Stones of the Times

By Kathleen Janick

“Everything will be okay”
Whispers the rainbow-colored stone on the side of the trail
Others on a log, in the stream, over a bridge:
“Stay calm.” “Be a good neighbor.” “Feel.”
And painted in pink and yellow, placed conspicuously on a stump: “Unlearn.”

The woods now a portal lined with pebbled nudges,
Hints of viral hysteria,
Marks of social injustice.
And nature liberated, emboldened,
Perhaps even daring to rejoice and to hope?

Skies so blue a cyanometer cannot measure
The true depth of our loss.
Silence profound enough to rattle the humans,
But give promise to a bear that her cubs will be safe
And allow the wild turkeys to run amidst and amok.

Clouds with vitality float by, heedless of the havoc below
Winding through hospitals, morgues, homes and schools.
The almighty sun, never early, never late
Is wholly, maddeningly absent from the human drama
Of illness, death and grieving.

Earth has paused, its atmosphere cleansed
Breathing deeply now possible—for some.
Puffballs and reindeer lichen show the way to live
Propagating together yet keeping to themselves, disturbing no one.
In the end, though, isolation breeds contempt.

Mockingbirds mob the shocked crows
The same scuffles day after day after groundhog day
People reel before empty grocery shelves,
And in the piercing wail of sirens
Clap for essential workers.

Time starts and stops and starts again.
Wind blows and calms and blows again.
Will we, can we, change course?
No mask, no entry.
Is no end in sight?

On the path in the woods, the rocks no longer mute:
“Read.” “Help people.” “Courage,” too.
Advertisements for our salvation.
Pronouncing the only thing left now for us to do:
“Reconnect.”

A volunteer college counselor and retired lawyer, I live outside Portland, Maine. Recently, one of my poems was featured by the Cloud Appreciation Society, https://cloudappreciationsociety.org. I started reading and writing poetry in earnest during the COVID-19 pandemic.

I wrote my poem, “Stones of the Times,” when I realized that I was paying more and more attention to the painted stones on the trails I frequent in the woods near my home. These stones just appeared seemingly randomly at various intervals along the trails. I suspected that the rocks were painted by children, and I thought that the encouraging messages were poignant and uplifting during this unsettled time of lockdowns and social and physical isolation.

I also noticed on these walks in the woods, particularly in the earlier months of the pandemic, that the air was feeling fresher, the skies were clearer and bluer, the sounds of humans (plane and car noises) were fewer, and the animals and birds were more assertive and adventuresome. I felt a bit of hope that some of the messages on the stones would be heeded, especially when humans noticed that our pause—in our commutes to work, our travels to family and on holiday, and our decrease in consumption—was having a positive effect on our air, noise levels, the plants and animals around us, and even our own health (if we did not catch COVID). Although many humans are now starting to resume their pre-pandemic activities, I still feel hope that enough of us will recognize that we can all take steps to lessen our impact on the earth while “reconnecting” with each other.

2 thoughts on “Stones of the Times

  1. Loved the nature images and metaphors in this poem.
    This line stands out to me.
    Earth has paused, its atmosphere cleansed
    Breathing deeply now possible—for some.”

  2. I felt as if I was walking alongside you on the trail. Thanks for the mixture of natural phenomena, human response, and hope. Love the illustrations.

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