Inputs – All Souls Day edition

November 2nd, 2012

A sort-of weekly review of what’s been nourishing me lately.

By the side of the river he trotted as one trots, when very small, by the side of a man who holds one spell-bound by exciting stories; and when tired at last, he sat on the bank, while the river still chattered on to him, a babbling procession of the best stories in the world, sent from the heart of the earth to be told at last to the insatiable sea.

Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows

I’ve been listening to one of my favorite books from childhood, the Wind in the Willows. It brings back sweet memories of the river I grew up beside, and the woodland around it. I spent long hours playing there alone, or with my little sister. The grown ups were never that far away (though today’s anxious parents might think so), but far away enough to let me wander in that fertile plain where the natural world spills over into imagination. I worry that place is a dwindling zone in our over-cultivated age, like  marshes and old-growth forests.

My generation seems to have a particular need to manage our kids’ experiences, to interject ourselves. It’s almost as if we are trying to prolong our own childhood (or correct it) vicariously. At the time Wind in the Willows was published, there was a similar phenomenon, a kind of collective Peter Pan complex (this was the society that gave us the boy who refused to grow up). Adults were obsessed with children’s literature, theatre, games and toys. They made a huge fuss about childlike simplicity. They spoke baby talk to one another. I’m guessing LOLCATS and Pinterest would have been a big hit with the Edwardians.

Then World War happened, and everyone had to grow up.

Nothing gold can stay.

We can’t hoard childhood, but we can cherish it where it shimmers, in moment and in memory.

I loved watching my boys play on the river last summer, the “haunt of gilled things,” where my father’s ashes once drifted from my hand like starlight on the water.

I also loved not watching, knowing they were in the company of an old, old friend.


by Al Pittman

Now at run-off time

the river sleeps deep

in the dark woods, drowning

in its depths my daughters’

fond places. Fish swim

in paths they danced along

last summer. Eels swarm

where they played out

the truths of their childhood.

A week from now, the river

will be back in its own bed.

The paths and clearings

in the woods will sprout

new grass and curled ferns.

My girls will be there

as lovely and familiar

as flowers.

Today their deep wooded world

is the haunt of gilled things.

Because they know every twist

and turn of season here, they

are not disturbed by this.

They play at the water’s edge

and wait patiently, with love

for the turning world to give

them back their little lost


(from Once When I Was Drowning, published in 1977)


8 Responses to “Inputs – All Souls Day edition”

  1. Cid says:

    Absolutely perfect. Brightened my dreary, first snow of the season day.

  2. Asha says:

    Poetry runs in families.

  3. Karen Haithcock says:

    Lovely ! I too am a “Wind in the Willow” Fan from childhood. Thanks for sharing your father’s poetry ~ a nice touch. BTW, made your Snicker Doodle cookies today. The recipe you shared on here a few weeks back. They are heading off with my son on a Senior High Youth Group retreat in Metamora, Michigan this weekend. You never know where your writing will lead. Sharing your joys – fond childhood memories and cookie recipes included brightens many hearts and days. 🙂

  4. Lindsey says:

    Those Robert Frost lines are among my very, very favorite. I’d say, conservatively, that I think of them a few times a day. Lovely. Yes, while it shimmers, we can admire it, love it, be weak before it. This childhood of my children, that’s flowing by me faster than I can stand. Maybe all I have to do is bear witness to the shimmer? xoxo

  5. Shell says:

    LOVE it. Another poetry buff!

  6. Sharon Lamb says:

    I adore Wind in the Willows. “There is nothing quite so worthwhile as messing about in boats.”

  7. Janice says:

    Breathtaking. Thank you.

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