Yes, Your Feet’s Too Big

poetry, Reflections

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Aren’t snowshoes wonderful inventions? – mathematical wonders, the trapper’s friend, even life savers.

And, of course, they are a wonderful source of fun! Here, some of our younger students race about on snowshoes. Each year we have a cultural week at school. Usually, an elder will be there to teach the youngsters how to make snowshoes of birch and hide, although the ones these students are wearing are store-bought.

I grew up in Texas. My only knowledge of snowshoes came from stories like White Fang, by Jack London:

In advance of the dogs, on wide snowshoes, toiled a man. At the rear of the sled toiled a second man. On the sled, in the box, lay a third man whose toil was over, – a man whom the Wild had conquered and beaten down until he would never move nor struggle again.

…and from poems like The Call Of the Wild, by Robert William Service:

Have you known the Great White Silence, not a snow-gemmed twig aquiver?
(Eternal truths that shame our soothing lies.)
Have you broken trail on snowshoes? mushed your huskies up the river,
Dared the unknown, led the way, and clutched the prize?
Have you marked the map’s void spaces, mingled with the mongrel races,
Felt the savage strength of brute in every thew?
And though grim as hell the worst is, can you round it off with curses?
Then hearken to the Wild — it’s wanting you.

But (and I’m not embarrassed to admit it) the memory that first comes to my mind when I see snowshoes is that of a song made popular by Fats Waller back in 1939 – the laughter rousing Your Feet’t Too Big, by Fred Fisher and Ada Benson:

Who’s that walkin’ round here? Mercy
Sounds like baby patter
Baby elephant patter that’s what I calls it

Say up in Harlem at a table for two
There were four of us, me, your big feet and you
From your ankles up, I’d say you sure are sweet
From there down there’s just too much feet

Yes, your feet’s too big
Don’t want you, ’cause you feet’s too big
Can’t use you, ’cause you feet’s too big
I really hate you, ’cause you feet’s too big

Where did you get them?
Your girl she likes you, she thinks you’re nice
Got what it takes to be in paradise
She said likes your face, she likes your ray
Man oh man them things are too big

Oh, your feet’s too big
Don’t want you, ’cause you feet’s too big
Mad at you, ’cause your feet’s too big
I hate you, ’cause your feet’s too big

My Goodness! Gun the gunboats!
Ship, ship, ship

Oh your pedal extremities are colossal
To me you look just like a fossil
You got me walkin’, talkin’ and squawkin’
‘Cause your feet’s too big, yeah

Come on and walk that thing
Oh, I’ve never heard of such walkin’, mercy
Your, your pedal extremities really are obnoxious
One never knows, do one?

Please do yourself a favor, go watch and listen to Fats Waller sing Your Feet’s Too Big, then tell me if you don’t walk a little lighter on your feet the rest of the day!

Tell Me a Story

northern exposures, Reflections

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Once, Fort Yukon boasted a hospital, hotels and stores; they are all gone now. But we do have abandoned cabins, lots of them. I like old things. I must get that from Dad. Old homesteads intrigued him, and he would always muse, “I wonder what stories those walls could tell?”

This winter there seems to be no end to the rosy hues the sun casts over our village. You can see it in the pictures above. I’m an almost die-hard realist when it comes to my photography and usually take a less-is-more approach to editing, especially when it comes to color and contrast. I tend to fudge more on brightness levels.

Dad was a realist with his photography, too. He often told me so. I’ll never forget the time he was walking around an old abandoned homestead when he found a patch of lantana, a pretty flowering plant native to much of Texas. He took a few pictures of it, but this twig from some tree was right in the middle of his composition. It really bothered him, so he reached in there, removed it, and took his last and best picture of that plant. A few days later, that hand broke out in the most awful, itchy rash. We looked at the picture together and I started to laugh. Not only was there a twig messing up his composition, there was poison ivy in it, too, only he hadn’t recognized it. “I’ll never mess with a picture again,” said Dad. That one never made his favorites list.

My Heart Leaps up

Charlie, poetry

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I have been looking back at Dad’s photographs. I remember wondering, as a child, how long a lifetime really is and it seemed to me then as though it must be something on the order of infinity. Now I’ve lived much of life and the years have passed so quickly. It is not so infinite after all…

“My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
Or let me die!
The Child is father of the Man;
And I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.”

William Wordsworth

Myth and a Reverence For Life

northern exposures, Reflections

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How is it the raven fascinates mankind so? He is a bird of ill omen. A diety. A messenger of the gods.

He was the first creature that Noah sent out scouting for dry land. Legend has it that King Arthur transformed into a raven at his death.

North American First Nations peoples will tell you he is gluttonous, greedy and impatient, a frivolous trickster.

Some revere him as a hero and “a benevolent transformer figure who helps the people and shapes their world.” Totems are carved in his honor.

Many say the raven will lead a hunter to deer so that he can share in the carcass.

But the power of lore among a people isn’t universal. My students tell me that they sometimes shoot ravens, just for fun or target practice I suppose.

Somehow I want to convince them that some things are fundamentally worthy of admiration. Life above all. I understand killing for need, especially here where so many of my friends depend on hunting for survival, but must we also kill for pleasure? Aren’t some things unquestionably worthy of appreciation and protection?

Must reverence for life be just a myth and nothing more?

Mythology and Folklore of the Raven

Native American Raven Mythology

On Looking Forward and Finding Your Way

Reflections

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On the Passing Of the Year

Your days are done, old friend,
The dreams we shared,
Boldly dared
Have fled;
Emergent hopes
My feet now tread.

On Looking Forward

Quite elementary for the young;
Easier said
(Once age to life is wed)
Than done.

Isaiah 43:18-19

Do not remember the former things,
or consider the things of old.
I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.

Winter Complaint

poetry

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Now when I have a cold
I am careful with my cold,
I consult a physician
And I do as I am told.
I muffle up my torso
In woolly woolly garb,
And I quaff great flagons
Of sodium bicarb.
I munch on aspirin,
I lunch on water,
And I wouldn’t dream of osculating
Anybody’s daughter,
And to anybody’s son
I wouldn’t say howdy,
For I am a sufferer
Magna cum laude.
I don’t like germs,
But I’ll keep the germs I’ve got.
Will I take a chance of spreading them?
Definitely not.
I sneeze out the window
And I cough up the flue,
And I live like a hermit
Till the germs get through.
And because I’m considerate,
Because I’m wary,
I am treated by my friends
Like Typhoid Mary.

Now when you have a cold
You are careless with your cold,
You are cocky as a gangster
Who has just been paroled.
You ignore your physician,
You eat steaks and oxtails,
You stuff yourself with starches,
You drink lots of cocktails,
And you claim that gargling
Is a time of waste,
And you won’t take soda
For you don’t like the taste,
And you prowl around parties
Full of selfish bliss,
And greet your hostess
With a genial kiss.
You convert yourself
Into a deadly missle,
You exhale Hello’s
Like a steamboat wistle.
You sneeze in the subway
And you cough at dances,
And let everybody else
Take their own good chances.
You’re a bronchial boor,
A bacterial blighter,
And you get more invitations
Than a gossip writer.

Yes, your throat is froggy,
And your eyes are swimmy,
And you hand is clammy,
And you nose is brimmy,
But you woo my girls
And their hearts you jimmy
While I sit here
With the cold you gimmy.

thank you, Ogden Nash, with many smiles

Winter’s Eve

northern exposures, Reflections
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looking southwest across the Yukon

It is a chilly 27 below outside our cabin. If I go now, I can catch the last light over the Yukon.

I don extra layers. First, a felt lined canvas shirt followed by a woolen neck scarf to warm the chest. Next, an insulated sweatshirt zipped up and over the scarf, a solid seal against leakage. Up goes the hood, down goes a neck gator over it and around my face to hold the hood snug against my ears and warm my breath. I am a masked man dressed in black.

Arctic-weight woolen socks and felt-lined boots, jeans tucked in and heavy lined snow pants pulled down around them. Ultralight liners (NASA thermals gifted me by Virginia) under serious mittens. Twenty minutes and I am ready. I would never wear such precautionary dress just to walk to school, but I want to take my time and walk the river road today.

I’m at the river by 3 pm but already the light is fading fast. It would have been better a half hour ago. I tramp through deep snow to get closer to the bank, my winter gear impregnable to the cold and damp. A raven glides past overhead, out over the river. Blackbirds flutter out of the willows and the pulse of their wings beat through the air like drums. No other sound breaks the turning of the earth. A low fog bank lies over the main channel, far offshore. There must be open water out there. I have time only for a few quick shots before the sky mutes to gray, then I turn and walk the river road a ways.

Thanksgiving is a day past. Outside, the world scurries about in a frenzy of buying and selling. But here, all is still and silent and I am grateful for it.

Simple Things, and Higher

Reflections

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Wishing all my family and friends hearts of gratitude on this Day of Thanksgiving. Gratitude for the simple things, like spruce boughs heavy laden under fresh fallen snow or the smell of woodsmoke drifting on the air.

For the higher things. For family and friendship, life and love.

And to the One who “so loved the world that He gave his only Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

Nevermore…

northern exposures, poetry

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You know how some things just go together? Can you imagine peanut butter without jelly? The ravens and the arctic are like chocolate and me. Inseparable. They are curious creatures, talkative, entertaining and amusing. Best of all, they make great company through long & dusky winter days. So if you should be napping one cold winter’s eve when “suddenly there comes a tapping, as of some one rapping, rapping at [your] chamber door”…

The Raven

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore —
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“‘Tis some visiter,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door —
Only this and nothing more.”

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December;
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow; – vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow – sorrow for the lost Lenore —
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore —
Nameless here for evermore.

And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me – filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating
“‘Tis some visiter entreating entrance at my chamber door —
Some late visiter entreating entrance at my chamber door; —
This it is and nothing more.”

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
“Sir,” said I, “or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you” – here I opened wide the door; ——
Darkness there and nothing more.

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;
But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token,
And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, “Lenore?”
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, “Lenore!” —
Merely this and nothing more.

Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
“Surely,” said I, “surely that is something at my window lattice;
Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore —
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore;—
‘Tis the wind and nothing more!”

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore;
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door —
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door —
Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
“Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,” I said, “art sure no craven,
Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly shore —
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!”
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning – little relevancy bore;
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door —
Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
With such name as “Nevermore.”

But the Raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing farther then he uttered – not a feather then he fluttered —
Till I scarcely more than muttered “Other friends have flown before —
On the morrow he will leave me, as my Hopes have flown before.”
Then the bird said “Nevermore.”

Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
“Doubtless,” said I, “what it utters is its only stock and store
Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster
Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore —
Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore
Of ‘Never – nevermore’.”

But the Raven still beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird, and bust and door;
Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore —
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore
Meant in croaking “Nevermore.”

This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom’s core;
This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
On the cushion’s velvet lining that the lamp-light gloated o’er,
But whose velvet-violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o’er,
She shall press, ah, nevermore!

Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.
“Wretch,” I cried, “thy God hath lent thee – by these angels he hath sent thee
Respite – respite and nepenthe, from thy memories of Lenore;
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!”
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil! – prophet still, if bird or devil! —
Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted —
On this home by Horror haunted – tell me truly, I implore —
Is there – is there balm in Gilead? – tell me – tell me, I implore!”
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil! – prophet still, if bird or devil!
By that Heaven that bends above us – by that God we both adore —
Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore —
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore.”
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

“Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!” I shrieked, upstarting —
“Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian shore!
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken! – quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!”
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted – nevermore!

—Edgar Allan Poe