Monday, June 26, 2006

 

Eastern Shore = Harriet Tubman

I'm on the Eastern Shore of MD for two days, having dropped my son Ben at sleep-away camp yesterday (his first time! for two weeks! he's only 8! we're all terrified and excited and freaked... plus, it's going to rain the whole first week - the poor baby.)

Staying at some friends' place in Fishing Creek, I discover we are only miles from Harriet Tubman's birthplace. I went for a drive this afternoon, despite the rain. (My English Auntie would say, "We'll pack our Macintoshes and have our tea in the car, if need be." What's a little rain to a sturdy English Auntie, after all?) First, I took the driving tour through Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, all marsh and ospreys and redwinged blackbirds, egrets and snowy egrets. Then I drove to the Harriet Tubman birthplace, which turns out to be a marker by the side of the road, planted among the soybeans, in the flat earth.

I kept thinking of Tubman in the night; her own escape and then her many trips back to liberate others: wading through the swamps, the mosquitos, the lumbering great blue herons taking off ahead of her, the mosquitos, the bald eagles and the groundhogs and the mosquitos. What makes a fierce determination like hers? She felt fear, of course, because there is no human without fear. But what is the origin of the determination to persist, despite the fear. She had no children of her own -- was that part of it, that she felt she had nothing to lose? I don't know, but I am fascinated by her ferocity. Is it personality, the way we pop out of the womb?

I wrote a poem last year about history in Washington, DC -- Tubman and Whitman and Lincoln and my neighborhood of Petworth -- which won the People Before Profits Poetry Prize. You can read it here. More on determination and Tubman soon -- this is one of my obsessions.

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