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Storm: The lessons of Hyla Brook

blue babbling brook.jpg
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Sunday, June 11, 2017

I spend a lot of time on the streets surrounding my little townhouse unit. With my two small dogs in tow, I amble through parking lots and grassy patches, across sidewalks, roadways and well-worn paths that circle nearby complexes. 

This time of year, I try to hit a lot of shady patches. Even though I bring along water to hydrate them, I know my pups Ollie and Einstein are in danger of getting overheated. For that matter, so am I.

One of our regular walking routes takes us past a long drainage ditch, fed by three culverts. Pines tower over it, so the stretch nice and shady. The grass is damp far into the morning, allowing the boys to cool their feet and bellies. I like to peer over the edge of the ditch, looking into its muddy recesses for signs of life. After a good rain, I often spy little frogs or an occasional turtle splashing about in what almost seems like a tiny, babbling brook.

For most of June though, there’s not much to see. Beyond the mud and a pool of water here and there, the ditch is just a long cut in the landscape. But the romantic in me walks beside it and thinks of poetry. Specifically, I think of Hyla Brook.

New England poet Robert Frost wrote about that particular waterway. In a poem by the same name, Frost begins his tribute by by admitting Hyla’s Brook’s flaws: 

“By June our brook's run out of song and speed.”

He goes on to describe its annual disappearance as the weather warms:

“Its bed is left a faded paper sheet

Of dead leaves stuck together by the heat —

A brook to none but who remember long.”

But he ends with one of my favorite lines of all time:

“We love the things we love for what they are.” 

That poem and the little brook it describes resonate more than usual with me this year. A few months ago, my long-ailing father finally ran out of song and speed. A great fan of Frost, Dad gave me a book of his hero’s poetry with several pages folded down so I could read his favorite verses. One of those was Hyla Brook.

My father didn’t give things away often or easily, so it meant a lot to me to get that volume. I pick it up now and flip through its pages thinking of the brooks my father visited while growing up in western Massachusetts. I imagine him peering into them the same way I look into my little drainage ditch, hoping to spy a frog or turtle. And I wonder if the summer heat made them fade away like Hyla Brook.

My father always loved the water. He traveled across the ocean many times and spent most of his adult life in Michigan, surrounded by lakes. He fished and sailed whenever he got the chance. But when he spoke of water, it was of wading through the brooks and rivers of his youth. The wonder of those summer days never left him. Perhaps that’s why he was so fond of Hyla Brook.

I cherish the poem for a different reason.

My father wasn’t always a strong presence in my life, in childhood or adulthood. Like the brook of Frost’s poem, he seems to disappear for stretches, then resurface unexpectedly. It was hard to understand, and sometimes it made me angry. But as I got older, the anger faded. I understood his limitations and appreciated his intentions. He was, after all, my father.

And as Frost so wisely told us, we love the things we love for what they are.

Contact Janet Storm at jstorm@reflector.com or 252-329-9587.

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