Tag Archive | poetry

A LONG, RICH HISTORY

Eastern Oregon and the surrounding areas were havens for Native Americans. Many of these tribes, including the Nez Perce, Cayuse, Umatilla, Walla Walla, and Shoshone, would spend their summers in the bountiful Grande Ronde Valley, where they would forage, hunt, fish, and bathe in hot springs. Tribes that may have been hostile toward each other would live together harmoniously in the “Valley of Peace”.

 

The Astor Expedition passed through the valley in 1811; then it became a waypoint along the Oregon Trail for people headed to the Willamette Valley.  Every traveler who left a record of passing through the area spoke about it with favor.
Well, almost…

 

This lovely place was also the home of the largest “Used Oxen Dealership” on the Oregon trail.

It was an especially important part of that historic route, from the 1840s up until the Civil War broke out. Once an emigrant party had made it to the Grande Ronde Valley, it had straggled across hundreds of miles of the Great Plains, crossed the Continental Divide in Wyoming and thrashed through hundreds more miles of the Rocky Mountains and the blistering, arid Snake River Desert in Idaho – throughout which they were constantly fighting off attacks by hostile native tribes. By the time a party got to this tiny, fertile valley, it was typically pretty played-out.

 

This was more applicable to the animals than the people. After all, the people could rest when they needed to, sitting on the wagon while the oxen dragged it up yet another mountain pass. Exhausted from their ordeal, severely under weight and unhealthy from lack of suitable food, the oxen could not be helped by the pioneers.  What they needed was a long period of pasturing and rest.  That’s where the Native Americans in the region could help … for a fee.

 

The Nez Pierce, Cayuse, Walla Walla and Umatilla tribes had no use for oxen, except maybe for the occasional bad winter when better meats were unavailable. But they quickly figured out that they could make a lot of money on them.

 

These tribes would take skinny, exhausted draft animals off the emigrants’ hands for, basically, 50 percent of their value. Then they’d equip the party with fresh draft animals, ones purchased from immigrants during the previous travel season, and send them on their way to the Willamette Valley another 300 miles or so of Blue Mountains, Cascade Range and terrifying river voyages still ahead before the parties would get there.

 

The Native Americans made good money with his business venture.  Pioneers didn’t always like it, but they needed the fresh animals and the Grande Ronde Used Oxen Dealership” was the only shop in town.

“The Nez Pierce can beat a Yankee peddler in a trade,” one exasperated – and out-of-pocket – emigrant groused.

 

Early pioneers chose not to settle in Eastern Oregon, perhaps because they were intent upon reaching the Willamette Valley, it was too far from a supply base, or they feared the Native Americans in the area.

 

The first permanent settlement in the Grande Ronde Valley was established in 1861 byBenjamin Brown, an Englishman who had originally settled in Michigan.
Not long after, the Leasey family and about 20 others settled there. Serving as a travelers inn, the settlement was originally named Brown’s Fort, and then Browns Town or Brownsville.  Since there was already a Brownsville in Linn County, the name was changed to La Grande.

 

Early settlements were in the more arable northern parts of the valley, because the southern end had more alkaline soil.  It was also often swampy and subject to flooding. In 1862, Conrad Miller settled the opposite side of the valley. This settlement grew into the city of Union, the second largest community in the Grande Ronde Valley.  Island City, Cove, and Summerville were not far behind.

 

Many factors contributed to the growth of the valley. Some of these were the continuing presence of emigrants from the Oregon Trail, and the discovery of gold mines in the surrounding area:  Baker in 1861 and the Powder River Mines in 1862.

 

The name Grande Ronde means “great circle,” and this productive area, the second largest enclosed valley in the world, does indeed contain much of Union County’s economy, including nearly $100 million in annual agricultural sales, a figure that has doubled since 2001. Small towns like Cove, Island City, and Union, and the county seat, La Grande, depend on this economy to support local businesses, while visitors since the days of the Oregon Trail have marveled at the valley’s unique beauty.

 

In honor of this long, rich heritage, I offer this poem:

 

Great and lovely valley,
Filled with so much life:
Cougars, deer, elk, eagles
Crops, forest, livestock;
Place of fullness.

 

Seasons chase each other,
From hottest to cold:
Summer heat to bright fall;
Snow to rains in spring;
Ever changing.

 

Small towns, farms and woodlands
Make a giant quilt,
Looking down from high peaks,
Surrounding the land
Where quiet lives.

 

Place where native peoples
Hunted and foraged;
Laid down hostilities,
Lived in harmony;
Valley of peace.
(First posted on September 3, 2014)
REFERENCES:
1.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grande_Ronde_Valley
2.  https://www.friends.org/trail/granderonde
3.  http://www.offbeatoregon.com/H0912d_GrandRonde.htm

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ETERNAL JOURNEY

Falling into silence;
Deep within my own soul,
Where whispers can be heard;
Where silhouettes and shadows
Paint pictures dark and vague;
Where one speaks without a word.

 

Finding the secret place;
Mysteries yet to unfold,
Where riddles dance and play;
Where questions and quandary live
In their exploration
That challenges each old way.

 

Living within myself;
My heartbeat keeping time
As spirit and soul join
The song of eternal life
That will be forever;
At home, yet journeying on.

WHEN RAIN COMES

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Sometimes rain comes softly,
With a subtle touch and light step,
She arrives in the dark of night.
The signs of her visit
Are fragrant, crystalline jewels
That sparkle in the morning light.

Then there are sudden times,
When Thunder and Lightning join her
Accompanied by mighty wind.
Great chaos and drama
Send creatures running for cover
To escape the ferocious din.

No matter how Rain comes,
Whether in quiet gentleness
Or with all her bluster and show.
In all times and seasons;
Day or night, summer or winter;
She comes, but then she’ll always go.

RENAISSANCE

Darkness yields to dawning light;
Ones asleep for a long, cold season
Begin to awaken and stir.

 

 

Thoughts and dreams once lost in time
Slowly rise up from deepest places,
Where they wait and hope for rebirth.

 

 

Feelings bring fresh sensation,
Sweet misery made from pain and joy
Sing new songs of resurrection.

 

 

Sleep cannot last forever,
Nor can suppression anesthetize
The heart and soul of humankind.

 

 

Life is stronger and brighter;
She calls us to join her in the dance
Of joyful hope that leads onward.

INTANGIBLE FRIEND

Sometimes soft and gentle,
Speaking in lowest whispers;
Sometimes more flamboyant
With songs too loud for ears.

 

Often filled with gusto,
Enthusiasm bursting;
Then quiet and moody,
Not doing a single thing.

 

Innocently dancing
Twirling and spinning around
Until you fall with laughter
In a heap on the ground.

 

So unpredictable;
Yet consistent as can be;
Sometimes so invisible;
But still I clearly see.

 

Oh, intangible friend,
How I laugh at your antics.
You will never be known
Hiding in all your tricks.

ACCESS AND ITS PARADOXES

This is one of the short essays I wrote for my application to graduate school.  I thought it might be fun to share.  Enjoy:

 

 

I wonder how Louisa May Alcott and Emily Dickinson would react if they could experience the age of access in which we now live.  For that matter, what would C. S. Lewis and his best friend, J. R. R. Tolkien think?

 

Gone are the days when life was confined to a relatively small area; when poetry was limited to upper class, more educated aristocrats and scholars or relligated to the fringes of “mainline society,” in the hangouts of beatniks and hippies.  Now, it is available to anyone in any place who wants to read, write or listen to it.  This is both a wonderful development and a challenge that presents some rather difficult paradoxes.

 

Global access is by far the single most influential force in all writing, including poetry.  It has changed the entire landscape from more locally centered, culturally governed subjects and styles to one that is broader and in some ways, more homogeneous.  Forms meld together as the international culture becomes stronger.    Everything about it is different:  The immediacy of response to a poem; the ability to read without purchasing; an audience that is as large and varied as the world.

This access crosses all boundaries, from geographical, physical ones to those caused by preference and prejudice.  It allows people to transcend cultural limitations and preconceptions by exposing them to thoughts and styles that are totally outside their realm of experience.

 

When I read the blogs that I follow, I find poetry from Asia, Africa, Australia, all of Europe, Jamaica, Canada, the United States, Latin America and the ends of the Earth.  Some are written by serious, professional writers; others by people who demonstrate very little skill.  The styles and subjects are an interesting mix of things that are completely unfamiliar to me so that I have to go look up words, along with expressions of love, joy and other experiences that each human shares.    Every class, belief system and orientation is represented.  All of this, and I don’t even have to leave my home!

 

Perhaps one of the most intriguing aspects of international access is the paradox it creates:  One side is that we communicate, at least on some level, with people around the globe while remaining in the comfort of our own houses.  We share ideas, learn new concepts and points of view; information on any topic is available in an instant.  Having said that, the other side is that we face a new kind of isolation:  There are people whose entire social life is via computer.  They do not see or interact in person with another human being.  The key to any paradox is to embrace both sides.  In this case, that would mean enjoying the electronic connection while seeing to it that we maintain personal relationships in our own communities.  We only know each other in a deep sense when we are fully present; yet we can know about people and their lives through their compositions.

 

When I write something and post it, I can do so without disclosing that I am unable to see, which puts me on a more equal playing ground:  No one is making exceptions because he or she thinks I am less capable; each reader takes my presentation at face value.  I know a handful of people with disabilities who choose to “hide” in this manner.    They are not alone:  A growing number of individuals who are observably different are choosing online careers and relationships so that they can avoid the pain of live interactions.  After all, one of the dynamics of the Internet is that people only reveal what they want to.  This is an advantage and a pitfall.  On one hand, anonymity protects secrets; on the other, we don’t get to meet the whole person.  There is a certain knowing that we miss because of the electronic barrier with which we now live.

 

One mitigating development is Voice over Internet Protocol ( VoIP,) such as Video calling, webinars and other applications that allow people to interact more directly, reducing some of the disconnection.  The ability to see a person, listen to what and how he/she says things is a crucial part of communication that simply is not available with the written word by itself.  In poetry, this is especially true.  To read a poem is like looking at a musical score:  It needs to be spoken (or sung) and heard.

 

Poets and authors who have written before this age of global access had something that we dare not lose:  Personal connections and live performance.  If there ever was a time when we need to keep these alive, it’s now.  Let the Internet be a resource and tool that serves us; may we never come to serve the Internet

SEPTEMBER

Summer is winding down:
Evening comes sooner;
Preparations for winter happen in earnest;
Teachers and students are back at the ol’ grind!
Everybody knows that
Months will be colder for a while;
Blizzards and rainstorms will brew,
Enveloping the world in white blankets,
Running over into streets.

Soon enough, however,
Everything will start to awaken,
Perfuming the air,
Touching the ground with warmth,
Easing miserable cold.
march wind and spring rain will
Bring fresh hope and delight;
Ever moving closer to
Return of summer.