Wednesday, July 20, 2011

the book of Camp Branch

Camp Branch, my native stream,
forever unreturning flows
from the town down to Cane Run
which flows to the river.  It is 
my native descent, my native
walk, my native thought
that stays and goes, passing
ever downward toward the sea.

Its sound is a song that flings up
the light to the undersides of leaves.
Its song and light are a way
of walking, a way of thought
moved by sound and sight.

It flows as deep in its hollow
as it can go, far down as it has
worn its way. Passing down
over its plunder of rocks, it makes
an irregular music.  Here 
is what I want to know.  Here
is what I am trying to say.

O brave Ross Feld, here is
no "fortification against time."
Here the fort has fallen 
and the water passes its benediction
over the shards, singing!

How much delight I've known
in navigating down the flow
by stepping stones, by sounding
stones, by words too that are
stepping and sounding stones.

Going down stone by stone,
the song of the water changes,
changing the way I walk
which changes my thought
as I go.  Stone to stone
the stream flows.  Stone to stone
the walker goes.  The words
stand stone still until
the flow moves them, changing
the sound - a new word -
a new place to step or stand.

In the notch of Camp Branch
the footing changes, year
to year, sometimes
day to day, as the surges
of the stream move the rocks.
Every walk, as Archie Ammons
said, "is a new walk." And so

go slow.  Let the mind
step with the feet
as the stream steps
downward over the rocks,
nowhere anywhere
but where it is.

In the crease of its making
the steep stream gathers
the seeps that come silently
down from the wooded slants.
Only there at the rockbed
of the branch do the waters break
into light, into singing

of water flowing over rocks
which, in its motion, the water
moves.  And so, singing, the song
changes, moved by music
harsh and crude: splashes,
slubbers, chuckles, and warbles,
the hollow tones of a bell,
a sustained pour, the small
fall steady as a column.

Sometimes, gentled, if you
stand while it flows, it seems
to meditate upon itself
and the hill's long changing
under the sun and rain.

A changing song,
a changing walk,
a changing thought.

A sounding stone,
a stepping stone,
a word
that is a sounding and a stepping

A language that is a stream flowing
and is a man's thought as he 
walks and thinks beside the stream.

His thoughts will hold
if the words will hold, if each
is a stone that will bear weight,
placed by the flow
in the flow.  The language too

descends through time, subserving
false economy, heedless power,
blown with the gas of salesmanship,
rattled with the sale of needless war,

worn by the mere unhearing
babble of thoughtlessness,
and must return to its own 
downward flow by the flowing
water, the muttered syllables,
the measureless music, the stream
flowing and singing, the man
walking and thinking, balanced
on unsure footholds
in the flowing stream.

"Make sense," I told myself,
the song of the tumbling waters
in my ears.  The sense you make
may make its way along the stream,
but it will not be the stream's sense
you make, nor yet your own
quite, for the flux of language
will make its claim too
upon your walk, upon the stream.

The words fall at last
onto the page, the turning leaf
in the Book of Camp Branch
in time's stream.  As the eye,
as the mind, moves from
moving water to turning page,
what is lost?  What, worse,
is lost if the words falsify
the stream in your walk beside it?
To be carried or to resist
you must be a stone
in the way.  You must be
a stone rolled away.

The song changes by singing
into a different song.
It sings by falling.  The water
descending in its old groove
wears it new.  The words descending
to the page render the possible
into the actual, by wear,
for better or worse, renew
the wearied mind.  This is only
the lowly stream of Camp Branch,
but every stream is lowly.
Only low in the land does 
the water flow.  It goes
to seek the level that is lowest,
the silence that gathers
many songs, the darkness
made of many lights,
and then by the sun is raised
again into the air.

~ Wendell Berry
from Leavings
art by Norma Herring