Tuesday, December 31, 2019

to know where we are

spatial sense

where are we?
and where is everything else?
we rely on the senses for they reveal the other to us,
and thus place us in the world:
the smell, the touch, the sound, the sight,
ways that the outside world reaches back to us,
and we know some of where we are,
the more we can know where everything else is,
the more surely we can see into the larger sets
that can reveal more of who we are
by how we fit in, or don’t,

where on the mountain am I?
and, thus, where is everything else?
topography, geography, whisper definitions of place,
and I reach to feel myself in context,
most days, in my early morning meditations,
I concentrate on a Native American prayer,
for Earth to teach me,
for each cardinal point to help me learn 
what the North, the East, the South, the West,
can teach me about how the universe offers insights
into who we are, and how we should be:
how to be braced by the North,
lightened by the East, and starting over,
comforted and held by the warmth the South sends,
eldered and reassured by the West,
and the potential glory in endings,

all of this is a spatial sense,
an intelligence that helps me make sense out of all that I am,
and all that seeks to help me be even more,

I would add the temporal, too,
the sense of where I am within past and future,
for who I am extends back to how I got to the now,
and who I am extends forward to where?
our tomorrows will reveal or deny 
the hope that calls to us,

only if we are grounded by knowing where we are,
can we know how to venture true into where we ought to go.

by Henry H. Walker
December 29, ‘19

Monday, December 30, 2019

Mr. Rogers and us

the neighborhood

Won’t you be my neighbor?

a soul so full of care
that connection just spills out of it,
as if it realizes it cannot stay inside itself,
that the neighborhood has to grow
for any neighbor to feel right—
not alone, not lost, just right,

my tears flow freely throughout the movie,
how Fred Rogers lived his life
echoes how I want to live my life,
believing in the other, as in myself,
believing in myself, as in the other,

my school, C.F.S., wants it to be 
“a beautiful day in the neighborhood,”
with each soul upwelling and positive.

Mr. Rogers sings to us
of the better angels within
who want to come out.

by Henry H. Walker
December 30, ‘19

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Big Poplar, Gone

The Big Poplar, As Corpse

the year declines, and January approaches,
I resist the couch and pull myself up a steep hollow
where valley transforms into slope,
and great trees found a way
to outlast the farms that reached toward them,
I particularly love a large buckeye
that would take two of us to encircle it with our arms,

there at the half-angle base of a rock cliff,
a tulip poplar endured for hundreds of years,
not cut down when all the other nearby great poplars
were felled for houses and lumber,
or just to make way for corn,
its top had been blown out long ago,
and my theory holds that 
its value for wood was thus diminished,
I’d prefer a story of a conscious choice
to preserve a remnant of the Great Woods,

for half a century I’ve visited the Big Poplar,
bringing kids and friends to marvel at it,
to gaze with wonder at its bulk and majesty,
to listen for consciousness within the gestalt of its wholeness,

I’d skip a year between bringing groups for a visit,
for our feet broke stems, tore away moss, increased erosion,
the land needs time to heal from such scrapes,

the Big Poplar, like many of us older folks,
was proud and hanging-in, though a bit tenuously,
three years ago the Great Fire roared over these mountains,
nearby ridges and woods were too dry to resist wind-driven flame,
large trees down the ravine were protected some from the wind 
by being low, and from the fire by being wetter,

the Fire, though, raced up the bark of the Big Poplar,
a good 40 feet into the air, touching the crown,
the year after the Great Fire,
the tree stumbled through a growing season
but could not make it through a second,

the Big Poplar died,

the next year the absence of its crown
allowed a riot of pokeweed at its base,
seeds that might have lain dormant for centuries
sprouted and cluttered the understory,

today, a bit after the third anniversary of the Great Fire,

I visit the corpse of this great tree,
the bark mostly sloughed-off,
and the tree a pillar of white,
still tall and imposing,

now gaunt and haunting me
with the memories of its great presence,
up from the base some bark holds on,
and around the base platters of bark are scattered,
each with only a little curve to it,
for like the Earth, the tree had a circle so big,
that it looked almost flat,

on the trunk where the bark has fallen away,
traceries of weblike root whisper of the fungus
looking for ways to turn death back into life,

sadness settles over me—
amidst the loss in this cold winter,
I remember high summer, and audacity.

by Henry H. Walker
December 26, ‘19

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

old stones, and me

suffer with memory

can old stones suffer with memory?
a Ute prayer contends they do,
for a rock holds itself
while the world changes, 
diminishes, around it,
it endures,
all my life I’ve watched a patch of lichen 
on a big rock in the creek by our cabin,

         Note lichen patch above, above lower white water.

it has grown but in a time scale I can’t even perceive,
what hope have I to know a rock, and its memory?

we, too, can suffer with memory,
if we endure while those we love do not,
my parents and my brothers,
my wife’s parents and her sister,
my aunts and my uncles, my former students,
are still with me as memories,
but the hurt of the loss beggars the sweetness of the memories,

I am a child compared to trees 
I have known, loved, and lost:

one great poplar, the last of its generation,
drew me to her every year or so,
and now she’s gone,
one great beech, just up from our cabin,
was a friend and teacher,
a creator of awe in me,
and its time, too, came,
in the family I’m the one to record the stories, 
to remember the elders,
and I suffer with the memories.

by Henry H. Walker
December 20, ‘19

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

dark is mostest

Winter Solstice ‘19

“Winter Solstice, Winter Solstice
Light is little, Dark is mostest.”

we chant this as the Sun approaches noon,
and the shadow of our Sol Pole
reaches furtherest away from its base,
the furthest it will ever get in the year,

this is the time for dark to wrap around us,
a time to measure the light even more,
for it feels lesser, and us the poorer,
the tree, and the menorah, and hope, call to us,

morning dawns late, and gray today,
the Sun can’t break through the clouds all day,

so there are no bright shafts of light
to contrast with the long hours of darkness,
the forest we walk through is littered 
with the wreckage of countless trees,
burned or weakened by the Great Fire,
and roared down upon forest floor and trail
by vengeful winds attempting to restore equilibrium
to an atmosphere heated by our lives and by our waste,
all this downage fodder for ubiquitous fungi,
those gods of recycling,

a kingfisher raucously calls,
and owns me with his assertions,

as dusk falls, I sit by the full, beautiful creek,

broken trees sculptured around me,

I look up into the gray sky,
through black fingers of bare beech branch,

and I see a large bird flying north, down the valley,
a magnificent heron pulls me with her through the sky,
her neck and head thin and true as an arrow,

I feel the world is a dance,
magnificent to watch,
but in a language
my words can only touch but never hold.

by Henry H. Walker
December 21, ‘19

Monday, December 23, 2019

politics and me

politics and me

politics are too much with me:

I believe in our inherent perfectibility,
in the naive belief that we can and will come into wisdom,
as our experience is buffered by thought and feeling,
I believe that we can learn from history,
so that we don’t repeat earlier stupidities,

I just cannot quit yet,
though the irrational trumps the rational 
far too often for me,
the tribal forcing us into the smallest subset
of which we are a part,
we choose our genes over species,
our species over the rest of Gaia,
we choose a commonality of surface,
and we do not realize how bound we are
to all else on this fragile planet,
we make ourselves less when we consider others as least,

we are willful teenagers,
we need to grow up,
and realize when the adult without, and within, is right.

by Henry H. Walker
December 20, ‘19

Friday, December 13, 2019

the Great Fire, and us

climate disaster: whose fault?

three years ago, 
havoc roared across these forested slopes,

our childish whims drove us 
to feel our desires should be indulged,
every fossil fuel-driven toy bought, and used,
our vehicles using and wasting 
the accumulated power in the ground,
so that we can drive faster, further, easier,
so that we can make things for ourselves
that we don’t need, 
but, like an only child,
we can be spoiled by our parents,
we don’t want to hear “no,”
we don’t want to share,

at the same time, it is hard to comprehend
that the forgiving vastness of our planet
can be touched by our actions,
I have flown over the immensity of the Pacific Ocean,
and I “get” how dwarfed such a scale can make me feel,
conversely, I can still feel center of the universe,
and unnoticed as to the consequences of my actions,

surely, there is a God out there, who is in charge,
it was His will 
which decided which houses burned, 
which didn’t,

I disagree, 
I feel culpable, 
a part of the species 
which allowed disastrous climate change,
which allowed the drought and wind storm,
and took a small fire, kindled by willful adolescents,
to rage over these mountains,

a great beech, just up the valley,
succumbed to the winds, 
and the corpse of its falling
succumbed to the Great Fire,

many branches of rhododendron, and hemlock,
were easy for me to break clear today,
these three years have been enough for them to diminish,

the fungi feed, and fruit,

new flora feel their turn to seek the sky,

I feel the loss of what was,
I feel the lack of surety as to what will be.

by Henry H. Walker
November 30, ‘19

Thursday, December 12, 2019

who tells us who we are?

a larger whole?

we want a larger whole
within which we live
and which then helps us feel we belong,

God, as Creator, controller, who gives life value,
Gaia, Mother DNA, who binds eery piece of life into a whole,
Fox News, which tell us our feelings are right,
and the other is wrong,

we want to be part of a story
whose writer is in control,
whose might is for right,
who tells us we matter in the story,
that we can matter in the story,

how hard, and yet how necessary it is,
to realize that we matter
when we realize that it is the larger whole
who is the self we should indulge,
that our individual whims are lesser
and should not be made into commandments to follow,
but rather insidious whisperings 
from the darker places within.

by Henry H. Walker
November 29, ‘19

Thursday, December 5, 2019

the spirit, and freedom

the past, and leadings

we seek to glimpse how the world was
17 decades ago in the South,

1st, Stagville Plantation, where one white family
claimed ownership of thousands of acres of land
and near 1000 enslaved people,
an audacious pinnacle of the conceit
lived so fully by our neighboring states
just north and south of us,
we hear of the patriarch taking credit
for the success and wealth built by stolen labor,
unlike North Carolina’s motto,
“to seem” for him trumped “to be,”


Note fingerprints, probably from an enslaved young person

2nd, the Guilford College Woods, near Greensboro,
where Quakers helped enslaved people
find a way out of bondage,
we hear the words and stories of some
who found a way forward to live their faith,
to act upon their hope,
to escape a present that denied the best within them,

3rd, a movie of Harriet Tubman,
who escaped the bondage that beat upon her body and soul,
and then returned to lead her people north, 
into freedom, following “the drinking gourd,”
“Moses” to her chosen people,
feeling as partner to God,
God who wanted to act in the world
but who had to have her help,

our 45 eighth graders were challenged 
to cross those long decades
in their hearts and in their understanding,
for their generation, like every generation,
must find its way through woods 
that can feel pathless,
without a guide:
Harriet Tubman shouts to us,
Levi Coffin’s words pull at us,
the Camerons at Stagville warn us.

by Henry H. Walker
December 4, ‘19

Monday, November 25, 2019

dominance games, and grouping by age

the grade as problem

at school we can grade,
as in fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth grades,
for homogeneity calls to us,
treat each 11 year old as the same,
as if rough chronological age is determinant,
that academic, social, and emotional needs 
are best addressed within similar age,

I ask my middle schoolers
if their friends are the same age, the same gender,
and, if they are, the four years of our middle school,
then can have, 1/8 as potential friends,
if all genders, yet the same rough age, ¼,
add a year, and it’s ½,
add all four years
and the pool of potential is huge,

the temptation to yield to the illusion of homogeneity
clumps people together who are often 
fighting the same developmental challenges,
and they easily slip into dominance games,
a way to differentiate self from the competitive other,
too much like them,

I contend that connections between genders, between ages,
helps the better of one’s self transcend into dominance over the lesser,
away from when familiarity can tempt us into zero-sum games,
or even worse, into one’s success built upon a larger group’s failure.

by Henry H. Walker
November 22, ‘19

Sunday, November 10, 2019

survival of the altruistic

Miracle in the Forest

how do we see a forest?

is it a field that needs clearing?
is it board feet for houses and furniture?
is it so beyond us that we should fear it?
in our history the farm claimed it, so did the logger,
early settlers on this continent felt horrors 
impinging on them from it, 

I understand how much we are creatures of the sky,
from whence cometh the Light, and God, 
at least it feels so to us,

our scientific research increasingly realizes 
a forest is a community,
not “tooth and nail” in its competitiveness, 
but so cooperative and connected
that in there evolution speaks of survival of the altruistic,
not the zero-sum our minds want to force on the world,
for we humans want to win,
and the rest of life must then lose to us,

the more scientists ask the right questions of a forest,
the more is revealed of trees combining with each other,
taking care of each other,
and not just with offspring,

I particularly love the fungi,
that vast network within the soil
that fruits above the ground for us with mushrooms,
but does far more than we can yet fathom,
of connecting, of contributing, of recycling,

the Cherokee felt a connection with the plant world,
allies in a human struggle with the animal world,
maybe we should feel that connection too,

photosynthesis is the great miracle
that enables energy from the Sun
to fuel plant, and then animal,

the Sun is as God to us,
the leaf enables God 
to work her magic on the world.

by Henry H. Walker
November 8, ‘19