Archive for the ‘Spring!’ Category

SS Edmund Fitzgerald underway, photo by Winston Brown

Perhaps the oldest form of poetry in most languages, the art of story-telling in rhyme and meter, has staying power like little else in literary history.  Recording historical events, myths, and everyday happenings—comic, tragic, or somewhere in between—the ballad has traditionally been sung and accompanied by (frequently a stringed) musical instrument.  Yet many unforgettable tales in rhyme and meter stand sufficiently alone on paper, begging to be read aloud.

My English literature background is rich with balladry beginning with that bloody saga of Good vs. Evil, Beowulf.  In the 1990s, when we lived in a home with a vaulted wood paneled ceiling we hung the heads of a Javelina pig and a pronghorn antelope—both hunted, bagged, and bequeathed to me by my father.  As I viewed the mounted heads, I experienced a wash of Beowulf Medieval atmosphere; I just had to get out an old textbook and read parts of that gory drama in the ancestral hall.

Whereas some of the characters in the ballad had grown fuzzy or obscure in my head over decades, the mood and setting were indelible.  Mood and atmosphere are created by music, with or without words.

English literature is replete with balladry.  Some beloveds probably known to most aficionados of poetry are Keats’ La Belle Dame sans Merci and Alfred Noyes’ The Highwayman.  Add The Rime of he Ancient Mariner, by Coleridge and haunting works by America’s own Edgar Allan Poe (examples: Annabel Lee and The Raven) and you have a start toward Balladry 101.  The canon is endless.

The tradition of story-telling via ballads set to music was big in the 1960s, with the popularity of folk music and wrung-out war-protests.  This music continued into the 1970s.  But since then, except in isolated parts of the country where (happily) folk music is inherent to the local culture, the ballad seems to have dropped through the floor—as if someone played a foul trick by suddenly opening up a hidden trapdoor on the floor of a stage, and absconding with a lot of life-quality in the process.

Now fakey-flashing lights, screaming, throbbing, gyrating about in indecent attire, and the glorifying of oblivion—all personified by The Coarse and Obnoxious (as well as The Just Plain Weird!) have supplanted the age-old entertainment mode of telling and re-telling the human story, both epic and everyday, in a format that implants one’s heart and mind forever.  As a society, we have lost the power of the ballad—and the loss is tragic beyond definition!

The stage lights went out and the metaphorical trapdoor opened up shortly after the immense popularity of what I believe to be one of the most significant ballads in contemporary times:  The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, by Gordon Lightfoot—a multi-gifted composer and troubadour.  With the obvious exception of fictional last minute commentary on the ship, Lightfoot documented the tragedy with careful selection of factual information.

The ballad triggered an inquisitive spirit in me, and in recent years I’ve read everything I could get my hands on concerning the Fitzgerald (pictured above in all its original glory.)  As far as I know, there is still a question:  Did the ship hit an uncharted shoal which jarred the hatches loose, or had they been improperly secured?  God knows.

Shipwrecks are among history’s most horrific events.  I have a penchant for reading about peril on high water, and oddly enough I don’t even like to be tossed about on a small inland lake in a sailboat.

Yes, I do swim and I love water.  Canoes and rowboats are wonderful!  Motors are okay, too.  But flailing in the wind?  No thank you—only in a book.  I have read about many ship disasters, including the Titanic which was massive in scope and devastation compared to the Fitz.  So why is the Edmund Fitzgerald foremost in my head?

Maybe because it happened in my recent lifetime, and less than three hundred miles from home.  Or even more likely, because Gordon Lightfoot wrote and performed an unforgettable song about the Fitz.  It’s all about The Power of the Ballad.

Margaret L. Been — April 23, 2016

Note:  Over decades of serious application to the art of poetry I have written many lyrical, philosophy-of-life pieces.  Ten years ago I decided to try writing a ballad, and I did exactly that.

The ballad is titled:  The Summer of Horses, and it is kind of a metaphorical-epiphany thing.  I was pleased with the effort, and the ballad won 1st Honorable Mention in the 2006 Wisconsin Writers’ Association Annual Jade Ring Contest.

God willing, and the creeks don’t rise, AND providing the days do not suddenly go berserk and hit 70-80° F., I will post The Summer of Horses on this site before National Poetry Month morphs into the Merry Month of May.

But please don’t hold your breath! 🙂

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“Then spoke Jesus again unto them saying, “I am the light of the world: he that follows me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.”

The above scene greeted us early Friday morning, after Thursday’s snow and sleet storm.  The trees in the park outside our front door, and the woods beyond, were laden with crystal.

The sun rising on the crystal created a scene that was spectacular beyond words.  I ran for my I-pad, knowing that the strength of the late March sun would soon thaw out our neighborhood and turn it to that very welcome green again.

The old rule for picture taking is “Don’t face the sun.”  But that rule had to be broken, as the sun was (pardon the obvious pun) the star on center stage.

What a timely metaphor—the sun turning our world into a view of incredible light and beauty after Joe and I had spent the entire grey, sleety day before on the road, tending to routine necessary business such as: delivering our tax info and meeting with the accountant; getting our Honda’s emission tested; shopping for groceries. etc.

Still the day was pleasant.  I have a habit of knitting while Joe is driving, and that is a serenity saver on stormy, slippery freeway days.  We enjoyed a nice lunch at Olive Garden between errands.  We arrived home late in the day, exhausted but very thankful that our missions were accomplished and we were safely back in our cozy condo.

And then Friday morning, and LIGHT!  Despite the inevitable grey, sleety days, we have LIGHT.  Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ died for our sin, that we can be one with Him and walk in the light.  He is risen.   He is alive.  He is our LIGHT!

Margaret L. Been — March 26, 2016



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Winter Breakup.jpg 2  “To think to know the country and not know

    The hillside on the day the sun lets go 

    Ten thousand lizards out of snow!”  Robert Frost, A Hillside Thaw

Although I admit to sometimes dreaming about warm, sunny places during our long Northern winters, I would not chose to trade my home locale with anyone—anywhere, anytime (except for an occasional week or two in New Mexico).

I truly wonder if friends who live in warm places ever experience springtime euphoria—that crazy, headlong, potentially mindless and blithery joy known as SPRING FEVER, when poetry floods one’s soul!  Perhaps that euphoria is common in four season climates around the world.  Certainly in the USA, where April has been designated as NATIONAL POETRY MONTH!

Anticipating April, while loving every remaining moment of tumultuous Wisconsin March, here are some snatches of poems from kindred souls—in addition to the above lines from one of my most beloved kindred spirit poets, Robert Frost.  Also I’ll plug in some of my watercolor renderings.  The marriage of a poem and a painting is called Ekphrasis.


“The Skies can’t keep their secret!

They tell it to the Hills –

The hills just tell the Orchards –

And they – the Daffodils!”  Emily Dickinson, #191

Traces 2

“I will arise and go now, for always night and day

I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore . . . .” 

William Butler Yeats, The Lake Isle of Innesfree

Homeward Bound--1

“Now as I was young and easy under the apple bough

About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green . . . .”

Dylan Thomas, Fern Hill

. . . the dawn's early light

“O April, full of breath, have pity on us!

Pale where the winter like a stone has been lifted away, we

        emerge like yellow grass.

Be for a moment quiet, buffet us not, have pity on us,

Till the green come back into the vein, till the giddiness pass.” 

Edna St. Vincent Millay, Northern April

From Seed

These are only a whisper of the many poems and poets whom I read again and again—immersed in the introspections, nuances, innuendoes, and life metaphors gleaned from a sensitivity to the turning of the year.  I believe that sensitivity is shared by most poetic four-season souls!

Margaret L. Been, Spring 2015

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Always Time for Tea

“Always Time for Tea” is the title of the above rendering.  Tea Time in March is charged with anticipation, excited about change, and zesty with the invigoration of fiercely raging wind and ever-stretching sunlit hours.

Today’s wind is not kind; it’s raw and bitter to the taste, like afternoon Earl Grey Tea when it’s been allowed to over-steep.  Today’s sun is glorious—redolent of fragrant places where ripe and mellow leaves were harvested for an “Irish Breakfast” most anywhere in the world.

Along with the joy of anticipation, my St. Patrick’s Day Irish Breakfast musings (in Nashotah, Wisconsin, USA) are shadowed by things that are lost:  a Malaysian jet carrying over 200 passengers, and perhaps millions of people in our culture who haven’t even the faintest comprehension of the importance of solitude—or whose once-valued serenity has gone missing.

How many of us are there left in this crazy culture, who still understand (and prioritize!) the serenity of spending time alone/alone/alone.  I don’t mean always being physically alone/alone/alone.  I speak of mentally/spiritually/emotionally investing time alone and nurturing that soul solitude and serenity which can only come from a depth of completion—the integral completion which we can receive from God’s Grace through the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ in one’s life as revealed in Scripture.

How many individuals still treasure time alone:  perhaps really alone for a few hours or minutes—strolling in a sheltered woods, basking in a sunny window, lounging on the patio in the summer—with the ubiquitous iced tea (Earl Grey or Irish Breakfast) in hand?  Alone in one’s mind, unfettered by the worries and potential issues that surround anyone who is breathing and thinking?

Alone.  Apart. Soothed by the realization that the heartbreaking issues of the day are a bleep in Eternity.  Solitude, serenity, ALONENESS!  Busy schedules have been common to much of mankind since the beginning of time.  But today life can become even more complex, if we so allow.  In an age of electronic communications and the proliferation of Facebook friends, how many remember the concept of being alone?  And how many even care, or have the foggiest idea of what they are missing?

I love my laptop for shopping, acquiring information, and blogging.  These are refreshing pastimes.  How wonderful to shop without driving to a store where you may or may not find exactly what you want—be it a special garment (most of my clothing is purchased online), a sable paint brush, a new-to-you line of watercolors or gouche in exciting colors, or the base and fragrance oils for your soap-making avocation.  How rewarding to be able to access an endless library of answers in your ongoing quest for learning.  And how fulfilling to communicate via a blog with people from literally every corner of the earth.

But certain other aspects of the electronic world would quickly threaten to undermine my serenity, if I would fail to preserve a balance—and those specific aspects are email and Facebook.  Email has become a kind of necessity in the minds of many, and for business purposes and the sharing of prayer requests it is indeed valuable.  Facebook serves one and only one purpose for me:  that of viewing and sometimes downloading charming photos of the people in my life.  But balance and frequent avoidance of both of these computer areas are necessary to my discipline of preserving serenity and an atmosphere of solitude in the midst of an overflowing life filled with precious people and their needs.  Thus I will often go for at least a week without checking either Facebook or my email.  Anyone who really needs me will find me via telephone or snail mail—or best of all, with a knock on my door.

Today I pray that someone among the 26 participating rescue nations will discover the missing jet.  Every day I pray that I’ll remember to savor as many serenity-inspiring sights and sounds as I can find, with which to greet each day:  and certainly always before accessing email or Facebook.

A pot of tea helps, whether celebrated alone or shared with a kindred soul.  There’s always time for tea!

Margaret L. Been, March 2014

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BB - Precious Bridget and Grandpa

Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words!  Here is Grandpa Joe holding our 14th grandchild, Adetokunbo Bridget Josephine Adesokun.  Our wee one was 5 hours old when we first met her on 6/4, and she was sleeping off her jet lag while visitors played Pass the Baby.  But since yesterday at 24 plus hours old, Adetokunbo Bridget has been eating almost non-stop—or as her mom, our daughter Martina, says:  “using me for a pacifier”. 

What a treasure!  For Joe and me, and undoubtedly all who have met our treasure, it has been love at first sight!

Names are tremendously significant in our son-in-law Sanmi’s Ebira Tribe Nigerian culture.  The names are chosen primarily for their meaning, and every person will call a child by which ever of the names he or she prefers.  The child grows up knowing that the different names are an important part of her; they signify facets of her personhood.  Beautiful!

In a couple of weeks, we’ll share in a Naming Ceremony at our condo community clubhouse where family members and friends will gather to add to the list of our baby’s names, and pray over her.  After the ceremony, we’ll gather beside the pool at our daughter Debbie’s home.   

Sanmi’s brothers will join us in celebration, from Toronto and Cleveland.  How I wish their mom could be with us.  She is in Nigeria, and her sons hope to bring her to North America soon.  (Bridget, are you reading?  WE LOVE YOU!!!)

So now I have added words.  But the essence is in the photos:  New Life in Spring!!!  Precious new life!

BB - Bridget is 5 hours old

BB - Mother and Babe

Margaret L. Been, ©2013

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Thanks to the countless friends who have prayed for Rosemary.  She is coming along, better each day—praise God!  MB

In celebration of our Risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, here is one of my all time favorite poems—also preempting April which is National Poetry Month! 🙂

Pied Beauty 
Glory be to God for dappled things –
   For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
      For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
   Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;
      And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
   Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
      With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
                                Praise him.
Gerard Manley Hopkins, 1844–1889
Have a blessed RESURRECTION DAY!!!
Margaret L. Been, 2013

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Boreal Twilight

I love “North”.  In fact, I titled the above recent painting “Boreal Twilight”.  But I know that “boreal” really refers to much further North—like areas where they have perhaps 5 hours of daylight in the Winter and a “midnight sun” in Summer.  I’ll settle for Wisconsin’s extremes, thank you! 

Meanwhile, those who have not always lived in Wisconsin, might not be able to track with me these days when I say (exuberantly!) “It’s Spring!”  That’s because they are apt to misconstrue the word “Spring” to mean flowers and rapidly rising temperatures.  They don’t realize that Spring is not a matter of weather, but rather it has to do with lengthening daylight. 

In our latitude, every January we pin our hearts to the rising and setting of the sun.  By the vernal equinox (which was March 20th this year) our hearts are fairly leaping because it’s finally Spring.  The sun knows, and so do we! 

Those who think Spring means “warm” can’t seem to equate a murky, cold wet day in March with the same euphoria I experience on such occasions.  These are the days when there’s an ever-so-slight warming—although one cannot feel it due to that damp Lake Michigan chill which, in our area, penetrates to our very bones.  But we natives know about the slight warming, and so do the returning bird migrations.  The migratory birds look for open water to access near their nesting sights.  Thus the March murk will undoubtedly result in some degree of melting in rivers and at the edges of our inland lakes.

We are surrounded by water in our neighborhood, and the return of birds—including waterfowl—is signature to our Spring rejoicing.  Canada Geese (the large ones which migrate; smaller varieties now stick around all winter, in melted industrial park ponds) may be the first we see in the sky.  Their welcoming chant is absolutely intoxicating.  Many “Vs” in the sky fly with an agenda—that of going further North, to nest in wild places such as we called “home” for years.  Others pause, to party in local ponds along the way.  The Geese feed in fields en route, so their lives do not necessarily depend on open water.

The Sandhill Cranes return early, with their muted, rolling “Halloo, Halloo, Halloo” high in the sky.  This week we spotted a Crane in a near-by cornfield.  Cranes can feed on corn gleaned from last autumn’s harvest, and thus they can also afford to return early.

Later the Great Blue Herons will return.  We have many which fly over our park constantly, all Summer.  They must have fish on which to feed, so their rookeries are always located near rivers and lakes.  They are the noisy, squawky aviators—along with many varieties of ducks which return to open water.  Ducks either feed on fish or aquatic plants, depending on what kind of Ducks they are, so we’ll need to wait awhile to see them overhead.

Finally (now my “up-North” memories are kicking in) the Swans return.  We had Tundra Swans in our Northern bay every Spring—11 of them one memorable year.  Smaller swans have traditionally nested in a couple of our Southern Wisconsin county’s lakes.  But I recently heard that the DNR (Department of Natural Resources) put their formidable kabash on swans in one of our small lakes, because some of the songbirds were gone missing.  I appreciate the DNR when they try to recover wildlife from man’s damage—but will they ever learn to leave well enough alone when it comes to natural balance?  They always seem to have to get their sticky little paws into things.  Is this a power issue, or what?

So Spring has to do with the return of the birds, as well as the sun—something that Wisconsin natives understand.  And we know that premature warmth is seldom a good thing!  Last year we had a tragic Spring.  Temperatures warmed up too quickly.  March had nights above freezing, which meant that our maple syrup crop was almost nil.  The rising sap depends on days above 32° F, and nights well below.  Warm nights just won’t do.  So while some were rejoicing over a warm March, we natives knew that conditions did not bode well for maple syrup. 

Likewise, April of 2012 was almost like Summer.  We natives could not get overly excited, because we knew that the unseasonable warmth would spell trouble.  Accordingly, fruit and nut bearing trees blossomed way too soon, and inevitably a frost came along to zap the blossoms.  Result?  A dirth of fruit and nuts. 

I sorrowed over the fact that our park chestnut tree looked wimply all Summer (which was horrendously hot and dry) and did not yield any of those beautiful mahogany nuts which I love to find on the ground in Autumn.  Park authorities tended to sick trees with bags of moisture and tree food, so there is hope for my favorite park tree.  Time alone will tell.

Having said all of the above, I do have a concession to make.  I really am looking forward to warmer sun.  I have a penchant for dark skin, and last Summer with all the dry heat, I (or rather the sun) accomplished the best tan I’ve ever had in 79 years.  Now I admit that an older person who has spent a lifetime indulging in sun on skin will look quite wood grainy, and yes I do

Also an individual—if naturally a paled, Northern European skin type—may be subject to cancers from an overdose of sunbathing, and yes I am.  I’ve had several basil cells plus one malignant melanoma.  But to me, sunbathing is not a negotiable activity.  I will indulge in sunshine until I check out.  What the sun does for my soul far outweighs any damage it can do to my skin. 🙂

So there it is.  Happy Spring—whatever that may mean to you!

P. S.  My “stats” page shows that today I’m getting a lot of visitors on this blog, from Australia!  Today there have been nearly 3 times more visits from Australia than from the USA!  And you are getting ready for winter!

Normally, the visitors add up in this order:  A lot from USA, Canada, UK, Australia, New Zealand, India, and Nigeria (partly due to the English language bond no doubt)—and less, but a substantial amount from nearly every country in the world.  It delights my heart to see Israel, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, South Africa, Estonia, Romania, Czech Republic, Ireland, Germany, France, Italy (Italian readers seem to love the knitting entries), various Caribbean Islands, and many other locales. 

All my life I’ve loved reading about far away places, but I never dreamed I’d someday be communicating with people from other lands.  This thrills me to pieces.  I consider myself a “citizen of the world”!

Back to Down Under.  If there is any place in the world that I’d love to visit before I check out, it would be Australia—plus New Zealand.  I LOVE SHEEP, and raised my own spinner’s flock for nearly 20 years.  I spin a lot of wool, and your Merino is the best!   But also, your history fascinates me.   And two of my favorite films are MAN FROM SNOWY RIVER AND RETURN TO SNOWY RIVER.  The scenery and the horses cause me to view these classics again and again. 

Greetings to my Down Under Mates, and Happy Winter to you!  :)  MLB

Margaret L. Been, ©2013

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