Friday, April 2, 2010

A Springtime Memory

Walking along our county road a couple of days ago, a male Red-winged Blackbird caught my eye. Perched in oak brush, he pecked away under his wing perhaps preening or attending to a discomfort. His presence triggered a memory of other spring days many years ago.

When Pete and I first came to the Elk River Valley, we lived in an old renovated dairy barn with a small seasonal creek running through the front yard. Bergen Creek was named after the homesteading family who lived there at the turn of the century. In the early 1980s, our young children enjoyed the freedom of walking through that inviting creek, gathering eggs from our first laying hens, and heading out over the small hillside to the neighbors for play time. Most late afternoons, while Pete watched Andy and Cassidy, I ran on a county road nearby for a brief respite from mothering. The Red-winged Blackbirds were always plentiful in the spring, sitting on fence posts, singing out with a characteristic quick note and then a lovely trill.

Recalling this nearly thirty-year old memory the other day, I remembered a poem I’d written then describing the return of spring and the Red-winged Blackbirds. Thinking that poem might be a nice posting for my blog, I went hunting for it in "The Bergen Creek Journal," a collection of articles I wrote in 1981. Once those articles were written, compiled, hand-typed, illustrated, and copied at the local office supply store, I sent it off to family and friends, assuming of course, they were interested in what I had to say.

Scanning through the rumpled copies I’d saved, I found a young writer filled with idealism. I found articles and reflections on the raising of livestock, sustainable food production, disciplining with love, reducing energy consumption, composting, and ways to restore the simplicity of the past in our society. When I came across the poem, I felt disappointed in my memory of it. I wondered to myself, “Why had I remembered it in such a positive light?” I realized in the intervening years, I had remembered not so much the poem, but a supportive comment my mother-in-law made about the poem after she received her May-June issue of the Journal.

My poem, “Spring on Bergen Creek,” began:

I step out the door, the air I breathe brushes across my face and says, “spring.” There’s no doubt.
The birds singing away in the cottonwoods – busily, contentedly – remind me of how closely I live with nature.
The Red-winged Blackbirds, too, are back. They sit on fence posts and accompany me as I jog down the road.
Baby buckwheats have peeked out of the cracks in the moist earth, giving promise of more spring color to come…

I wrote then as a hobby, satisfying a creative urge to share my world as the young mother of a growing family settled in a rural landscape. My attempts at poetry in 1981 sound young and awkward to me today, as though the heart and mind had yet to develop a full confidence in one another. But I know at the time, the words on the page satisfied and brought a part of me to life.

Between then and the time my children left home, I wrote sparingly, a journal entry or reflection when my world stopped for a brief interlude in the quiet of an afternoon. It was only when the house emptied out, I returned to my old hobby. Along the way, I was told writers should save everything they’ve ever written. I balked at the thought of saving every file of everything I’ve ever written. Where does one keep all that stuff? I usually sort through files several times a year and gratefully find clarity in what I leave in my files.

I am pleased however, that when the memory of that spring poem was triggered by the Red-winged Blackbirds on my walk the other day, I had saved my old issues from "The Bergen Creek Journal." For inside, I found evidence that in sharing one's life narrative with others we are brought to life just as the Red-winged Blackbirds joyful song brings to life their existence atop fence posts come spring.

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