Tuesday, 4 October 2011

The Frost Place and leaves

One of the aims of this holiday was to experience glorious autumn colours as we travelled along. There was very little change as we drove down into New York state until the road began to climb into the Adirondack mountains. Then came the yellows, golds and a touch of heart-stopping red.

We see very little red in our UK colours each year. Apparently it has more to do with the amount of sugars in the leaf rather than the species of tree, so the better the summer, the more reds will be seen. It does depend to some extent on the tree. Crampbark has beautiful red leaves in the autumn, yet is almost unknown as a UK tree. I was fascinated to learn that it is now included in new woods being planted with UK deciduous species, so hopefully soon we shall see the distinctive crimson trees begin to make their mark during September and October.

The tree everyone associates with red leaves is the maple. It is native to the American East Coast with long established harvests of spring sap to turn into maple syrup - a long and laborious process resulting in a scrumptious sugar treat.

One of my favourite Grandma Moses paintings is "Sugaring off". She is my inspiration for developing a new creative career when you are in your eighties. She started to paint when arthritis in her hands made quilting impossible. She finished her last painting, a beautiful rainbow, at the age of 101, a week before she died. I was very fortunate to see an exhibition of her paintings when I was in Portland, Oregon several years ago and was blown away by the beauty and vibrancy of her work.

We loved the colours and calm of the location of our hotel, The Woods Inn, which was situated on the shores of a mirror-lake surrounded by turning trees. We weren't appreciative of a complete lack of welcome when we arrived and having to walk up three long flights of stairs to find our room. Poor Jacce, who is arachnophobic, had a terrible time with the myriad of spiders inside and outside the hotel, but their verandah and view provided some compensation.

The following day we crossed from New York State to Vermont over Lake Champlain. Talking to the elderly lady manning the gift shop about the beautiful colours in the hills behind,

"You haven't seen anything until you see Vermont," she said.

Unfortunately, the trees in the Burlington valley had yet to change and the only thing of note was the wealth of fraternity and sorority houses we passed in the university town while waiting for rush hour traffic lights to change.

The following day it rained. Heavily. Driving through Vermont was not a pleasant experience until we stopped at a diner in Franconia, New Hampshire. Herb tea and a pleasant lunch made everything seem more bearable.

As Peter turned the car to pull back onto the freeway, I suddenly caught sight of a sign to The Frost Museum. My plaintive cry from the back seat to follow the sign was actually heard and we drove off in the opposite direction.

It seemed strange to find a museum in the middle of a winding road filled with ordinary houses and the house and barn we eventually stopped at was nondescript and humble except for the sign which said, "The Frost Place and Poetry Centre".

Robert Frost's poem, "Driving through the woods on a snowy evening" has always been a part of my life. I can't remember when I first read it - probably at school, when I read hundreds of poems. It's different now. I read few and write fewer.

The lady who welcomed me was lovely. Pete and Jacce stayed to watch a video of Robert Frost's life while Chris settled himself on the house porch capturing white wraiths of cloud wrapping themselves around the opposite mountains with his camera.

I toured the house. I knew nothing of the poet's life beforehand. I'd always thought him a Victorian Englishman - a lack of knowledge understandable since his success as a poet came from two years he spent in England, but now seeing his home and letters written in his own hand brought him that bit closer. Brought up by his widowed teacher mother and mostly homeschooled after his father's early death from TB, Frost wanted to farm, but ultimately gave himself up to a career as a poet.

The best part for me of the The Frost Place was the poetry walk - a quarter mile colour-strewn leaf path through trees with Frost's poems clearly printed every so often for the pilgrim to read and enjoy. He is an "easy" poet. His phrases talk of simple things painting clear, accessible pictures for the reader. We are given a window into his world - whether it is apple picking, haymaking or watching birch trees bend in a strong wind.

It was a wonderful visit - a place to feed the soul whilst others rested. I saw milkweed shedding seeds, ripe red raspberries on wild canes and wet,red apples glinting in the afternoon sunshine. I was so pleased we turned and followed the sign.

The Frost Place
Your woods I walked today
Red apples shimmering in the sun
Birch and fir tall sentinels
Maple and alder lining the ground with red and gold.

Fat raindrops fell glistening from branches
White stoles wrapped themselves around mountains
As we sat on your porch
Edged with purple aster
Four years of your life laid out within the modest home.

You found it too cold to grow
In dark, New Hampshire winters
Forty four acres not enough
To feed your growing family

You thought to farm
Bur your successful pen brought better fruit
Sat beside the fire
Writing of bending birch
Discarded apples on trees
Your arms and shoulders aching from their picking.

Yet you knew your fields
Sweet whispers of scythes
Penned for your posterity
You left the hay to make itself
Hopeful of summer's heat

As we stood
Grateful for sun,
A welcome respite from torrential rain
Allowing us to walk in your woods
Share in your works
Drinking the colours of fall
Amidst white mountains.

11.15am 3/10/11.


Anonymous said...

Beautiful poem Sarah!! xx

Sarah Head said...

Thanks Lucinda! I don't get the inspiration to write poems very often so it was good to feel this one wafting around in the ether asking to be written down!