Sunday, December 14, 2014

stick season

I'm a little out of sync here: the poem below should by rights have appeared in November, but its "inspiration" (I'm always a bit uncomfortable with that term) was a Vermont Public Radio commentary by one of my former students, longtime friend Peter Gilbert, director of the Vermont Humanities Council. Peter is a learned fellow and a poetry enthusiast. I suspect, and I blush, that he knows more about poetry than I do.

I was out of state when Peter's commentary on "Stick Season" aired, but having returned home, I found it on the VPR web site and responded with something whose title shamelessly replicates the one he used for his remarks.

I found my attitude toward the season in question to echo Peter's all but exactly. Upper New England is famous for its autumn foliage, but like him, I have also always loved, even perhaps preferred, the period between the end of the color's peak and the coming of first snow. There is a clarity and austerity in the landscape at that point that I find, at least on sunny days, equally beautiful to the hysterics of October.

The prospect of winter, perhaps like that of the gallows, as Dr. Samuel Johnson famously put it, "concentrates the mind wonderfully."

But then I love winter too. Why on earth would anyone who, like me, chooses to live in northern Vermont, and who (exactly unlike a snowbird) heads north to Maine for respite, even in January– why would he not love the season we're in as I write?


                       Stick Season
                                                                                                       –for Peter Gilbert

The one that precedes stick season is the one that shows
in those quaint calendar photographs, the one that brings the buses
and cars and people– and devices: for a long time plain old cameras,
then video gear for a spell, now mostly so-called smart phones,
which even map out travel routes. The picture-takers
contemplate those phones as often as they do

the scene, which is sumptuous, granted– scarlet, yellow, exorbitant
on the breadloaf hills, leaves incandescent, drifting or plunging
downward, depending on weather, to scuttle along the roadbeds,
rivers, fields, and lakes, exquisite little creatures,
ones, or so it might seem, reluctant to be seen
yet wanting to be seen after all.
                                                                                          However, give me

this: middle November, the season of sticks. O give me
stubborn oak and beech leaves, umber and dun, that flitter
in gusts that smell so clean and new they break your heart.
The trees– the other, unclothed ones– are standing there, 
fixed and dignified, and you can look straight through them
to the contours of the mountains, stark, perhaps, but lovely

in their apparent constancy. That gap-toothed barn
houses only space since its owner died. Do you remember
Studebakers? That’s one over there, a pickup truck,
flat-footed among sumac. Painted green way back,
these days it has taken the hue of those later leaves I love.
Mere age has changed the mountains too. They’re rounder now

than once, worn smoother. Everything is for a time.

No comments:

Post a Comment