Saturday, June 29, 2019

the humpbacks and us

Whale Story

Amy, our interpretive guide for the whales,
opens herself even more when I ask:
“How do we know that humpback whales are friendly?”
she tells of whales she’s known enough to identify,
each tail distinct,

ones about whom she has shared stories with other guides and captains,
so that individuals have been known, observed, followed in stories,
these whales don’t just chance to stay by whale-watching boats
to breech and dive right next to us,
if something did not connect for them with a boat,
they’d just dive and swim far away,
they remember what they want to avoid,
like fishing boats, like the local ferry,

Amy has looked into their eyes,
loved them without condition, 
applied the behavioral psychology she studied in college
to her experiences with them and dared to infer what’s going on,
as a mother herself she spoke of needing a short break from her kids
and described a humpback mother 
leaving her young by Amy’s whale-watching boat,
to cavort for the humans 
while she dealt with the business of diving deep and eating,
she shares a story of a recent whale season
when she had to stay off the boat for four days,
during those days whales came into the harbor 
near where she lives, in the middle of the night,
she heard their noises though she couldn’t see them,
she sat out by the water on a rock in her night clothes,
humpback whale print flannel pajama pants and shark slippers,
and imagined they missed her and came to check,
she knows it could have been coincidence,
that they came each night while she wasn’t on the tours,
and stopped as soon as she went back on the boat,

I prefer the story that she and they are connected,
for this is the story she’d like to live,
that’s the reality I choose, too.

by Henry H. Walker
June 22, ‘19

Amy Tudor, the guide referred to above, gave me permission to share this primary source.  I include just what she sent me about it:

This is a link to a video I took that late dark night on the rocks.  You will need to have a quiet space to listen to the video.  The sounds of breaths and puffs are the whales  

Thursday, June 27, 2019

columnar basalt + ephemeral flower

of balance, and Balancing Rock

the flowers know it’s summer,
now that a front has blustered through
and driven the sodden skies toward Greenland,
we savor the flowering bog:
wild lily-of-the-valley, sheep laurel, sundew, 
orchid, bunch berry, Clinton’s lily, one pink lady-slipper, 
and the luxurious leaves of the skunk cabbage,

all revealed because a geologic wonder needed a path
so people could access it,
magnificent cliffs of basalt, uplifted and frozen as faceted columns,
one column somehow holds itself erect,
though it seems it should fall,
Balancing Rock, they call it, hard by the sea,

our day is of the ephemeral, and of the enduring.

by Henry H. Walker
June 23, ‘19

Summer Solstice '19

Summer Solstice ‘19

the Summer Solstice slips in to a gray world
here by the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia,
it is like this ubiquitous fog that rubs out distance,
so that we can forget where else we might be for we cannot see it,
the Solstice is an astronomical reality of Earth and Sun
that we could not see, even if the day were sunny,

the gray mist, like a magician’s scarf,
ready to pull away and reveal the wonder
of nearby islands and bays,
or the equal wonder of a storm,
or continue as misdirection,
a gray veil that pulls us into ourselves,

here we are in Nova Scotia,
far to the north of our usual world,
on this day as the Sun, too, stops
as far north as it will go this year,

the misty rain stops for an hour or so mid-morning,
and we splash along a gravely road
to the Western Light, a traditional looking lighthouse
that heralds the entrance to the Bay of Fundy
no light is on but about every minute
a deep foghorn resonates through our bones,
purple iris, wild lily-of-the-valley, ferns, and spaghum
garden among the rounded granite outcroppings,
festooned with ancient lichen,

the fog actually enhances the view 
by melting sky into land and water,
and swirling about the lighthouse to reveal, to conceal,

all afternoon, drizzle continues into rain into drizzle,

we attempt an outing up the island,
but blustering wind drives the drizzle into us
and us back into the car
and to the comfort of a great meal at the lodge,

summer may be starting,
but the weather confounds our noticing.

by Henry H. Walker
June 21, ‘19

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

humpbacks and us


the first tentative “Over there!”
and I see nothing
I stand by the railing,
and the guy next to me points, exclaims, points,
and still I only perceive hints of revelation: a wave, white caps,
I have gazed intensely for hours at the rolling salt waters of the Bay,
seeking a spout where a whale has exhaled,
for then our cousin has come close enough to the surface
to imagine him or her breaching into the air before us,

for over two hours, our diesel-powered boat
has plowed steadfastly into the Bay of Fundy,
30 or so pairs of eyes, aided by a handful of binoculars,
have scanned for whale sign, and seen none,

just as I resign myself to a “better luck next time,” 
signs explode around me, and even I can see the spouts, the breaches,
I set my camera for sports photography,
so each push of the shutter opens it to rapid-fire photos,
I send up with near 400 shots,

humpback whales, our friends, returned from the Caribbean and childrearing,
are just starting the summer gorge of zooplankton, phytoplankton, and krill,

they rise in their own gregarious demure way to say “hi,”
two pairs of two, it seems,

we are awestruck, beside ourselves,
cheering, laughing, whooping,
for an encore, twice a huge humpback
parallels the boat, 25 feet away,
sharing the air a bit with its relatives,
who, unlike them, have not returned to Mother Sea,
except for short visits, such as where the whale rises into our world,
and those of us above imagine ourselves drawn below
to where these gentle giants live their own fullness of life,

as I leap my imagination toward their world,
I feel larger, grander, surer of my own worth,
because I glimpse the family
that humans, whales, wolves, and really all life, make together,

how much better it is for us as humans
to enlarge who we know we are to our closer cousins,
and then to our distant cousins,
and even to the rock and water
 that predates and allows all life,

seeing the humpback whales today slaps me awake,
and I am in love with them, with all life,
and with the universe that creates us all.

by Henry H. Walker
June 22, ‘19

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Nova Scotia, first day

Nova Scotia opens to us

down down we drive,
along a peninsula that looks skinny on a map,
but feels prideful and sure of itself, 
as if remembering long ago 
when Pangea broke apart,
and its stones witnessed the opening of the Atlantic ocean,
a rift appeared, magma welled-up,
and the basalt cooled into many-sided columns,
their cliffs remember the Fire,

pine woods, spruce forest, and lupines shout of dominance
on this glacier-scoured land
where granite boxers can’t help but tell
of the great cold smithing of the ice,
they remember the Cold,

tides here shout of how reactive the sea can be with its tides,
a boat can lie on land
and a few hours later float in the risen bay,
great swaths of seaweed
spend half their life below
and half above the surface,

we are intrigued by how reactive cuisine can be here,
celebrating bounty from water and land;
an exquisite harmony that should be how we humans
adapt to what is possible and rings true
to what can be sustained.

by Henry H. Walker
June 20, ‘19
uploaded 6/25/19 just as our ferry leaves Digby, Nova Scotia, for St. John, New Brunswick

Monday, June 24, 2019

beware the edition you buy into

The Story

consider the story as the creator of our power
our ability to weave abstract possibility from the concrete moment,
the emerging coherence of the story unlocks a power
to imagine who we are as true to larger, surer characters,
true to self and plot, our actions have meaning
for we act within the story,
sometimes we find a right way,
sometimes we should despair
when the story we let into us reeks of wrongness,

our stories brought us our gods,
yet Loki came along with Jesus,
Hitler and Trump with Washington and King,

every step forward allows at least an equal movement back,

our species learned how to multiply
and rise to the top of the food chain,
but our species also resists learning the wisdom and love
that should curb our inner Narcissus,

our stories make us who we are,
and we should be careful as to which edition we buy into.

by Henry H. Walker
June 20, ‘19
This poem generated after starting listening to a provocative book:
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari

Monday, June 17, 2019

CFS teacher Kerry Howard's grandmother, who lived to 103 in Barbados

Miriam Gertrude Wiggins, Mah Mah

as a parent,
as a grandparent,
my great hope
is that the next generations
come fully into their power,
that each finds the way forward
to exemplify traits I value
and seek to live with my own life,

Mah Mah, Miriam Gertrude Wiggins,
was a force of nature,
and, even more so, of her God,
a product of the island:
rich in what it can produce in crops and animals,
rich in community, whose roots reach deep
into the land, the past,
and flower into the future,
her personality forged in the trials
of being rich in faith, yet not in money,
of being blessed with family, and challenged by all the needs,
of being blessed with friends and community,
and called to hold all together,

she had common sense and the wisdom of how to use it,
she led by example, by advice, and by discipline,
she knew how to work with plants and the earth,
raising her own sugar cane to sell for some cash,
her own fruits and vegetables,
bananas every year for the church,
her own meat for weddings,

if a job needed doing, and it wasn’t getting done,
she would paint her house herself,
be a mason and build the step,
work in the fields, direct her children into purpose,

the matriarch of family and village
who knew herself well, and knew you, too,

though she didn’t read, she knew that education,
unlike money, can’t be taken from you,
while she’d cook supper, she had her children read to her,

she had the strength to be fiery, to speak her mind,
to stand up for herself, for what was right,
she had the strength to enjoy herself, bright colors, dancing,
for her 100th birthday she wanted ham and brandy,
generosity and kindness at the heart of who she was,

below it all was her faith,
her understanding that the Church, that the Gospels,
told her clearly how to live, and she filled in for Christ,
to be his eyes, his hands, his feet, to walk upon the world,
told her how to serve all across the island
as part of the Mothers’ Union and Church Army,

how wonderful that I can see her still live in her granddaughter,
who with her life carries forward what she can of Mah Mah,

the mango doesn’t fall far from the tree.

by Henry H. Walker
June 13, ‘19

Sunday, June 16, 2019

of celebration, and mourning

Jamie Hysjulien

a woman stands and speaks of her brother,
exploring those almost mystical ties siblings can have,
she KNEW Jamie, from boy to man,
and she speaks of him as still with her, with us,
despite how sure it is that his body is gone,

the hundreds of us in the Quaker Meeting
unite to remember, to celebrate a life,
all who stand and deliver words
are historians with stories,
artists with a sketch of a moment, a time,
that is a part of the truth,
our souls open and listening
to relative after relative, student after student,
colleague, friend, each in awe of that of God in him, expressed,
of his gift to see that of God in others,
and meet it in love,
whether at Minnesota cabin and lake, or in his classroom,
or in Trinidad, where service to those most in need
allied him with other champions
“of the least of these, our brethren,”

Jamie’s intellect dared the deepest questions
and dared to seek the answers,
within himself, with his students, with colleagues,

during the meeting Jamie’s passion for music, is described,
and then celebrated in song:
“I’ll Fly Away,” and “May the Circle Be Unbroken,”

those who are moved to stand
speak of his humor, of his quirks,
of the love that flowed from him,
and then back to him, as connections deepened,

three of his exquisite poems shared by his children,

I know his children,
and how well he helped each come into themselves,
I know of the young who found him in high school,
and of how well he helped them come into themselves,

one former student speaks of his own peers in college,
not getting why the loss of a high school English teacher
would affect him so much,
how sad that intensity and meaning 
within the relationship of teacher and student
seemed beyond their experience,

how wonderful it is that Jamie worked so well to create relationships
that drew the hundreds of us today to a ceremony
to celebrate the wonder of his life,
while crying about his loss.

by Henry H. Walker
June 15, ‘19

our boys are great fathers!


genetics can say who a father is,
but actions, love, say clearly what a father is,

I am in awe of my sons,
who each manifests what I hope for in fatherhood,
to know both who a child is
and how much a child can be,
to know what to do, what to say,
despite doubt and fear and tiredness
holding down any sureness in the parenting,

I know our grandchildren,
who each is, and the magnificence of that essence,

I honor my sons for how well each is a good father,
who dares to help the best come forth.

by Henry H. Walker
June 23, ‘19

Sunday, June 9, 2019

continuing the charge


well-meaning friends lovingly suggest retirement to me:
sometimes with a plaintive question of when I’ll take that path,
sometimes a sureness of advice that it works so well for them
that they want me to be open
to the possibilities that fit who they are so well,

right now, I feel a rightness in my work,
a sureness that who I am hears a calling,
and still has the wherewithal to answer it well,
I see my school as a city upon a hill
within which the light that is in us can shine bright,
as long as I can still see the kids, the staff, the mission,
and meet it all with my own light,
my own mirror to gather and help focus the rightness,
I want to continue the charge,
I want to share my salt as long as it still has its savor,

for many, retirement allows travel,
for me, I can already find the way out, mostly in the summer:
Wyoming, Iceland, California, Canada,
even Hawaii and New Zealand once during the school year,
plus vacation time in the Smokies,
where I don’t want to live,
for I don’t want to grow accustomed
to what should reveal every day as wonder,

deep in the night
I worry about how long body and mind will hold,
how long spirit can deny the dying of the light,
for as long as I hear the calling,
and can find true ways to act on that calling,
I plan to continue to help school, student, and staff
find the ways forward into the empowerment
that all of us want for our young.

by Henry H. Walker
June 7, ‘19