Tom Stock

Poet, Essayist, Photographer, Naturalist

6:50 PM, June 7, 2016; Maxwell C. Wheat Died

Notes from a friend:

2016-06-09 13.02.50I met him in 1975 at Sunken Meadow State Park. We were conducting a teacher’s workshop on using the outdoors. Max was doing poetry, I was doing math. He heard me call “Look, there’s a cardinal.” Ever since then, he labeled me as the person who invented the “teachable moment.” “Thomas Allen Stock writes about nature and love of the outdoors, an educator who stops everything for the teachable moment.” Letter, September 1992

He was always a reporter, once told me “Everybody has a story.”

His father was a reporter. Max became a reporter in Geneva , New York

He attended Hobart College and met Virginia while sailing on Seneca Lake

He joined the Marines and received an accommodation for apprehending an intruder while he guarded a naval shop.

He moved to Queens and worked as a writer for a Boating Magazine.

He Married Virginia. They bought a house in Freeport, 333 Bedell Street.

Soon after, Max got a teaching job at Farmingdale Junior High School

We corresponded for over 25 years. It started when I sent him some nature poems for him to critique. I have them to this day, several taped to a door.

Max wrote a nature column for Newsday, Part 2,  1972 – 1980

One of Max’s poems  ( science is there, spirituality is there too)

LORD OF ALL

For I know the Lord is great

          and he is above all the supernovae

          and above all the galaxies

Whatever the Lord desires he does

          in the sky and on the seas

It is she who sends the solar winds

          through space

          who boils the hurricanes out

of the Atlantic

who makes the sea calm and the

petrels to touch down like

they are running on waves

it is he who brings fourth stars of

          Milky Way to shine on earth’s waters

Max Wheat

 

  • He called poetry “An environmental force”
  • In later years, he focused less on nature, Pete Seeger; Marecello Lucero- Jeffrey Conroy; John Muir; Oilman George Bush’s Hollow Eye Sockets
  • Virginia and Max had a Pekenese dog named Calle Lora. When she disappeared, Max and Virginia panicked until they found her
  • Max’s idea of a gourmet lunch was a grilled cheese or tuna fish sandwich and bowl of tomato soup
  • On Halloween Night, trick or theaters got candy AND a Max poem
  • Max wrote many memoir poems, grandfather, daughters, Virginia
  • When nominated for the first Poet Laureate of Suffolk County, he was snubbed for his criticism of national politics. He was crowned by the newly formed Nassau County Poet Laureate Committee; 2007
  • “I’m in poetry for the money.” He often quipped.
  • Many years after he retired, he was still teaching English…”Anyone Can Write A Poem” He made beginners feel comfortable and encouraged them. He used a humming sound of approval.
  • He always had a spiral notebook in his pack along with a Peterson Bird Guide
  • He made frequent trips to Staples to copy handouts for classes and workshops. He invented simple techniques such as “sneak ins” (words that don’t belong)
  • “Reputation Enhancement” was a favorite phrase, otherwise known as self-promotion. He had a wonderful sense of humor
  • In his study, which was inundated with 5 feet of water from hurricane Sandy, he had at least a dozen briefcases filled with papers
  • His study, at the rear of their 1920 cottage, had several standing book shelves jammed with loose leaf folders and books. The isles were narrow.
  • He likes to call facts “details”
  • He conducted taproot Classes for many years
  • Before a workshop, he’d spend hours researching poets and techniques, and example poems
  • May 11, 2001, Max and I sat outside on the front porch. “It’s a wave day.” He announced. Many migrating birds that crossed from Sandy Point, New Jersey to Freeport adorned the trees. “There’s a Parula warbler.” He calls
  • He often visited daughter Dede in California and Emily in Virginia. Virginia and max visited Holy Cross Anglican Monastery in West Park, and then toured the John Burroughs Nature sanctuary at Slabsides
  • In his English classes, when he assigned students to write, if he saw one staring out the window he order “Just write.”
  • I visited for a week while working on a fishing boat on the Freeport Canal. Max let me stay the week. I slept in the attic. Late at night, I’d come down to use the bathroom and I’d see Max sitting at the dining room table, reading the paper and cutting out articles to tape in his loose leafs. In early mornings with coffee, we’d talk poetry. He was reading Thomas Merton’s poems – good for discussion
  • A sign on their master bedroom door “Male supremacy is a fallacy”
  • Max preferred Anglican over Episcopal. A good Anglican has a good martini
  • Max wore short-sleeved shirts almost all the time
  • Max’s definition of tradition…”Something you can’t get rid of.”
  • He took theology classes at the Cathedral of the Incarnation
  • “poetry isn’t about meaning, it’s about language” an oft used quote
  • In a November 26, 1997 letter: “There is so much I have to write you especially about spirituality and the earth. It is overwhelming
  • His sleep habits were much like Thomas Edison’s – catnaps
  • Max and were friends for at least three decades. He was not afraid to ask for help. He helped me immeasurably. I helped him with the nature part. I assigned myself to be a liaison between Nature and Max.
  • After a positive critique, he’d offer a frank assessment Letter November 21, 1989: “There is a major problem with introductory lines of paragraphs.. They are rhetorical and Bland. Cut them and go straight into the subject.”
  • Max was a man of love for his family and everyone he met. I stood on his shoulders, now I’m ready to have someone stand on mine
  • Thanks Max for a friendship I will cherish all the days of my life.

 

Tom Stock

June 9. 2016

 

PS: Max, if you find any typo’s or poor sentence structure, please send your angel to 20 Willow Street. Thanks

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10 Comments

  1. Sylvia

    Thank you for this, Tom. During a brief period when I was on the Newsday day copy desk (features), it was a pleasure and a joy to read some of Max’s wonderful nature pieces. Prose that sang like poetry, He knew so much, and was eager to share it. He was a teacher to his students but to others, too. Max’s good life was a gift to many.

    • Emilie Wheat

      Thanks for your kind words about my Dad. His life was a gift. I miss him everyday

  2. I was privileged to be in Max’s Taproot classes @ Syosset Library for a few years. He was the best Language teacher I ever had. He never criticized, rather, he would say read this line over again. Do you need this word? What do you think?
    I learned so much about writing poetry and writing in general. I loved listening to him read his poetry, as well He certainly had a gift and he loved sharing it with others who were open to it.
    I loved the story he told us about the first Halloween he told the children they had to listen to his poem first. He said the next year the neighbors were asking for the poems!
    Max was one of a kind and he will be missed. His words will be with us for a long time.
    He inspired my confidence in becoming an author and I will be forever grateful.

    • Tom Stock

      Tom Stock

      Rosemary,
      The effort I made to patc together a memoir of Max, my 30 year friend, was worth it just for your comment. Max recommended me to the Tap root head that I be a taproot teacher at Longwood Public Library in Middle Island. I accepted and began. I failed. I tried to be like Max, with plenty of handouts and offers of revision. The participants were not interested. I finally learned that I can’t be Max. Only one Max and I loved him. He took an interest in me right from the beginning as I write nature poetry as well. I have dozens of papers he commented on in pencil which I now have on a special temporary altar for the year of grieving I will have in his memory.
      tom stock

    • Emilie Wheat

      Thanks for your kind words about my dad. He LOVED taproots!!! He was really hoping to get back to taproots this fall. I thought we would have him until September/ October. Pancreatic Cancer took him quickly, but truthfully he was never in pain and lived life right to the end!

  3. Eleanor Burns

    Thanks, Tom, for the lovely tribute to Max.

    The news of his death just reached me through the LI Botanical Society newsletter, which re-printed his poem ‘Trillium.’

    He will be long remembered.

  4. Emilie Wheat

    I have read this tribute several times when I am missing my Dad. Thanks Tom for your friendship with my dad and honoring him on your blog. I miss him everyday so much it hurts.
    I miss being able to tell him about the night sky or the beautiful sunrise. I just miss hearing his voice……

  5. Emilie Wheat

    My Dad recently told me he left his legacy on Long Island, you were that legacy Tom.
    I am so grateful you saw him in his last few weeks. That trip to New York was unbelievable!! He was Max Wheat, the Poet, the friend, the man. He got to be himself that weekend. Everything that could have gone right that weekend did. It was perfect.

    • Tom Stock

      Tom Stock

      Emily.

      Max recommended me as a Taproot Leader. I took on leadership with a group in Middle Island. I failed. I tried to run the class like Max. Nobody can do what Max did. I tried to be Max, do it his way. His way was the right way, mine was a poor imitation of the way he conducted his classes. I tried to improve their writing. WRONG! Max accepted their writing, praised it, and automatically, BOOM, their writing improved. I apologize Max.
      tom

  6. My name is Leo Ferrity. I was a student of Mr. Wheat at Howitt Junior High in 1973. You brought back memories of Mr. Wheats class. We would look out the window and write poetry about the birds we saw. Mr. Wheat loved poetry. I remember his favorite expression was “Pipe Down”. I remember Mr. Wheat was always in a suit. I first thought he was nuts but grew to love him. My favorite class of his was listening to frogs croaking for 40 minutes with the lights off. Mr. Wheats teaching style was unique. He was a character but highly effective. I became a better writer because of Mr. Wheat. I wished I had thanked him. My favorite teacher by a wide margin. RIP my friend. Leo Ferrity class 1981.

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