Author Archives: Sandy Stott

Cloud Story

Low-anchored cloud,
Newfoundland air,
Fountain-head and source of rivers,
Dew-cloth, dream-drapery,
And napkin spread by fays;
Drifting meadow of the air,
Where bloom the daisied banks and violets,
And in whose fenny labyrinth
The bittern booms and heron wades;
Spirit of lakes and seas and rivers,
Bear only perfumes and the scent
Of healing herbs to just men’s fields!
- Henry David Thoreau

Cloud Story

Summer often summons the inner-child, at least this one, and just the other day that child-me returned to reading the sky, shaping characters who strove across the horizon. It was a middling sort of day – warm but not hot, a few clouds by noon, a little sun, a breeze that couldn’t decide on direction – and I was idling by the sea. The small harbor across which I looked is backed by low ridges of traditional Maine pines, and the water’s ripples were particolored pastels. I set aside the book I’d brought down and looked out and up; the horizon’s few clouds were singular, each keeping pace with the slowest of metronomes; some cirrus etched the blue above.

The story begins

The story begins

Some time later, in a fashion similar to an old Western, cloud-figures (riders?) appeared atop the ridges. My mind supplied the insistent thrum of drums. Shifting then to Butch Cassidy, I said (perhaps aloud), “Who are those guys?”

"Those guys"

“Those guys”

Those guys continued their slow rise, looking down from their ridge – at me? I seemed the only one paying attention, which is another of the conceits when it comes to cloud-stories, and as they advanced I began to feel exposed. Their bellies darkened; they even “loomed,” a verb I usually cut from my vocabulary as overused.

Then, I began to wonder aloud. “What’s your story?” I asked, and then looked around to see if anyone else was near to hear. No one. That’s good, I said to myself, I can get on with my story, which had become one of four genies who spot a lone lounger on a seaside ledge…and then grant him…four wishes.

Let’s see, I mused, what, beyond the entertainment of Trump’s “candidacy,” would I wish for? And I drifted off into summer reverie.

Near rumbling broke the spell. The genies had vanished; actually they had coalesced into a into a …vast face that really did loom. As I watched, a forked finger of lightning tickled the ridge across the water. “Whoa,” I said aloud, said to self. Veils of rain hung from the cloud; day-ending darkness lidded over. Still, it was still. We all hesitated.

Genies gathered

Genies gathered

Then came the wind, bearing the story’s final sentence: Time to beat feet; time to get indoors. The cloud rumbled, yes, run, small fry.

Here, then, are the rest of those clouds. You’re invited to create your own narrative…or poem to match Thoreau’s.

A genie leans in for a look

A genie leans in for a look

 

Light show

Light show

Varied light and color

Varied light and color

 

The wind arrives

The wind arrives

Storm's edge

Storm’s edge

 

A "sucker-hole," the piece of sky that lures you out, just when you should turn in

A “sucker-hole,” the piece of sky that lures you out, just when you should turn in

 

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Falling in with Henry – Summer Outside of Town

It was unplanned, but over these July days, some 170 years after his move to Walden, I’ve fallen in with Henry and his stretched summer of ’45. Later, it would become part of Walden’s endless (nearly) summer, lasting for more than half the book before fall’s abrupt, punctuating chill arrived. But now, in his raw journal pages and in the mild light that forgets to dwindle each evening, I keep hearing susurration, summer’s saying, “ssssshhhure it’s okay to idle, maybe turn the page…maybe not.”

Well-thumbed Princeton Edition of the Journal

Well-thumbed Princeton Edition of the Journal

On or about July 16th that year, Alek Therien, who would become the woodchopper (and conundrum – is he as simple as one of his posts, or as wise as Homer?) in Walden, visits Thoreau, and, even in these unguarded pages, he’s unsure of what to make of his blunt guest. Therien offers advice on hoeing beans – wait ’til the dew dries – which Thoreau doesn’t credit, and he wants to be read to, which invites a visit from Homer himself.

“And now,” Thoreau writes, “I must read to him while he holds the book – Achilles’ reproof to Patrocles on his sad countenance
‘Why are you in tears, – Patrocles? Like a young child (girl) &c. &c

Or have you only heard some news from Phthia?”

And on this question I pause. Phthia is Achilles’ and Patrocles’ home town, and they are far away at Troy. What might be happening when they are so far from home? Might their fathers be ill, or have died? Might invaders have appeared, just as they the Greeks have at Troy?

It seems significant that Achilles appears here near the inception of Thoreau’s Walden years. He will become a recurring reference in Thoreau’s book, a heroic ideal that casts light on Thoreau’s own purpose at Walden, where, following the archetype, he has set out to locate some secret, some sense of how to live, which he will bring back with him when he returns to town.

Okay, you may say, I know that.

But what has me falling in with Henry Thoreau these days is the implied wondering about the world he has left, the everyday Concord and its dusty roads and clanking cutlery. For me, summer creates the same sense of remove as the shift to Walden. Even when I don’t leave town, I leave its routine, its minute-by-minute machinations.

Instead I live in stretched time’s aforementioned Ss and the way a day’s light goes buttery in the near evening when corn and tomatoes and greens that absorbed that light even this morning form the table’s fare.

And sometimes the question rises: what is happening back in the little town of the everyday? Will I return? Who will be waiting?

For now, however, I am happy to be here, only perhaps an imagined mile or so out of that town, it’s true, but emphatically elsewhere. As was Henry Thoreau when he wrote from beyond Concord of a similar present on the 14th of July in 1845:

Here I know I am in good company – here is the world its centre and metropolis, and all the palms of Asia – and the laurels of Greece – and the first of the Arctic Zones incline thither.

Expansive summer.

July's Pages

July’s Pages

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Bose in the Berries

“[Berrying] is a sort of sacrament, a communion – the not forbidden fruits, which no serpent tempts us to eat.” Thoreau, Wild Fruits

In many instances and groves, I find myself aligned with Henry Thoreau. But, when it comes to canines, we part ways. For Thoreau, dogs were all Boses and Treys, indistinguishable animals who coursed through the woods, running game and baying monotonously. Often, one suspects, they were cast as stand-ins for their human hunter companions – keen on one thing only, missing the heaven through which they ran.

For me, not so much. Instead, I see dogs as spirit animals, who arrive, often unbidden, at both usual and gravid moments.

The other day was my first of our berry season. For a few days prior, I’d seen bumps of blue in the bushes that line the paths of our Commons, and I knew the seemingly sudden ripening of blueberries was on us. Although our backyard high bush berries are still green, their ground-hugging cousins have taken in the ground’s added warmth and become themselves.

Discovery

Discovery

There are few times I find more meditative and self-completing than a stretch of picking berries on a warm afternoon. My eye finds blue behind and beneath the leaves, and as I pick, I get picky – I want what I call “fat-berries,” the sun-sugared ones as big as your pinkie’s fingernail. They are not the something-infused, suspect colossi you find in the supermarket, shipped north in all seasons. These delicate berries are shipped nowhere, except across the grove by birds, or combed into a happy maw by the bear I always imagine just out of sight.

Anyway, accompanied by overlapping songs from the wood thrush, I was settled into my picking, when I heard brush rustling nearby. I looked up and through it came a yellow lab’s head, replete with the canine smile of discovery usual when they uncover a hidden human. Labs are not shy dogs, and she came right to me, nudged my right hand as prompt for affection, and sat down to receive. Which she did. A minute passed, and I patted on.

Not THE lab, but close friend Harlow nonetheless

Not this story’s lab, but close friend Harlow nonetheless

Then, slowly, a figure drew near on the path 100 feet away; the lab’s human companion (HC in dog literature) was scanning the woods. “Ah,” she said spotting us. “There you are. You’ve found another HC.” The lab, extracting every second of affection, stayed until summoned. Then, she bounded off in pursuit of a tossed ball.

Pause over (I resist, as Thoreau might not have, the pun), I looked down again, and the sky-blue winking gathered me back into the berries. A quart or so later, I straightened and figured it was time to walk home. I marked this patch – only partially picked – on my mental map and set out. First berries, wood thrush songs, a dog’s visit – if I could whistle, I would have.

There is one thing in this piece on which Henry Thoreau and I agree: berries, blue and huckle, are the very spirit of summer, which carries in it (in Walden and elsewhere) the spirit of independence and self-realization. And, just as the yellow lab followed her nose to me, I follow mine to these berries; we are both summer animals.

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