Robert Frost

After the Frost

Just over two months ago, I snapped a picture of these woods from this very spot, and I ruminated on Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken" because the woods were so yellow then.

Now, after the first frost, I returned with the dogs, for a little Christmas Eve celebratory hike while Andy was working.

But it wasn't all landscapes and ruminations. We were out in the woods for quite a while, so I had plenty of time to keep working on my skills with my new camera. I got a lot better at using the autofocus on a charging dog, and I did some experimenting with shutter speed and  some auto-exposure settings to try to get bright, golden glow on the running dogs.

I used center-weighted exposure values and a center-biased autofocus, so I had to center the moving dog in frame each time. However, the new camera picks up a lot more light (a full frame sensor) and a lot more data (higher resolution sensor), so the options for cropping are more varied.

It can be difficult to catch a dark gold dog when the light isn't shining from behind the photographer. You tend to get underexposed, dark regions without detail on the dog himself, while the surrounding the landscape is properly exposed.

I've been working on using that less-than-ideal light to give the dogs a fringe of gold while keeping the dog himself properly exposed and letting the background get washed out a bit. I got a couple of good ones.

I have no shame about posing dogs for a photo, but this time, Comet posed himself. He ran up ahead, jumped up on that rock, and stood like a proud lion while I fiddled with camera settings.

The new camera also lets you use an iPhone as a remote. it shows you what the camera sees right on the iPhone screen and lets you trigger the shutter and even change a couple of settings. So I set up a teeny tripod on a rock and posed us. You can actually see the phone in my left hand as I trigger the shutter.

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Before the Frost

When you read the words of Frost's poem, you think at first that he's taking a bit more poetic license than he really is. Some woods really do turn yellow during some weeks of some years. By calling the woods yellow, he's calling us to a more specific place and a more specific time than you might think at first.

There was a moment in which the roads diverged, and Frost, pulling a Frost, grabs it with "yellow." I might have written a whole paragraph about the way your feet disturb leaves and the prickly dusty smell of it in that particular part of fall when it's mild and dry. Frost just says "a yellow wood" and makes you imagine it yourself again each year.

But the wood's only yellow here and there where the soil's right and the trees are young. Some places it's evergreen with white pine, and the needles cover the forest floor. And other places there are meadows turning sere with brightly colored reds and oranges at their borders.

What Frost doesn't say is that the roads diverge again and again, some in the yellow woods, some where the milkweed has burst and thrown its seeds in the wind, and some where the dogs kick up the decaying leaves and pick the muddier path for you.

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Mending Log

“Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it
And spills the upper boulder in the sun,
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.”

              -Robert Frost
              “Mending Wall”

Maybe there is something that doesn’t love a wall, but I can name two things that do, and who “like to get away from earth awhile / And then come back to it and begin over.”

Sometimes the chainsaw man comes, and like something that doesn’t love a log, he cuts out a section and rolls it to the side of the trail. Frost didn’t coin the phrase “good fences make good neighbors,” though it appears twice in “Mending Wall” as he and his neighbor put the stones back in place.

Good logs make good jumps, so sometimes I wish I could mend the sawn logs, but there’s no real need, since nature brings down enough trees on her own, and there’s always a new place to take these pictures.

I don’t know any other creature who would be so patient with me as I send him out over the logs again and again so I can take a picture as he comes back. Looking at that picture again, I realize that patient isn’t the word at all, is it? Jax doesn’t play this game patiently. He loves it.

Each return is nearly as joyful as the last, though there is a small diminishment on each return that makes me stop the game by the fifth or sixth time, to move on to the next log or wall, where the going out and coming back have fresh appeal for all of us.

“Oh, just another kind of outdoor game, /
One on a side. It comes to little more,” says the poem.

Not for the first time, I’m envious of the purity of the dogs’ enjoyment of these outside spaces, with their thin covering of the last snow of the season. Every new direction is a sprint; every new smell is a whole story of seasons and deer, and people passing by.

How odd I must seem to the dogs, plodding along the trail, one step at a time, never sprinting off to smell a tree or to romp in zoomed circles for no reason at all.

I just hold a big shiny dead black bug to my face and go click, click, click, and then I plod some more. Each to our own little outdoor games, I suppose.

Where is Jax going right at this moment, and why doesn’t it matter to him? He might have finished running over to a friend, made a sudden inexplicable turn to the left, or wheeled back around to chase his own steps. I don’t remember what he did next, but I do remember that he did it with total enthusiasm and with no regard for the past or the future.

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Shy Birds

I don’t know exactly what kind of little butterfly this is, but when I went back through the tall grass into the woods to look for birds again, there were lots of these guys scattered about. The telephoto might not be the ideal lens for bug photographs in a lot of ways, but it certainly lets you pop your subject into focus on a blurred background.

The sun also made for good colors.

My Dad guesses European Skipper. Sounds good to me.

As I was at the edge of the meadow and the woods, I heard the Indigo Bunting calling again, so I stopped to try to stake him out. As I waited, I was treated to the sight of this Common Yellowthroat, also singing for territory and hopping around.

Yellowthroats are apparently pretty shy, and I had never even heard of these before, much less seen one, so I felt lucky.

I didn’t get wonderful pictures of the Bunting this time (or last time either, frankly), but you can see from his posture that he’s singing his little heart out to stake out a claim. It’s possible, even likely, that there are multiple males trying to stake out territory. It certainly sounded like that.

Just up and too the left of the Bunting is probably a female of the same species. They’re quite drab in comparison to their husbands and even harder to spot. I didn’t even realize I had gotten a picture of her until I saw the photo.

After I left campus, I was feeling a little down, so I stopped by a little trail that’s about a mile down the road from the Bread Loaf campus. It’s called the “Robert Frost Interpretative Trail,” and it features selections from Frost’s poetry along different points. I admit that even though I love the poetry of Frost, I’ve always found the idea of the trail a little cheesy, and I’ve never walked it precisely for that reason.

But, it was right on the road, the lighting was decent, and I wanted to look for some birds. Right at the beginning of the trail is an open wetland area, and though there was no life when I first walked out to it, a few minutes’ patient waiting yielded this Gray Catbird, who flew out to an exposed branch to sing.

Catbirds, incidentally, are great imitators, and though they don’t typically reconstruct as complete copies of songs as Northern Mockingbirds and Brown Thrashers do, they have pretty complex songs nonetheless.

I only spent about twenty minutes on the trail, since “I had promises to keep” and a few “miles to go before...” —well, you know the rest. I found this shy bird on my way out. Identifying her is a little difficult, but my best guess is that she’s a Female Orchard Oriole.

A lovely and demure thing, isn’t she?

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Frost's Sunset

This evening, I went out to the cabin at which Robert Frost spent at least forty summers and took a brief look around (it's tiny) with some other folks, after which we sat on the grass out front as the sun set and read or recited Frost's poems, some of which were written on the spot.

It's fun to imagine that somehow Frost's writing place is imbued with his magic, that by some osmotic process, I might absorb a little genius.

Or I might just have accrued some no-see-um bites. I'll let you know how the genius part works out.

If you've never seen Robert Frost's kitchen, well, there it is on the left. According to the caretakers, those are the same dishes he left behind when he died. Not pictured: Frost's muffin tin. No kidding.

Right is Frost's bathroom. What weighty contemplation took place in this space, I wonder?

At this point, I'm feeling voyeuristic. That hasn't stopped me, but it was worth mentioning. Again, these items are said to be Frost's very own.

This painting hangs in the hallway. It's surely a reference to "Birches."

When I see birches bend to left and right
Across the line of straighter darker trees,
I like to think some boy's been swinging them.
But swinging doesn't bend them down to stay.
Ice-storms do that. Often you must have seen them
Loaded with ice a sunny winter morning
After a rain. They click upon themselves
As the breeze rises, and turn many-colored
As the stir cracks and crazes their enamel.
Soon the sun's warmth makes them shed crystal shells
Shattering and avalanching on the snow-crust—
Such heaps of broken glass to sweep away
You'd think the inner dome of heaven had fallen.
They are dragged to the withered bracken by the load,
And they seem not to break; though once they are bowed
So low for long, they never right themselves:
You may see their trunks arching in the woods
Years afterwards, trailing their leaves on the ground
Like girls on hands and knees that throw their hair
Before them over their heads to dry in the sun.
But I was going to say when Truth broke in
With all her matter-of-fact about the ice-storm
(Now am I free to be poetical?)
I should prefer to have some boy bend them
As he went out and in to fetch the cows—
Some boy too far from town to learn baseball,
Whose only play was what he found himself,
Summer or winter, and could play alone.
One by one he subdued his father's trees
By riding them down over and over again
Until he took the stiffness out of them,
And not one but hung limp, not one was left
For him to conquer. He learned all there was
To learn about not launching out too soon
And so not carrying the tree away
Clear to the ground. He always kept his poise
To the top branches, climbing carefully
With the same pains you use to fill a cup
Up to the brim, and even above the brim.
Then he flung outward, feet first, with a swish,
Kicking his way down through the air to the ground.

So was I once myself a swinger of birches;
And so I dream of going back to be.
It's when I'm weary of considerations,
And life is too much like a pathless wood
Where your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs
Broken across it, and one eye is weeping
From a twig's having lashed across it open.
I'd like to get away from earth awhile
And then come back to it and begin over.
May no fate wilfully misunderstand me
And half grant what I wish and snatch me away
Not to return. Earth's the right place for love:
I don't know where it's likely to go better.
I'd like to go by climbing a birch tree,
And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk
Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,
But dipped its top and set me down again.
That would be good both going and coming back.
One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.

Perhaps Frost's poetry might be a better thing to include than his toothpaste.

"Nothing Gold Can Stay"

Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

I suppose it's a sunrise poem in some ways, but I think it's apropos to a sunset too, right?

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