Poem: “The Funnies” — when cartoons brought laughter…

“THE FUNNIES”

 

each Sunday, my father

changed out of church clothes

kneeling on the living room carpet

along with my little sister and me

to read us what was then known as

“the funnies”

 

Marilyn and I could not always

laugh with Dagwood, Katzenjammer

I had been known to have nightmares

over the fate of Prince Valiant

 

once my newspaperman father

had to bring home next week’s

Valiant appearance

proving my hero

was safe from the rats

 

funnies were in color

unlike war news

splashed in oversized black/white

along more serious pages of “the papers”

 

some cartoonists

devoted

their entire week’s “strip”

to sagas of kittens and knitting

 

when the knitter

was elsewhere

tabbies and tigers scampered

to her basket of yarn and new work

 

detaching long needles

unwinding sweater or scarf

scattering yarn balls

across bright living room rugs

 

since this past November

— cartoons no longer laughing matters

an entire litter somehow invaded

the work room

where I left

myself

 

time itself four-footed

undoing all of my stitchery

 

CAROLYN FOOTE EDELMANN

Lathrup Village, near Detroit, Michigan

                                                                      

SUMMER POEMS: ‘SWEET CORN’ and ‘GOOD HARBOR MORNING’

Simple summer tasks trigger memories and poems.  Come with me to Michigan — near Detroit, where I grew up in Lathrup Village; Good Harbor on Lake Michigan in the Leelanau Peninsula.  (Otherwise known as the “little finger” of Michigan.)  Good Harbor was my sister’s and my favorite place in the world.  When I fell in love with Chatham on Cape Cod, as a grown up, it was because it reminded me of Good Harbor.  Experience with me the simple foods and traditions of lower Michigan, in our own backyard.

sweet corn close-up from Internet

Sweet Corn from Internet

SWEET CORN

 yellow corn for lunch

sweeps me back to childhood

–my two hands too tiny

to tug off tough green husks

 

not assiduous enough

to strip every silken strand

–in that time when all corn

was yellow

 

era of sunsuits, sundresses

handmade by our mother

so crisply ironed

donned to welcome relatives

from Tiffin. Ohio

 

I feel prickly “creeping bent”

–that odd named grass—

between unaccustomed shoeless feet

 

our Tiffin cousins brought rare foods:

–curled and spicy hot dogs

all in a knotted string

–darker, far, than any

our father could ever find

in dull Detroit

 

their children carried huge and crinkly bags

of Ballreich Potato Chips

–wrinkled, strong and ready

for mother’s softened cream cheese

sparked with bright chive snippets

from our paltry garden

 

the greatest of great aunts

arrived bearing her catsup

–almost the ‘burnt sienna’ hue

of my favorite crayon

 

Aunt Amanda’s garden tomatoes

were piqued with cloves and spices

unknown to any ketchup in our town

preserved in ‘soft drink’ bottles

–highlight of the meal

home made catsup from Internet

Home-made Catsup, from Internet

 

Daddy’s real charcoal

sputtered and smoked

 

the children’s corn husk ‘haystacks’

burgeoned and tipped

 

butter and salt

joined extra large

thick paper plates

upon colorful oilcloth

on the wooden picnic table

out on our screened-in porch

 

when hotdogs were nearly ready

the women cooked our sweet corn

so briefly,

knowing it was ready

by the scent

 

CAROLYN FOOTE EDELMANN

July 23, 2016

 

twin-lights-from-good-harbor-beach-sunrise-c2a9kim-smith-2015.jpg

Good Harbor Sunrise, by Kim Smith, from Internet

GOOD HARBOR MORNING

 

once, up north, we could not find a bed

 

so my father pulled the bulbous Pontiac

into forest-rimmed sand

at Good Harbor, Michigan

in the ancient region of Leelanau

SH20 Scavenger Hunt 101 "A beach"

Good Harbor Beach, Leelanau County Michigan

 

both parents, my little sister

my littler cousin, and I

–still in our ‘street clothes’

curled like millipedes

upon pale plush seats

expecting somehow to sleep

surrounded by evergreen sentinels

 

waking into Sunday

my father was not there

 

silently, I opened our car door

took off toward the lake

 

peeking through soft dunes

to the far horizon

I saw my father

wearing trousers

but no shirt

 

before a scavenged Maxwell House coffee can

filled with lakewater

he was carefully shaving by campfire

 

CAROLYN FOOTE EDELMANN

July 23, 2016

beachfire Good Harbor Beach Michigan jpg

Good Harbor Beach Fire from Internet

“SOURLANDING” — New Poem

IMG_0584

Sourland Mountain Preserve, “Mr. Smiley Face” major rock at entry

Lately, the Muse has become relentless, interrupting key reading to dictate her latest devisings.  Tonight, she’s kept me at reformatting and meticulously improving page after page in her new poetry notebook.  Maybe she’ll ‘get off my back’ for awhile, if I turn one of her latest into a blog for you.  Might even go so far as to illustrate it a bit.

Ladder and Birdhouse

I always considered this Hauptmann’s Ladder — this site so near the hasty grave of the Lindbergh baby...

I’ve been out on this trail (in Hopewell, off Greenwood Avenue, which is off Route 518 mid-town at the light at the vintage pharmacy.)  Its magic only increases with each visit.

Sourlands Rocks 08 08

Rocks Exhale Lenape Presence

An assignment for US 1 (Business!) Newspaper, at their request, features the Sourlands Mountain Preserve as one of four shady hike sites.  As I say in the story, along those trails, there is no Philadelphia or Manhattan; no Princeton; not even Hopewell.  Matters political are so remote as to be impossible, although their results can extensively and even destructively affect sacred sites such as these.

Without determined preservationists, we would not have had these hikes.  Nor would you, and others, (including my daughter’s literature class) have this poem.   Enjoy, and walk this shaded trail, as summer burgeons.

Marilyn as Lookout Sourlands 08 08

My sister, Marilyn Weitzel, Janet Black and Betty Lies Bird the Sourland Mountain Preserve Trail (see what I mean about SHADE!)

 

SOURLANDING

 

 a short walk in the dense woods

where temperature and season

remain irrelevant

silence itself audible

 

now and then broken

by ovenbirds’ shrill cries

 

in the right light

blessed by

orotund tones of wood thrush

 

domain of terrestrial turtles

and the occasional owl

 

dark ponds all a-shimmer

with polliwogs

 

towering rocks

still breathe Indian presence

 

at trail-top, we might ride

the grown-ups’ teeter-totter

hand-hewn from a wind-felled tree

 

“If you would attempt exercise

go in search of

the springs of life,” asserts

Henry David Thoreau

 

“The world today

is sick to its thin blood

for lack of elemental things,”

Henry Beston mourns

 

 

CAROLYN FOOTE EDELMANN

Summer Solstice 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

“HOME OF THE FREE, BECAUSE OF THE BRAVE…” Memorial Day Thoughts

SEE NAOMI KLEIN WINS SYDNEY PEACE PRIZE – A.M. AFTER I POSTED THIS BLOG, below

This scene from Chatham, Massachusetts, which I call “Tethered Steeple” could also be titled “Tethered Flag.”  This morning I passed the Lawrenceville Volunteer Fire Department, en route home from having kayaked to the Fishing Bridge and back.  Our firemen had created their Memorial Day sign:  “HOME OF THE FREE, BECAUSE OF THE BRAVE.”

Tethered Tower  Chatham Scenes 002

Tethered Tower, Chatham, Mass.

Regular NJWILDBEAUTY readers know my grave concern for citizens’ rights in our land.  My immediate thought, upon seeing that noble firehouse sign this morning was, “Well, they all seem to have died in vain.”

1 1776 1876 Flag

1776 1876 American Flag from Internet

I worry a great deal about what our Founding Fathers must think of vanished liberty in so-called America.  About everyone’s being treated as a criminal in airports, and now even in museums and theatres (Manhattan, not yet in Princeton).

Lawrenceville Fire Department 002

Lawrenceville Fire Department Mailbox

I am particularly devastated that land, –even that preserved in perpetuity-, is being punctured already with PIPELINE pipes of hideous yellow – color of 21st-Century tyranny.

Pipeline Precursor D&R Canal Princeton July 2013 038

PIPELINE: “We have met the enemy, and he is …” Fossil Fuel Corporations.

This land is no longer OUR LAND, as the lovely song insisted when we were fighting our own government to end the Vietnam War.  “…and all around us, a voice was singing, this land was made for you and me.”       Reality seems to me, “this land was made for fossil fuels!”

Cape May Half-Mast Christmas 2015

Cape May Point Flag at Half Mast in Gale

The fossil fuel industry would have it otherwise, as would many so-called ecological organizations, significantly funded by those whose motto is “Drill, Baby, Drill!”, (referred to by the brilliant author, Naomi Klein, as ‘Big Green.’  (This Changes Everything — Capitalism vs. the Climate”.)

Bayhead Flag in April April wind 2016

Bay Head New Jersey Flag at Ocean where Sandy Landed, in high wind of April 2016

I don’t know what the rest of you do to counter these dire trends.  What would George and Ben and John and Abigail and Thomas (Paine) and Thomas (Jefferson) have done, faced with the restrictions and constrictions of liberty in our times?

Borden's Towne

Nearby Town of Revolutionary Fervor, including only home owned by the rightfully fiery Thomas Paine

Please note how many of my excursion pictures seem to be taken in high winds…  We should stop blaming the situation of ‘climate change’, and begin accurately targeting fossil fuel magnates, politicians bought by them, the organizations founded by and funded by them, who permit the continued ruination of our country, our Planet.

Chatham Light Storm-blown Flag jpg

Chatham Light and Flag in Wild Pre-Storm Wind, 2015

Memorial Day used to be called ‘Decoration Day.’  It was created to honor Civil War dead, and there were supposedly two different such days, — one for the North and one for the South.  Somehow they were, –after a suitable lapse of time–, merged into Memorial Day.

Maine Cemetery Old Headstones

Maine Cemetery, Harpswell, Old Headstones in Late Light

As children, families went to the family graveyards, honoring deceased relatives.  We did not, but many did, [and in Salem and Cumberland Counties of New Jersey, many still do], have a memorial meal at the grave site.  When we visited, we cleaned the graves, weeded, watered, brought new flowers, and parents reminisced.  Our ancestors lived on through these rituals.

O Say Can You See at Chatham Fish Pier

“O, Say, Can You See?” at Chatham Fish Pier, October 2015

Turns out we were ‘doing it wrong,’, as this day is supposed to be about honoring those who died in war for our country.

1 Starry Stars Flag

Starry Stars “Old Glory” from Internet

Lawrenceville Fire Department 015

Land of the Free, Home of the Brave – Lawrenceville’s 9/11 Heroes

“HOME OF THE FREE, BECAUSE OF THE BRAVE.”

Let’s KEEP it that way.  Write legislators, editors, heads of ruinous Fossil Fuel organizations.  There is a Women’s movement, called “Take Back the Night.”

We need to pledge OUR lives, OUR fortunes, OUR sacred honor, if there is any such entity in these troubled times.

We need a TAKE BACK OUR COUNTRY mentality.  Our land needs to be OUR land again.

Beekman Arms Flags Rhinebeck NY

Full Glory, Rhinebeck NY: Beekman Arms Inn and Tavern – Oldest Continuously Operating in America – since Pre-Revolutionary Days

 

Naomi Klein awarded 2016 Sydney Peace Prize.

We are very proud to share the news that Naomi has been awarded the 2016 Sydney Peace Prize by the Sydney Peace Foundation.

Naomi will be travelling to Sydney, Australia in November to accept the award and attend an array of events organised by the Sydney Peace Foundation.

Tickets to her award speech at the Sydney Town Hall on November 11th are available here.

We hope this will be a powerful opportunity to continue to bring conversations around social justice and climate change into the discourse in Australia as well as support the work of social movements across the region.

We extend our heartfelt congratulations to Naomi and look forward to welcoming her to Australia in November.

Edward Said London Lecture

Fossil fuels require sacrifice zones: they always have. And you can’t have a system built on sacrificial places and sacrificial people unless intellectual theories that justify their sacrifice exist and persist: from Manifest Destiny to Terra Nullius to Orientalism, from backward hillbillies to backward Indians. – Naomi Klein Edward Said London Lecture May 2016.

On May 3rd Naomi delivered the Edward Said London Lecture – if you haven’t had a chance yet I urge you to read or watch her powerful address.

In solidarity,
Alex for This Changes Everything team

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ONCE UPON A TIME, THERE WAS SNOW

Drowning in Snow

Drowning in Snow – Early 2016

On a hot day in a hot week in the early part of March, I am tempted to call this blog post, “Remember Snow?”  As people walk into our 1900 barn, –where we save land, the ultimate carbon sink–, they exult over “this lovely day.”

All day I tried to correct them:  “It’s tragic!”

“Why?!,” they’d demand.

“Climate change,” I’d retort, mourning in my voice.

“Oh, well,” says the first entrant, with a dismissive wave of the hand.  If I give up on climate change – o, please may I never give up upon calling attention to this debacle – today will have been my tipping point.

On the phone, I attempted to correct a hunter, also pleased that it is nearing seventy degrees.  When I used the dread ‘C Words’, he chuckled.  “Oh, that won’t be upon us for some time yet…”  His voice reveals that he too may have been using dismissive gestures.

Early Blizzard Chair and Table

Patio Time

Only a handful of people dare admit to me, as I literally sit in a barn with its doors thrown open to the March heat, “I happen to be a lover of winter.  This year is a fizzle.”

Yes, YES!  Realize this.  Snow is part of a significant and crucially necessary cycle.  Without it, nature’s processes are seriously skewed.

Snow, with its accompanying low temperatures, blesses fox habitat, killing microbes in their dens that otherwise doom these animals to the dire death of mange.  Ice covering a bay, such as Barnegat, permits new healthy foxes to scamper across to Island Beach, strengthening the vulpine tribe.

Snow on the mountains creates snow pack, ‘designed’ to hold water not meant to be released until the droughty months ahead.  This is particularly essential in states such as Oregon.  But New Jersey, the Garden State, requires her snow, too.  My mother used to call snow “nature’s fertilizer,” particularly rejoicing in late blizzards.  Something about nitrogen and she could see visible improvements, thereafter, in her garden.

The mailman countered, “You want snow?  Move to Minnesota.”  I lived in Minnesota in the first years of marriage to a Mayo-training urologist.  Yes, snow, whiteout snow, ‘blowing and drifting snow’, the norm and fifteen inches on my first fifteenth of April.

I want snow, now, when it belongs here, doing its sweet silent work.

Face it, we should ALL want snow.

Frantic Birds, Blizzard 1 2016

Frantic Birds Feed in Blizzard

I remember soft swathes of flakes circling down each Aspen night, frosting the long blonde hair of my teen-aged daughters.  The girls in their long skirts and clunky after-ski boots, our family family made its silent nightly way on foot to yet another intriguing dinner.  In the morning, new snow would cushioned long sweet sweeps through Big Burn and into a forest, where we sort-of slalomed in and out of ancient trees.  Their boughs were thick with snow pillows.

At the very top, each dawn, flaky frost would surround tree branches, and even float through the air, all rainbowed and fascinating.  There is no silence, not even a cathedral’s, to equal that on a chairlift through snowed forests.

At home in Princeton, snow meant ‘a snow day’, the ‘telephone tree’ informing us that PDS was closed.  Fires in the fireplaces in the morning, and chicken soup steaming up the windows, so we could barely see the universal whiteness outside.  Cardinals dancing in and out of flakes and shadows, surrounding our bountiful feeders.  A raptor zooming over to snatch the neck among steaming chicken bones I negotiated my way through confusing drifts to place at the edge of our woods.

Sitting on the hearth, playing our guitars and singing folk songs.  If it were the right kind of snow, (this was the 1970’s), snowmen – only my girls insisted on snow-women, of course.  We didn’t always have a carrot for a nose, and never coal.  Snow meant the cats wouldn’t go out the front door into it, insisting on the back – as though there wouldn’t be any snow out there.

Depth of Field late blizzard

Remarkable Snow Depth – Courtesy of Catastrophic Climate Change

Well, if we had those cats now, there wouldn’t be any snow out any doors.

Think about it, at seventy degrees in March.  If it’s this many degrees hotter than March norms, how will August be?

Flowers are opening months earlier than they should – what will the pollinators do?

Goldfinches at my Lawrenceville feeders are turning gold under their wings.  Does that mean they’re thinking breeding thoughts?  And where will the insects be to feed their premature young?

You’ve heard it before.  We’ve ignored it before.

Roof Overhang

Overhand, Morning After the Blizzard

The snow quantities in these pictures are brought to us, via our insistence upon fossil fuels, by Catastrophic Climate Change.

There is no ‘if’ about climate change.  My Climate Change Reader, edited by legendary Bill McKibben, proffers 100 years of writing (pro and con) on this subject.  McKibben dared author his his tome heralding our planet’s gravest crisis (The End of Nature) in 1989.  Is anybody listening?

When Pogo asserted, “We have seen the enemy and he is us,” he was not considering climate.

We have seen the future, and it is now.

You don’t want to be in sleeveless tops and running shorts in March.

At the very least, write your senators, representatives and editors and urge them to grapple with this most significant issue of our time, immediately and effectively now.

HOW IT SHOULD BE IN WINTER:

Falling Fast and Furiously

Falling Fast and Furiously

It’s not just snow that’s endangered.  It’s the planet itself, and we ourselves are part of what Elizabeth Kolbert titles “The Sixth Extinction.”

BRILLIANT NOSTALGIA — UPON RE-READING E. B. WHITE: All for the Love of Books

Sometimes, when you order from Amazon, your request is archaic enough that it arrives as a library book.  Complete with faded cardboard sleeve in the front, intricate / cryptic numbers, handwritings of some vanished librarian.

In quest of excellence, I recently arranged to receive works on and by E. B. White, Ur-New Yorker writer of yesteryear.  This founding writer, in the days of Ross, lived and cavorted in the Village.  He would read seed and farm equipment catalogues for pleasure.  A man of such wit as to cause me to laugh right out loud, reading his essays in the middle of the night.

In The Second Tree from the Corner, I hoped to have purchased a collection that included the idyllic, profound, Return to the Lake.  I needed ‘to re-experience those indelible scenes of Elwyn pere and his young son, in the New England haven that mattered most to both.  Part of me desired a virtual trip to a lake, any lake.  The other part yearns always for the miracle of sharing important childhood places with one’s own offspring.

“Lake” wasn’t in “Tree”.  But, Farewell My Lovely is!  What a romp, this salutation to the Model T!

Out-loud laughter, and sometimes tears, accompanied each turning of a page.  EBW had named his seminal new vehicle, “My Lovely.”  [There may be extra layers of appreciation in this former resident of Detroit, then suburbs, suffused with Henry Ford from 2-years-old, on.] Ellwyn exults: “‘My Lovely’ is mechanically and uncannily like nothing that had come into the world before.”  He reveals, “The driver of the Model T was a man enthroned.”

He drove his purchase “directly to the blacksmith” for “appurtenances to support an army trunk.”  “A speedometer cost money, and was extra; like a windshield wiper.”

White carefully explains the cranking process, –its subtleties and dangers–, concluding, “Until you had learned to ‘Get Results!’, you may as well have been cranking up an awning.”

Catastrophes large and small were the norm, price of passage.  Everyone knows about the tires (did he spell it ‘tyres’?), those abrupt sudden stops necessitating patching by the driver.  But this comedic genius conveys the entire litany of ordeals, with a light touch suitable for a stand-up comic.  Because of the multiplicity of perils, White insists, “Model T drivers ride in a state of thoughtful catalepsy.”

He seems not to have been skilled at those incessant repairs.  “I have had a timer apart on an old Ford many times.  But I never knew what I was up to.  I was just showing off for God.”

Sometimes, White looks back with intensity and even longing.  He considers Thoreau’s Walden to be “a document of increasing pertinence.”

Sometimes, Ellwyn B. White is a prophet:  “Audio-visual devices require no mental discipline.”

Reading a writer so skilled, so rich in language, and so unafraid to be quirky, strengthens my spine.

From Charlotte’s Web to Is Sex Necessary, with Thurber, and the essential Elements of Style with the revered William Strunk, who equals White’s range?  Who is the E. B. White of our era?

But there was an added bonus to this book order — holding that old library volume of The Second Tree from the Corner in my two 21st-Century hands.  It triggered memory like Proust’s tea and madelene.

The library card is marked in faded ink:  Ashtabula, Ohio, Library, followed by Kent State University.

Site of our country’s great shame, –right up there with civil rights abuses beyond measure — where our own government officials turned clubs and weapons upon Kent State students, upon our own children, who dared to protest war.

Kent State, which refused George Segal’s arresting statue of Abraham and Isaac, –portraying in his unique human-generated mastery– father about to slit the throat of his own long-awaited son.  Only Segal’s figures are not garbed in biblical robes.  Rather t-shirts and jeans.  And it was no God who demanded this sacrifice, but bureaucrats, officials and politicians.  This masterpiece preside alongside our Princeton University Chapel. Lest we forget…

What an unexpected link, Ken State, fronting a work by E. B. White, so devoted to his own son, Joel, delightful centerpiece of the Lake essay that I do not possess.

Cradling this book of other times, I inhaled what was the most important scent in the world to me — a whiff of old volumes and old dark and yes dusty and yes sometimes even moldy libraries of childhood.

Suddenly, I am back in one of those venerable rooms.  Sun slants through tall windows with their wavy glass of yesteryear.  The light is alive with particles more alive than I feel.  It illumines towering ‘stacks’, –more essential, more priceless to the child Carolyn than all the gold in Fort Knox.  In this room, dark and light mingle with a kind of delicate power exemplified by dust dancing in sunbeams.  In this room, ignorance and knowledge meet and marry..

I feel very little, attempting to climb up into the heavy dark wood straight-backed chair.  A thick volume awaits upon the scuffed table.  I get tired here, stretching up to the thick wide table, my legs not touching the floor.  After awhile, I kneel to read.  I now see how appropriate is that reverent pose!  Nobody has to tell me to keep silent.

The aromas of this used book whoosh me back, suffusing me anew with my absolute craving for books and all that they held; craving for the places where books presided.

In Michigan, I knew no bookish people.

Teachers did not count.

Textbooks DEFINITELY did not count!

The neighbor mothers in Lathrup Village ganged up on my mother one afternoon.  They surrounded her, towered over her at our little kitchen table, ordering “Do not give our children any more books!”

There is a black and white 7th birthday picture of me, in the pine-paneled living room, clasping a huge (as a bible to the Child Carolyn) volume of Longfellow’s Evangeline to my skinny chest.  My face is all ecstasy.  The faces of all the neighbor boys and girls, ringing me, –“My Jolly Friends”, I called them, from the song, “Playmate–”  look completely baffled.

When I had to fly in wartime to Northern Michigan the following summer, because of bronchitis on top of winter’s rheumatic fever, I clutched that same volume to the smocked bodice of my traveling dress.  It would be at least a month before I saw Lathrup Village again.  One of the best things about the Leelanau Peninsula resort of Fountain Point, was an entire room, fronting the lake, lined with bookshelves, studded with books I’d never seen.

E. B. White is a distillation of books, for grown-ups, for children, all he’d absorbed, and all he wrote for others.

The Child Carolyn would be in her 20’s and living and working in Manhattan before she would be introduced by her upper West Side roommates to Stuart Little and Charlotte’s Web.  She was clear that she’d’ve been enchanted, had she met them earlier.  That’s when she met the New Yorker, too.  Basically her life has never been the same.

In an aunt’s attic, on swift Toledo visits, she’d come across leathern volumes with silk-soft tissue pages edged with gold.  They all seem heavy in retrospect, for this little girl, –who knelt there, too, to read them.  What she never could understand was that these treasures were up in the, yes, dusty attic.  Sun-motes there, too.  But those books languished there, unread, except for Carolyn-visits.

I was supposed to want to go to Toledo for the relatives.  I went to Toledo for the books.

No matter how many biographical works on E. B. White I read and re-read, nothing REALLY explains his diversity, wit and wisdom.

As proof, I offer his response to the first space tests, which had gone off unsuccessfully and successfully, “leaving the earth’s people frightened and joyless.”

Childhood Summers — Michigan

The lovely weather of recent weeks allows me to keep windows and doors open, so that not only light, but also air, nature sounds, and fragrances waft into my ‘new’ Lawrenceville apartment.

This morning, the departure of a small plane, –purring like the aircraft of my Michigan childhood –, thrust me right back into the silken grass of our smoothly rounded ditch in front of our little red brick house.  It was newly built by my parents, in the tiny town of Lathrup, well outside Detroit.  Hardly anyone drove down ‘California Drive’ except neighbors, guests, and the bakery truck.

There was nothing in Lathrup, not even a post office — we were officially ‘Birmingham.’  If we needed food, my father would have to drive us to ‘the store’, in the NEXT town.  ‘Store’ meant grocer.  He stood behind a weathered counter, near a worn butcher’s block.  A huge wheel of real cheddar, which we called ‘store cheese’, rested under glass to the right of the cash register.  Which was shiny black and now we’d say, ‘had all the bells and whistles,’ especially bells.  I’d give him my Mother’s list, and he’d have to go all over the tiny store and up and down a rickety ladder, to bring provisions to us.  When my father moved us here, his German mother wept:  “You are moving to the wilderness.”

By no means was Lathrup wilderness.  But we did have woods nearby, a side yard (which turned into a skating rink in winter, thanks to my father), and a ‘vacant lot’ which became a Victory Garden during the war.  (WWII)  As I wrote in an early poem, “one year the fathers, gardens overrun, waged cucumber war.”

There wasn’t much privacy in our childhood.  One of the few places where I wasn’t pursued by the grown-ups, — not even the kindly ones–, was that silky ditch.  In summer, I’d lie back into its welcoming contours, and watch blue skies hatch clouds.  I pretended that God had a cloud pipe, puffed them into existence.  Then I would seriously study, trying to find out what creatures were billowing into existence overhead.

Planes were so rare then, although we were not far, as the crow flies, from Willow Run (where Lindbergh was running wartime plane production – so we’d’ve been prime Hitler targets, had he been able to turn out sufficient transatlantic planes).  Any time one of these little miracles (I remember especially biplanes) would come into view, I could not take my eyes nor my ears away from that phenomenon.

There were bees then.  One of the key memories of lying in the ditch was hearing bees, yes, busy, in all that short white clover.  It was ceaseless, seemed deafening.

My sister liked to be out in, even to run away into, the deep woods.  I preferred the vacant lot with its myriad of wildflowers.  The colors of summer in Michigan were white Queen Anne’s lace, spiky blue chicory, and the glare and blare of gold/orange brown-eyed Susans.  The dark centers of the ‘lace’ looked far more like insects to me than the only true flower of that weed.  It never did any good to bring the ‘lace’ inside for bouquets to set in Mother’s antique pewter — the little white parts shriveled, as though shocked, into something a little thicker than dust, tumbling all over the maple tables.

The chicory always seemed to be struggling.  Towering above me in the ditch, it seemed faded, as though just giving up in summer’s heat, always closing early.  Later I would learn that Indians could tell time by the opening and closing of chicory’s washed-out blue stiff blooms, even on cloudy days.

Our mother didn’t like to cook, really, and especially turned her back on gardening.  A few spring iris grew spikily behind the house, but turned hideous as soon as each bloom twirled shut.  A few raucous marigolds, and sometimes multicolored portulaca, made up the flowers of the yard.  Everything in the side yard, especially the minuscule ‘Chinese lanterns’,  was far more fascinating to me.

As August appeared, the wild weeds put forth a parched yet spicy fragrance.  That, along with almost deafening crickets of the Fourth of July, and locusts not long thereafter, meant summer was already rolling to a close.

We knew nothing of wilderness in those days.  My sister and I had never heard of preserves, where she in Illinois and I in New Jersey, spend key nature hours in all seasons.  Nobody gave us a bird book, let alone binoculars.  When we try to remember, we ‘see’ jays, robins everywhere (the Michigan state bird), hefty crows in and around our yards.  Mallards swam in cemetery ponds.  Gulls called loud and clear as we would reach first the ferry, then the BRIDGE, to the Upper Peninsula, our absolute favorite place to be.  Never was there a gull anywhere but Northern Michigan.  And, once, above the Tahquamenon River, an eagle coursed above us on the root-beer-hued waters.

There must have been butterflies.  If so, they ‘were all monarchs’.  No fireflies in Michigan.  Each summer, we’d poke holes in Mason jar lids, fill the jars with grass, catch fireflies in Ohio and bring them back home in the back seat of one of the Pontiacs, whose hood ornaments my father resembled.  As an adult, here in Princeton, someone revealed, re lightning bugs, “Carolyn, only one sex lights.”

We’d keep summer Crayolas in the refrigerator, so they would not melt when we used them on the screened-in back porch.  Totally lacking needlework skill, I nevertheless had crocheted long strands which my father attached on the outside of the screens.  I planted blue morning glory (his nickname for me) seeds, and they exuberantly twined all the way to the top of the screens.  We colored all summer in a blue haze.  As I would write in a much later poem, there were, of course, houseflies, “bumping, disgruntled, against the tall porch screens.”

Re-experiencing “ditch days” now, in the 21st Century, my clearest memory –beyond the small planes, the huge clouds– is the sound of all those bees, singing as they worked the clover.