Some 40 miles west of St. Louis is one of my favorite places – Shaw Nature Reserve, which all of us residents call by the name it was originally called – “The Arboretum.” It’s more than 2,400 acres of woods and trails, with some managed gardens but mostly woods. A favorite walk is the river trail, out and down to the Meramec River, one of the reserve’s boundaries.
When you’re mostly a dweller of city and suburb, woods become an escape and respite, but also a point of reference. They are a place to go to clarify and consider, a point of reference and a means of reflection. Thoreau did it at Walden, and Wendell Berry has done it in Kentucky, but you don’t have to be famous to seek out the calm and silence of nature.
Teacher, songwriter and poet Chris Yokel has done it, too, at a nature preserve in Rhode Island called Weetamoo Woods. From the fall of 2011 through the summer of 2012, Yokel traveled from his home in Massachusetts to find reflection, and he collected it as A Year in Weetamoo Woods: Poems.
The poems are divided by the four seasons. The woods change, of course, from the dying of fall and white of winter to the spring (when “bursting buds / betray the signs of / the gardener”) and on to the hot richness of summer. Here is “Fallen Ones,” from the winter section but offering a glimpse of the spring, and life, to come.
they silhouette the hill—
like shafts of shivered spears,
a memorial to the
Battle of the Four Winds
whose rage twisted ancient ones
I feel its gale-borne arrows
pierce my heart with memory,
Yet here amid the blasted trunks,
the supple birch springs up
both strong and straight.
The poems from the Weetamoo Woods become poems about life, birth, regeneration, beauty, art, imagination, and faith. They are about the woods, yes, and about the life of the poet in the woods. But in a very quiet way, the poems become our lives, too, our experiences, our reflections.
A Year in Weetamoo Woods does something else, too. It serves as a reminder that we all need time for thoughtful consideration of our lives, and there’s no better place to do that than the woods.
It’s time for me to make another visit to my own woods. And I’ll bring these poems with me.
(By the way, Chris is going to be leading a workshop for students on J.R.R. Tolkien at Tweetspeak Poetry, covering The Silmarillion, The Hobbit, and Tolkien Life. You can find the details at Tweetspeak.)
Photograph of Weetmoo Woods: Eventful