Monday, December 20, 2010

Poem for Monday, Kennedy Center, Ocean Quartet

The Fire At Ross's Farm
By Henry Lawson

The squatter saw his pastures wide
Decrease, as one by one
The farmers moving to the west
Selected on his run
Selectors took the water up
And all the black soil round
The best grass land the squatter had
Was spoilt by Ross's ground

Now many schemes to shift old Ross
Had racked the squatter's brains
But Sandy had the stubborn blood
Of Scotland in his veins
He held the land and fenced it in
He cleared and ploughed the soil
And year by year a richer crop
Repaid him for his toil

Between the homes for many years
The devil left his tracks
The squatter pounded Ross's track
And Sandy pounded Black's
A well upon the lower run
Was filled with earth and logs
And Black laid baits about the farm
To poison Ross's dogs

It was indeed a deadly feud
Of class and creed and race
But yet, there was a Romeo
And a Juliet in the case
And more than once across the flats
Beneath the Southern Cross
Young Robert Black was seen to ride
With pretty Jenny Ross

One Christmas time, when months of drought
Had parched the western creeks
The bushfires started in the north
And travelled south for weeks
At night along the riverside
The scene was grand and strange
The hill fires looked like lighted streets
Of cities in the range

The cattle tracks between the trees
Were like long dusky aisles
And on a sudden breeze the fire
Would sweep along for miles
Like sounds of distant musketry
It crackled through the breaks
And o'er the flat of silver grass
It hissed like angry snakes

It leapt across the flowing streams
And raced the pastures broad
It climbed the trees and lit the boughs
And through the scrubs it roared
The bees fell stifled in the smoke
Or perished in their hives
And with the stock, the kangaroos
Went flying for their lives

The sun had set on Christmas eve
When, through the scrub lands wide
Young Robert Black came riding home
As only natives ride
He galloped to the homestead door
And gave the first alarm
"The fire is past the granite spur,
And close to Ross's farm"

"Now father, send the men at once
They won't be wanted here
Poor Ross's wheat is all he has
To pull him through the year"
"Then let it burn", the squatter said
"You shall not take the men -
Go out and join your precious friends
And don't come back again."
"I won't come back," young Robert cried
And reckless in his ire
He sharply turned his horse's head
And galloped towards the fire

And there for three long weary hours
Half blinded with smoke and heat
Old Ross and Robert fought the flames
That neared the ripened wheat
The farmer's hand was nerved by fears
Of danger and of loss
And Robert fought the stubborn foe
For the love of Jenny Ross

But serpent like the curves and lines
Slipped past them and between
Until they reached the boundary where
The old coach track had been
"The track is now our only hope
There we must stand" cried Ross
"For nought on earth can stop the fire
If once it gets across."

Then came a cruel gust of wind
And with a fiendish rush
The flames leapt over the narrow path
And lit the fence of brush
"The crop must burn!" the farmer cried
"We cannot save it now"
And down upon the blackened ground
He dashed the ragged bough

But wildly, in a rush of hope
His heart began to beat
For over the crackling fire he heard
The sound of horse's feet
"Here's help at last," young Robert cried
And even as he spoke
The squatter with a dozen men
Came racing through the smoke

Down on the ground the stockmen jumped
And bared each brawny arm
They tore green branches from the trees
And fought for Ross's farm
And when before the gallant band
The beaten flames gave way
Two grimy hands in friendship joined -
And it was Christmas Day.


Stephen Winick read the above poem during of the Ocean Quartet's solstice concert this evening, though I spent most of the day at performances -- first to see my cousin-in-law Emily Levey in the new musical Snow White, Rose Red (and Fred) at the Kennedy Center, then at the Ocean Quartet's Song of Solstice CD release party at Convergence Lab in Alexandria. Dementordelta came with us to both -- the musical with my kids, the concert without -- though we weren't sure we were going to make it to either because we got ANOTHER flat tire, this one on the Beltway! A tow truck driver from T And T Towing in McLean came to our rescue struggling with the spare tire and didn't even accept payment, so although I never heard his name, I want to shout out a big HAPPY HOLIDAYS to him!

Paul made eggnog pancakes with eggs for brunch, which I hope made up to Delta for the fact that we bored her with football between the shows (the Ravens beat the Saints, which is very good news; the Redskins lost to the Cowboys, which they deserved; the Giants lost to the Eagles, which sucks). We also watched Stephen Colbert's Christmas special because we were all in the mood for it. Snow White, Rose Red (and Fred) is delightful -- targeted at kids, since it's kind of a crossover between Glee and the Brothers Grimm, but with funny original songs and a lot of energy in the performances. We've been waiting for Jennifer Cutting's solstice CD since we saw the Ocean Quartet's holiday show at the US Naval Observatory three years ago, so I am delighted finally to have it, and to have gotten to hear Jennifer, Steve, Lisa Moscatiello, and Cheryl Hurwitz (whom we met last summer at Glen Echo when her adorable daughter sat with us) perform everything from "In the Bleak Midwinter" to "Ma'oz Tzur" to "Summer Will Come 'Round Again."

The bust of JFK across from the Opera House entrance at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. We weren't allowed to take photos inside the theater.

As you can see, there is still snow on the upper deck. The Watergate Hotel is behind the trees at left.

And here's a view of the frozen Potomac River (with flying ducks) looking toward Georgetown University.

It was quite dark inside the Convergence Lab in Alexandria, so you can barely see Lisa and Cheryl in any of my photos...

...and there's lots of noise and blur in the photos of Jennifer and Steve.

Here she is encouraging the audience to clap in rhythm -- we were also invited to sing along on many of the songs.

And here is Steve singing the Green Man song.

I had to get a photo with the Holly King (you can see an older pic of me with him in Green Man garb here!

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