Monthly Archives: December 2016


by Elsa Johnson



Thou —

                               are the granite                                               and         the cloud —

                               the eagle       and         the fly hatching in the flesh of the kill —


                               the lily                                  and the dung in which it sprouted —


                               the ache in the crotch of the tree where the bough ripped off


                               and                                               the hot rushed flower of spring


                               You are the sun scion                    blinding the day-dark stars —


                               both war-call and whisper

When the sky is turned on itself        When one lies over a barreled bench        like a sacrifice

on the face of the curved earth         with the sky found          in the bottom          of the bowl

under the grassed dome of heaven             You are the world made right         then wrong

then right again :   Life                       and the life it feeds                     and the life that feeds it


germ at the seed’s core                  the last shock of birth                      fresh love’s first stroke

the wound’s whimper                                                                                        a great glad belling        




There is a bench in Forest Hill Park that is shaped like a barrel. If you sit on it and then lie back so that you are draped over it on your back, looking up at the sky with your head in an up-side-down position, looking down the length of the Great Meadow, a curious phenomena occurs: The world becomes a bowl. It is like being inside a snow globe, with the grass that was at your feet now overhead, and the trees reaching into the sky, but the sky now the bottom of a large bowl. The way the ground has directional slope disappears, homogenized by the strength of this bowl perception. I’ve asked various eye doctors why this perception of space as bowl – no one can give me an answer. It any of you, dear readers, have a clue why this might be, please tell us. 

At any rate I’ve tried to write poetry about this phenomena in the past, without success, but recently while writing a poem, I found the barrel bench and its effect creeping in. One of my poet friends calls it a psalm.



Indications of Advent on LaDue Reservoir

by David Adams

My kayak glides into December

like a bright red blade in a landscape

faded grey and brown and green beneath

a sky that hovers like a single cloud

as edged and delicate as mica.


Yesterday I watched my mother slap

her palm against her heart and fix her eyes

hard into her mother’s century—

shawls billowing chenille and silk,

a row of glads lake acolytes

leaning from a breeze that cannot end.


Hoe strangely might the World insist…

There was a chord with someone’s name.

There was a vase that spilled its prayers;

they rolled like candles. They were stars.


A string of gleaming decoys spin and bob

unnaturally in the freshening wind.

All brands of hope float here in ways

so small you’d think that living any life

at all was just a matter of addition.

But the mergansers are not fooled

and cluster near the dam far out of range.

I can hear the whispered curses in the reeds,

and I remember that the reedy hours that wave

and ring us all our lives hold every

whisper ever heard or lost or dreamed….

In the middle of this water I just stop


and feel the drift to stillness nearly perfect

but for me, balanced on an edge so fragile

between acceptance and tomorrow

as the wind and waves ripple into agitation.

It can be too late for wonder.

Still, to feel blessed just now…who knows?


The paddle dips and pulls,

a breath of water tracing the parabola

towards the longer lights of winter,

towards home, wherever that is.

Children’s Learning Gardens in Cleveland

by Elsa Johnson

Are we officially in winter yet? The Acanthus mollis in my garden has yet to wilt, telling me we have not yet had a freeze hard enough to kill back it or its cousin Acanthus spinosa.

At any rate, back a month or so ago when it was officially and gloriously fall – Gardenopolis co-editors Tom Gibson and I joined a bus tour given by the Cleveland Association of Young Children. The tour would take us to four locations where we would be looking at both indoor and outdoor learning environments for young children. Firm believers in exposing children to nature at a very young age, we are interested in children’s outdoor learning environments. We wanted to see what is out there.

The tour started at the Music School Settlement, that impressive powerhouse educational resource located in University Circle, that lies cheek to jowl with Case Western Reserve University. The Music School Settlement, founded in 1912, is one of the oldest community music schools in the country, providing music education and arts-related programs to students of all ages regardless of their ability to pay. We were touring specifically the Center for Early Childhood’s classrooms and its outdoor learning environments : an Outdoor Classroom, and a Learning Garden.

When the children visit the outdoor classroom they are split into groups that rotate around 3 to 7 areas, participating in facilitator-led experiments at each of the areas. The areas include a water pump; stepping stones or tree stumps, a dirt pile, a sand pile, a paved track, a grassy hill, and planters. Nothing is very elaborate. The number of areas visited and experiments conducted depend on the interest and engagement of the students. An example of a planned activity is the water faucet where the children operate the pump to fill various size containers with water, count the number and sizes of various containers and cooperate to empty smaller containers into larger containers.

1112160913bStudents are also allowed time to freely explore the environment. There is an art ledge which the children may paint with colored water.


There is nothing in this outdoor classroom that a group of enthusiastic volunteers could not build, with the exception of the circular paved pathway that connects all the learning stations.


The outdoor Learning Garden, located on the footprint of a Victory Garden has numerous small beds for learning about and growing both annuals and perennial plants like Jerusalem artichoke. There is an herb spiral. There is a composter.

Our next stop was the Nature Center at Cleveland Metroparks Rocky River Reservation – South. Here, of course, the entire outdoors is a classroom and an adventure, so there is less constructed outdoors specifically for early childhood education. There are indoor classrooms, and extensive nature learning programing. What is new – just installed – is a new food forest located at the front of the building in its stunning location below a high escarpment, right alongside the Rocky river.



 Our next stop was Parma Preschool. The outdoor space here seemed to combine some aspects of a playground (the moving bridge) and many of the aspects we saw at the Music School Settlement (water play/exploration area, planting beds, a place to paint), all of it condensed into a relatively small space. There was a certain appeal to that density. 

1112161256 1112161259a

Our last stop was the campus and school of the Urban Community School. Unfortunately, by the time we got there my battery had expired, so I have no pictures to share with you. I can only tell you that this inner city, near west side school run by Catholic nuns is a very nice place indeed. Their learning garden, wherein one finds many of the elements found at the Music School Settlement, is by far the most glamorous, and obviously professionally designed and executed.  There is a willow withe tunnel to surpass all other withe tunnels, an amphitheater, a hoop house (like a greenhouse but enclosed by plastic), and raised beds. It is beautiful. There is also a tall fence all the way around it and you need a key to get in.