Saturday, March 9, 2019
Today I ran across a book of poetry and quotes about wilderness that I made in response to a canoe trek I took in Minnesota's Boundary Waters back in 1970. Nearly 50 years ago--hard to believe so much time has passed in my life since then. It was a very formative time in my life, influencing much of what I have become. As I was reading the quotes I chose from Thoreau, Aldo Leopold, Theodore Roosevelt, and others, I was surprised to find one unsigned poem. I have a feeling I wrote it--otherwise it would be identified with the author's name. It was a long time ago, 1970, but as I re-read it, I could tell the words had originally come from within me. And I was surprised to find that my 18-year-old mind had thought such deep things. But then, maybe not so surprising, for I was a very philosophical person back then. Maybe still am. So here it is.
It's original title was "Is It Man That Counts?"
'How can you be so no-caring?' a boy demanded,
Staring into the old man's eyes;
'Do you want all our life to die
And leave nothing to show our lives ranged?'
'Every animal dies,' the old chief would say
And gaze with deep-seeing silent eyes
About the village around them.
'Timeless is not changeless,' he would repeat.
But a boy's heart-strength is different
And his restless feet thus wandered,
Searching over forest-depth and countryside,
His mind straining with searches just as deep.
He drank in the wildness 'round him,
Knowing in his animal-part
It had no time, no beginning,
And no end? Their village
Already was shrinking, the forest depths
Pricked by hard, cold disruption,
A steeling chill so unlike winter--
More senseless--as rape or pillage.
And as the Wild spread its winter
Blanket, with its natural death,
He prayed that this might be
The end--to die as wild things died.
Then as the cold and steel creeping in
On them increased its breath to a roar,
He knew it wasn't death that was coming--
Just as the old man had tried
To tell. It was what the Wild was really
Made of; so though their villages--
And all men--passed; the Wild would
Sustain itself--timeless because it changed.
Monday, March 4, 2019
“Have you figured out what I’m supposed to be doing here?”
“Is that you, Cinda?”
It sure is good to hear Lexi’s familiar voice again, even if it is just in my head.
“Who else would it be?” I sigh.
A slight chuckle comes into my mind, not exactly from the person lying next to me. I can see Elka is sound asleep, and looking down my body where I lie beside her on the narrow bed, I see Elena is too.
“It seems like my insisting on staying here on the island came from Elena herself, not me,” I say to Lexi in my head.
“I’m not sure. All I know is we’re here for a reason.”
“But what am I supposed to do?”
“Just be here in your ancestor’s mind. The thing that’s supposed to happen will flow out naturally.”
“Are you sure, Lexi? How can we ever know? I mean, what if Elena would have done this anyway?”
“Think about it, Cinda. Do you think a thirteen-year-old girl in the early Nineteenth Century would challenge her father the way Elena did today?”
“I don’t know. Maybe not. But Elka argued with him, too. Was that your doing, Lexi?”
“Perhaps. These differences they have in religion run much deeper now than in our times. Anyway, the sisters are here with their estranged grandparents. Something new must come from this.”
“I guess so.” I gently roll onto my side. “I just wish this bed was more comfortable.”
Her chuckle echoes in my head as I doze off.
As the weeks of autumn passed, Elka and I helped Nanna search the low hills of the island for the wild berries she needed to make jam. We also peeled and chopped vegetables from the garden located behind the cottage. Most of these went into a large crock filled with sour vinegary wine. The smell was familiar from our own mother’s kitchen.
“It’s so good to have help with the sauerkraut,” Nanna said almost every day. “I guess I’m not as young as I used to be. Every year the work seems harder.”
“How old are you?” I asked one day.
Elka gave me a sharp stare, and I realized this probably wasn’t a polite question.
But Nanna just grinned. “Well, let me see. I was eighteen when your father was born in 1811. Hans and I had been married two years then. Yes, I was born in 1793, so that makes me 54 now.” She reached up and pushed a stray curl of graying hair back into her kerchief. “Getting older every day, my dears.”
I found myself wanting to say 54 wasn’t very old, but felt I’d said too much already. And I knew the hard work of farming and fishing took its toll here, whether one lived on the mainland or the islands. With a start, I realized I didn’t know anyone over the age of 60.
“Nanna, I hope you’ll live forever,” I heard my sister say.
“We all will--in a better place,” Nanna smiled. “An afterlife with no pain and no tears.”
“Are you sure?” Elka asked.
“The Word has promised it, Liebchen. I believe it and that settles it.”
“But what about our different beliefs about baptism?”
“Don’t let these men’s arguments distress you, girls. All that matters is we trust in our dear Savior.”
“I do trust in his salvation bought for us,” I murmured.
Nanna patted me on the shoulder. “Das ist gut.”
Elka smiled at me across the top of the table where we were chopping vegetables.
A day or two later, I was again hunting for berries along the sandy hills overlooking the eastern shore. The wind was picking up and getting colder by the moment. Elka had already given up and headed back for the cottage, but I felt sure I could find just a pint more. It was all we needed to complete the last batch of jam.
Just as I spotted some of the purplish fruit nearby, my foot slipped into an unseen hole. A horrible snapping sound rose from my ankle as I crumpled to the ground.
‘You should’ve known better than to be out here alone,’ a voice in my head scolded.
There was no point in trying to answer, even though I wondered where this unfamiliar voice came from. Instead, I tried to rise to my feet. The injured ankle couldn’t bear any weight, and I lost my balance in the sand. As I crashed to the ground again, I began crying for help.
‘There’s no one here to help,’ said that strange voice again.
Finally I managed to get up to my knees, and using the shrubs around me, I crawled higher up the sand dune. There was nothing in sight but empty fields. The grain harvest was finished and the livestock had been moved to the sheltered pens for the winter. If only Grandpapa were here.
Then I thought I saw a flash of blue color in the distance, down near the shore. Again I called, this time as loud as I could, “Help!”
The blue dot of color became a shirt, and the arms inside it were waving. Then the sea winds carried a voice my way, “What’s wrong?”
“I’ve hurt myself,” I called through cupped hands. “I can’t walk.”
“What?” The figure couldn’t hear my words because the wind was blowing the wrong way. So, I waved my arms and called for help again. By now my injured ankle was throbbing. I felt a rush of relief as the figure began to run along the beach in my direction.
By the time he started up the dune toward me, I could see it was a young man near my age. “I’m so clumsy,” I sighed when he was close enough to hear. “I fell and hurt my ankle.”
He quickly climbed up and took me by the hand. “Can you put any weight on it?”
“No. It hurts too much.”
“Here, lean on me.” He moved to my side and put a strong arm around my waist. “Why were you up here alone?”
“I know it was stupid of me. My sister and I were gathering berries for our Nanna. She got cold, but I wanted to find just a few more so we could have a full batch.”
He began to move down the hillside, helping me hop on my good leg. “I’ve never seen you around here before. Who is your grandmother?”
“Helena Hansen, wife of Anders.”
“Oh.” He seemed to be wondering what to say next.
“I know,” I added at his silence, “The family that split. My father is named Hans Hansen. My sister and I only met our grandparents a couple of weeks ago.”
We’d reached the beach by this time, so the going was easier. He didn’t speak for a few minutes but just continued to help me across the sand. He seemed to know exactly where my grandparents’ cottage was.
“So you’re from this island?”
“Born here on Fohr,” he grinned. “By the way, my name is George.”
“Thank you for coming to my rescue, George. I’m Elena Hansen.”
“I’m pleased to be of assistance, Miss Hansen. I guess I should give my full name too. George Edward Heinrichsen, at your service.”
By this time we were in sight of the cottage, but for some reason he slowed as we came to the gate of the winter pen. Before I could ask why, my sister was running toward us. “Elena, what have you done?”
“You know how clumsy I am,” I sighed.
George stopped and waited until Elka arrived on the other side of the gate.
“This is George Heinrichsen, Elka.”
“Thank you for helping her,” she nodded.
“My pleasure. Can you support her from here?”
I looked up at him, wondering why he seemed reluctant to go through the gate. But he smiled at me as he said, “I have to get back to work helping my father with the fishing nets. May I call for you later?”
I knew I was blushing and looked down at the clods around my feet before I whispered, “Yes, of course.”
Then Elka said, “Here, let me help.” She stepped into his place and I shifted my weight onto her shoulders.
“Thank you again, George,” I managed to say through the pain flaring in my ankle as I moved it.
He didn’t speak again but did take off his hat and made a small bow.
“What a nice young man, Elena.”
“Yes. I’d still be stuck in the dunes without him.”
“You were fortunate. I hope you’ve learned your lesson about going out there alone.”
“Yes Mother,” I half-mocked.
We giggled softly as we slowly and painfully made our way to the cottage.
“He seems to like you,” said Elka.
“He was just being polite. No one else was out there to help.”
“Oh, I think we haven’t seen the last of George Heinrichsen.”
I didn’t reply, but I was hoping to see George again, too.