There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,
the earth, and every common sight,
To me did seem
Apparelled in celestial light,
The glory and the freshness of a dream.
Those are the opening five lines of the first stanza of William Wordsworth’s classic work of poetic art entitled “ODE ON INTIMATIONS OF IMMORTALITY From Recollections of Early Childhood” (comp. 1802-1804). What’s long fascinated me is the fact that even though ‘Intimations’ was written more than 200 years ago, its words still describe — with amazing precision — moments of emotional recognition that most any cognitive mind can find itself pondering even today.
In the summer of 2007, for example, we spent pretty much the entire month of July camped in Arizona’s Apache National Forest, on the edge of a forest meadow (Cienega) which was located some 30 miles from the nearest town, some 5-6 miles north of the edge of Arizona’s grand escarpment, the Mogollon Rim (elevation approx. 9000 ft.) and roughly 10-15 miles west of the New Mexico state line. The forest meadow was named Butterfly Cienega, and it lay in a lush and peaceful corner of a forest teaming with life.
The following series of photographs effectively portrays a tiny portion of the experience, and essentially acts as a bridge to another event that was to occur some four years down the road — May, June and July, 2011. The photos are presented in no particular order, but are interspersed with three additional excerpts from Wordsworth’s ‘Intimations’ Ode which together re-tell the story implied in the Ode’s nine-line first stanza, as quoted up top and in the four lines immediately below.
It is not now as it hath been of yore;–
Turn wheresoe’er I may,
By night or day,
The things which I have seen I now can see no more.
▲Apache National Forest▲
▲Sunflowers on Butterfly Cienega, Apache National Forest▲
▲Morning Mist, Butterfly Cienega▲
Ye blesse`d Creatures, I have heard the call
Ye to each other make; I see
The heavens laugh with you in your jubilee;
My heart is at your festival,
My head hath its coronal,
The fulness of your bliss, I feel–I feel it all.
▲Butterfly and Sunflowers, Butterfly Cienega▲
▲Busy Beetle on Yellow Thistle Flower, Butterfly Cienega▲
▲Sunflowers and Company, Butterfly Cienega▲
▲Chipmunk, Butterfly Cienega▲
▲Red-Girdled Bee on Thistle Flower, Apache N.F.▲
Earth fills her lap with pleasures of her own;
Yearnings she hath in her own natural kind,
And, even with something of a Mother’s mind,
And no unworthy aim,
The homely Nurse doth all she can
To make her Foster-child, her Inmate Man,
Forget the glories he hath known,
And that imperial palace whence he came.
▲Approaching storm, Apache N.F.▲
▲Dead Spruce (from Bark Beetle infestation), Apache N.F.▲
▲’Home’ and Early Morning Fire, Butterfly Cienega▲
We left Butterfly Cienega and the Apache National Forest at the end of July, 2007. In the years following we returned only once — in 2008 — and were there for but a short while, before leaving Arizona to relocate in Colorado. The delights of Butterfly Cienega remained always available to the mind, of course, through both the photos and the enhancement(s) offered by Wordsworth’s ‘Intimations’ Ode.
Then came May 11 of 2011 and the Bear Wallow Wildfire, a fire ignited by a pair of careless campers who left their campfire untended and unextinguished on one extremely dry morning in the Apache National Forest’s Bear Wallow Wilderness, located some five miles SW of Butterfly Cienega. While the campers were away from their camp, the winds picked up and blew campfire hot ash into the surrounding dry needles and brush, igniting a fire which quickly grew and soon was spread rapidly by the wind in a northward direction. Within hours it had become a raging wildfire, one which burned until it was finally 100% contained on July 8, 2011. Over the course of those 58 days, the fire burned some 841 square miles of the Apache National Forest; destruction was unimaginably horrific, and left behind were only occasional ‘islands’ of viable forest, here and there. The rest was completely destroyed.
Below are two photographs, one of the raging wildfire, the other of what’s left in the aftermath (not my photos — I’ve not been back since ’08).
▲Bear Wallow Fire, Apache N.F., June 2011 (Cr.: Arizona Republic)▲
▲Bear Wallow Fire Aftermath, Apache N.F. (Cr.: Arizona Highways)▲
Curiously enough, the last eight lines of Wordsworth’s ODE ON INTIMATIONS OF IMMORTALITY eloquently speak the conclusion that one can only hope will prove adequate, a conclusion which summarizes the entire of the experience, and offers hope that not all has been lost.
The Clouds that gather round the setting sun
Do take a sober colouring from an eye
That hath kept watch o’er man’s mortality;
Another race hath been, and other palms are won.
Thanks to the human heart by which we live,
Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears,
To me the meanest flower that blows can give
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.
Thanks, along with doffed hat and a bow, to Mr. William Wordsworth, wherever you are.