Monday, June 10, 2013

Return to Crystal Spring

A few months ago, some of you might recall, I went on a local pilgrimage to one of Walt Whitman's favorite spots, Crystal Spring. I wrote about it (you might want to read that one first if you haven't), and mentioned that I had planned to go back when the leaves were back on the trees. It was January when I visited the first time. On my birthday, in fact.

It was indeed a different experience, this time. It's only a small place, this little spring. But there is certainly a peacefulness there that wasn't as rich in the winter. For one thing, it sounded more like a poet's retreat. (It was, in fact, a place where Whitman worked on Leaves of Grass.) While I was there, I did a little recording on my phone. Have listen as you read (you can hear the very spring Whitman heard). Reality does set in at the end as a truck passes on a nearby street:

This time, everything was green and lush and muddy. The spot of the little spring is not much bigger than my own back yard (which is a few miles away, on the same creek) and it sits at the back of a suburban development. Here's a look at it now that the pallor of winter is a memory...

First, the spring itself -- a quick phone video. Hardly worth it, except that maybe you can see the water burbling:

This is the spot Whitman most enjoyed. I imagine that, in his day, this was a destination reached after a long trek through the woods. For me, it was at the end of a suburban road after a twenty minute bike ride, but it is still enough of a nook to make you feel transported -- at least until a jet flies overhead or until a lawnmower revs up in the distance.

Facing the other way, with my back to the spring...a horrible video, but, if you look closely, you can see a little bird bathing vigorously in the tiny rivulet that runs under the footbridge (yes -- it's plastic; I hate those) and another perched upon my handlebars, making himself very much at home:

This time, unlike my winter visit, I had company that was welcomed -- not snogging teens, but a few pleasant (if fowl) friends pacing about in the wet grass and occasionally eyeing me warily; one of the poor dudes had a limp:

Big Timber Creek, now actually flowing vigorously after summer rain, back toward my own house. Framed in with green and painted with setting sunlight, the place resonated more with the presence of the poet than it did on my January birthday visit:

Seeing the creek from this angle, I now understand where Whitman probably took the mud baths that he credited with restoring his health. The locals, not knowing Whitman was a world-renowned poet, used to call him "the dirty old man" because of his practice:

I wondered, sitting there among the heavy summer sounds, if Walt had admired the sunlight splashing on the trunk of this very tree, as I was now. I thought, as I often do, of his haunting words (from "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry"): 

"Consider, you who peruse me, whether I may not in unknown ways be looking upon you..." 

For awhile, I lay on the ground, looking up and seeking his face in the green and golden leaves. I didn't see it. But it did seem right that this place is a bit of a disappointment -- that the spring is tiny; that it is an afterthought in the backyard of a neighborhood; that most of the people who sit here probably don't know the greatness that preceded them. 

There is something very Whitmanesque in the idea that, though the world has nearly been blown to bits with nuclear weapons and though giants of science and industry have poisoned and cured and built and wrecked and poisoned and cured and built and wrecked again, this little spring has burbled forth, whispering the memory of a great poetic voice. 

As he once sat in the grass by this spring, so do I; as he watched the little trickling water flow into the creek beyond, so do I; as the water flowed away from him, so does it flow away from me --  away, and into my own backyard, right behind my own house, so that when I stand on my back deck on a summer night, listening to the gentle water in the gully below, I know that is has traveled past that unassuming, tiny spot called Crystal Spring -- that little spot in which a man quietly set about changing the face of poetry forever. 

He's there, still. He is here, in me; in my mind, still, in the silver flow of forever. If you live near water, look at it from time to time, and think of him -- or maybe even of me. We're all in each other's heads now.

I'll go back to that place often, but the rest of the visits are for me, even though I am sure they will yield things for you, from time to time. 


  1. Very nice, Chris. More people need such places to collect their thoughts.