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Be Whole Again

Tina Hartell

I’ve spent a good part of the last few months running and hiking in the woods trying to wear out this guy.


But, as everyone knows, that runs counter to a well-established law of physics which states that No Amount of Distance Travelled Will Exhaust a Ten-Month Old Labrador. So pretty much it’s just tired me out (which isn’t bad) and also allowed me to explore new trails and woods that are near home.

The other day I was running on a trail I had never been on in the summer - having only skied it years before. And it was on the way down that I saw this, just to the right of the trail.


A cellar hole.

It took my breath away - as they always do.

Evidence of an old house, an old farm that used to stand right here. The foundation is all that is left. And I can’t help but think of all the hours worked, and the births, deaths, music, tears, and life that occurred here years ago. And what happened to them? Did they want to leave or did they have to?

The ghosts are there. I felt as though I was intruding, as a spent 15 minutes looking around at the old barn foundation, the well, the plowed forest floor, and the stone walls.


I’ve also been reading a lot of poetry recently because in dark times, it is the artists who show us the light. Robert Frost, one of the lion voices of rural northern New England and often a comfort to me, says this in his poem, “Directive.”

Back out of all this now too much for us,
Back in a time made simple by the loss
Of detail, burned, dissolved, and broken off
Like graveyard marble sculpture in the weather,
There is a house that is no more a house
Upon a farm that is no more a farm
And in a town that is no more a town.
The road there, if you'll let a guide direct you
Who only has at heart your getting lost,
May seem as if it should have been a quarry -
Great monolithic knees the former town
Long since gave up pretense of keeping covered.
And there's a story in a book about it:
Besides the wear of iron wagon wheels
The ledges show lines ruled southeast-northwest,
The chisel work of an enormous Glacier
That braced his feet against the Arctic Pole.
You must not mind a certain coolness from him
Still said to haunt this side of Panther Mountain.
Nor need you mind the serial ordeal
Of being watched from forty cellar holes
As if by eye pairs out of forty firkins.
As for the woods' excitement over you
That sends light rustle rushes to their leaves,
Charge that to upstart inexperience.
Where were they all not twenty years ago?
They think too much of having shaded out
A few old pecker-fretted apple trees.
Make yourself up a cheering song of how
Someone's road home from work this once was,
Who may be just ahead of you on foot
Or creaking with a buggy load of grain.
The height of the adventure is the height
Of country where two village cultures faded
Into each other. Both of them are lost.
And if you're lost enough to find yourself
By now, pull in your ladder road behind you
And put a sign up CLOSED to all but me.
Then make yourself at home. The only field
Now left's no bigger than a harness gall.
First there's the children's house of make-believe,
Some shattered dishes underneath a pine,
The playthings in the playhouse of the children.
Weep for what little things could make them glad.
Then for the house that is no more a house,
But only a belilaced cellar hole,
Now slowly closing like a dent in dough.
This was no playhouse but a house in earnest.
Your destination and your destiny's
A brook that was the water of the house,
Cold as a spring as yet so near its source,
Too lofty and original to rage.
(We know the valley streams that when aroused
Will leave their tatters hung on barb and thorn.)
I have kept hidden in the instep arch
Of an old cedar at the waterside
A broken drinking goblet like the Grail
Under a spell so the wrong ones can't find it,
So can't get saved, as Saint Mark says they mustn't.
(I stole the goblet from the children's playhouse.)
Here are your waters and your watering place.
Drink and be whole again beyond confusion.