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The Little Review
Making No Compromises With the Public Taste
Poem for Friday 
Friday, 6th July 2007 12:04 am

From "Unchopping a Tree"
By W.S. Merwin

Start with the leaves, the small twigs, and the nests that have been shaken, ripped, or broken off by the fall; these must be gathered and attached once again to their respective places. It is not arduous work, unless major limbs have been smashed or mutilated. If the fall was carefully and correctly planned, the chances of anything of the kind happening will have been reduced. Again, much depends upon the size, age, shape, and species of the tree. Still, you will be lucky if you can get through this stage without having to use machinery. Even in the best of circumstances it is a labor that will make you wish often that you had won the favor of the universe of ants, the empire of mice, or at least a local tribe of squirrels, and could enlist their labors and their talents. But no, they leave you to it. They have learned, with time. This is men’s work. It goes without saying that if the tree was hollow in whole or in part, and contained old nests of bird or mammal or insect, or hoards of nuts or such structures as wasps or bees build for their survival, the contents will have to be repaired where necessary, and reassembled, insofar as possible, in their original order, including the shells of nuts already opened. With spiders’ webs you must simply do the best you can. We do not have the spider’s weaving equipment, nor any substitute for the leaf’s living bond with its point of attachment and nourishment. It is even harder to simulate the latter when the leaves have once become dry—as they are bound to do, for this is not the labor of a moment. Also it hardly needs saying that this is the time for repairing any neighboring trees or bushes or other growth that may have been damaged by the fall. The same rules apply. Where neighboring trees were of the same species it is difficult not to waste time conveying a detached leaf back to the wrong tree. Practice, practice. Put your hope in that.


In last weekend's Washington Post Book World, Michael Dirda reviewed The Book of Fables by Merwin, a collection "of what the dust jacket suggestively, but perhaps desperately, calls W.S. Merwin's 'enigmatic short prose.'" Dirda notes that some of the writings could as easily be called surrealist prose poems or fractured fairy tales, though they are not conventional animal stories. Some of the fables seem existential or satiric to Dirda, while others are political or "seriously troubling ('The Dachau Shoe')." Dirda adds, "Despite the imagination and astonishing variety revealed in these pieces, Merwin's style tends to remain singularly even and unchanging -- a formal tone, somewhat abstract, with a penchant for striking declarative sentences, situations more perplexing than playful, and stark, emblematic characters. There is surprisingly little that one might call erotic...yet even from the most rambling and dense of these meditations, a sentence or a paragraph may suddenly shine forth to make one pause and marvel."

Thursday the weather was iffy -- forecast was for thunderstorms -- so rather than driving to Gettysburg, we went to nearby Codorus State Park, which surrounds the huge artificial Lake Marburg -- created when Codorus Creek was blocked off by the state and a local paper company, submerging the town of Marburg and creating 26 miles of lakefront shoreline. Because the park was created by the paper company's dam to supply the industry, it is free to enter and magnificently kept, with picnic areas, several boat launches and lots of wildlife, including dozens of groundhogs, rabbits, swallows, purple martins, Canada geese and a variety of fish, some of which can be caught and eaten. We saw many animals and lots of people out canoeing.

A groundhog peers out of his hidey hole at Codorus State Park.

When Maximus' family were relocated from behind my in-laws' house, this is where they were taken to live.

Maximus himself appears to have escaped the trapping and has a new significant other, but his family seems to be in a lovely area.

Geese leave the shore toward one of the boat launches.

There were a few adolescents, but no little fuzzy goslings.

The Boy Scouts erected the original monument to the extinct passenger pigeon that once covered this area in the 1920s. This is a reconstruction.

Here's another view of the water at the quay.

My mother in law would like to know what this flower is -- they and their greenery completely covered a very large tree. Anyone know?

We went out to lunch at the Hanover Isaac's Deli, which pleased younger son because all the sandwiches are named after birds (the deli's mascot is a pink flamingo). Since the sky was overcast but there did not appear to be a storm on the way, we then went to Gettysburg Battlefield to hike around Devil's Den, which is one of our kids' favorite things to do in this area. There were lots of people around since it's just after the anniversary of the battle and there's a reenactment over the weekend, but we also saw hawks, frogs, dragonflies and a skink near the creek. We left when it appeared that the weather was finally turning, stopping at a shoe store because younger son had done a number on his old shoes in the mud the previous day, then coming back for dinner and to watch the bunnies in the back before they ran to hide from the thunderstorm. Since it was raining, we made s'mores around a fondue light in the kitchen!
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