Antique Lights, Minneapolis, Minnesota, September 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.
I can’t believe it’s Christmas Eve. Our cat Chaco, who we discovered last week is chronically ill, is resting comfortably in the bedroom. He spent Winter Solstice in the emergency hospital. We brought him home from the vet yesterday along with three prescription medications and a bag of fluids we’ll be administering subcutaneously over the next few days. Dr. Blackburn says he’s a fighter; he’s walking better, eating more regularly, and his little Spirit has more life than it did last week.
We’ll take him back on Saturday to see how his vitals look. In the meantime, we are learning to care for a chronically ill cat. It goes without saying, Liz and I haven’t been getting much sleep. So the energy for posting has flagged. But then I ran across this inspirational poem by Russell Libby.
Described by kindle, site of the Northern New England Bioneers, as “a farmer, a selectman, an economist, a poet, and a visionary builder of local, organic food systems in Maine and beyond,” he seems like a man close to the Earth. Since 1983 he and his family have grown organic food for friends and family at Three Sisters Farm in Mount Vernon, and his Maine roots date back to 1635, when his forebears settled in the colony.
His poem reminded me of all the trees that lose their lives this time of year (31 million Christmas trees last year in the U.S. alone). Many Christmas trees come from tree farms these days (500 Minnesota tree farmers expect to harvest 500,000 trees this year), though I have been known to go out and cut my own from the forest of a friend’s ancestral lands. Fresh pine is the smell of Christmas for me. And I love sitting in the dark and staring at the lights on the tree.
Since we haven’t had time to put a tree up this year, I thought I’d post these photographs of the antique Christmas lights mentioned in The Poet’s Letter — Robert Bly. It was at Poetry Group that night that our friend Teri shared a story about how her family discovered the lights hidden on top of a rainwater cistern in the basement of a Minnesota farmhouse that has been in her family for generations.
Trees provide balance and structure for the thousands of lights that burn brightly this time of year. I am grateful for the untouched land, places preserved for old growth forests, trees with skins that will never be touched by an ax or saw.
Here’s one last quote for the trees I found in an Alice Walker book, Anything We Love Can Be Saved — A Writer’s Activism. It’s printed below a black and white photograph of a man with his arms stretched wide around a tree. It’s a good time of year to remember what is worth putting our arms around.
This photograph of an Indian man hugging a tree has been attached to my typing stand for years. Each day it reminds me that people everywhere know how to love. It gives me hope that when the time comes, each of us will know just exactly what is worth putting our arms around.
-Robert A. Hutchison
Holding The Light, Minneapolis, Minnesota, September 2008, all photos © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.
American Life in Poetry: Column 194
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE, 2004-2006
Father and child doing a little math homework together; it’s an everyday occurrence, but here, Russell Libby, a poet who writes from Three Sisters Farm in central Maine, presents it in a way that makes it feel deep and magical.
measuring the height
of a pine from
Rosa’s shadow stretches
seven paces in
low-slanting light of
late Christmas afternoon.
One hundred thirty nine steps
up the hill until the sun is
finally caught at the top of the tree,
twenty to one,
one hundred feet plus a few to adjust
for climbing uphill,
and her hands barely reach mine
as we encircle the trunk,
almost eleven feet around.
Back to the lumber tables.
That one tree might make
three thousand feet of boards
if our hearts could stand
the sound of its fall.
American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright (c) 2007 by Russell Libby, whose most recent book is “Balance: A Late Pastoral,” Blackberry Press, 2007.
Reprinted from “HeartLodge,” Vol. III, Summer 2007, by permission of Russell Libby. Introduction copyright (c) 2008 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.
-posted on red Ravine, Christmas Eve, Wednesday, December 24th, 2008