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following true north
ponderings along the path
In my childhood memory there was a bookshelf in my parents bedroom that held a random collection of old books with worn covers. I only remember a few of them with any accuracy. One was a pictorial history of the civil war. It held stark, black and white images of battlefields littered with bodies and sad men in crumpled uniforms on glossy pages . In my child's eyes the images were horrific but intriguing. I'm sure my parents never knew that I looked at them. (Please click Read More below)
I also remember a thick book of poetry, probably an anthology of some kind.
That was the one book that my Mother would take out and on rare occasions, read to me.
I must have been 4 or 5. We fit together easily in one of the twin beds in the room.
My older sister was probably in school and it was just the two of us.
It is a cherished memory that for whatever reason, I never mentioned to her or thanked her for.
I read a lot of poetry over the years, mostly contemporary American writers. I assume that my Mother would have loved the earlier 19th century poets like Walt Whitman, Robert Frost and Henry David Thoreau. Those who explored themes of the natural world and it's mysteries.
I know she loved the outdoors. In old photographs I see her as a young woman walking in the woods, sitting on a rock outcropping with a picnic basket, canoeing with friends.
She once gave me a copy of Whitman's “Leaves of Grass” when I was in my teens. But it was only by accident that I discovered how well she knew the work of Robinson Jeffers. I had never heard of him but saw a print of one of his poems framed on a wall in a tiny restaurant in Big Sur. The piece completely captivated me. I was so taken by it that I went out and bought the biggest compilation of his work I could find and brought it home with me. Before we left California I drove past the stone home he had built and lived in with his wife, built with the stones that he writes about in the poem.
Weeks later, when I told my Mother about my newly discovered poet she said - “oh yes, of course. He was one of my favorites.” She was probably in her 80's at the time. This was something we could have shared with each other for decades.
Why did I never ask?