Updated Dates for the Annual Nature Writing Contest

Black and white butterfly sips nectar from a grouping of light purple flowers. Outdoor scene of grass and hills and trees and a few red-roofed buildings in the background.
International Nature Writing Literary Contest 2020-2021
Nature is our mother. It is our baby crib to where we return every time we feel we need comfort and renewed hope. Hope is that feeling that comes from glimpses into a peaceful, happy and green future and present.

A tree within the garden casts a shadow that protects us from our stellar parent: the Sun.
The Sun is also the source of our energy, he is also the source of our poetry; and poetry, maybe just another part of the natural community.

Today, Covid-19 make us feel like prey, having to think in a new way inside a world built by mother nature. To face this reality, hope is needed more than ever and we will move forward, but not ignore this new “map of life” and new mindset.

Our Nature Writing Contest for 2020/2021 is a new opportunity that we, as organizers, created to reach the rest of the world. Every Contest is a challenge for the authors who participate. This year we prepare new categories to which people are invited to submit work: Nature and Love; Nature and Ecology; Nature and Energy; Nature and Friendship; Nature and Gardens; Nature and Cinema; Nature and Music and Nature and Family. Family is our fundamental asset during these pandemic times.

This year we would like to share with you some inspirational photos and “horizons” and we kindly invite all authors to visit the following places online:

Additionally, we invite all authors to honor one cinema director of their choice in their piece and to write about that director’s view of nature. For example, Woody Allen portrays various aspects of nature – human nature.

You are free to criticize the cinema director’s work in your piece. For example, with Woody Allen, is there actually something called ‘human nature’ that exists and is worth describing in film?  

Submissions for the contest open Thursday October 15th.
Rules for the Nature Writing Contest:

1. Participation in this contest is free.
2. Any person from any country can participate as long as they submit work written in English.
3. Each participant can submit a poem of any length and a short story with a maximum of 3000 words. 
4. The works must be sent by e-mail to blogsnat@gmail.com along with the author’s name, country, and email address. The subject of the email should be "International Literary Contest 'Nature - 2018-2019'". Single spaced, 12-point Calibri font, work pasted in the body of the email.
5. The participating authors agree to receive e-mail in the future that advertise future literary initiatives.
6. Award-winning finalists are entitled to a digital certificate.
7. All the selected poems will be published in an anthology, which will be available in PDF format for sale for 2.5 € (over PayPal). Award-winning authors are entitled to a free copy.
8. Author rights: authors have their rights over the works published, in order to publish as they want in any other place. The organization of the contest retain total rights over the published works in the context of the Anthology of the Contest or any other anthology or collection of short stories they want to publish in the future or online in the websites of the organizers.
9. Deadline for participation: April 15, 2021
10. Pre-finalists will be announced on 10 May.
11. The final results will be announced on June 28 at http://talesforlove.blogs.sapo.pt and, when possible, at http://synchchaos.com/.
12. The first prize winner of each category will be entitled to a prize: an original work of art (an A4 painting) sent by mail.
We thank you your participation in this literary adventure.
Please feel free to contact us if you have any questions.

If you need help with your English or writing skills for your content submission this year we have special external writing help by Shmavon Azatian.
Contact: shazzai@yahoo.com
Synchronized Chaos (California – USA)
Rui M. at Tales for Love (Lisbon – Portugal)
contact: ruiprcar@gmail.com
Word Poetry (Canada)
Inspiring Photography
We thank you your participation in this Literary Adventure.
Please feel free to contact us if you have any question.

Synchronized Chaos October 2020: Brave Souls

“Death always feels far away from life, until it isn’t.”
― Corey Ann Haydu, The Careful Undressing of Love

You may not always have a comfortable life and you will not always be able to solve all of the world’s problems at once but don’t ever underestimate the importance you can have because history has shown us that courage can be contagious and hope can take on a life of its own. Michelle Obama

Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat. — Theodore Roosevelt

Green grass growing in cracks in gray asphalt.

Responding to the coronavirus pandemic, global financial instability, worldwide racial injustice and a string of natural disasters has required courage and initiative. And many people – teachers, first responders, parents, essential workers, small business leaders, researchers and medical professionals, and ordinary folks living through disruption – have navigated this season with bravery and resilience.

Where I live, for example, we have unfortunately lost a few independent bookstores, but the community has risen up to preserve many more of them than I believed could survive. And, of course, I honor the caregivers of the sick, the teachers and parents adapting to online instruction, and those who organize mutual aid efforts to work for justice and provide for their neighbors and communities.

This month’s submissions center on efforts that require courage: athletic greatness, romantic love, overcoming trauma, or simply keeping one’s spirits up and enjoying life. An old saying goes that it’s far better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. And others point out that failures and losses of various kinds indicate that we are making efforts towards a goal and therefore have a chance of success.

Hand holding a sepia toned lit candle, soft afternoon light, indistinct background.

With this in mind, I introduce October 2020’s theme for Synchronized Chaos Magazine: Brave Souls.

Chimezie Ihekuna, from Nigeria, contributes the script for an action drama about galactic warfare with the survival of all Earthlings at stake.

An article of mine outlines the efforts of resourceful makers, builders and community leaders to figure out how to make coronavirus tests available to the United States’ general population. Ike Boateng also tackles coronavirus in his nonfiction essay, outlining the various effects of social distancing on his homeland of Ghana.

On a smaller scale, Henry Bladon explores social and interpersonal drama and challenges: figuring out modern etiquette and avoiding the manipulations of a narcissist.

J.J. Campbell, expresses hopes he clings to about this world and the next along with his regular themes of loneliness and inertia. Stephen Golds brings us various images of loneliness: people who are isolated, whether they are around others or not.

Elizabeth Hughes reviews Mark Gunther’s novel Without Jenny in her monthly Book Periscope column. This book is about the unraveling and repair of a family after the loss of their young daughter.

Syrian writer Moustafa Dandoush’s pieces describe various phases of a sweet romance, including its end. Rori Raghda, from Syria as well, also explores love and grief through natural and mythological metaphors.

Flexed hand holding several cords of twisted rope against a green background.

Bangladeshi poet Mahbub writes of nature’s various moods, death and illness alongside the beauty and relaxation of the outdoors. Carol Smallwood reviews Leslie Klein’s poetry collection Driving through Paintings, focusing on the loveliness of natural scenery. Dave Douglas highlights the unpredictability of nature in his short story, showing how humans and other species need to observe and adapt.

Chris Butler crafts an intense grotesque piece on our increasing dependence on technology, on how we’re becoming cyborgs, merged with the Internet. Chinese poet Hongri Yuan describes a future, idealized vision of cities where people throughout the galaxy live in spectacular, dignified and orderly harmony with nature.

Mark Young’s poetry explores the very definition of the art form, with words generated through a technical process that seem to approach intelligible meaning.

James Goss’s poetic vignettes capture places, styles and aesthetics, while Spanish writer Daniel DeCulla’s illustrated poem intertwines a country folktale sensibility with heavy metal music. Joe Balaz celebrates in Hawaiian pidgin the beauty of a dancer and a cultural performance. Ross Bryant sends in surrealist sketches of time and place that resemble directions or locations.

Alan Catlin creates a diary of memories through free association, in the style of Bernadette Mayer, and Kat Meads presents an epistolary Southern novel in the form of chatty letters from aunt to her young niece. Norman J. Olson reminisces and comments on his rural farm childhood and their closeness to nature and respect for animal life.

J.K. Durick examines ordinary life with a poignant tribute to a faithful dog and other pieces on naps and neighborhood walks.

Faraway image of a human figure climbing a smooth, huge windswept rock with the sunrise out in front of them. Wispy cirrus clouds, light blue, golden, purple and pink colors.

Carol Smallwood reviews Deborah Turner’s new poetry collection Sweating it Out, about life lessons learned through basketball.

Michael Amritin also touches on sports in his tribute to the courage of Colin Kaepernick in making a stand. His other piece encourages us to stay aware of signs in society that resemble the cultural climate that led to Nazi Germany, including the decline of rational thinking.

Michael Robinson also tackles social and racial justice, evocatively comparing continual discrimination against and violence towards Black men to a ceiling fan’s monotonous rotation.

Michael Robinson is coming out with a new book soon, The Moon’s Shadow, a collection of his poetry over the past several years. We will share the link with the Synchronized Chaos family when it becomes available.

And we hope that this month’s issue will enliven and embolden you to navigate the rest of this year with aplomb and grace.

Poetry from Moustafa Dandoush

“Always will”

You always want to say goodbye

I always want you to ask why

You always want to do what you want

I always agree with everything you want

You always want to escape far away

I always want you to stay

You always claim you are protecting me

I always say that your farewell hurts me

You always say that we can’t still

I always say that I always will.


I’m over the moon;

When I try to count,

Her uncountable beauty spots.

I’m over the moon;

When I try to describe,

Her indescribable beauty.

I’m over the moon;

When I try to differentiate,

Her eye-colours during the day.

I’m over the moon;

When I try to live with,

Her my imagistic dream.

“Let me – Sugar Gem”

My precious sugar gem,

I’ve waited long to get my chance.

Let me be yours to show you, my gem,

That our fates are never by chance.

Let me look after your heart,

and show you how to love nicely.

Let me hold your hand,

and wipe your tears gently.

Let me raise you up to the mountain’s peak,

So you will touch the sky,

And show you the greatness I seek,

Which is positioned into your eye.

Let me lead you to tomorrow’s light,

and heal you from all the pain,

’cause, now, all what I want

is to see you smiling again.

So, fly with me, my beautiful one.

It’s time we leave the past.

I’m yours, and you are mine.

We’re finally together at last.

Moustafa Dandoush

BA Degree in the Faculty of Arts and Humanities specialized English Literature and Language at Tishreen University.

Poetry from Joe Balaz


Look at da nokekula

just like wun ballerina

floating on da pond.

She stay floating

in your mind,

floating in your eyes,

and floating freely,

in front of wun large flotilla

of male nene.

Dey all stay

moving in like battleships

to check da haole bird out.

If you

like chance foa score

you bettah

jump in da watah

before dat beautiful

winged creature

takes to da sky

and flies away.

Look at da nokekula

wit da graceful neck

and da Cleopatra sunblock

shielding her knowing eyes.

nokekula       Swan.

nene              Hawaiian geese.

haole             Foreigner.          

Joe Balaz writes in Hawaiian Islands Pidgin (Hawai’i Creole English)

and American English.  He is the author of Pidgin Eye, a book of poetry.

The book was featured in 2019 by NBC News for Asian Pacific American

Heritage Month, as one of the best new books to be written by a Pacific


In July, 2020, he was given the Elliot Cades Award for Literature as an

Established Writer. It is the most prestigious literary award given in


Balaz presently lives in Cleveland, Ohio.


Drama from Chimezie Ihekuna

Chimezie Ihekuna (Mr. Ben)
Chimezie Ihekuna

The Conflict

(A Clash of Interest)

The clash between the Blue and Red-Star aliens is taking place in the Parallel Earth. The Blues are tired of the excess influx of technologies occupying infinite spaces, so are the Red Star aliens. The Blue Star aliens, through their specially-designed light-year interstellar spaceships, migrate in 120-earth minutes earlier than their Red-Star counterparts. The former has the agendas of peace and savoring the vastness of enormous lands the parallel Earth possesses as they co-inhabit with the parallel earth’s peoples, while the latter, fierce-looking, star-red complexioned force of alien beings, is poised to take control and put under continued torture the Parallel Earth’s peoples.

The Clash of Interest becomes The Conflict

                                                                 (Ext) The Parallel Earth

           The Parallel Earth is playing host to the conflict between the innumerable Blue and Red Star Aliens. All blue in complexion, The Peace-makers, as they are called stand at the positive axis of the parallel Earth while the infinite Red-Star Aliens occupy the negative axis.  Battle-ready and suspended at the Sky of Invisibility, far beyond the visibility of the parallel Earth’s people,  both leaders stare at each other in disdain while their subordinates wait for their ‘’go-ahead’’ order to begin the confrontation.                      

                                              Blue Alien Leader (Twelve-feet in height)           

                                                            (Sounds gentlemanly)

                        My contemporary Red-Star Alien, you should be aware that we came from different    constellations to inhabit the parallel earth.

       We should realize they have, they are and they will forever be the inhabitants of their lands

                                         We need to live in peace and harmony with them

                                        Red-Star Alien Leader (About the same height)

                                                      (Objects harshly)

                                                         I beg to disagree!

                        We both came from different constellations to occupy the parallel earth!

                        You know, it’s in our nature to occupy where we find ourselves.

                                                     Blue Alien Leader

                   It’s a fact that you came to oppress with your advanced technologies

                                 But remember, we came here before you

                                                     Red-Star Alien Leader

                                (Laughs sadistically. His subordinates laugh too)

                                                                 You’re funny…

                                                           No, you make us laugh

                                      Look at the way you make us laugh you more

(The Red-Star Aliens laugh hysterically to the point where the Blue Star Aliens can’t help but hold their ears with their hands. However, the Blue Alien Leader is unmoved but staring in rage at the hysterically-laughing Red-Star Alien Leader and his co-horts)

                                                   Blue Alien Leader

                                                       Quite Please!

                                                  (Calm suddenly returns)         

                                       (Contd) We’re in for a serious encounter

                       And here you are, disturbing the Equilibrium of Acoustics within the axis of the parallel earth and beyond

                                                         Be considerate!

                                                     Red-Star Alien Leader

                                        You talk as if you don’t know who we are…

                                         You’re addressing a superior force

                                          We believe in control!!!

                                           We’ve colonized over ten planets

                                         The Parallel Earth is for our taking

                                        I can see why your planet can’t colonize any…



                                                           Blue Alien


                                 If you think you’re wise, think about the people

                         You know for a fact that they’re a peace-loving people

                                               They detest wars

                    The energies are in consonance with nature, their frequencies agree with the universal principle of vibration continuum and their conscious concurs with that of their material sphere of existence.

                                                         Red-Star Alien Leader

                                                  (Upset: so are his co-horts)

                         Hmmm…Are you sure you really want confrontation?

                       Give us the parallel earth for our complete control

                      And think of conveying that peace vibration of yours to other worlds

                                                    Blue Alien Leader

                                              You don’t think alright!

                                           What do you think has come over you?!!!

                                                             Red-Star Alien Leader

                                       The control agenda is what has come over us

                                            And you Blue Aliens can’t afford to come in our way!

                                                                 Blue Alien Leader

                                                                   We’ll see to that

                                                   (Shakes his head in utter disappointment)

                                                           What do you hope to achieve from this?

                                                      Red-Star Alien Leader

                                                            I thought you’re wise

                                                 Why ask me a dumb question?

                                           Can’t you see how we’ve successfully colonized other planets?

                                                     Blue Alien Leader

                                           That’s other planets you’ve colonized

                                          The parallel Earth is quite a different one

                                            So my question still stands

                                              Red-Star Alien Leader

                                                    (Very confident)

                                         Well, we’re here for the following:

                                        Depopulating the parallel earth peoples

                                          Taking over completely their leadership structure

                                           Taking charge of their economy

                                              Engaging in sudden wars between and amongst themselves

                                             And infusing by force our mentality in the lives of the few surviving ones

                                            The mentality of subjugation!

                                                  Blue Alien Leader

                                       Do you think you can achieve this?

                                            Red-Star Alien Leader

                                       Who the hell of alien beings that would withstand our agenda?

                                                          Blue Alien Leader

                                                             (Smiles mildly)

                                                      So, you forgot we’re in for a confrontation

                                                                  Red-Star Alien Leader

                                                                   Who cares?

                                                                 (Looks back at his subordinates)

                                                              Fellow, aliens, what’s our agenda???

                                                     (They respond in unison): CONTROL!!!

                                               (Contd) My Blue Alien, you can see the situation of things

                                                                          Blue Alien Leader  

                                                           Let me say some things

                                                          We were here before you came

                                                              We know what the people want

                                                              And we’re more than willing to give them

                                                              They are peaceable a people

                                                                   And so are we…

                                                   My Red Alien, please advise your subordinates to leave here and explore     other worlds as you’ve been doing.

                                                                       Red-Star Alien Leader


                                                             You must be out of your senses

                                                       We came to exercise absolute control without opposition

                                                           But you and your so-called ‘’peace-loving’’ blue aliens think you can stand on our way to achieving our agenda?

                                                                  You must be joking!!!!

                               Remember, we’re way technologically superior and light-years ahead of your people

                                  You blue people stand no chance!!!!

                                                             Blue Alien Leader

                                              We’re at the Sky of Invisibility

                                            We’re here to approach things amicably


                                                            Red-Star Leader


                                                         Blue Alien Leader


                                    We left our worlds in search of rest and in my word and world perspective, peace

                                     We met a people who have existed for as long as time can remember

                                          We ought to seek ways co-existing with them on their land peacefully

                                                                  Red-Star Leader

                        You know that’s against the resonance of our peculiar energy, frequency and consciousness.

                                                           You know what? It’s impossible!!!

                                                                     Blue Alien Leader

                                 I can see you’re prepared since you’ve refused to identify The Conflict of Interest

                                So, it obvious you’re prepared for this clash…right?

                                                                   Red-Star Leader

                                               Do you think we’re here for joke sake?

                                               We have to settle the score here and right now!

                                           Can two alien beings can run a parallel leadership structure here?


                                       We’re here, from the beginning, to take you alien beings out of the way!

                                                           Blue Alien Leader

                                   Interesting! Two alien beings can run a parallel leadership structure

                                                         I agree with you completely

                                                              I thought you’d be considerate

                                                         I thought you will, for once, give peace a chance….


                                                          Red-Star Alien Leader

                                                     You’re DEAD WRONG!

                                                  (COMMANDS HIS SUBORDINATES)


                                    WE AREN’T HERE FOR ANY MERE SHOW

                                      WE’RE HERE FOR WAR!

                                      THERE IS A CONFLICT

                                       WE NEED TO RESOLVE IT IN THE LIGHT OF VIOLENCE

                                       SO, GET YOUR ARCS TOGETHER AND ALL WEAPONS OF DESTRUCTION

                                      WAGE ATTACK ON THESE PEOPLE

                      (The Red-Star Alien Beings are assembling all Weapons of Destruction. The leader is already well-armed to the T. The Blue Alien Beings are all ears to listen to the words of their leader)

                                                            Blue Alien Leader

                                                        (SPEAKS SUPER-AUDIBLY)


                                    (Blue Alien Co-horts shout thunderously): YES





         (The Weapons of Destruction are launched en masse towards the direction of the Blue Alien Beings. The Parallel Earth peoples are on the run as mysterious flames of fire is razing down building structures, taking out other material valuables, consuming various edibles and destroying lives. However, the Weapons of Destruction fired against the Blue Aliens are deflected by the PEACE SONG)

                                      Blue aliens SING (As lead by their leader)

                                                   PEACE TO OUR WORLD

                                               OUR VIBRATIONS’ CHORD

                                                   THAT’S OUR LIFEWIRE’S CORD

                                         THOUGH WE ARE FACED WITH THIS ODD



                                   OUR CONSCIOUS SHALL DEFEAT THEIR WEAPON GOD

                                                PEACE TO OUR WORLD

                                             (The song is repeated severally)

(Suddenly, the Red-Star Alien Leader sees that the Weapons of Destruction fired at the Blue Alien beings are taking U-turns, destroying each of his subordinates— from an innumerable company of Red-star Alien beings to just the leader alive.  He is left with no choice than to throw in the towel as he takes his face to the earth)

                                            Red-Star Alien Leader


                                           Please, take me with you.

                                        I’m nothing without my men!

                                          Our agenda has been thwarted

                                   I regretted ever being with such negative vibrations!

                                                      Blue Alien Leader

                                        (Surrounded by his intact innumerable company of co-horts)

                                                   Well, the deed has been done!

                                                   We’ve won and that’s it

We’ll repair what has been damaged through our pace-aided technologies

We will make a pact with the surviving parallel earth’s peoples and compensate them

We’re going to make our co-existence, from this day onwards, peaceful

Are we all clear about this?

(The Blue Alien Co-horts)  YES

                                               (Contd)  We’ll teach the Red-Star Alien Being what it means to lead a peaceable life

                                                    Take him out of sight!

The Red-Star Alien leader finds himself taken away from the ground by the Blue alien Co-horts  as the Blue Alien Leader joins them. They amazingly descend from the Sky of Invisibility to eyes of all surviving peoples.


 All peoples of the Parallel Earth were all compensated; lives were restored, favorable laws, principles, rules and guidelines were enacted and all promises made by The Blue Alien Leader were materialized

The Red-Star Leader is under watch by the entire New Security Force: A merger of selected earth’s peoples and some stark security-conscious Blue alien beings.


Memoir excerpt from Norman J. Olson

Older white man in a black collared shirt and glasses.
Norman J. Olson

Memoir, a Useful Woods

by:  Norman J. Olson

my childhood was spent in a world far different, not only from the world that I live in today, but also from the world that most baby boomers knew…  I was born in 1948 in Baldwin, Wisconsin and lived the first 11 years of my life on a small failing dairy farm 6 miles south of Baldwin and about 4 miles from Woodville, Wisconsin…  this area had been settled a generation or two before my time by mostly Dutch and Norwegian immigrants… on the streets of Baldwin in the early 1950s, it was still common to hear both Norwegian and Dutch spoken by the old folks and there was much talk about “the old country…” 

the stores had Norwegian and Dutch names, Vandenburg, Rudysal and Erickson, for example… my mom came to the area as a country school teacher from St. Paul, Minnesota, about 40 miles away…  my dad’s family was mostly Norwegian although, my grandma’s brother had married a Dutch woman… which was considered quite unconventional…  the Norwegians considered the Dutch to be wildly eccentric…  the old saying was certainly common among the Norwegians who would exclaim, “well, if that don’t beat the Dutch” whenever something absolutely unbelievable was described…  what little I knew of the Dutch was that they thought the Norwegians were pretty much a bunch of introverted stick in the muds…  well, truth be told, anybody from more than 40 miles away could not have told them one from the other, except some of the Norwegians were red haired…  there was one small grocery store in the town run by Sam Rosen…  who was neither Norwegian or Dutch…  and to me, it seemed very exotic… it was just a small store, much like what would be called a convenience store today, but I remember my parents went there to buy fresh produce… I remember the owner as a smiling, portly gentleman with thin, black slicked back hair…

I remember the old farm houses as being absolutely neat with lace doilies on the arms of the couches and easy chairs, not to mention on every other flat surface…   and the barns were kept clean and fresh with lime and fresh straw…  the farmers seemed to love what they did and there was a sort of reverence for the animals that I have never seen in the modern world…  an animal that was raised for meat and destined for slaughter was treated with kindness and respect until the time came to butcher…  animals were usually not butchered on the farm anymore, although all of the old timers knew how to butcher an animal because it was not too many years since all of that was done by the individual farmers who would help each other out with tasks that required more than one person…

while most of the farms had indoor plumbing and central heat or at least gas or oil heat, our farm never had either…  there was a large wood burning cookstove in the kitchen with a well on the side that was kept full of water and was our source of hot water…  in the summer, the kitchen was very hot when the stove was in use, baking bread or cooking meals, but in the winter, the kitchen was the coziest room in the house…  there was always a pot of coffee on the stove and to me it looked like tar…  especially after it had been sitting most of the day…  but the farmers would drink it on the hottest days, usually half and half with cream…  they would pour the coffee from the cup onto the saucer and slurp it from the saucer if it was too hot to drink from the cup… 

instead of central heat, we had what we called a “parlor furnace”..  this was a big square stove, like a pot bellied stove except squared off, that had an isinglass window in the door which was translucent, and made, I think of mica, so you could see if there was a fire in the firebox or not… I remember cold winter evenings when I was very young, before we had a television, listening to music on the radio and watching the dancing glow of the fire through the isinglass…   

in the winter, this stove was kept going night and day…  they burned oak and maple wood that was harvested from the woodlot across the road from the rest of the farm…  the farm was 120 acres of which 40 acres was wooded…  the wooded area was pasture for the cattle in the summer and was a source of the wood that was used to heat the house…  much of the woods was hard maple which we called “sugar bush” because you could make maple syrup out of the sap…  actually, my brother and I did that for a few years when I was 8 to 11 years old…  we had an old sled that we put some old metal buckets on…  we had an old hand auger, we called a “brace and bit” that we would use to drill a hole in the maple tree…  we had found a box of old wooden taps in the upstairs storage area of the granary…  we would drill a hole in the tree, pound the tap into the hole and then hang a small bucket from the tap…  we did this on a bunch of trees and then every day, in the early spring, we would go around and pour the sap that had collected in the hanging buckets, into the larger buckets on our sled…  this had to be done just at the right time of spring when we were told the sap was rising after the tree had been dormant all winter…

we would then put the sap we had collected in a large boiler and when the season was over and the sap had stopped running, we would build a little fireplace of old discarded bricks and light a wood fire under the boiler, which we would keep watching and stoking until the sap boiled down to the thick consistency of syrup…  I remember that took overnight, but I don’t remember how long it actually took…  we would then bottle the syrup in Mason jars…  in the bottom of the boiler there would be little chunks of maple sugar which we called maple candy and which was so sweet it made our teeth ache…

during the spring, my dad and his cousin Erick who lived on a farm nearby would go into the woods and cut firewood for heating the following winter…  oak and hard maple were the preferred trees for this…  they would select mature trees, fell the trees and cut them into fireplace lengths…  they did this with a long two man saw called a “crosscut” saw…  by the time I remember going with them, Erick had purchased his first chain saw…  this was a huge clumsy two man affair…  but, they loved how much easier it was to put up firewood with the chain saw than the old crosscut…  it seemed like every year Erick got a better chain saw until the last years when the chain saws I remember where much like the modern ones…  when my brother and I were in the woods with them, we had to stay further away from the tree being felled, by a good distance, than the tree was tall…  I remember the men cutting the tree, hammering wedges in to keep the saw from binding and cutting a notch that would control where the tree fell, but that was always an inexact science and I remember them dodging out of the way of an errant tree more than once…

when the tree was starting to fall, it would make a loud cracking noise and the men would yell “timber” and the tree would fall with a whoosh and a roar…  then we would use our axes to help the men trim the small branches from the tree…  the axes were kept sharp and we were taught to use them very carefully as they could be quite dangerous…  once the wood was cut up and loaded on a wagon, it would be hauled across the road to the woodshed which was next to the house…  there, it would be split and stacked and stored to dry for the coming winter…  all of the splitting was done by hand using an axe or a splitting maul which was just an axe with a wide heavy steel head… we sometimes had to pound in steel wedges on the larger pieces… the hard wood split pretty easily but it was all hard heavy work…  swinging the axes, piling the wood, pounding in wedges, etc… 

the woods was also the source of fence posts which were made of green oak…  the men would fell an oak tree but instead of cutting it into stove lengths, it would be cut into about five foot logs…  then each log would be split, using mauls and wedges, into fourths, or more  than four pieces, if it was a thick log…  then the fence posts would be sharpened…  to do this, there was a large circular saw that attached to the front of the tractor and ran on a belt from the pulley on the side of the tractor… the men would use this saw to cut a point on one end of each fence post…  that was a very dangerous operation…  but they were careful as they could be, always trying to stay clear of the saw…  I can still hear the whine of the saw and see the sawdust  flying as a point was ripped onto one of those oak fence posts with a strong man tightly holding the post to keep it from kicking back…  face grim with concentration… and covered with sawdust…

the fence posts were used to make fences around the various fields to keep the cattle in or out…  to put a fence post in, the farmer would use a heavy iron bar of the sort which is called a “digging bar,”  a maybe five foot long heavy steel bar with a wedge point…  the farmer would raise this bar up and drive it into the ground making a hole that was cone shaped…  then the pointed fence post would be set in the hole and pounded in with a heavy sledge hammer…  once the poles were installed, wire would be stretched from pole to pole, barbed wire, electric wire or netting, depending on the kind of fence…  using what we called a “come along” which was a small ratchet device with a handle you could work to pull the wire tight…  my grandpa who was too old to do much of the farm work did much of the fence mending and I remember helping him string the wire and nail it to the fence posts…  after my dad had installed the posts… we would drive out into the field in his old black 38 Chevy…  with wire and fencing tools in the trunk…  Grandpa chewed Copenhagen snuff and he thought it was pretty funny to offer us children a chew…  the look and smell of the stuff was not even a little bit pleasant…  Grandpa was a tall fair haired guy…  I remember him always wearing striped overalls and a fedora hat, working on the fence humming softly to himself…  he was a gentle and kind person and although I worked with him and spent time with him, he was very quiet and I never really got to know him…

that 40 acre woods was sufficient to provide firewood and fence posts on a self sustaining basis…  maple syruping did not hurt the trees and in the fall when all those maples turned fiery red and yellow, on a sunny day, the woods across the old gravel road glowed with color…  it occurs to me that today, that oak and hard maple wood would be so valuable that nobody would think of burning it for heat…  it would be made into guitars, hard wood floors, or fancy furniture…

since cattle were pastured in the woods in the summer, their trampling and nibbling kept the underbrush down, so the woods was open like a park…  we loved to play in the woods and we knew every corner of it from the wetland area where the one basswood tree grew…  to the old birch tree, to the big butternut tree by the pond way at the back corner of the woods…  to the berry patch where an acre or more of wild raspberries grew…  neighbors would come in the summer and pick buckets full of the tiny sweet black berries to make jam…  my brother and I used the old crosscut saw to cut down the small trees that my dad called “ironwood”…  that were considered nuisance… 

we knew where the jack-in-the-pulpit flower grew, there was only one in the whole woods…  we knew that the violets would come up in the spring, among the budding trees, poking through the last of the snow and then later, the woods would be carpeted white with trillium flowers…  we knew the two wet areas where the yellow flowers we called “cowslips” grew…  we could find crayfish in the small man made pond and made small wooden boats that we sailed on the pond…  although we played winter and summer in the woods, there was also, an aloneness, about being in the trees that sometimes seemed scary… 

so, here it is the year 2020…  the old farm has changed almost beyond recognition…  when I go out there and drive by, the only things I really recognize are the hills and fields which have not changed and the old barn which is still standing but has been added to until it is not really the same…  all the sheds are gone along with, I am sure, all trace that I was ever on that land back in the 1950s…  my life took me in 1959, to St. Paul, Minnesota and then to Maplewood, where I live now…  but my dad and his cousin are long dead…  the old trees I knew are probably all gone or at least lost to me in any real way…  I doubt if anybody in the past 50 or 60 years has actually used the trees for heat or fence posts and since the woods is not used for pasture, it is now mostly impenetrable brush, but driving past there in the fall, the scarlet and golden colored maple trees still glow like the inside of a magic lamp… and as the poet said, “something is lost and something is gained in living every day…”

Carol Smallwood’s review of Deborah Turner’s poetry collection Sweating it Out

Photo of four young Black women playing basketball, on the cover of Deborah Turner's poetry collection. Title is in red and yellow and the photo is in black and white. Next to that is a photo of poet Deborah Turner, a Black woman with earrings and a green top standing in front of a brick wall.

Sweating It Out

Finishing Line Press

September, 2020

$14.99, softcover, 30 pages

ISBN 978-1-64662-256-6 (paperback)

Smallwood: What is your educational background?

Turner: I earned successive degrees from the Universities of California, Berkeley, Michigan, and then Washington, respectively. I majored in English and minored in Native American Studies and moved on to library studies. I eventually earned my doctorate in Information Science, focusing mainly on library management and talking as a way to exchange information.

Smallwood: When did sports become an important part of your life?

Turner: Very early on. My transition from playing to competing in sports went fairly easily. Likely this reflects how I benefited from Title IX. As a kid, I was very active and played sports. I’ve always been tall for my age. A coach once looked across the school yard and spotted me, head and shoulders above the other sixth-graders. He recruited me for a relay race. Basketball, rowing, softball, and track coaches would later repeat this gesture right up through my undergraduate years.

Smallwood: How did you come up with the theme for Sweating It Out?

Turner: A mentor and later a fellow member of my feminist writing group, Akasha (Gloria) Hull, heard my first sports poem and encouraged me. It used softball to explore the experience of becoming the family matriarch. “Five poems make up a series,” she’d said. Her words motivated me to write additional jock poems, as I called them. That series has become Sweating with its sports poetry.

Smallwood: Some lines in the first poem in your chapbook, “Juneteenth,” caught my attention:

And the children run free

like schools of sardines

lacing the kelp-like crowd in jubilee.

       Please share some other imagery lines using your sports background:

Turner: Ah, thank you for mentioning that line. I do love having been fortunate to have spent several hours mesmerized by marine creatures at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Such experiences provide wonderful metaphors for poetry.

When elders step in to help right a situation, I feel a reverence that reminds me of the rhythmic tension involved in watching a tennis match (from “Something from Nothin”):

…a cautious serve, slow and inviting, a volley ensued smooth as a grandfather clock tocking…

There’s another instance of imagery in “Double Dutch,” perhaps a symbol of Me Too despite it having been written before that movement began:

…she pretends

It’s her turn to twirl

and the game ends

with rain.

I first experienced and expressed real anger while playing in a basketball game. An 8th grade teammate prevented me from scoring. For the good of the team, I shook a fist at and then one-armed hugged her, tight. Next, I let go of the intense feelings rushing through me and kept playing, certain we could still win. Sports helped me learn how to remain grounded when emotional, while remaining present during challenging situations (“Sidelined”):

She parents like she’s coming in off the bench.

Been coached forever, but the real thing—well…

It can be an incredible sensation to enter into a sporting event tentatively and come out confident—just as it is in life.

Smallwood: In the poem, “My Son’s Avatar” please comment on these very relevant lines:

And I try to recall what a decade of burning bras

and another of fighting, to make our lives matter,


Turner: Each generation does what it can, we hope, to make the world a better place. Yet, we have no idea how the next generation will make sense of our efforts. We strive so earnestly. Meanwhile, children are born; young people get old. When working to make sense of the moments we have, I’m moved to anger, sadness, laughter, and—of course—the unexpected. This poem emerges from watching a beautiful, mixed-race boy passionately select a cartoonish, stereotypically sexual girl from among all the available avatars to be his online game piece. His choice gave me pause and reminded me to make careful wishes. It results in a poem that, among other things, conveys a warning and a wish that we work to ensure our ethical and social practices keep pace with our technological advances.

Smallwood: When did you become conscious of feminism?

Turner: Hum, what a good question. It’s hard to pin down an answer. I studied it in college. Yet, I lived it as a kid. My mother was a hippie and a feminist. So, looking back, I recall being introduced to feminist ways of being from how she modeled it with her life choices. But I had no word for it back then. While studying it, I felt a sense of familiarity while reading classical works, like those in Cherrie Moraga’s This Bridge Called My Back. I once shared a stage with her. That was a real honor.

Smallwood: There are not that many librarians who also are accomplished poets. How did it influence you?

Turner: Yes, that’s true. I’m happy to be following in your accomplished footsteps. There’s an interesting anthology on this theme, Poet-Librarians in the Library of Babel: Innovative Meditations on Librarianship. I really relate to one of its poems about finding an especially moving letter in an archival collection and getting completely distracted from my professional responsibilities! As a librarian, I worked mainly in library public services. Doing so allowed me to watch. I’ve listened to Alice Walker, Maya Angelou, and many other poets describe how writers need to observe. I find helping and watching how people learn how to get much-desired information very satisfying. I relate to the showing/teaching side of library work. Enjoyment in such educational activities led me into the library and information science professorate. Since, I’ve realized there is a strong teaching and learning element in poetry. In that way, librarianship enhanced my career as a writer, which predates mine as a librarian.

Smallwood: Distinguished Professor of English Education, Jeffrey D. Wilhelm (Boise State University) observed that your poems deal with “…deep issues of identity and transformation.” Please share some of these lines:

Turner: The concepts of identity and transformation easily bring to mind how we come of age into adulthood. Yet, life is full of many moments in which we fully realize and accept who we are and use it to inform a different way of being.

A professional arrives at a new place of peace and ambition in “Time Out”:

one by one, lessons of assimilating

fly up and out the mediation retreat window,

taking with them the good sense your mama made you

promise to use

Some lines explore lovingly choosing oneself over others you love (“From the Lighthouse”):

May you know my love even as I leave the lighthouse.

Other lines reflect accepting one’s parents (“Black Patriarch”):

She used to think him snake-like, shedding families like skin   

Still others focus on changing roles with one’s parents (“Switch Hitting”):

This time

who has permission

to grant, to deny?

Pondering, she feels eight again

awkwardly switch hitting…

in the last inning

of her mother’s final season.

Smallwood: Please comment on your contributions to two anthologies: Philadelphia Says: Black Lives Have Always Mattered, and Testimony:

Turner: I have a poem and a prose piece in these works. In Philadelphia Stories, my poem, “Young, Gifted, and Back,” speaks to life after completing college. The title plays on Lorraine Hansberry’s famous play. The second work Testimony has quite a sub-title… Young African-Americans on Self-Discovery and Black Identity. My prose contribution to the volume, “Letters to My Sister,” provides a window into the lives of two young women, one in college; another, a mental institution.

Smallwood: What are you working on now?

Turner: I am working on a novel and a memoir. My first novel, Harvesting Her Own Cranberries is set in 1983. Harvesting tells the story of 12-year-old, mixed-race Tink, who goes missing. Readers follow Tink and her blended family, working to get her home safely. As readers learn what becomes of Tink, they’ll journey with her through a cranberry farm that nurtures more than what first appears. It also touches on a theme I mention above, coming of age at different times throughout one’s life. I’m also working on a memoir based on my life in West Philadelphia.

For a reading and discussion guide for Sweating It Out, or to learn more about Turner and her works, please check: http://www.deborahturner.online

Carol Smallwood, MLS, MA, Marquis Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, is a literary reader, judge, interviewer; her 13th poetry collection is Thread, Form, and Other Enclosures (Main Street Rag, 2020)