An Afternoon at John Haines’s Homestead
Poem of the Forgotten
by John Haines*
I came to this place,
a young man green and lonely.
Well quit of the world,
I framed a house of moss and timber,
called it a home,
and sat in the warm evenings
singing to myself as a man sings
when he knows there is
no one to hear.
I made my bed under the shadow
of leaves, and awoke
in the first snow of autumn,
filled with silence.
*From Winter News, Poems by John Haines, 1966
I met a fellow this summer who had just returned from a pilgrimage to the bus at the end of the Stampede Trail where Chris McCandless died. McCandless was, similar to John Haines, “well quit with the world.” The encounter made me think of Haines, who died earlier this year. I thought what a shame that so few people even know where the Haines homestead is, much less visit it.
For those of you who don’t know John Haines, he was a superb poet and essayist who spent most of his adult life in Alaska. He lived for over 20 years on a homestead near Richardson, Alaska, and his writings were rooted in the country around him. His poems and essays are often deeply introspective and filled with haunting imagery of the wilderness around him and the few humans who entered it.
In addition to numerous other honors he received, he was a former Poet Laureate of Alaska, and was awarded two Guggenheim Fellowships, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Library of Congress.
This past fall, when time and weather cooperated, I made my own pilgrimage of sorts to his homestead. I tramped around the property, visited the home he built from timbers salvaged from an old bridge, walked up to his writing studio on the hillside above his cabin, and then labored up to the bench just below the top of the ridge where he could look out over the Tanana Valley.
I greatly admired Mr. Haines and the visit to his homestead was quite special for me. After I finish a drawing or two, I’ll publish more on John. How about you? Have any of you read his works or met him? Let me know.