SLOWLY, THE FIRST SPRING: A Woman’s Journey to Richmond, 1818
Photo and Poem by Lee Ann Eckhardt Smith
I carried our children across the sea
One draped over my shoulder
One curled under my skin.
We’re pulled by your promise:
Our own land to work
No more soldiering.
Chose these flats
For our temporary Landing, this
Low-lying headland in a grey, glinting river
Tents and wailing babies and
Beyond the shadow of that
Craggy bluff to the east
Our Ireland, months away.
The summer waned
And though untrained
You followed Captain Hill into the trees
Beyond this canvas village and
Felled the ancient giants
With tiny axes
Forged a path some twenty miles west and south
To our future.
Then, for months knifed
By winds of ice that sliced
Through the walls of our raw log cabin
We shivered together on the evergreen bed.
We tended fires hourly, but still this vicious season
Claimed two of our group, both blackened by freezing.
Once, though I begged, you walked with Mr. Cain to Burritts Rapids
Twenty miles each way, for flour and withered cabbage.
Slowly, slowly, the first spring
Like a blossom opens, brings
The promise of soil rich enough and settlers still hardy enough.
I take my pan to the banks of the Jock, my companion
The strange new birdsong in budding trees overhead.
As I dip my pan in the river, ripples blur
My brave face, my
Flat-eyed weariness, the jutting cheekbones of winter’s privations.
I stand, cradle my belly, bring the water back home for our tea.
Lee Ann Eckhardt Smith is a professional writer from Richmond, who has been exploring the sites of the village and providing Richmond Hub readers with her photographs and the poems that these sites inspire her to write.
Where King and Strachan Streets used to intersect is now a walking path along the Jock. The path traces the south-east corner of the block that held Richmond’s original “Government Reserve”: the Commissariat, depot, administration building, officers’ barracks and Colonel Burke’s office. The photo was taken along the banks of the river in this location. It inspired some thoughts based on historical facts, about what a Richmond pioneer woman might have experienced, leading up to the villagers’ first spring.
You can contact Lee Ann here: www.leeanneckhardtsmith.com
You can download a .pdf copy of her poem here.