"What do you plan to do with your one, wild, precious life?" -Mary Oliver

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Clean Ground

I missed it again—that swift setting of the sun. Once it turns crimson and fat and begins its downward slide, one only has a few minutes to capture the scene. If you’re careful and diligent and don’t let yourself get distracted by the commonplace, you can sit with your feet up on my front porch and watch the sun set to the south of Deanville Mountain (the highest point in the Thumb).

The sky is big and beautiful this evening. I missed the sunset but the residual display is still breathtaking. The winds have died down and the flag hangs limp. I can always hear Dad’s whipping in the wind when I’m down at the garden. It sounds like someone walking across the grass and I look up, tricked once again by the commonplace.

I love our dirt road. Today it was groomed and graded and salted by county workers and tonight we have the grandest road in the country. Smooth and pothole free—the kind of road we loved to ride our bikes on when we were kids. The kind of road that connects you to the cedar swamps of the past . . . the footpaths of those who came before us. I can hear traffic on the pavement a mile away, but no sounds here on Clear Lake Road, except for a few evening birds.

I found a poem I wrote when I lived far away and my father had just completed the farm's transition to organic.

The Clean Ground

When I leave the pavement with a jolt
I leave what I have for what I know,
for the gravel roads of home that run past
tangled fencerows where the only gaps
are where elms once stood;
roads that are graded and groomed by men
in trucks with big blades that rumble
up and down the road. They hang out the window
with tanned arms and inspect their progress.

I cross the ditch which becomes a torrent in spring
and drive past gnarled oaks and lilacs that bloom on old wood
and try to remember why I left.

The pond lies at the lowest point on the farm
with banks of waving cattails.
Two months past summer solstice…
it’s only half full. A new dock straddles dry ground
because the drought persists.
Clouds hurry overhead.
They neither darken nor slow though we watch.

Dust coats the Queen Anne’s lace and Ice Age boulders
that lie scattered along the fence, smooth and broad as shoulders.
Bobolinks flirt with each other and the pheasants have returned,
waving mulberry plumage above the grass like a tease behind a veil.
Pesticides had thinned them rare but now the ground is clean.
There are worse things than drought.

I saw an eagle yesterday.
He was young because his head was dark.
Eagles don’t often crowd the hawks, but there he sat
atop the ageless oak, surveying the dryness.
Because this is a better place than some.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Improving Vocabulary

To improve my vocabulary, I am copying from my dictionary all the relatively short, common words I wouldn't ordinarily think to use, an exercise suggested by John Gardner in On Becoming a Novelist. The idea is to make an effort to use them in your writing as if they'd come naturally to you. Sounds easy, right? I'm still in the B's. What's interesting are the number of words in the English language that have more than one meaning, one which is common, and one which is obscure and can add muscle to a simple sentence. A surprising twist, if you will, that would make the sensitive reader pause and take notice. Another suggested exercise is to write an authentic sentence four pages long with no cheating (using colons and semicolons that are really periods). Yes, four pages long. I have not yet attempted that. Maybe while on vacation.... no, it would have to be a retreat.