Dark Pines Under Water

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Dark Pines Under Water – Gwendolyn MacEwen

This land like a mirror turns you inward
And you become a forest in a furtive lake;
The dark pines of your mind reach downward,
You dream in the green of your time,
Your memory is a row of sinking pines.

Explorer, you tell yourself, this is not what you came for
Although it is good here, and green;
You had meant to move with a kind of largeness,
You had planned a heavy grace, an anguished dream.

But the dark pines of your mind dip deeper
And you are sinking, sinking, sleeper
In an elementary world;
There is something down there and you want it told.

From The Shadow-Maker. Toronto: Macmillan, 1972

Accessed from Canadian Poetry Online, University of Toronto Libraries 

One of my favourite poems by one of my favourite writers. The quiet, foggy swamp brought it to mind during a recent ramble.

Small adventures

Yes – the springtimes needed you. Often a star
was waiting for you to notice it. A wave rolled toward you
out of the distant past, or as you walked
under an open window, a violin
yielded itself to your hearing.

 – Rainer Maria Rilke, The Duino Elegies 

I love this snippet from the first Duino Elegy. It surfaces every year, around April or so when I’m inspired with wild spring feelings. It comes to mind at other lovely moments, and fills me with the sense of the animate, the beautiful wonder humans imbue the world with through our astonishing sentience. There’s a whole planet, busy with small processes and functionalities that have no need and nothing to do with humans. Plants breath in and out, a bird’s adapted wings propel it through the air, stars burn, ants crisscross sidewalks. We blunder oblivious or pause to engage. The world’s simply magical enough all on its own accord, but we’re the ones who write poetry on it.

There will always be some small and interesting adventure to be had, no matter where you find yourself. While currently spending the winter in an unappetizing housing complex, I am lucky enough to have West Lafayette’s Celery Bog within sight of my window – a beautiful 195 acres of marsh, forest, prairie and savannah.

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In the summertime the marsh was an astonishing riot of species, many of them new to me. (One favourite being the striking red-headed woodpeckers, which nested in standing dead timber throughout the marsh). The woods closest to the complex consists of some elegant old trees, a shadowy deep-green mass beckoning across the parking lot during the summer. (Putting me firmly in mind of Tolkien’s Fangorn Forest, if somewhat less glamorous in location).

Even in the quiet cold of winter the bog is still lovely. The dormant maples, oaks and beeches I see from my window are just as enticing. A tepid day of rain was followed by cold nighttime temperatures earlier this month, and of course the bog was transformed: every stalk of grass and tree branch, every withered leaf and twig encased in ice. With the sun out in full force it made for a beautiful and cold morning, especially as the wind moved through the frozen trees like a cascading series of chimes.

I ran into old familiars: the white-breasted nuthatch (pictured above, who worked his way curiously down the entire length of a trunk to check me out), black-capped chickadees, downy woodpeckers, and Canadian geese (who I frightened up from the marsh in great cacophonous numbers). A pair of red-bellied woodpeckers called back and forth across the woods, another handsome species I’m not so familiar with.

My toes and cheeks were numb after rambling through the bush and down along the marsh. I felt properly justified in making another pot of coffee and curling up with a book for the rest of the morning – entirely thankful for small adventures.

Apples

These city apple trees know about survival. More than their country counterparts, city apple trees attain a sense of time. People-time – watching concrete poured and concrete ripped up, bus shelters assembled and smashed, streams made then channelized under highways. Houses and trains and abandoned bicycles. All the while putting out blossoms, making fruit. Sucked at by wasps and rolling under the wheels of cars. Smashed or sent spinning, unnoticed.

Water

Watched the storm.
Thunder filled out the edges of my dreams into wakefulness, drew us outside. Skies, tumultuous clouds, cornfields and trees illuminated with the constant, flickering lightning. The storm was immediate and alarming, tremendous roaring thunder that echoes across the sky and leaves the house shaking. Rain misting our arms and faces. We sat on overturned wooden crates, tucked under the eaves, watched the wind toss trees and throw down shifting sheets of water. The parched soil and all the dry hungry roots, yearning for damp.

An hour after we’d crawled back into bed I’m up again – the world is cool, lovely. We may be in for more rain and only pale soft patches of blue show through the grey overhead. The goats are out in their pasture, the ducks happily splashing, chickens scratching for bugs and worms.

In the city this rain would be rivers in concrete, spluttering-down runoff to overflowing storm sewers. I’m thankful instead to be here and see the pond refilled, vegetables and fruit trees soaked through.