That City/Country High

From the late 1980s well into the 1990s, I led a bifurcated life: my career, my marriage, and my social life anchored in Hoboken, then Manhattan; my romantic spirit given to weekend day hikes in the Hudson Highlands reached by training up to Cold Spring or busing out to Tuxedo Park. After a week in the urban canyons, I fell under the sway of nature with an intensity that seemed almost drug-like. Every weekend impressed me with a change in the season that felt revelatory, be it the June hatchings of butterflies I’d never seen before, or the September stains in heart-shaped hobblebush leaves dark as burgundy, the darkest autumn reds of all. I was in my thirties, reliving the nature phase of my childhood, this time with field guides for my education. Nature provided the ballast of the larger world with its own rhythms and multitudes of living forces that helped settle my adult life otherwise churning with work, relationships, and all-too-human meshugas.

In 1996 I gave my romantic spirit free reign by moving to a Catskills log cabin. In the years after that my nature cravings peaked and began their long slow ebb. Not that I don’t find beauty every day on my country walks, but I don’t feel that intensity any more. My field guides sit neglected on my shelves. And nature poetry? Haven’t written one for years. My imagination lives back in cramped apartments with cockroaches on the toothbrush bristles, as I work on one piece after another set in the rough and tumble of my twenties in the city.

So my friend Alison Koffler stirs a certain nostalgia in me. A Bronx native, she still lives in the Bronx with her husband, Dayl Wise, and works for the New York City school system, coaching teachers who teach writing. On weekends, she and Dayl retreat to their house in Woodstock, where, every so often, she knocks out one hell of a nature poem bursting with that intensity I’ve lost. Now Alison has given me an appealing chapbook, A Banner Year for Apples, by her colleague, Amanda Nicole Gulla, who teaches at Lehman College, CUNY and weekends in Phoenicia. (Dayl published this collection through his Post Traumatic Press.) At first reading, I thought, “Wow, these poems are just like Alison’s.” Feisty, direct, heartfelt. There’s no ambivalence about the redemptive power of nature. Then I realized that what these poets share is that city/country high. Every weekend they arrive upstate like dry sponges ready to soak up the Catskills sensorama, while I’ve grown soggy with day to day familiarity. Here’s a poem by Amanda Nicole Gulla from the future—late summer—to help pull us through the dregs of winter.

Porch Light

A long way from needles of frozen fog
settling winter into lungs and bones the eight
legged hunter hangs over dusty logs on my front porch.

I swept her web off just this morning but by
nightfall she’s back considering her brown moth
in love with the yellow light.

She’s earned this space between
curved handles on the firewood rack–
that much was clear when she corrected my
error, fastidiously rebuilding her home.

I hang with the hunter at dusk, ice cubes
clinking in my glass and the bird songs
less spectacular now in desultory August,
when summer promises to last forever. Even as bees
slow their mad patrol, they’ve done their work,
blossoms gone, apples hang ripe and fat.

I should be preparing for the harvest,
repairing baskets, spinning and weaving like
my spider companion, moth meals laid in,
conceding the inevitability of a long cold season,

but the yellow light is so warm and sweet,
even as it sets over the mountain.

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