Spring Cleaning

I’m going out to clean the pasture spring;
I’ll only stop to rake the leaves away
(And wait to watch the water clear, I may)
I sha’n’t be gone long.—You come too.

From all accounts Robert Frost took a rather lazy approach to farming.  He didn’t make much money from it.  He certainly didn’t put the effort into it that he put into writing poems, and certainly not the even-greater effort that he put into making himself a famous poet.  You can almost hear the languorous approach he took to farm chores in the next and last verse of this small poem called “The Pasture.”

I’m going out to fetch the little calf
That’s standing by the mother.  It’s so young
It totters when she licks it with her tongue.
I sha’n’t be gone long.—You come too.

Today is the Fourth of July.  Early this morning I hiked a trail I used to know up into the Catskills to a mountain spring that has been there for maybe hundreds of years or longer.  Back in the nineteenth century when this trail was a logging road, someone constructed shelving around the spring with Catskill bluestone, and today the water still pools up in the spring, runs down a short stone channel and disappears under the trail.  I haven’t visited the spring for a good number of years, but I used to come quite regularly and, like Frost, clear the leaves away.  Today I pulled out a few branches and some leaves, but I have never managed to clear them all.  Nor do I try. There are too many, and the leaves that pad the bottom of the spring are black and slimy.  Or gummy.  Or both. This is a mountain, not a pasture, spring, and leaves from surrounding tall trees fall or get blown into it all year long.  Even today in early July there was a small maple leaf, already turned red, floating on the water’s surface.  The blackened leaves of yesteryear may go down farther than I can imagine or reach.

If this spring ever silted over, or large stones slid down the mountain and buried it, it’s possible these leaves would sink deep into the earth and in maybe a million years ferment into oil. Author Thom Hartmann poetically calls oil “ancient sunlight.”  Indeed oil is made of leaves that once trapped sunlight in their green fibers, then fell deep into the earth, and became oil.  I have seen videos of oil on the surface of water and it looks red.  So maybe the fire of that ancient sunlight still burns in oil millions of years later. As I pulled leaves from the spring today I remembered Frost’s poem, and recalled Hartmann’s thesis which is also the title of his book, The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight, and wondered how many hours we have left.

Our world is certainly different and more complicated than the one Frost farmed in and wrote poetry about a hundred years ago. Frost’s poem is still very good, but no one says “sha’n’t” anymore. As I hiked down the mountain I decided I’d tinker with this poem and hope Frost doesn’t mind if I rewrite parts of it.  The Zen Mountain Monastery, a few miles from this spring, celebrates the Fourth of July as Inter-dependence Day (those Buddhists!) so I think I’ll change Frost’s “I” to “We.”

We’re going out to clean the pasture spring;
We’ll only stop to skim the leaves away
And wait to watch the water clear, we may.

We might be gone long.

You come too.

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