Our first true winter day came about this weekend. Blustery, cold, and raw. I decided to explore some new water in southern York County, Pennsylvania. Heading downstream, making my way through a landscape of naked trees and scrubby oaks, I met an injured doe and spooked a nice buck. Luckily, rifle season just ended so I didn't run into any hunters, though out of habit my eyes kept scanning the second horizon of the canopy in search of tree stands in use.
With the temperatures dropping, the fish were sliding into their slow, spooky winter state of mind.
This stretch of water runs through some farm fields and wooded pastures. The water was on the lower side, so fishing upstream and far back proved to be most productive. A stealth approach, something I'm in dire need of improving, was needed.
The wild browns were keyed in on flashy stuff: greenie weenies, frenchies, & pink san juan worms drifted low and deep. They hung up at the bottom of pools and tucked in the undercut of the bank.
It's always good to explore new water, to test your knowledge and skill, and to push yourself to get caught in brambles and accidentally step into some sweet holes in order to find new fish and new stories. I'll be heading back to this stretch in the spring, when the water is higher and the top-water action on point.
Every once in a lucky while, a poet, writer, musician, or artist of some kind will come along and speak specifically to you. Thankfully, Jack Gilbert came to me through podcast whispers and secondhand comments and now I can't put his work down.
I haven’t read a poet that has resounded with me so much since Gary Snyder back in late teens and early twenties when I was living out of a backpack doing trail work.
I think what I love most is how Jack speaks about life without making it any more than just life.
"we must unlearn the constellations to see the stars..."
I have found myself lately, much like the protagonist in The Talking Heads’ song “Once in a Lifetime”, in a large automobile, letting the days go by, and the water holding me down. Then Jack came along and spoke clearly about this adult malaise that seems to afflict us at some point.
One day you may wake up old thinking you know it all, seen it all, and exist simply to just put in another day. The eggs are burnt to the pan and the coffee needs some sugar; minor adjustments just to make sure the routine goes smoothly. Maybe that’s what life eventually becomes and maybe that’s what life is, but we don’t have to suffer the knowledge of knowing it all before it happens. Sometimes we need to let our eyes wander over to the trees on the horizon as the sun bakes its last leaves for the day.
But going back toward childhood will not help.
As we grow older, as another day passes, it’s easy for us (maybe it’s a human nature) to begin finding patterns in life, routines. We slowly begin to live these patterns, expecting certain things to happen at certain times, expecting certain people to be nice, others to offhandedly shake us off. Through these expectations and their inevitable disappointment, we end up missing out what is actually there - life. We become blinded by the constellations we project onto our daily existence and lose sight of real moments right in front of us. I think that’s what Jack is trying to tell us here: tear down your preconceived notions and pre-judgements of people and experiences and find the heart of it all.
I highly recommend Jack Gilbert's Collected Poems. It's a collection of pretty much all his work. Often times I'll find myself sitting down after the day is done and flipping through this collection, reading which poems stand out at that time. A poet (or artist of any sort) that speaks to you is worth more than most other things in life, that's for sure. It is imperative that we find those voices that speak to us. Seek them out, listen to them, and then use your own.
“Tear it Down” - Jack Gilbert
We find out the heart only by dismantling what
the heart knows. By redefining the morning,
we find a morning that comes just after darkness.
We can break through marriage into marriage.
By insisting on love we spoil it, get beyond
affection and wade mouth-deep into love.
We must unlearn the constellations to see the stars.
But going back toward childhood will not help.
The village is not better than Pittsburgh.
Only Pittsburgh is more than Pittsburgh.
Rome is better than Rome in the same way the sound
of raccoon tongues licking the inside walls
of the garbage tub is more than the stir
of them in the muck of the garbage. Love is not
enough. We die and are put into the earth forever.
We should insist while there is still time. We must
eat through the wildness of her sweet body already
in our bed to reach the body within that body.
I stumbled upon the name "Raftman's Path" walking the river trail that traverses through the little town I live in. It was named during the days when lumber was a huge commodity in this area. The Susquehanna River was an industrial thoroughfare - bearing down loads of lumber from the northern reaches of Pennsylvania towards the Chesapeake. Marietta was a stopping point, a place for the lumber either to go to the mills lining its banks or shoot further downstream through pig iron smoke. Raftmen would guide the lumber down to the mouth of the Susquehanna into the Chesapeake - an estuary of salt, water, lumber, ore, eel and shad. When their job was done, they would walk the raftman's path back through the Susquehanna Riverlands of Lancaster County towards their homes. The path is now wooded and meanders through some of the only "wild" places left in the county.