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“Home Manufactures,” “Acorns in a Mast Year,” “Moosehead Lake,” “Nature Did That,” and “American Bittern”

by Charles Weld

“Home Manufactures”

We could call the creek behind the school Sea Cook Creek

because that’s where our black lab, dead years ago

now, dove without warning into two feet of snow

to pull up a muskrat in his jaws. I got a peek at the creature

the next July, one back leg too lame to bear weight,

wobbling with Long John Silver’s rolling gait

before dropping into the water. Thoreau suggested

a tariff on words to encourage home manufactures.

He preferred musquash to muskrat, and tested

quackled for drowned to describe a trapped muskrat dying

underwater—that East Anglian antique, so satisfying

to say, picked up perhaps from hearing local farmers speak.

A word compresses many experiences into a few

ways of thinking. But maybe less so with a make-do,

Yankee contraption whose fit for the job is its virtue.

“Acorns in a Mast Year”

Boiled a quart of acorns for breakfast wrote Thoreau

in early October of what I’m guessing was a mast

year, when oaks, beeches, or hickories throw

down their nuts in such profusion that the season’s feast

by mice, turkey, and deer doesn’t really dent supply.

Soaking his acorns overnight, he found sinkers

sound—floaters, worm-eaten, or otherwise too gone by

to sprout. About one good for every seven spent

was the odds Thoreau gave for acorn potency.

The waste of oak labor—cost per sprout—he

called a glaring imperfection in Nature. Those years,

one in seven was also the probability of dying from TB

in Concord. So, the sharp remark may be presentiment

of the end beginning to close off his sense of possibility.

“Moosehead Lake”

The summer I was twenty-two, I worked on a line gang,

laying track in the woods near Jackman, Maine.

Last hired: worst job. I pounded six-inch spikes

with a short-handled sledge, two or three hits

until each bit an inch or two into the splintery tie,

secure enough for the gas-powered-machine guy

behind me to drive them straight down to the steel plate

without wobbling. Wake up was 4 am. We ate

beans, pie, eggs and meat—washed in a pond, quit

early if the rails warped in the sun, bunked on a siding

in boxcars. Laid off one morning, job complete, I hitchhiked

south down the side of Moosehead Lake, at first riding

in a log truck past the face of the Penobscot’s Mt. Kineo,

beside sparkling water where Joe Polis had guided Thoreau.

“Nature Did That”

Into the mouths of snakes go babes said Bradley Puffer

who told Thoreau he’d seen twenty-five water adder

snakelets slip into the maw of their mother

to escape danger. Now I take it that is Nature,

Nature did that he pronounced with a remarkable air,

as if he were communicating or suggesting something

unnatural—some sideshow spectacle extraordinaire.

There was also his story of turtles freezing

on the March meadows, after a flood power

washed them out of their quarters. A hundred pounder,

forty others smaller. And pickerel laid out on the winter

ice four to five hours brought to life in water.

A long talk with him, Thoreau wrote,in the rain under

a tree until, cold and wet, they both began to shiver—

each ready to receive whatever Nature would deliver.

“American Bittern”

Peabody called it the boomer, Rice—cow-poke

or baked plum pudding. Some others named it

wollerkertoot, Minott said, although he liked pump-er-gor

instead. Stakedriver was the common name, more

often used than bittern by locals. Thoreau wrote stroke

and suck to describe the call’s two parts. A hit

or dry click, the first sound. A slurp, the second.

Like driving a postinto soft ground. Or drawing water

with a wooden pump. To any New England farmer—

familiar sound. But nick names didn’t make the bird

easier to find. Approaching one, Thoreau found after a third

of a mile, it did not sound much nearer, and the two

parts of the sound divided. Each seemed to beckon

from its own direction, complicating what he knew,

another surprise to catalyze the sorting of false from true.

Charles Weld’s poetry has been collected in two chapbooks (Country I Would Settle In, Pudding House, 2004; and Who Cooks For You? Kattywompus Press, 2012.) With degrees from Cornell and the University of Maine, he is a mental health counselor, and has worked as an administrator in a non-profit agency that provides treatment for youth experiencing mental health challenges. He lives in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York State.

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