In the spring of fever

Staying home is light duty when compared to the daily round of danger faced by health workers and all the other essential neighbors who live fully exposed to the coronavirus pandemic.

But even light duty gets old after long enough. As my friend Bob told me long ago, “It’s not the length of time that bothers me; it’s the intensity.” Boredom and uncertainty, with just a touch of panic, makes for an intense mix.

In the meantime, as Michael Valentine Smith remarked succinctly, but cryptically – in Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land – “Waiting is.”

In the spring of fever

Facebook tells me the trillium are blooming downstate
but I have not seen one, and that the heron have returned,
though I have not seen one fly. Somewhere fruit trees bloom,
but not the old apple beside my drive. Not yet. Not yet.

Each day it’s easier to keep indoors, working, watching
the news, working some more. Making another meal
and washing up. Keeping to a sensible bedtime. Waiting,
hiding out, the way a hare waits out the prowling owl.

Each day is much like the next – four weeks, five weeks?
What is time? The hair has grown down over my ears.
The days blow by like leaves. This is how, in fairy tales,
the wizard, lost in thought, turns into a tree on the hill.

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Snow Day

Snow falling on the Setback in Wanakena. NCPR Photo of the Day archive: Kristin V. Rehder

I remember how eagerly I used to listen for the school closings on WPDM when I was a kid. Will it be a snow day? I think my father, being a teacher, listened with similar anticipation. A snow day was the touch of grace, an unanticipated diversion from business as usual.

Thanks to the power of the cursed internet, my snow day yesterday meant a work day at home, doing all my usual duties on a much smaller screen. But who’s bitter? Saturday will do just as well, sending out this poem composed in my pajamas.

Snow Day

All night while I was sleeping snow came down,
the way time invisibly accumulates until one
morning this is this face I see in my mirror.

What plans I might have had for the day – poof.
Nothing is moving from here to town, nothing
moving among the white-freighted trees.

Only the snow is moving, steadily downward
as I peer out through the north-side windows
and school closings crowd out the radio news.

But the reassuring rumble of the furnace is steady;
the pantry and the fridge are good for days yet.
Why get dressed? Why not cook some comfort food?

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The other village

November is a time to remember those who have left our world. There’s All Souls Day and Veterans Day. The sky fills with birds, flying into the distance. The leaves have fallen and the ground hardened with frost.

There is another village on the outskirts of town where we keep our memories. A place where it’s easy to travel though time and space.

The other village

The village I grew up in has mostly moved to Bayside now,
settling along the winding lanes under the big maple trees
beside the Raquette. The old WWI vets from across the street
were lately joined by the WWII vets around the corner.

The shopkeepers from Main Street, the barbers and cops,
teachers and coaches, librarians and Rotarians, all here now.
I recognize names of paper route customers, old neighbors,
scribed into the leaf-blown stones above their life dates.

It is quiet here, far from the road noise, and is lovely, really,
in better weather than November. My own dead lie south
in a tree-covered park up a long hill from the Susquehanna:
parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, half a family tree.

They visit me in dreams sometimes, though I rarely visit them.
I wouldn’t have come to Bayside at all, but someone needed
to be with their father and lacked the ride. We park a while
out of the wind, each lost in memory, watching flat gray water.

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Beside the waters

 

Hannawa overlook. Photo: Dale Hobson

I’ve always been grateful to the local chapter of the Adirondack Mountain Club for cutting and maintaining the Red Sandstone Trail behind my house along the Raquette River from Hannawa Falls down Sugar Island almost to the village. Before then, it was all bushwhack. I took a friend visiting from Florida down part of the trail the other day. There was one spot I just had to share.

Beside the waters

It’s only a little waterfall, only a little way from home.
Most of the long rapids that gave the spot its native name,
“laughing waters,” is sunk beneath Hannawa Flow.

But even a small fall of water over red sandstone
is worth the walk, the scramble down the bluff
of leaf duff, needles and scree to the jumbled riverbed.

You can hear the water all the way from the road,
white noise, but with a pulse that ebbs and rises.
You can smell the water, fresh as the world’s dawning.

I’ve come a hundred times to this overhang, undercut
a little further each spring by Adirondack snowmelt,
to this same flat rock in the shadow of the pines.

There’s a message within the falling water, some signal
to decode, had one the ears for it and the stillness.
Listen. No, really listen. Wait. You will hear it, too.

 

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New book “Light Year” released August 2

“Light Year” was launched Friday, August 2, 2019 by Liberty Street Books, Potsdam, NY.

Light Year
poems by Dale Hobson, illustrations by Suzanne Langelier-Lebeda

64 pgs., perfect bound paperback with 12 color illustrations by Suzanne Langelier-Lebeda
ISBN 978-0-578-53780-1
Price: $18.00

Order “Light Year” and “A Drop of Ink” online:
Liberty Street Books

Order Kindle e-book of “Light Year” from Amazon.

“Light Year” is just starting bookstore distribution. It is currently available in these North Country locations:

More locations coming soon.

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Moon walks and man shoes

Venetian loafers. Photo: soletrain, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Everyone old enough to remember where they were when the first humans landed on the moon does remember. I was 15 that summer and on a grand tour of the national parks out West with my family.

Our campsite was in walking distance of the Custer Park State Game Lodge and I suspected they would have a TV. They graciously let me in, even though I was the only person present not in formal evening attire for the big occasion, not even close.

Somehow, this recollection led me this morning off into an autobiography of my feet – or my footwear, anyway.

Man Shoes

50 years ago, I wore water buffalo sandals, cut-off jeans,
a short-sleeved denim shirt, and a string of seed-pod
love beads as I walked down the road to Calvin Coolidge’s
summer White House to watch Apollo 11 land on the moon.

We were camping in a tent trailer hauled behind my uncle’s
’67 GTO in the badlands of South Dakota where Custer
met his fate, not far from Mount Rushmore: me, grandma,
my sister and mom and Dad. Brother Gerry was in OCS.

The next footwear fad to tickle my fashion fancy was
Dingo boots: square toed, with ankle straps, brass rings.
My denim shirt was graced at the collar with a red bandana.
Western was cool, at least according to the Grateful Dead.

But then, after Kent State, I went working class hero:
denim still – jacket, jeans and work shirt – but footed out
in steel-toed work boots. There were presses to run,
and a revolution in need of a minister of propaganda.

Sadly, the press burned down in 1980, so I went back
to running shoes, seeking escape from the Moral Majority.
There was no escape, apparently, but I ran on anyway,
through the millennium, on into the Age of Aquarius.

But then running shoes went bad, starting with Air Jordans.
Sneaks became pricey, Halloween-hued, with blinking lights.
I persisted anyway, finding brown with inoffensive stripes,
holding on until the last acquisition was rotting off my feet.

We were in Boston, visiting our daughter, when I saw
the multi-story shoe warehouse near Downtown Crossing.
Surely somewhere within I could find respectable kicks.
But no. Every pair looked left behind by alien visitation.

I was ready to write the raid off until my daughter looked
me in the eye and said “Dad – you’re in your fifties now.
Why don’t you get yourself some man shoes?” – ouch! –
and took me down the aisles that smelled of leather.

Just past the checkout, I binned my decrepit runners
and slipped into the bliss of buttery-soft Venetian loafers.
Taking my now happy feet out onto the streets of the city,
I thought to myself, “I could do the moon walk in these.”

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Late spring complaint

Photo: Wesley Shaver, Pexels

I’ve held up through many a North Country winter and this one was no worse than many, and better than some. But by May, I expect my just recompense: blossoms, birdsong, sunshine. To misquote the legal maxim, “spring delayed is spring denied.” I hate to complain (well, actually I love to complain, at least about the weather; it’s a cherished North Country prerogative), but enough is enough. Let there be sun.

Late spring complaint

Spring has stalled again in that spot that feels
more November than May. Wind whips cold rain;
gray clouds scud low over drenched hilltops,
and the heart – long-distance runner that it is –
slogs rubber-legged with a stitch in its side
up the last long slope before the blessed finish.

All the rivers rise and will keep on rising for weeks;
who can say where they will stop? Water taking land,
fog choking air, rain down the neck, mud in shoes.
The lilacs bide in bud; the apple hoards its blooms.
Where is the trillium? Where is the heron? The sun?
The windshield wipers beat their endless idiot reply.

 

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A change in the weather

At first glance, the North Country does not look its best in November. For those who do not fly with the geese, it means looking a little harder to find the sustaining beauty that rewards any kind of weather. After so grandiose an autumn display, it’s easy to become discouraged; after long bright evenings, sunset comes too soon. I get it – bigly. There is the weather in the head, and the weather of the world. But wait, look a little closer.

A change in the weather

Gray sky today, and the trees a darker gray
where rain has stripped the prayer flag
leaves. It’s November now; the grand view
is gone, except these snow geese shipping
off south, fleeing flurries from the north.

Look no more up to the hills, up to the crowns,
across the still waters. October is for heights;
November is for near at hand. October is all
distances; November is in detail – orange fungus
on a stump, a tawny tamarack amid dark cedars.

The woods will drip all day, the trail slick
with mud and leaf duff. Only the understory
of saplings holds autumn’s shreds – little
candles of lemon, orange and russet glow
a brave resistance to the sudden evening.

With night and snow the eye turns closer still –
going no further than the porch light’s beam,
or the pages of a book, bright peppers on the
cutting board. And finally, inward altogether,
as dreams swim like fish beneath thin ice.

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Why women invented beer

Ninkasi, Sumerian goddess of beer

Yesterday an article in the Food and Drink section of Huffington Post caught my eye: “According To History, We Can Thank Women For Beer.” It details the role of women in the invention and development of brewing going back at least 9,000 years. But it never answers the question that immediately arose in my mind – “Why did women invent beer?” Here’s my theory.

Why Women Invented Beer

In those days the hunters had to range so far to find
a mammoth the whole clan would have to come,
leaving behind the sheltered valley rich with berries
and nuts, the river teeming with fish and mussels –
out to where there was nothing but wind and moss,
snow blown sideways across the endless steppes.

Then a year came when there were no mammoths,
not a track, no dung, nothing. The men pogoed
for hours around the fire, chanting their hunt songs;
the shaman babbled, wailed, shook the magic rattle –
all to no avail. And so, half-starved, footsore, the band
dragged themselves back to their bend in the river.

That lean year the clan ate anything they could find:
roots, bugs, even the grasses the wild horses grazed.
Being barely edible as was, a woman boiled it, added
a little wild honey so the children would eat it too,
and set it aside for later. But she forgot about it
until the batch went bad, bubbling and stinking.

So when himself came back grumpy, hungry, with
his game pouch empty, she said “Well, there’s this;
it’s nasty, but it will fill the hole in you.” Having eaten
worse – raw snails, rotted fish – he choked it down.
Later he began to laugh at nothing in particular
and rolled around with the children in the dirt.

This being so unlike him, she made another batch,
gathering all the seed-heads she could find.
He shared the brew with his hunting brothers,
who spent the whole night hooting around the fire,
dancing and showing off. When morning broke
none of them felt much inclined to take up the hunt.

And so settled life began, and agriculture. The men
began to build fences and walls and huts. Women
planted, harvested and brewed, and the place beside
the river became civilization. The Sumerians knew
her as Ninkasi, goddess of beer. In ancient Egypt,
she was revered as Menqet. And the rest is history.

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Another old poet has died

Donald Hall, 14th U.S. Poet Laureate, 2006-2007. Photo: Library of Congress

The poet Donald Hall died this week. Never say he “passed away;” he loathed euphemism. Though we never met except as a reader does, upon the page, I felt a kindred spirit at work in him. Being the age of my father, you might say Hall was the sort I wanted to be when I grew up – should that day ever come.

I liked his dedication to place, firmly planted as he was upon the farm, Eagle Pond, where his great-grandfather settled in 1865. And I loved the clear intent to communicate in ordinary language to ordinary people that his work displays. He believed that plain language sufficed to convey the most complex mixtures of thought and emotion.

“Everything important always begins from something trivial,” Hall said. Though he often achieved it, he did not insist on depth as a key value for individual works of art. To be beautiful was sufficient to justify any poem. And as I age myself, I appreciate being witness to his own journeys through love and loss, and to his ripening acceptance of the necessity of mortality, even his own.

As a writer, he said, “I expect my immortality will last about six seconds after my funeral.” In that, I expect, he was incorrect.

Here’s a poem for Donald Hall.

Another old poet has died

for Donald Hall

Another old poet has died, no surprise,
being made of meat, not stone.

But such is death doubled, taking
what unpenned works along.

The reader must begin again, seeking
some younger and stranger voice

that might elicit from him a grunt
in the silence of the library,

that might make him whisper
in wonder, “How perfect, how true.”

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