Monday, February 9, 2015

A forest of ferns

It has been a fertile time at my Lake Cumberland winter retreat working on my book Nature’s People: The Hog Island story from Mabel Loomis Todd to Audubon.  The all-important chapter, ‘Of astronomy & Dickinsons’ was wrapped up in a first draft late last week.  Phew.  Surely the juiciest of the collection of chapters!  

Two chapters to go.  Next one up is telling the story of ‘Mavooshen’s men,’ the fellows who, along with Mabel Todd and her daughter, Millicent Bingham, hewed a summer camp out of a section of a wilderness island and created a Maine respite for a family who loved Nature.  Writing seems to be on some semblance of a schedule.  

Last summer, as you know if you’ve been staying recent with this blog, I was blessed to be able to spend a month at Mrs. Todd’s Camp Mavooshen on Hog Island to work on a couple chapters of my book.  As product of that month, I wrote a number of new poems and combined them with new photography and created a little self-published book, A forest of ferns:  Reflections on Hog Island.  A special thanks to graphic designer Kelly Vogelsong of Dayton for making the lovely little thing happen. 

The goal was to print up a couple dozen copies for sale on Hog Island at the Puffin Burrow gift shop.  Those copies have been shipped to Maine, with a few other copies available.  I plan to send out a few to some folks with deep Hog Island roots, but there might be a few left when all is said and done.  If you would like a copy, let me know.  Cost would be $13, which would include shipping.  

In the meantime, let me share one of the new poems.  Enjoy. 


Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.
Henry David Thoreau

This island is so beautiful it really makes my heart ache!  
Why, it seems to me God's own heaven 
can hardly be more perfect.
Mabel Loomis Todd 
Rain on the cottage roof, 
mid-evening, gray sunset waning, 
like thousands of pairs of Natural hands
applauding the return of moisture 
given up to a demanding sun,
having ascended into ether 
until accumulated weight requires
reunion with a world 
where spruce and fern reach into soils 
cradled in granite doing all they can 
to be all that they are. 

‘Heaven,’ thought Thoreau. 

Mrs. Todd, too. 
Tom Schaefer
Camp Mavooshen
23 July 2014

Today’s elder idea:   In honor of Valentine’s Day, I offer a line from Paul Laurence Dunbar addressed to his beloved, Alice, before they were married.  This one sure works for my Cindy Lou, too.  

‘You were the sudden realization of an ideal.’  

images: top:  Cover shot of A forest of ferns.  below:  One of the pics from the book.  

Monday, February 2, 2015


One of my weaknesses as a writer and person, I think, is my poor ability to discipline myself to do what I have determined needs to be done.  Surely one could make an argument against shoulding on yourself.  I got that.

But there is something to be said about sticking with a regime imagined on some cold winter night while watching a hockey game on television, wishing it were spring and promising to walk more regularly and improve upper body strength.  Good ideas, to be sure.  

But like so many folks I hear about, that personal work peters out after just a handful of attempts.  In our case we pay monthly for a family pass to the Vandalia Rec Center — and never go.  But we talk about it a lot.  

What I do instead is just fall into my day where I hope to be as present as I can in whatever I do.  In the midst of my life as a retired guy, I do what I can to fully experience this wonderful planet I am blessed to live upon and within.  Schedules don’t quite mean what they used to.  

This winter I find myself blessed to be at Lake Cumberland, as last year, to work on my book, Nature’s People: The Hog Island story from Mabel Loomis Todd to Audubon.  As mostly a summer destination, Cumberland in January and February is perfect for me, an introverted poet seeking a quiet place to wrangle with thoughts while getting a mainline shot of Nature’s beauty.  

And, boy, do I get an eyeful of Nature’s beauty every time I look out the window, whether it is the view of the lake or from the other side of the house, up the hollow road. 

When I find myself on one of my writing sequester ‘holidays,’ lots of creative energy flows.  And the phone doesn’t ring, nobody comes to the door, and the television is silent.  Music is usually providing ambience, but other than that, it’s just me in a warm, well-lighted place free to follow the Spirit as it moves.  

Today I should be returning to chapter 4 of Nature’s People, the chapter about the Todds and Dickinsons: ‘Of astronomy & Dickinsons.’  I got a good start on it a couple weeks ago, just before I headed back to Dayton for a week to celebrate birthdays and get a few necessary things done, like sign up for Medicare.  (Yes, indeed:  Schaef goes 65 in March.  Heavens, such a ride!) 

I think chapter 4 has scared me more than most because it is the Dickinson story, a narrative created from various perspectives over a century that has created as much myth as non-fiction about Emily Dickinson.  My goal is to tell the truth as I have learned it, hopefully not writing too slant, as Emily might say.  I am counting on the Richard B. Sewall and Polly Longsworth side of the Dickinson narrative to tell my version of Mabel Todd’s legacy.  

I find getting into book writing pretty hard most often.  In part, that’s why the sequester works better for me:  I can’t escape to various other tasks like I do at home.  Here and now I am most often facing my computer screen, and since that’s where the text is written, the possibility of engaging Mrs. Todd and family is always just behind this document screen. 

When I got here at the beginning January, as last year, it took about a full week for me to find ‘island time’ and get working on the book.  It seems I need to let my brain run a little wild for a time, wandering wherever it cares to, before reigning it in and bringing the book more carefully into focus.  

This time focus seemed to begin to coalesce when I took the time to just breathe.  Sit.  Be still.  Clear your mind.  Breathe.  Breathe again.  Follow a thought, if you must, but come back.  Come back to the breathBe mindful of the breath.

And somewhere in that process I found myself sitting at my Mac opening up the Nature’s People file, finding the preface as written on Hog Island last summer, bringing it up for a refresher read and clean-up.  Within a few days I had re-encountered ‘Introducing Mrs. Todd’ (chapter 1) and ‘Transcendental activist’ (chapter 2).  All was good.  

That’s when I started seriously sorting through various outline pages and the tons of details that would have to be part of the Dickinson chapter.  I got through David Peck Todd’s astronomy part in good shape, I think.  I am now ready to add on the Mabel-Todd-in-Amherst part of this narrative.  Wish me luck.  

But first a writing exercise:  this new blog entry, my first of 2015.  Gotta’ get the creative juices flowing.  

By the way, next up I’ll tell you about my new little book of images & poetry from Hog Island last summer, A forest of ferns.   

Today’s elder idea:   I offer a line from one of my favorite musical pieces from the 1970s (or poem from the 1920s), ‘Desiderata’:  

Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.

I hope you are.  I surely try.    :-)  

images3.:  Lake Cumberland, winter 2015.