Friday, February 6, 2009
"THE CALL OF THE HILLS…"
“I hear the call of the hills…” wrote Ohio poet Samuel Harden Stille. The author’s name and writings were unfamiliar to me when I plucked the worn volume from atop the dusty shelf. The used books shop was small and dark. For the better part of an hour I’d been scrounging about, high and low, with little luck. While fellow bookmen understand when a search of their wares fails to turn up anything you need, I didn’t want to leave empty-handed. The owner had been friendly, chatty, gave me a tissue when dust started me sneezing, offered a cup of coffee from the pot brewing behind the counter; a welcome kindness on a cold winter’s day. Courtesy compelled me to buy something. “How much,” I asked, holding the book up. The shopkeeper squinted a moment. “Three bucks,” he said. “Don’t think it’s much good, poetry-wise. You’re the first person ever showed any interest. Why don’t we make it two bucks?” I gave him the three. When I later stopped at a country café for lunch, I carried Stille’s book in for mealtime reading. I read the book’s title poem, “The Call of the Hills,” first. In truth, the bookseller was right. From a literary standpoint, these were far from examples of great verse. Yet…there was occasionally something—an authenticity, perhaps, a voice, a truth which revealed that in some ways, we were kindred spirits. Stille certainly loved the modest southern-Ohio hills; of that there was no doubt. And every so often, a word or phrase would resonate. “When stars look down,” Stille wrote, “the call of the hills comes in from their eternity…” I’ve not been able to find out much about Samuel Harden Stille. Other than a few booksellers offering used copies of his two or three books, the Internet is strangely parsimonious of biographical information. I know his boyhood home was in Warner, Ohio, a tiny hamlet in Washington County. Here, north of Marietta, not far from the Ohio River, “the Buckeye Hills slope off to the west,” Stille said in a sort of introduction found on the interior flap of the book’s dust jacket. A photograph opposite the copyright page reveals a distinguished gentleman bearing a striking resemblance to “Colonel” Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken fame. “Only the high winds,” Stille mused in another poem, “understand the dignity of a lofty cedar.” I knew what he was talking about when he said, “I yearn for the healing deep solitude of the woods. I am lonely for comradeship with fog, mist, and shadows.” As with Stille, the hills of southeastern Ohio have been singing in my own heart since birth. “God tramps the hills, Stille said, “and I love to be with God. My hills are my eternity, my immortality. When it is time for me to go, I beg of those who know me best to let me rest among my hills…” Sometimes poetry doesn’t have to be good to be great.