If Trees Could Talk and Other Poems

This week’s post combines two of my great loves, poetry and travel. Many of our past family vacations included sight-seeing in the western United States. The juniper trees of Canyonlands inspired me to write The Time Trav’ler. This poem received first place in the 2015 Florida Tapestry Contest. A year later The Time Trav’ler was published in Time of Singing , a journal of Christian poetry.

While visiting Canyonlands I learned some juniper trees have lived for a thousand years. Their twisted and gnarled branches survived centuries of harsh winds and extreme changes in temperature.  I was intrigued by a juniper’s half-dead/half-alive appearance. Its dark green foliage sprouted from branches that looked like pieces of driftwood. The tree emitted a sweet fragrance, and delighted my senses as I hiked in the high desert.

Juniper trees do not exceed thirty feet above ground. Two-thirds of the tree grows underground forming an extensive root system in search of water. Somehow a juniper thrives in areas that only receive seven to nine inches of rainfall a year. Junipers are common on the rocky mesa tops and ridges of Utah.

Canyonlands was inhabited two thousand years ago by ancestral Puebloan tribes who farmed maize, beans and squash.  Living in villages similar to those in Mesa Verde, Colorado, the ancient Pueblos carried water from the Green River below to their gardens at the top of the canyon. If a one thousand year old juniper could talk it might tell us what it has seen on its travels through time.  My illustrations for The Time Trav’ler were taken at various locations throughout Utah, Colorado, and Arizona.


The Time Trav’ler   by Debra Burton (2015)

IMG_2769

Old Majestic Juniper

green needles for a crown

saw a thousand years go by

upon this piece of ground.

 

IMG_3562 (2)

He saw the highland Pueblos

ascend the rocky cliffs

with earthen jars of water

each drop a precious gift.

IMG_5752

Below his dark gray branches

small creatures made their bed

and from his juicy berries

coyotes often fed.

 

 

IMG_5856 (2)

Old Juniper heard miners

shout curses at their mules,

encumbered with provisions

and clanging metal tools.

 

 

IMG_3444

He heard the wheels of wagons

roll at a steady pace.

Steered by the early settlers

with dangers yet to face.

 

 

IMG_3848 (2)

The old tree heard the hoof-beats

of mustangs running free.

Pursued by eager cowboys

in faded dungarees.

 

IMG_2808

One day his lower branches

were clothed with calico.

A signal for the work crew

which way the trail should go.

 

IMG_3058

Tourists come to Canyonlands

to see this patriarch,

take photos with their smartphones,

reach out and touch his bark.

 

 

IMG_2918

Time trav’ler of the ages

mute watchman of mankind

a sentinel restricted

but doesn’t seem to mind.

 

 

IMG_3052

Old Majestic Juniper

green needles for a crown

saw a thousand years go by

upon this piece of ground.


You can read more of my poems from the Southwest through these links to previous posts: The Secret of the Cereus and  Rhyolite.  I wish to acknowledge the members of Word Weavers Orlando who assisted me by critiquing my work. For those who read my blog through Facebook, scroll up to the menu button to access additional pages.

 

 

 

Our Paynes Prairie Camp Out

Mother’s Day weekend we hitched up the trailer and headed out for Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park. The cast included the usual characters, my husband Herb, our dog Buddy, and myself.  Paynes Prairie is a 22,000 acre wilderness in between the little town of Micanopy and the big town of Gainesville. The Preserve was designated a National Natural Landmark in 1974 due to its rich wildlife habitat. On the way to the campground we sighted a beautiful deer.

IMG_9198

IMG_9243The three of us worked as a team and followed  our procedures for setting up camp. Buddy supervised from inside his crate. Herb performed most of the physical work.  I walked around looking important with my clipboard and pen. My job entailed checking off each task as Herb completed it. At this point we still need to consult written directions for hitching and unhitching the trailer, but the process is taking less time.  This was our third trip.  Click on the link to read about our first and second trips.

IMG_9203There are many trails at Paynes Prairie. Most do not allow pets. On Friday afternoon we walked the Lake Trail with Buddy. I think dogs are permitted on the Lake Trail because it’s boring. We walked for quite awhile without seeing any wildlife until Buddy located and started to eat the remains of a dead bat. Herb is an expert at fishing things out of Buddy’s mouth. Whew! I can get along without that kind of excitement.

IMG_6352 (2)

IMG_9302

On Saturday morning we decided to hike the La Chua Trail and leave Buddy in the trailer. We knew he would be comfortable (and safe) with the windows open and a fan turned on. The trailhead is located on the north side of the park near Gainesville. We followed a long boardwalk around a huge sinkhole. At the end of the boardwalk a grassy path began. We were warned to “enter at our own risk.” Soon we saw a large pond teeming with alligators.

IMG_9272
The months of May and June are mating season for gators. Is this big guy trying to show off for the ladies?

I’ve never seen gators so active. At least fifty thrashed about in the water. Some lifted their heads high as they choked down wiggly fish. But we couldn’t stare at the center of the pond for long.  We had to stay alert, because every now and then another big one would crawl onto the shore not too far from where we stood.

IMG_9340
Look out!

Suddenly I understood why pets are prohibited on the La Chua Trail!  Although Herb and I were fascinated by the “gators on parade,” we moved on.  Gradually the wetland plants changed to tall weeds and grasses.

IMG_9275
What looked like small pine trees, were actually giant thistles.

Fifty-seven percent of the state of Florida is currently in some degree of drought.  Dry conditions were very evident in the campground making it necessary for the rangers to ban campfires. On the hike we saw scores of dead fish in the mud where a pond used to be. Vultures flew in for a meal.

IMG_9274

After seeing (and smelling) this scene, I wondered what might happen to the gators if more ponds disappear. Then I realized gators don’t need a lot of water. This one seemed content in a few inches.

IMG_9309

Paynes Prairie is home to over 271 species of birds of all sizes from large herons, to small red winged blackbirds. Maybe when the fish population runs out, the gators will eat more birds. Large alligators have more options. They eat little gators.

IMG_9260

IMG_9331

The trail ended at an observation tower. From the platform Herb and I saw wild horses and bison grazing on the prairie as they did hundreds of years ago.  (I highly recommend binoculars if you hike this trail.) In 1985 the Friends of Paynes Prairie purchased a few Spanish horses from a local ranch. The horses have free roam within the confines of the prairie and fend for themselves. Another “living link” to the past is the American bison. We were surprised to learn bison are native to Florida.  Hunted to extinction in this area, bison were reintroduced to Paynes Prairie in 1975. The park acquired a group of ten bison from a refuge in Oklahoma. Now the herd numbers fifty. Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park is a wild place and represents the best of the “Real Florida.”

 

IMG_9328

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Time Capsules of Dover Shores

Since my last post, Dover Shores: Thanks for the Memories, many readers submitted comments about their experiences at the school.  Two time capsules are buried on the property.  One is reported to contain memorabilia from the 1980’s. I’m curious about its contents. When I think about the eighties I remember Ronald Regan was president.  Air Jordan athletic shoes were a status symbol.  TV shows like Masters of the Universe prompted action figure toys for boys. My Little Pony and Care Bears were popular with girls. The decade birthed the great grandfather of video games: Atari game systems. Remember Pacman?

IMG_0034 (2)

Did you know the oldest time capsule in the United States dates back to 1795? It was found in 2015 by irrigation workers under the cornerstone of the Boston Statehouse. A conservator from the Boston Museum of Art opened it. The brass box contained faded newspapers and coins dating from the 1650’s. A metal plate at the bottom identified Samuel Adams as the governor of Massachusetts at the time. The contents were displayed at the museum, and then reburied under the  cornerstone.

Why do people make time capsules? Usually they intend to communicate the present culture with future generations.  This link for creating a time capsule includes ideas about which objects make good representations of our current lives. The problem with buried capsules is too often their location is forgotten or the contents are destroyed by groundwater.

When I retired from Dover Shores, I brought home my own personal time capsule in a file folder.  I’m not sure what other teachers do with the countless cards and pictures they receive from children, but I kept some of my favorites.

IMG_9170

 

This thank you card was written by an anonymous student in 2005. I think somebody wanted to demonstrate their skill with the “Chinese S” design. It was a big fad at the time. Kids drew these designs all over their homework. I asked them to stop writing it on their papers, but maybe the artist thought I’d appreciate it on a thank you card.

IMG_9171 (3)

One time  I was out sick and a substitute took my class. When I returned to school this letter from one of the boys was on my desk. It said:  “Thank you for teaching us and I hope you feel better. Sorry for any trouble I’ve made. I hope I can help you have a great day. I’ll try to talk to some of the bad kids and I’ll tell them that you have a cold and they won’t really talk that much. I’ll try my best for my behavior and I’m sure the children will behave themselves. I’m not really used to substitute teachers because they don’t know things. But you’re always prepared. Rule #5 Be Prepared. Your one of the funnest people that are teachers. You are the nicest teacher in the world. Hope you feel better.”

And guess what? That note did make me feel better.

On May 20, 2017 Dover Shores is hosting a “Farewell to the Buildings” picnic from 11:00 to 1:00.* (new time)  The DSE community is welcome to walk the halls once again before demolition. Food can be purchased on site or families can bring their own picnic basket. Visitors are welcome to view the DSE museum of history and greet Mr. Bragg.

And by the way, if anyone has detailed information about the location of those time capsules please call the school office.

IMG_9169 (3)

 

Remember…

Do your best and help the rest!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dover Shores: Thanks for the Memories

On May 31, the last dismissal bell of the school year will signal the end of an era for  Dover Shores Elementary. Soon the buildings of Dover Shores  will be demolished to make way for new construction. As the fateful day approaches it is met with mixed emotions by students, parents, and staff.

Certainly everyone will benefit from an updated facility.  The school, located in Orlando and built in 1960, shows many signs of wear and tear. But there has always been something special about this place. It exhibits a character all its own.

I taught third grade at Dover Shores for seven years and still return weekly as a volunteer. I love the outdoor open concept of this quaint school. Walkways connect the various sections of campus. Beautiful oak trees provide shady areas for parents to meet their child for lunch.

IMG_9127 I spoke with Mrs. Jessica Green, who attended Dover Shores as a child, and returned as a teacher in 2005.  When I asked Mrs. Green if anything about education has remained the same, she smiled and said, “until now, only the buildings of Dover Shores.”

IMG_9149

Next year DSE students and staff will be housed at the neighboring campus of Englewood Elementary. In August of 2018 they  return to a new facility where all grade levels and administrative offices are under one roof.  “I’ll miss the outdoor concept,” Mrs. Green stated, “but we need upgraded technology and better air conditioning.” She plans to stay in education and enjoys seeing her students’ confidence and abilities grow during each school year.

IMG_9125

Mrs. Green is one example of the many fine teachers at Dover Shores. Principal, Dr. Randall Hart, values the commitment of his staff who continue to be relationship driven and put the needs of students first. “Forty percent of the instructional staff has taught at this school for ten years or longer,” Dr. Hart commented. He believes a community built on caring for one another helps retain teachers year after year.

IMG_9122

Mr. Bob Bragg taught at Dover Shores for thirty-four years until retiring in 2013. Recently he organized a small library to help others remember the history of the school. Actress Delta Burke,  St. Louis pitcher Cody Allen, and Paul Wilson of the NY Mets are among many successful Americans educated at Dover Shores. The historical information he collected will be preserved in the new building.  Mr.  Bragg saw many changes take place during his long career. When asked what he enjoyed most he responded, “teaching cursive handwriting.”

IMG_9123

Parents have contributed much to the success of the school. Every year for the past thirty years Dover Shores received the Golden School Award.  Each year DSE volunteers log over 8,000 hours of service.  PTA President Mrs. Michella Johnson, and Vice President Mr. Paul Messermith, are pictured as they prepare for staff appreciation week.  Mrs. Johnson has a favorite memory of helping kindergartners on field day. She encouraged a child to overcome the fear of participating in a new game.

A parent designed and painted the kid friendly murals on the exterior walls of various buildings. A sea life mural welcomes students to the second grade “pod.”

IMG_9132

Second grade classrooms extend off a central garden patio, in continuation of the outdoor theme.

IMG_9134

IMG_9150

Fifth grade student, Isabella Johnson,  attended Dover Shores since kindergarten. “I feel sad about the school being torn down because my great uncle helped build it,” Isabella shared. She has special memories of her school as a place where the “teachers are always nice and help the kids understand.”

 

 

A Church Built on the Rock

On the first full day of our Nova Scotia vacation we stepped onto the balcony of our bed and breakfast eager to view famous Peggy’s Cove. Except for a beacon from the lighthouse, visibility was poor.  Nova Scotia is known for variable weather. A thick fog rolled in overnight from the Atlantic Ocean. Hoping the fog would lift, my husband and I ventured out to explore the area.  The first landmark we encountered was St. John’s Anglican Church. An open door to the chapel intrigued us. Once inside, we were greeted by a volunteer from the parish who told us people of the cove have worshipped here since 1885.

IMG_4755 (3)

The paintings displayed in the chapel impressed me.  Our volunteer guide explained their importance. The first, Storm and Turbulence, features a group of terrified fisherman clinging to the sides of their boat during a terrible storm. One man points across a raging sea. The second painting, Calm and Serenity, depicts Jesus Christ walking on the water with his arm outstretched toward the fishermen. Like the biblical message of Matthew 14:25, the mural communicates the supernatural power of Christ to calm our fears.  The artist, William deGarthe lived in Peggy’s Cove for years. His work relates the dangers of life at sea and the faith of local fishermen. The deGarthe Museum in the village houses many of his works.

Our guide told us six families founded Peggy’s Cove in 1811. Lured by the rich fishing grounds of nearby St. Margaret Bay, these early settlers battled storms, fog, and jagged rocks to eek out a living from the sea.  Some say the village was named for the bay, I prefer the romantic legend about a shipwreck with a lone survivor named Peggy. The young woman fell in love and later married the man who rescued her.  People would come from miles around to listen to “Peggy of the Cove” tell stories.  “Peggy of the Cove” later became Peggy’s Cove.

IMG_6706

Besides their times of trouble on the water, the fishermen experienced hardships on land. The village sits on granite bedrock. Gardening is futile. Drilling is impossible.  For years the community obtained water through a process of collecting rainwater and purifying it with ultraviolet light. Even so, this water is not considered safe for drinking. We were advised to drink bottled water during our stay.

Due to these conditions, the population of Peggy’s Cove has decreased. Consequently, St. John’s Church has also declined in membership.  When faced with the possibility of closing the church, the few remaining members realized the unique opportunity of their location. Thousands of tourists come to the cove during the summer months to photograph the famous lighthouse and tour the quaint fishing village.

IMG_6703

Volunteers decided to open the chapel on weekdays to minister to tourists. Visitors are welcome to share their prayer requests. I felt led to submit a written request along with my  email address. A few weeks ago I received an email from one of the church leaders who thanked me for my visit and asked if I needed additional prayer support. According to his note, over four thousand visitors from all over the world signed the St. John registry in 2016. The tiny congregation is amazed at the way God is blessing their efforts.

St. John’s Anglican Church is a testimony to a statement Jesus made in Matthew 16:18.  “On this rock, I will build my church.”  You can connect with them through Facebook at Friends of Peggy’s Cove Church.

IMG_6734

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry: A Message in a Bottle

Rain Song       

The rhythm of the rain

God’s pattern of music

echoes divine favor

bridges heaven and earth.

Poetry is the rain

that soaks the senses

and sings the melody

which waters the soul.

(Debra Burton 2014)

 

“Poetry is the journal of a sea animal living on land, wanting to fly in the air.” Carl Sandburg  Atlantic Monthly, March 1923

In case you forgot, April is National Poetry Month. During the month of April flowers bloom and butterflies flutter.  What a great time of year to recognize the significant contribution of poetry to our world. Maybe you haven’t given this art form much thought. Maybe you enjoyed reading poetry in school, but currently read novels instead.  Maybe you don’t feel like you understand what some poets are trying to say.  If you agree with any or all of these statements, please consider the following benefits of reading poetry.

  • Poetry helps readers grow intellectually. It teaches us to simplify complex ideas through the use of  symbolism and imagery.  As we read we draw a mental picture of what the poet sees.
  • When we engage with the emotions of the poet, we develop empathy. If we identify with the experiences of other people, we better understand ourselves.
  • Poetry infuses life with beauty and meaning, which increases our creativity.

Take a few moments to access these links. In her poem, Hope is a thing with feathers, Emily Dickinson compares hope to a bird that never makes demands.  Shel Silverstein grapples with the secret world of dialogue known to caterpillars in his poem, Forgotten Language.  William Wordsworth elevates his mood by contemplating daffodils in his work, I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud.  All of these poems connect with the reader’s emotions through the appreciation of nature. These poets make new discoveries as they ponder the small things which are often overlooked in the hustle and bustle of life.

Writing poetry is a vehicle for artistic self-expression. Who I am, what I think, and my experiences are communicated by showing instead of telling.  The poet paints with words, like an artist paints on canvas.

In his book, How to Read a Poem and Fall in Love with Poetry, author Edward Hirsch refers to poetry as a message in a bottle. After the message is cast into the ocean, it drifts onto the beach waiting to be opened. The finder is the one the message was trying to reach. Once the finder opens it, words spill out from a distant place and time, yet still rich with meaning.

The following poems are my messages in a bottle. Cast out upon the waves, may these words reach the finders they are seeking.  

For My Brother

As night fell in the desert

We stretched out on our cots,

Saw distant constellations

Whose titles we forgot

Viewed streaks of falling stars

Pulled down by gravity

Like fleeting dreams of childhood

Which never came to be.

 

The howl of a coyote

Made such an eerie sound.

It cautioned all outsiders,

“I will defend my ground.”

We whispered to each other

And felt a tinge of fright

Like children telling stories

When Dad turned out the light.

(Debra Burton 2015)

 

A Hapless Hero

Flutter of butterflies hover on the scene.

Arizona thistles bow before each queen.

Flutter of butterflies crowned in orange and white,

Seated on their purple thrones surrounded by the light.

Flutter of butterflies lift your scepters up.

Raise the royal chalice, drink deeply from the cup.

 

One little butterfly caught so unaware,

Lunch for a roadrunner dashing to his lair.

Roadrunner, fierce hunter, slowing to a stop.

Overcome with dizziness, suddenly he drops.

Flutter of butterflies, your banquet is not done.

Your kingdom was saved by the sacrifice of one.

(Debra Burton 2015)

 

 

IMG_1865
Arizona Queen Butterflies

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Florida Manatees: Long Journey up a Slippery Slope

I grab my cell phone and trek down the path to the water’s edge. The dense forest blocks any warmth from the morning sun.  Although I’m dressed in the heaviest clothing I own, I still shiver in the forty-degree temperatures. What would inspire this thin-blooded Floridian to drive for an hour and brave such cold?

IMG_5025

I reach the lookout platform and gaze into the crystal blue water.  Fat gray shapes lie deep beneath the surface.  I hear a snort as one rises for a breath of air. What appeared to be a boulder is actually a living thing.  My eyes adjust as the swirling water becomes smooth again.  Soon I recognize many similar shapes, and stare in unbelief as scores of manatees migrate into Blue Springs to escape the colder water of the nearby St John’s River.  I realize I have something in common with these gentle giants. We both want to be warm.

IMG_8798

Manatees cannot tolerate water temperatures below sixty-five. So they do what any tropical animal would do, seek warmth in order to live. How do these marine mammals know the water is a constant seventy-three degrees at Blue Springs? How do they communicate this news to each other? I’m amazed whenever I see God’s natural provision for this unique animal.

Over  the past forty years  the population of Florida manatees has rebounded. On March 30, 2017, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service changed their status from endangered to threatened. It is  estimated that 6,620 manatees live throughout the coastal waters and rivers of Florida. In the 1970s only a few hundred existed.*

Florida organizations like the Save the Manatee Club have worked for decades to raise public awareness about the plight of the manatees. One might think the change of status is cause for celebration. Quite the opposite. According to club director, Patrick Rose,   the federal government’s decision is premature and will undermine the manatee’s long- term survival.

As I take a closer look at those manatees swimming near the viewing platform, I can’t help but notice the scars on their skin from collisions with watercraft.  These incidents happened while the animal was considered endangered and where speed limits for boaters were posted.  What can we expect if protections are weakened?

The lives of these gentle giants hang in a delicate balance. A two thousand pound manatee has no natural predators.  Alligators move out of their way by staying close to the riverbank.  The only thing manatees need to fear is man. As Florida increases residential development, people and wildlife contend over limited natural resources.  Man always has the last word.

As a crowd gathers on the viewing platform, one child excitedly points to a manatee mother swimming with her calf.  I snap a photo of the pair and feel grateful for the individuals who continue to value the preservation of a species still so dependent on the protection of man.  What will the future hold for the manatee? The answer is up to us.

*Susan Salisbury, Palm Beach Post (April 2, 2017)