Rising to Go

The entrance to the National Library of Ireland looks out over an attractive courtyard that fronts the parliament building. Once inside the library, a quick right turn takes you through a hallway of Joyce photos with a short bio that notes Joyce’s early aspiration as a singer and then down a flight of stairs for a visit with William Butler Yeats. Having long admired Yeats’ poetry, I was eager to get there. As I descended, I heard a voice that sounded like creaky furniture: ” I will arise and go now…” And my mind filled in the next words – and go to Innisfree. The rhythm set up in my head, and I mouthed the words as the old, rough-jointed voice read on. That must be Yeats himself, I thought, and it was. The poem ended, and for the next reading a famous Irish actor took over, sailing me to Byzantium.


Well that was a worthy beginning, I thought, and then I began to nose into the corners of this permanent exhibit, looking over notebooks and letters and manuscripts, with their fascinating cross outs and emendations. Not far in, my eye was drawn by an opened volume with a familiar word on its title page – Walden, it said. And there was Yeats’ personal copy of Walden, with a note beside it pointing to the book as inspiration for The Lake Isle of Innisfree. I read the poem again. Of course…there in its early lines is the cabin that the poet will build, and, a little later, the rows of beans that he will sow. And there, as solace when the poet returns to the gray world of the village, is the memory of the isle, the lake, the “bee-loud glade” to which he can return if he chooses.


It’s an early poem in Yeats’ work, and much greater poems followed, among them the always prescient Second Coming, but the need to step away, if only for a while, resonates for the young Yeats, and for many of us. Often, I think, we read our poets with the same hope.


Filed under Arts, General, Henry David Thoreau, Literature, Living Deliberately, Nature, The Roost, Walden


“To come down to my own experience, my companion and I, for I sometimes have a companion, take pleasure in fancying ourselves knights of a new, or rather an old, order, — not Equestrians or Chevaliers, not Ritters or Riders, but Walkers, a still more ancient and honorable class, I trust. The chivalric and heroic spirit which once belonged to the Rider seems now to reside in , or perchance to have subsided into, the Walker, — not the Knight, but Walker Errant. He is a sort of fourth estate, outside of Church and State and People.” Thoreau, Walking

These familiar words lead us into Thoreau’s famous essay, continuing a run of hyperbole designed, I think, to alert us to the possibilities in the pedestrian, and also in the local. Two feet and a bit of “fancy” are all it takes to slip from the usual into the mythic. Again and again, I’ve found that to be true, as recently as yesterday, when September’s angled light, a windless warmth and the drowsy insect-hum of late afternoon transformed our local woods into another land from which I emerged dazzled at walk’s end.

Today, however, we do leave for another land, traveling for the first time to Ireland, surely a place of mist and myth. How will we make our way there? Thoreau’s essay seems the right guide, supplementing some of our research reading in usual guidebooks with guidance for our spirits. In fact I know of few better ways to find the local particulars of a place, the moments and markets that become memories, than to visit as a Walker Errant.

Both parts of my new/old title count, I think. The foot by foot parsing of way and place bring us to each new sight and corner at the pace of perception. And, as we learn and relearn over time, just as losing our ways can make can make the local foreign, it can also make the foreign familiar.

Step by step along the cobbled way.

Step by step along the cobbled way.

Travel note: with luck, I’ll be able to check in on The Roost and post an Irish thought or three from time to time. But, if errant wanderings or links prevent that, I’ll look forward to rejoining you in a few weeks.

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Floaters – Notes from Late Summer

On September 13th in 1853, Thoreau set out from Boston Harbor on his second trip to Maine. “It was a warm and still night,” wrote Thoreau, “and the sea was as smooth as a small lake in summer, merely rippled.” A little later, he noted about the view from the sea, “We behold those features which the discoverers saw, apparently unchanged.”

This September’s early weeks seem also to be “merely rippled,” the sort of season that invites one out on the water. The summer crowds have dispersed, and as you float in solitude, or paddle languidly, “those features which the discoverers saw” are “apparently unchanged.”

Two Times to the Sea

September 8th: It is warm, and the day is suffused with a late summer, insect-hum; such days suggest pause, equipause, we might call it, in honor of the oncoming equinox.

I come in to Ragged Island from the west on mildly-ruffled water with a light north wind opposing the incoming tide, and I ride on today’s little sea-breathing, the swell that swells only to a few feet and then falls. The stubby rock arms of the coves reach a few meters into the sea, and, on a calm day – this one – they create little protected inlets, where the seaweed sways with the inflow and the tidal rocks draw breath with each outflow.

On either side of me, there’s the emerald backside to shoaling water with its inset of opal-white as swells arrive and lift themselves on the ledges’ backs.

Today’s tide – very high, an 11-foot one – lands me on the sea-grass fringe of the northwest side, where the small beach features a huge drift-log – say 20 inches in diameter – perfect for sitting. I notice that the long arm of rock that reaches west at beach’s edge has a 5-runged, wooden ladder perched atop a broken-off boulder; I don’t wade to it and climb, but perhaps I should have. Ladders have their lure; they go up, the direction of life. But on this day, I’m content with sea-level surveying.

Amid the sea rubble, the remains of a duck, its wingbone disappearing into the mass of feathers still intact, the meat all gone – fly until you’re food.

Sitting on my beach-log and looking over all the little, ground-down pieces of the beach, piled a little deeper at the tideline – wash and grind, wash and grind.

On all sides of this island, the rocks are water-battered and rubbed smooth up to heights of 20 feet; it is talk of towering waves.

Anomalous Island Stone

Anomalous Island Stone

Later, I read that a California exercise physiologist (who among other projects, has measured the Vo2 Max of mountain lions) has measured big wave surfers’ heart rates (HRs) and found that they stayed at an astounding 180+ throughout a 3-hour stint of surfing (this at the legendary Mavericks break). Even sitting on the beach looking out at the break, their HRs soared. This makes me wonder what my HR is while paddling, even contemplatively. Probably there is some rising graph that tracks with the liveness of the water I’m riding (or watching). It makes me think back to the wave-battered stones on the island; I feel my pulse jump…a bit.

September 15th: a paddle to and from Little Whaleboat Island. Sightings: 4 loons, and they were either molting or first-year loons; clearly loons, but without the distinctive patterning of neck and breast; also, the water where they were hanging about was rife with little loon feathers. As in years past, they were in the indent of water between Lower and Upper Goose islands. I floated with them and “vocalized,” even getting single note answer from one, though “answer” is too strong a word.

Today, a pleasing mix of quiet and ruffled water: in the lee of the Gooses, and, later, out by Little Whaleboat, the water was nearly calm, with a light brush of west wind. On the way out, between Upper Goose and Mere Pt., the water was bumpy, with tide running out and wind amplifying it a bit from the west. Then, the early crossing to L. Whaleboat was choppy, again with wind running 90 degrees off of tide. A mix of waves from west and southwest, but at a foot+ simply enjoyable.

At all the usual pullouts, there’s empty sand and strand; the flattened grass at the “secret” campsite on the south end of Little Whaleboat is starting to rise; the Goslings have gone quiet, as has the anchorage in their shelter.

One butterfly making its way southwest across the reach of water, making perhaps a knot better than I am. Such stamina. A few seals, curious periscopes. Perhaps the last week for the ospreys, who still keen at my approach, even as their nests are long empty; they hang in the air facing the southwest – perhaps they too feel migration’s call.

Last note: The 60-year-old apple tree I’ve watched for years on my favorite islet is, as this spring announced, truly defunct; already, it is weathering to sea-grayed wood. I looked for shoots of offspring, but the miracle of apple islet doesn’t seem set to repeat itself. The islet reverts from eden to the primrose-lined usual, its “features which the discoverers saw, apparently unchanged.”

Evening Light, post-paddle, Casco Bay

Evening Light, post-paddle, Casco Bay

Added note: what didn’t happen to me: video of a breaching whale and kayak-folk from the BBC: http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-3399

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