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.
Eaglet 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.