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Posts Tagged ‘travel’

Lake of the Clouds, Porcupine Mountains

Every summer for the past seven I’ve made a trip to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  Year after year, its wild beauty calls me back.  (You can read about my 2010 visit here.)

 

Visiting the U.P. unsettles me.  I’m enough a suburbanite that I feel on edge in a place with so many trees and so few people.  Humans never made much of an inroad in the Upper Peninsula anyway, but lately with the closing of so many mines and paper mills, it’s less populated than ever.

 

But visiting the U.P. also allows me to connect with something bigger than myself.  Call it mystery and freedom, call it nature, call it God, but it’s a connection I’ve yearned for all year without knowing it.  That soulful kind of experience, along with the spectacular views, is what pulls me back.

 

This year I went to the Porcupine Mountains for the first time. The Porkies, as they are known, are 60,000 acres of state park along Lake Superior, about 5 ½ hours west of the Mackinac Bridge. Of course I left poems wherever I hiked—after all, that’s what a poem elf does.  But I won’t be writing much about these poems because they were leftover copies of poems I either have posted already or have sent to someone privately.  A normal person would just throw the extra copies away, but that seems callous to me.  (A normal person would also say my behavior is a mix of hoarding, littering, and marking territory, and sometimes normal people are spot on.)

 

Since the internet is the slide projector of our age, I invite you to see a few photos while I gush over a trip you didn’t go on.

 

Bond Falls

If you’re a waterfall fan, the Upper Peninsula has a glut of them.  It almost gets to be like meh, another amazing waterfall, no more noteworthy than another pretty day in California.

For no particular reason, I left John Donne’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls” on a tree by these falls.

 

I left Mary Oliver’s “Why I Wake Early” at the bottom of the Lake of the Clouds (top photo).

No one writes about connecting with nature and spirit more beautifully than Oliver.  She really belongs here.

 

At Summit Peak, the highest point in the park, I left Scottish poet Edward Muir’s “The Confirmation.”

The poem is between my friends, tall and not-so-tall, each “as they were meant to be.”

 

I’ll post a few more pictures over the weekend.

 

Happy Friday!

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Poem is above trash bin

 

When You Are Old

by William Butler Yeats

 

 

When you are old and gray and full of sleep,

And nodding by the fire, take down this book,

And slowly read, and dream of the soft look

Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

 

How many loved your moments of glad grace,

And loved your beauty with love false or true,

But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,

And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

 

And bending down beside the glowing bars,

Murmur, a little sadly, how love fled

And paced among the mountains overhead

And hid his face among a crowd of stars.

 

 

 

I taped this poem to a trashcan at a rest stop on the Ohio Turnpike.  I know, I know– I’ve done the old poem-on-a-trashcan routine before.  If this poem-elfing were a Broadway show, I’d be shuffling around with a top hat and cane right about now.

 

I could pretend there’s some metaphoric connection between the trashcan and the poem.  Yeats is hoping not to be discarded by the woman he loves. . . or how’s this   . . . anything left in a trashbin on a turnpike is not likely to be retrieved. Just so Yeats tells his beloved, take me now or I’m as out of reach as the stars.

 

But placing the poem here was a practical decision, not an artistic one.  Mostly I wanted to display it where it would easily be seen. I was also thinking that rest stops are such sterile places (or so we hope, considering that the two prescribed activities are eating and eliminating) that it would be a public service to leave behind something soulful and beautiful.

 

I love Yeats so much I could poem-elf him exclusively.  Of course I’m partial to all things Irish and Yeats especially, since I’ve always thought he looks like an old friend of my husband and mine (Paul, if you are reading, accept a compliment to your Irish good looks); and also because (I admit sheepishly) his poems are easy to understand, at least at first. (It will be no surprise to academic types that when it comes to poetry, I am a slacker.)

 

Yeats wrote “When You Are Old” for Maud Gonne, an Irish revolutionary and famous beauty.  He was obsessed with her and over the course of his life would propose to her four times. Like Pip’s love for Estella, Scarlett’s for Ashley, Yeat’s unrequited love for the six-foot tall, red-haired Gonne shaped his life. She drew Yeats into her political causes and awakened his nationalistic feelings. He wrote a play for her to star in.  He even, after Maud’s final rejection, proposed to her daughter.  With her permission. (She had other boundary issues with mating and mothering—she had sex on her infant son’s grave in the hope of conceiving his reincarnation.)

 

This poem is just plain painful and not a little bitter.  The soothing rhythm almost sounds like a lullaby, but the singer is one boiled rabbit short of stalker status. People writing love poems usually praise the beloved’s face and figure, exaggerating their attractions: eyes like diamonds, breasts like pillows, and so forth.  But Yeats conjures up an image of Maud in her hoary-headed years, all beauty gone, alone and talking to herself, a doddering old biddy, drifting off to sleep by the fire.  Not very sexy, unless your name happens to be Harold.

 

While Yeats does pay the requisite compliments of love poetry—he notes her glad grace, beauty, and a dewy soft look in her eyes—his compliments come with a veiled threat.  Not only will she lose her beauty someday, but if she rejects him, she’ll never have any love at all. Out of all her admirers, only he truly loves her.

 

I suppose if he wasn’t a little off-kilter, a little psychologically suspect, he wouldn’t be that much fun to read.  And at least he loves Gonne for the right reasons. He sees beyond her beautiful face and lively spirit: he actually loved the sorrows of your changing face, that is her loss of beauty and her sadness.  (After just reading that men are turned off by the odor of women’s tears, I say, three cheers for Yeats, although he may have just been congested.)  Every woman, no matter how much time she puts into her appearance, and maybe especially if she puts excessive time into her appearance, longs to be loved for who she is.  What woman wouldn’t swoon to hear a man tell her he loves her pilgrim soul?  Yeats is a wily seducer, but his success was limited, at least with Maud, to the page.

 

Born in Dublin in 1865 to a Protestant family, Yeats spent much of his childhood in London.  Nonetheless, Yeats supported Irish independence. He loved and collected Irish folklore, was a key figure in the Irish Literary Revival, and helped found Dublin’s Abbey Theater.  He was the first Irishman to win the Nobel Prize, and served for six years as an Irish senator. At age 52 Yeats eventually married a woman half his age.  Theirs was a happy marriage but not a monagomous one, at least on his part, the old goat.  He died in Paris in 1939.

 

 

Pilgrim soul! Oh my.

 

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poem is on window frame above tossed coat

A Man Said to the Universe by Stephen Crane A man said to the universe: “Sir, I exist!" “However,” replied the universe, “The fact has not created in me “A sense of obligation.”

Here in Michigan, last week’s Blizzard of the Century earned the same distinction among storms as Student of the Month has among bumper stickers. We never got much snow at all.  But then again it’s not unusual for Detroit to get less of what’s expected while the rest of the country gets more.  Sigh.

Anyway, the day before the Storm That Dropped Six Inches!, I was at the airport.  Anticipating travel delays, cancellations, and frustrated travelers to follow behind me, I left Stephen Crane’s poem at the Southwest gate.  A poke in the eye, the naughty elf in me thought.

This little hairshirt of a poem could fit inside a New Yorker cartoon.  Picture a puffed-up little man, a comic character on the order of Mr. Banks from Mary Poppins or Lady Bracknell from Importance of Being Earnest or a Margaret Dumont character from an old Marx Brothers movie.  He bangs his indignant fat fist on the desk of a bureaucrat called The Universe, insisting, “Sir, I exist!”  The universe, looking like John Malkovich at his most affectless, says, “Do I look like someone who gives a damn?”

If you studied Crane’s short stories “Open Boat” or “Blue Hotel” in high school or college, you probably wrote the phrase “indifference of nature” in an essay.  But that’s probably (hopefully) the last you had to deal with the concept.  Most of us are protected by enough safety nets that our only glimpse of nature’s indifference is when really bad weather or natural disasters hit.  Mother Nature doesn’t care that you have to fly to California for your terminally ill uncle’s 89th birthday party or that you need to get home before your bloated old dog craps all over your beige carpet.  Sob stories, saintly intentions, money and connections make no difference when a blizzard arrives. Snow falls on the just and unjust alike, Matthew might have written if he were stuck in Chicago last week.

While I don’t share Crane’s fatalistic view of an indifferent universe, I do respond to the equalizer that his universe is, its refusal to grant privilege to those who think they’ve earned it.  In my book the only people who deserve special treatment are those who need it, the sick and the old.

Crane wrote this poem in his mid-twenties.  That’s awfully young to have so bleak an outlook, but the indifference of the universe seems to have been beaten into him. The youngest of 14 children, Crane was small and sickly from birth. His father, a prominent Methodist minister, died when Crane was 8, and thereafter relatives died on him left and right—from train accidents, drug overdoses, and disease—until he himself succumbed to tuberculosis at age 28.

But it was an action-packed 28 years, one that no one would have forecast for a minister’s son from New Jersey. He lived with the poor and destitute in New York City’s Bowery, worked as a war correspondent in Cuba, Mexico and Greece, was shipwrecked, suffered from malaria, had a common-law wife who was a brothel owner when he met her, became friends with Henry James, H.G. Wells and Joseph Conrad, and earned fame during his lifetime for his Civil War novel The Red Badge of Courage.  It’s hard to imagine too many 28 year olds doing all that today, but maybe I just don’t know that many people.

The airport emptied early last Tuesday.  Most flights were cancelled shortly after I flew out, and the poem was probably tossed in the trash by a janitor, dare I say, indifferently.

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