Today was such a fortunate, glorious day–perfect blue sky spotted here and there with little puff clouds. By far the best thing was the temperature (upper 70s) and low humidity. After days and days of heat advisories it was nice to have a perfect summer day with no obligations. My big treat was getting in a bike ride around one of the lakes.

It had been over a week, maybe two, since my last bike ride and it’s always striking how the vegetation changes so quickly. In Wisconsin we are currently at our most overgrown and overleafed and it something to be savored.  To be out and about with a crisp breeze this time of year is to be amazed at how loud everything is: the leaves, the bugs, the grass, the flowers, the branches, the lake water.

But the early crispness in the air also reminds me that autumn is only a few weeks away. There were surprising few people out, which triggered some feelings of loneliness.  I recalled all the last glinting days of childhood summers:  the excitement of starting a school year, the the anxiety of holding on to fleeting time.   I also recalled my first summer after college when I worked into September, well after all the school years had started. I was starting an opportunity in October, but missing my first school year after nearly two decades worth, made me feel as those the entire world was populated with school children who were starting something new and leaving me behind. Perhaps that loneliness was a first burden of adulthood, the anxiety of entering it in the first place and knowing that I would never leave.

Here’s where I begin to write a poem. My little bike-ride and the images conjured triggered strong feels with many possible meanings. If I were to write a poem, I would start by compiling images. I would think about the sounds I heard: the leaves like breaking waves, the creaking branches (one that sounded like a screen door). The blue of the lake–surprisingly it was the same color as a porta-potty parked next to it.  What kind of images–how do they set the tone?  I would let them write themselves and see if they could answer that for me.

This is also when I would think about the sounds this poem should make (do I want it to feel jagged, or smooth–to move quickly or stutter when read out loud? Should I mimic the sounds I hear or play against a reader’s expectations?). From there I would just take time to put down words (I would work with a dictionary to help keep myself surprised) and to see if those words lead anywhere.

But when it comes to nature, do I really need to write when everything’s been written already, the emotions already so well conveyed? As one of my bosses would say: something to noodle on.

Here’s a nature poem from the 13th or 14th century–my Norton anthology is not very sure. The notes (in parenthesis) are annotations courtesy my Norton anthology:

Fowls in the Frith (Birds in Woods)

Fowles in the frith,
The fisshes in the flood,
And I mon waxe wood: (must go mad)
Much sorwe (sorrow) I walke with
For best of boon and blood.

(According to the scholars at Norton, the final line could read “the best” or “beast” of bone, which means it could be religious or erotic or both!)

So the beast of burden here is our mortality, our limitations, the futile desires we walk with that the natural world, in its instinctual perfection, never encounters.  Humanity is once again betrayed by its complexity.  This was seriously written 700 years ago and this is essentially the question behind nearly every nature poem ever.  Although I wonder if anyone has ever taken on a porta-potty.

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