Amanda Young

Foster Jewell's Journey Through Nature

Global Haiku Tradition
Millikin University, Spring 2001

Amanda Young

Young's Haiku



Foster Jewell's Journey Through Nature

I chose to study Foster Jewell for my contemporary author study because of the way he beautifully describes nature. His point of view seems personal, as if he is there. He doesn't talk about nature like he's removed from it or looking out on it, but rather, seems immersed in his natural surroundings.

Jewell often describes silent places in nature for example:

Cliff dweller ruins
and the silence of swallows
encircling silence.

(Jewell, The Haiku Anthology, 91)

Finding this cavern—
following the lantern light . . .
followed by silence.

(Jewell, The Haiku Anthology, 93)

Jewell writes about nature in its pure state: uninhabited, unhurried and uncontaminated. His descriptions unhurriedly depict nature. A strong sense of sabi often inhabits his haiku, as seen in the first example. In this haiku one might be looking at a Native American dwelling, perhaps Mesa Verde. No tourists are there at the time. Maybe it is early in the morning. Swallows are circling over the valley below the dwellings. They look almost suspended, noiseless, "encircling silence."

The second haiku has a sense of suspense, but also anticipation. A person has found a cavern, presumably one that he or she has not yet explored. Since it is dark, the person can only be led by the light of the lantern. This conveys a feeling of mystery, which is added to by the last line. The individual is excited to explore a new cave, yet the silence could be broken any moment by something unexpectedly found in the cave.

I was not able to find very much biographical information on Foster Jewell. In the acknowledgments in The Haiku Anthology I saw that some poems were taken from Sand Waves by permission of Deborah LaFauce, Jewell's granddaughter. I did get some information from The Haiku Anthology, where Cor Van Den Heuvel writes that Foster Jewell is one of "the important trailblazers of English-Language haiku…who captured the silence of the woods and desert places of America" (xxi). He continues describing Foster Jewell saying:

Between 1974 and 1980, Foster Jewell produced nine more of his enchanting chapbooks of haiku, two of them in collaboration with his wife, Rhoda de Long Jewell. While evoking vivid images of the woodlands, mountains, and deserts he loved, Jewell also had a way of summoning the spirit of nature into his haiku so that you felt its presence—in the sound of thunder along a beach or in the silence of a moonrise. In 1984 he passed away into the silences he wrote so intimately about. (li-lii),

Two of Foster Jewell's haiku that illustrates his love of the woods and desert follows:

Fall wind in pinyons...
Faster and louder patters
yesterday's shower.

(Jewell, The Haiku Anthology, 92)

Last screech owl cry—
How quietly the dawnlight
comes creeping through the woods.

(Jewell, The Haiku Anthology, 90).

Jewell's first haiku exhibits the natural state of the desert. I was interested in his choice of pinyons as a subject and found, according to one source, Pinyons...are trees that everybody in the Southwest seems to love. Their fruits, or "pine nuts" (actually seeds), were eaten by residents of ancient Indian cliff dwellings and pueblos. Native peoples were still harvesting them when Spanish settlers arrived in New Mexico in the early sixteenth century. Pinyon nuts are mentioned in the records of the explorers Coronado and Cabeza deVaca.

Jewell uses these trees to show the movement of the wind. He continues by describing rain. He alludes to the fact that today's shower is "faster and louder" than yesterday's. Or, one could also take his words as speaking about yesterday's rain still being visible. He may be looking at the indentations of rain left by yesterday's louder shower, comparing it to today's.

Jewell's second haiku describes the end of night. He captures the almost imperceptible passing of time into morning. This transition is described as "Last screech owl cry." The word "creeping" in the last line is really strong, and captures the slow progression of night to morning.

Another haiku that captures Jewell's appreciation of the desert follows:

The desert sun glares—
and out of the canyon's mouth
comes a dragonfly.

(Jewell, Leaves in the Wind, 10).

The word "glares" sets up an image of a hot day with no clouds in the sky. The day is so hot that nothing is moving, not even the air. But then a faint sound is heard and gets progressively louder. One looks over and sees a dragonfly, its iridescent wings reflecting the sun's glare. The dragonfly breaks the silence of the day and, in a way, takes the place of the clouds, since it is moving upward, where the clouds were.
I also obtained some information about Foster Jewell from the forewards of two of his books. In a brief note before his haiku in Leaves in the Wind, Jewell speaks about his haiku: The chosen a fairly consistent adherence to an early trail--a path which seems to allow a little more lingering over the moment. Rather than a lightening flash which may suggest...something there, there have been chosen those on which a beam has appeared to briefly rest.

I like the way he describes his haiku because it applies to all haiku--how each haiku captures a fleeting moment of time that otherwise would have been lost or overlooked. I like his choice of describing the selected haiku as though "a beam has appeared to briefly rest. From reading his haiku, I see that he uses the moon in several of his haiku. This beam of light he speaks about is like a moonbeam illuminating his haiku.

I also get an idea about who Foster Jewell was by reading a forward to Searching Today, by Mariko Kurashita Haupiman. Haupiman speaks about the title of Jewell's book and says:

In as much as yesterday's dreams demand some measure of fulfillment in today's actualities, and today is often seen to better advantage through the leaving of good, perhaps this enduringness will insure that coloration indefinitely enlivening all future todays.

Pertaining to Foster Jewell's haiku, I take this passage to be about the role of haiku. Haiku captures the past, present and future. This "enduringness" Haupiman speaks of could be about the haiku. When written down, the poem is able to "live," in a sense, for many years to come, affecting future readers.

Continuing, another haiku that I like captures the feeling of being outside just after it has rained.

with eyes closed—
the steaming earth...
the spring growth...

(Jewell, Searching Today, 10)

I like this haiku because it vividly describes nature and captures a great image of Spring's new life. I can picture myself going back to our garden after a rain shower. The earth is wet, and as I look at the progress of the radishes and onions I close my eyes and savor the moment. The earth is steaming and you can almost hear everything growing. I imagine the air is humid, which adds to the feeling of "steaming earth." If you listen closely you can hear the rain seeping into the ground, watering new life.

One of Foster Jewell's haiku that I did not like as much follows:

Somewhere behind me,
seeming in dark silence
to feel a slow coiling.

(Jewell, The Haiku Anthology, 91)

This haiku has more words than some of his others, and just doesn't seem to work as well. In the second line I would suggest taking out "seeming." In the third line I would take out "to feel a." I think this would convey the same image with fewer words.

Another haiku that I feel could have been modified to sound a little better is:

The heat waves—
the wading through them...
where they were.

(Jewell, Leaves in the Wind, 11).

I like the idea Foster Jewell was trying to convey. The subject saw heat waves, and like a mirage, when he reached where they were, they were gone. The person was still walking through them of course, but could not see them because they were so near. I think I would like the poem better if the word "the" was taken out of the second line. The haiku would convey the same message with fewer words.

I have included a bibliography in this paper that includes as many works by Foster Jewell that I could find. I will list those that I found the dates for first, followed by a random order of his other works.

Sand Waves: 1969
Haiku Sketches:
Passing Moments:
Searching Today:
Leaves in the Wind:
Beach Comber
Forest and Mountain
Hiawatha's Country

Some of Foster Jewell's haiku were also published in American Haiku, Bonsai, Modern Haiku, SCTH, and Sun-Lotus Haiku.

Some of the awards Jewell received for his haiku (found in Leaves in the Wind) were American Haiku awards, Modern Haiku awards, eminent mentions, honorable mentions, special mentions, and a Bonsai award. One of his haiku listed under American Haiku awards that I liked was:

From this waterfall
another river rises,
weaving off in mist.

I picture a tall waterfall in a valley surrounded by lush vegetation. I can see the water crashing down, forming a new river at the bottom. This reminds me of Box Canyon Falls near Ouray Colorado. The water has been traveling for so long. When it reaches the edge of the rock, it tumbles over. For a moment the water is suspended, not belonging to any body of water, and some is carried away in mist. In seconds the water falls to the bottom and becomes a river again.

I really enjoyed studying Foster Jewell and respect and admire his love of nature. He brings life to things that would normally be overlooked, such as the fern in the beginning haiku. His appreciation of nature shines through all of his haiku. I also like the positive tone of his haiku. He doesn't disturb what he is describing, but observes nature respectfully. Jewell's contribution to the world of haiku captures the movement of nature in its unadulterated state.

To conclude, I would like to share one of my favorite haiku by Foster Jewell that deserves some pondering, evoking peace.

The waves...
blue green sea of wheat
in the wind.

(Jewell, Searching Today, 11).

—Amanda Young


©2001 Randy Brooks, Millikin University, Decatur, Illinois || all rights reserved for original authors