Feature Essays Driving Through a Mountain by Jessica Bryant Klagmann, Swimming with Shadows by Saumya Arya Haas, Prawns at a Turning Point by Sophia V. Schweitzer and Three Arizona Canyons by Mark Rozema. Also featuring the poetry of Kate Dwiggins, Lee Patton, John Sierpinski, Glenn Halak, Elaine Moynahan, David Tagnani, Barbara March, Majkin Holmquist, Jon Barrows, Janie Miller, Kevin Patrick, Susan Gilbert, Alexandria Delcourt, Douglas Knight, Christian Reifsteck, Chris Gladden, John Gifford, Lee Passarella, Gwendolyn Morgan, Diana Woodcock and Mike Jurkovic. Also featuring a preview of Wild Life by Jamie K. Reaser.
Image: ÂŠ Christian Reifsteck
Contents Photography of Christian Reifsteck 2 Writer at Gihon River by Kathleen Saville 5 The Poetry of Kate Dwiggins 7-8 The Poetry of Lee Patton 8 Driving Through a Mountain by Jessica Bryant Klagmann 9 The Poetry of John Sierpinski 16 The Poetry of Glenn Halak 16 The Poetry of Elaine Moynahan 17-18 The Poetry of David Tagnani 19 Life and Death at Lake Superior by Steven Wineman 21 The Poetry of Barbara March 28 The Poetry of Ma jkin Holmquist 28 The Poetry of Jon Barrows 29 Three Arizona Canyons by Mark Rozema 30 The Poetry of Janie Miller 36 Photography of Christian Reifsteck 38 The Poetry of Kevin Patrick 40 Swimming with Shadows by Saumya Arya Haas 42 The Poetry of Susan Gilbert 46 The Poetry of Chris Gladden 47 Prawns at a Turning Point by Sophia V. Schweitzer 49 The Poetry of Gwendolyn Morgan 53 The Poetry of Douglas Knight 54 The Poetry of Christian Reifsteck 55 The Poetry of Alexandria Delcourt 56 7:51a.m. by John Gifford 57 The Poetry of Diana Woodcock 58 Preview of Wild Life by Jamie K. Reaser 60 The Poetry of Mike Jurkovic 62 The Poetry of Lee Passarella 63 Contributor Biographies 65
Volume 4 Issue 1 Summer Solstice Written River is a literary journal published by Hiraeth Press which focuses on poetry and non-fiction prose exploring nature and our relationship to it. Published quarterly in digital format, we strive to encourage the discipline of eco-poetics and return the voice of the poet to the body of the Earth. Eco-poetics is poetry in which the energy of the ecosystem flows through the poem, creating a written river of words which ebbs with the creativity of the entire Earth community. Written River marks the confluence of many streams and many voices as they flow back into the nourishing ground of the watershed. Co-Founder
Co-Founder and Designer
J. Kay MacCormack
Written River is published by Hiraeth Press. Poetry is the language of the Earth — not just poems but the slow flap of a heron’s wings across the sky, the lightning of its beak hunting in the shallow water; autumn leaves and the smooth course of water over stones and gravel. These, as much as poems, commu nicate the being and meaning of things. Our publica tions are all poetry, whether they are poems or non fiction, and reflect the ideal that falling in love with the Earth is nothing short of revolutionary and that through our relationship to wild nature we can birth a more enlightened vision of life for the future. We are passionate about poetry as a means of returning the human voice to the polyphonic chorus of the wild. We publish a range of poetry and nonfiction dedicated to exploring our relationship with the earth. Our titles reflect our mission to participate in the re-creation of our culture in full participation with the earth com munity. Our nonfiction titles represent a diversity of perspectives on the topic of ecology, spirituality, and place-based literature. Each of our poetry collections, in their own way, ask “what use are poets in times of need?” answering in voices of rivers and stones. Our books are food: come browse our collection and nourish yourself. 3
Writer at Gihon River On Watching the River by Kathleen Saville
January 27th - 29th
said to someone, this morning, that this was the way Vermont should be at this time of year and she laughed. I don’t know why. Maybe it was the way I said it. I meant to say that northern Vermont in the middle of winter is cold, blustery and often has days of subzero temperatures. It wasn’t like that this January though. For the past two weeks, there has been a January thaw that has gone on longer than you would think it would. The
Image: © Daniel Jolivet (Flickr CC) www.fotopedia.com/items/flickr-4239860337
usual pattern is: The air warms up. The sky is mostly overcast with an excess of moisture from melting snow. Mist rises above the melting snow. Boots are put away because the falling snow floats lightly in the air, never reaching the ground. But something different happened this year. It was cold and then was warm again. Really warm for this time of year. After a couple of days, I opened my bedroom window at night and fell asleep with the sweet scent of the night air. The next morning, I opened the window of my writing studio and heard the sound of river ice grinding hard against itself. In the falling dusk, I watched water appear from seemingly nowhere and flow on the surface of the river ice. The Gihon River was going to do something. It was making lovely exciting noises and I reveled in the wet dirt smells mingling with sounds of glugging ice. Then next morning, after a night of plunging temperatures, I looked out my studio window and saw the Gihon had become a series of bumps and protrusions. Skinned tree limbs stuck out at odd angles. A log surrounded by frozen waves stood upright in the middle. Ice bumps had turned into wave shapes appearing frozen in mid-curl. I liked that: The snow had built up from the surface and curled itself over ice blocks like miniature high mountain cornic-
es. Their shapes were crafted by a wind that had been blowing hard on and off since it stopped snowing in the night. I watched throughout the morning, the remaining open water under the bridge from my studio and wrote what I saw. A long-tailed weasel ran back and forth on the riverbanks of icy snow. First one way on the far bank and then the other way on this bank. He must have crossed over the bridge or skittered across the ice jam. Long tailed weasels, mustala frenata, live everywhere in Vermont including woodlands, and areas between fields, forests and open fields as long as a water source is nearby. This past week’s thaw, I guessed, had invited him to the river’s edge. He was a nice distraction from my task of writing and in my mind’s eyes, I saw the river ice heave upwards, forcing the weasel on an ice floe until challenged by one that splintered from the rest. I imagined he jumped in the Gihon and swam for shore or maybe just drifted down river on a floe until it bumped into shore. By early afternoon, the patch of open water closed in while I was looking elsewhere, and the river was solid once again as the river ice began to smooth out like white colored tin foil. The Gihon had become again a January river of bumpy frozen waves and flat grey spots. This is what I meant when I said this is how Vermont should look in the winter.
“Ice bumps had turned into wave shapes appearing frozen in mid-curl. I liked that: The snow had built up from the surface and curled itself over ice blocks like miniature high mountain cornices.”
In The Year of the Flood Kate Dwiggins
everything was heavier the sky hung wet the river bloated but the upstairs floorboards floated driftwood weâ€™d ride to pilot the hallways groping for sunken bedposts we lived on stilts and sat on rooftops peeking through the rise like bullfrogs in a shallow pond biding time between surges of the waterline on Main Street we wore the stains like bald sandbag badges architectural testaments to those who salvaged split knuckled water beading between cracks of the casino daubed in neon greens and oranges the only structure dry above the waist the only business flooding with customers we straddled rivers, cities; East Alton, West one foot in Illinois the other in Missourah
shouting across the Mississippi between them there must be some way to end this argument knowing precipitation was expected three generations of me reminded of the air in our lungs that goes unnoticed and, yet, there was joy in the flooding sewers overflowed ran up to the house up to our shoulders splashing, sluicing the neighborhood watching turds float by passinâ€™ around the pink eye my palms were plump raisins layers of pillowed skin peel flapping against my fingers I wanted to absorb it all to be suspended weightless and delicate upon the deluge its cool slick gliding against bare skin I wanted to muddy myself beneath the banks of the river wet its lips with my love 7
Valmeyer, 1993 Kate Dwiggins
We were wrapped in thick water then. Nearly seven months we soaked, stacked land against shore, wished to hell we had the wetlands back instead of sand boils, cement walls. The rivers ran bluff to bluff. A one-two punch of the Old Miss and Missouri reclaiming ancient channels, our modern levees a mere speed bump in their slow, steady swelling. Atop the bluffs, we bottled poems to see who could chuck ‘em the farthest, break glass against half- sunken churches whose marquees still read “Lord, We Need Here a Hearty Sponge.” Our first trip back home in a johnboat motoring across cornfields, streets lined with telephone poles leading nowhere. The harvests were lost. The refinery down. We couldn’t escape our reflections. Come October, we found autumn light peeking through warped boards of a barn where we swam to the hayloft and fished over the town we lost, its myth a whirlwind Atlantis.
Ode To Wyoming Lee Patton
The gods’ gardens are not necessarily lush, and if you resist the Tetons’ buxom ostentation and ignore Yellowstone’s spruce vulgarity, avoid the alien roar of Evinrude on desert reservoir, and pass Ed ‘n’ Pammie Christian in their motorhome, Big Wide Wonderful Wyoming on their mudflaps, bumper stickers captive to thrills from less sacred places, such as Six Flags Over Jesus, then plan your descent to the open range as the wider, wilder Wyoming reappears where the Wind River breathes past cottonwoods, where red outcrops, scoured in epochs of wind, disclose themselves, sandstone and limestone imprinted with the coral of vanished seas where the cliffs still undulate from ancient breakers no human ever witnessed, no human ever heard; then across the flattest ranges, devoid of all but the scrawniest scrub, but not void, their basins treasuries of silence, and up again to lucky strikes of altitude, canyon shadow, and steady stream, where oases of alder, lodgepole, aspen and wild rose surround meadows seeded with lily and larkspur as if cast by the hand of some riparian deity, who asks no token of worship, no visitor’s fee, no supplication in cathedrals of stolen stone, who inscribes no laws on dolomite slabs and burns no bushes, but offers fireweed just where the meadow surrenders to sage.
Driving Through a Mountain by Jessica Bryant Klagmann
en hours of traveling south from Fairbanks, Alaska through boreal forest, and we’ve arrived at the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel, a two and a half mile passage through Maynard Mountain and the only route into and out of the town of Whittier. There we will put our kayak into the water and paddle off—somewhat blindly—into a territory neither of us knows much about. But first we wait. We cook MREs on a propane stove propped open on the tail gate of the truck. They’re supposed to resemble something that took more preparation and much longer to cook, like pasta primavera or chicken teriyaki. Two of the many we’ve packed for this trip. The water boils while we change our clothes, pulling on heavier socks and waterproof pants. Long underwear underneath long-sleeved shirts. The truth is, we don’t even know that much about each other. Big stuff—like whether or not we want children someday—sure. The small day to day stuff—like which way we like the tent door facing—not so much. A half hour passes. The direction of traffic reverses in the one-way tunnel. We pack our stove and stow away our casual, lighter clothes in the back of the truck. We pull into a line of other cars, ready to drive through a mountain, not expecting things will change all that much on the other side.
* * *
In three years, I rented four cabins in Fairbanks, Alaska. The first was on a slope behind an apartment complex, where I could walk my dog in the early, frigid mornings and view the town from above, through ice fog that gathered in a mass over the roads. The second was cozy, with a high loft and a secluded backyard where a rhubarb plant grew right up against the fire pit. It was a step up for sure, tucked off a road—Willow Run—that eventually became more home to me than any of the structures where I stored my clothes and cooked my food and carried my water in awkward 5-gallon trips. I moved out of this second cabin, leaving behind the husband I’d traveled to Alaska with, but taking with me the aspects of quiet living that I’d always admired in people like my father, and in writers I’d emulated, like Rick Bass and Gretel Ehrlich. In the third place—a sadly rundown and poorly insulated box of a cabin—I understood simplicity and hardship for a few 40-below months, eating only pasta with tomato sauce and borrowing vehicles to go to the grocery store until I could buy a truck. And when the world warmed and thawed again, and the sun graced us with more hours of daylight than darkness, I found my final Fairbanks cabin. It was back on Willow Run, home again, where I managed to find myself in a log cabin at the very end of the one-mile dirt road. My landlord had carried a tree from Two Rivers, split it down the middle, and in the space between nestled the rungs of the ladder to my loft. From the back deck, I saw nothing but Goldstream Valley, a marsh where I’d be picking blueberries until the very morning I left Alaska, and an abandoned community of ramshackle cabins, 70s era trucks, and sled dog kennels. On a day after rain, I’d pull on XTRATUF boots and walk deliberately through puddles and sometimes not towel off the dog when we got back. Mud dried on the carpet. I moved closer and closer to stillness, to relishing in the distance from neighbors and roads. In the dark, when there is silence, it is expected. In the light, when there is noise and interruption, it is normal. But when the daylight extends beyond to the point of creating only a blurry line between previous night and following morning, and there is such intense quiet, it’s a different thing altogether. Unexpected, strange, and almost unnatural. Like a mirror is being held up to the world and what appears in it is just a little bit backwards. Small details altered. At least they start out feeling altered and backwards. 10
Slowly, the color of orange sky, the silhouettes of spruce, the dry grass swaying in the marsh, all begin to represent softness, silence. They become metaphors for beautiful aloneness, but in an intensely personal way. Perhaps it isn’t the spruce, but the shadow cast by the porch steps or the curling chicken wire around the kennel’s perimeter. * * * The weather on the other side of the tunnel is drastically different. It has changed from crisp and sunny to wet and misty. Clouds roll in over the water. We’ve entered another world. A girl at the kayak rental store has sunburned cheeks and working hands. We’re not here to rent a kayak; we’re here for a radio. She gives us one that will only work for a short time before we’re too far away from town, but it’s an important thing to have on a trip like this nonetheless. It makes us feel more secure, more at ease to have it, regardless of how well it will assist us. This girl kayaks for a living and I’m a little envious because she is so well-versed in the language of the water and adventure. I’d kayaked only once in my life, when I was fifteen years old on a family reunion trip to Nova Scotia. I’m wearing a raincoat more suited for gardening and waterproof pants intended for motorcycle riding. We’d both bought neoprene socks on the way down and the kind of water shoes I remember wearing as a kid scrambling on rocks at the beach. I turn away and look at the maps on the wall behind us. When the girl asks now if we know what we’re doing, we say yes. We both say yes, and then take the radio and yet another map of Blackstone Bay. Everything we’re bringing with us we fit into the red two-person kayak that was lent to us by a generous landlord. Jugs of water, the stove, our food jammed tightly in a dry sack. A backpack with one change of clothing each. The place we’ve chosen to put in is a short expanse of rocky shore bordered on either side by two long metal docks extending into the water. Pointing to something we can’t see and that, for all we know, doesn’t exist. Back where we left the truck, there are gift shops and kayak rentals and across the street are two imposing, boxy buildings. The Hodge Building—previously one of the largest buildings in Alaska, which, now called Begich Towers, houses most residents of the town, as well as a grocery store and a church—and the Buckner building, a military barracks severely damaged and abandoned since a 1964 earthquake. We don’t waste much time looking around town, wanting to get
out on the water and to a campsite before dark. We’re headed for some distant dot on the map—Decision Point. We have no idea how long it will take to get there, or if we’ll know we’re there when we do. We’re just hoping we don’t end up in some other bay, adrift and disoriented. How would we know anyway? And how would we find our way back? Memory is silent for me. When I recall events that happened in my past, I remember them as images. Not silent films played like reruns in my head, but a series of still shots. When I think about renting the radio, I don’t think about our conversation. I don’t think about the noise of people in the parking lot or even the sound of our kayak scraping against rocks as it slid into the bay. But I’m sure it was there, all of it. Instead, I remember the color of slate-gray water beneath us, stretching for miles ahead. I remember the mist that hovered, always an inch or two ahead so that we were constantly reaching for it but never within it. And then the town disappearing behind us, leaving only emerald green mountains reflected in the water and tense shoulder muscles learning the rhythm of propelling us forward. After driving since morning and putting in around dinner-time, we want to have reached our destination badly enough that we assume we have. As it turns out, the place we stop to camp is not Decision Point, but some nameless beach, just around the corner from it. Boardwalks crisscross the marshy terrain, traveling over mosses and leafy plants unlike any we’ve seen before. Our campsite is perched at the edge of a ten-foot cliff that we’re able to scramble down to a secluded beach, where
we set up our stove and cook pasta with pesto sauce. Despite the late July sun, it’s becoming difficult to read the map. He stands there, holding it up in the remaining light, and I sit on a washed-up tree trunk and eat noodles directly from the saucepan. A group of kayakers playing euchre around a fire on the main beach tell us we are in Squirrel Cove, but we won’t know what this really means until the following morning, when we feel the distance in our arms and wrists, aching from the unfamiliar motion of paddling. Right now, all we know is the moment. This small point in a vast, incomprehensible place. For two people who have only just decided to spend the rest of their days together, this is manageable. To think any further ahead would be to assume we know the names of the trees and moss and insects on this beach. To assume we know the layers and boundaries of an ice field. * * * I never really knew the details of the abandoned cabins behind mine, for all the nights I spent observing them from my back deck with a jar of wine. Judging from the types of vehicles, the “question authority” bumper sticker, and the newspaper I found in one moss-covered passenger seat, my best guess was that the people who lived there just up and left one day in the 70s. It is a decades long estimate, full of gaps and open to interpretation. I wandered out there once because I craved solitude. I took my time walking through it, like walking through a map of a lost city. A lost time. I tried imagining I was stepping into a Flannery O’Connor book, a dark yet holy place, so much farther from where I actually was it didn’t seem real.
Pickups with thirty-year-old Alaska plates rusting off. A van with a cracked windshield, a mattress in the back, and a black and white Joy Division poster on the wall. Outside the cabins, various household items were piled on one another, like they were fighting to not be overlooked or forgotten—watering cans, rakes, oil jugs. Once past the neglected buildings and rusted vehicles, the trees opened up to a marsh—Goldstream Valley. Before leaving the crumbling village, looking back, I saw a pair of snowshoes nailed to the side of a cabin, crisscrossed. Below them, purple flowers dotted the grass. Just outside the cabin door, a birch grew around a moose antler that had been tied to it. The tree had grown over the antler after so many years, such that the rope originally used to fasten it there was no longer necessary. These small reminders of important, lasting gestures. It felt as if there was a line between my world and the world of the forgotten lives that had existed there. This graveyard of a community remained in the way an Etch A Sketch takes more than one swipe to erase a drawing, leaving just a partial image of what was there before. What remains is the shadow of something that once was. One more slide of the Etch A Sketch and it’s almost blank. One more threatens to eliminate it altogether. There was an urgency there in that last cabin, and also the sense that no one was paying attention, so why hurry up and die? There is always talk about awkward silences. But there, silence was graceful. Death was part of an aesthetic, the same way that living was. * * * In the morning, we round Decision Point happy to have been a little lost 11
but not too lost. Still not completely trusting our own sense of direction and measuring of distances. Already it begins to get colder out on the water and we start seeing jellyfish—white to pale pink and varying in size—flimsy and swimming along with our paddles. I’m paddling in front for the entirety of the trip. He is steering. I am navigating. For me, the view is endless water, mountains, ice. I find solace in its emptiness. The picture he has no choice but to look at for the next few days is different, and I am always a fixture in it. We don’t talk much, except to reassure one another that we are in an amazing place. And here together at that. It seems all we know how to say, and
I wonder, what will happen when we’re finally at home—in a home we can finally call our home—and we’re standing next to each other in front of a bathroom mirror, toothbrushes jammed into our mouths. What will we talk about then? We don’t know the temperature of the water, guessing it’s about 40 degrees, and knowing that if we tip, there won’t be much time to get out. The only problem is there isn’t anywhere to “get out” to. There is no land without at least a half hour of paddling to reach it. Crossing the bay, we’re a tiny red line cutting through low clouds and mist, unaware if there are boats coming our way or what sea creatures might be moving beneath us.
Our radio is soon out of range. The static and occasional fragments of speech suddenly go silent. Still I don’t feel the sense of danger that I probably should. A rolling ripple beneath us begins to expand and move to the surface, a bubble that never fully emerges. We think, whale? The static returns to the radio and someone is using a code we don’t understand. The word “red” is all we recognize. Our kayak is red. Are they talking about us? Warning us? Then silence again. We know we’ve left something behind now. For the next few days, our two voices will be the only ones we hear, if any. * * *
The Interior. In that backwards light of Alaska midnight, the words no longer poured out of us. There had been immense writing, and then there was heartbreak, and then there was more writing. I want you. I don’t want you. It’s better for us both if we don’t want each other. The kind of intensified indecision that spins little tornadoes of confusion in the brain and leaves you feeling too turned around to know what’s best for anyone anymore. I thought about the Sandhill cranes that flew over the marshes behind the cabin in spring, wine-red stains on their foreheads. How they announced themselves with rattling calls from within their curved trumpetlike throats. The calls a form of simple decision-making. Choosing a mate with a sound that was distinct and unsusceptible to misinterpretation or regret. The call was returned. Another decision. Two birds, singing together in unison and tied together from that moment forward. We had bonfires and drank and thought about the
head and crinkled the pages. The draw of the essay was that it was so distant from my own experience. So far removed from my existence. I’d never walked the Camino de Santiago. A thought that stuck with me: “The more I watch him, the less I know. What are we doing here and why are our hearts invisible?” I don’t know what is the more rewarding pilgrimage: walking a 500-mile road in Spain—a conversation we’d fallen in love over—or traveling the same one-mile road, over and over 500 times, talking about what is here and now. How many times our feet had touched the earth there. How many footprints made and covered over and made again. And how many more just to get there in the first place. A divorce is a footprint. A month-long solo bike ride is another. Crisscrossing journeys—Alaska to the east coast to Minnesota to Alaska—are many. We decided to go out and see something more of this place before leaving it. A silly idea, really, that it should take departure to find appreciation. Perhaps we felt we
“The more I watch him, the less I know. What are we doing here and why are our hearts invisible?” world of hell we’d both been through. It was too early to talk. We just sat quietly. We roasted beer bread on sticks and ate strawberries and fed the flame with brush upon brush until there wasn’t any left and we had to venture behind the cabin to drag out more. Our own silences can be so easy. The silence of others so awkward and full of meaning. Sled dogs yipped and howled and ran frantic circles around their houses. A good distraction. We wanted to apologize for things. To say we hadn’t meant to cause any amount of pain or sadness. But the joy of sitting there together was so much that all we could do was be in it as fully as possible. When we did talk, it was about pilgrimage. About the simple joy of walking. Of putting one foot in front of the other, as pure a meditation as anything could be. I remember sitting in the sauna at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, holding a copy of Anne Carson’s essay, “Kinds of Water,” as sweat dripped from my fore-
needed to search out the invisible heart of the place that brought us to this moment of both despondency and compassion—dirty jeans, the smell of wood smoke, and a bowl of strawberries between us. It was no mystery to us that the heart was right there, where we were. I wondered: what if we left together, but came back alone? * * * On the other side of the bay, we slide up to a wall of rock now to our left, and skirt around a glowing blue iceberg close enough to reach out and touch. That ice was blue seemed a myth to me, but it’s not a myth at all. There is something so pure about its color and the thought that the beginning of its journey was probably met with the sound of frozen water hitting liquid water, after which all sound ceased and it began its silent glide, following this cliff but keeping its distance. When we can, we pull off to the shore to eat granola 13
bars and make sure our gear is still dry inside the kayak. I stretch my wrists and take photos of mussels and barnacles clinging to rocks, and of a seemingly endless ground cover of flat rocks standing upright on thin edges like thousands of poker chips pressed up against one another. At one point there is an argument about camping and kayaking know-how. Do you know…? I get frustrated because a certain question seems phrased in an assuming way—assuming that I don’t know something that, in fact, I do. It’s a stupid argument, and it conjures up other stupid arguments, one in particular regarding a similar question asked on the drive down. Part of the problem is that we’ve spent most of our time learning the ins and outs of one another without having really been in the same room, or on the same beach, or squished into the same kayak. We came together over more than 450 pages of writing. We thought we knew everything. Then we’re standing there, both of us leaning on paddles, draped in raincoats and rain pants, our feet not as dry as we’d hoped they would be, and we realize that communicating is more than the art of typing a wellcrafted sentence or clever word choice. It worries me that the further we go away from civilization and the familiar world, the less we will be able to understand one another and the more we will feel forced to make this thing familiar. I worry we won’t be able to work as the team we thought we’d so easily become, and out here—miles from any other human and gliding toward slowly crumbling glacial ice, it seems more pressing. And when things seem pressing and forced, it’s all too easy to panic—to turn away and say, Never mind. We must have been wrong. It’s not a test, but the inability to say what we mean makes it feel like a foreign language exam, everything hinging on words, speech. What happens if we don’t pass? After spending five hours on the water with only intermittent stops, we pull onto a beach that looks as if no human being has ever set foot on it. This is not the case, we discover from the very obvious packed earth ‘campsite’ beneath the trees, but since we’ve seen no one in two days other than the euchre players and our radio stopped working that morning, it’s as isolated as one can probably get in this world. Still, there is the thought of bears and other wildlife. There is the knowledge that if we screamed no one would hear us and that if we happened to wind up in the water we’d likely be in shock within minutes. And that water is what’s between us and the only town, miles away. 14
But even still. There is also a bald eagle perched high in the crux of a bare tree top. There are three glaciers angled toward one another, like friends at a card table. There are nearly translucent mushrooms curling like tiny chimneys from the thick tree trunk under which we set up our tent. We make an MRE on the stove and kick rocks around the beach. It’s cloudy and everything is wet from the constant mist. We decide to take a nap and then head back out onto the water to get closer to the glaciers. Inside the tent, we peel off wet clothing and put on whatever we can find that’s dry. There isn’t much. We slide down into sleeping bags and fall into one of the most peaceful sleeps either of us can remember. When we wake up, the thought of putting our wet clothing back on and paddling another mile or two seems too much to ask, and the fact that no one is around to judge us plays into the decision to just enjoy the island we have to ourselves and view the glaciers from afar. Even at a few miles’ distance from them, they’re towering over us like the furrowed brows of ancient gods. We share another MRE, which are starting to feel like bricks inside my stomach, and walk around the beach some more, this time in sandals so our feet can breathe. We dare each other to lick a block of ice that has been marooned on the sand. Above us, the eagle is still sitting quietly. It turns its head once in a while, and we take pictures of it from various angles with various backgrounds. Grassy fields. Patchy snow-covered mountains and white glaciers sliding down between them like melting ice cream. A long, finger-like tree that extends horizontally over the water and resembles a bonsai. I’ve never turned away from nature, as far as I can remember. Usually it’s nature that does the turning. A falcon in a tree or a moose in the backyard I could stand and stare at for hours. It never takes that long for the moose to amble off or the falcon to tire of the attention and swoop away over the prairie. This is different. I’m in the eagle’s home now, and he is perfectly content to sit there all damn day, and the truth is I am not. I’d never seen a bald eagle before this trip, and the fact that I’m walking away from it after only a few minutes is somewhat troubling. Can the novelty of something really wear off so quickly? Am I really so confident he’ll be there when I decide to return? In the essay, “Sounds,” Thoreau writes, “The rays which stream through the shutter will no longer be remembered when the shutter is wholly removed.” I wonder if the shutters have been removed here, in the pres-
ence of such grandness. These glaciers. This utter solitude. The magnificent is becoming disturbingly common and easy to accept. We don’t sleep as well this last night, maybe because we’re nervous about bears and wondering if our food is far enough away and out of reach. It’s strung up in a tree at the edge of the water, no easy feat, but an important tactic nonetheless. Maybe we’re thinking about the possibility of our kayak not being there in the morning, coming untied mysteriously from the fallen tree and floating out aimlessly into the icy bay. There is the dead radio. And there is the thunderous calving of the glaciers, which I keep forgetting about and which startle me awake as we lie there, cushy down pulled up to our chins. Every half hour or so, there is another crash, and I recall the girl who gave us the radio saying that kayakers are not supposed to go any closer than a mile away from the glaciers, to avoid being hurt by the breaking, falling ice. Somewhere deep in the ice a rift has occurred. However unseen or unheard, it is these parts of the glacier rubbing up against one another—separating into crevasses—that has likely caused the collapsing of ice into the sea. What will be left in the morning? In the book Islands, the Universe, Home, Gretel Ehrlich writes, “A pilgrim knows that he must become a foreigner in his own life.” We are as much foreigners here as we would be in Japan or Chile. We do not speak the language and are fumbling around unsure of how to make our way through this new territory. But I feel, also, that we’re finding the shape of this place with our own blistered hands and drenched feet. We’re learning it the same way we learn one another’s bodies and souls. We’re writing maps of each other and of ourselves—the friction, the spaces that open up because of it, and the parts that break off and give birth to new forms of themselves. They know when to let go. When to 15 hang on.
When the American Revolution erupted, the Potawatomi lived here in the Midwest, many miles away (a region unknown to the red coats, the militia, the French).
We flee as shadows run from noon, getting smaller and smaller and then hiding, perfectly still, hoping the blinding brightness will last, but it doesn’t, and how many glimpse in that fragile pause something, somehow, but probably not, and the busses come roaring, the beds rot like sugary teeth, adrenal glands swell, offices sweat rancid as men about to fight, doors stick and children scream in the night. The list goes on. The nightlight doesn’t help.
Orange peel textured chestnuts, robust alive so much longer than minuscule men in their myopia. There was always the Milwaukee River, naked, pristine; not murky and brown like now. Lake Michigan free of PCB’s, home to fleshy fragrant perch, not the few surviving bottom feeding carp. Still, there is a chance at redemption: with prodding, dedication, sweat, spiritual sod. With the hands of more than a few, with sanction of the natural world. Undigested. It is in the waiting, the wanting.
Enough! Let go, stand under the downfall of noon as time takes a deep breath, please stop, and understand the radiance is not a mistake or accident and fill your lungs with light. It works. The world will live again.
I Sent My Heart Out John Sierpinski
I sent my heart out into the wild thrush of the earth. Only to have it heaved back at me until it broke my eyes. I could not see, only a blur—only a salty blur. All of that lasted years, hell, all right decades. And then I remembered that I sent my heart out into the woods, marsh unseen, but for my unbroken eyes. That kept me sane, kept me clean. When the clouds darken, and the darkness breaks its back with thunder, my eyes and my heart will open to that wonder.
ÂŠ L.M. Browning
the lilac and poled green bean dig deep for it,
the dark wells drink its springs running beneath.
it runs green glass in rivers, lays blue silk in lakes, falls soft in Ireland, hard in Seattle, seeks out weakness in shingles, keels, wears down leaden rock to a sliver of dove gray. The moss on the old oak sips it from the air,
In summer it clinks, crystal stones in a glass, in winter, the clouds unroll its cold bolts of soft white wool over the fields. it salts the sand as it pushes and pulls, salts my cheek as it slips burning, water, the silver thread that stitches earth and man together for better or for worse.
The summer reverberates in the heat, a mirage of grasses, bayberrys, aspens, oaks reaching up and out, quivering against each other in a sensuous sunlit dance of deepening green: a quiet spot of peace on this planet dipped in the too-red redness of war, the too gray of truth given, the tired black shades of survival. Remembering this dark palette, I wonder if the lyric extoling the grace of the sinuous fox should also limn the ravaged red flesh of the cottontail, if the soaring, air-cushioned elegance of the red-tailed hawk should recall his curved hook splaying the still-trembling woodchuck?
Some argue: yes, tell it like it is; poem or not, enough of spin-docs. Some argue: no, a poem should be of a higher order, a step or two away but a true step or two away from the slugs and many-legged bugs living under the sharp rocks we passage each day. For do we not thirst to see mauve and lilac crocus opening, their golden stamens shining like sun stars? Have we not seen enough of the black-scaled rat snake slithering up and around the boxelder toward the nestlings? Should I not, at the end of your hard day, give you the lone, pale, unassuming violet pressing its fragile self up and through the curb cement?
ÂŠ L.M. Browning
A Step or Two Away
Mirror Lake David Tagnani
Small patches of subalpine fir cluster amidst the glistening granite the purple-pink heather and gold buttercup and the labyrinth of rivulets that step steadily down the meadows rolling rhythms downwind filling tarns lakes and ponds scattered about, jade and cobalt, as ermines slink at the edge of the talus that shelters the picas and ground squirrels who fill the valley with mournful whistles joining in the enticing din of cascade and sparrow, wind and leaf the whole echoing chorus conveyed away by the meandering mountain stream that marks the path to the Eagle Cap. Such is the scene in each of the eight valleys that radiate from the granite massif of Eagle Cap the monolith in the middle of things that has borne eight alpine Edens shedding life from its unmoving hulk the void at the core Sitting at the head of one valley walled by the bone-white mountain is Mirror Lake. On calm days it reflects a perfect double a pretty portrait of the lifeless mass On clear nights when the black mirror has the Milky Way upon it Eagle cap is but an absence the dark place where no stars shine
David Tagnani Among the basalt coulees and the snaking seep pools where the pine woods pour into the high desert sage wind and water swirl and eddy hopelessly seeking their ease Blanket flowers nod gold and red to the stair-stepping cascade and the bunchgrass bows in sequence before the heralding of the storm The cormorantâ€™s beak gold and red flashes fiercely underwater In the sky the fish-hawks plunge rise pause plunge rise pause 19
Life and Death at Lake Superior by Steven Wineman
I told that kid a hundred times ‘Don’t take the Lakes for granted.’ —Stan Rogers, “White Squall”
n the summer of 1977, my friend Danny introduced me to Lake Superior Provincial Park, which is about 100 miles north of Sault Ste. Marie in Ontario. We camped at the edge of the forest near a small sand beach on Gargantua Bay, a short hike from a little parking area at the end of Gargantua Road. Out in the bay there was a little rocky island with a lighthouse. To the left the sand gave way to small rocks, then larger rocks, then boulders, and finally small rock cliffs, leading out to a point. Danny and I decided to try to make it to the point. We walked on the rocks and boulders as far as we could, and when we got to the first cliff, we tried to wade through the shallow water but discovered a solid rock bottom lined with slimy green moss so slippery we couldn’t keep our balance. We swam for a while. We got to a ledge where we climbed out and rested, but we never made it all the way to the point. Danny camped with me for a few days. On a sunny afternoon he drove me about ten miles south to the Orphan Lake Trail. We we hiked three miles to a stunning beach, with parallel layers of sand, pebbles, stones and then rocks, some the size of your palm. Each stratum had the same patterns of colors, black and gray, pink and white and orange, one layer replicated in a magnified version by the next – geological footprints stretched out side by side along the length of the beach. Straight ahead was a long, densely wooded island, many times larger than the lighthouse island in Gargantua Bay.
This would become unexpectedly significant. Danny went back to Detroit, and I stayed for about another week. One cloudy afternoon, after several hours of rain had eased off, I went for a hike. I decided to follow a trail from the parking area that looked like it headed directly to the lake. I wanted to see if I could find an overland route to the point at the edge of the bay that had eluded Danny and me. I was wearing my poncho and boots, and I walked through a fine mist. At first it seemed like an ordinary path, but after ten or fifteen minutes it started to narrow, and then it became overgrown. I came to a stream, where I had to admit to myself that the trail had petered out. But the afternoon was still young, and I wasn’t ready to give up on making it to the shoreline and to the point. I knew better than to bushwhack without a compass (at least I thought I did). But I tried to walk along the bank of the stream. For a while that went okay, but then the brush got too dense to penetrate, so I strayed a little to the right, promising myself to keep the stream in view. Then I came upon more dense brush and veered off a little more, now promising to keep the stream within earshot. But a little ways later it seemed like I was getting nowhere. There was a small elevation to my right and I climbed it with the thought that maybe I could get a view of the lake, estimate how far it was, see what the terrain between me and the lake looked like. I got to a ridge Image Left: © Mykola Swarnyk www.fotopedia.com/items/4tg1q9r7sq5v1-FiFZRB94-6E
and found a view of only trees and brush—but there was a further elevation. I climbed on. I had now left the stream quite a ways behind— neither in view nor earshot. I managed to convince myself that from
be and walk as straight as I could in that direction. I really thought I was heading reasonably straight. And then I came to a swampy area, 50 or 60 yards long and maybe half as wide, where the trees thinned
understood perfectly well that this was the same, utterly failed strategy I had started out with when I left the stream. I had approximately zero expectations. But it was better than just standing there, and nothing else was presenting
“I had in fact broken a cardinal rule of hiking —I had gotten off a trail without a compass. And I was now lost in the woods.”
the second elevation there had to be a view of the lake, or if not it would be a simple matter to turn around and go straight downhill to get back to the stream. But the second ridge proved no more illuminating than the first. And the trek back down led me to nothing resembling a stream. It was 3:30 on a wet afternoon in a forest somewhere close to Gargantua Bay. I had in fact broken a cardinal rule of hiking—I had gotten off a trail without a compass. And I was now lost in the woods. The forest was very still and I stood there hovering between disbelief and a lot of fear. I took some breaths. I told myself that I had 7 hours of daylight left and the parking area was not that far. I told myself I needed a strategy. I decided I would keep trying to find the stream, which would lead me back to where the trail had petered out. I had truly let go of making it to the lake and the point. But how to find the stream? The best I could come up with was to trust my instinct about which way it should 22
out. The problem was that I had already passed this little swamp. It was unmistakable. I was not only lost in the woods; I was, classically, walking around in circles. I told myself not to panic, but it was a tough sell. No one was expecting me for several days, and the people who were expecting me then (my parents, Danny) were 500 miles away. I had registered at a ranger station when I got to the park, but the rangers had no reason to come looking for me that day or for days to come. No one was going to stumble onto me, not at some indeterminate distance off a defunct trail in the middle of a dense forest. I was surely out of earshot of the parking area, and there was no reason why anyone would be in the parking area at any particular point in time. I was trying to find a reason to believe that I would not just keep walking around in circles, but none was occurring to me. I honestly had no idea what the hell to do. I looked around, and to one side there was a fairly steep slope. As far as I could tell, I had not come that way. Lacking anything better to do, I decided to climb the elevation. I
itself. I grunted my way to the top of the hill. I turned around. And there, miraculously, gloriously, beyond a stretch of forest that could not be more than half a mile, in all its gray churning breathtaking splendor, was Superior. I took my bearings and decided to go back down right through the middle of the swampy area and try as best I could to walk straight in the direction of the lake. I thought I would use the elevation as a point of orientation, looking back at short intervals to see if the hill still seemed to be directly behind me. My main hope was that I would get to where I could hear the lake and then follow the sound. What actually happened was that I came upon another stream which, within ten or fifteen minutes, I followed to the lake. After all the drama of the past few hours, it was almost ridiculously easy for me to make my way from the elevation to the shore. The stream took me to a little sand beach. It was 5:00, and I declared myself officially no longer lost. All I had to do was follow the shoreline back to my campsite. Image Right: © James Marvin Phelps (Flickr CC) www.fotopedia.com/items/flickr-2824984137
There was still a question of how far I had to go. From the sand beach I saw an island—not the little rocky island with the lighthouse in Gargantua Bay. It was the much larger island that Danny and I had seen from the beach at the end of the Orphan Lake Trail. It was a jarring sight. But how much ground could I have possibly covered wandering through the woods that afternoon? Two or three miles at most, I told myself. It was 5pm, the sun set at 9:30 and then there was another hour of dusk, which gave me almost twice as long to get back, knowing where I was going. Considering my predicament a scant half hour before, I was in great shape. I knelt at the very edge of the lake, cupped water in my hands and drank. Then I started off. I was on a small bay that arced to a point. The sand quickly gave way to rocks. There was a steady mist and the rocks were wet, and I was glad I’d worn my boots. I made my way carefully and the going was slow. Then I came to a place where the traversable rocks ended at a small cliff, and the options were either to go into the water or to
climb. Getting seriously wet, with probably two or three hours of hiking still ahead of me on an already damp afternoon, seemed like a really bad idea. So I climbed. I followed the top of the cliff line, sometimes walking over bare rock, at other stretches needing to veer just a little into the forest, always careful not to lose sight of the lake. I made reasonable headway and this seemed pretty promising until I hit a spot where the lake had cut a channel into the rock, forming a tiny fjord. My choice was either to make my way back down to the immediate shoreline, where the rocks along the water again looked manageable, or to head inland to wherever the fjord ended. I had great apprehension of losing contact with the lake and ending up lost again, so I headed back down to the shoreline, where I was able to make more progress. That’s how it went for a long time: navigate the rocks by the water until I hit a cliff; then climb up and make my way along the top of the cliffs until I hit a fjord. I kept not being able to gauge how much further I actually had to go. When I reached the first point, naturally
I hoped I’d see the lighthouse island; but all I saw was another bay extending to another point, and off to the southwest the same large island. From the first point to the second took me about an hour. And there I found another bay, with a rocky shoreline that looked identical to the one I had just navigated, leading to yet another point. I kept going. The impossibly long afternoon blurred into early evening, and one bay gave way to the next, and the lighthouse kept not coming into view. Regardless of how long this was taking, there was no question that I was on a route that would eventually lead to my campsite. I was periodically coming across blueberry patches, and I had all the fresh water a person could possibly drink, so there was no danger of starving or dehydrating. But with each successive bay, I faced a growing question of whether I would make it to my tent that night. I could not do what I was doing in the dark; I had no flashlight; and the sky was doggedly overcast, which meant no moonlight either. So one danger was having to spend the night in the woods just off of the lake. My concern if that happened was exposure and, potentially, hypothermia. If it stayed overcast and calm, even with the mist or some drizzle, I would be okay. But if the mist turned back into a steady rain, or a downpour; or if it cleared and got a lot colder; or if the wind picked up....I pretty desperately didn’t want to get stuck out there overnight. But the bigger danger was that I would slip on a rock and suffer a sprain or a break bad enough that I couldn’t keep walking. It was a real possibility. The rocks were wet. A fall could cause damage. And if I was unable to walk, I would be stuck there not just for a night, but—I 24
didn’t even know how to end the sentence. I went through that same litany of how long it was until anyone was expecting me. True, I was now in a place where I would be easier to find than in the middle of the forest; but that was only relative, and it would be a week or more before anyone could be expected to start looking. It was a long coastline, and there would be no particular reason to look for me in this particular part. Yes, a boat might happen to come by. But how many boats had I seen that afternoon? Zero. How many boats had I seen skirting the coastline on Gargantua Bay since I’d been camping here? Zero. The upshot was that I hiked really really carefully. Concentrating on each step, one at a time, gaging the safety of each rock before I stepped on it. Which of course slowed me down that much more. On the other side of these not terribly cheerful thoughts, I kept thinking that this was truly an amazing adventure. It’s hard to describe the experience of being utterly alone for hours on end in that extraordinary place: the somber enormity of the lake to my left, all gray, skirting the big island and in the distance smudging into the gray of the sky, in front of me gently licking the gray and mottled shoreline; the endless subtle variations of the rocks, their subdued orange and rust, white and gray; to my right, the dark green denseness of the forest; and all of it showing no sign of having been touched by human hands. At one point I saw about twenty loons hanging out, something you just don’t see. Loons are divers and typically, in areas populated to any extent by humans, they’ll pop up to the surface for twenty or thirty seconds, a minute at most, if you’re lucky they’ll make one of their eerie
calls, and then they’re gone. But here was a sign of how much this was not a place inhabited by humans. Most of all, I was constantly aware of having to rely on my own strengths of mind and body and spirit. I had woken up that morning to the steady beat of rain against the walls of my tent, a moment that seemed more hours ago than could possibly fit into one day. It had belonged to a different, muted branch of reality. The first half of the day had been drab and uneventful, ordinary to the point of boredom. And now here I was, facing – I believed without exaggeration – questions of survival. With every plodding step, I could feel the terror of being alive and the wonder of being alive, held in balance by the steadiness of my boot tread on the surface of the next rock. It was past 9:00 when I made it to yet another point jutting out at the end of another bay; and there, finally, the little island with the lighthouse came into view. I felt the wave of relief cascade over my tired body, and for a brief moment I let myself feel just how exhausted my body was. Then I recognized that I was at the point, the southern tip of Gargantua Bay, the point that Danny and I had not reached, the very spot I had set out to find so impossibly many hours before. It was the best conceivable news – and it was also terrible news. Yes, I was almost back; but there was a reason why Danny and I had not made it out to that point. The rock cliffs; the slimy bottom – the only way to get from where I stood to start of the walkable section of the rocky beach would be to swim a long way in the frigid Superior water on a cool misty evening in my clothes, in my boots. Not possible. The other option—actually my
only option—was to backtrack a little ways to a spot I had passed where the cliff had looked climbable. And from there, yet again, to make my way along the top of the cliff line. I hated the idea of backtracking, but I did it. I found the spot, and it looked really steep. I could backtrack even further, but the dull daylight was already fading, and the thought of taking even one more step in the wrong direction...I started to climb. It was rugged, and my body strained with each advance, and then the last
in this physical condition, I could easily have a catastrophic fall. I had worked so hard and come so very close. I was in no state to make a rational decision, and I knew it. I took some breaths, gripped my handhold as tight as I could, and pulled up. It really felt more like determination than physical strength, but somehow I made it. I sat on the top of the cliff until I stopped shaking, and as my body settled I realized I had another choice to make. My plan had been to
jured the risk of getting lost, this time in the semi-darkness. But it seemed to be my only hope. After four and a half hours of clinging to the shoreline for dear life, I started into the forest. I told myself that this was a completely different proposition than leaving the trail that afternoon, because I could orient myself to the lake. I reasoned that as long as I could hear the lake, I would be okay. The shore was quickly out of sight, and I walked as fast as I felt I could, for once on firm foot-
“For more than a week I had been immersing my body in Superior, and I had been drinking its water. It wasn’t an idea, or a metaphor; it was a physical fact: I was in the lake, and the lake was in me. And in that moment, I was so full of life, so sated, that I suddenly felt in some very deep place that it would be okay to die.” stretch was hand over hand. But I could see the top of the cliff – twenty feet away, fifteen, ten. I found one more handhold, spotted one more toehold, carefully moved my foot to it, pulled myself up, and my arms and my knees began shaking. I stopped and steadied myself. I thought about retreating, which would require a treacherous descent and then would mean - I had no idea what it would mean. But if I tried to keep climbing
follow the top of the cliff as I’d been doing for hours. But dusk was now seriously gathering. I knew how slow the going was along the rocks, even with reasonable daylight. I was pretty sure I would not have enough dwindling light to inch along the cliffs to the walkable part of the beach. My alternative was to cut inland through the forest. It made me really nervous even to think of doing that because, yet again, it con-
ing. I tried desperately to estimate the distance I needed to cover, the angle of my trajectory through the woods, how much of the shoreline I was cutting off – and weighing all of this against the amount of visibility that remained, and how quickly the minimal light was receding. Finally I turned back to my left, toward the lake, its heaving blessedly audible. By the time I got there it was seriously dark. I carefully made my way down 25
a rocky incline to the water. Even in the heavy dusk, I recognized where I was. In front of me was the last ledge where Danny and I had turned around. Which meant that I had not made it to the walkable rocks. To get
with this final obstacle, a synapse somehow fired and it hit me: if one boot was already soaked, I might as well put both boots on and try walking on the slimy rock bottom. And, wearing boots, my footing was firm on the slime. If both
on the beach, grateful to be alive. Four years later, I backpacked to the end of the Orphan Lake Trail and camped on the beach, the only person there. The days were sunny and warm, the nights clear and cool. I
â€œAll of the messages I had gotten from my culture that humans are separate from nature, and somehow above it. All of the related cultural imperatives to deny death, to see death as the negation of life. The many counter-experiences that in unmeasurable ways were stepping stones toward this moment:...â€?
there, I was either going to have to walk on the slimy bottom of the lake along the edges of the last rock cliffs, or else I would have to swim. Going back up into the woods in this darkness was out of the question. Between me and the ledge there was a little inlet, a few yards across. I guessed that it was waist deep. I took off my boots, pants, poncho and tossed them one at a time over to the ledge. The poncho, the pants, and one of the boots landed okay. The other boot slid off the rock, and I watched helplessly as it sank to the bottom. Something inside me collapsed as that boot went down. I lowered myself into the inlet, managed to fish the boot up with my foot, and lifted myself up onto the ledge. Huddled on that narrow strip of rock, cold, wet, hungry, frightened, doubting that I had any remaining capacity to deal 26
boots had landed safe and sound on that little ledge, it would never have crossed my mind to put them on to walk in the water. The rest was only a matter of putting one foot in front of the other. I waded without difficulty until I could walk on the rocky beach. The moon must have already risen behind the cloud cover, yielding just enough light for me to see my way. Far down the beach, a campfire was dancing in the dark like a beacon. By the time I made it to my tent, it was past 10:30. I ate a peanut butter sandwich, got out of my wet clothes, and collapsed into my sleeping bag. I slept for 5 hours. I woke up in the gray pre-dawn, crawled out of my tent, threw up the peanut butter sandwich, and then slept for another 5 hours. For the next three days, I planted my butt against a big driftwood log
swam and lay on a smooth flat outcropping of rock and got very tan. I watched gorgeous sunsets. I cooked on campfires and ate well and everything tasted good. I lay on my back in the sand and looked up at the incomprehensible vastness of the night sky. And I hiked. There was an actual coastal trail that ran in both directions from the beach. I had a map that showed it going all the way to Gargantua Bay, a welcome development that had happened some time in the intervening four years. One day I hiked north on the trail, with the idea of trying to find the small sand beach I came out to when I was lost in the woods. The layout of the trail was very familiar. There were stretches that covered traversable rocky beaches (or very rarely a sand beach), and others that ran along the tops of rock cliffs.
But there were other sections of trail cutting inland through the forest, presumably bypassing the most treacherous parts of the rocky coastline. I was comforted by the simple fact of being on a defined trail, following a course that someone else had determined to be manageable. In that sense I was not utterly alone, as I had been four years before; there was good reason to believe that I could do this and get back without drama. Though it was still worth being careful not to slip on the rocks. But this was a sunny dry day, and the footing was firm. The Superior wind was up, and waves were crashing into the rock cliffs. I hiked steadily, and toward mid-afternoon I did come to a small sandy beach. For a scant few seconds I tried to persuade myself that it might be the beach, but then I saw there was no stream running into it. I sat down on a piece of driftwood, and I realized it didn’t matter. I looked out at the glistening lake; I felt the sun and the wind on my face, the delicious freshness of the air; and yet again I was swept away by the staggering beauty of this place. I took off my clothes and swam. The intensely cold water made every inch of my body come alive with sensation. I opened my eyes and saw through the clear water to the bottom, saw the water sparkle in the sunlight, saw the easy gliding movement of my arms and felt the strength of my legs. I came tingling out of the water, sat down again on the log, felt the warmth of the sun against my skin, looked out at the bright churning water stretching to the horizon, felt the rhythm of the waves and the health and rightness of my body and mind and spirit. I was immensely alive. And then an extraordinary sense of oneness with the lake swept over me.
For more than a week I had been immersing my body in Superior, and I had been drinking its water. It wasn’t an idea, or a metaphor; it was a physical fact: I was in the lake, and the lake was in me. And in that moment, I was so full of life, so sated, that I suddenly felt in some very deep place that it would be okay to die. It’s not that I wanted to die. I was as far from suicidal as a person could be. But I discovered in myself an acceptance of mortality that I had never come close to before. You could see this as a kind of denouement to my drama of getting lost at Gargantua Bay four years earlier. That ordeal had been on my mind, and I had set out consciously wanting to find the particular beach where I emerged from the woods and declared myself no longer lost. I had literally attempted to come full circle, and now I was coming full circle in a different and much more profound sense: not by returning to an exact physical place, but by transforming the fear of death I had so vividly experienced that day into acceptance. That sounds good, and I’m sure there’s some truth to it. But I prefer to take that moment on its own terms. Not as something to be understood in terms of a single reference point four years earlier. It was, both simply and complexly, an experience of wholeness. The simple version is that wholeness doesn’t need a point of reference outside of itself. If I had not gotten lost in the woods four years earlier, with all the ensuing lifeand-death drama, would my moment of oneness, the depth of my connection to the lake, to my body, to my self in all senses—would it have been any less than what it was?
Would I have been an iota less full of life? I don’t think so. And the complex version is that everything in my life that came before that moment was a point of reference for it. All of the messages I had gotten from my culture that humans are separate from nature, and somehow above it. All of the related cultural imperatives to deny death, to see death as the negation of life. The many counter-experiences that in unmeasurable ways were stepping stones toward this moment: my previous encounters with Superior, with the dense forests of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and Ontario’s coastline; times I had spent in other forests and other lakes, on ocean beaches, and on many mountains. My own power of analysis, which helped me to have a critical awareness of so many things that are deeply destructive of life in my culture, and intellectual glimpses of contrary possibilities. And now I was having an experience, completely unpremeditated, not in any way the product of conscious analysis, of these basic, simple, elusive truths: I am part of nature; death is part of life. In one sense this was a moment that could not possibly hold. A couple of days later I backpacked out, and had to deal with all the mundane particulars—a stomach ache while driving, battling fatigue to stay alert—of getting back east and back to my normal life. Over the course of the next year a relationship ended, I left my job in Rhode Island and moved back to Boston, I had to look for an apartment and a job, and then make all the adjustments demanded by those changes in my life, and none of it had much to do with wholeness or connection. But in another sense, I still carry that moment of deep connection inside me. Lake Superior, simply and complexly, is inseparable from who I am. 27
To a Wild Foal Barbara March
Contractors were promised three hundred a head for each horse Would that I could loose your ropes removed from the range, people were assured or they were spider woven silk, gathers are safe and not done during June foaling season would the sore June sky above you extreme measures were taken to your slight mane, hide all activity, dappled lace, a cool white shore bands stampeded through the desert would that your bedding be cedar boughs green police hired, gates installed your lashes pale dream of quiet nights helicopters took to the air your mother’s flank reports of the various deceptions Flood honey from the teat Majkin Holmquist listen to radio transmission’s talk when you lay in days of spring’s embrace All sinks. Mud accumulates— dead and injured foals bound with rope sucks the blue sky in its pool. Leaves desert primrose pink your tongue a white void, sobbing despite its to be picked up later colorless conviction, its and of bonds there be no trace attitude that wet should be three hundred a head met with accolades. Once we would have. Now, we cover ourselves. The plants once sagged with drought, now sag with rain, the drops heavy on delicate petals— they’ll be beaten either way. We hate this otherwise death. Earth shudders as we plead for parched.
Animal Kingdom in My Head Jon Barrows
Bereft of clarity, my aquatic thoughts swim through a sea of eel grass, hiding from the heron— balanced, focused tranquility awaiting an explosion: radiant splash, shower of fire-tinged water turning death’s corner— but the heron always flies away just when I need him most, the grand transformation uncelebrated. Other animals raise their heads: swinging wildly, asserts control, my monkey mind throwing shit and howling, and the elephant, nonchalantly, sits wherever it pleases in the mind’s cluttered room, flapping its ears against the flies and dissipating heat, monopolizing the mindscape…
it’s always there, no matter how much I try to avert my eyes, stick my head in the sand like an ostrich, I can’t seem to avoid its hulking form, or the way the earth shakes when it moves, I hear its trumpet call at the leading edge of a stampede of thoughts, some things you just can’t ignore. The hyena laughs uncontrollably in my head, mad hysteria worked to a frenzy of fangs picking flesh from the bones of my serenity. It’s always been a jungle out there, no matter how I try to domesticate my thoughts, put them in the careful cages of a zoo, you just can’t tame the wild within. *** Far overhead, the great blue heron ghosts across the sky— an elusive shadow.
Three Arizona Canyons
By Mark Rozema
et’s begin on state route 260 as it promises escape from the fast food franchises and mobile homes of Camp Verde, on a July afternoon. Let’s say you are driving through a thunderstorm— the first of the summer monsoons. The sky is charcoal blue with a gathering downpour, and the breeze feels electric, with a hint of ozone. In thirsty anticipation, desert shrubs are opening up, releasing their perfumes. The pungent aroma of the Creosote bush prompts you to roll down the window, even though the wind buffets your
face. The highway is empty and the landscape wide open as a heart. Shimmering curtains of rain weave against a backdrop of ragged lightning and the sudden rip of thunder. The curtains tease the yearning ground. Swirls of wind shave the hills. As you gain elevation, you leave the Creosote behind. Soon, you are winding your way through gently rolling grassland the color of wheat, tinged with a hint of Kelly green, sparsely dotted with gnarled juniper and pinyon pine. Gradually, elevation increases and trees crowd closer together. Isolated Ponderosa pines begin to appear, and soon predominate. Grasslands give way to genuine forest, open, with a carpet of brown needles. The sky darkens and rain begins to fall, fat drops dimpling the dusty shoulder of the highway. Say the forest beckons you off the highway and onto a dusty forest road. You don’t know where you are going, but you will go there. For several miles, the Ponderosa forest seems changeless: Furrowed dark bark, green needles above, brown needles below. It smells good. Lightning strikes frighteningly close to your car. Miles pass. Because you
Image: © Steve Dunleavy (Flickr CC) | www.fotopedia.com/items/flickr-5126762996
did not know and you can’t see far ahead, you aren’t prepared for the end of the road. There is no warning that you are about to come to the edge of a deep gash in the landscape. It is, the map says, West Clear Creek. What the map can’t show is the sound of wind, and the feeling of smallness that can suddenly swallow a human being. What’s down there? West Clear Creek snakes its way through a splendid narrow canyon for thirty miles, before widening out into a broad desert canyon in its lower ten. In its upper and middle course, West Clear Creek is lush, remote, difficult to travel through, and stunningly beautiful. Hikers who venture the full length of the canyon have to swim through pools where the canyon walls com-
the slot, the hot, dusty air of July is replaced by the cool dampness of a canyon that has year-long pools never warmed by daylight. A single shaft of sunlight slips through a keyhole gap and illuminates the ledge from which our first rappel takes us. Dust motes twirl lazily in the sunbeam. I set up the anchor and then down we go. A slot canyon is a world of curves. Rapelling into a slot, one sees neither the top of the canyon nor the bottom—only bowls, scoops, hollows, grooves, waves, ridges: an infinity of perfect curves, swirling in all directions at once. These curves bring joy to both the fingers and the eyes. In Bear Canyon, the creamy buff-colored Coconino Sandstone is cool, gritty, pleasing to touch.
“A slot canyon is a world of curves. Rapelling into a slot, one sees neither the top of the canyon nor the bottom—only bowls, scoops, hollows, grooves, waves, ridges: an infinity of perfect curves, swirling in all directions at once. These curves bring joy to both the fingers and the eyes.”
pletely hem them in—similar to the more famous narrows of Zion Canyon. The cream-colored and lovely Coconino sandstone, with its cross-bedding and blocky structure, is reflected off of clear, cold pools. Dense vegetation lines the banks. There are several trails into West Clear Creek, but the most interesting descent is through one of the spectacular side canyons that come in from the south. These canyons start as shallow, modest draws in the pine forest, but then quite abruptly slice into the Coconino Sandstone, forming serpentine and foreboding slots with sudden dropoffs and deep “keeper” potholes. Such canyons—Bear, Sundance, and Wilbur, just to name three of the best—offer challenges to experienced canyoneers with climbing equipment. They may offer death by hypothermia or broken neck to those not careful or prepared. I’ve come to Bear Canyon, the easiest of the three, with my daughter Jordan and her boyfriend Austin. They are from Seattle, and I want to show them the country in which I grew up. As we scramble down into
Nestled into small niches in the stone are delicate moss gardens, testament to the seeping moisture that finds its way from the porous soil above, through jointing in the rock layer. In some places, I can feel both walls at the same time, tracing each parallel ridge and groove carved into the stone by raging flash floods. “The Curve,” my grandfather once told me when I was about ten years old, “is the most perfect of God’s ideas. That’s why Woman is the jewel of creation. And the Snake—a backwards curve—is an abomination.” Then he told me to go outside and play. And so, puzzling over his incomprehensible parable, I explored the woods behind his house, and I saw curves everywhere: the path of a heron’s flight, a spider’s web, a slithering snake. An infinity of curves, playing with each other, penetrating each other, intertwined. I wondered which of the curves were backward and therefore sinister, and which followed God’s trajectory. How could I tell them apart? What was I supposed to see? My grandfather was a large, deep-voiced man with a King James vocabulary and the bearing of an Old
Testament prophet. I remember that he put applesauce on everything he ate, as if this too was part of God’s ordained plan. Before meals, he offered endless, rambling prayers in which he managed to work in the most obscure stories from the bible and thanked God for things such as the veins in a Sassafras leaf. What did he mean with his story of the perfect curve? Maybe my grandfather meant that spirits inhabit everything. Maybe he meant that the world was both seductive and dangerous. Maybe he was just telling me to be careful. Then again, maybe it was just a joke. After all, the man put applesauce on his pork chops. Whatever his intent, the result was that I understood the physical and spiritual realms to be intertwined, in ways that could lead to pleasure or to trouble. Every turn in a slot canyon leads to a surprise: perhaps a delightful fern garden, or a patch of Poison Ivy. Maybe a row of perfectly formed bathtub potholes, or a pocket of quicksand. Maybe the carcass of an elk that fell into a pool and couldn’t get out… and you now have to swim through rotten elk stew. You are at the mercy of the curves; you go where they lead, be they forward or backward. Exploring a slot without a rope—or with a rope that is too short—is an exercise in anxiety or faith, however you choose to see it. But today, there is no such anxiety. Bear Canyon is mild; only three short rappels. Still, the rappels are directly into deep pools, and there are freezing swims through inky black water. It is adventurous enough for today. After a while, the slot opens up, and it’s boulder-hopping on water-polished stones to the confluence of West Clear Creek. Along the main creek, dappled light through maples, sandy beaches, and reeds. Puffy cu32
mulus clouds skitter across the high country Arizona sky, so blue you could swim in it too. It must be that some of the curves of Bear Canyon are “backward,” or we would simply have traveled in a circle. I don’t know exactly what my grandfather meant in his long-ago parable, but I can’t help but think that all the curves of this day, both those of Woman and those of Snake, came together in perfect harmony and symmetry to shape this canyon that is the exact shape of my notion of paradise. *** Before I was old enough to seek out more remote and wild canyons, before I was old enough to disdain the claptrap of tourism, I loved Oak Creek and its canyon with the simple and boundless love of a child. On Sunday mornings, at ten years old, I went to church and I believed what I was told there, but it didn’t really interest me much. I preferred Sunday afternoons. As soon as the Sunday ritual of pot roast and a couple chapters of Scripture were dispensed with, it was time to call my friends Paul and Danny and see whose parents were willing to take us to the canyon for the church of Oak Creek, and its different set of sacraments: We’d skitter from rock to rock with paper cups, catching crayfish, or scramble over blobs of Supai Sandstone, or muster the courage to jump off of the cliffs at Grasshopper Point. Sedona, before it had vortices, was a cheesy town inhabited by cranky John Birchers who painted lurid sunsets and shot rock salt out of pellet guns at skinny little kids like me who snuck into their orchards to eat green apples. No pink jeeps. No teal arches. No medicine wheels. My oldest sister got married at the “cowpies” on Schnebley Hill
Road. My brother played Vivaldi on his trumpet. It echoed off the cliffs. Now there are medicine wheels on the cowpies. Under the influence of the vortex, people have visions there. Under the influence of various substances, people had visions there in high school, too. After a few years, the sacraments evolved: Rock climbing at the overlook, skinny-dipping in the moonlight, midnight hikes up West Fork with college girls and a six-pack of beer. Grasshopper Point was the place to go when we ditched school, on, say, the first freakishly warm day in March when the air hinted spring but the shock of the water plunged us back into scrotum-shriveling winter. With various friends or on my own, I explored Pumphouse Wash, bushwhacked deep up West Fork’s side gulches and promontories, hiked up Wilson Mountain, over Sterling Pass to Vultee Arch, scrambled in Secret Canyon or Boynton Canyon, and climbed out on the girders of Midgely Bridge as far as we dared. I remember midnight drives with my friend Dave, in his Cadillac, with the Allman Brothers or Stephen Stills on the tape deck. Some of the best nights were by myself, in winter, with a thermos of hot spiced tea. Maybe I’d hike up to the waterfall above Enciniso, or up to Brinn’s Mesa. Maybe I’d take the Schnebly Hill Road from the top, and park at the basalt cliffs on the canyon’s east rim. I’d take a walk through the crunchy snow, under a quicksilver moon, full of the juice of youth and a thirst for life. Things change and don’t change. When I come back to this canyon three decades later, I slip easily into a landscape that is as familiar to me as the floor plan of the house in which I grew up. Driving up the winding
(and to tourists, somewhat treacher- before it had a fee station, back when rounded shelves of Supai Sandstone ous) highway, I need only lightly rest a car full of teenagers could go there merge into abrupt cliffs of buff-colmy forearm on the wheel; I know at night, build a campfire, and go ored Coconino Sandstone. Nestled each curve before I even reach it. skinny-dipping and not get appre- into shady north-facing alcoves are The exact shape of each rocky out- hended and given a ticket. verdant pocket groves of Pondercrop on the road’s shoulder is im osa, Douglas Fir, and the peculiar printed in my memory. A deep joy But some of the sense of loss is more bluish-green Arizona Cypress. An settles into my bones at the sound of profound and not centered around implausibly blue sky completes the the creek as it burbles its picture, in one of the most way through the obstacle startling contrasts of color course of rounded grey I have seen anywhere in basalt and rusty red sandnature. In October, the “Before I was stone boulders. When bright crimson of Vine I stop at familiar creek Maples makes it even betold enough crossings, my feet still ter. Or at least, that’s how it know the pattern of hops used to be. to seek out necessary to get to the The Brinns fire of 2006 other side. ripped up these slopes, more remote And yet, a profound leaving in its wake a forest sense of loss coexists with of charred snags. While the joy. I will never live such an event, in and of itand wild canyons, here again. If it were up self, might be a natural octo me, the thousands currence and not a tragedy, before I was old of people who now live those who call Northern in within a few miles of Arizona home know that enough to disdain the the creek would go elsethe problem is not one parwhere. As more and ticular fire. It is the cumuclaptrap of tourism, more people have come lative effect of many fires— here to celebrate the spirit more than there used to I loved Oak Creek of this remarkable place, be or should be. And the more and more of that fires are getting bigger and and its canyon spirit—for me, at any burning hotter. While rate—seeps away. The fire is an unavoidable and canyon is cluttered with even desirable event in the with the simple bungalows. Sedona walsemi-arid forests of Northlows in pretentiousness. ern Arizona, the fires of the and boundless love Humans have been hard past two decades have been on this canyon. devastating. of a child.” Some of my feeling is The causes are numerselfish; I simply liked it ous and interwoven. A better the way it used to long history of questionbe. I liked hiking in West able forest management Fork when a narrow dirt path led my own nostalgia. The landscape it- practices has allowed the build-up past an old abandoned ranch house self has changed, in some ways that of lower-story fuels on the forand its apple orchard. I remember are subtle, and some that are not. est floor. The number of dead and sneaking my way through all the For instance, a part of the canyon dying trees due to both beetle inrooms and sheds, looking for the that many consider the most scenic festations and drought stress has kind of treasures an eight-year-old and enchanting—the western slope increased. And finally—though boy loves: rusted old farm imple- just south of Slide Rock, in the area some, including Arizona politicians, ments, meat grinders, drill bits, li- around Sterling Pass--shows the dispute the contention—climate cense plates. I liked Grasshopper ravages of fire. In this area, rusty 33
change has made summer temperatures hotter, winter snowpack sparser, and the crucial monsoons more erratic. The worst of these fires have occurred not in the canyons, but in the vast forests that cover the Mogollon Rim, above the canyons. Like many of my friends and relatives, I remember when the Dude fire ran through the Rim country near Payson in 1990. It burned 28,000 acres and was the largest wildfire in Arizona history at that time. We were impressed by the extent and the ferocity of the burn, but today, it doesn’t even make it into the top five list. Arizona’s worst wildfires have occurred in the past two decades, and the very worst have happened in the past decade. My hometown of Flagstaff, just twenty miles from Oak Creek, has seen its share of trouble, most recently with the Schultz fire of 2010. Viewing the impressive mountain panorama of the San Francisco Peaks and Mount Elden from the east—where I used to live—one now sees a wide-angled view of ashen wasteland. It used to be one of the most inspiring views in Arizona. In 2002, the Rodeo-Chedesky fire claimed over 468,000 acres—and over 110,000 in a single day. And in 2011, the Wallow Fire topped them all, burning down an astounding 568,000 acres of forest in both Arizona and New Mexico. These fires burned so hot that they sterilized the ground itself, killing the many micro-organisms and that inhabit the top foot of soil. This in turn effects the watersheds of the many canyons that drain the Mogollon Rim, as the forest is both the source of and the filter for the creeks and springs that bring life to the desert below. Sometimes I worry about the future, and sometimes I just try to enjoy the present moment. It is not easy to balance these, just as it is not easy to make peace with change. Whenever I return from a trip to the canyons of my youth, my heart is flooded by both contentment and sadness. Homesickness does not even begin to do justice to the complexity of the emotion. But for all the worry I have about the changes in the ecology, the primary feeling I carry with me is one of gratitude and peace. It is a great gift to have grown up in such a place, and a great pleasure to return to it. Occasionally I will find myself in conversation with someone who mentions Oak Creek canyon. Perhaps he went there, for the first time, on a recent trip. Or perhaps she took a Pink Jeep tour up to the vortex on Schnebly Hill Road, and was overwhelmed by the sunset at the very cliff where the notes of a Vivaldi concerto once echoed at my sister’s wedding. Or perhaps the 34
traveler swam at Red Rock Crossing and then wandered up the creek to a trail that threads the needle between the towers of Cathedral Rock. More often than not, the earnest traveler will say something like How lucky you are to have grown up there. It is such a spiritual place. I never quite know how to respond to a comment like that. Several possible remarks die on my lips: We are very good at destroying spiritual places, is one such remark. Every place is a spiritual place is another. But usually I just smile and say, with a full heart, Yes. Yes, it is. *** Another memory from age ten: My older sister, Margie, taking me fossil hunting in Sycamore Canyon. It was like an Easter egg hunt. Margie was a Geology major in college, and the stories she told me about the unfolding of the world were different from my grandfather’s stories. “All of this land used to be under the ocean,” she told me. And in my hand I held a piece of the ancient world. I remember how I felt contemplating those fossils: sort of overcome by the strangeness of everything. Is this common to ten-year-olds? I would turn the fossils over in my hand and say the names to myself: brachiopods, gastropods, cephalopods. They seemed so much more than calcified shellfish; they were mollusks in the image of God, rocks infused with spirit. I don’t remember if I considered the stories offered by Genesis and paleontology incompatible. I don’t know if I considered why and how two different questions. Rugged Sycamore Canyon is sprawling and remote. It begins with deep-sliced basalt gorges near its headwaters. Below the basalt, Sycamore quickly cuts through Kaibab Limestone and Coconino Sandstone before broadening out in the Supai Sandstone formation. Most of Sycamore is comprised of the Supai Formation, and, as is typical of canyons in this soft layer, the canyon loses its vertical walls. The rust-colored stone forms buttes and bluffs that are similar to those surrounding Sedona, further to the east and in the Oak Creek watershed. One distinctive feature of Sycamore Canyon is that in its lower reaches it cuts through the much harder layer of Redwall Limestone, the same layer that forms the most dramatic and precipitous cliff band in the Grand Canyon. The vermillion, manganese-varnished Redwall holds many excellent fossil specimens. Because of the complex interplay of elevation, geology, and climate, there is an astounding richness in terms Right Image: © Olivier Bacquet (Flick CC) | www.fotopedia.com/items/flickr-2808337789
of biodiversity, microclimates, and scenery. There is a profusion of niches. The canyon concentrates and conflates life zones that would normally be hundreds of miles apart had they been located on open ground. On north-facing slopes, deep clefts that rarely see sun hold snow patches well into late spring, while slopes at the same elevation on the opposite side are baking in the hot sun. At such an elevation and latitude, the sun’s rays are intense. As a result, a protected pocket or small alcove among heat-holding rocks can have a warm micro-climate even in January, when the forests are draped in snow. It is possible to have lush, wet, pockets of typically alpine wildflowers just a stone’s throw from Sonoran Desert vegetation like agave and mesquite. Deep pools of standing water in the bottom of narrow slot canyons remain frigid all year long. As soon as one descends into Sycamore or one of its side canyons, the diversity and complexity of the ecosystem increases dramatically. Around every bend in the canyon, there is a different combination of slope, aspect, rock strata, soil drainage, and leeward or windward exposure. A protected south-facing pocket surrounded by black basalt boulders will bake like an oven and support only an ornery barrel
cactus, while a north-facing alcove may stay cool and damp enough to support columbines and ferns. The variability of factors leads to many surprises, as plants can become established outside of their typical elevation zones. I trace my lifelong love of topographic maps, climate maps, and geologic maps to my childhood desire to understand the canyon as a complex neighborhood, an unfolding narrative of alliances and histories. To my ten-year-old self, that narrative had partly the quality of myth, and partly the quality of science. Margie collected sand in mason jars with nametags, and kept them in the garage. I played with the sand in those jars, pouring it out on a cutting board, making sand paintings, pouring it in again. I memorized words long before I knew what they meant: Cambrian, Jurassic, Mesozoic, Sedimentary, Igneous, Metamorphic, Overthrust Belt, Subduction Zone, Anticline, Syncline, Batholith, Diatreme, Wingate, Kaibab, Dakota, Tapeats, Vishnu, Diorite, Dacite, Andesite, Rhyolite, Basalt. I studied geologic maps that I didn’t understand, maps that spoke with authority, like Genesis, about the nature of things and the unfolding of time. Crosssections of canyons that showed layered strata laid to rest one upon the other, for eons, like a list of “begats.” And I kept those fossils in a shoebox under my bed.
Janie Miller for Rae Diamond We hurry to the lake to make the fog make sense, to see mist turn into fistfuls of pearls. These walks are longer than a single life, we’ve been here before. We hurry to see the decaying carp jaws open, an eternity of hunger, its skin a silver scrap of Saturn’s scarf. We hurry to the lake to make the fog make sense, to see the water spiral outward from a stone in the sea, unraveling like unwound spinal columns with stories from more than this single life, we’ve been here before. We hurry to hear the hallelujah of bird hymns transform into monk’s chants from liminal tunnels. We hurry to the lake to make the fog make sense, to see five yellow daffodils become the gold watch beaming inside our lungs, gulping another day, another walk longer than a single life because we’ve been here before. We hurry to goose scat, sky eye, dry oyster, star fish, ruby bird, mist pearl, our minds wide with translations. We hurry to the lake to make the fog make sense. To see more than this single life, we have been here before.
30 days orthodox Janie Miller
My city block is an ornithological daydream, a field guide fantasy of warbling the worm. See his orange vest gloss the lips of showers, the beads of Orion a pin-striped orphrey cinching his breastbone at its seams. He is a street whistler, leaf sweeper, worm wrangler, insect alleviator wining & dining the unwanted. See the starlings state their ffweh, ffwuh in evening’s sequins above orrisroot, flipping leaves like trashcan lids, doting on the dolorous drumming of its wings dedicating a ditty to the rain. See the astute robin, his unaccustomed curiosity revolving like an orrery around a finger of grass as green as the viridian choker circumferencing the pigeon’s neck as it pecks cobblestone cracks to the tune of Whistling Dixie orating from a streetcar. You can’t leash a bird, but you can watch the silver pigeon spread its tailwings into an open palm, a crimson diadem flush, an unexpected flourish of intoxicating color unreeling a fury of sunset. The black-capped chickadee is on a bow with two strings, one for flight, the other fancy, ecstatic sight, the love between us no fluttering moan or protest, but the origami of a steel guitar sliding across reeds.
Image: ÂŠ Christian Reifsteck
Floods of Knowing Kevin Patrick
Emerald beetles traced lichen that buttery noon and, though we forgot within hours, the transformation came anyway, as it comes for every wild one of us up there Let’s remember well even when we don’t remember - wake to think fondly of iridescence and nubbly pumpkin, of freshets and telescoping blue The skin and hair of it, the floods of knowing, the skittering grass and all the belonging that wouldn’t fit in our packs but scouted and shepherded us along scribbled paths till time was nothing The choosing from horizon to horizon, as bugs on Pollock—our promise to remember to forget
Rest Notes Kevin Patrick
Mountains are not creamy pastels nor darks nor razor facets nor hazy undulations nor swooping shoulders but a harmonic sum, a tonal massif volume Chunking glass chords with whistling space Some are piano and oboe, others orchestra or lone instruments or reverent voices but all are anchored with rest notes
April at Altitude Kevin Patrick
Chickadees chitter, so I pound onto the wobbly deck in snowshoes, launch pow off the railings, pour shifting pyramids of sunflower brunch, then highstep through aspen as the aerodrome comes alive Bifurcating twigs beguile well enough against an opal sky, so when dawn flames and bleeds to peach through five fresh inches, it’s almost cheating—who could leave this meadow? But there’s the peak, and the woofers prepped with cooking oil to thwart ice avocados, so we linger only a few curling breaths, cramming The heart medicine begins— a bearpaw stomp through lodgepoles and patrician spears of Doug Fir to ridgetop, the trick there not pancaking hairy pasqueflowers, which hide happily enough
Image: © S. Rossi (Fotopedia CC) | www.fotopedia.com/items/xCxNAZV6M3w-D1eDIYKf6NA
Bank right, upward crunch in dense forest, then a steepening to banded metamorphics—most rust-spattered victims of lichen expressionism—where limber pines arc from every face and bind the summit Long strides and grasping gains the stage just as plumed pyramids cast off tatters The gorge below sops strobes with somber hatchwork Chuffing dogs paw at thawing potholes, freeing months, more 41
Swimming with Shadows by Saumya Arya Haas Fish freak me out. I am an awkward guest in their element: my best, cleanest breaststroke is nothing more than a disruptive flailing compared to the deep ballet of sea creatures. I was swimming in the waters off the island of Eleuthera when a shadow gathered itself from among other shadows and manifested into a dark wing with a long trailing tail. A Ray. I am bad with measurements, so let’s go with: large. 6 feet wide? 8? 12 feet long? 15? Who knows. A Priest-King of The Waters, with attendant fishes clustered around him. He (she?) cruised by, beneath me. I was thrilled, and terrified. Then he floated back with a lazy stroke, glided around me, dived below and came up, his back almost breaking the surface. At first I just floated, trying to look nonthreatening but assertive: absurd. What looks assertive to a fish? My heart pounded. He dipped and flipped around in slow motion, one baseball-sized eye fixed on me. When I started to swim, he followed. I splash and limp along the surface; he glides and dances. He zooms by with barely a twitch of his wings; it takes all my limbs to propel myself a meager meter. His gills pulse calm regularity. I have only borrowed breaths. He swam with me that day for about ten minutes—the whole time I was trying to relax, and to remember where Image: © Sarah Ackerman (Flickr CC) | www.fotopedia.com/items/flickr-4251317623
the stingy bits might be located on the great wing of his body; I told myself that he must eat really tiny fish, maybe even just plankton or something. Things much, much smaller than me. He is alien, beautiful; as if made of some other substance. I could have reached out and touched him, but didn’t. During these moments, my mind is as clear as the Caribbean. My calm is fleeting lately. I am trying to let go of a very difficult situation at home. I’m not going to get into it here, but the point is, why did I leave town to get away from it, then drag it along with me? The only time I feel steady (or at least distracted) is in the water. Sitting around our rental cottage, I can’t settle, so down I go to the Sea. Down I go to the Waters. The stairs to the water are steep, rough and numer-
bump into –and off of—each other in their eagerness for bread. I can practically hear them buzzing. Their numbers are increasing; they are joined by tiny minnows in a sperm-like cloud, single-minded but competitive. A few other fish flicker in and out of the confusion. I have vague environmental suspicions that feeding the fish is irresponsible in some way. Am I disrupting an ecosystem? Might I attract larger, potentially people-biting fish? Will the weeks I am here cause the Bumblers to become dependent on my hand-outs and forget how to feed themselves? Are carbs bad for them? My social conscience gets in on the show: wouldn’t the bread be better offered to hungry people? As a camper, I would never feed wildlife, but I am so ignorant of the Ocean that I don’t know which is foolish: my concerns, or my bread-throwing ways. I tell myself that I am just one person, this is just one heel of one
“My calm is fleeting lately. I am trying to let go of a very difficult situation at home. I’m not going to get into it here, but the point is, why did I leave town to get away from it, then drag it along with me? The only time I feel steady (or at least distracted) is in the water. Sitting around our rental cottage, I can’t settle, so down I go to the Sea. Down I go to the Waters.” ous, hugging the 40 ft cliff. This in combination with the irregular shifting light on the clear water sometimes gives me vertigo so I hold the railing and go slow. Today I’m alone, a piece of bread in my left hand, the rail in my right. I try to breathe softly as I’ve been trained to do. By the time I reach the bottom, I’m panting. It’s windy but warm. The water mottled dark with reefshadow and rockshadow is clear to the bottom on a calm day. Today, the surface is as ragged as my breath. I sit on the platform near the swim ladder, and just look for awhile. Wavelets distort my vision. The few huge boulders shelter the cove from the bigger waves. Our own private sea. The first time we came here, we didn’t have a fish-ID book (and this time I’ve forgotten it at home in Minnesota, where it’s not doing anyone any good), and, knowing next to nothing about tropical fish, we made up names for them. Following the tradition of explorers seeing for the first time what has been there all along, we named. The Bumblers are yellow and black striped fish that seem to travel in swarms; they 44
loaf, a drop of bread in the Ocean; surely the Waters can take it (but but but! My minds pipes up: 100,000 people are saying the same thing!). I shunt my conscious aside, for once. Both the fishes and I are enjoying ourselves, so I toss some more bread in. I imagine that they are my friends, that I am some sort of mystical fish-caller, a water Druid. Even though I know they only love me for my carbs. I am getting warm and the bread is almost gone, when the fish scatter—well, not so much scatter as teleport or dematerialize with a flash of fins and aquatic magic. The Ray glides up. I catch my breath. He hovers near the surface, once eye tilted up at me. He swims a circle and returns. I toss some bread at him. It rolls off his back. He circles and returns again. He is about 5 feet below me in the water. I am fully dressed and wearing my glasses. I am not jumping in. I climb down the swim ladder, which is awkward, as it is narrow and I am wide. I am in the water from the calves down. He swims away and back. Away and back. He slides over and brushes
one dark wingtip over my legs. It is cool and smooth, the same temperature as the sea. Water made flesh. His eye is on me. He makes a tight circle and does it again. I am gasping with terror, delight and disbelief. When he finally swims off, my legs are trembling and I almost take an inadvertent dip. I haul myself up the ladder and watch him swan off. He is a shadow, then gone. I sit there until the light starts to fade and little bugs annoy my ankles. I gather my things and toss the last of the bread to the Bumblers. I make my way up the stairs, going slow. I keep looking back at the water. Light and shadow. I am dizzy. I keep one hand firm on the railing. He swims with me again a few days later, this time he brushes me with his wingtips and slides his back along the bottoms of my feet. His entourage of lesser fishes huddle together a safe distance away, and watch. When he passes by them, they swim along for a while; when his parabola brings him close to me, they break off. They might be onto something. I am still frightened but I’m getting used to it. I wonder what The Ray wants; he just seems to be playing, but for all I know, this is a prelude to eating me. Who knows what fish are thinking? The Ray becomes my talisman. When I feel myself getting stressed out, when my breath starts to shorten and hitch, I envision his cool, smooth flesh, the rhythmic pulse of gills, the steady slow beat of wings, his bold, gentle curiosity. His ease of being. I even my breath to match him. To match my vision of him. We’ve been here for a week now. We have gotten lazy. It’s cool and windy today, too chilly to swim, so we lean on the deck railing, 40 feet up, and chuck bread to fishes swarming below. The Bumblers lumber about, attended by clouds of minnows. We see The Ray: he is speeding through the water beyond the boulders, flapping his wings like anything. I’ve never seen him in a hurry before. To our delight, his wingtips break the surface and leave twin wakes. He dives deep, and we lose sight of him. Then, he jumps. He jumps clear out of the water, the broad dark wing of his back, the pale white underbelly, the long trailing whip of tail-- an arc of the sea, launched into air. Then down he goes, back into the water without a splash or a sound. Or maybe there was a splash, but we couldn’t hear it over our whoops of surprise and awe. There is a spreading ring of ripples. We don’t even have time to look at each other and he breaks the surface again, this time at a hard angle. He soars, twisting, flattening slightly at the top of the arc, completely clear of the water. Now I have an appreciation for his size. He is
huge. He’s launched higher this time, flying the air as easily as the water. He cleaves the sea, dives. Gone. Once we calm down, and after waiting around in case he decides to do it again, my husband goes off to nap and I sit down to write this. I keep breaking off to go outside and peer hopefully at the water. The sky has clouded up in a thin layer; the sun is as pale and mysterious as the moon. It’s hard to see in the water; every shadow races my heart. I go in, write; go out, check. I’m torn between exhilaration at having seen it, and disappointment that I’m not seeing it again right now. I catch a glimpse of The Ray, back to his serene swanning. I lose sight of him and am turning to head inside when there he is, in the air. He is skipping across the water like a stone, in a straight line out to sea, dipping down and flying up in broad, shallow leaps. He doesn’t seem to gather himself or heave; it looks effortless, a sharp needle through sheer fabric. He makes about six of these leaps, then dives. I wait. I want to run for the camera, husband, something, but my breath is gone. Out of nowhere, out of the deep, he comes: straight up. He dives upwards into air, a wide, dark blade in the sky: he must be 15 feet out of the water, wings spread, snout skyward, water streaming off his back. He arches, seeming to nearly fold in half: now I see his pale belly, now his tail flicks around, and he drops down into the water, neatly, as if it’s nothing. He breaches into the air again, twisting and rolling, skimming the surface with a wingtip. I see him continue the dance underwater, then in the air. There is hardly any splash or disturbance to mark his transitions. His motions in the water look no different from those in the air, as if the change in medium is only coincidental. As above, so below. It is disorienting. Finally, he dives down and is gone. I stand there, not waiting for more. I’m sort of half-laughing, half-gasping, when I taste salt. Tears. My breathing slows, and calms. Something in me finally lets go. I finally let it. We see him again several times. Sometimes he greets us, sometimes he’s swimming out beyond our reach. The morning we leave, we ceremonially toss some bread off the deck. I see a shadow moving, out where shallow meets deep. I don’t know if it was him. When I get home, I immediately embark on a search to discover what kind of ray I was swimming with. I talk to knowledgeable friends, do a Google image search. Not a Manta Ray. Not an Atlantic Cownose Ray. Not a Spotted Eagle Ray. I finally give up, and let him be a mystery. A shadow, at ease in the depths: glimpsed, then unseen. Flesh and water, the taste of salt. Breath. The same things I am made of. 45
The Back Forty Susan Gilbert
The Pacific Crest Trail to Sheep Lake rounds north east of Mt Rainier through Sourdough Gap in Chinook Pass. Spotted saxifrage pokes through a skim of ice. Moisture bruises its spotted petals. Blue butterflies bathe in the dirt. Above the tree line there is no escape from the sun or the view. A meadow descends into a tangle of penstemon and paintbrush. They soften the dark flanks of the mountain. I enter uncultivated acreage. I know that I am going to die. No. Not today. Not anytime soon. But I can no longer double my age and pretend I will live that long. My stories scatter on the trail behind me like field mice who seek comfort in the dead decay of leaves. Old loves banter in the call of the hawk. The end of the trail disappears into forever.
Are you coming back? Susan Gilbert
Green, glassy, perfectly pinked leaves cup the tightly wound bud. A peony. No. Camellia. Few are fully opened. A bee flits by. It does not stop. No scent. No sticky pollen to draw. There is evidence of pruning. On either side of a healed scar, a fresh whorl of green pokes through. Evidence of new life. No. Cancer can return like this tightly wound, tiny curl. It is too soon. I must wait. If this tiny spear unfurls, I will celebrate one more time
In the Aftermath Chris Gladden
July and four days of monsoon rain Mudslides on the edge of town Roads washed out Splintered pines crisscross piled earth and smashed houses An upturned car Lives laid bare At the bar “Did you find that last guy?” Back hoe operator indicates an arm Weeks later ambling a disused logging road in the hills uprooted trees beneath slumped hillsides and caking plains of slough and debris where momentarily a trickle turned raging flow
Clamber over downed pines and beaten slopes scooting slides A quiver of something wrong Press on through nature’s gate The whole Earth ground under Shiva’s heel His bedeviling grin Hundreds of tender shoots rising in the still drying mud
Prawns at a Turning Point by Sophia V. Schweitzer
indward mountain streams traverse upland forest reserves bordering hundreds of acres of pasture lands. Interrupted only by a couple of old villages and a predictable handful of luxury homes, they undulate to dusty shoreline cliffs edged out of solid basalt. The streams harbor fatty fish, ‘o‘ōpu, and crisp-harnessed waterfall-climbing shrimp, ‘ōpai, invaluable food that has served Hawaiian families for generations. An ancient Hawaiian proverb comes to mind when I cross these streams, over narrow, one-way bridges, or, sometimes, wading right through. “Hahai no ka ua i ka ululā`au,” the rain follows the forest: The Hawaiian people knew that the streams’ fresh water, on which their survival depended, flowed in interdependence with the health of the wild forests above. The streams ribbon North Kohala, an isolated peninsula on the northeastern tip of the Big Island, my home of nearly 25 years. Once, the nēnē, the Hawaiian goose, scrambled around here, its partially webbed feet well-adapted to Kohala’s rough, rocky lands. Native honey creepers flitted around to feed on the nectar of colorful‘ōhi‘a lehua blossoms, which, luckily, to this day, still brighten forests and lowlands alike with powder puffs of petals in peaches, lemony yellows, and furious red. The trill of the honeycreepers, once prized for their feathers, hasn’t been heard in decades at lower elevations, but upland pockets of pristine native ‘ōhi‘a forests still harbor gems like the endemic native Hawaiian tree snail. Once found throughout the Island of Hawai‘i, Partulina physa all but disappeared in the 1900s. In the late 1990s, a population was discovered on the rim of a valley a four-hour’s hike from my home. Royal specimens of Pritchardia, the lulu palm, have since been found as well. They hang precariously off ridges perched several thousands of feet above the streams.
The streams used to flow perennially. No one knows for certain what has caused them to become intermittent these days. Is it a prolonged drought or a shift in geological layers caused by a massive earthquake in 2006? Or is it that water follows the forests and the forests aren’t what they used to be? Likely, there isn’t any one singular cause. But that last one is big. Before Westerns infringed upon these Kohala lands, which began after 1779, the year of Captain Cook’s’ arrival in Hawai‘i, the Hawaiians farmed small plots at lower elevations and tapped into the upland forests for medicine, construction materials, foraging, the building of canoes, and other needs. They used manual tools and were constantly reminded, by natural forces and visionaries alike, that respect for the forest must influence each act. Some deforestation at the forests’ lower edges would have occurred, since both fuel and open land were needed for expanding populations. These cleared areas would in later years provide an easy launching pad for invasive species, alien to the native ecosystems that had held their own for millennia and found themselves defenseless against foreign intruders. Probably as early as 300 AD, the Hawaiians had brought on their canoes a set of Polynesian plants. These early introductions, the canoe plants, joined the islands’ existing endemic flora and fauna and are today fully integrated in the island’s ecosystems. Having grown here in isolation alongside the endemics for centuries, genetically akin to Polynesian-Pacific plants elsewhere, they would be equally vulnerable in centuries to come. The other day, my husband and I ventured mauka to explore one of Kohala’s now intermittent streams. Puwaiole crosses the Hālawa lands of the Hawaiian Chief Kamehameha, who united the islands under one rule in 1810. Its name is somewhat of a mystery. Some believe the word refers to the stream’s sharp curves and plunging waterfalls, which prevented people from hearing the Hawaiian sentinel’s call of alarm (pūwai). Kamehameha’s times were not friendly times, but they were practical, fair, entwined with what the land could give. The Chief ’s success was partly rooted in the fertility of the Hālawa lands, which he farmed extensively so he could feed his many young warrior men. His farm crop of choice was the canoe plant taro, colocia oscolensis. The starchy corm belongs to Hawaiian culture and the earliest cosmologies, and is said to have its divine origins in North Kohala. To this day, long-abandoned table land taro lo‘i (patches) and stream-side terraces dot Hālawa.
Left Image: © Sophia V. Schweitzer
After a thoughtful glance at some remnant ancient Hawaiian stone lo‘i walls, we hiked down a winding narrow trail through a thicket of sweet-scented guava trees. We passed handsome trees with glossy, lancelet leaves and noded trunks displaying an effusion of shining orange berries, a canopy of giant, majestic, soft-hearted albizia trees. All three species were introduced during the decades of Hawai‘i’s sugar plantations, in the late 1800s and early 1900s. All three species are beautiful and lethal at once. In their own idiosyncratic ways they dominate or deteriorate Hawai‘i’s native ecosystems. Guava was introduced as fruit and food. Albizia was planted in forest restoration efforts. The orange-berried tree is rauvolfia vomitoria, and as bad as it sounds, a toxic purgative packed with alkaloids that have long made it a darling of pharmaceutical researchers in the West, a potential ally for hysteria (in the past) or diabetes (today.) Its ingenious ways to survive in African native soils allow it to grow rampant in the Kohala watershed. Unlike Hawai‘i’s native plants, who lived without much competition or predation in highly cohesive, sheltered systems, Rauvolfia and other invasives are anything but subdued. They seem to exude a joyous self-esteem that, in a sense, I fully understand. These abundant exotics show us how to live, how to seize life in its fullness. They laugh in the sheer joy of sunshine, rain, wind, earth and fertility. They teach us that we don’t have to consent to being small and insignificant. To a degree. Their bragging tenacity to life is a deadly deal. The sugar plantations formed a thirsty industry, which relentlessly chased after fresh water, never satisfied. Western tools and machinery made for ruthless environmental exploitation. And the plants that arrived with the new waves of foreigners after 1779 came not from neighboring Pacific Islands but from continental landmasses. Invaders bred at least 2,500 miles away from the Islands are likely taxonomically distinct from island species and have a greater impact on native habitat. Water follows the forest. Plantation hydrologists noticed within mere decades that water levels were dropping below what was needed to nurture the cane. The knowledge so familiar to the Hawaiians, of the link between healthy upland watersheds and lowland agriculture, dawned. In 1913, a total of 29,627 acres in Kohala were officially set aside for protection and restoration as the Kohala Forest Reserve in a combined effort between landowners and government agencies. But even so, sugar never did very well in Kohala. The last of the planta50
tions closed in 1975. Today it’s wild pigs, feral cattle, and countless invasive botanical, insect, bacterial and fungus species that populate this land, introduced on purpose or by accident. The introduction of new species carries on daily. The islands are globally connected. The damage to the vulnerable ecosystems of the watershed seems irreversible. But is it? The other day I came across a study that considered the dangerous possibility that occasionally circumstances might be such that invasive species facilitate a comeback of native species. Take for example the Japanese white-eye, Zosterops japonica, a pretty, little thing of a bird, introduced, exotic, and soaring in native Hawaiian island habitat in astounding numbers. In a long ago past, Hawai‘i’s endemic ‘ie‘ie vine (Freycinetia arborea) grew abundantly in low-elevation forests. It was one of five plants used on the hula altar and propagated itself with the aid of Hawai‘i’s native birds. Today, with the native birds gone, the little white-eye is ‘ie‘ie’s main pollinator, assuring its survival. Such exhilarating discoveries are vastly important as conservationists and scientists are trying to figure out how best to protect Hawai‘i’s precious native life, which includes no less than 377 species federally listed as endangered. But how do we humans correctly absorb a positive in the face of all the negatives, the biodiversity already lost? How can we plan conservation in the fine balance between deepening our knowledge and taking immediate, alarmed action? How can we ourselves, like the wild forests, follow the streams, fluid and appreciative of what is happening, carefully, and simultaneously skillfully intervene? I don’t envy the biologists and conservationists this precarious task. They are working around the clock for the Kohala Watershed, in a new partnership formed in 2004 and under the umbrella of numerous other agencies. The future of our children is at stake. Water follows the forest. I am just an occasional hiker, a writer, eager to observe, marvel, and think. As we hike farther down, murmuring water shimmers below us, quietly and sustained, punctuated by the flickering of sunlight through yellow, orange, and all shades of green and gray leaves. The light is like an electric pulse, charging us, on and off, emitting photons, reaching us in intervals according to unsettling quantum-physics laws. It’s the play of nerve endings, waves, particles, and synapses, but set in a giant, slower theater than the interpretive setting of the human brain, which desperately seeks constancy. The colors of the leaves have slowed down, it appears to me. Whoever said that leaves
are green. Bluish hues and vibrant reds, the shimmering silver of native kukui trees, the dull pine green of nonnative ironwoods, matte-barn green guava, tender mossgreen native ferns, purple vetiver, gingers blossoming white with apricot-colored hearts, or lemon-petaled with mango-hued cores. Colors become flavors in their descriptions, in my mouth. I reach for my water flask to quench my thirst. A damselfly with a neon-blue spine hovers near my chest, then darts off toward water falling and flowing, begging me forth. But above the pond and the stream, a trail leads east, toward another water flow that runs perpendicular, a historical irrigation ditch. Some consider the Kohala Ditch another invasive, another intruder that has changed the lay and ecosystems of the land. Others cherish the Ditch. They see its architectural beauty, or appreciate its role as the lifeline of today’s community. Built in 1906, before the designation of the Kohala Forest Reserve, the Ditch was designed to take water from the water-soaked valleys farther east to the sugar plantations. For the construction of this seemingly impossible engineering feat, Japanese laborers were sent into the valleys, with dynamite, picks, and Crisco fat rubbed onto their bodies to stave off the cold. The men blasted tunnels and trails, and at times blasted themselves, fell down chutes, or tunnels or cliffs. Their names were never fully known or retrieved. They lined the Ditch with massive stones, hand-hewn, 5 cents a piece as their pay. My husband once found one half of a solid golden wedding ring in one of the tunnels, sheared off at rough angles. An accident with no one left to tell the sad story. The men completed the Ditch at a loss of seventeen lives and chronic ensuing lung disease among hundreds, the gain of Kohala’s new wealth. And after its completion, for the first time in decades, business in Kohala’s small villages boomed. When sugar ended, the Ditch began to provide water for a crop of new diversified farms instead. A century after the Ditch was built, the same earthquake that may or may not have altered flow patterns in Kohala’s streams destroyed it. It took two years and more than $5 million in state, federal and private funds to repair the historic aqueduct. Without the Ditch, our community today, which includes our invasive plants, invasive lifestyles, hard-working conservationists, and dozens of others trying to live lightly on this piece of land, cannot live in Kohala and have any real local agriculture. That’s a truth and an irony. Earthquakes cause profound and lasting changes
in the structure of forests and watersheds. But climate change, our human doing, may upset the balance or accelerate the harmful effects of invasive species as well. Beach vitex, for example, has long caused significant loss of coastal habitat in the islands, because its root systems aggravate the erosion of lands. In addition, its tangled vines have had an impact on Hawai‘i’s recovering green sea turtle population. The females may not be able to lay their eggs where vitex grows, preferring clear sands, and hatchlings may not find their way back to the sea. Rising sea levels swallow whatever remaining beaches there are left. The footprint of earthquakes, the ripple effect of human impact. Then, once in a while, a positive. An invasive that turns out helpful. An endemic plant rediscovered and given a new chance. Who are we in our connection with our surroundings? How intimate do we dare to be? In Hawai‘i, over half of the original native forests have been lost. Yet, last year, high up in old, moss-covered ‘ōhi‘a trees, the partnership formed to protect the Kohala Watershed stumbled upon ‘ōhā wai. This native lobelia grew unaffected by the many changes and expansion of invasive species far below its epiphyte roots, blissfully unaware that it is, in fact, one of the world’s rarest plants. In 1994, Hawai‘i Fish and Wildlife Service presumed ‘ōhā wai was extinct in the wild. No one had collected a specimen since 1909. So as I hike and notice, I see a vast invasion front in all its lethal attraction and destructive force, but it comes with a history, an evolution, a future, and I know nothing but to watch and see. Nothing is as it seems. My observations change what I observe. The sentinel’s call can’t be heard. My husband and I hike down to Puwaiole’s deep pond, below the life-altering Kohala Ditch and a canopy of well-intended watershed restoration trees, native kukui, fermenting guava fruit. We cleave a Polynesian-introduced niu fruit, a coconut, and scoop out snow-white, scented meat, which we place into a metal trap. A piece of native hau bark is tied to the trap. We plunge it into the pond. Minutes later, we haul up another trap that we had left there three days earlier. It’s filled with giant Malaysian prawns (Macrobrachium rosenbergii), an invasive, our dinner. It has been dinner for the people of Hawai‘i for many since its introduction in the 1960s. I am an invasive here myself. I do my best to raise awareness about our environment. What will be what with which effects in a hundred years? I love this land that bewilders me, my home.
Within the Breath Gwendolyn Morgan
White flowers on lemon balm, basil our minds wander amidst spices through consciousness of well-being focused, present, a small flower spider a soft peppermint leaf, a crow feather and all the blackbirds gathered below us red-winged, solid black, sheer garnet, obsidian in which one sings, one holds nothing except the song, the singing symmetrical, immediate green tea, prayer wheel, snail labyrinth the soul is sensitive to images to what is in us, the hemoglobin platelets, the resonance of cellular memory to what is before us, the light gathered crow, staircase, basil, rose this evening we face the west, sun dappled faces maple leaves, blackbirds, shadows, breath in which one breathes, one holds everything.
Image Left: ÂŠ Yuya Sekiguchi (Flickr CC) www.fotopedia.com/items/flickr-8316665157
Douglas Knight Early in the morning when the fog was still resting in the mountainâ€™s fold I followed the walking path to the waterâ€™s edge where deer had pressed their black toes in the pepper sand I sat on a rock above the current closing my eyes for a moment just a blinking really With day we wandered into the valley where the Daiya River feeds off the churning Kanmangafuchi Abyss where seventy Bodhisattvas meditate in stone eyelids carved shut sealing their mind to nothing more than the roar of the rapids, the mumbling of tourists passing by counting each Jizo ich
Bake, meaning ghost seventy in the first tally sixty-two in the next they are always blinking in and out But with a stillness so the moss can grow up the neck hardly breathing as the ferns around their ankles pull them down
to no more than pebbles sand bliss 54
Woman from Valencia Christian Reifsteck
O woman from Valencia from the little village called El Palmar where the streets are full of paella and dust. O did you know that the brown cracks of earth shifted under the weight of my desire and how the great disturbance of your dark eyes formed new continents? There is one certainty in this vast river of brokenness, woman from paella, woman of Valencia and dust— that from a certain distance the ocean and the desert are motionless and still. And o did you know, beautiful woman from the village, that the long word of you stretches far into the darkness— even until after the last star evaporates and a planet is just an absent thing motionless and still?
Christian Reifsteck Crickets singing out their desires, this is when I love you— when the sky turns the warm cream of your skin and all that’s left of the sun inflames the leaves on the mountains and reddens the cliffs of the canyons. You are a canyon— wide river of longing, you carry your pieces to lands flat and distant. You empty yourself into the sea. But first, you begin as one star— one star alone and white. It is here when I love you. It is here when the whole sky loves you and the crickets sing for you. ~ In the quiet night that follows, all is dark.
Conversations Alexandria Delcourt
5:05 am shadows are long crickets sing a slow chant mourning the loss of the night dawn is not far off even so, stars shine more brightly here and now than even the clearest night anywhere else in the world a sigh blows my hair behind me bringing the fresh scent of the moon through my eyes and into my consciousness I hear it I know the grass hears it too itâ€™s not the continuous movement of air I decide, but the trees talking and laughing what does this tree say? her leaves rustle in busy chatter
leaning forward and delivering an amusing anecdote with perfect timing to her neighbor I wonder what her neighbor hears he rears backwards in amusement leaves slapping together giving audible life to his laughter the stars shine through giggling tree limbs flitting in and out of existence like morse codeâ€” a message from the universe suddenly the pattern of life appears in the movements of silhouetted branches I am in the only place that exists and I realize this is all I ever wanted to see of life and everything else is just an added bonus
7:51 a.m. by John Gifford
t begins not as a flash, but as a faint, warm glow in the east. Just then a narrow, golden-yellow brushstroke appears on the sleepy gray canvas of ground, the first sign of the artist at work and the impending scene now taking shape. Already it is warm and true and distinct, this single shaft of soft illumination, a moment of hope soon to be realized, a deft promise that glows and grows, glows and grows, growing, warming away the thin blanket of hoarfrost, melting the solid, frosty sheen into a sparkling dew, silent and still, and resplendent in its fleeting spotlight. And now the long stillness begins to recede with the first flicker of movement in the trees, the first ebullient whistles of good-morning cheer, as the chilly musicians descend from their lofts and take their places on lower branches, larger branches, beneath the dormant brambles and briars, bathed now in the warm, slowly expanding spotlight as the picture comes to life, and time, like the scene taking shape with every new brushstroke, each brighter and bolder than the last, never stops advancing.
Image: ÂŠ Chris Willis (Flickr CC) | www.fotopedia.com/items/flickr-2337726904
Desert Ecology Lesson 34: Rhamnaceae And Tiliaceae Diana Woodcock
When all the world’s bad news has brought you down, rise up, go out to the rodat and places of loamy compact soil where desert trees, shrubs, woody climbers flourish; rejoice with them in sunlight and air. Then as the day goes, so let each care. Seek out Ziziphus nummularia, that thorny shrub with almondgreen flowers and orange berries, Sidr its Quran-given name. Find Corchorus depressus, that prostrate perennial with thick tortuous branches forming mats on loamy compact soil. Look up from the flora— stark horizon—no lofty pines nor majestic maples. Just open desert. But at your feet, a feast: herb, shrub, small tree. Care for them as a form of prayer. Applaud their fecundity. Consider Rhamna and Tilia friends: watch what happens. Holding anguished power this eleventh hour— the only ones to console us now.
* rodat Arabic for depressions
Persian Nightingale Diana Woodcock
Persian nightingale winging over the singing dunes—sands that hum as shamal winds strum their grainy sides, filling the desert with sad beauty. Nothing new under the sun. Only love and loss and the nightingale’s song feel real, everything else a mirage, fleeting camouflage to mask the illusion. No better solution for all our troubles— stress, sleeplessness, loneliness. How obviously the bulbul reflects its Maker— an instrument of peace sowing hope, light, joy, even pardon. Who would be such a fool as to cling to despair, doubt, hatred in the presence of the avian flautist? Oh to console with such flair, to give so freely as if it were the most natural thing in the world (it is!). To sway on the extremity of a date palm frond, to survey with equal tranquility both heart of the desert and coastal bay. What powers and magic lay in folds of feathers of this exquisite mystic with singular mind and celebration of yin and yang in its coloration. If I knew how, I would shape this poem into a sidra tree, set one bulbul on the top-most branch, revise lines to mimic fluty notes of its song. At the poem’s fulcrum, I would hum along but not move a muscle, the presence of bulbul having bred full consciousness, its eyes fixed on infinite space, its ears attuned to under ground streams and water table rising. On limestone outcroppings and sandstone jebels, they shine—angels unawares—one chance today (yours and mine) to be enchanted, to love with all our breaking hearts the world.
Desert Deprivation Diana Woodcock
So many things I took for granted: corn fields ripe for harvesting; tree toads in thornbrake; fields of poppies and lavender. This desert devoid of them deserves acceptance on its own terms. Must we always crave the new and different, then attempt to transform it into the familiar? Such a peculiar habit—wanting the opposite of what we have. Why, in the flat terrain of this desert, does the mind’s eye continually conjure up Castile’s St. Lorenzo Peak? On the bank of an arroyo, a deep longing for the Atlantic Ocean? Standing with binoculars by the coast past West Bay, I watch flamingos all morning wade and feed in the shallows, marvel how my soul is nourished here even as body rebels against the heat. In this barren landscape longing for Nuri’s* seven citadels, Saint Theresa’s interior castle. All morning I think how lovely if death would come for me in the blush of a flamingo stepping ever so precisely yet delicately toward its meal—sea and desert dunes reclaiming me. *8th century Iraqi Sufi
Image: © Vincent Poulissen (Flickr CC) www.fotopedia.com/items/flickr-5560055216
Forthcoming June 28th 2013 from Hiraeth Press Wild Life is both a celebration of wildlife and an exploration of the human animal. Ultimately, it is a testament to what becomes possible when we see ourselves as a part of, rather than apart from, the natural world. What can an owl, a salmon, or a bear teach us about becoming a better person? What if we re-claimed our animalness? What if we surrendered to the wild life? “What if..?” asks the poet. “I am taken back by the brilliance of Jamie K. Reaser’s poetry. She draws you into the wilds of the land and her heart and deep wisdom steps out to take you home every time. Her love of the natural world and weavings of spiritual truth are akin to Mary Oliver. Thank you, Jamie, for the superlative gift of your poetry.” —Mare Cromwell, award-winning author of Messages from Mother…. Earth Mother
Wild Life also features a foreword by Edward E. Clark Jr., Ed is President of the Wildlife Center of Virginia. Hiraeth Press will be donating $2.00/book to support the WCV’s environmental education and wildlife medicine programs!
FAWN Is any human heart naïve to the texture of abandonment? Here I am snugged in tall grasses and sunspots, Still but for my newly-boned rib cage and the short-bodied flowers that play flower games in exhalations. I could be here all day; What joy there is in bird song, and the tremendous leap of shiny green grasshoppers, and soil—how it smells. I am of this place and its daily-recounted secrets. I ask you: “Please don’t save me.” I am busily laying in this meadow, saving you. —Excerpt from Wild Life
Pacific Trash Vortex Mike Jurkovic
When I first discovered The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, Twice the size of Texas And currently on the move I thought, “Star Trek, Star Date 4202.9” As the Doomsday Machine Ate every planet in sight And it blew my mind! How do we dispose Of so much shit That it is now mutating at horse latitude, Migrating tenfold every ten years? Tofu tubs trapped In tropical gyres, Bottle caps Choking birds. Nurdles in the food chain, Mermaid tears Eaten by plankton, Eaten by fish, Eaten by our voracity Passed on by our lust.
Red Knots Mike Jurkovic
The rufa red knots, North America’s most common subspecies flies the equivalent of the moon and back in its lifetime. Now it faces extinction as we over-harvest horseshoe crabs for the terminally corpulent. Tell me again how we’re not to blame for everything dying on this planet. Please, it wasn’t clear the first time.
Ghosts and Illegals Lee Passarella
Driving in the suburbs and the exurbs of Atlanta, I watch for them this April, the ectoplasmic denizens of ancient burial grounds. They festoon the sweet gums and loblollies, trailing their purple winding sheets in the wind, the ghostly evidence of past habitation. Some clapboard farmhouse and barn sheltered under those pines, when all of them were young, from the baleful Cyclops eye of August. But April,
Call of the Wild
August, January, cycling through the many years, have killed all evidence of place except the strangling vines, the ghostly racemes of wisteria. Here and there
Hot July, in a valley of the Shadow: a hill once packed with pine and oak tight as a pile of cordwood, gone
along the interstate, I see them haunting a white oak in dangling clusters, sometimes mirrored upward by the engorged nipples of an empress tree in bud,
to make my company’s new office park —the Campus, as it’s jocularly called, this Cadmus’ field of macadam and tinder
erect with the purple urge of equinox: beautiful invasives both, far from their Asian home, where memory holds on to more than April ghosts among the oaks.
grass. Behind the place, from a dying sweetgum—forest leftover, anorexic slip all raw long bones and hip blades tottering
above ten lanes of Interstate—a red hawk calls its mate half a mile away. A mournful cloying cheepcheepcheep: crazy mismatch to the bulk of this tented thing that lurches and kites downwind, like a jinni haunting a spot where death is a dream of shade.... This week, we filled the swimming pool at home, our tiny garden by the backdoor ankle deep with the overflow. Each hot parched night we hear the frogs croon love songs in the brief wetland formed from our profligate days. 63
Winner of the Nautilus Gold Medal, the IPPY Bronze Medal and the IPPY Gold Medal
Theodore Richards Author of the award-winning non-fiction titles: Cosmosophia: Cosmology, Mysticism and the Birth of a New Myth, Creatively Maladjusted: The Wisdom Education Movement Manifesto and the spiritual novel, The Crucifixion. Look for his titles wherever books are sold.
www.hiraethpress.com | www.homeboundpublications.com | www.theodorerichards.com
Contributor Biographies Jon Barrows is a Maine native who was transplanted to Washington, D.C. in 2006. He’s actively involved in the D.C. poetry community, hosting “Small is Beautiful,” a neighborhood writing group. He has also organized events and workshops around National Poetry Writing Month with Bloombars, a community art space. His work has appeared on poetryforlivingwaters.org and in the Poetry of Yoga anthology and is forthcoming in StepAway Magazine. Alexandria Delcourt is a 26-year-old fiction writer and poet who lives in Madison, WI. She has a BA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in Anthropology and Religious Studies, and is currently an MFA candidate in the Stonecoast MFA in Creative Writing Program through the University of Southern Maine. She is also the Editor-in-Chief of the Stonecoast Review. In addition to writing about nature, the themes of her other works include exploration of race and ethnicity, relationships, folklore, and family history. Kate Dwiggins grew up in Wood River, IL and has often been inspired by the Mississippi River and the river towns that populate the local region. She earned her MFA in poetry at the University of Missouri—St. Louis where she now teaches as a Lecturer and Composition Specialist. Her work has appeared in other journals including Crab Orchard Review, Barely South Review, China Grove and Appalachee Review among others. John Gifford served with the U.S. Marines during the Persian Gulf War and later received his MFA from the University of Central Oklahoma. A lifelong angler and nature enthusiast, he is the author of two books on fishing and has written for many of North America’s leading angling publications. His creative work has appeared recently in Saw Palm, Sleet Magazine, The Christian Science Monitor, and is forthcoming from the Citron Review, Orion, and the Arkansas Review. He lives in Oklahoma. Susan B. Gilbert is very much at home in San Pedro, CA after growing up in Rhode Island followed by many years in the Pacific Northwest. Her poems have appeared in LA Yoga and a special Women Writing Nature edition of Sugar Mule. In October 2012, Blue White Veil, was published by Black Bamboo Press. She is currently working on her second book, tentatively titled Amanita. Chris Gladden is a poet, traveler, freelance writer, and teacher. Originally from Southern New England’s Connecticut River Valley, he has spent the last decade based in Nagano prefecture, central Japan. His work has appeared in print and online through publications in the US, the UK, New Zealand, and Japan. Saumya Arya Haas writes about culture, spirituality, and her adventures around the world. She is a contributor at Huffington Post, State of Formation and The Good Men Project, but her writing can be found at numerous other sites. Her work is influenced by her interfaith engagement, academic study, and role as a priestess of Hinduism and Vodou/Vodun. Glenn Halak has a book of poems published by an online publisher, writerswebpress, back in 1998 and has had poems published over the years. Many paintings, three children’s books, some plays produced and lately two one-acts published, some short fiction as well, are out in the world. Majkin Holmquist is an eighth grade English teacher from central Kansas. Much of her poetry reflects the culture and traditions of being the fifth generation of a family farm in the Great Plains and the conditions and beauty of that landscape —both natural and emotional. Her work has previously been published in The Midwest Quarterly, A Prairie Journal, The Foundling Review, and LIT journal. Mike Jurkovic’s first chapbook, Purgatory Road was published by Pudding House Press 2010. Poems &music criticism have appeared/are forthcoming in over four hundred national & international literary magazines. Anthologies: WaterWrites & Riverine (Codhill Press, 2009, 2007); Will Work For Peace (Zeropanik,1999). Since 2003, co-director of Calling All Poets in Beacon, NY. Producer of CAPSCAST, live readings from the Calling All Poets Series, available on itunes. CD reviews appear in Elmore Magazine, Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange, and the Van Wyck Gazzette. Please visit www.mikejurkovic.com 65
Jessica Bryant Klagmann grew up in New Hampshire, where her affinity to the natural world was cultivated early by an herbalist mother and a farmer/beekeeper father. Her writing takes on human relationships to the environment as magical, yet simply inevitable. Whether pursuing it or resisting it, the subjects of her stories and essays often discover a connection to the landscapes that surround them and find solace despite their struggles. Jessica received an MFA from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Her fiction and nonfiction appear or are forthcoming in Hippocampus Magazine, Antipodes, Pithead Chapel, and elsewhere. Much of her time is spent devising adventures with her husband, Jamison, and their lab-husky companion, Hazel. Douglas Knight is a poet of the Arkansas hill-country creeks, though he is currently wading into other waters. He and his wife are living in Japan, volunteering with an organic agriculture institute. There, they encounter the Divine while weeding potatoes and butchering chickens. His work has been published in Vortex Magazine, and The Natural Tale. See some of his roughly written poetry at: www.hikingthroughbewilderment.blogspot.com. Barbara March is a poet journalist and live in the high desert on the western edge of the Great Basin; wild horse country. She has a collection of poems devoted to the inhumane treatment of wild horses by the federal government, an issue which has been in the national and international news recently. She us also the founder of the Surprise Valley Writers’ Conference, www.modocforum.org. Her work has been published in Untitled Country Review, Red Rock Review, and the Tonopah Review, among others. Janie Miller is a poet, essayist & painter who lives in the urban wild of Seattle. She teaches poetry & environmental literature at the University of Washington in Tacoma. She was recently accepted by Tupelo Press to participate in the 30/30 Project, and her work has most recently been published in Cimarron Review, Columbia Poetry Review and Five Fingers Review. Gwendolyn Morgan learned the names of birds and wildflowers and inherited paint brushes and boxes from her grandmothers. With a M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Goddard College, and a M.Div. from San Francisco Theological Seminary, she has been a recipient of writing residencies at Artsmith, Caldera and Soapstone. Her poems appear in: Calyx, Dakotah, Kalliope, Kinesis, Manzanita Quarterly, Mudfish, Tributaries: a Journal of Nature Writing, Written River as well as anthologies and other literary journals. Crow Feathers, Red Ochre, Green Tea, her first book of poems is forthcoming from Hiraeth Press. She serves as the manager of interfaith Spiritual Care at Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center. Gwendolyn and Judy A. Rose, her partner, share their home with Abbey Skye, a rescued Pembroke Welsh Corgi. Elaine Moynahan is an American poet emerging at the age of 74. She graduated from Trinity College in D.C. in 1959, married and is the mother of nine children. Upon retirement, she began writing and in addition to winning the Hoosac River Poetry Contest, she has poems published or forthcoming in Spindrift, The North Adams Transcript , Off the Coast, The Green Hills Literary Lantern, Rise Forms, Avocet, Storm Cellar, Wilderness House Literary Review and Boston Literary Magazine. Kevin Patrick (locuto.com) works hard, against impossible odds, to keep the word “hapless” out of his obituary. He’s a geologist, dramatist, and Colorado native. A native of California’s Mendocino Coast, Lee Patton has enjoyed life in Colorado since college. His fiction and poetry have been widely published and his plays produced nationwide. Recent credits include The Last Orphan in Cincinnati in Best New Writing 2012 (Hopewell, 2012) and Au Bon Pain: Six Stories, One Life, (JMS Books, 2012). Recent poems appear in Ellipsis, Poetry Quarterly and Memoir Journal. More at leepatton.net. Lee Passarella is a founding member and senior literary editor of Atlanta Review and acted as editor-in-chief of FutureCycle Poetry and Coreopsis Books. His poetry has appeared in Chelsea, Cream City Review, Louisville Review, The Sun, Antietam Review, Journal of the American Medical Association, The Formalist, Cortland Review, and many other periodicals. Recent publications include Rock & Sling, FutureCycle Poetry, and Red Fez. Swallowed up in Victory, Passarella’s long narrative poem based on the American Civil War, was published by White Mane Books in 2002. In addition, he has published two other books of poetry: The Geometry of Loneliness (David Roberts Books) and Sight-Reading Schumann (Pudding House Publications).
Christian Reifsteck’s poems have appeared in numerous journals, including The Passionate Transitory, Life As An [insert label here], and The Bijou Poetry Review, and his photographs have appeared online and in print. He currently teaches in central Pennsylvania and Europe. View more of his work at www.illuminatedmanuscript.wordpress.com. Mark Rozema lives in Seattle, Washington, with his wife, daughter, and two dogs. He enjoys gardening, rock climbing, and running. He has essays forthcoming in The Soundings Review and Camas. A book of nonfiction entitled Road Trip will be released in 2016 by Boreal Books. Kathleen Saville is a long time expatriate living in Cairo, Egypt. She returns home to Vermont for the summers after spending the academic year on faculty of the American University in Cairo. Her time in the mega-city of Cairo has brought an increased appreciation for the beauty of her home in northern Vermont. She is currently working on a book entitled, Water Meditations about her ocean and river rowing journeys. She writes of her observations on nature in Cairo at kmsaville.wordpress.com and Twitter: @watermeditation Sophia V. Schweitzer lives in North Kohala on Hawai‘i Island, where she writes about environmental issues, sustainable agriculture, green energy, artisanal foods, and sustainability on all levels. For more information about her work, please visit her website, sophiavschweitzer.com. John Sierpinski has published poetry in numerous literary magazines, and two anthologies Recent poetry has appeared in California Quarterly, Snake Nation Review, Stoneboat, and Tributaries. He writes for the Vest Conservatory for Writers in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He is working on a collection. Steve Wineman is a writer, parent, mental health worker, and longtime social change activist. He is the author of The Politics of Human Services (South End Press) and Power-Under: Trauma and Nonviolent Social Change (www.TraumaAndNonviolence. com). His nonfiction has appeared in The Round Table, Voice Male, Out of Line, Nonviolent Change Journal, and Spooky Action at a Distance, and is forthcoming in Eunoia Review and Down in the Dirt Magazine. His play Jay, or The Seduction was produced at Columbia University, and his fiction has appeared in Conium Review and Blue Lake Review.
Image: © Christian Reifsteck
Diana Woodcock’s first full-length collection, Swaying on the Elephant’s Shoulders, won the 2010 Vernice Quebodeaux International Poetry Prize (Little Red Tree Publishing, 2011). Her chapbooks are In the Shade of the Sidra Tree, Mandala, and Travels of a Gwai Lo whose title poem was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Her fourth chapbook, Tamed by the Desert, is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press. Currently teaching at Virginia Commonwealth University in Qatar, she has worked in Tibet, Macau and Thailand.
Published on Jun 2, 2013
The summer solstice issue of Written River: A Journal of Eco-Poetics in now available! Read the free e-edition below or visit our Magcloud S...