Morning Walk by the Shrinking Wetland Pond


The wetland pond is shrinking.
Dark-chocolate cattails and 
summer-green milkweed pods 
burst into the white cotton 
balls they always do when
autumn comes, a cotton 
field of wisps and puffs that 
match the color of my hair.

The sumacs are changing into
the red dress they always wear
this time of year, a royal
crimson robe, glistening in 
the morning sun before
frost and snow turn their 
fleeting autumn puffs from 
regal red to winter white. 
I see no yellow on the wetland
pond beside this dirt road that 
has no name or dot on anyone’s 
map. The yellow lilies on the 
lily-pads have gone to sleep
to greet the Spring again if
the pond is still here. 

--GCS, September morning walk
September 27, 2021.
O LORD, what are we that You should care for us?
     mere mortals that You should think of us?
We are like a puff of wind;
     our days are like a passing shadow.
Do not cast me off in my old age.
     (Psalm 144:3,4; 71:9 BCP)


Between the Banks of Time

Matthew Arnold‘s poem The Future came to mind this week in light of the eulogy for local artist and gardener Lynn NiskanenClick HERE for the obituary. Scroll down for her brother-in-law’s poem honoring Lynn’s life.

The Future [excerpt]

But what was before us we know not, 
And we know not what shall succeed. 

Haply, the river of Time— 
As it grows, as the towns on its marge 
Fling their wavering lights 
On a wider, statelier stream— 
May acquire, if not the calm 
Of its early mountainous shore, 
Yet a solemn peace of its own. 

And the width of the waters, the hush 
Of the grey expanse where he floats, 
Freshening its current and spotted with foam 
As it draws to the Ocean, may strike 
Peace to the soul of the man on its breast— 
As the pale waste widens around him, 
As the banks fade dimmer away, 
As the stars come out, and the night-wind 
Brings up the stream 
Murmurs and scents of the infinite sea. 

Looking out at the infinite sea

In your abandoned garden

Lynn, in your abandoned garden
your presence - like sunlight - can still be felt.

At your invitation
the butterflies, hummingbirds and cardinals 
your absence still unknown to them,
keep returning.

In your abandoned garden
the purple iris - by your own hand planted,
sleeps tonight beneath her snowy cover,

and awaits the divine kiss of rain.

-- Will Niskanen, brother-in-law. Excerpt from Will's Eulogy for Lynn Niskanen, Feb. 18, 2019, at Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church Chaska, MN

Although Lynn was “a practitioner and bringer of light,” as Will described her, she did not draw to attention to herself. The pews and church parking lot overflowed their banks.

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Feb. 21, 2019.

Verse – The Male

When I am mowing grass between
the growing Christmas trees,
I often see the red-winged bird
perched high observing me.

If I turn the loud mower off
I’ll hear his scolding cry
a Konk-la-ree, a Konk-la-ree,
and then away he’ll fly.

Is he critiquing how I mow?:
Hey you there! Watch-that-tree!
No, there’s a female nesting near,
Come-to-me, Come-to-me…

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, April 6, 2015

Verse – The Laundromat – Pittsboro, N.C., 1969

She was young, white, and pregnant

when they moved

south. She had worked for Civil

Rights for blacks

up north. So seeing two doors

as she faced

the laundromat obscured

the sordid facts

of legal segregation

just before.

“Oh please, Ma’am, take your clothes

over next door,”

the old black woman said.

“Will you have trouble

if I stay?” “Please, Ma’am,

do as I say…”

The young woman had not

heard “Ma’am” before

from someone older, so

she turned her face —

embarrassed for her race –

and went next door.

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, Jan. 27, 2015

NOTE: While working on a Ph.D. in Religion at Duke University, Steve pastored two yoked Presbyterian Churches: the 88 member Pittsboro, N.C., (pop. 1,500 then), and Mt. Vernon Springs (55? members) 30 miles west in rural Chatham County. Nadja drove from the Manse in Pittsboro 30 miles north to do Microbiology research at Duke. Son Daniel was born in March, 1970.


Mops waiting for guests to use at the Shoemaker residence.

Mops waiting for guests to use at the Shoemaker residence.

INTRO TO LIMERICK: Driving to Steve and Nadja Shoemaker’s this morning, we texted Steve revising the estimated time of arrival. Steve responded with this limerick and photo from his iPhone:

We love to have guests who show up
When they told us that they would turn up.
But please don’t come early
Or we will be surly,
It’s then that we start to clean up!

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, January 2, 2014.

Writer’s block

The first few days of retirement have been a writer’s wasteland. Then I found a saved draft of Steve Shoemaker’s verse. It was as though it was waiting for just this time. Maybe tomorrow I’ll feel like throwing something away.

Write something, anything

(Was it Malcolm Muggeridge who said if
you can’t write something good, write something
bad that you can throw away.)

How do I know what I think till I see what I say?

Can ideas be feelings or colors or moods,
or must letters and spaces reveal the mind?

Type on an iPhone, computer or pad:
words, sentence, phrases–the good and the bad.

Drivel, insight, cliche, Truth–
symbol, allegory, tall-tale, lie;
future, memory, made-of-whole-cloth,
fiction, non-fiction, poetry.

Muses, Graces all have wings–they flit and fly away.

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL

Verse – The Mama Rabbit

The Mama rabbit in the city
dug a nest in our back yard.
She pulled fur from her own body,
hiding babies in the grass.

She came to nurse them every hour,
but she watched them from afar.
Hawks and foxes might have found them
if she stayed there all the time.

I saw one baby rabbit crawling
when I mowed the grass above.
Then I saw the Mama watching
as I placed him in the nest.

The internet said she would feed him
even after touched by me.
My kids and spouse watched from the window
at the growing family.

– Steve Shoemaker, July 1, 2014

Verse – 2 under 3

2 under 3
John and Caroline

1 plus 1
equals 3
or more
when you
add a boy
and girl

to a young
couple both
who work
outside the
home as is
done today

you take him
and i take her
after day-care
after au pair
after nana
after nanny

we are so tired
there will never
be another
well maybe


– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, April 27, 2014

Can you really fool everyone?

Around the Table

Even if it is family,
Friends, or kids just from my school,
There always will be that one

Who smiles like everybody
Else, but finds a way to fool
All–well, maybe except one…

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, April 9, 2014