Mittge Commentary: State’s Poet Laureate to Visit Onalaska This Evening


One of my favorite poems by one of America’s greatest poets is “After Apple-Picking” by Robert Frost. 

It connects the immediacy of fall harvest with eternal themes of work, yearning and what comes after our labors are over. 

It’s a fitting poem for this weekend, as my hometown of Onalaska celebrates its 11th annual Apple Harvest Festival. 

In an impressive move, the Apple Harvest Festival has arranged a visit tonight by Washington’s official Poet Laureate, Claudia Castro Luna. She is a big advocate of poetry that connects deeply with specific places. In fact, she created a project called Washington Poetic Routes ( with poems linked to places around the state (it has entries for Chehalis and White Pass — and is open for submissions for other places.)

She’ll be appearing tonight at the Mason Jar (637 Leonard Road) in a free event called “A Celebration of Rural Life Through Poetry.”

The event begins at 6 p.m. with a social hour and no-host bar. Castro Luna will speak and read her poetry at 7 p.m. At 8 o’clock, poets from Onalaska High School will read their work along with school and community participants. 

This unique poetry event’s goals align nicely with the overall aims of the Apple Harvest Festival: celebrating families, country rural living, agriculture grown locally, fall harvest, and the beauty of the land around us. 

My friend Susan Roden, a longtime English teacher at Onalaska High School, organized the event. Her goal was to find community members who would share poems that help us see our rural life in new ways. 

I asked her if any of the participants would be willing to share their work with readers of The Chronicle. Jonathan Bradshaw obliged. I’m pleased to share his poem, which makes a specific moment of rural life — in fact, the emergence of new life, and our mortal response to this glimpse of the timeless — truly come to life.


Surface Water

By Jonathan Bradshaw


A slick,




to the shuddering nose

of the wide-eyed ewe,

the third lamb

is out.


Hands wiped clean

on a dirty towel.

Listening through rainfall

for the silent rhythm

of cud, cud, cud.

Ewe and lambs

penned up:

finished for now.



the span of the barn

holds against the opened skies.

A moment at the door - then

splashing through the dark

to the farmhouse

for yesterday’s dinner



All these rains.

The river,

as it runs brown

and flat

and slow.




I’m grateful for those people, like Jonathan Bradshaw and other rural poets, who can look deeply at a simple moment and connect it to something that can touch us all. 

I encourage you to visit tonight’s “Celebration of Rural Life Through Poetry” and other events in the great Onalaska Apple Harvest Festival lineup.

Thank you to the countless volunteers who make this event and the rest of our good life possible. You are the reason we can have nice things. 



Brian Mittge’s column appears each Saturday in The Chronicle. He can be reached at 



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