Editor’s note: Former OWAA President Joel M. Vance wrote this piece about Margaret Menamin Eshbaugh a number of years ago for Outdoors Unlimited. Eshbaugh, 71, who wrote the poem that became OWAA’s official prayer, died of leukemia June 3, 2009, in Pittsburgh after a brief hospitalization. You can read her obituary here.
“In autumn when the leaves are brown
They fall all around the town.”
As poetry it falls somewhat short of a Shakespeare sonnet, but it’s pretty good for a second-grader. Now that the second-grader has grown up she has written a poem that is far more familiar to any OWAAer who ever has attended an annual conference.
The poem contains this phrase, “I am the goldenrod, the grain, the granite …” The OWAA prayer opens and closes every conference; it is prominent in the directory. It was written nearly 40 years ago by Margaret Menamin, then a Missourian, now a Pennsylvanian. Menamin has had several careers, mostly as an old-school newspaper writer, but her love of and writing of poetry has been a constant.
About that first poem she says, “I was so delighted with the idea that I could make a poem that for a long time it didn’t occur to me that I could make more than one poem. I just kept adding to that one, and it got longer and longer. Fortunately it no longer remains anywhere, even in my memory.”
Menamin was born in a rural area of Missouri’s Washington County, which still is as rural as it gets in the Show-Me State. Her family moved to Steelville, on the banks of the Meramec River and she graduated high school there and entered the University of Missouri at 16, the youngest freshman on campus.
“I certainly didn’t look like a college girl,” she says. “I was still buying my clothes out of the ‘little girls’ pages of the Sears Roebuck catalog.”
She felt out of it among the older students and dropped out after a year and began working as a printer’s devil – a print-shop apprentice – at the Crawford Mirror in her hometown (this still was the days of hot type set on the incredibly complex Linotype machines).
Next she became clerk of the Crawford County probate and magistrate courts for a decade. She married and had a daughter and a son, and began selling poems to Seventeen magazine and saw her first poems published in The Missouri Conservationist, the magazine of the Missouri Department of Conservation.
That was her entrée to OWAA – Dan Saults, Werner Nagel and Jim Keefe, stalwarts of OWAA, all worked for the magazine and all became friends.
She also knew Don Cullimore, OWAA’s longtime executive director. (The OWAA headquarters then was in Columbia, in a building owned by the late Buck Rogers, OWAA’s 1972-73 president.)
“How I miss Jim Keefe,” she writes. “So many times during the day I encounter an odd news item, a funny typographical error, a beautiful poem or just something I want to run by him and think, ‘I must show that to Jim.’ One never gets used to such a presence being absent.”
Nagel, who also was founder of OWAA’s Circle of Chiefs, urged her to write a poem that could be used as an opening prayer for the OWAA conference. “I think he did it specifically with the idea of obtaining some recognition for my poetry by OWAA. Who knows?”
Uncle Homer Circle, who was president of OWAA at the time, also urged her to write a poem of invocation. “I felt we needed one to replace those which tended to be biased toward one religion or another,” he said in a letter to Jack Kerins. Circle had been charmed by an “Outdoor Prayer” that Menamin wrote which says in part: “… allot me some small earthly spot/Where I may feel the rain and wind and sun./ If Heaven be lovelier than the soil I stroll/I could not hold it in my shallow soul.”
OWAA adopted its prayer/poem on June 22, 1967, Margaret Menamin’s birthday.
“OWAA’s acceptance and use of the poem has been an ongoing honor to me,” she says.
Today she lives in Pittsburgh and wild turkeys come to her driveway to be fed. “They watch for me and as soon as I open my side door they come running.”
She never has been a member of OWAA, though she belonged to two regional outdoor communicator groups, Missouri Outdoor Writers Association and Great Rivers Outdoor Writers.
After her court clerkship she and her family moved to Rolla, Mo., site of OWAA’s 1954 conference, the hottest on record. There she did just about everything for the Rolla Daily News, including writing all the paper’s editorials for several months. The editorials and her personal column both took first place in the Missouri newspaper competition.
Today she works from home, transcribing medical reports, a job she did full time for 14 years. She has won several awards with her poems. OWAA freelancers can identify with one facet of her career: She was established with a magazine which had published a number of her poems – but it went out of business.
In addition to her husband, there are two children and four grandchildren.
Although it wasn’t written for OWAA, the last two lines of a poem titled “Death Watch” could be a caution not just for her family, but also for all OWAA members:
“The earth has grown too fragile. Must it break along with all things loved for beauty’s sake?” ◊
Joel M. Vance, a past president of OWAA, is a freelance writer and former information officer for the Missouri Department of Conservation. He writes from Russellville, Mo.