Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Michigan anymore.

I shot these photographs at the birdfeeder in my backyard this week.

A Carolina chickadee at our backyard feeder.
A Carolina chickadee at our backyard feeder.

Who is that tiny chickadee…and that strange little bird with the brown cap?  Why it’s a Carolina chickadee sharing feeder space with his pal, the brown-headed nuthatch.

Nuthatch on the same feeder.
Brown-headed nuthatch on the same feeder.

Like the chickadee,  I am in Carolina (North, that is.)  My husband has a sabbatical from September-May, and we are settling in for our southern sojourn.  It’s hard for me to call a place home where I don’t recognize trees and birds, but I’m learning. On one of our evening strolls we were staring at a huge tree and wondering what the heck it was.

Me: Those leaves look like willow leaves.
Husband:  But the tree’s massive like an oak.
Google:  You’re both right–it’s a willow oak.
Not to mention the rhododendron looking-thingies on steroids, that tower above houses! Google tells me they might be Rhododendron maximum, aka Great Rhododendron. And speaking of towering, loblolly pines grow everywhere.

Staying in North Carolina has made me wonder about where I’m from.  For the past 17 years, it’s been Michigan, although I’ve never called myself a Michigander.  But in North Carolina, Michigan feels like home. This past weekend I attended the SCBWI-Carolina conference (which was great) and when asked where I was from, I answered Michigan.  One person asked where I grew up.  When I said Massachusetts she labelled me a Yankee.  I wondered what my Jewish grandparents who emigrated from Eastern Europe would have made of that–but that’s how she saw me.

All these rambling thoughts reminded me of George Ella Lyon’s poem:

Where I’m From

I am from clothespins,
from Clorox and carbon-tetrachloride.
I am from the dirt under the back porch.
(Black, glistening,
it tasted like beets.)
I am from the forsythia bush
the Dutch elm
whose long-gone limbs I remember
as if they were my own.

–George Ella Lyon, all rights reserved
(Read the entire poem here.)

When my son was in seventh grade (way back in 2000) his English teacher had students write their own “Where I’m From” poems.  It was a terrific way to get kids noticing and writing about the details of their own homes.  And this week I drafted my own:

Carolina Sojourn

I am from black-capped chickadees and
white-breasted nuthatches;
towering red oaks heavy with acorns
that storm the deck on humid nights,
pounding and pinging like summer hail.
I am from litters of squirrels
who creep down trunks,
daring to touch mossy ground.
I am from painted turtles and snappers
plodding across a gravel road,
a six-mile drive for milk and eggs,
a nightly chorus that changes its tune:
spring peepers then green frogs,
jug’o-rumming bull frogs,
cicadas and katydids,
sandhill cranes.

Now I hear a different song:
rumbling trucks on a busy street,
thumping bass from passing cars,
a steady drone, a highway near.
Away from traffic
a piney yard bears magic:
carolina chickadees and
brown-headed nuthatches,
a daredevil squirrel leaping for seeds,
a carpet of needles from skyscraper pines,
a praying mantis on a window screen,
prickly brown grass under bare feet,
a thorny vine cracking cement
grasping and growing,
searching for home.

–Buffy Silverman, September 2013
all rights reserved

Praying mantis on our kitchen window screen.  This handsome fellow was about 5 inches long.
Praying mantis on our kitchen window screen. This handsome fellow was about 5 inches long.
I moved the mantis to a more photogenic background.  S/he patiently posed for many shots.
I moved the mantis to a more photogenic background. S/he patiently posed for many shots.











Head over to Dori Reads for this week’s Poetry Friday Roundup.


33 thoughts on “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Michigan anymore.

  1. Hi, Buffy. Both of my children did a “Where I’m From” poem in their sixth grade English class. It’s such a great prompt! I love how being away from Michigan has made you feel more connected to home.

  2. I’ve missed your PF posts, Buffy– good to see you back! Your poem is beautiful. I’ve always loved “I am from” poems, but find them very difficult to write. I, too, struggle at times with identifying where “home” is.

  3. Isn’t it fun to learn a new ecosystem? I remember seeing my first pecan tree in Texas and my first redbud and goldfinch here in Ohio. But I love to see the meadowlarks and larkspurs when I go home to Colorado!

    1. I agree Mary Lee–it is fun to learn what’s growing and flying by. And I did not know redbuds until we moved to Michigan (I just looked at a range map and see that although they are called Eastern redbuds, they don’t grow in any of my previous homes: Massachusetts, upstate NY or central Illinois!) Now we’ve got a redbud growing in front of our Michigan house.

  4. Hi Buffy,
    I found you from B.j. Lee’s FB posting. I am going to share this so I can have it to refer to. I heard one of our 7th graders share his version at a Poetry Month event two years ago and liked it a lot, but I like the ideas from the link to the poem that you share. I also like your version. We stayed near Pinehurst and I still have the old, huge pinecones I collected. Back then I brought one home for every little kid I was teaching to make a holiday tree! I have lived upstate in NY for my adult life, but I still talk about “going home” to visit my family on Long Island. Right now this poem really resonates for me due to a couple of sad situations. I love, though, how you capture the natural beauty around you in both places. City girl, country girl. Kind of like me!

    1. Glad the poem resonates with you, Janet (although sorry you are dealing with sad situations.) It is interesting what we refer to as “going home” when we’ve lived elsewhere for many years. Thanks for stopping by.

  5. Buffy, you have a nice opportunity to see the world from another perspective there! When we lived in France for a year, I tried hard to pay careful attention to everything around me, but I spent at least as much time thinking very clearly about home with heightened comparative insight. May it bring you many new poems!

  6. Buffy – I’ve never read these “I am from” poems before. I love this form and I love what you’ve done with it. It’s funny that you say,’ Michigan’ when you’re from MA. I always say ‘Boston’ when I’m actually from NJ and have lived in FL for 13 years now. Maybe the place we name is our spiritual home??

    1. I didn’t know you were a Bostonian, BJ! (I grew up about 90 miles west, but my sister has lived near Boston for many years.) Maybe it also has to do with a certain time of our life–for me, where my kids spent most of their childhood is part of the identity.

  7. Buffy,
    What a wonderful post! I love the pictures and the poetry. I want to write one too. My daughter’s class is currently writing where I’m from poems. I’ll be sure to share yours with her.
    All the best with your transition.
    It looks like you will enjoy meeting all your new “neighbors.”

  8. Buffy, I love your poem and you’ve got me thinking about where I’m from. I’ve lived a bit of a gypsy life but Michigan is the place where I have roots. Thank you for reminding me! I miss my writing buddy terribly but every experience brings something new to our lives. Enjoy your time there and while I sip on my tea or nibble chocolate zucchini bread, I’ll think of you~

  9. What a lovely post! We go north to visit the Carolinas, and I love how the flora and fauna change as we hit the foothills. A friend’s cabin in Highlands, N.C. is one of our favorite spots.

    I love this:

    I am from those moments–
    snapped before I budded —

  10. What a lovely post — your poem is beautiful, chock full of wonderful images, details, and impressions. I was just going to say the same thing Joy did — you need to find a Carolina Wren. Such sweet birds; every so often one sings to me on the window sill. Loved your photos, too — you’re getting some fine visitors to your feeder. 🙂

  11. I imagine going from a “six-mile drive for milk and eggs,” to “rumbling trucks on a busy street” would be a big change! I love North Carolina — beautiful scenery, delicious food, and wonderful Southern accents! My husband’s aunt lives in Asheville and we don’t get to visit her nearly enough. Hope you have a great sojourn.

  12. Buffy,
    You need to find a little Carolina wren. It has the most beautiful “teakettle tea kettle” song.
    I’m glad you are enjoying the fauna of North Carolina.

    1. Hi Joy,
      Here’s the funny thing–we’ve had lots of Carolina wrens in our backyard in Michigan, but I’ve yet to see one here. My first intro to the Carolina wren was the persistent one who would fly into the garage through our dog door and try over and over to build a nest in hubby’s bike bag!

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