Fern Hill

The cars lumbered up the mountain road, filled with camping equipment, provisions, toys—altogether too much stuff for a 1 night, 2 day camping trip.

If last weekend (see grown) were a testament to sober living in Drunkville, Fern Hill is my sober paradise. Mountain living, with nothing but the kids to entertain us, and grandparents to share the diaper burden—hiking, building fires, sleeping in the sounds of the wilderness.



I did break my self-imposed cell phone policy to watch the Warriors-Thunder Game 6 highlights.  My son provided his own, along with some less memorable tantrums he threw when we pried a hatchet, arrow, and other dangerous play things from his hands.

His storytelling is becoming a family attraction. His transitions need work, and non-sequiturs dominate the narrative, but the kid is a natural. I wrote (here) that his viewing of the Medieval Times home webpage for 30 seconds sustained his imagination for a week. Two full days in the woods might keep him spinning tales all year.

“There was a bad guy, and his name—”

He pauses for dramatic effect, although he knows just where he’s going,

“His name is I’ma Bad Guy.”

For those now invested in the story, I’ma Bad Guy gets shot by a bunch of soldiers. The story took a surprising turn toward historical fiction, when he added with hands flaring like a symphony conductor “it was the Civil War.”

The stories take time. When he starts to lose his audience, he calls them by name like Santa does his reindeer: “No Daddy, no Mommy, no Nanna, no Granpa, listen!”



Currie and Thompson hit 7 threes in the 4th quarter. But I put up some nice stats myself: 36 hours without phone, 2 campfires, 3 cigars, and a black bear sighting.

There’s pressure on these getaways to write and read my ass off. For a brief time I get to live out my dream of mountain life, of a fortress of solitude.

What did I have to show for it? I forgot the James Welch novel I’m reading at home, and I wrote a poem. Nothing but one poem, which is to say I had everything to show for it. For me, one poem is more significant than writing a  whole chapter to a book. It means that writing was so important to me that I had to shrink an experience down to its greatest impact. The singular fact that I wrote a poem tells me this weekend was a soulful and worthwhile endeavor.

Poetry is the richest return of experience.

One poem remembers the nature of the moment better than all the pictures, videos, and posts written to capture it.


The Moment

Our hike took us to a ridge overrun by fern growth. The sways of green shimmered like the sea and the words came. The poem wasn’t about the ferns. In fact, it was about something that happened between me and my wife a week ago. But it was the beauty of the ferns that served as a canvas for words.

Ferns have their place in poetry. I immediately think of Dylan Thomas. He is a top five poet for me, and “Fern Hill” is a top five poem. In it, the hill serves as a reminder of all he held dear in his youth, when he ran his ‘heedless ways’ in the ‘apple towns’ and his ‘wishes ran through the house-high hay.’ It is a beautiful tribute to childhood, to the time when Thomas was young and life was easy. When:

Time held me green and dying

Though I sang my chains like the sea.”

Poetry makes me feel green again. It is the most sobering intoxicant I know. It is a rush. I can hold onto something soaring and if I let go of it, I could fall to my death.

So I just enjoy the ride.

13 Responses to “Fern Hill

  • Those times you write of are priceless. Except we could have done with a better outcome on Game 6. We are spending a few weeks up in Colorado soon. I am going to fly fish for the first time. Things I would not have had time for before, too much work and time away from my ice chest full of beer. And from one friend to another, congrats on the time off your phone. I am doing some of that myself so I am not distracted from the truly important things.

    • Thanks Kip. I think this will make for one epic game seven. I’ve been flyfishing just a handful of times. It is such a blast. Got to stay in touch while you’re out there so I can live vicariously through you! Thanks for the reflection in the post.

      • I will do that for sure, send you some good pics. If Thunder play team ball they have a chance but we shall see.

  • Hi Mark!
    Sounds like a lovely weekend!
    Poetry was one of my favorite things to teach children, and they wrote some wonderful poems. They loved it too. I even taught it to my first graders and second graders!
    My poems tend to be very literal and simplistic, but I am ok with that.

    • Wendy! What age group to you teach poetry to? I teach adolescent males, and I’ve never taught poetry just to teach poetry (although I’ve taught writing it). I always teach it as a supplement. Would love to know what’s worked for you.

      • Oh, I am not even close to your ability!
        I taught writing it to first and second graders!
        6 and 7 years old.
        They loved writing poems.

  • How mundane. How miraculous. This post perhaps epitomizes the tension between and through those two things. “Fern Hill” is maybe in my top five poems, ever, as well. The cadence of it is nearly perfect. Thomas’ great piece also strikes a certain melancholy chord for me—not so much a cherished nostalgia, but much more a reverie of times past. For me (hey, I’m a Minnesotan!) it was the times I spent at our family’s lake cabin in central Minnesota. Those times are gone. I have since tried to recreate them with my boys, but it’s never the same. I’ve found that I have to let the new times be the new times. I’m a different person now than I was then . . . and that’s okay.

    I’ve enjoyed reading this one perhaps more than any I’ve read of yours, Mark. It’s hard to read in some ways too, because with my parents now aging, they’ve reached a point where they are looking at selling their home. That’s sad, because it’s a potential loss of any new memories we can make at Grandma and Grandpa’s place. I choose to embrace the change though. Because that’s all life ever is.

    – DDM

    • Wow. I wish I read this before I hit the publish button. My favorite Thomas is “In my craft or sullen art” which is about his calling as a poet. But I agree this one’s cadence is nearly perfect. (I think Frost is only one who achieves perfect cadence sometimes, like in “acquainted with the night”).
      It is quite tragic and not all “happy” like you said. It can be seen as quite tragic actually and seen through the lens of what once was but what isn’t any more. Something that can’t stay true for anyone in this world.
      I’d like to amend the end of the post to read that poetry is a reminder of our green selves, but it’s not a place we can ever stay permanently. (Or something to that effect) but I’ll the post as is because I really believe blog posts are “live literature” and have all the beauty and shortcomings of live art. Anyway. I really appreciate the thoughtfulness of your feedback Dan. You are–as usual–making me a better writer.

  • I like that phrase “the most sobering intoxicant” that you use to describe writing poetry. I think I understand what you mean. I can see myself leaving a book I’d planned to read at home and not writing like I’d planned, but I also know those still, present moments plant seeds that show up sometimes sooner, often later, in things I will one day write. Just knowing that frees me up a little. Sounds like an awesome trip with the family.

    • It was Kristen. Deep in those PA woods. Rilke describes the poets life as a constant digestion of experiences that is revealed in the poetry you write. You need to always “watch what you eat” in that regard …

  • I’m so glad you had this time, away in the woods. It sounds like it was lovely.

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