Plenty of things in life can give joy. I remember my first garden in Maine — planting seeds, watching the plants grow, pulling weeds to give them room, harvesting — a wealth of joy and future meals. These days I find joy in my kayak, gliding over the water as I catch a glimpse of wildlife — mergansers, osprey, the occasional turtle or beaver. There’s also pleasure in the warmth of a wood stove, in a new blanket of snow. And, of course, I take pleasure in my grandsons, their exuberance and growth.

It’s the time of year now for giving and I enjoy that as well. This is rooted in my own childhood, when my parents, who had limited funds, always managed to pile presents beneath our Christmas tree. As a young parent myself, I did the same. I remember those early years when money was so tight, I’d make things for my boys — colorful posters of Sesame Street characters, crocheted animals, and one year I created a scroll for each of them with 100 reasons why I loved them. Of course, there were also always books under the tree.

Now I enjoy the same giving with my family and close friends, finding just the right gift, or making something meaningful that can’t be bought. But joy is not always undiluted. Holiday giving is wildly commercial and too often what we give needs batteries, breaks easily, or becomes outmoded too quickly. Then what?

Most people living in Belfast have seen the giant ducks in the harbor — first JOY and then, this year, GREATER JOY. They inspired a poem for longtime Belfast resident Margo Davis. She recalls, “I am a walker, a rambler I guess you could say. On one of my many long jaunts I encountered the scene of the giant rubber ducky. At first I was charmed by the families who thronged the bridge, but I agonize about each plastic bag I use, wash and reuse.”

She has taken Al Gore’s advice to heart and hopes that, done faithfully, each small gesture will help our environment and add up to a greater impact. So when she saw the duck, she said, “This giant piece of (it looked to me like) plastic created a conflict between the joy of the moment and the larger lack of joy our flagrant consumer lifestyle brings us. That same day I had been walking in the woods in a remote spot; a magically quiet place. And that’s the dichotomy that brought me to the poem.”

Margo considers herself a newcomer to writing poetry, but she brings a unique expertise as well as an ear for language. For 25 years her job was to figure out boundary lines, a job that allowed her both to tromp the woods looking for evidence, but even more importantly, to delve into land records to solve challenging puzzles. Two centuries of written words, filled with clues and mysteries. That work trained her to pay attention to details, to look below the surface for answers.

No Greater Joy

An old gate made of stripped saplings,

all curves, weathered to my hand.

I slip through, trod down the two-wheeler path

to a stream swollen by a fall freshet,

scout up and down its banks

searching for passage, and finding a beaver dam

sturdy enough to bridge, hold on to scrub and shrub

as I balance across. One foot slips in,

but not above the boot.

 

The worn path is hazy now, until I come

to a sodden mass of blonde grass bent at the neck,

lying all in one direction

as if in obeisance to a forsaken god or

spirit of the forest.

 

In town, a giant rubber duck

mysteriously appears at the public float,

almost taller than the masts of sailboats

that surround it, as if the bay is a bathtub

for our dalliance. Its moniker, splayed

across hefty breast, is Greater Joy.

 

And it’s a joy to the children whose parents

spend this fine fall day to herd them

across the footbridge to gawk.

Soon novelty diminishes — this toy

like many colorful ones at home.

 

I think of the duck’s plastic microbeads

as they shed and shed silently into the ocean.

Worry that one day, this giant may wash ashore

like a punctured balloon, to degrade the ledges.

Long after children are grown,

will beavers be rare and fish nearly gone?

Will forest spirits cast eyes upon our folly?

 

Judy Kaber is Belfast’s Poet Laureate.

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