“I thought that I never would see
A lovely poem hung from a tree.”
(With apologies to Joyce Kilmer)
The other day I took a walk in the woods with Greg Asimakoupoulos, my friend and fellow columnist. He wanted to show me his “Poet Tree.” Yes, he said, that pun is intended, “rooted” in his lifelong hobby of playing with words.
I was carrying a copy of Greg’s newest book, “Paper Bag Poems in Pioneer Park,” which was just published. It’s a collection of photographs of short poems he wrote on small paper bags and pinned to a special tree in one of Mercer Island’s forested trails near his home.
At a bend in the trail, we stopped next to a craggy fir with a hole in the trunk, a couple of bulging knots, and a crooked gap with a stone in it. It looked like a weird face.
“This is where I post my poems,” Greg said. Is this a little unusual?
Well, maybe, but Greg is an unusual guy. He has written 15 previous books, included four books of poetry. His books on the film, “It’s a Wonderful Life” are definitive works on that American movie classic.
I got to know Greg in Mercer Island Rotary and he invited me to have lunch at Covenant Living at the Shores, where he was chaplain for 10 years. He recently retired from that position. He previously was the pastor at the Covenant Church on the Island. He has written a column on faith and values for the Reporter since 2005. He also does a weekly poetry blog called myrhymesandreasons.com. He and his wife Wendy have three daughters and two granddaughters.
“My granddaughters love to put rocks in the hole in the tree when we walk here,” he said, noting that the inspiration for his project was the hand-painted rocks that they would occasionally find along the trails.
In the foreword to his book, Greg wrote: “I love to paint word pictures. Why not pen a brief rhyme or an upbeat slogan on a brown paper bag and tack it to a tree on the trail? Hearing no objections, that’s exactly what I started to do. That was three years ago. And I am still doing it.”
He said he tried to remain anonymous, but has been caught a few times tacking a new poem to the tree. But then he decided to publish the poems. “Since my name will be on the cover, the bard of the forest won’t be anonymous any longer.”
And the book has a subtitle: “An Interactive Walking Journal.” Next to each poem is a blank paper-bag photo with a paragraph reading: “Use the space below to log date, location, distance, weather conditions and observations of your walk or the world (or what music or podcast you are listening to).”
Greg hopes that people will take the book along on their walks to reflect and record thoughts. It’s a charmingly inspirational idea that combines a journey with a journal. Interspersed are some illustrations by Doug McKenna, who has been Greg’s friend since they were both students at Seattle Pacific University in 1970.
And as I wrote in my most recent column in the Reporter, walking is one of the best things we can do for mind, body and spirit. It can reduce stress, lower tension, lessen depression and combat fatigue. It also makes you smarter – and may make you live longer. (See “Science proves the benefits of walking on Mercer Island,” Aug. 23, 2023).
Greg’s suggestion that people use his book to write their own thoughts is creative and encouraging.
As Greg notes, many of the brief poems don’t rhyme. “I guess you’d call them blank verse.” As I thumbed through the volume, here are a few of the brief poems that struck me:
“Mother Nature, we love to walk with you.”
“Have faith! Don’t fear! The trail ahead is hopeful.”
“Don’t be a grouch. Be joyful as you walk!”
“A stand of trees. A walk in the woods. Will jog your memory of simpler times with Dad and Mom and all your family.”
“The roots of cherished Liberty (much like the roots of this loved tree) are buried neath the path we walk, for freedom isn’t free!”
“Life is not always a walk in the park. But when it is don’t just mark time. Walk joyfully!’
“Don’t pass over blindly the beauty God gives. There’s wonder around us. God’s winking. He lives!”
One of Greg’s favorite words is what he calls “Godwinks” — those often surprising, funny, inexplicable and heart-warming incidents and coincidences that we all experience sometime in our daily lives.
With a twinkle in his eye, Greg says, God’s winking.
Check it out
Greg Asimakoupoulos will be at Island Books from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 9, to sign copies of his new book.
John Hamer is a retired journalist who lives just off Island Crest Way in Mercer Island. Email: email@example.com.