Peter is in the Forest

I invite you to reflect. That is all. To look at your face on the rippling water’s surface, touch that surface and its image, see yourself in this world and the world behind and around that surface, and wonder about it. Wonder at it. All of it.

Me staring into the mists above Ecola State Park on the Oregon coast.

That sense of being one and many is why I have called this blog Peter in the Forest. I am a man in his middle thirties, a father of a six-year-old boy, an environmentalist and teacher both by mission and commission, and a wanderer and wonderer of and in nature: all of nature including from the cityscapes built on Andrew Carnegie’s promises to trails and creeks travelled few and far between. Of all these places, the forests feel like my home, they provide me respite, joy, and health and have become  living metaphors. I have joked that I am in a domestic relationship with Rothrock State Forest in central Pennsylvania where I have spent uncounted hours riding my mountain bike, hiking, running, camping, sitting, writing, sleeping, and playing in creeks alone and with loved ones.

Since the beginning of 2013, I have written and/or read poetry every day. My father taught poetry at a major university for about 35 years so it surrounded me. But ever the boy who would not follow his father, I barely touched poetry. As a musician and songwriter and a short fiction dabbler with an English minor, I paid my dues. Occasionally I found gems like Robert Bly’s “The Man in the Black Coat Turns,” Mary Oliver’s “In Blackwater Woods,” Coleridge’s “Dejection: An Ode,” or Tennyson’s “Ulysses” which is still likely my favorite poem. But with my father’s death, a strange crisis of identity, and the ending of my marriage I discovered poetry.

The world in which our bodies walk, the places, people, and beings we come to know, and the inexplicable feeling of being alive bring so many opportunities. Experiences flow over us like we are stones in a river or sometimes the river itself, pushing everything forward. On another day we ride a boat in the gale exhausting ourselves to keep ourselves from being pitched into the turbulence and being overwhelmed. Have you even been like the wind over the river or the heron aloft on that wind? In those moments of awe – when you transcend yourself to feel both connected to all things and insignificant to them – you can see the heron aloft on that wind over the river and feel the cold water embrace her legs above the stones. We are many things and one thing.

All of this, then, invites you to reflect with me if you’d like. I share because I search for understanding. If you would like to understand, maybe you will join me from time to time.

With that in mind, I offer you a version of a poem I wrote earlier this year*.

“A Stone”

Stones are pushed in runnels
worked and reworked
in every stream of water, every
stream of experience.

Their shoulders are smoothed
under the sun’s glare, under
the moon’s slow gaze, under the
weight of water passing.

Who of us sees the stone
flat on the river’s bed,
below the flowing mirror
hiding the hellbender?

Who has watched a falcon
fly from the cathedral rocks?
Who knows the sweet scent,
to that hungry and honest

actuary gliding over the badlands –
the vulture – calculating
his chances to eat the dead mule deer
on the rocky muddy basin?

Who has watched the deer
bleed on the stone,
and then the Lord’s prayer intoned,
or quoted the Bhagivad Gita,

like Oppenheimer,
that he had become death?
Who has hidden under a stone
from his wife’s blinding wrath?

Who held up the stone
to stop her gaze
from knowing betrayal?
Who crawled from under it,

and walked toward the pool
where new stones cleansed their feet,
where, like Mary Magdelene,
they invited forgiveness?

Have you leapt from
wave-worn stone to the basalt
outcrop to watch the roiling
nutrient bath spill

across the gaping mussels
cycling in concert the waves’
constant living gifts.
Who sees their lives in these mouths

or the tidal crabs’ eyes,
or the pelicans’ bill,
or the frigate birds’ perch
on the sentinel rock?

A stone feels tender feet,
witnesses long fingers breaking
the surface tension,
shaded by bellies aching for meaning.

A stone is like an arm.
You can rest your chin on it.
You can think, wonder, and speak
to a lover about things

with your eyes closed
and the cool cotton under you
on a bed
you should never have entered,

or a room where you held
a smoothed stone from the ocean,
a stone that is true,
a small stone in your palm

a moment in creation’s wonderment,
like a bed or a crab’s eye
or things that never were or are
but could be.

A stone
is a moment,
worked and reworked
in the water.

* I will be revising this poem again.


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