Early in my reading to become a better citizen of the earth, I read one of the cornerstone writings in the American conservation movement, Aldo Leopold's Sand County Almanac. Leopold lived in what are called the Sand Counties in Wisconsin and wrote about the damage man had done to the environment in his quest to "tame" the land and make it profitable.
One passage that stuck with me for its poetry and imagery was a chapter called "Goose Music." In it Leopold almost cries over the destruction of the natural landscape to make farms that mostly failed anyway. At the end of this chapter he asks this question:
"And when the dawn-wind stirs through the ancient cottonwoods, and the gray light steals down from the hills over the old river sliding softly past its wide brown sand bars—what if there be no more goose music?"
One morning as I walked at the Plains Center where I volunteer as a naturalist, I saw skeins of geese rising from fields to the east, flying toward me and over me. In the prairie quiet I thought of "Goose Music." And this is the poem that came from that memory.
I walk the faint warmth of a November morning.
A breeze stirs the grass with a soft
hint of sage. The far off honk of geese calls
my eyes to the northeast. Dark lines appear,
skeins of geese, rising from the lion-colored grass.
More and more lines form, stretch
across the sky, touch the horizons.
They fly low, the swish of blue sky
rushing through their wings,
blends with their calls and the sigh
of sere prairie grass.
The cold and snow of a winter storm
squalling in from the north, pushes them south.
Their Vees, though loose and shifting, show
purpose, a journey to warmth and life.
I stand wrapped in morning light …
the lure of goose music.
First published in Distant Horizons, WyoPoets 2009 chapbook.
Another time, I was shepherding a group of visitors up an arroyo at our West Bijou site when I saw and then heard a small flight of a dozen Sandhill Cranes flying toward us. I stopped the group and asked them to be quiet to listen to the haunting calls of the cranes as they flew a few hundred feet over our heads. As I watched them row past us, I remembered another passage from a chapter in Sand County Almanac, "Marshland Elegy."
"Some day, perhaps in the very process of our benefactions, perhaps in the fullness of geologic time, the last crane will trumpet his farewell and spiral skyward from the great marsh. High out of the clouds will fall the sound of hunting horns, the baying of the phantom pack, the tinkle of little bells, and then a silence never to be broken, unless perchance in some far pasture of the Milky Way."
That memory of Leopold's elegy for the cranes and their haunting calls as they flew over us and a recent trip to the Bosque del Apache in NM inspired me to write this poem about the cranes.
Phoenix Rising from the Marsh
The setting sun etches the blue-black
ridge against a turquoise and coral sky.
From the dark in the east comes the calls
of sandhill cranes returning to the marsh.
They become silent, set their wings, glide
to smooth landings, and take a few steps
to stretch graceful legs.
This morning, these same cranes flew
from this marsh, rising like phoenixes
from the ash and mud of the Cretaceous,
the spirits of dinosaurs that died millions
of years ago as that era ended. They lifted
slowly into the dawning sky, like Adam
reaching to the hand of God in the Sistine.
A few weeks earlier, these cranes warbled
high in a prairie morning into the sight
of an old warrior walking there, looking
for peace and solitude. He heard their calls,
like the simple notes of a Beethoven adagio.
His soul wanted to fly with the cranes.
As with emotions he felt in the Sistine Chapel
or when he listened to the adagios of Mahler or
Beethoven, he could find no words to express
the joy he felt in their ancient music.
First published in The Weekly Avocet, Dec 2013.
And so we can find poetic inspiration in readings of long ago and their memories as some simple incident in an ordinary day brings back those memories. A piece of poetic prose becomes another man's poem. The poet must be ever observant.