On the Duty of Staying Home

April is National Poetry Month and, one week into it, I was pleasantly surprised to get a postcard from a friend in Richmond who wrote, “Trying times for us all, but there are moments of clarity. I was drawn back to your poem The Stones Deliver a Sermon on the Duty of Staying Home.” It’s not often that a poem of mine (or a book that includes it) gets noticed by either friend or enemy, so I started thinking.

Dyke Creek…

I’ve been fishing the New York trout streams near my home this past week (maintaining requisite social distance, of course), and looking for… well… poetry and fish. It’s been a satisfying endeavor, although certain streams were frustrating– shy of their usual numbers of trout, if not of poetry.

Genesee River…

The poem that my postcard pal referred to starts with “Verily we say unto you/ O passerby: We were cursed,/ called stumbling stones,/ fragments fallen from/ a single rock in Heaven’s field…”. Yup. Fishing this week, I probably stumbled over some of those stones (I need cleated soles again) and cursed the poor things more than they deserved. Nonetheless, there were elements of poetry in the wild and hatchery fish, in the chorusing of song birds on the streambanks, in the greening mat of wild leeks on the forest floor.

Spring Mills…

I’d been mindless of National Poetry Month, but reading works by Frost and Pound and Boccaccio nonetheless– the latter’s ancient volume, The Decameron, is especially apropos given our current health crisis. I mean, a guy can’t just fish and hike all day, without a dash of culture… for balance… can he?

My friend’s postcard quoted the last few lines of “The Stones Deliver a Sermon on the Duty of Staying Home”: … Blessed are the persecuted and the lonely,/ blessed, the poor who stay at home,/ for the righteous and unknowing find/ no Heaven there. Please don’t tell me that those stumbling stones, the old stone fences near abandoned fields (having aided farmers till the “futile harvests followed”) are dumb as rocks.

Black stonefly…

Rail Trail, Wellsville-Addison-Galeton…

And lastly, from Wings Over Water (please forgive, but there’s no other way to plug a new book in these days of global turmoil)… “I like to find poetry in the world, in the elements surrounding us, waiting for connection and interpretation. I like to translate what is raw and flex it into ordinary words. That process, I suppose, is one facet of my job as naturalist…”

Everyone has a personal framework in the world of nature, but so many have forgotten what that framework is, or allowed the social world to smash it. Still, “We have ways of realigning our humanity… with the history of our kind and with our hope for future days…” The lands and waters can assist us in getting straight, or realigned.

“They speak directly and to the point. They speak the poetry of life.”


About rivertoprambles

Welcome to Rivertop Rambles. This is my blog about the headwaters country-far afield or close to home. I've been a fly-fisher, birder, and naturalist for most of my adult life. I've also written poetry and natural history books for thirty years. In Rambles I will mostly reflect on the backcountry of my Allegheny foothills in the northern tier of Pennsylvania and the southern tier of New York State. Sometimes I'll write about the wilderness in distant states, or of the wild places in the human soul. Other times I'll just reflect on the domestic life outdoors. In any case, I hope you enjoy. Let's ramble!
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12 Responses to On the Duty of Staying Home

  1. Brent says:

    I’ve enjoyed reading short daily passages from Wings Over Water–not blazing through it, but drawing it out to enjoy quieter moments in its pages. And as the mornings have become more pleasant for sitting outside on the balcony, with coffee, I’ve noticed more birdsong than ever. I’m not adept at identifying all the individual songs in the chorus, but I have had the opportunity to reflect on how lovely a bird like the robin, seemingly so common and mundane, can sound.

    • Sounds nice, the silver lining to the current weirdness, for sure. The city, too, is probably quieter these days, allowing the cardinal, the robin & company to enunciate their opinions more clearly. Thanks!

  2. UB - Marion says:

    Looked like a beautiful day to be out on the stream/s. Nice fish, nice weather, and nice stick there Walt – fiberglass? Are you a ‘lefty’ or do you reel in your line ‘bass-ackwards’? I’m not so much into poetry but what you cite here sounds fine and one can certainly understand what you are trying to get across.
    Wishing I could come back there. I think our Governor allows us to go visit our ‘property’ but it just doesn’t feel right to me to. If I were resident there and saw some out of state license plate, I’d wonder who the heck was hanging out there. Ah.. maybe I’m over-thinking it.
    take care,

    • Thanks, Marion, we’ve had some lovely weather of late, considering the fact that NYS is not exactly a sunshine state, even in April. Yeah, the one rod is a fiberglass stick I’ve had for many years, and one that I like to use in the muddy high-water days of early season. When it comes to casting, I am ambidextrous– which comes in handy, so to speak. Some reels are set for left, some for right-hand… The PA season opened early, as you probably know, and I hit the Genesee headwaters today and had a fine one. I have NY plates but luckily they should not look “out of place” along the PA/NY border country. I hope you’ll be able to visit Slate before long– meanwhile, MI should have good water, no?

  3. UB - Marion says:

    Good water…. not Slate or Cedar though 😦

    • I know what you mean, but sometimes just “good water” can be great. Today, on a very marginal stretch of the headwaters (high & rather muddy, to my advantage) I caught/released a 21″ brown, probably a wild fish or, if not, a vintage holdover that made my day… Photo in my next posting.

  4. plaidcamper says:

    Walt, I’m delighted that in your stumbling you found poetry, fish, and more than a dash of culture – necessary activity to keep yourself whole in these more than trying times. Stay safe in that stumbling, on the river and elsewhere!

  5. Bob Stanton says:

    Your mention of Frost and Pound immediately struck me as appropriate, too, in these times. Somewhat hackneyed perhaps, but I thought of Mending Wall – “Good fences make good neighbors,” certainly applicable, even if the fences are invisible these days, and The Wasteland, which life sometimes resembles as we wait out this period of quarantine. And another ahem, “poet” comes to mind, James Douglas Morrison, who sang, “strange days have found us….” Here’s hoping they don’t linger too long.

  6. Major thankies for the blog article. Really thank you! Really Great.

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