Of mama bears and young eagles

Hi everyone,

WILD COUNTRY came out in 1999 and had a difficult birth. At the time, Highlights publisher KENT BROWN and I had a gentlemen’s agreement that his book division, Boyds Mills Press, would publish my poetry and NYC professor BERNICE CULLINAN, who was also his poetry editor-in-chief, would be my editor. We did five books together between 1993 and 1998, SOMEBODY CATCH MY HOMEWORK, THE BOY WHO COUNTED STARS, A THOUSAND COUSINS, THE ANIMALS’ SONG, and THE PURCHASE OF SMALL SECRETS.

But in 1998, Bee and I did a book together for teachers, my first, called EASY POETRY LESSONS THAT DAZZLE AND DELIGHT We quarreled over whether elementary students can handle rhymed verse in the classroom. She said they could not and I insisted that they could. We had a serious falling out and had to meet in New York with our Scholastic editor, WENDY MURRY, to reach a decision that would allow us to continue the book. I got my way, we included verse as well as free verse in our book, and life went on. Some time after the book came out, Bee apologized to me and agreed that I had been right.

But during the time of our spat, Bee accepted my next manuscript for Boyds Mills but declined to edit it. My friend there, JAN CHERIPKO, was thrown into the breach. He read the work and said he thought we should illustrate it with photography. I liked the idea and eventually we got WILD COUNTRY into print. The book is a collection of impressions from various places SANDY and I had visited over the years. Here are two from Alaska. Through binoculars we watched, one fine sunny day, a bear taking her cubs out to pick berries.

Mama Bear

Down the valley
where the willows grow
and paintbrush paints
the meadow yellow,
you bring your cubs to breakfast.

The berries are ripe!
Take your time.
Red strawberries
reward the tongue
with sticky sweet jelly.

It’s a fine sunny day
to stroll with your cubs,
the sort of day
to lick your lips.
Have another berry. 

On a driving tour up a slope of Mt. Denali, we stopped to view an eagle nest built into the side of a bluff. A young eagle perched on the edge of the enormous nest made me think of my own young eagles, ROBIN and JEFF, at a certain age, so I wrote this poem with them in mind.


Not quite ready,
he sits on the family nest
and calls for food.

Soon he must leave.
Soon he’ll be ready,
but today the world
still looks too big,
the future too uncertain.

Not quite ready,
he sits on the family nest
and waits for food.

As I write this post today about mama bears feeding their cubs and young eagles dreaming their dreams, I think once more of Robin and Jeff, so long out of the nest and living their lives. I’m grateful that the family nest still beckons to them now and then, as it did last week.

The family that cooks together…

Hi everyone,

Our time together has been special. We’re not with our son and daughter together often and we are making new memories to warm our hearts for some time to come. A favorite time is when Jeff creates some exquisite new recipe that brings us all to the kitchen to do our parts.

Happy birthday, Robin Harrison Williams!

Hi everyone,

In case you missed the connection, ROBIN is our daughter and today is her birthday.

If a proud father can be forgiven a brief, personal conversation with his daughter: I love you, Babe. You are everything a daddy could ever hope for in a daughter. The funny thing is that your mother feels exactly the same way. What are the odds?

I hope today is special in every way. Write a poem. You’re good at that. Paint a picture. You’re good at that. Play your guitar. You’re good at that. Listen to music. You love that. Truthfully, I can only find one fault in you. You’re just never happy. I have pictures to prove it.

Keep trying, Robin. You’ll get this happy thing down yet. Happy birthday. Your loving papa.

Off to Rountree Elementary School

Hi everyone,

This afternoon I’ll pay a visit to Rountree Elementary School in Springfield and visit with the first grade children there. Teacher NICKI FOLTZ invited me back (from previous years) and I look forward to seeing this year’s students who are just starting their journey toward discovering their future. Nicki says the kids are getting into a writer/artist unit so I’m happy to be part of it.

Our family has a soft spot for Rountree. SANDY attended school there and later on daughter ROBIN also went there.

Every time I walk up the steps and enter the front hallway, I think of Sandy and Robin, when they were little girls, walking up those steps before me. And when I stand in front of a class of six-year-old children, I tell the kids about my family’s connection to their school. I’m not sure they understand what that means to me, but I do.