Tuesday, August 21, 2012


MARLENE CREATES--POET OF THE BOREAL POETRY GARDEN.  Marlene, a visual artist and poet, creates events for her St. John's community by inviting them out to her home, where she engages them on a nature walk enlightened by poetry and so much more. (all photos by Anthony Martin, geologist)
HALLELUJAH: Hallelujah for travel and meeting like-minded CREATIVE SOULS and LOVERS and INVESTIGATORS of the EARTH! My Chiboogamoo (aka Anthony Martin) and I had the good fortune to travel to the outskirts of St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada, to experience an outdoor poetry event. As the Ichnia 2012 conference was concluding its week-long seminar talks on ichnology at Memorial University, we were swept away by poet Don McKay and paleontologist Liam Herringshaw to be driven down roads adorned by trees and rivers obscured in mist. Our destination was the home of Marlene Creates in order to experience the Boreal Poetry Garden Event.

ANTHONY MARTIN (aka Chiboogamoo): Much of our time in Newfoundland before this event was occupied by walking along coastal exposures of rock from the Precambrian and Ordovician Periods, representing times from about 600-480 million years ago. So it was completely different for me - as a geologist - to walk through a verdant boreal forest while in Newfoundland. These forests, which are cold-adapted biomes between the treeless tundras of the north and the more temperate forests of the south, are among the most extensive on earth, yet as far as I know, this was my first direct encounter with one.

PARKING LOT ATTENDANT FOR BOREAL POETRY GARDEN. Don McKay assisted Marlene Creates  by collecting money and showing guests where to park near her 6-acre wilderness home. 
HALLELUJAH: For my Chiboogamoo and me, this event was cloaked in mystery. We had seen Don McKay read poetry from his book, Paradoxides, at the Ichnia 2012 banquet at the university, and I had met Marlene Creates there, but we didn't know what to expect from an event that asked its participants to move around a boreal forest with the poet to specific locations that she had written a poem about. We soon, however, found ourselves in the company of strong CREATIVE SPIRITS and GOOD SOULS who were curious and wanted to learn more about the EARTH. To heighten and inform our experience of her on-site poetry reading, Marlene had invited a geologist and storyteller, Paul Dean, to accompany us. He was to co-create with her by explaining aspects of the land at the sites she had chosen for her poems. 

ANTHONY MARTIN: I was delighted to attend an event that involved a synergism of geology and poetry. Having first heard the term "geopoetry" as a graduate student learning about plate tectonic theory, I was intrigued to witness and be part of a gathering that combined place-based poetry and place-based geology.

SITE SPECIFIC POETRY. Marlene Creates stops at this site where a tree was  felled by a hurricane and needed to be cleared from the walk. She became curious about the age of the tree and had a part of the tree from this site analyzed along with some other trees that had also fallen from the storm. The age of this tree (represented by its remaining stump) was 94 years old.
HALLELUJAH: As we stepped single file into this northern forest with its spongy floor mosses, bright green ferns and evergreens, I felt excitement and wonder.

ANTHONY MARTIN: Walking in a boreal forest was a new experience for me. Its undergrowth of mosses and ferns, shadowed by birches and conifers above, provoked comparisons in my mind to temperate forests I had seen in the Southern Hemisphere, such as those of Tasmania or the South Island of New Zealand. But of course, those had completely different plants and animals - tree ferns, for one - a result of different evolutionary paths that diverged more than 250 million years ago. The most remarkable sensation imparted by the forest, though, was it spongy, bouncy feel of its floor, seemingly returning energy with every step.


HALLELUJAH: We were in the forest at a magical alchemical moment--dusk! Because our time was limited by the remaining light of day, our experience of Marlene's words spoken at the altar of nature felt heightened, sacred. Paul Dean added another dimension to our emotional experience by asking us to think logically with him about the lay of the land, how it had formed, and what was underneath it.

ANTHONY MARTIN: I love when the practical and aesthetic, the factual and magical, and the known and imagined merge into one. This was what happened through the combined words of poetry inspired by where we were, and the words of science also inspired by where we were.

20 GUESTS IN THE BOREAL POETRY GARDEN.  Enchanted visitors used walking sticks to navigate along the narrow path in the green forest next to Marlene Creates' house, moving from one site to the next to listen to Marlene's reflections and Paul's geological musings.

TWO-VOICED POEM. Here Marlene Creates is accompanied by Don McKay to help her read the two-voiced poem she wrote expressing her simultaneous but divergent thoughts about this one site.

HALLELUJAH: Marlene took us up and down paths winding through the forest. We used ropes secured to trees to steady our footing. Overhead, once in a while we could hear the leaves rustle in a passing blast of wind. We crossed streams stepping on stones and small wooden bridges. At one site, water gently gurgled near and around us as Marlene and Don read her two-voiced poem. Our senses were enlivened!

ANTHONY MARTIN: Poems can express the sense of beauty and wonderment about a place, and science can augment those feelings by deepening the awe that comes with knowledge of what lies beneath your feet and its long, long history. Paul Dean spoke of a minimum of 600 million years that led to the forest, stones, and stream before us, and of times when volcanoes and Africa contributed to the landscape, encouraging our imaginations to travel back to those times when volcanic ash fell from the sky and basaltic magma flowed across the land.

FROM A GEOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVE. After Marlene's two-voiced poem, Paul Dean, geologist extraordinaire, explains what a tuff rock is.
COMMUNE WITH THE ROCK. Paul Dean encourages people to engage with the rock, see it up close, and to ask very personal questions. One attendee, following his instructions, fell to her knees almost in prayer!

HALLELUJAH: How extraordinary is it when a geologist tells you that getting to know a rock and understanding it is like beginning a new romantic relationship! Around the fire and before we entered Marlene's Boreal Garden, he had reminded us of the questions that we all ask when we meet someone new who summons our curiosity and gets our heart racing. We use these questions, don't we?:

1. What's your name?
2. Where did you come from?
3. How did you get here?
4. How old are you?

...and then as the relationship progresses, we continue to ask more questions...

5. Is that your true color?
6. What are your faults?
7. Do you mind if I pull out my rock hammer and hit you with it?

ANTHONY MARTIN: The likening of learning more about a rock to finding out more about a love interest made for such a humorous and memorable metaphor, I will have to borrow it in teaching rock identification to my college students, while of course giving full credit to Paul for his clever originality.

BASALT ROCK FACE GREETING US AT DUSK. Our meanderings in Marlene's Boreal Garden concluded at this formidable rock face. Don't you want to ask it some questions? What is your name? Where did you come from? How did you get here?

HALLELUJAH: How often does one stand in place in a forest and look at a rock face at dusk and then over at a fallen boulder on which trees are growing and ponder the connection between the two? Marlene does. Paul Dean knows this connection and answers one of the strolling listener's question, "How do you know that this rock isn't erratic?" with a wonderful alliterative phrase: "Erratic, erotic, exotic." Pause to meditate on that--geologically speaking!

ANTHONY MARTIN: One of the people there asked, "How do you know it isn't an erratic [boulder]?", referring to a boulder on the path next to a towering outcrop of rock (pictured above). Paul explained that both rocks, when cracked open to show a fresh face, revealed they were basalt. Basalt is an igneous rock formed at high temperatures near or on the earth's surface and is composed of iron- and magnesium-bearing minerals, with little quartz. One of the distinctive minerals in this particular quartz, linking the boulder to the outcrop, was epidote, which echoed the green forest around us. Hence the boulder had once been part of the larger outcrop, but erosion (not eros) had caused it to split and fall nearby, and probably not more than a few thousand years before.

An erratic, on the other hand, is a rock that is unlike any other in the bedrock of an area, meaning it got there through means other than local erosion. In this instance, any erratics in the area would have been deposited by glaciers during one of the previous ice ages.

ILLUSTRATIVE VISUALS OF THE ROCK FACE.  The arrival of dusk caused Marlene's guests to turn on their flashlights. Here in an ethereal light, we are examining what basalt looks like. The photos were ghostly apparitions of the basalt looming nearby.

HALLELUJAH: This curious poetic walk in Marlene's Boreal Garden concluded appropriately because it was growing dark.  We ambled back to Marlene's roaring fire and alcoholic spirits having experienced something uniquely hers, given to us through poetic words, a walk at sunset, a geologist's waxings, and nature's whispers and mists.

ANTHONY MARTIN: The walk through the forest and learning about the history of that landscape from Marlene and Paul was already an extraordinary treat. So to follow this with a reading by Don McKay and his geologically-themed poetry made the evening doubly memorable, and a wonderful way to end our too-limited visit to Newfoundland, a land where we found many new thoughts.

DON MCKAY READING FROM PARADOXIDES. The Boreal Garden Poetry concluded in Marlene Creates' garage with Don McKay speaking to us of more things geological. 

HALLELUJAH: Big thanks to to Liam Herringshaw for his imagination, knowledge, and overall love of humankind. We are so fortunate for having met Liam, who was our field guide for the pre-Ichnia field trip along the Avalon Peninsula. During three days of roving around in a yellow school bus and peering into the Precambrian, we discovered that we were kindred spirits. Recognizing this connection, Liam invited us to this poetry event and arranged a ride for us with Don McKay. Liam writes a wonderful blog about Newfoundland: Old Lost Sea. May this be the start of a long and good friendship. 

Thanks also to Don McKay and Marlene Creates for their hospitality, creativity, and love of nature. 

ANTHONY MARTIN: Ditto, only more so.

PAUL DEAN AND LIAM HERRINGSHAW. Paul and Liam (right) stand by the roaring fire before we ventured into the forest. Later, we roasted marshmallows in its warm yellow flames. 


  1. The misty, glowing photos are so...well, mystical.
    I could feel and smell and really experience the place. Such a great idea to get down and talk to a rock. I've been feeling the smooth backs of marble stones that are emerging from the rough hunks of marble, transformed by the stone cutters hands here at the Carving Studio in West Rutland VT.Nice to see you jacketed folks in the cool of a Newfoundland forest.

    1. Dear See See, you understand so well what our "walk" with Marlene Creates was all about her boreal garden in Newfoundland.

      I wonder what conversations you are having with the marble? Please share!