Sunday, December 20, 2015

Remembrance of the Past: A Great Valley Love Story, in Poetry

So it turns out I wasn't the only person writing words of love for my adopted homeland, the Great Valley of California. I write geology and environment words, and not poetry. But my home town of Modesto has a Poet Laureate. Her name is Gillian Wegener, and she recently penned a beautiful sonnet work about the valley that has been enshrined in our Great Valley Museum of Natural History at Modesto Junior College. The museum is a wonderful introduction to the natural world that lies hidden beneath millions of acres of agricultural fields and cities. There's a little bit left of the world from before, as those of you who've followed my blog would well know by now. So, please enjoy some poetry, as well as some scenes from my last few trips to the old world of our valley (the Merced and Sacramento National Wildlife Refuges)


There is so much we will forget

And most of it doesn’t matter-

The grocery lists and the Tuesdays-

But we can’t forget that first

Our Valley was grassland,

Was riparian woodlands, was marsh,

Was peopled by those who knew

The places where the fish gathered,

Who knew the seasons of oaks,

Who knew the stories the stars told.

We cannot forget the way the wind,

Given its unimpeded way, ripples

The needle grass and the waters,

Moves them in the same rhythms.

And let’s not forget the calls of the cranes

Filling the air with a sound so dense

There’s almost no room for breath.

And we must remember too what’s already lost:

The grizzly, so much of the quiet marshlands…

Our world is poorer without them.

But the rivers still converge and

The beavers build their dams

And the hawks, ferruginous and red tail, drift

On the thermals, and all of this was happening,

Was here, before we were, before

Our grocery lists and our Tuesdays.

So we can’t forget the vernal pools

With their sudden flowers, and

Their patient species, buried and waiting,

Earthbound constellations of life mirroring

The constellations that shine above us

With stories we can’t forget, just as we can’t forget

That an earthquake in far off ocean makes waves

That flow, that propagate to our nearer shores,

That the moon’s gravity tugs at our wild oceans,

That our galaxy has wrapped its spiraling arms

Around our sun, that our sun is just one bright star

In a universe filled with bright stars,

The space between them expanding

Faster than we’d even imagined, and

We can’t forget, even as we’re learning,

Even as we are amazed at finding ourselves here

In this universe, in this galaxy, on this planet,

In this broad valley, with these creature, in this place

With its pockets of grasslands and woods

Which we won’t forget, which we will care for,

Because this is where we live, one of many species.

This is our shared and wondrous home.

A poem for the Great Valley Museum

January 17, 2015
 For more information about the Great Valley Museum, follow this link:


Hollis said...

Nice. You are fortunate to have this poet!

Peggy Hamilton said...

Lovely poem, but not a sonnet. A sonnet is 14 lines of rhymed iambic pentameter, just as a haiku is seventeen syllables. The words denote form, not content.
(Sorry to nitpick, but as an English teacher the misuse of sonnet is one of my pet peeves.)

Garry Hayes said...

I just KNEW someone was going to ding me on that! I was trying not to say poem over and over, and I'm a geologist anyway. I took English a long time ago, but I've been breathing rock dust ever since. :) Thanks for the correction!

Shane Hedberg said...

Fantastic post! What a wonderful poem and the photos work so well with it. Glad somebody else called you out on the sonnet thing. :-)

I used to think very little of the Central Valley. All I knew of it was Interstate 5, Modesto and Merced. After discovering the wildlife refuges a few years ago I've come to think of it as one of our country's great treasures, and as I explore it deeper I'm constantly finding myself in awe of the beauty and power of the landscape and its inhabitants. This poem catches the essence of that, I think.

Very nice.