April 12, 2016

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Poetry Friday: Take Me to the River

Happy Poetry Friday! You'll find a list of this week's poetry posts at Check It Out. Thanks for hosting, MsMac.

First things first: I am no longer sighing wistfully at photos of Venice (see last Friday's post for details). The teen returned safely on Tuesday night. He was happy. He had 1,000 pictures and a leather belt embossed with his initials from his trip to Italy.

How did Julia pass the time while her older brother was away? At Digital Photography camp. More of a course, really, offered through our public schools Summer Institutes for Talent Development. I've shared Julia's (a rising 8th grader) photos before. She loves taking close-up shots of flowers and bugs in our garden.

Pre-camp photo by Julia
This was her first formal class in photography. She learned about aperture, F-stops, the rule of thirds, and the fun a person can have with PhotoShop.

Photos by Julia for surrealism assignment

On Tuesday, to keep myself from counting the minutes until my son's plane landed, I accompanied Julia's photography class on a field trip. No big whoop -- I just met them down in old Ellicott City. We live just mile or two from this pre-Revolutionary mill town. It still has a mill, antique shops, restaurants, and great architecture.

But the middle schoolers in Julia's class were most excited by this...

Mysterious cairns in the Patapsco River. Photo by Julia.
The Patapsco River runs through old Ellicott City. Someone (someones?) had waded into the water and created these mysterious river-cairns. The children took their cameras down to the river bank to get a closer look. They were full of questions. Who stacked the stones? And why?

As the trip wound down and they waited for the bus in the shade, I struck up a conversation with a gentleman. He was out in the terrible heat, weeding a small public garden. Did he know anything about the cairns, I asked? (Sometimes, my time spent as a newspaper reporter comes in handy.)

Yes, he said. He showed me a little memorial garden for Teddy Betts, whom I had never heard of. 

Photo by Julia
Betts passed away in 2010. He was a member of the Friends of Patapsco Valley & Heritage Greenway. I love this memorial post about Betts, which calls him "The Patapsco Protector" for his love of and commitment to the health of our local river and the parks that surround it.

The local gardener I spoke with told me that Betts would leave cairns along the river, even in places where no one would see them. The stacks of stones that had so enthralled Julia's photography classmates were a tribute to Teddy by a group of friends and fellow volunteers. Here is an article about the project.

I went hunting for a poem that captures the stillness of the stones within the moving river. It was just luck that led me to "The River," by Peruvian poet Javier Heraud. A translation by Timothy Allen was featured at the Modern Poetry in Translation online journal.

The River

I am a river, going down over wide stones,
going down over hard rocks,
my path drawn by the wind.
The trees around me are shrouded with rain.
I am a river, descending with greater fury,
with greater violence,
whenever a bridge reflects me in its curves.
I am a river, a river.
A river: clear as crystal every morning.
Sometimes I am tender and kind.
I slide smoothly through fertile valleys.
I let the cattle and the gentle people
drink as much as they want.
Children run to me by day.
At night, trembling lovers stare into my eyes
and plunge themselves
into the stark darkness of my ghostly waters.
I am a river.
But sometimes I am wild and strong.
Sometimes I have no respect for life or death.
Cascading in furious waterfalls,
I beat those stones again and again,
I smash them into interminable pieces.
The animals run. They run.
They run when I flood their fields,
when I sow their slopes with tiny pebbles,
when I flood their homes and their meadows,
when I flood their doors and their hearts,
their bodies and their hearts.

And this is when I come down even faster:
when I can reach into their hearts
and grasp their very blood
and I can look at them from inside.
Then my fury turns peaceful
and I become a tree.
I seal myself up like a tree
and I turn silent as a stone

and I go quiet as a thornless rose.
The rest of the poem is at
Photo by Julia.
Here's an article for those of you interested in the history of cairns (the word comes from Scotland). I just loved the way the stones drew the children's -- and my -- attention to a beautiful river we might otherwise have overlooked.


Tabatha said...

The tribute to Teddy Betts is a wonderful gift to passersby. I'm impressed that you found a poem that captures both the river and the stones!

Glad Robbie had a good trip and is back safe and sound. I really like Julia's surreal photos!

Author Amok said...

Hi, Tabatha. The poet Javier Heraud also has a mysterious, and sad, story. I'm glad to have found this beautiful poem. There could be a post coming about Heraud himself.

Unknown said...

I love the story and images behind your post. Julia's photographs were outstanding too. I believe she may have inherited her eye from an observant mother who also seems to find interesting details in the life around her. Beautiful poem too. Thanks for taking the time to find it for us.

Author Amok said...

Stephanie, it's so funny that you say that about observation. My daughter and I took a walk through the woods about a year ago. I realized I would stop and say "look at this," or "did you see the mushrooms growing under this log?" Julia was stopping in silence, snapping photographs of what she noticed. Same practice, different medium.

Matt Forrest Esenwine said...

What a cool story and a wonderful tribute to Mr. Betts. )not just the cairns, but the poem could be, as well!)

Irene Latham said...

I will build a cairn somewhere today, just because. Love the river poem! Glad your boy is back stateside. And go, Julia, with the digital pics! Nice.

Liz Steinglass said...

I enjoyed the pictures, the story, and the poem. Thanks for sharing all of them.

Linda Betts said...

Thank you for the lovely article about my late husband. He had no idea of the legacy he was creating in those last years of his life. This activity gave him so much peace. Our 3 daughters take amazing comfort in the tributes and activities that have continued for now and the future. I hope that they will be able to share it with their own children someday.

Author Amok said...

Hi, Linda. I am honored that you took the time to read this post and touched that you enjoyed it. I did not know your husband, but through this beautiful community art project have learned how he nurtured the river and taught others to do the same.

Linda B said...

It's a lovely post, for family and for new friends, Laura. I agree with others, your daughter is a good observer and photo communicator. My son-in-law, as you know, makes movies, and he and I have talked about the relationship of what people "see" visually or in their mind's eye (words). The piece about Mr. Betts is special, too, along with the poem that I guess he would have loved. When I traveled with students to the rain forests in Washington State, we hiked deep into the forest to a river and each of us left a cairn there. Great to see these too. Thanks for all!

Michelle Heidenrich Barnes said...

Laura, I loved this post from beginning to end. It, too, was like a river's journey and I took pleasure in each cairn along the way. Welcome home to your son and kudos to your daughter.

GatheringBooks said...

I am moved by this post. Thank you for sharing about your son's trip to Venice and your daughter's photography class - she takes lovely pictures, real talent there - it's good that her skills are being honed. I also enjoyed Javier Heraud's poetry, I loved the second stanza the most.

Keri said...

So many haunting and inspiring posts this Poetry Friday! I'm a fan of cairns and inuksuks/inukshuks and love the tribute to Teddy. Thanks for finding the perfect poem to include with this touching story of how one person really can make a difference!