May 17, 2012

Max’s Musings

By Max Molleston

In May, many new ideas emerge as Spring takes hold. April showers bring May flowers, a statement on nature we recall and repeat, seasonally. Nature blossoms through May, ending just in time for Memorial Day, or “decoration day” as some of us call visits to our forbearers’ graves. Peony bushes in their full glory and other perennials are ready to be picked or cut to form a bouquet of honor.

Streams and rivers begin to fill to present their aspects of Spring. Over the past several years, streams of water small and large pushed their excess onto lands surrounding them. Rivers and streams, creeks and other paths usually provide an orderly dispersal of water, so vital and valuable to life. In the middle 1980s, a poem “jumped” out of the Mississippi River as I drove along it in Clinton County, Iowa early on an August morning.

Millions of mornings the Mississippi awakes
and rolls over fish stones and old dead bones.
In the early morning the sun lays back of the horizon.
Animals meet the call of the old river as best they can.
In the evening the forgotten tones of the Mark call
hang above the water. She remembers
the rapids of her upper waters and Captains courageous.

In the early 1990s, poet Dick Stahl of Davenport, Iowa, and his wife Helen, journeyed up and down the northern Mississippi River for parts of four years to gather material for his book , Under The Green Tree Hotel. Released for Iowa’s Sesquicentennial in 1996, it contains 81 pages in stories and poems published by Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois, East Hall Press. The poems stretch from page 51 to page 81. I have selected one about the power of the Mississippi in its log rafting years, the central activity of Stahl’s book.

This river’s harvesting its own stand of timber this spring,
dragging the sloughs and backwaters for tender roots
and rotting gnarled limbs. Cottonwoods, black willows
and silver maples lean their backs over the river
with their green hair waving like reeling drunks
before being taken in. Then, with hardly a splash,
a white oak dips, moving its green tentacles and dark scaly body
and black-toes fins toward a red maple. These predators
lock arms and close their bodies, raising high dorsal fins
like timbered islands to call all shore debris. The pack assaults
the raft as branches scratch my legs, reaching for my oar
before the current pushes them back.

Dick Stahl’s book, including his imaginative and descriptive poetry, points to the Green Tree, in LeClaire, Iowa, a sure navigation point as the famous log rafts, with a strong history and high excitement, maneuvered down the Mississippi, to the sawmills and lumber centers of the Weyerhausers and other self-made barons of sawed lumber. From Langston Hughes in his poem:

I’ve known rivers;
I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and
older than the flow of human blood in
human veins.
My soul has grown deep like the rivers,
I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe lincoln
went down to New Orleans, and I’ve seen its muddy bosom
turn all golden in the sunset.
I’ve known rivers; ancient dusky rivers.
My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

It is the month of May, and we want a merry month. There is usually lots of action to follow. Please join me here in June. By that time, we will be married to Summer.