Monday, August 29, 2016

of me and others

only real in connection?

I question a need in me to feel central to others,
I want to love my grandchildren
and to be happy for them when they’re away from me
and thoroughly into their own worlds,
with me but an occasional thought,
yet I miss them and want us to be around each other,

as a teacher, consciously I hold the student at the center:
I help them get on the bike
and then they pedal away from me into competence,
recently I’ve heard back
two wonderful examples of appreciation
of my careful support for a student, for a colleague,
and, despite my wishes, I feel I need that,

I seek to be happy with what I give
and to resist the impostor syndrome
that whispers doubt after doubt into my ear,

it’s as if I fear I’m not real
unless seen and reflected in another’s eyes. 

by Henry H. Walker
August 14, ’16

Sunday, August 28, 2016

November 8—we will have a stress test

America faces a stress test in November:
can we handle the effort needed to keep the republic viable?
we’ll have a binary choice for President,
often for Governor, often for Senator,
like an aging body,
the body politic is beset by stress:
jobs disappearing,
jobs morphing beyond what seems to be in our control,
terrorism infesting the world we know,
war calling, though most of us can not realize it’s personal,
the culture changes—the racial, the ethnic, that which is gender,
the familiar loses to the new, to the different,
the comfortable couch of our sameness
replaced by the aerobic challenge of keeping up with the different,
the “one” questioning whether the “many” can sustain the whole,

while we should be agreeing on the problems
and then listening, then considering each other’s alternatives, 
Washington and the states deny the real problems are real,
and obsess about the trivial,
the real problems obvious even to the young:
global climate change,
dire environmental and disease challenges,
population exploding past resources,
infrastructure decaying, and the decaying being ignored,
the future good sacrificed to present greed,

instead, due to the Supreme Court imagining
that money is speech, that corporations are people,
that money given to politics can be untraceable, 
our airwaves are filled with the best manipulation money can buy:
distortions and lies to push us into fear
so that those who have more can have even more,

like Jefferson, I believe 
in the inherent goodness and wisdom of the common person,
in November we will see if optimism is right,
if we can pass the stress test
and assert the best of what’s in us, not the worst.

by Henry H. Walker

August 27, ‘16

Friday, August 19, 2016

of Tolkien and the transience of moments

the “gift” of mortality

mortality is a gift?
that’s how Tolkien described the immortal elves’ reaction
to the necessary limit to human life,

some time in evolutionary history
our ancestors saw themselves in the mirror of passing time
and considered their impending absence,
how much more acute a moment can feel
when one realizes how transient the present can be,

as near as we can tell,
the consciousness of plant and animal lives the moment
and does not obsess about when one will not be here for that moment
in a future that can and should be imagined,

I continue to step out of the moment:
to live the moment fully, then to realize its transience,

there is sorrow and fear that can then beat down upon me,
but when I re-insert into the moment,
how much more intensely I can feel the present,
for I have known of the future and remembered the past. 

by Henry H. Walker
August 15, ’16

Thursday, August 18, 2016

to be there for the kids

transitioning back to school

school calls me:
the kids I know,
and the kids I do not yet know,
they all call me,
they call me to ready myself
to know them, to support them,
to help them find paths forward,

logistics call me, too, but not as loudly:
the preparation of my room,
the gathering together of books, materials, plans,

at the heart of my classroom,
I need paper and pen/pencil,
and now simple computers to word process,
and, when I’m lucky, to be there to help with answers
when the students realize the questions
at the heart of where their learning can take them,

as our beloved dog, Eli, butted up 
at the normal limits of his allotted life-span,
I watched him try to jump, the way he had all his life,
and he couldn’t, 
for external reality no longer would allow
who he felt himself within to be,

I want to be a teacher
as long as what I can accomplish with my students
is close to what, inside, I want myself to be with them.

by Henry H. Walker
August 16, ’16

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

of bears and falls, and sweat

Cades Cove in Mid-August

there is a valley,
just west of the great wrinkled upthrust
of the southern Appalachians’ high ridges,
with a limestone geology surrounded by pre-Cambrian sandstone,
Cades Cove like a window, contend the geologists,
into the sky great green rounded mountains reach into the clouds,

tractors and grazers keep the fields low and grassy
so that turkeys and deer have a home,
and views are open enough from the absence of trees
that bears can often be seen,
today, for me, in a wild cherry tree by the road, 

I hike hard down the stream which empties the valley,

bedrock strata hold and channel the water as if shelves,

I fear for the fish, for if they venture forth,
a kingfisher, a heron, a fisherman can be upon them,
it’s much easier to hide in the rest of the Smokies
where geology narrows, deepens, and darkens the streams,

I find myself at a great waterfall, Abrams Falls,
close to the lowest elevation in the Park,

I come to the cove hoping to see bear,
but I knew a waterfall would not be as elusive,
my heart, my lungs, my soul loved the effort and the result,
though the humidity wrung prodigious water from me,
I take plenty of pictures of the falls,
cardinal flowers, the ridge top, the flat stream,
and I pick up a bag full of trash thoughtless hikers left on the trail,

on the way out of the cave
a bear enjoys a mid-day meal of cherries

while I watch and photograph him,
I was prepared to miss the bear
and to still savor the visit,
I appreciate the gratuitous act of kindness
that the universe shares with me through the bear.

by Henry H. Walker
August 15, ’16

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

a trail through the trackless

the introvert and nature

the introvert in me needs nature:
unfenced, unpruned, unbulldozed flat, not neatened,
untamed with right angles and human reflections,

I like to fit into the natural world
and let it heal the frenetic in me,

I do like a trail, though:
today I wandered through poison ivy thickets,
spider webs and bugs came at my eyes,
a good trail harmonizes with forest and land,
and allows me to focus on how the notes of my passing through
can blend with the melody the world can sing without us,

I want to be like a good trail with my life,
I want to make others’ experience of themselves in the world
more conducive of revelation than often possible
while blundering through a trackless wood. 

by Henry H. Walker
August 14, ’16

"webs of sorrow"

time past, and sorrow

Yeats wrote of “great webs of sorrow”
hidden in a Druid talisman
which accessed spirit and self moving through life after life,

I thought of that poem today
as I, too, accessed memories,
hidden in places and in me,

I return to my Smoky Mountain home
and slip into being here where the world feels right,
yet, at the same time,
memories of special people here, long gone,
tear me up into sorrow,
even memories of myself:
playing here as a child,
raising kids by the stream,
sharing meals on the porch,
watching granddaughters fall down a rabbit hole
into this as a wonder land,
all of this can make me sorrow,

I just revisited cardinal flowers by the creek
who flare their rich red glory every mid-August,
for my wife and me, they are a herald of the end of summer,
time to go back to the lowlands to teach at our school,
the cardinal flower a yearly reminder that change is upon us,

I can’t be clear about what’s in front of me,
today I feel very clear about what’s in the rear-view mirror,
part of my soul feels trapped in a “web of sorrow.”

thanks to "Fergus and the Druid" by William Butler Yeatrs
by Henry H. Walker
August 13, ’16

Sunday, August 14, 2016

an old way draws me

again, the old way draws me,

I park at Indian Gap
where the ancient native way crosses these mountains,

I’ll bet native peoples first crossed here
when ice ruled the north,
when it was too cold for trees at the gap,

the trail goes where the land allows it,
for 100 yards mostly down the stream bed itself,

where it contours I can imagine how it looked millennia ago,

where it plunges down the slope,
it is often deep, a gouge
from thousands of years of erosion,

near the top the first flowing water
whispers to me of a camp here,
sheltered by the steep slopes around,
near the top, with plenty of water,

an hour down the mountain
those first peoples brought the trail
hard against a glorious waterfall and pool,
when I dip there

I imagine Cherokee plunging into the high cold water,
and many even earlier peoples here, too,

old ways draw me,
particularly where humans fit themselves 
into what nature gives,
I love the art of how a trail, a way,
can fuse function and aesthetics,

I love the pink turtle head huddled against the stream

and one high clump of jewel weed.

by Henry H. Walker
August 13, ’16

Saturday, August 13, 2016

to appreciate the whole person

caught between spirit and flesh

a person passes,
and I seek to honor them:
to know them as fully as I can,
both in the wholeness with which each could act,
and in how each could deal with the pain, the wounds,
with which each also lived,

each of us does the best he can, the best she can,

I seek to honor how well another could move forward,
with all that worked to slow him, to slow her down,
for maybe then we can be gentler on ourselves
as we move forward, despite our wounds,
maybe sometimes because of our wounds.

by Henry H. Walker
August 11, ‘16

Friday, August 12, 2016

reaching back toward the whole

releasing the maker within

when I visited my school,
I sought out a colleague,
while this summer beset by challenge after challenge,
found how to make tough decisions, 
and find a way forward,
a way to combine strategic vision for the whole
with taking care of any who need, any who fear,

I see the maker hard at work
in her, in other people, in nature, 
in consciousness striving to wake up,
in the reach of the partial back towards the whole,

that’s how I am as a teacher,
I look deep into the student’s eyes,
and I glimpse the wonder inherent in all,
my labor then to help clear paths
so that the one who can act chooses to do so,

if I’m lucky, I can glimpse them warp into their own power
and boldly go beyond what I can know.

by Henry H. Walker
August 11, ‘16

a wonderful man passes

Mike Botein

there was a deep heart in Mike,
good intention, a magnanimous soul,
a willingness to offer anything he could think of to another,
at the beautiful memorial service
the love he gave so freely
reached back toward him in words, hearts, and glittering eyes,
all of us wanting to hold him again, at least in memory,

Mike embodied loving decency,
a giving nature that called him to serve,
particularly to serve student after student
as a teacher at New York Law School,
the shared anecdotes of how well 
he was able to be there for his students touched all of us,
he loved to serve as a lawyer, his speciality how countries
could develop a legal framework for telecommunications,
Mike here an impressive pioneer,
one who saw what was coming
and heralded how to meet it,
a speciality that enabled him to follow his love of travel
from Israel to Australia, to Poland and Ukraine,
to Columbia as a Fulbright,
to the Czech Republic just last year,

his brilliance appreciated by anyone who waded into conversation with him,
by his colleagues and in countless interactions 
with students and family over the long decades,

Mike earned respect in the New York legal community
and honored his father, the judge, with the ripples of his own life,
he loved his mother, too, 
but how he fit into her troubled psyche 
hard to fathom, for him and for all of us,

I loved to watch him with his grandchildren
for, like many of us, unconditional love is easy to give
to the second generation from us,
also, like many, to know and appreciate the child
a bit more challenging than interacting with the developed mind,

he loved his own children without condition,
no matter what might seem to be or not be in his words,
in his eyes I always saw the love, respect, and even awe
he had for both his son and for his daughter,

Mike had a joy in life that manifested
in a twinkle of the eye, a laugh, a joke, 
a smile that could melt you,

how wonderful for Mike and Kris to have had each other,

Kris loved the best within him and helped it come forth even more,
what an extraordinary partnership
as their world circled around each other, their work, and
Matt and Liz, Sue and Ike, Jack, Ella, Rachel, and Izzy,

what a gift it is when the next generations
carry on the best of who we were
and somehow move past the worst,

Mike embodied a strong will,
and he had to use it to face challenges,
when his body was giving up on him,
he would fight and fight, and endure,
though beset from all sides
by body and mind that just couldn’t hold together well any more,

Mike loved the lake and his house there,
and he found peace and solace in a retreat by its shore,
boats always called to him,
a way to sail forth and be free like the wind,

I hope now that he has been released from the land
that he sails forth into a peace
that eluded him too much in his life,

his final resting place just up the road from his beloved lake house,
a pastoral setting to match the beauty in his soul.

by Henry H. Walker
August 4-5, ’16

Thursday, August 11, 2016

out into difference, in as to commonality

empathy, the final frontier

empathy is often pushed
as a way to understand the other,
the differences that nature, nurture, and environment develop in us,
by walking a mile in another’s shoes,
we can see the world differently,
though I can worry about how much
that could hurt the feet,

when I think about others important in my world,
I often wonder if they were able to empathize,
my own mother was full of love and sympathy,
yet it seems she could not really feel as another,
in another case, when a parent seemed unable to quite "get" a child,
I wonder how much the problem was an inability to jump into those shoes,

I’m beginning to imagine empathy 
as an even greater power than I’ve ever realized before,
for I feel now that understanding and appreciating difference.
though a wonderful step in itself, can be even more wonderful
if one can find commonality in the drives beneath us all,

take food as an example
and feel how the hunger within
can be satisfied with such different answers,
there’s hunger in the soul, too,
a need to make a difference,
a need to use one’s gifts in what feels right,
the conservative and the liberal
both want to renew and support the body politic,

I am close to realizing
that the way out into our differences
can be the way in to our commonality,
into how the maker within
uses each of us differently,
and that we each are making
the best difference in the world we can.

by Henry H. Walker
August 10, ‘16

Saturday, August 6, 2016

the team of caution and will

the courage to jump into the stream

there, on the rock, 
my eight year-old granddaughter stands,
ready in position so that she can jump out
and then make a big splash in the mountain river,

I can see her mind work,
her will gets her ready to jump,
her caution gets her to consider,
to reconsider,
to reconsider again,

 that struggle within her reveals to me
a courage that impresses me deeply,

she pulls herself together, commits, jumps,

and splashes into the welcoming, challenging river,

we cheer her, and her courage,

I imagine how often in life she will feel challenge,
may she remember how to add enough will to caution
so that she can achieve what she hopes to be and do.

by Henry H. Walker
August 2, ‘16

Thursday, August 4, 2016

why it's called a "widow-maker"

below the sword

I meet up with a couple of friends
toward the bottom of the mountain,
and we start visiting,
two of us stop for a moment,
and the third, ahead of us, pauses,
turns, and looks back,

at that moment I hear something above,
look up, and see a dark horizontal shape
crash to the ground just down the trail from us,

like the Sword of Damocles
it hovered above, though we knew it not,

fortunately, it was only a widow-maker in possibility,

how powerful a message
that the universe can easily, at any time,
crash down, and devastate.

by Henry H. Walker
August 3, ‘16

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

empathize! feel as they feel. . .

walk in their shoes

a piece of advice I got one time
keeps resurfacing in my psyche:
“Every time a student asks a penetrating question,
react to it as if it’s the first time
that question has ever been asked. . .”

otherwise, it seems you rain on their parade,

the same truth holds each time
someone experiences awe in nature,
one should leap into their world, listen,
ask, let the other relive the moment,

then, maybe, you can share a moment you had
whose sharing adds to the awe they feel,
never wrench them away from the truth
that grabbed and shook them,

I’m working on learning that lesson.

by Henry H. Walker
August 1, ’16

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

making community

openness to the other

I believe in community,
I work hard to help weld 
the disparate into a cohesive whole,

I know that like is drawn to like,
that we seek others to be with
who are friends, family,
the same gender, the same age,

I doubt, though, that anyone,
if another were just who we are,
would feel that other to be a best friend,

I wonder if magnetism has a truth for us,
that our polar opposite could draw us,

our culture, our world needs to learn
to embrace difference, to embrace the other,
whose difference opens us to parts of ourselves
that awaken then and let us enlarge who we can be,

while, at the same time,
we share a commonality of other parts of ourselves
that bond us to the universal.

when members of my family join me on my mountain adventure
up, on, and down Mt. LeConte in the Smokies,
some have only acted open to those in the group 
to whom they’re already close,
I have not re-invited them, those seemingly closed to the other,
those closed to the other have at times in my experience
also been closed to revelation in nature,
particularly the sunrise that takes effort to attend
and that can shake one to the core.

by Henry H. Walker
August 1, ’16

the hermit and the socialite

the introvert and the extrovert within

I can love the social,
I can find purpose, fulfillment, joy,
in just being with others,
in facilitating connections,
in helping build community,

yet, within me, I’m enough of an introvert
that I get very tired after social intensity,
I also can feel bereft of purpose and anchor
as friends and family leave to go back to their regular lives,

I need then to go back to my introvert life for awhile
until the extrovert reasserts its needs again.

by Henry H. Walker
August 1, ’16

Monday, August 1, 2016

morning breaks, out of the grey

Mt. LeConte Sunrise

I move through a mountain top world in the dark,
the flashlight focuses me on a few feet in front,
those rocks and roots shape where my feet must go,
while the world away from my bubble of light,
unknown, unknowable, for a time,

I know where I am
but not where everything else is:
the gestalt lost in an illusion of control,

we wait for sunrise on the rock prow of the mountain,
the stars so visible two and a half hours ago
hidden by a misty blackness,

as clouds of mist race over and beyond us
nearby fir trees wait with us for revelation,

dawn slowly creeps at us
behind tumbling billowing clouds,

slowly revealing herself in countless shades of racing grey,

they part a bit and a crescent moon reveals itself,
only to quickly hide again in cloud,

as the light brightens, the pace quickens,
and views insert themselves into the spaces:

a bit of valley, a distant mountain,
clouds swirling over a ridge of trees,

the world teases us with what’s out there
and thus the views that could be before us
if the dawning sun will allow it,

and, finally, it does,
it’s as if a show is opening,
and the curtains fitfully withdraw,

my camera aches to hold each changing moment
as each view that was hidden is revealed,
hidden, and revealed again,
till the sun herself, heralded by intense flamed clouds,

slips above the horizon in a slow magnificence,
focusing our eyes and the world on the promise
inherent in a newly-revealed day,

morning breaks, and how can anyone not feel humbled
with how much this helps us know the glory 
inherent in the moment of recreating a new day.

by Henry H. Walker
July 31, ’16

the great maker within

clarity in nature

I like to write in nature,
and not just about nature,
for there is a clarity about everything
when the world is on its own
without the complexity of human culture
and the obfuscation of our tools and toys,

my favorite spot to write is by a mountain creek,
within a rich forest reaching back
to an old growth it once had,

yet a desert or a mountain top can work just fine,

when I’m in nature
revelation can readily come from what’s around me,
yet also what’s around me can help me 
see clearly what’s inside me,
so that I can be ready to notice and clarify
revelations of people, change, and constancy,
the great maker within me
seeks to know and to reveal upon the page. 

by Henry H. Walker
July 28, ’16