a taste of spring

while marking x’s on the march calendar squares the keweenaw peninsula has recently enjoyed a few premature moments of spring. we have had days with a warm bright sun burning a hole through a deep blue sky, while the wild birds have been trilling their poor hearts dry.

also just as pleasing has been the completion of three new collections of splake poetry. one book “lost dreams” was published by transcendent-zero-press in houston, texas. other new chapbook titles includes “entropy” produced by gage press in battle creek, michigan, and “world for myself” printed by presa press in rockford, michigan.

on the small press literary scene i recently had four poems getting ink and space in “ristau: a journal of being” from louisville, kentucky. editor p.l. wick of empire, colorado used several splake poems in his “cheapseats ticket to ride” and “alley-kats” publications. finally, “bear creek haiku” issue 141 produced in longmont, colorado had three splake poems.


“lost dreams”


licking wet leaves

delicious morning dew

like emily drunk on air

# # # #

life deafening explosion

jackson pollock t-shirt

red splattered art

# # # #

tornado yellow sky

calm before storm

poet’s first word

# # # #

poet’s ashes scattered

light wilderness breeze

sky taking him home

# # # #






first dawn light

erasing cliffs shadows

filtering through foliage

small forest clearing

brautigan creek retreat

distant birdsongs

blending with watery ripples

empty jack daniels fifth

providing bardic courage

beside brother brautigan’s

“trout fishing in america”

creative words of wisdom

resting on

soft pine needle carpet

sudden explosion

interrupting morning calm

maybe distant hunter

adding another trophy

knotty pine basement den

while poet’s ghost

joins underwater panther

together swimming

to place beyond time

# # # #



deeper consciousness


late night storm

blowing off superior

driving rain

winds bending pines

graying poet

sitting in old chair

beside brautigan creek

listening to strange whispers

yellow eyes

shining in darkness

owl or wolf

chasing hot blood scent

writer cleansing mind

restoring creative vision

explosion of thunder

lightning flashes

slowly moving east

soon sky clear

solitary artist

waiting falling star

fiery blaze

illuminating black horizon

bringing new meaning

moving beyond words

# # # #


“world for myself”




graying wordsmith’s life

running out of time

poet realizing

wasting his life

unless constantly writing

reclusive artist

avoiding unnecessary praise

graduate professor’s approval

reading audience’s applause

precious book review   words

instead of pushcart fame

becoming upper peninsula

poet laureate celebrity

pretending like Lindbergh

deciding to fly on

instead of landing

le bourget field

steady continuous journey

facing each morning

challenge of blank page

# # # #



“ristau: a journal of being”


you don’t understand


tired bitter voice

asking familiar question

about finishing book

frustrated author’s reply

you think it’s easy

wrestling plot and characters

finding new literary twist

story is started

and now i

# # # #


“allykat’s fish-wrap”


feeling a poem


just relax

long deep breaths

forget your job

all your schooling

posturing professors

“ibids” and “op cits”

close your eyes

keep quiet

look inside

long dark shadows

brain-skull cavity

imagine edith piaf

barefoot in the rain

softly singing

another sad song

# # # #



“bear creek haiku”


poet ashes scattered

remote stream waters

feeding rainbow souls

# # # #

soft pine needle bed

gentle trout stream lilies

soaring butterfly freedom

# # # #




motorcycle fevers – nightcrawlers – dandy lions

yesterday morning my neighbor sam olsen and his son bill were getting their motorcycles ready for another season of riding,

watching them charge the batteries, check air in the tires, clean sparkplugs and revvvv their bike’s wild cc’s, i enjoyed from a distance a mild case of motorcycle fevers, a springtime affliction that fortunately is rarely fatal,

i thought back through the splake-smith history to the 60’s and 70’s when many of my students at kellogg community college in battle creek, michigan, were returning viet nam vets, and motorcycles were their choice for campus transportation, the college parking lot was full of a colorful array of machines, suzuki, kawasaki, triumph bikes predominated, however, i recall a couple of norton motorcycles and someone rode an exotic moto-guzzi,

besides the influence of my younger students, the short-lived television show featuring michael parks “then came bronson” also fueled the motorcycle fevers of a young college professor and father of ted, a year old son and his brother michael brendan who would be born two months later,

in the television program, parks portrayed jim bronson, a disillusioned newspaperman who quit his job and took to the highway on a motorcycle to renew his soul and search for a meaning to his life,

this was pretty heavy stuff by the measure of any age and generation, even today i can close my eyes and hear the theme song of “then came bronson” echoing in my consciousness,

with the generosity of the calhoun county school employees credit union in battle creek, i purchased my first bike, a bridgestone 200 cc motorcycle in the spring of 1970, and being a neophyte on my first ride i panicked, hit the front wheel brake and dumped the bridgestone bike on top of me in the front yard of my bellevue farm,

the doctor on call at community hospital in battle creek told me “i hope that you wrecked your goddamn machine,” and, i replied “no,” and added “i couldn’t wait to get back on it and go riding again,”

such is the mad electricity and insane attraction to riding a motorcycle with the exciting rush of several hundred cc’s jazzing your cojones, the first few minutes on a bike you are afraid of going too fast, and a few minutes later you can’t ramp the rpm’s fast enough while fish-tailing the knobby bike tires on rural dirt roads,

i truly believe that an experience with a motorcycle is an integral part of coming into manhood for most boys of any age,

a couple of days before being the voyeur of the olsen neighbors, i drove out to the “cliffs” trailhead to check out hiking and climbing possibilities, i slowed the “hi yo silver away” ranger pickup on the sharp curve bending around the north shore of lac la belle, and after looking at the water declared that it was time to do some serious fishing soon, so now i have a dozen nightcrawlers nestled in a plastic tub in my fridge, and this coming sunday morning if the early morning is dry and the temperatures fair i will see if i can wrestle up an early spring tiger trout or three,

finally, while checking my backyard in order to get mentally prepped to rake the winter residue of old leaves and small tree branches, i noticed a couple of early yellow dandelions poking through the ash street soil,

ah and yes, the noxious weed that others with their house beautiful mindsets try to exterminate is my precious springtime posey and poem,

so with the advent of motorcycles, nightcrawlers and dandy-lions, it is impossible to deny that spring has finally arrived in the keweenaw peninsula’s farther northlands, hurrah.













tiger trout

tiger trout

rods reels nightcrawlers

rods reels nightcrawlers

poet tree – lost – mountain lion

ah and so , the old adage of my distant childhood used to be “april showers bring may bring may flowers” however, climatic conditions in the keweenaw peninsula farther northlands operate on a slightly different schedule, recently very cold, gray spring rains fell across the peninsula for ten consecutive days, greatly discouraging any serious adventuring in the “cliffs,”

waking on a friday early to clear blue skies and a bright warm sun quickly warming the day, i declared it time to refurbish the “poet tree” on the “cliffs” summit for the new ’14 season,

turning tranny miles north of calumet to the “cliffs” trail head i hummed the lyrics of the once popular johnny nash ballad,

“i can see clearly now the rain is gone,

i can see all obstacles in my way

gone are the dark clouds that had me blind

it’s going to be a bright bright

sun shiny day”

     crossing over brautigan creek, past the pointer clearing and hiking up the dogleg rise around the old gray mine ruins, i quickly jettisoned the trickster monkey, quieting his naggy “hey dickhead, you don’t really want to do this” whine,

with the morning quickly warming, a light sweatshirt was comfortable for climbing, all around me wild birds were flit-fluttering here and there, trilling their poor little hearts dry,

swinging left at church junction to continue hiking to the “cliffs” summit, i thought next time i will bend right and take the red tibetan prayer flag and hang it up at point betsy and see if it will last through the spring and summer without someone thieving it,

at the path leading to the “cliffs” mine shaft opening and “poet tree” location on the escarpment edge, i was surprised by the amount of winter deadfall that had accumulated, alas, somehow i missed a zig and zag and it suddenly dawned on me that hey, splake, you are not particularly lost, but for a brief moment i didn’t know exactly where i was,

after a few minutes of cross-wilderness brush stomping i came out at the ledge on the “cliffs” where the “poet tree” was located, i found that the winter had been just as severe on the “poet tree” as the rest of the “cliffs” forested timberlands, all that remained on the “poet tree” from the past fall were some cloth packets of tobacco,

quickly i hung a new prayer flag on a tree branch and attached some fresh poems and ‘arty’ postcards to the tree, after that i snapped a couple of digital pictures to give me some “cliffs” trekking bragging rights, then quickly i was back on the trail retracing my steps to the ground zzzzero starting point and my ford “hi yo silver away” pickup truck,

while hiking a gradual incline about halfway down from the “cliffs” summit i noticed movement on the trail ahead of me, what i first thought were wind blown leaves dancing across the trail, on closer inspection turned out to be my third mountain lion sighting,

its coat was a strange mixture of dark brown and lighter gray colors, definitely not a beautiful walt disney or “wild kingdom” wild creature, and there was absolutely no denying the long black loopy tail that verified this was indeed a mountain lion and not a rogue coyote or lone keweenaw timber wolf,

when i reached the spot where i initially spotted the lion, the “cliffs” wilderness became totally silent, the once melodious sounds of wild birds were no longer echoing in the “cliffs” spring foliage, a very eerie and dicey feeling,

in my mind i asked myself “hmm, is this the day that i might die,” and i remembered the don mclean “american pie” song lyrics,

             “bye bye miss american pie drove my chevy to the levy but the levy

               was dry and them good ‘ol boys drinking whiskey and rye singing

              this will be the day that i die, this will be the day that i die,”

     anyhow, i picked up a good-sized piece of deadfall and christened it my “bardic cat whacker,” so if necessary, i could give a good account of myself, with a few more glances over my shoulder than usual for a”cliffs” visit, very shortly i was back at brautigan creek and the “cliffs” trailhead pullover,

later at my calumet bard res’ i reflected on a marvelous friday, i restored the “poet tree” after getting momentarily lost in the woods, and experienced the exciting rush of meeting a mountain lion on the trail,

not too shabby an outing for a graybeard poet and “the cliffs dancer,” hmm, hmm.



poet tree

poet tree

poet tree

poet tree

poet tree

poet tree

poet tree

poet tree

poet tree

poet tree

poet tree

poet tree

doomsday library – “first five books”

the reader of this commentary should understand that i have read and enjoyed all of the books on my “doomsday library” list.  i also found the decision of the top ten books to be an extremely difficult choice to make.  in addition, it should be understood that whether living on a desert island, in a mountaintop stone hut, or cabin in the deep forest, my books would be reread several times.  so, the strength of my authors is their reminder of important past events and to continue to provide me with insights to new experiences.

pilgrim at tinker creek
annie dillard

i have many writing friends who live on the west coast and in the warmer southern states who frequently ask me, “t, how can you stand those bitter upper peninsula winters.” my response is probably not very convincing to them, however, i would not feel comfortable living where i did not experience the changing of the different seasons.

annie dillard’s book grew out of her personal journal recording her meanderings around tinker creek in the blue ridge mountains of virginia. the book, pilgram at tinker creek, is divided into four sections, each one describing what dillard saw during each passing season.

the book’s narrative identifies with the area’s flora and fauna and suggests to me what i should see and understand during my visits to the upper peninsula wilderness areas. i read pilgrim at tinker creek the first time one summer while camping in the pictured rocks outback. two days after reading about the “giant water bug,” i saw one devouring a frog in a backwater swamp

in short, annie’s book is my continuous outdoor guide.

henry david thoreau

walden is a book that should be read at least once a year by all students and adult citizens. the wise observations and recommendations made by thoreau provide an excellent guide to measure an individual’s vision and the progress of their life.

in the pages of walden, thoreau mentions “masses of men lead lives of quiet desperation” and strongly recommends “simplicity, simplicity, simplicity.” in the chapter “what i lived for” thoreau says:

“the millions are awake enough for physical labor; but only one in a million is awake enough for effective intellectual exertion, only on in a hundred million to a poetic or divine life.”

having become a poet in my senior, graybeard years, i am, as the author of walden says, marching to a different drummer.

trout fishing in america
richard brautigan

college professors lost in their academic posturing and alaskan politicians who have acted to destroy their state’s wilderness will never understand or appreciate trout fishing in america.  author brautigan believes that trout is a creature of great natural beauty, but also does not believe in catching them. in his short story “the trout fishing diary of alonzo hagen” brautigan makes a chart detailing “trips made–trout lost.”

also in the story “the cleveland wrecking yard” brautigan described selling used trout streams:

“how much are you selling the streams for. . . . six dollars and fifty cents a foot. . . that’s for the first hundred feet. . . after that it is five dollars a foot. . . how much for the birds. . . thirty-five cents a piece. . . but of course they are used, . . .”

in all of brautigan’s writings, there is a short clever wit to his imagination, which explains why only those open to new ideas and writing styles will appreciate reading his books.

a fan’s notes
frederick exley

exley was a fine writer, alcoholic, failure at marriage and rehabilitation, and possessed an alter ego in the football player frank gifford who played for the new york giants. with his writing and personal credentials, how could i not relate to the life of exley. all you have to do is substitute the university of michigan wolverines for his new york giants.

for most of my life i have failed to measure up satisfactorily to what the “great american dream” required of mature individuals. however, the summer that i wrote my first poem and declared myself an artist freed me. it saved me from being one of society’s ordinary spectators quietly watching life from the sidelines.

cold mountain

whatever season i climb the cliffs–spring, summer, autumn, or the upper peninsula time of the long white–this graybeard poet carries along with him the poems of the crazy chinese hermit.  han-shan described the nervous noisy big city life and how he quickly became a prisoner of the things that money could buy.  he returned to the wilderness, prowling about the forests and streams.  his poems say life is too short and that the only true way to determine truth is through meditation.

today, hiking up the cliffs and standing in the summit’s shadows, han-shan and i listen together to the mad poetic voices spoken by the winds.

(continued in “doomsday library – second five books”)

forever wild

busy artist
couple of grand marais days
superior hotel stay
“bessie’s” griendly home
chilly days
spring two weeks late
trilliums just ripening
bright white blossoms
petals later changing
becoming dark mauve
no brook trout trophy
streams high and muddy
saved from wet disaster
almost falling in carpenter creek
no extra jeans
laundromat in the village
finding sayre’s headstone
rose hill cemetery
old post office building
past general delivery letters
words from downstate lovers
filming donahey house
many summers ago
telling frank
meet me at noon
last may friday
at orange barrel corner
coffee and conversation
with writer ellen
west bay diner deck
walking out on breakwater
bitter superior winds
checking with fishermen
angling whitefish dinners
walking early morning
dark quiet streets
feeling time to leave
3:30 drive home
back to making art
headlight reflections
silhouetting forest shadows
new paved miles
through pictured rocks interior
thinking of past vacations
burnt-out professor
like huck finn
lighting out for the territories
hiking fishing nighttime campfires
mind slowly emptying
normal routines vanishing
other people downstate
with timetables and deadlines
need it yesterday demands
living paycheck to paycheck
tempting advertisements selling
things they should buy
no lottery tickets
stock market investments
serious future plans
while graybeard poet
nature loving non-beliver
not accepting christian faith
joining jesus and god
better life waiting
wild lands disappearing
“no trespassing” signs increasing
developer’s grand designs
pictured rocks becoming
huge amusement park
soon brook and rainbow trout
owls deer bears beavers turtles
vanishing in passing dust
turning steady miles
remembering camping mysteries
reason can’t explain
knowing in future
civilization will finally fade
quiet wilderness return
leaves growing over
roads that aren’t there
only paths
deep deer prints
pressed in soil
signs of man forgotten
world forever wild

grand marais superior hotel

superior hotel

grand marais - old post office

the grand marais – old post office

outer range light on breakwater

outer range light on breakwater

the donahey pickle barrel

the donahey pickle barrel

pictured rocks - indian head

pictured rocks – indian head

carpenter creek

carpenter creek

grand marais - old fishing boat

grand marais – old fishing boat

fisherman on breakwater

fisherman on breakwater

wilderness reminiscence

beyond the crabgrass and radar range, past the
tri-level with aluminum siding and swimming
pool is nature’s unpackaged reality,
            warmth of a sunny spring day with
fresh smelling forest scents,
            a gentle breeze that toys with white
puffs of clouds against an azure backdrop,
            winding sparkling stream that plays
its mischievous may melody

winter prayer

oh lord,
                                                may bright warm sun
beams continue to green the spring forest, blossom
the beautifully colored woodland wildflowers, and
bleach my gray beard red,
                                                please, one more time