Monday, May 17, 2010


Michael Czarnecki May 15, 2010

Michael Czarnecki is traveling and writing his way across country for the next 23 days, 28 days all told. Day 3 was spent in Albany County, New York State. Michael Czarnecki is poetry reading and blog journaling his way along US Route 20 all the way. Here is his site where he records his journey: You can look up his schedule and maybe meet up with him at one of his readings. He is also poetry reading 4 times in Montana on his way back (Route 20 doesn't go through Montana...too bad). We got the only workshop on the trip. A three hour affair on the travel writing form Haibun. In talking about travel writing Michael mentioned David Grayson, who he discovered while reading Lin Yutang. He said Grayson doesn't actually travel all that much but has a style of observation and simple prose that Michael tries to incorporate in his own journal work. The criticism that Grayson has language that is too simple is not at all a negative to Michael. "Simple good!" he said in a monosyllabic way (just kidding Michael) For the Haibun form itself look to poet Matsuo Basho's famous travelogue The Narrow Road to the Deep North described as a journey away from the familar in search of deeper meaning through zen. Writing Haibun is a choice as it requires a different focus. Not just for writing of spiritual poetic pilgrimages as Basho did, but for riding prose over the changing journey of sensation, writing to move one along and then add haiku to bring a stop and fill the moment.

tea, coffee, water
old writings brought to surface
quench poet's thirsty mind

After the workshop Michael has said he wanted to explore Route 20. I took him to the Albany pine bush to show him the old native's road, a footpath network, the literal beaten path of a time before whitemen and horses. Following East Old State Road I looked for a stop for some walking off into the pine. True exploration as I had never walked in this area before. I did take a group of schoolkids on a traverse of the State Preserve a few years ago so I knew it was terrian where it would be easy to get lost because of the sameness of topography and vegetation. The size of the pitch pine was impressive. Michael pointed out the sharpe prickles on each tip of cone scale which are an outstanding feature of this tree. There were old cones on the trees and ground. New cones ripen in September.

against the bright sky
twisted trunk sprays grasping branch
turns backward forward
A little map reading got us to our next site. Glass Pond in Guilderland. These small ponds form where the east branch of the Hungerkill joins the main branch. They are right on Route 20 so both locals and travelers notice the marshy expanse and see duck and other waterfowl visiting. Not much farther along the Hungerkill joins the Normanskill just upstream from the Route 155 bridge. The Schoolcraft family ran a glass factory next to Glass Pond where Henry Rowe Schoolcraft learned the family business. Schoolcraft and his wife Jane Schoolcraft did some of the earliest collecting of native folklore and mythology with emphasis on native culture and language. I wanted to show Michael Glass Pond before I took him to the Guilderland Library History Room which has a nice collection of old books including some written by Henry Rowe Schoolcraft. In my FootHills Publishing book Thirty Poems my poem THE MYSTERY OF THE GHOST HAUNTED HILLS is dedicated to the late local historian Arthur B. Gregg. I was able to show Michael the heart of this fine collection of books was Arthur Gregg's private library. In the poem Gregg looks for the grave of Colonel Abraham Wemple and speaks of the flooding of the Wemple homestead to make a reservoir. On this day we were able to trace the landscape mentioned in the poem and add to the "history" by making some new memories.
Later in the evening, after some good conversation and a few homemade beers (gift of Martha Healy and Sandor Schuman) Michael, either loading or unloading, lost his photos from the day. I had wanted to make Czarnecki's US ROUTE 20 Journey known to readers of this blog. There are good number spread across the United States. Also I wanted to post some Day 3 photos that I took.

scraps of paper fall
sent machine by machine home
memory recalls

Monday, May 3, 2010


Our Poet's Tour of the Catskill Mountains included views of greening mountains, small two-lane roads and indirect routes to almost everyplace we wished to reach. Woodstock area poet Will Nixon met Martha Healy, Sandor Schuman and me at the parking lot for the hiking trail up Mount Tremper. Our day was to also include a visit to Woodchuck Lodge, poet John Burroughs' summer house and grave site in Roxbury, New York (build on his old family farm). Burroughs had another writer's retreat built in a wild area less then a mile from his West Park, New York home. A small building with slabwood siding called "Slabsides." For over two years a group of local poets met there to share their own and others work. In part, the result is a new anthology of contemporary nature poems titled Universe at Your Door:The Slabsides Poets, edited by Will Nixon and Alison Koffler from Post Traumatic Press, 104 Orchard Lane North, Woodstock, NY 12498 ( Will started our hike by discussing John Burroughs and I had brought some poems and quotes of his. As Will pointed out for a poet who today is largely forgotten, John Burroughs was amazingly popular and in his life time read by millions. He hung out with Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Teddy Roosevelt on the level of collected friendship. Will said Burroughs hated the automobile at first but then Henry Ford gave him one and he changed his opinion. You do not have a million readers without having influence and celebrity. At his funeral the photographers, newspapermen and other reporters outnumbered family members and seemed more interested in photographing the rich and famous than anything else.
Since Will has written of quail in his book My Late Mother as a Ruffed Grouse. I read a stanza from John Burroughs poem The Partridge:

Ah! ruffed drummer, let thy wings
Beat a march the days will heed,
Wake and spur the tardy spring,
Till minstrel voices jocund ring
And spring is spring in very deed

This seemed like a nice energetic poem to start our hike with but first Will Nixon demonstrated how by flapping wings a partridge makes their drumming sound. We soon discovered we had hit the peak of spring flower bloom on Mount Tremper. The different colors and varieties of violets alone could fill a guide book. Sandy was taking his own pictures, especially of the few he couldn't identify. I pointed out that violet leaves make good salad greens and ate some to prove it.

We joked at the headlines, Noted Bioregional Poet Dies From Plant Ingestion Outside of His Known Watershed. I checked, violet leaves are edible and so are the flowers. Reading more John Burroughs while on the hike, we got I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order. We didn't hear any patridge druming but I did hear the quiet of an owl in flight. What we thought was a fish crow was also determined by sound, more croak than caw.
Leap and the net will appear is another John Burroughs quote. This "wisdom" led to some good natured (pun intended) revisions and warnings. It was agreed that Burroughs didn't mean this literally. "It's a metaphor!" Sandy kindly pointed out.
The trail wasn't steep but the way was long. Martha decided to enjoy a spot part way up the mountain and Will and Sandy decided to take pity on my weary legs and removed a nice portion of the upward trail so I didn't have to go as far that last 3/4 mile. Then they added it back plus more on the long downward hike so I am not sure I gained anything and man it was a long way back to the parking lot.
The visit to Woodchuck Lodge was a great end to the day. Visually different then the trails with weathered house, stone fences, broad fields and ancient trees. I was interested in the Spring Houses at the Lodge and also near the John Burroughs grave site. One old apple tree had to be well over a hundred years old

Will Nixon pointed out the hill named "clump" mentioned in a Will Christman poem. In a sense we were recreating Christman's annual visit to see his friend John Burroughs and even followed the same roads back to Albany. I drove down past the Christman Preserve to show Williams Hollow Farm, the Christman home, to Sandor and Martha.
--- Alan Casline
View of Clump Hill at Burroughs Farm

John Burroughs at Woodchuck Lodge