray beard makes me look even older, and age is no disgrace. It is a badge of honor, given by the Creator. If nothing else, this attitude will save me a lot of money, and my boycott may put plastic surgeons in the position where they will have to save lives rather than egos.
One reason my attitude towards wrinkles has changed is due to sitting my granddaughter in my lap, and seeing her attitude toward wrinkles. I gather you have to become older than she is to be scared by age, for she finds wrinkles fascinating, and her observant eyes search my face as her little fingers poke. In a sense she reminds me of a student probing a poem, searching for the meaning in the lines.
Another reason may be that spring is absurdly early this year. I’m not fooled, for I’ve seen many a warm March give way to April snows, but one seed that can be planted as soon as the soil can be worked is peas. Usually we plant them on Patriots Day, April 19, and I’ve often planted them in snow, but this year I thought I’d see if it was possible to kill even a tough plant like peas, by planting them more than a month early, on March 16.
Of course there is something about spring and planting seeds that seems alien to wrinkles. Maybe it reminds the old of sex, when they were young, and tempts them to gobble that plastic surgery of the penis, Viagra, popping some Prozac as well to plasticize the brain. However here too I burst into laughter, which was what Abraham and Sarah named the child they made in their old age. That is the only real reason for sex: Procreation. All the other reasons people give are proof they are using sex as a poor excuse for genuine poetry. If you really want the sublime self-forgetfulness of creation, make a child if you are young, but write a poem if you are old.
I never really wanted to be worldly. I wanted to space out, and be away From schooling that abused me, and then hurled me Out onto a world of greedy gray. My teachers had no clue of how men make a buck. They dwelled in ivory classrooms, stuffed with must And never dared depart from muck, when stuck, And clung to coins that hoped, “In God we trust.” Me? I roamed a world which didn’t pity me And toiled with bleeding hands and bleeding heart Facing worldly responsibility Though I disliked this world right from the start Until now, life ebbs, and laughter stings For I’ve become a man of worldly things.