Monday, January 28, 2008

Journey South

Having spent two of the past three days driving the length of the New Jersey Turnpike, you might think I’d have no recent nature literature experience to blog about. But my bedraggled family paused on our southbound Sunday journey at milepost 30.2 for as much refreshment as tea and Cinnabons could offer. I must have felt revived on the way out, because I noticed a framed poem that had escaped me as we entered. It read in part--

Beat! beat! drums!—Blow! bugles! blow!
Over the traffic of cities—over the rumble of wheels in the streets:
Are beds prepared for sleepers at night in the houses? No sleepers must sleep in those beds;
No bargainers’ bargains by day—no brokers or speculators—Would they continue?
Would the talkers be talking? would the singer attempt to sing?
Would the lawyer rise in the court to state his case before the judge?
Then rattle quicker, heavier drums—you bugles wilder blow.

Imagine my surprise at finding a poem from Leaves of Grass on the wall of a highway rest stop. Fortuitously, we’d stopped at the Walt Whitman Service Area. Why the highway authority felt so inspired as to dedicate a rest stop to Whitman I cannot suppose. Why choose Beat! Beat! Drums? And how would Walt have felt about it?

According to the Turnpike website, 650,000 cars travel that road daily. Though only a small fraction stops at the Whitman area, I trust that at least a few of the travelers glimpse the poem. Meant as a rallying cry for northerners at the Civil War’s outset, maybe some will hear the drum beat as a call to action needed for our times. And I hope this small literary gesture will inspire other highway rest stop designers to add a poetic moment to their prosaic establishments. It certainly lifted my spirits as our wheels rumbled the last miles home.


MojoMan said...

Hello! I found your interesting blog through the Nature Blog Network. Next time I'm looking for a good nature book to read, I know where to look!

pinenut said...

Hi mojoman,

Good to hear from you! I just learned about--and joined--the Nature Blog Network. What a great resource for all of us interested in nature and environmental issues.

Please drop by again and let us know what you're reading.