“A large part of improvisational imagination is fresh juxtaposition.” (119, Asma)
Brian Bartlett in Branches Over Ripples: A Waterside Journal could be said to be writing a conventional daily nature journal. What is different, what makes it a true work of the imagination is “fresh juxtaposition.” Bartlett has been a naturalist since childhood, is now at 64 a poet, a teacher, a critic. He is one of those lucky bird watchers who remembers and can identify bird songs. He has observed closely, has a fine memory, goes on his trips well-prepared with a backpack containing various guide books as well as pen and paper, binoculars, water, snack. One of his fresh juxtapositions in this book is limiting his nature walks to places on water: seaside, riverside, lakeside. This narrowing provides unusual connections—one thing reminds him of another, what is different between the river and the ocean, between the flora and fauna of Nova Scotia and that of Kansas. It allows memory to bring forth relevant anecdotes and facts. It also provides coherence, continuity, structure.
On August 4, 2013, a Sunday, Bartlett arrives at 1:31 PM at Cranberry Lake, Five Bridges Wilderness Area, Halifax County, NS. “For the next few hours and beyond, sounds of lake water nudging granite likely won’t stop for more than a moment or two.” (108) He writes a paragraph about other sounds, and because he is a poet, he describes them vividly: “lightly rattling deciduous-bush branches.” “To talk separately about water sounds and wind sounds ignores their kinship.” In the next paragraph he describes another sound, “A Red-Breasted Nuthatch gave its nasal call.” He writes seven more sentences about that bird song in particular. To write so extensively about these various sounds is unusual, a fresh juxtaposition.
Mating damselflies “made no sound.” They look “less substantial than dragonflies and butterflies, like paper blinds rather than stained glass.”
Connections: the Tent Caterpillars choking the Meadowsweet reminds him of the signs at the beginning of the trail warning of coyotes and moose. The caterpillars’ violence is “brutally effective”, a startling metaphor linking the caterpillar and the moose.