Tag Archives: New Jersey

The Turtle Pond Before The Subdivision Came

As a teenager, I relished my hours in the woods near my home in New Jersey.  I followed the meandering paths on my 10-speed.  One day I happened upon a little pond.  Painted turtles sunned themselves contentedly on a floating log.  At my approach they slipped into the murky water and disappeared from view.  I waited long minutes.  But, losing patience, I left before they resurfaced.  New subdivisions came, and the paths and ponds disappeared.  Looking back 40 years has transformed this happy memory into a new poem.

The Turtle Pond Before the Subdivision Came

When you pedal
on a wooded path, all brown
and green shadow, framed houses
out of view, you might discover
a little pond, water brown
as forest earth and gray
as autumn sky, fallen log
stuck at half past two,
a perch for turtles, carapaces
painted red and yellow, for what purpose
I am sure I do not know, but
perhaps from the sheer joy of their aliveness,
sunning unconcerned, but slipping
quickly, when I arrive,
into opaque shallows, hiding,
holding longer than my patience,
safely unseen.

(Image by Scottslm from Pixabay)

Roger Baker is the author of Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road.  The book tells the true life story of an obscure farm road and its power to transform the human heart.  The book is available in print and for Kindle at Amazon.  See Rabbit Lane reviewed in Words and Pictures.

Rita

Bill and Rita Stenner knew I loved small boat sailing.  I learned to sail small cat boats as a Boy Scout at Camp Liahona on Lake Seneca in up-state New York.  Of all my 35 Boy Scout merit badges, small boat sailing was my favorite.  Bill invited me to sail with him and Rita in his 19-foot sloop several times over several summers.  We put in at Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey, and tacked toward the Hudson Bay, with the Twin Towers shooting above the barely-visible land of Manhattan Island.  Rita suffered from crippling rheumatoid arthritis, and sat crumpled and twisted in a wheelchair.  But floating in the water behind the cruising sloop freed her from her confinement.  She never complained in the chair, but she exulted from within the cool salt water as I steered and called “coming about!”  This poem, “Rita,” I wrote some 30 years later in reverent memory of these good, kind, quiet people.  Thanks Rita and Bill.  (See the Rabbit Lane: Memoir page of this blog, Chapter 4: Desert Lighthouse post, for reference to sailing with Bill and Rita.)

RITA

The old man was kind to me,
though I offered nothing but my youthful company,
which I made pleasant, for my gratitude,
on those summer days.

How we sailed!

From Sandy Hook toward Hudson’s kills,
Twin Towers rising like brother beacons
beckoning us to tack their way,
I on the rudder,
Bill on the main sheet and jib.

Oh—how we sailed!

He tethered his wife,
a cheerful lump of rheumatoid flesh,
and tossed her offhandedly overboard,
whence she giggled and squealed
for the cool and the salt, the jostling wake,
for her release from the chair.

Sailing in the salt breeze!

Ponderous thunderheads darkened abruptly,
and we hauled her in
like a troll-caught crab
and fled the flashes, knowing
how tall and conductive was the metal mast
and how helpless we would be
on the water.