“Atavism,” a Poem by William Stafford, read by DJB

I don’t know why this didn’t work the first time. I can only say that the Droid has its issues, or the app for WordPress has its issues, probably both. In either case, I have tried multiple times to do postings from my phone, and it just never works right. So here it is again. I hope you like it, a favorite poem by one of my heroes.

Have you ever walked in the woods, stood on a windy ridge, or paddled down a river and felt a primitive sense of memory? Suddenly you seem to experience the scene as if through the senses of an ancestor paddling the same stream, sniffing the scent of pine and wild flower, surveying the same valley, tensing at that twig snap? What is that about? Some believe in past lives, others in instinct, genetic memory. I hold with the latter choices, but it makes the feeling no less magical. I remember walking onto Stone Mountain lookout south of Tussey Ridge in Pennsylvania with an old friend who gasped at view. “This is a holy place,” he said. I concur.

Merriam Webster defines atavism in these ways:
1. a : recurrence in an organism of a trait or character typical of an ancestral form and usually due to genetic recombination
b : recurrence of or reversion to a past style, manner, outlook, approach, or activity architectural atavism
2 one that manifests atavism : throwback

I like that word throwback. It has the right feel to match the experience. I also like what this blogger said about this poem. Pity the blog seems to have died out a few years back. Good poems, and thoughtful, enlightening commentary archived there.

The photos in this were taken by my Dear Friend and brother-in-law David, during a visit to Northern Ireland in 2006. We were there again last year, but we didn’t get out to the Killynether Wood this time, and though David’s photography continues to grow and expand in depth and artistic impact, I don’t think he’ll mind my use of these older but lovely photos. Check out his work at http://www.davidalexphoto.com/


Sometimes in the open you look up
where birds go by, or just nothing,
and wait. A dim feeling comes
you were like this once, there was air,
and quiet; it was by a lake, or
maybe a river you were alert
as an otter and were suddenly born
like the evening star into wide
still worlds like this one you have found
again, for a moment, in the open.

Something is being told in the woods: aisles of
shadow lead away; a branch waves;
a pencil of sunlight slowly travels its
path. A withheld presence almost
speaks, but then retreats, rustles
a patch of brush. You can feel
the centuries ripple generations
of wandering, discovering, being lost
and found, eating, dying, being born.
A walk through the forest strokes your fur,
the fur you no longer have. And your gaze
down a forest aisle is a strange, long
plunge, dark eyes looking for home.
For delicious minutes you can feel your whiskers
wider than your mind, away out over everything.

— William Stafford

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