26 March 2017

September: The Poem and the Moment

Helen Hunt Jackson, 1830-1885
Grandpa was driving his blue late-60s C10 pickup with the white top. I was riding shotgun.

We were on the way from Coulee City to Basin View Orchards between Ephrata and Soap Lake, Wash.

Every year the proprietors set out bins of fresh-picked apples, and people show up, weigh and mark their boxes, fill them with apples, and pay the prices marked on each bin.

The goldenrod and rabbitbrush were blooming, and Grandpa started saying:

“The golden-rod is blooming;
The corn is turning brown;
The trees in apple orchards
With fruit are bending down....”

I don't remember if he quoted the whole thing then, but when I went to looked it up the other day, I could hear his voice reciting most of the remaining lines.

“The gentian’s bluest fringes
Are curling in the sun;
In dusty pods the milkweed
Its hidden silk has spun.
The sedges flaunt their harvest,
In every meadow nook;
And asters by the brook-side
Make asters in the brook.
From dewy lanes at morning
the grapes’ sweet odors rise;
At noon the roads all flutter
With yellow butterflies.
By all these lovely tokens
September days are here,
With summer’s best of weather,
And autumn’s best of cheer.
But none of all this beauty
Which floods the earth and air
Is unto me the secret
Which makes September fair.
‘T is a thing which I remember;
To name it thrills me yet:
One day of one September
I never can forget.”

I wonder if I wondered then what Helen Hunt Jackson was talking about. I wonder who the teacher was that assigned Grandpa that poem to memorize...before he left school after the eighth grade.

Jackson 
carried on public correspondence, pointing out the wrongs done to native peoples, including the Sand Creek Massacre. She wrote nonfiction “A Century of Dishonor,” chronicling the broken treaties between federal and state governments and native American tribes, and her novel “Ramona,” recounts the struggles of native Americans in California.

It is perhaps unlikely teachers will still assign this poem in 300 years. But for those of us who know what it is to feel the seasons change, who know the economic urgency of harvest, for whom goldenrod and milkweed are daily companions, these lines perform a re-enchantment of things we might barely notice otherwise.

I don't know why Grandpa remembered this poem at that moment, but goldenrod and apple trees will always remind me of him and his pickup truck and that September day.

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