Monday, December 31, 2018

order, whimsy, and grandchildren

in the audience, behind the scenes

fortune smiles on us,
we have been blessed with two fine sons
who have found the way into their power
with career, partner, and child,
each of which that seems right for them,

now I feel even more fortunate as grandparent,
with less of the heavy lifting behind the scenes,
and more like having good seats in the audience,
as each grandchild comes into her and his power,

I marvel at their minds working—
to understand, to create, to connect,
a confidence of self and will settling into them,
the world made anew as their imagination
releases order and whimsy, with Legos as tools for example,
as with school and camp and team opening doors through which to burst,

a reason that drives me to stay working with students
is that sense of being in the audience, and behind the scenes, too,
as student after student finds the power within
and the path to express it without,

our grandchildren again and again
undo me with the power of their being.

by Henry H. Walker
December 25, ‘18

risk effort, love, and hope to be enough

The Greatest Generation

I miss the Greatest Generation,
our parents who survived and thrived
within the challenges 
of Depression and World War and Baby Boom,

I miss the power of their personalities,
what they could create with family,
with a kitchen, with their work,

I wonder, though, if all kids can feel
a golden age that preceded us,
a sense that our world is uncharted,
and that we are just faking it,

my wife’s mother cautioned us about World War II,
that they didn’t know then how it was going to turn out,
that they just had to do their best,
and risk that effort and love and hope were enough,

I wonder how much we all feel as impostor,
and that, at our best, we fake it until we make it.

by Henry H. Walker
December 24, ‘18

Friday, December 14, 2018

new PAC, Dance!

Winter Dance Concert ’18, New Digs!

a new Performing Arts Building:
comfortable seating, for all!
enough “bells and whistles” in the tech
to daunt us with what lights, sounds, curtains, can do,

yet at the heart of the Winter Dance Concert
lives a simple reality, a truth which lives through individuals,
each of whom conceives a vision 
and choreographs it into existence,
with the care, direction, help of staff,
staff more wedded to the creative process of the students’ power
than to any willful need to see themselves
in the mirror of the production,

truth then also lives in the other,
the other students whose bodies and ideas add their realities,
and the collective of how to incorporate each dance
into a whole that engages and transforms the audience,

how wonderful it is now to have a space
large enough to allow an audience to grow
so that more and more are called to witness what vision unleashes,

how wonderful it is now to have the tools
to help transform possibility into reality
with more ease than ever before,

yet the new building and the new tools are but servants,
what we celebrate are the students 
whose vision and bodies pull off transcendence.

by Henry H. Walker
December 12, ‘18

Sunday, December 9, 2018

a wonder beneath our feet

the universe within the ground

the trees around me have dropped their leaves,
and dropped their selves back into the ground,
somehow sleeping, enduring, being within their roots,
somehow all intertwined
with all the other trees, bushes, vines, flowers,
let alone the mycelium, the fungi,
whose work we only glimpse at the surface
when they are ready to spore into the future,

wondrous universes are everywhere around us.

by Henry H. Walker
December 6, ‘18

Saturday, December 8, 2018

retreat, renew

Simplify, withdraw

December simplifies, reduces, withdraws,
people leave the gray mountains
after the exuberant party color throws in the Fall,
the oaks hold for awhile
and then swirl their leaves down finally,
as if to signal the end of a story,

this time of year I too am called to slough off,
to slough off my extrovert self for a time,
to remind myself that I don’t always need to be needed,
my social self craves to be reduced to a fallow field,
I need to go home to nature,
to creek and mountains and woods,
my friends who don’t even notice me,
yet somehow speak of the eternal
far clearer than what usually bubbles to the surface
within our human constructs,

I still feel the pull back to people,
for I can also see the eternal in them,
the best that longs to reveal itself through them,

for now I seek to read the woods,
to listen to the creek and the wind,
to feel kinship, to slip back into the embrace
of our oldest friends,

I climb out of our valley and into another,
on the ridge between them,
the Great Fire has revealed story after story:

views appear that the burned vegetation blocked,
including a hilltop effusing with quartz boulders,

heath roots reach back up toward the sky,
thousands of young pines felt a call from the scorch
to reach unto the sky and hold the hardwon soul from washing,

countless branches and trunks clutter the trail and land,
deeper in the valley witch hazel strikes forth with improbable blooms,

little treasures draw my eye:
icicles by splashing water,

a small tree stands on its roots,

shelf fungi remind me of how casually nature seems to create beauty,

while remembering to reduce, to reuse, to recycle,

I savor the ephemeral,
and I hear the eternal in each backstory.

by Henry H. Walker
December 6, ‘18

loss, and remembrance

Mother still loves

today, thirteen years ago,
Mother took a breath,
and, then, never took another,
her body gave up the ghost,
yet her soul still lives

in the Cabin we maintain and share as portal into nature,
in the dishes we cook according to her teachings,
in the boundless love the parent gives the child,
the teacher gives the student,
in the laugh I give when a moment is more lemon than sugar,
in the understanding that sugar needs lemon,
that flavor needs the tart,

Mother believed that we can be better,
that we should be better,
that our politics should be of the way
Jesus called us to be, with love,
that a good heart, plus good food,
can knit us together,
when money, greed, selfishness, and hate
work to pull us asunder,

I choose love and optimism,
even when the tribal and the lesser pull at us,

like Mother, I seek a better world for all.

by Henry H. Walker
December 7, ‘18

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Carolina Friends School, and the greatness within

to release the greatness within

greatness is within each of us
and can sometimes find its way out,
I sit with two colleagues and reminisce
about our history within our school,

one still lives a greatness
in the surety and passion of his belief in the learner,
the students who can make their way forward
with teachers as helper, as companion, as fellow travelers,
he believed in me as a teacher,
and that belief, and his example,
 helped me find the greatness within me,
no one in my near half-century of teaching at CFS 
has clerked a meeting so well as him,
to Quakers, a clerk is a leader from behind,
who allows and encourages all voices to contribute, 
who allows and encourages all hearts and heads to be open
to the revelation of truth from within,
to the revelation of truth from another’s take on it all,
who can find and assert the potential consensus within the group,
who can help us find it, too,

my other colleague
lives part of the truth of his own greatness through his saxophones,
through the music he lives and encourages
as a way to speak to a truth deeper, older than words,
he tells a story of transformation,
of two high schoolers who eldered him
to let the students in his class
share in the revelation of truth,
and he changed in his teaching 
and got further toward the greatness within,

I have been gifted throughout my decades of being an educator here
to find greatness around me in my colleagues, in my students,
and, when I can let it be, in myself,

what is most radical about our school
is that we trust and believe and love,
what is most heartening about CFS, our school,
is that person after person, with help,
finds and releases the greatness within.

by Henry H. Walker
November 30, ‘18

Sunday, November 25, 2018

all that is outside

of such, the Kingdom

with my students I study the Anasazi,
those native people of a thousand years ago
who flourished in the dry canyons
of what we call New Mexico,
and into parts of Arizona, Colorado, and Utah,
the Anasazi built to honor the heavens,
to have structures of stone, petroglyphs, building, and road
mirror the changes in the heavens
as Sun and Moon dance their recurring patterns with the Earth,

Joseph Campbell, an expert in such peoples’ lives,
cautioned that we people of the West,
of technology, of industry, of machines, of the right angle,
cannot even hope to understand how the universe
reveals itself to those who live within nature,
who know sky and animal and plant
as at last equally important as humans,
I hear of children who can hear the sounds of their language
if they grow up with them,
but that sounds they do not hear, early, 
are beyond their perception,

I go further in my wonderings:
how much do plants, do trees know?
a tree and we share a quarter of our genes,
how much consciousness is in the life 
of the greatest tree, of the most ephemeral flower,
of our fungal cousins whose web predates our Web
and who live below and beyond us,
holding and acting upon truths we, at best, barely grasp?

and then I imagine the things of our world,
those nonliving realities to which we are wedded:
the rocks, the streams,
the geology within which the biology exists,

God, when we work to see God,
often is portrayed as like us,
God, to me, is as much of the nonliving as the living,
for of such is the Kingdom of Heaven, and of Earth.

by Henry H. Walker
November 23, ‘18

Saturday, November 24, 2018

a hike, again, up Bullhead (the bison bull)


for two years, the trail up Bullhead has been closed,

two years ago, Thanksgiving, we hiked to Alum Cave Bluffs,
and looked across the valley of Walker Prong
to where the Chimneys smoldered with smoke,
only a minor interesting annoyance to us,
for the Smokies get enough rain to be able, usually, to laugh at fire,

a week later, the woods burned when blowtorch winds
spread devastating fire across tinder-dry woods and ridges,
the fire so intense on parts of the mountain
the lichen and moss burned away to reveal
the blue-gray smooth sandstone beneath,

heath forests with low pines and other trees
burned back so that the still-healthy roots
have now erupted the bush bases into new growth,

just down the trail, or up the trail,
the fire did not touch the woods,

the Park Service has chainsawed countless blowdowns over the trail
to reclaim it for hiking,
they took the opportunity earth move, particularly along the high ridge,
and ready the trail for the longterm,
they made and deepened countless
water-diversion trenches along the whole path,

whenever the trail finds a drier ridge,
views open up into the spectacular,

the fire having cleared the foreground,
grasses in some places found again how to be luxuriant,

as did the tiny teaberry plants, making perfect red berries 
with the extravagance of newly-available sunlight,

this hike one of our favorites,
and we are thankful to our bodies and to our wills
that we again can haul ourselves, body and soul,
along this incredible trail and to the stone table,
right where the Cherokee envisioned a primal story
of adventure, of discovery, and wonder,
a mythic underpinning of the joy this adventure calls out in us.

by Henry H. Walker
November 23, ‘18

empty places at the table

Thanksgiving ‘18

the sun peeks over the slopes to the southeast,
and spotlights the last burnished-gold oak leaves,
then shafts through the baring woods onto the dropping creek,

for a time, a light fog swirls up from the tumbling water
and reveals the shafts as only roiling mist can,
between the shafts 
a sharp black shadow cuts through to the water,
a tree sculpts away the light and makes it more real,
it is as if a finger points to the end of the beam’s journey,

each moment outside this morning feels of power,
inside my heart, though, 
I come back to the empty places at today’s meal
where loved ones, gone now, would have sat,
each loss a hole that will not be filled,
though my tears try.

by Henry H. Walker
November 22, ‘18