The Potter to the Huntsman

Dear huntsman,

It was in 2007 that I lost my friend and mentor, a long time ago as you acknowledged. What I didn’t get to tell you was his name was Reed. He was a well studied, skillful potter who was coming into his own. You knew he had died long ago, but you probably didn’t know he died in his sleep of sudden heart trouble. The blow cut a Reed shaped hole in my life. He had a distinct build to both his body and his life so the hole was, and I think you could see it still is, uniquely carved. For his memorial, another potter friend and mentor of ours cleared his gallery of his own work and filled it with Reed’s to display. I met and talked with Reed’s other friends and family and was told to take a piece of Reed’s home. I came home with a cup that I knew was not made by Reed but was in his collection. It was clearly made by one of his famous teachers and mentors. I cherish that cup. I have so many pieces made by Reed and still use them daily, the way he would have wanted. At his memorial I met his best friend Chris, and we talked for quite awhile. He invited me to go to Reed’s place and dismantle his kiln’s burners for my own use. Please let me tell you a potter’s kiln is a potter’s heart, and I never went back to Reed’s place until the day you and I met.

You were put off guard to have caught me returning to my friend’s place so many years after his passing, no longer withheld. You were angry. I spoiled the place with the scent of my trespassing just a few days before the hunt. “Let me explain,” I said as I walked down Reed’s overgrown drive. You see, I had walked down that driveway many times with Reed to fetch his big open flag after the end of a day of making his living keeping gallery hours. As I walked towards you down the drive, I carried a brick from the shaped arch of Reed’s rotting kiln. The wind was crisp as it split off Lake Michigan behind you, but the November sun was surprisingly warm as it edged toward the vastness of the crystal blue water.

You were angry, but you knew why I had come. I spoiled your hunt, but mine was the better need. You had just lost your son on May 15th, so you knew well why I’d come, and with conflict in your heart, you got into your truck to drive away.  You stopped though and told me through your passenger’s window that you were glad I came. I then realized why my soul had sought Reed’s place on that day and not years earlier. “Sunday is my birthday,” I said. “Oh, happy birthday.” “Thanks,” I said, “opening day. I will be 48. My friend died when he was 47.” “What a shame,” you said. “I know.”

Driving away these words came into my mind: Only where love and need are one,/And the work is play for mortal stakes,/Is the deed ever really done/For Heaven and the future’s sakes.  Those are the words of Robert Frost from his 1934 poem Two Tramps in Mud Time. I include the poem here in my letter to you. All the best my dear huntsman. I will yield to you your right to this opening day. Happy November 15th.


Two Tramps in Mud Time

or, A Full-Time Interest

Out of the mud two strangers came
And caught me splitting wood in the yard,
And one of them put me off my aim
By hailing cheerily “Hit them hard!”
I knew pretty well why he had dropped behind
And let the other go on a way.
I knew pretty well what he had in mind:
He wanted to take my job for pay.

Good blocks of oak it was I split,
As large around as the chopping block;
And every piece I squarely hit
Fell splinterless as a cloven rock.
The blows that a life of self-control
Spares to strike for the common good,
That day, giving a loose my soul,
I spent on the unimportant wood.

The sun was warm but the wind was chill.
You know how it is with an April day
When the sun is out and the wind is still,
You’re one month on in the middle of May.
But if you so much as dare to speak,
A cloud comes over the sunlit arch,
A wind comes off a frozen peak,
And you’re two months back in the middle of March.

A bluebird comes tenderly up to alight
And turns to the wind to unruffle a plume,
His song so pitched as not to excite
A single flower as yet to bloom.
It is snowing a flake; and he half knew
Winter was only playing possum.
Except in color he isn’t blue,
But he wouldn’t advise a thing to blossom.

The water for which we may have to look
In summertime with a witching wand,
In every wheelrut’s now a brook,
In every print of a hoof a pond.
Be glad of water, but don’t forget
The lurking frost in the earth beneath
That will steal forth after the sun is set
And show on the water its crystal teeth.

The time when most I loved my task
These two must make me love it more
By coming with what they came to ask.
You’d think I never had felt before
The weight of an ax-head poised aloft,
The grip of earth on outspread feet,
The life of muscles rocking soft
And smooth and moist in vernal heat.

Out of the wood two hulking tramps
(From sleeping God knows where last night,
But not long since in the lumber camps).
They thought all chopping was theirs of right.
Men of the woods and lumberjacks,
They judged me by their appropriate tool.
Except as a fellow handled an ax
They had no way of knowing a fool.

Nothing on either side was said.
They knew they had but to stay their stay

And all their logic would fill my head:
As that I had no right to play
With what was another man’s work for gain.
My right might be love but theirs was need.
And where the two exist in twain
Theirs was the better right–agreed.

But yield who will to their separation,
My object in living is to unite
My avocation and my vocation
As my two eyes make one in sight.
Only where love and need are one,
And the work is play for mortal stakes,
Is the deed ever really done
For Heaven and the future’s sakes.

A Safe Distance

Life inside a global pandemic is not something I ever gave thought to. Social distancing? Now under near quarantine conditions, six feet seems hardly enough distance to keep from complete strangers potentially bearing unknown dangers and perils. So when I saw a car about to pull into our driveway as I sat working on a project at the table on our deck I decided to pack up and quickly head for the sliding glass door into the house. Travelling slowly, the black four door sedan rolled toward our driveway, stopping and parking off the side of the road.  A tall young man in a red sweatshirt and baggy, black pants got out and walked around the car into the woods opposite our driveway.  As he began walking up the hill into the woods  I watched from our dining room window for a while and then realized a small woman had joined him as he led the way. I turned my attention to my project, now at our dining room table, but within a few minutes I noticed the two travelers walking back down the hill to their car. Beginning again with my work I saw a black car pass by our sliding glass door and stop near our well faucet. I opened the deck’s slider door, that I was kept safely behind, and stuck my head out, realizing that the black car was the same one that had just stopped alongside the road in front of our house. A tall man of about 30 wearing the same red sweatshirt and baggy, black pants stood up out of the car. “Can I help you?” I shouted across to him.  “Ah, yeah, can I get some water?” he shouted back as he fidgeted with the small cap of a plastic water bottle. “This guy at the corner needs some water for his radiator.”  “Oh,” I replied, taking it all in, “Okay the well is right there, go ahead and get some water.” “Oh, okay, thanks,” the man stammered. I closed the door again but not before seeing the small woman as she looked toward the driver’s side from the front passenger’s seat. I turned my attention once again to my project and when next I looked the car was turning north out of our driveway.

Late last summer a tall, lean and bedraggled man walked slowly up our driveway one morning and caught my daughter on the deck. Stopping a good distance from our house he stood and in a tone meant purposely not to be threatening yelled, “Can I use your phone? I’m lost.”  My daughter replied “yes, ” and got the phone for him. He made several calls looking for someone to help him. From what he spoke into the phone we pieced together that his girlfriend, and then his friends, had left him in the woods sometime in the night.  Sustaining many cuts and minor lashes from briars and brambles, he had walked all night through the woods and, moments before, stumbled down the hill onto our road opposite our house. Finally after calling his father and pleading with him he brought the phone back to us on the deck.  Apparently rejected, he asked for directions to the nearest gas station and my daughter sent him walking north.

One afternoon, about a year before, my daughter and I were in the yard rubbing oil into the legs and feet of our chickens who had a bad leg mite infestation when a young, tall man came walking up our drive in need of water. Covered in oil and chicken feathers, with my vinyl gloved hands I motioned to our well faucet up the driveway from which he could draw water. Bottle filled, he thanked us and walked back down our drive and out onto the road headed north.

Now on the morning after the red sweatshirted man in the black car came to our house asking for water I see all three men as the same man.  Our house a way station to a stranger headed north.