A power of Butterfly must be –
The Aptitude to fly
Meadows of Majesty concedes
And easy Sweeps of Sky –
A Bird Came Down The Walk
by Emily Dickinson
A Bird came down the Walk—
He did not know I saw—
He bit an angle-worm in halves
And ate the fellow, raw,
And then he drank a Dew
From a convenient Grass,
And then hopped sidewise to the Wall
To let a Beetle pass—
He glanced with rapid eyes
That hurried all abroad—
They looked like frightened Beads, I thought—
He stirred his velvet head
Like one in danger, Cautious,
I offered him a Crumb,
And he unrolled his feathers
And rowed him softer home—
Than Oars divide the Ocean,
Too silver for a seam—
Or Butterflies, off Banks of Noon,
Leap, plashless as they swim
I have struggled lately to listen to the news on NPR (National Public Radio) on my daily commute. It feels like a drum beat of negativity on COVID, environmental degradation, global warming, growing political ineffectiveness. I find myself disconnecting from the chaos of the outside world and drawing back inwards and outwards towards nature. It makes me appreciate the pheasant feather I found in the driveway, the butterflies resting in the sun along our sidewalk, the red deer standing in the hay field, the sand hill crane calling from the wet land, the lilies blooming in the garden, the little birds flitting about in the garden. The crazier the world becomes the more solace I find in the tiny slice of nature I am able to experience on a daily basis. The problem with science and technology is the endless improvement in efficiency of natural resource extraction. We are becoming so highly specialized in every field of mining and drilling we are getting too good at draining the natural world of its resources.
I spent last Saturday with my father and we visited the house and town he grew up in from age 3 to 5th grade. The house is still there, as are most of his neighbor’s homes from that period, but the connection to the simplicity of his life that prepared him for the modern world is gone. He described his childhood as idyllic, a small town in Iowa in the 1930’s, surrounded by farms, forests and meadows. He described learning to swim in the nearby creeks in the summer and sledding on the local hills on home made sleds made from crate lumber from the town’s feed mill. He grew up in the depression, when everyone was on a level playing field economically, trying to scrape by with big gardens, chickens, and resourcefulness to make your own things and make your own fun. I took a picture of him out front of the house on Saturday in what was then Ontario, Iowa, now lost inside the city limits of Ames. We later that day were given a picture of him around 4th grade outside the same house, in a hand me down overcoat, far too big for him that he had yet to grow into, but had fond memories of being worn by all the boys in his family that had preceded him. Maybe its inevitable that modernity slowly devours the past. But I am grateful the one room school house my father attended from Kindergarten through 5th grade still stands, even if it has been re-purposed as a single family home.
The inventiveness of Dickinson’s poetry continues to surprise and delight me as I become more familiar with her work. Her ability to invent language is remarkable. I had to look up several versions of the poem above to confirm that plashless was indeed accurate in its spelling of what she intended. Splashing is something different than plashing and the absence of plash with a butterfly on a pool of water is the kind of unique observation of the natural world that makes the poem live in imagery far beyond the words. As I mentioned early in the month, Frost seems to be on my mind right now in ways I can’t explain. I find his poem below remarkable in its ability to convey an aroma that only a person with an apple tree in their yard or farm can understand. The smell of slightly fermenting rotting apples upon the ground that bequeath one final act of benevolence in their gift as an apple, an aroma of the potential that was once their bounty.
by Robert Frost
A scent of ripeness from over a wall.
And come to leave the routine road
And look for what had made me stall,
There sure enough was an apple tree
That had eased itself of its summer load,
And of all but its trivial foliage free,
Now breathed as light as a lady’s fan.
For there had been an apple fall
As complete as the apple had given man.
The ground was one circle of solid red.
May something go always unharvested!
May much stay out of our stated plan,
Apples or something forgotten and left,
So smelling their sweetness would be no theft.