Reflections and notes on the relationship of art to nature and of nature to art from along Warwoman Creek, in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Katuah Province of Turtle Island, where the light, the dark, the seasons, the time of deep past, deep present and deep future all mix in alchemal mists to reveal and hide and transform these slopes, shaded coves, bright rivers, deep forests and me, and together sustain me and my art.

Monday, November 9, 2009


October 24, 2009: Georgia Forest Watch sponsored hike (with poetry) to the Chattooga River in Rabun County, Georgia. Thanks to Brooks Franklin and Maureen Keating for organizing and leading this walk.

Poetry is the tongue of our nature spirit.

I am going to tell you some poems here
poems about rivers
about edges and currents,
immersion and emergence
of coming and going

We’ve come here each flowing
out of the rivers of our own pasts
And today we’ve come together
through pine and laurel,
oak and hickory, poplar and hemlock
out of time and its river
to this clear and present edge of here and now.

It is a river liquid and mercurial
alive and breathing
the great snake of it sliding by us
elastic, connective, extensive
the pattern of it made new in every moment.

Am I talking about the river, or of us?

The film maker Jean Luc-Godard says “ Art attracts us only by what it reveals of our most secret selves.”
I reply - Nature attracts us by what it reveals of our most secret selves.
I say the river draws us to her by what she reveals of our own secret flowing selves.

We are not lost here:

            LOST   by David Wagoner

            "Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
            Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
            And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
            Must ask permission to know it and be known.
            The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
            I have made this place around you,
            If you leave it you may come back again, saying Here.
            No two trees are the same to Raven.
            No two branches are the same to Wren.
            If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
            You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
            Where you are. You must let it find you. "

(written for you today)

A river runs through this
Blacksnake sliding under Jewelweed
flushing Robin surprising Blue Jay
screeching over mirror striding Water Spider
reflecting wheeling Red Tailed Hawk calling:
where are you where are you to Lizard
scrambling across old barn wood parched in the sun
gliding over Otter slipping from rock into water
flashing by Golden Shiner scurrying toward Sculpin
nuzzling mud beneath silver racing Gilt Darter
darting past Bloodroot stemming into whitened flower
from the moss blanketed bank shouldering
into the stream as rainbowing Kingfisher
alights and makes the heart stop
and the river runs through it.

A river runs through this
a poem where I am swimming around you
composing dreams about rivers
to all of you swimming about me
who are dreaming poems about yourselves
and I am coming to a place and don’t have the words
and someone else tells me the next one
and so it goes, generous,
the swimming and the dreaming and the telling
and the river runs through it

you and me,
this river runs through us.


                This stream
                is right here somewhere where I am ten
                and running naked under the old oaks
                along Trinity River.

                And this one
                flows in my blood
                with a generosity I can
                in no way account for now.

                And this one
                like a breath is slow
                and long, smooth and deep,
                even and balanced by that other,
                the heart still flung open.

Honor Woodard’s poem (7/14/09)

"the river flows
threads drift on the surface
what lies beneath
who knows
the river carries on
and carries with it
all things within
going down
toward the sea
all things answering
gravity’s pull
fighting or flowing
in the current
all things answer
gravity’s pull
and the river flows on
to the sea"

            GOING TO THE WATER
            by Jeff Davis from his book: NatureS

            The water falls the rain
            falls and breaks
            the order of words
            to penetrate
            thought's interstices
            and wash the rivulets
            and the mind
            thinking of them
            clear again, a moment,
            to the Unknown:

            Down stream
            another juncture of
            water to
            uncover the
            cold rock, strip
            dirt off down to nets
            of roots hold laurel,
            oak, and hemlock
            tight and live:

            Leaves drop in
            and are carried off,
            limbs are taken off to rot:

            And the water leaves
            what holds
            deep to what
            the strong earth
            through all
            uplift and turmoil
            does not unfold.

(for more on Jeff Davis' poetry go to: Jeff Davis

 James Dickey’s

Dark, deeply. A red.
All levels moving
A given surface.
Break this. Step down.
Follow your right
Foot nakedly in
To another body.
Put on the river
Like a fleeing coat,
A garment of motion,
Tremendous, immortal.
Find a still root

To hold you in it.
Let the flowing create
A new, inner being;
As the source in the mountain
Gives water in pulses,
These can be felt at
The heart of the current.
And here it is only
One wandering step
Forth, to the sea.
Your freed hair floating
Out of your brain,

Wait for a coming
And swimming idea.
Live like the dead
In their flying feeling.
Loom as a ghost
When life pours through it.
Crouch in the secret
Released underground
With the earth of the fields
All around you, gone
Into purposeful grains
That stream like dust

In a holy hallway.
Weight more changed
Than that of one
Now being born,
Let go the root.
Move with the world
As the deep dead move,
Opposed to nothing.
Release. Enter the sea
Like a winding wind.
No. Rise. Draw breath.
Sing. See no one.

As we came down the trail, did you notice the springs
squeezing out of rock, slipping over granite slabs
flushing into clattering branches under laurel
knotting strand by strand through stands of hemlock
weaving into creeks that become the River?


               ON A DAY, STILL

                On a day still
                as sleeping cats, among
                a stand of pines, one cracks
                near its base and falls
                against another.

                No fault
                of weather or storm,
                just a failing within -
                a fissure running six feet up
                and all the tissue there
                collapsing like a knee blown out.

                In a moment
                drawn out so long
                it too is stilled,
                the broken one leans
                against another

                as if it stumbled
                in some crowd going to a game

                and the others
                not taking notice, but
                kindly accept to offer
                a shoulder to a stranger.

                One against another,
                no one speaking -
                sometimes it’s all we’ve got,
                each of the other.

                Six months later,
                coming down the trail
                this moment is still here
                and now, lifted out of a spring
                as a handful of water
                is lifted out of time.

Do you hear that bird?



            Take off all
            your clothed and
            clammy thoughts.

            Sit awhile.

            Make nothing up
            between the intervals of silence,
            but listen to them.

            Between each breath
            is a song you’ve forgotten,
            is always calling us
            to gather to this wild
            and shocking world.

            This music happens to us
            before we can ever think about it

            this song happens in us
            before we can ever say it’s impossible

            to listen before we speak
            of nothing or everything.

These mountains are daily wrapped in mystery and fact:
the light, the dark, the round of seasons,
the time of deep past, deep present, deep future -

these all speak to us,
the mists alternately hiding and revealing -
the steep slopes, the shaded coves, the bright rivers,
our lives and our work.

We have to come to the river. The Cherokee who lived here would come many mornings “Going to Water”  (“a-ma Da ye si  ” in Cherokee). It was a daily sacred cleansing and purifying ritual.


                with lighted fingers
                stitches a delicate thread
                an amber line of ridge against the night

                        - then begins
                to hem
                the greening march of trees 
                down along the still dark creek

                        - and begins
                to mend
                out of what might have been
                this day together

                         - once again
                such prescient

                        - surely sewn
                we together
                out of wonder
                this world.

                OUR BREATHS EACH TIME

                Our breaths each time
                reach out and come back.

                They must so love the world
                they always go back
                for more.

                Or perhaps I’ve gotten this
                all wrong. This breath’s
                not ours at all, but the world’s.

                The world’s searching deep
                into our opened chest
                and then pulling back
                for more.

                This tide,
                in its gravity of care
                is drawing us on forever.

This river, these mountains, we’ve come to think of them these days as all so fragile.  Some of this reflects our very human fears about our own fragility. But some of it is very real. You only have to look north a few hundred miles to see them removing the tops of whole mountains for the coal, or see the plans for cutting an interstate highway through the mountains of Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee. You only have to look at our own county here, Rabun. Here hundreds of citizens worked on a comprehensive plan to insure the quality of life for our children and grandchildren, but the County Commission could only see trees (and certainly there were enough of them) and profits to be made on real estate. So they put it in a drawer.

Perhaps we can’t save this river and these mountains without first saving ourselves in some way.  John Muir said, when they wanted to flood Hech-Hechy in the Yosemite, that “What is dollared can’t be saved.” I think it will take something else.  Some way to re-inhabit this world by coming to it with open hands in respect.

            WHAT THEY WANTED

            The teacher asked them
            to draw what they wanted.

            The commissioner's son drew streets,
            paved and straight and bright.

            The developer's son drew signs
            covering the hillsides with crisp dollar bills.

            The lakehouse owner's son drew mansions
            in a shimmering necklace around the lake.

            The environmentalist's son drew a river
            bobbing with kayaks and laughter.

            The carpenter's son drew houses,
            board upon board, high enough to reach the sun.

            The fatherless daughter drew just one
            great mountain, like two hands

            joined in prayer,
            opening in praise.


            Will the world be still
            after we depart?
            Will there be cold? Will there be sweetness?
            Will the birds still talk about
            what we never learned to hear?

            Or will it all be forgotten, or forgiven,
            or will it just be still?

            Our children are coming and we are going.
            It’s late, but listen!
            If we fail to listen
            and then to tell them,

            the rivers and the mountains
            will stop breathing in
            their fullness. They’ll stop whispering
            their care and advice, and there will be nothing

            for our children to hear
            but their nightmares.

                WILL YOU BE THE ONE?
                    for Honor and Robinette

                Will you be the one
                to leave a sign in the ground
                for those who come after to find
                that we too lived

                and loved, cried and died,
                fighting with ourselves and each other
                to the end of us

                and that one of the least of us
                left this coin.

This last year my dear neighbor Honor Woodard taught me to appreciate how dreams are not part of some separate world. Each week we used to meet in a dream circle to tell our dreams. Often when it came my turn I would say “I had this poem to tell you” not realizing I had replaced the word “dream” with “poem”. Honor would point this out, and gradually I came to embrace this porous sense of what the world is made of, and that we are made of -(the same old star stuff as everything else?)


            We are always dreaming,
            the good life, the bad life,
            the life not lived.

            In our ceremonies
            we mark our bodies
            with the signs of our dreams:
            flames and crosses and circles.

            Wearing our dream marks
            we carry our whole lives
            into the country of our days.

            We must do this - keep it up,
            this dreaming into our waking country,
            keep it going, keep it safe,
            even into the desert of our selves.

                WHAT’S NEEDED

                What’s needed
                is water
                and dark

                moving to a time
                as slow as roots

                in a well

                where slivered fish

                in a dream
                of knowing

                not caught
                but foreseen.


Reach out
beyond yourself so far
you have to let go
of the shore.

Gather in what happens here.

Then pull back
against the undertow
sit on the beach
and examine your hands.

Most days
you will only be left
with broken pieces of shell, flecks of mica,
the sands of rock and time

But sometimes
you will be left with fiery bits
of starlight.

These are yours.

So enter a river,
a poem, a church, a conversation
anywhere. Swim around
listen for the resonance
in the waves, for the motion
in the current.

Let each filament of river
weave into your breath.

Then say what happens here.
Know that we all are listening.

A river, a poem, a church, a conversation
even a breath
it’s all a great river. I’ll meet you there.

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