Twigs And Leaves

Twigs and Leaves
Songs of the Solitary Sentinel

The living word of storytelling, and the sharing of humor and wisdom are captured in this collection of poetry by e.o.bryce. Presented in windows on phases of a life journey in lifting rhythms, e.o.bryce explores the condition of life and the passing of our lives from one experiential phase of congruency to another.


Poetry is hard to pin down.We think we know it when we see it, but struggle when we try to define it.

"Songs" are obviously not prose.  For one thing, they are musically rhythmical, Mountain Sailor,is a song in 2/4 time.  Think of the first two syllables ("On . . . A")as the "pickup" to a "downbeat" -- ("greygloom").  The last line is in triple time.

The pieces in this section celebrate the outlier, the solitary individual coping patiently, proudly, unapologetically with its environment.  They were written during stressful times in my life when I felt abandoned and alone, trying to deal bravely in the face of adversity. Today, I see a younger version of myself marshalling my powers of detachment (the sentinel), to fill my soul with optimistic songs of survival.


Mountain Sailor

On . . .
A greygloom day in Autumn,

Draped . .
In drippy, drizzly rain,
I see a crowd of greengrey pine trees
Glooming round a lone gold maple.

Just . . .
A sailor, gold in oilskins,
Adrift on a greengloom sea,

Patiently . . .

Awaiting . . .

The Northerly bluster of Winter.

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A nostalgic snapshot of 1950's white Montana, horses and all, from the eyes of innocent 20's-somethings, unaware of the upheavals just under surface of the country-side they are traveling through.  Socrates explores how we contend with adversity; how we depend on the generous natures of the people around us. It's a theme that runs through my life.  It's a true story of a very special time.  And it teaches us that naiveté and bad decision making need not be fatal. We have within us the imagination to solve and surmount our problems.

Just don't forget the bicycle pump!


Introducing Socrates

Socrates was a truck, a 1954 1/2-ton Dodge pick-up with a short squished nose.  He looked to me like a picture of "the bust of Plato" in the family copy of Bulfinche's "Age of Mythology", by my new husband, Bryce, didn't want a truck named "Plato", so we named him "Socrates".

Like many other inappropriate names for inanimate objects, it worked. For years when we and our friends talked about him we referred to Socrates, only occasionally, "the truck".  And he was always "him", never "her".  One glance convinced you immediately that he was a "he", not a "her".

Bryce bought him in 1958, the year after we got married.  We had been tootling around in his family's Willys Jeep (the "Jeep") or in his sister's Henry J (the "Henry J").  But since we planned to go to college in Bozeman, Montana, we needed a vehicle of our own to  a) get us there, and  b) travel in Montana where distances were DISTANCES and there was scanty little in the way of public transportation.  Indeed, to Bozemanites, public transportation was something encountered only in exotic major cities like Billings.  In Bozeman, you walked, drove a car, or rode a horse.  We didn't know much about Bozeman, but we accurately guessed that much!

Getting there was our first priority.  Well, getting there with two large dogs, several boxes of books, assorted tools, a bed, kitchen utensils, bedding and towels, clothes, etc — you get the idea.  That's why we needed a truck. And although you wouldn't think so at first, Socrates was ideal. But he needed some modification.

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But We Had a Darned Good Sail

But We had a Darned Good Sail

The story I tell is true.  As improbable as it seems, it really happened, more or less the way I describe (allowing for imperfect human recollection of details over the intervening forty-six years).

Humans really can die of seasickness. Not over a number of hours, perhaps, but over days.  Dehydration might be a major part of the equation.  Loss of blood may have been a contributor in this case, or a kind of septic poisoning from an ulcer.  Frankly, I never found out what the underlying cause of our friend's decline was.  Undeniably, he was dying. An ulcer was the best guess anyone offered.

In any case, the condition was real and threateningly lethal.  Not something anyone, including the wonderful people in the Coast Guard, was willing to take a chance on.  No one suggested that he would "just snap out of it on his own".  I offer this story to remind us how generous and caring, how foolishly heroic, humans can be.


It was blowing like stink. The boats in the little Marina bobbed maniacally, their masts swaying in no particular rhythm — a St. Vitus Day dance of wooden, plastic, and aluminium objects straining at their mooring lines, threatening to break free and dash themselves against the insubstantial breakwater before hurling themselves into the gale.

A gale.  A full gale.  A gale warning flag on the yacht club flag post.  No day to start an offshore four-day race in the Pacific Ocean.

The race committee had huddled and agreed to postpone the start a few hours to let better conditions "establish themselves".  The conditions were not cooperating.  Weekend sailors with fancy paying jobs were no more cooperative than the conditions.  They wanted the starting gun.

This was the Cobb Seamount Race, the brain-child of the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club.  A 565-mile round trip to an underwater volcano south-west of Portland, Oregon, and back, starting at Port Angeles, Washington, and ending at Neah Bay.  It was the last week of July.  Weather was projected to be "salubrious".  It should have been a pleasant weekend sail into the Pacific for five racing yachts.

Putting it off as long as we could (who wants to get seasick while still tied to the dock) we clambered aboard the Lucy Alice and stowed personal kit securely in our bunks, fighting to stay upright as the deck and cockpit heaved in the mad St. Vitus Day dance.

"It'll be better once we're underway," I heard a dockside skipper say.

"Sure it will, " I muttered sarcastically.

"He's right," said Bill.  "At least we will."

The Lucy Alice was Bill's thirty-three-foot Rhodes-designed fiberglass yawl, a two-masted rig with a "mizzen" sail behind the helmsman.  He'd raced her to Maui the year before and was preparing for another cross-Pacific race next year.  Just an easy cruise for Bill's new crew.

Today's venture into this unexpected madness of screaming wind, this cauldron of thrashing water, started out to be a test of navigation, of nerves, of teamwork, of rigging, of sails.  It would end up being a test of determination, endurance, and seamanship.  Not like a fourteen-day voyage locating the trade winds and coasting "downhill" to the Hawaiian Islands like the Victoria-Maui Race, but a three to four-day excursion along the "graveyard of ships," the Washington/ Oregon coast, to a spot in the ocean 100 feet above a submerged mountain southwest of Portland, 270 miles off shore.  And back again.

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