No Golf in the Kingdom
By Will Nixon
The delusion that is golf I can only explain by believing that it satisfies an atavistic yearning to walk again across the African savanna of our origins as the cleverest beast in creation. Why else would people find manicured turf so appealing, plus artificial watering holes? Why else would Americans bring golf clubs everywhere they go? Aircraft carriers. Death Valley. The moon. You can’t escape their obsession. Once on a roadside litter pick-up in the highest and wildest road notch in the Catskills, I found a golf ball nested in the damp silt beneath a maple tree miles from any golf course, a demonic egg that infuriated me to write a poem.
What Kind of Mind Invented the Golf Ball?
—Devil’s Notch, Catskills
Like this one buried up to its dimpled white crown
in damp silt between maple roots, so cocky
and clean, so perfect. All morning I’ve picked up trash
in this notch, where ravens broadcast from cliffs
and shadbushes hold smoke blossoms into May.
I’ve filled my yellow bag with the transparent brain
of a baggie submerged in a stream, Bud cans so faded
their words appear Russian, a paint can that burped
its last gob of white latex onto a stone wall—
the burial mound for bottle glass, burger clamshells,
a condom. The dead porcupine I boot-toed off the road
left a toothpick trail of quills. But a golf ball?
It doesn’t belong here! Not this alien probe
from manicured suburbs, where I served my youth
pushing mowers and painting garages. Only once
did I place my faith in my hands gripping
a golf club. At 17 I swung with fury and power,
topping weak grounders down the fairway,
or lofting grass divots I didn’t bother to replace.
What kind of mind invented the golf ball?
The same that invented the cover girl’s pout?
The perfect, unattainable sonnet? The insult
so clever and true it lives under your skin for life?
I lift the golf ball from its silt pocket,
dimpled eyes no different than dimpled chin.
I bounce it hard on the pavement, a bounce
it obviously loves, hopping over my head.
Even on Mars it would feel at home,
never lonely, hungry, or broke.
How can you make a golf ball cry?
How can you make it understand?
So I was adamantly opposed when, in the late Nineties, a developer proposed clearing a Catskills ridgetop for a golf resort. Wasn’t America already branded with golf courses? Why scalp a forest in a wilderness park to lay down perfect green turf like a skin transplant from the suburbs? Didn’t Canada geese already have enough grazing lands for themselves? No, I said, let’s save this ridgetop for the yellow bellied sapsuckers and other woodland birds.
So I hiked up there. Shangri-la it wasn’t. Heavily logged over the years, the forest was thin, runty, and sunny, a far cry from the wilderness protected farther up the ridge by the Catskills Forest Preserve with towering oak canopies and deep shade. But I did find something well worth preserving. Not one, not two, but three beech trees clustered together offering the mark of bear claws. In autumn the animals scampered up the trunks for the beech nuts in the crown. As it happens, the spread of bear claws is the same as our fingers, so I touched my fingertips to the claw scratches as my way of shaking hands. Americans may be golf maniacs, but I sided with the bears.
It’s a free country of course. No one will cure us of golf anytime soon. But I say, for a true adventure, try bushwhacking the Catskills, not golfing them. By bushwhacking I don’t mean donning a pith helmet and wielding a machete like a British character in a jungle movie. I simply mean leaving the trail to find your own way to the summit and back down again with a map and compass. As you go, you’ll discover a pride at navigating your way through the wilds, a pride as old as our ancestors out on those African plains. They didn’t bother themselves, chasing after little white balls. So why should we?
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The Mother Grouse Blog is produced by Will Nixon, author of My Late Mother as a Ruffed Grouse and Love in the City of Grudges available on-line.