Sunday, November 27, 2011

Memories of nature

"Where have you been?," she asked me from the shadows. I'd been sitting at the kitchen table, staring out at a couple of crows traversing the lawn, picking edibles out of the still-green grass. Poems were going in and out of my head as the two black birds sidled along to a music I couldn't hear. At the sound of her voice, the spell was broken and I became aware of the coffee and leftover pumpkin pie lying in front of me. "Make a poem out of these," she said, her pale hand pointing to the table. "The quotidian details of your anonymous existence."

It was warm and a silky mist covered the lake. I couldn't make out the islands or the eastern shore. A flock of buffleheads dawdled on the still water about fifty feet off the dock. Yesterday I even saw a couple of dragonflies near the Bassett's Bridge Road canoe landing down in the valley. The watershed has barely begun to recover from Irene -- bridges are still out, whole tracts of forest lie under one, two feet of water, trails are washed away -- including a stretch of the Appalachian Trail -- and woodland debris is scattered everywhere. Walking is difficult.

I came upon a couple of trail cyclists attempting to ford one of the Wallkill's feeder streams where a wooden bridge had broken in two. They were covered in mud. I commented on the wetness. The younger of the two said, "Depending on the winter, this won't dry out until next summer. You've just got to get used to it." They held their bikes over their heads as they inched forward calf-deep in the rushing stream, trying to avoid submerged rocks and branches. It took a few minutes but they made it. I stood there in my low-top hiking shoes and watched them take off toward Glenwood Mountain.

Then I turned around and headed down the old railroad cut that runs into Kelly Road, a despondent dead end near the boundary between New Jersey and New York. The valley up here has a look of abandonment, as though its human inhabitants had had enough of fending off the encroaching wildness and called it quits. Dilapidated barns, broken greenhouses, leaning houses with mossy roofs and missing shingles. Even the woods are unlovely up here. Near the wildlife refuge parking lot -- still covered in water -- lay half a dozen full plastic garbage bags. Not everyone can afford trash collection.

Just as poetry is man-made, so is the beauty we ascribe to Nature. I got back in the car and drove over to Heaven Hill Farm to buy some burlap so I could wrap the fragile young lilacs and japanese maple against the oncoming winter. Last year snow plows almost destroyed one of my white pine saplings and the lilac closest to the street. It takes work to keep the yard in good shape. You used to ask me, "All the work you do outside -- is it worth it? Why don't you just let it go and live with nature in its natural state?" I thought to myself, because there is no such thing. Entropy engulfs all systems unless somebody or something supplies additional energy to them.

"I don't know. The animals seem to like it. Some of them -- the deer, the groundhogs, the squirrels and chipmunks, the beetles and aphids -- like it too much and eat half of it. But that's okay. Otherwise I wouldn't have the bees, the hummingbirds, all the songbirds, and the butterflies. Otherwise it wouldn't be as beautiful as it sometimes is." I figured, if the animals like it, so should I. "Like today, for instance. Today it is as beautiful as any poem. As beautiful as my memory of you."

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