If Trees Could Talk and Other Poems

This week’s post combines two of my great loves, poetry and travel. Many of our past family vacations included sight-seeing in the western United States. The juniper trees of Canyonlands inspired me to write The Time Trav’ler. This poem received first place in the 2015 Florida Tapestry Contest. A year later The Time Trav’ler was published in Time of Singing , a journal of Christian poetry.

While visiting Canyonlands I learned some juniper trees have lived for a thousand years. Their twisted and gnarled branches survived centuries of harsh winds and extreme changes in temperature.  I was intrigued by a juniper’s half-dead/half-alive appearance. Its dark green foliage sprouted from branches that looked like pieces of driftwood. The tree emitted a sweet fragrance, and delighted my senses as I hiked in the high desert.

Juniper trees do not exceed thirty feet above ground. Two-thirds of the tree grows underground forming an extensive root system in search of water. Somehow a juniper thrives in areas that only receive seven to nine inches of rainfall a year. Junipers are common on the rocky mesa tops and ridges of Utah.

Canyonlands was inhabited two thousand years ago by ancestral Puebloan tribes who farmed maize, beans and squash.  Living in villages similar to those in Mesa Verde, Colorado, the ancient Pueblos carried water from the Green River below to their gardens at the top of the canyon. If a one thousand year old juniper could talk it might tell us what it has seen on its travels through time.  My illustrations for The Time Trav’ler were taken at various locations throughout Utah, Colorado, and Arizona.


The Time Trav’ler   by Debra Burton (2015)

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Old Majestic Juniper

green needles for a crown

saw a thousand years go by

upon this piece of ground.

 

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He saw the highland Pueblos

ascend the rocky cliffs

with earthen jars of water

each drop a precious gift.

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Below his dark gray branches

small creatures made their bed

and from his juicy berries

coyotes often fed.

 

 

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Old Juniper heard miners

shout curses at their mules,

encumbered with provisions

and clanging metal tools.

 

 

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He heard the wheels of wagons

roll at a steady pace.

Steered by the early settlers

with dangers yet to face.

 

 

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The old tree heard the hoof-beats

of mustangs running free.

Pursued by eager cowboys

in faded dungarees.

 

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One day his lower branches

were clothed with calico.

A signal for the work crew

which way the trail should go.

 

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Tourists come to Canyonlands

to see this patriarch,

take photos with their smartphones,

reach out and touch his bark.

 

 

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Time trav’ler of the ages

mute watchman of mankind

a sentinel restricted

but doesn’t seem to mind.

 

 

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Old Majestic Juniper

green needles for a crown

saw a thousand years go by

upon this piece of ground.


You can read more of my poems from the Southwest through these links to previous posts: The Secret of the Cereus and  Rhyolite.  I wish to acknowledge the members of Word Weavers Orlando who assisted me by critiquing my work. For those who read my blog through Facebook, scroll up to the menu button to access additional pages.

 

 

 

Poetry: A Message in a Bottle

Rain Song       

The rhythm of the rain

God’s pattern of music

echoes divine favor

bridges heaven and earth.

Poetry is the rain

that soaks the senses

and sings the melody

which waters the soul.

(Debra Burton 2014)

 

“Poetry is the journal of a sea animal living on land, wanting to fly in the air.” Carl Sandburg  Atlantic Monthly, March 1923

In case you forgot, April is National Poetry Month. During the month of April flowers bloom and butterflies flutter.  What a great time of year to recognize the significant contribution of poetry to our world. Maybe you haven’t given this art form much thought. Maybe you enjoyed reading poetry in school, but currently read novels instead.  Maybe you don’t feel like you understand what some poets are trying to say.  If you agree with any or all of these statements, please consider the following benefits of reading poetry.

  • Poetry helps readers grow intellectually. It teaches us to simplify complex ideas through the use of  symbolism and imagery.  As we read we draw a mental picture of what the poet sees.
  • When we engage with the emotions of the poet, we develop empathy. If we identify with the experiences of other people, we better understand ourselves.
  • Poetry infuses life with beauty and meaning, which increases our creativity.

Take a few moments to access these links. In her poem, Hope is a thing with feathers, Emily Dickinson compares hope to a bird that never makes demands.  Shel Silverstein grapples with the secret world of dialogue known to caterpillars in his poem, Forgotten Language.  William Wordsworth elevates his mood by contemplating daffodils in his work, I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud.  All of these poems connect with the reader’s emotions through the appreciation of nature. These poets make new discoveries as they ponder the small things which are often overlooked in the hustle and bustle of life.

Writing poetry is a vehicle for artistic self-expression. Who I am, what I think, and my experiences are communicated by showing instead of telling.  The poet paints with words, like an artist paints on canvas.

In his book, How to Read a Poem and Fall in Love with Poetry, author Edward Hirsch refers to poetry as a message in a bottle. After the message is cast into the ocean, it drifts onto the beach waiting to be opened. The finder is the one the message was trying to reach. Once the finder opens it, words spill out from a distant place and time, yet still rich with meaning.

The following poems are my messages in a bottle. Cast out upon the waves, may these words reach the finders they are seeking.  

For My Brother

As night fell in the desert

We stretched out on our cots,

Saw distant constellations

Whose titles we forgot

Viewed streaks of falling stars

Pulled down by gravity

Like fleeting dreams of childhood

Which never came to be.

 

The howl of a coyote

Made such an eerie sound.

It cautioned all outsiders,

“I will defend my ground.”

We whispered to each other

And felt a tinge of fright

Like children telling stories

When Dad turned out the light.

(Debra Burton 2015)

 

A Hapless Hero

Flutter of butterflies hover on the scene.

Arizona thistles bow before each queen.

Flutter of butterflies crowned in orange and white,

Seated on their purple thrones surrounded by the light.

Flutter of butterflies lift your scepters up.

Raise the royal chalice, drink deeply from the cup.

 

One little butterfly caught so unaware,

Lunch for a roadrunner dashing to his lair.

Roadrunner, fierce hunter, slowing to a stop.

Overcome with dizziness, suddenly he drops.

Flutter of butterflies, your banquet is not done.

Your kingdom was saved by the sacrifice of one.

(Debra Burton 2015)

 

 

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Arizona Queen Butterflies

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

River of Inspiration

Moving metaphor below,

without one thought you flow

over stone

and I see

life’s not hard like land at all

but a living river of possibility

whatever you might be.

A River Poem is displayed on a plaque above the Hillsborough River. The author is anonymous.  From this spot people can see rapids as they bubble around outcroppings of Suwannee Limestone.  I love the depth of meaning in the poem’s simplicity. Life’s not hard for a river. It creates beauty in the process of overcoming obstacles.

The Hillsborough River flows through Hillsborough State Park on its course to the Gulf of Mexico. Recently Herb and I walked the River Rapids Trail with our dog, Buddy. The scenery is quite beautiful.

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The path meanders along the river bank through forests of ancient cypress trees. The tree pictured below is estimated to be four hundred years old.

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Although its base is hollow, the tree is still alive.  Some scientists think the stumpy looking knees around a Cypress tree serve as anchors in soft muddy soil. The knees also carry oxygen to the roots. I’ve heard the taller the knees, the higher the water has risen around the tree. The base of this tree is probably underwater during the rainy season.

On our walk I noticed a significant amount of poison ivy on both sides of the trail.

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Doesn’t it look pretty? These leaves of green terrify me! I’m very allergic to this wicked weed and suffer for weeks if the oil gets  on my skin. So not only did I need to keep my eyes on the path, I needed to make sure our dog wasn’t walking through it. So far so good. Whew!

Unfortunately, I was so focused on watching my feet, I missed something. Herb sighted a bobcat running across the path ahead. I think I’d like to see a bobcat, but on second thought I might get scared and try to escape by running through poison ivy. Out of the frying pan and into the fire!

Back to the peaceful river… further down the path we noticed a couple kayaking.

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As they paddled closer, instead of looking calm and relaxed, they seemed anxious. They had good reason to be.

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The river provides a wonderful habitat for alligators. I photographed this fine specimen basking in the sun on the opposite bank. Once I saw the gator, I realized I was not brave enough to kayak or canoe here. I could appreciate the river better from where I was standing. As long as I wasn’t standing in poison ivy, of course.

Since we were camping at Hillsborough State Park, we had another day to explore. We visited Fort Foster. This historic site is a replica of the original fort which was built to  house supplies for  U.S. soldiers during the Second Seminole War, 1835-1842.

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The fort also protected the only bridge in the area that crossed the Hillsborough River. One thing the government didn’t consider, the bridge also made it easier for the Seminoles to cross the river from their camps on the opposite bank.  A few skirmishes happened here, but more casualties occurred from insect related diseases.

Inside the stockade fence, the fort contained a canon, an officers quarters, an infirmary, and a supply building.

The fort could not accommodate the 305 soldiers assigned to the post. Most of them camped outside the fence in palmetto sheds. During the summer of 1836 the fort was abandoned due to unhealthy living conditions. The troops returned in October, to guard the supplies kept at the fort. Eventually the Seminoles were pushed further south to the Everglades.

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The Hillsborough River… an inspiration for poets, a habitat for plants and animals, and a source of history. Like the poem states… “a living river of possibility.”

 

Rhyolite

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The word got out that gold was found.

Near Death Valley, Nevada ground

Miners moved west, eager to see

Beckoned by limbs of the Joshua tree.

News spread quickly, could it be true?

Men staked claims, a settlement grew.

Named it Rhyolite for the rock,

Soon its riches would be unlocked.

For five short years Rhyolite boomed.

Railroads, diners, and dim saloons

Five thousand people called it home.

Signs of progress, only on loan.

Panic traveled throughout the land.

Investors ceased to back the plan.

The rock contained so little gold,

Buildings stripped and materials sold.

The town went bust in 1910.

Quite a loss for wagering men.

Families left, the desert returned.

Seizing remnants of lessons learned.

Between the panes of shattered glass,

Near empty ruins of the past,

Joshua trees still raise their hands

Calling dreamers to the promised land.

 

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A Joshua tree

I wrote the poem Rhyolite after visiting the ghost town which is located near  Death Valley National Park The ruins looked like a war devastated place. Fences and signs were erected to warn people of the dangers. The old buildings  could collapse and the grounds were frequented by rattlesnakes.

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It was hot, really hot, over 100 degrees, but we walked around and saw what used to be the jail, cemetery, railroad depot, and bank.

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railroad depot

I imagined what Rhyolite might have been like in its prime, with people bustling about. Rhyolite was founded in 1904, and grew to a population of five thousand by 1908. The town had electricity and a hospital. Then, after the mines proved to contain very little gold, people moved on. By 1920 the population was zero.  What was it like for those people who hung on as long as they could, to see businesses close, and friends moving away?

I noticed there were a few Joshua trees in the area. Joshua trees inhabit southwestern deserts. They were named by the Mormons, who thought from a distance they looked like a man with his arms raised. The image reminded the Mormons of Joshua from the Old Testament, who after wandering in the desert for forty years, led Israel to the promised land. The sight of a Joshua tree gave the pioneers hope in a better tomorrow.

Maybe the Joshua trees of Rhyolite are calling dreamers to follow a new dream, somewhere else.

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The Secret of the Cereus

 

ILWS6012Buzzards glide in a cloudless sky; rock squirrels hurry on the ground.

Lost in the shadow of the prickly pear, the Cereus makes no sound.

A lazy cactus with sprawling stems, supported by kind neighbors,

Watching and waiting for the perfect time,to begin its secret labors.

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Coaxed by one grand sunset, each Cereus bud unfolds.

Delicate white petals, with centers of soft gold.

A fragrance like vanilla, spills forth from every core

luring a local sphinx moth to pollinate…before…

The first light of the morning forever shuts each flower.

Without complaint or question, they meet their final hour.

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The secret of the Cereus, revealed one moonlit night:

Fulfill the maker’s purpose inside the span of life.

Buzzards glide in the cloudless sky; rock squirrels hurry on the ground.

Life resumes in the desert heat; but the Cereus makes no sound.

 

I wrote the poem “The Secret of the Cereus” two years ago. Like many busy people I’ve  complained about how little time I seem to have.  What if you only had twelve hours to accomplish your mission in life? That’s how much time a Cereus has. This flower only blooms one night out of the year. So what is the Cereus doing the rest of the year? Getting ready!

Although the Night-Blooming Cereus can be cultivated in tropical areas, its natural habitat is the desert  of the American southwest. According to Desert USA, the Cereus is rarely noticed due to its plain characteristics. A member of the cactus family, the Cereus grows in the shadow of other desert shrubs. It has sparse, gray, twiggy stems which break easily. These stems can grow anywhere from four to eight feet in length. The Cereus can look like it’s dead, but it isn’t. That’s where the secret comes in. All year it is preparing to bloom!

On that one special night groups of Cereus all bloom at the same time. This event makes it possible for the sphinx moth to cross pollinate between flowers so fruit can be produced. The Cereus produces a red elliptical fruit that is actually edible!

I’ve never seen a wild Cereus in bloom. Tohono Chul Park near Tuscon, Arizona is reported to have the largest collection of night-blooming Cereus in the U.S. The park hosts Bloom Night which is open to the public. Imagine walking at night on a trail in the desert. Above you the sky is filled with millions of stars, and at your feet the path is lined with luminaries. In the distance, the cry of a coyote breaks the silence sending chills up your spine. The air is heavy with the sweet fragrance like vanilla, and then you see scores of beautiful white blooms glowing in the moonlight! Bloom Night is number one on my bucket list!

Of course timing is very important when it comes to witnessing Bloom Night. It can occur anywhere between the end of May and late July. If you go to the park’s website, you can sign up for the bloom watch. You’ll receive emails to notify you of the progress of the Cereus blooms.  It might be something to plan a vacation around, providing you own your own plane!

Ever since I learned about the night-blooming Cereus I try to not complain about a shortage of time. After all, this flower only lives for one night. It accomplishes what it was created to do, at a time when no one may notice, and it never complains. Do you have a destination you have always wanted to visit, or something you would like to witness? Leave a comment and tell me about it.

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Photo of Night-Blooming Cereus, courtesy of an Orlando gardener.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Everyday Events

Everyday events can trigger inspiration. When we moved into our townhome, the builder planted a small drake elm between the house and the garage. Over several years, the elm grew immense. We valued the shade and tolerated the elm’s faults. Its roots started lifting the patio pavers and its leaves rained down at least two or three times a year. One winter we put our sentiments aside and called in a professional to remove it. Watching the operation was painful. After all it was a living thing! Through writing I verbalized my feelings about this tree, in my poem “The Price of Success”. You can read it by clicking on poems in the menu bar.

Writing poetry helps me see every day events as significant, and live in the moment. I love Psalm 118:24 “This is the day the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it!”

But at the same time, writing helps me pay tribute to events I wish to remember. When I put my thoughts in print, they exist beyond today. What inspiration have you received from everyday events?

 

 

It is Good!

During my teenage years, I admired people who could draw  and paint, but I felt inadequate to do either. So I started making collages. I loved cutting pictures out of magazines and piecing them together to create a new image. Afterwards I felt satisfied thinking, “This is good. This is art.” Because I knew that this particular collage could only be created by me.

God created us to be creators. After all, we were created in his image and he is the master creator. True, we can’t begin to compare our art with his, but seeing his creation inspires me to make something! Whether it is a poem, a painting, or even a photograph!

My new featured image was taken in the Canadian Rockies. It inspired my poem, Landscape Artists, which is featured under the poems tab.

Remember, your art can only be created by you. And it is good!