Bird Song, Carpenter's Woods, and a Moment with Gerald Stern

Monday, April 11, 2011

I left the Big Blue Marble Bookstore Saturday afternoon seeking a little time alone (it is my habit) and a walk through a day that was slowly gaining shimmer.  If you get the chance, go down into the Wissahickon near the Kitchen's Lane entrance, a friend had written.  It's quite lovely, if you've never been.

I wasn't at all sure where I was, but I did begin to walk and soon was up on Ellet Street, across Sherman, and into Carpenter's Woods.  It was quiet there; the blue tips of brown butterflies were rising and falling like leaves in a wind.  I had a big bag with me and the wrong shoes.  I was wearing a white-as-winter jacket.  Nevertheless, I walked across the stony paths and the still-deciding trees until I came upon a woman with a hat, a serious walking stick, and an appropriate dark coat.  Which way to the stream or the springs? I asked, and soon she was telling me all about these woods—their woodpeckers, warblers, thrushes, owls; the fat toads that sing; the migratory habits of its birds.  She had, in fact, some literature with her—a map, a brochure with pictures she had taken—and she took her time explaining.  Come back in a month, she invited, and you will hear this place sing.

I may just do that. For it is peaceful there, in this tip of Fairmount Park, this century-old bird sanctuary.  And besides, as I later read in the literature, Carpenter's Woods is rich with legacy.  In the early 19th century, for example, the land belonged to the gentleman-collector George Carpenter, who built his own natural history museum, not to mention greenhouses, among the springs and trees.  A century later, in the wake of grotesque plume hunters and, at last, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the land was fiercely loved by a certain school principal named Caroline Moffett.  The Carpenter's Woods brochure tells us this:
Every spring from 1921 to 1936, as part of her mission to educate the public in the protection of bird-life, Moffett and the teachers and students of Henry School staged Percy Mackaye's Sanctuary:  A Bird Masque, a grand pageant in Carpenter's Woods with many children in bird costume.  In the pantomime the children and birds are saddened when a cardinal is shot by plume hunters, but the Spirit of Education persuades the hunters to throw down their weapons.
Gerald Stern, the genius poet, has written a poem, "In Carpenter's Woods."  I share its final lines with you here, in honor of this month of poetry and of the Woods themselves:
... I tell you that world is as large as the one you sigh and tremble over;
that it is also invulnerable and intricate and pleasurable;
that it has a serious history;
that it was always there, from the beginning.


Lilian Nattel said...

I love the perspective in this photo. I can just picture Caroline and her students--thank you.

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