sna poems, #120: muir park

muir park is a mix of upland and wetland habitats surrounding ennis lake (a spring-fed kettle lake), where john muir made his boyhood home in central wisconsin. fen and bog, oak opening and dry forest etc. a wide variety of species.

it was a real hot day, so we didn’t make it too far what with the kiddos along. but we had a nice hang at the lake, a short walk, and a good view of the very sandy soil—marquette county is located in wisconsin’s central sand hills ecological landscape, a remnant of the sandy bottom of glacial lake wisconsin. worth another visit in cooler weather for sure.

first id of hoary alyssum!


down fox river road

to muir’s home

and lilies like fire

mammal burrow in millenia-old glacial lake wisconsin lake bottom


hot in summer winds:

oaks growing,

nodding thimbleweed

charles durward’s one-of-a-kind book, _the floral calendar gathered from the glen_

over the last several years, i’ve been working on an edition of the selected poems of bernard isaac durward, a scottish immigrant to milwaukee in the mid-1800s. along the way, i’ve made some fun discoveries; one of which is a book hand-painted by bernard’s son charles.

in my childhood, i visited durward’s glen with my grandparents who lived in baraboo, wisconsin. the small sandstone and conglomerate gorge on prentice creek shaped my young imagination and grounded me in a sense of the numinous in the natural world linked to the devotions of the catholic faith. little did i know that decades later, when i finally got a job teaching in a university english department in milwaukee, i’d end up living on the same street as bernard (the old plank road, humboldt ave) before learning that this early milwaukee poet was _the_ durward that the glen was named after.

once i learned this, and started looking into bernard’s literary and visual art, it felt as though making his work more widely available was a sort of mission. i’ve been in archives throughout milwaukee and at the glen, visited the seminary here in milwaukee where bernard worked as an english professor, and worked thru every issue of the daily milwaukee paper _the sentinel_ (and other periodicals) to track down bernard’s publishing history. all while accumulating quite a little library of bernard’s and his children’s books, all self-published in the nineteenth and early twentieth century.

then, i happened on a blog post from the milwaukee public library that featured a book i hadn’t yet come across: a one of a kind book of paintings featuring one painting per page of plants found at the glen, all painted by bernard durward’s most artistically inclined son, charles.

chalres percy durward (1844-1875) was born in prestwich, england and came with his family to milwaukee, wisconsin in 1845. he learned to draw and paint at his father’s side, first at riverside in milwaukee (the plot now called gordon park), then at st. francis seminary in st. francis, wisconsin. when the family moved to durward’s glen in columbia county in 1862, charles painted plants and landscapes, but he found the only money to be had from art was in portraiture. he dutifully obliged to some extent, and farmed some in order to afford a trip abroad to scotland, england, and france. but generally speaking his “contempt for money was as absolute as any poet or philosopher could wish” (says his brother wilfrid in his moving memorial to charles in his book annals of the glen—wilfrid’s poem on his brother’s memory is reproduced at the bottom of this post). charles died suddenly and prematurely by eating a root he found while hoeing one morning; they speculate it was water hemlock—a grimly ironic death given charles’s great love of plant life. near the end of his life, when he was painting more and more religious paintings, he said “i only want enough money to live on, and then to paint madonnas the rest of my life.” well said.

two years before his death, he also painted the book of wildflowers and tree branches from the glen, the idiosyncratic book i got the chance to leaf thru in the rare books collection last month. it was lovely and big and heavy and a touching relic of this man’s life and his fondness for the growing things with whom he lived at the glen. knowing the glen and its various inhabitants from my earliest years, and knowing that charles wouldn’t live more than a couple years after compiling this book, having some time with it was a powerful experience. here’s hoping i can get the selected poems out in the near future!

the milwaukee public library has given me permission to use their own (clear and straight-on) images of the book, and i’ve included a few more of my own with poorer lighting but more “hands-on.” i hope you enjoy, and do stop by the glen to meet his models someday if you’re in the neighborhood.

“these twenty years” by wilfrid durward, on his brother’s early death

the snowdrops nestle there,

the cross a marble prayer,

rises divinely fair

above his head.


the shadow comes and goes,

the grass but sparcely grows,

one frail ‘dear wilding rose’

blossoms, dew-fed.


the pine trees overhead

a perfumed coolness spread,

we pass with muffled tread

upon their leaves.


of sound, the calm suspense;

life’s turmoil has gone hence;

’round every tired sense

still sweetness weaves.

sonnet-ish poem on a milwaukee symphony orchestra concert out in _the brazen head_

i don’t often make poems in traditional-modern-meters or in rhyme, but the fancy struck me during a performance of british composer edward elgar’s cello concerto in e a few months ago.

this was my first time back hearing the milwaukee symphony orchestra live since the pandemic, and the cello was just too much not to start writing something. it’s “sonnet-ish” b/c it’s fourteen lines, uses end-rhyme, and has a concluding couplet, but the lines aren’t divided in traditional ways, so i’m sure plenty of formalist folks would balk at my use of the label. 🙂

anyhow, the kind folks over at the brazen head were willing to share this poem with the wider world today—you can read it here if you like, and do check out around the site.

niedecker-inspired pastiche out from _boats against the current_

publications have been in a lull for a couple months, but yesterday the independent poetry journal boats against the current brought out my series of imagistic scenes based on time in door county, wisconsin.

i was reading lots of lorine niedecker (one of my favorite poets, who grew up and lived along the river i grew up near—the rock) at the time of this retreat to the door peninsula, and the work here shows her influence.

grateful to editor mckenna themm for giving this one a home. check out the good work she’s doing on the site.

here’s a picture of the iris in question in the poem’s final scene, growing along heinz creek:

belated announcement of “the covid verses”

i’ve been stepped back from the digital world somewhat lately, but a few bits of good news to announce have brought me around. first up, a late entry.

paddler press, headed up by deryck robertson, recently released a handsome chapbook entitled the covid verses, with 30 poems made by a bunch of writers during/on the pandemic. some heavy, some lighthearted, some somewhere else. deryck kindly included my jefferson cty highway lune.

the whole collection is worth a read, and you can pick up a copy and support paddler press here!

pax inter spinas

sna poems #119: pan hollow

pan hollow is, as the dnr website tells us, a flat-bottomed gorge in the baraboo hills, tucked between baxter’s hollow and pine hollow. streams and glades, dry, dry-mesic, and mesic forests throughout. false mermaid, one of the spring ephemerals (and an annual!) lives here along with many bird species and an endangered sedge.

but, i’ll be frank. it was the end of a wonderful and long day of hikes, and i was simply too tired to go very far. so i had a very pleasant walk in a spring snowshower, but didn’t reach the hollow itself, walking along the bluff ridge and tramping a bit thru the woods before heading back. this hollow deserves another visit at some point too, but i was glad to walk it nonetheless.


a lone chickadee


the growing snowstorm


here the land descends

but too much

walking for one day


a gutted acorn

and branches

ready to come down

sna poems #118: natural bridge and rockshelter

my friends, the natural bridge and rockshelter sna has exactly that, a formation cut into the sandstone over millions of years and the largest in the state. excavations done here reveal remains and artifacts dating back to ca. 9,000-8,000 bc. (!) it’s a wonder surrounded by upland oak forests and remnant prairie.

we’d visited before (and my wife, mamie, graciously agreed to be in a few shots for scale), but it’s been too long. the rock shelter is 60′ wide and 30′ deep, but it was late in the day and i simply didn’t have the energy for more pictures. next time (again). it was hard to see all the initials and words carved into the bridge’s base; i’m not a stickler for humans not interacting with natural environments that are being preserved, but the degree of defacement is tough.

up and down and up and down, then some tiny virginia waterleaf just starting out.


for ten-thousand years

we’ve lingered*

in this neighborhood


you’ve sprung out the earth

been festooned

with verdant drapery


ridges and pockmarks


over wind, sand, oak

  • “we’ve lingered” referring to our species, in no way attempting to erase the 200 years of the settler-colonial project in wisconsin.

sna poems, #117: hemlock draw

hemlock draw is yet another gorge in the baraboo hills. the terms (“draw,” “hollow,” and “gorge” are used fairly interchangeably in the area.) this particular gorge has honey creek running along its bottom between sandstone and conglomerate cliffs.

the draw is named for hemlocks b/c this is another place in the hills where more northerly species of plants (including hemlock) grow in the southern part of wisconsin. it seems this is b/c of the species’ ability to linger along the microclimates of the gorges where cooler conditions have prevailed; communities that died out this far south with the retreat of the glacier were able to hunker down in spots that persisted cooler.

there are sea stacks here from when the whole area was under water, tho’ we didn’t catch them this time as the day was drawing on and legs were getting weary. next time.

first id of yellow-rumped warbler, and some more signs of forb life here than in other spots we walked that day. the bare cliffs are imposing and majestic.


cleared forest, lamb’s ear

and nettles

a new world from rot


yellow-rumped warblers

are chirping

wtih last year’s bear corn

if you made it this far: there was some burn along the top of one ridge, and this hollowed-out snag was still standing precariously, with the glossiest burn all around the interior. smell and touch are absent, but the view was fascinating too.

the rubble ’round the tree’s base.

sna poems, #116: pine hollow

a winding rural road up one of the baraboo hills out past baxter’s hollow took us to the top of pine hollow. pine hollow sna is a sandstone and baraboo quartzite gorge roughly 300 ft deep w/ flanking cliffs as high as 80 ft (according to the dnr’s page). a wide variety of life here, as the deep gorge affords a variety of habitats. hemlocks and white pines tower over the cliffs.

moss and ferns lie thick on the ground along the stream bed. there’s also a sedge meadow at the bottom of the hollow, but we spent our time up in the stony heights.

a late spring snow was falling and swirling up and down the gorge while icicles hung off the outcrops along with the moss and liverworts. trackless and gorgeous (pun very much intended). also, a first id of rattlesnake plantain.


spring snow in the pines

bare sand stone

and conglomerate


outcrop icicle

pudding stone

ferns matting gravel

sna poems, #115: baxter’s hollow

our day in the baraboo hills started in earnest at baxter’s hollow, a broad gorge formed in the bluffs by otter creek with the largest stretch of unbroken forest in southern wisconsin—almost 6,000 acres, some still held in private hands. a rugged path marches thru the main site, but it feels very remote inside.

snow fell much of the time, but the sun peeked out toward the end of our hike. then we spent some time down by otter creek as we made our way out. a serious sanctuary for many aquatic insects, wildflowers, mammals, and especially birds who live away from edges. we exulted in the quartzite.

first id of hermit thrush—saw a few!


marsh marigold fresh

into bloom

along the spring run


under a light snow

moss growing

on tumbled quartzite


in the leaf-bare wood

hermit thrush

flits from branch to branch


reaching out fair limbed

under clouds

the oak against time


below the white pines

the otter,

a wary spider

you can’t see her from this the distance my wife took this picture, but the spider named in the lune above was trepidatiously crawling on my knee here.

and now, the liverwort we found by otter creek, up late this year it seems: