Elemental

a swimming hole, a fishing pole...ahhh.
a swimming hole,
a fishing pole…ahhh.

ELEMENTAL

 Near Flint Hill, Virginia, which is to say also near Little Washington and Sperryville, in Rappahannock County

 Indigo mountains scallop the horizon, green meadows undulating here to there, mountain creeks ripple and wind among stones with a music nearly as loud as the fevered crickets, the tree frogs, all the crazy, drunk insects. Tiger Swallowtails with their great flappy wings are in love with the purple flounces of butterfly bushes—as we all must be.

Maria Montessori said that a person will never feel so at home as when in her native place. Northwestern Virginia is not my birthplace or my old homeplace, but its thick green, its vine-laden August woods of poplar, beech, and maple, sumac and walnut, its Queen Ann’s lace and bachelor’s buttons, hawkweed, and black-eyed Susans, its swat of gnats and hover of morning dew-rise–all welcomed me into its element this past weekend, and I recognized in my bones a familiarity and I slept like a baby born in these arms.

In addition to Middle-Tennessee-like terrain, those blue mountains etching the distance reminded me of my old love of trails and the rich gifts of panoramas they offer, the thrill of being witness to something grand and gifted. I felt away on vacation as well as very much at home, and that is a very particular satisfaction. Four fanciful yellow metal yard chairs circled a fire pit. I could almost hear the children playing tag and chasing lightning bugs around them while their parents talked and stared at flames and let their weekday bustle dissolve into the night. Blessings on these adult children of our hosts for letting us be in this place!

We walked down the road and across a pasture through a curious herd of Angus cows and their young, on over thin soil and rock-strewn paths to the swimming hole. The large fish-stocked pond teased with warmth the first two inches, then startled with cold spots beneath. Perfect. Sunlight on our faces. Frogs calling. Floating on a summer Saturday afternoon. The creek that feeds it rippled nearby, gurgling through child-built dams and falls.

How hungry I must have been for this element after almost a year of bricks, stones, and concrete. I am enjoying the city, my bold negotiation of its driving culture and its one-ways and arteries, its alleys and highways. I like the city’s neighborhoods, its people and their particular ways of being and seeing, its hardness, its heart and heartiness, its art culture. Few negatives come to mind about our year here on this historic harbor and our own zone of eighteenth century homes and old warehouses repurposed, its cobblestones and stories of town founders and their industries around ships and fishing and trade. I sense a different energy here—not New York, not Nashville, not San Francisco—but uniquely a Baltimore vibe. It is not my element, but it’s an element that infuses me with a new attentiveness, a stimulus to explore places and people in my sphere of walks and shopping and visiting historic sites, galleries, markets, museums, festivals, and harbor activities. I’ve gained something new under the skin I was born in. I’ll take that home in November, where I’ll slide back into the Middle-Tennessee soul of me.

 

 

Baltimore and Home

HomeBaltimore and Home

It’s the clang and flap of halyards

and flip of lines in the morning’s stir

and their present silence at night

on dark water where the lighted shore

shimmies on silk waves

I’ll miss

when I return inland.

Now I bring to mind

the green shaft of slanted lawn,

sun tickling still damp trees

towering like these masts, rustling

above firm ground.

 

It’s the cheer and clutter of these colored streets

spilling masses of beer-soaked

voices and the stories I overhear bits of

corner to corner I’ll miss:

young men working on sidewalks in spattered aprons

and cracking colored glass to make art

and shopkeepers, tavern workers, and loiterers

and young girls with skimpy tops

talking about boys and guys talking

about Orioles and Ravens, their tee shirts

speaking the news of sports or beer,

politics or anatomy, eyes darting.

 

I’ll miss the age: cobblestones and rowhouses

with their improbable vertical arrangement

of space, with their flowerboxes spilling

petunias and potato vines and their doors

bright and alleyways intriguing—our dog

peeks down every narrow gated space between them,

where sometimes a cat crouches, sometimes

the back garden is visible or maybe

just imaginable and enticing to us both—

 

and all the shouting history along wharves

where brackish water joins the salt,

then all the world. The tugs, the giant ships

gray like enormous specters,

coming and going in the night.

Yet side by side the missing,

I find ahead

 

the comfort of quiet that waits

where deer graze on the yard

and ground softens underfoot,

where soil spins the miracle

of flowers and herbs

and a piliated comes to feed.

The dog will be unleashed to chase

the wind and all its scents.

 

There’s where we will kneel and plant

for the tens of years of sun allotted:

those loves of children and friends

and our own stars guiding

our private translocations.

 

From each I will open windows

to sight across the distances,

and, as now, reach from here to there,

and gather from there to where I bide.