Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Sam Walter Foss

Until I looked for a link to Foss's "The House By the Side of the Road" I was unaware that it had five verses. I have only known about the second verse and had drawn the faulty conclusion that it was a really short poem. But also from that solitary stanza it is easy to surmise that the narrator is reclusive or lacks an adventurous spirit. However, reading through the entire piece, the second verse takes on a fuller richer meaning.

I was first introduced to this verse in an old genealogy where the author had reprinted it as a description of my great, great, great grandfather. No traveling preacher ever wanted for a bed and meals in that area for many years. But he was neither retiring nor lacking in ambition having raised a large family, cleared and farmed a large plot of land, and fired all the bricks for a 2 story house he built for his growing family. But he was satisfied to abide by the side of the road and serve his fellow man (and woman) as fit the need; that, and being a rapt listener to their stories of the road, were adventure enough for him.

Now I have a bit of an adventurous streak, but I am also an introvert personality. So while I can get itchy feet for a new experience I have to withdraw from time to time in order to repair all the wear and tear that new experiences and social interactions incur.

I guess I'm sort of like the squirrels in the back yard. They know there is corn in the garden next door. They peer from the crotch of the maple tree; noses to the wind. So they start down the trunk to the ground. Once on the ground they freeze, and the noses catch the scent again. Then a brave one makes a charge across the open lawn toward the garden, but halfway there pivots, runs back to the tree, up to the crotch and hunkers down. Shortly though, the nose is to the wind again. The corn is calling. More slowly this time, the squirrel creeps down the trunk, eyes flitting to and fro till the feet hit the ground. This time, instead of a charge, the squirrel alternates taking long leaps and then hunkering down to check if it's clear to continue. And at length the reward is obtained, a freshly harvested ear of corn for munching. But does he or she enjoy it al fresco? No way; not until it has been safely hauled back across the lawn, past all those cousins and up to the crotch of the tree does the squirrel dive into the spoils.

Sometimes I have wanted to try something, like blogging, and wished I could satisfy my curiosity by reading about it; or figure out how it works by collecting information about it to take home and study. But most things can't really experienced or understood until I do them myself whether successfully or poorly; because it is the doing that makes it my experience. Anything else is secondhand information. So while I can admire my ancestor's generous nature and affinity for mankind, I sense that he might have missed out by relying on the experiences of others to explain the outside world to him. But the description I have is from one writer's point of view so there may be other sides that are not recorded and maybe he did indulge in an adventure or two.

Anyway, I hope you will read Foss's poem and maybe look over some of his lesser known works as well. Some do have concerns that his writing is too chauvinistic for modern consumption; however, I read his male terminology more broadly in that it was his cultural norm to write from a male dominant perspective but I don't have to endorse his culture to enjoy the overarching sentiment in the poem.

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