It was a nice gathering of artists at a lodge set on a forested slope above Canandaigua Lake. Some of these writers had traveled a long way to get to this retreat. Some of them were interesting to speak with and to listen to while reading their work. Some of them even understood that they, and all of us, live in an environment, whether it’s urban or rural or in between, and were able to express connections to it creatively.
I had to leave this annual event on Friday evening as a thunderstorm pelted the deck with hail. For half an hour the drive south took me through torrential rain, wipers beating double time, flash of light and thunderclap directly overhead.
The next day I returned. The weather was brighter and calm, and the Council was alive. I left the dining hall of the lodge and rambled over the grounds. On a path to the tree house near Thoreau Cabin, I met a woman with binoculars trying to spot a warbler singing in the canopy.
She didn’t sound as though she knew much about birds, as yet. I suggested that the singer could’ve been a yellow-rump warbler, or maybe a redstart. The observer probably thought I’d taken too many liberties with the free beer in the kitchen.
But what’s in a name? I was here to talk with fellow writers and to hear some of their programs. I’d been asked to present my own program called “W.W. Christman: Upstate Poet.” Hardly anyone knows the name.
Will Christman was a New York farm poet (1865-1937) who wrote passionately of the land he lived on, and of man’s place in its universe of lives. When I found his work many years ago, I dug behind the name and was amazed.
Someone wrote in the Guest Book, What do people call the white trilliums around here? We don’t call them that. Say what? I thought of asking, “Do you call ’em wake-robins?” There’s that thing about the name.
I broke from my narrative about the old poet to recite one of his poems. When “The Passing of the Pine” came to a close, unexpected applause derailed me for a bit– till I found where I’d left off in the narrative.
Losing my place for a moment while reciting for an audience was like searching for an unknown singer in the trees. Who am I and what am I doing? Luckily I held the singer/poet firmly in my head, his notes no less profound.
Had there been a trout stream near the lodge I would’ve taken time to fish. Why not? Only a careerist would scoff, then drone on and try to further his name.