Regeneration Ruckus (Deborah Kennedy)
Cypress Pond—written in brown ink with a lovely looping hand on the 1807
field notes of the General Land Office—marks the last fingerprint of the Mississippi
River pressed into the yielding soil of southern Illinois. The First People gave
this swamp to herons and hawks, but by 1900, brash young men ready to squeeze
the juice from this fresh world, felled the trees, drained the dark, still water and
planted row crops—corn for the cows. Then dry years came, and wildfires burned
hot and fast. After the war, everyone just lost interest and left it be. All alone,
the second-growth trees slowly tried to remember what it was they meant to say.
In 1960, the patient men at State Fish and Game knitted together all the wandering
water of that ancient swamp into one small lake, flat and blue as an afghan on a sofa.
They built tidy blinds where the hunters crouch in the sharp bite of daybreak’s chill
waiting, waiting to shoot a duck and feel the grit men once carried in their bones.
This flat stretch of Massac County, still dotted with small farms, quietly spun through the seasons until May 6, 2003, an F4 hit, sudden, hard, a bolt from above, the winds
beyond wind ground through the forest’s careless order, left behind an unholy mess.
Soon, the loggers roared through this shell-shocked land with feller bunchers and
grapple skidders as they tenderly hauled out all the blown-down trees set for the sawmill.
In the slash, left by the buckers and windthrow, the foresters arrived to count every tree
still left—stump, standing or topped. They carefully marked their grids, added the
numbers and shrewdly concluded—repeated disturbances hasten ecological surprises.
Now, the Buckeyes, Sassafras and Swamp Ash, are belting out hot new songs
saplings bursting up from every stump and frowzy shrubs are running riot
in the skid tracks. Each thicket pulses with the beat of nature’s deep redemption—
grant the smallest claim and the force of nature blasts back with lusty new rhythms.
Regeneration Ruckus (backstory)
In December, 2013, I was crossing the street, and two cars stopped for me at the crosswalk. Suddenly a car coming from the opposite direction, hit me at over thirty miles per hour. Both my legs and eight other bones were broken, and my brain suffered a traumatic injury. Two years later, I can walk well (except for stairs and hills) and am teaching and working again as an artist and writer. Through this harrowing experience, I gained new appreciation for the extraordinary power of regeneration. Just as the human body can rebound from serious injuries, the natural world repeatedly proves that if we protect and restore natural areas, its communities of plants and animals will explosively repopulate. The artwork records a powerful F4 tornado tearing through a forest with teasels, very resilient field plants, in the foreground.
From Nature Speaks (White Cloud Press, 2017) a collection of poems and illustrations exploring the bond between ourselves and the larger natural world. Nature Speaks has won several awards, including the poetry prize for both the Silver Nautilus Book Award and the 2017 Eric Hoffer Book Award.