Monday, July 20, 2009

flying to Wyoming

plane gives, plane takes away

from tens of thousands of feet in the air
the largest of patterns reveal themselves:
fractal lines upon the land,
mountains rippled as if washboarded on a road,
curve after curve of rivers
as they take their time to live the return to the sea,
clouds filling the hollows or curtaining it all,

so much that is 3 dimensional to us on the ground
flattened into 2 dimensions and near forgotten,
as if all the world is a painting
with only the thickness of the paint
relieving it from flatness,
and the details forgotten
like a story we can’t remember.

by Henry Walker
July 7, ‘09

nature & artifice seamlessly joined

Carol & Peter's home as cathedral

“in their dwelling, they love the earth”--Lao Tzu

nature and artifice are often at war,
when we build houses, schools, and businesses,
forests and slopes are often subjugated, tamed, cleared, bulldozed--
the triumph of the horizontal and the right angle
over the chaos of curve and serendipity,

this week I have found a home in Jackson Hole, WY,
where owner, architect, and worker lovingly worked
to imagine, design, and build a house
friendly to its environs,

(a view from above the house)

this valley lush with grasses, trees, wildlife,
below mountains whose presence asserts and ennobles,
and the house is comfort, friendly to the user,
more important, the house is as a cathedral
whose high ceilings and windows pull the eye out and up unto the Grand,
onto pond & creek, flower & grasses--
herons and elk abound and feed,
along with a plethora of lives after lives,

walls and ceilings built of great grey-aged lodge pole pine
and quarried stone from an old Idaho creamery,
as in a cathedral from floor to eave a great window
frames God’s hand in snow-capped mountains beyond,
the high summer exuberance below,
the view even more beautiful to me
than the great stained-glass stories of human manifestations of the divine,
every window in all the rooms opens out so that the great beyond readily manifests,
that beyond where nature goes about her business
and which can resonate in what is right within us
if we open ourselves to what is open before us,
here we do not exist as conquerors of the world
but rather as subjects, worshippers,
reminded so every moment by the structure of the house,
its furnishings, the way it enlarges us,

(just out the front door)

we do best when we remember that we are not God himself or God herself,
rather that we are part of God,
and it is best when we remember
how fit it is to fit within the glory beyond us.

by Henry Walker
July 17, ‘09

Sunday, July 19, 2009

into the wild with you all

Wyoming Grabs Us

one moment can touch eternity,
make you realize how precious each breath is,
how much beauty is everywhere if we can but see,
how lucky we can be with another who loves us,

today we’ve found a path that has carried us into Wyoming
and the beauty of each moment here almost slaps us silly,
the air as clear as if the first morning has broken,
the mountains abrupt, serene, and implacable in their assertion,

patches of snow on them hint at the earlier season
whose gift of all the water lushes and flattens the valley--
magpie & robin, raven & duck, swift & cottonwood seed
follow their whims and hungers through the air,

for us Wyoming is a place
to exhaust ourselves hiking up steep slopes
and amaze ourselves as we unwrap present after present
of flower, vista, animal--

wildness before us, beyond us, in us,
as our work world, our care world, our ordinary world
sloughs off of us as if old skin,
and we remember how to be supple and how to glisten anew,

we hike hard up Mt. Washburn today,

the highest land in Yellowstone,
a remnant of a volcano rim
when the molten world below shivaed and a new land emerged,
ferocious winds tear at us, and we laugh,

sleety rain hits us like rice at a wedding, and we smile,

thunder quickens our final steps back to the car, and we remember fear,

on the way to where we will bed
a black bear holds up traffic beside the road,
and later, bison after bison, pronghorn antelope,
a lone coyote against the sky,

as we head out of the park
we hear the wolves have returned to Druid Peak
and we will seek them out in the morning,

way before dawn we get up and ready ourselves,
last evening’s rain gone, a near full moon above,
a low fog hugs the ground, swirls in then out,
as we drive into Yellowstone, tumbling like Soda Butte Creek
we head toward the Lamar River,

lights off and out of the car,
we join a quiet crowd of wolf-lovers
and a gaggle of spotting scopes,

the earlier arrivals appropriately alpha in their staking out of vantage points,
the gathering has an eerie, other-worldly feel to it,
like that crowd in "Close Encounters of the Third Kind"
who each felt pulled by the same impending revelation,
murmured stories of other times and viewings,
scopes scan the slopes above where a wolf den is
and out where they often travel,
no wolves appear,
though two grizzlies on a distant ridge delight us
with their grazing and periodic silhouetting against the sky,
like fishing, time spent watching for wolves
should not count against one’s allotted life-span,

the swirling mist, the mountains, the valley
call me to take picture after picture to chronicle
this world awakening and the sun cresting,
dawn slips into day and most watchers move on to other hopes, us included,
so we miss the one adult wolf who lopes upslope to the den area a few minutes after we leave,

down valley we enjoy a bison on the road,
all imperious and indifferent, majestic in his size and vitality,
a mist rises from him, his life quietly contrasts with the frosting air,

on the way back up the valley we spot an eagle, bald in a tree,
and then an adolescent male moose in the creek below the bridge:

gangly and quick in his browsing, wading, and then loping away from all of us
who must have seemed as papparazi to his celebrity,

after breakfast a waterfall calls us, nay shouts,

as snow-melt’s enthusiasm white waters itself over volcanic rocks
who don’t know how to give,

next morning we reprise the wolf-waiting,
we hope for a glimpse of these distant brothers and sisters,
so like us and yet so unlike us,
and whose very existence we need
so that we may not lose a better part of ourselves,
instead of wolves, way above us a grizzly mother with two cubs
grazes the high country:
her presence, her coat, some of her personality real in the lens,
then an osprey also opens itself to the lens,

perches in a tree below us as if king here,
the hook of his beak like the piercing menace of his gaze,

he looks for fish, so we do, too,
we hike to a lake
where great schools of spawning cutthroat trout gather
because of their own drives
and almost seem to dance in a hypnotic interweaving we can see near the shore,
and then in turns they brave the exposed fast water which fills the lake,
their substance almost too much for the racing creek to be able to cover them
they quest for the future with their eggs,
with the right gravel, the right flow,
the otters, who feast on their openness, hide from us today,

yet the flowers and the vistas don’t,

we discover the monument flower, green gentian,
who lives 30-60 years until it blooms
on a thick stalk of
spectacular flowers,

it seeds, and then dies,

we are transformed yet again
by what can reveal itself if we but find a way to be there physically
and just as important, psychically,
expectation is the nemesis that can blind us to the miracle of what is
while we search for what we want to be before us,
we hoped for wolves and otters
and yet in the very act of opening ourselves to these possibilities
we open ourselves to be ready
for however the world shuffles the tunes we will hear,
or at least that’s how we hope to be,

we return to the valley as the day draws down,
and before us cars stop in the road,
often a good sign,
this time a black bear has crossed the creek
and meanders through the grasses,

ignoring the bugs that swarm around her
and grazes steadily upon the seed-heads that fill the valley
amongst their other flowering cousins,
we get out the scope, and the bear leaps into our eyes,
so we share the view with any around us,
kids from rural Harvard, Massachusetts, quiver in their appreciation,
we return back up the valley later
and the bear is still grazing,
the scope still works,
the kids we let use the scope
are just as appreciative as those before,
we have found a way to disconnect and reconnect,
and how wonderful it is to share the wonder
that can so gratuitously let itself be,

I scribble these lines as day slips into night:
transitions are often subtle until they’re done,
as night calls me to stop and rest
I remember dawn who called me to open myself to possibility,
dusk calls me to remember and appreciate what has been, what is,

a new dawn and the Beartooth calls us,
up above where trees grow,
over two miles higher than the level of the sea,
even in the middle of July large banks of snow endure,
ancient rocks, near the oldest on the planet to not yet be recycled,
are here conglomerated upon the summit,

amongst them where soil has been able to hold

perfect flower upon flower rushes to reveal itself
in the window that summer briefly holds open,
all so miniaturized by the extreme conditions here,
that, in the breadth of a palm,
tens of blossoms can quietly overwhelm me into tears,

the mountain goats we have often seen here do not reveal themselves,
as if they do not want to upstage either
the subtle grandeur of alpine flora
or the daunting grandeur of summit and valley,

of the world dropping away at our feet
and proudly reasserting itself in abrupt rise after rise before us,

we get up early the next day
as light first suffuses the air
and washes the first color back into the world,
as always, when I can, I meditate outside,
a blanket today to shield me from the cold,
the passages I focus on designed to strip away my inner shields
so that I might remember truths that easily forget themselves,
before me robins wake early and almost pounce on the ground in their hunger,
two mule deer stroll by and only give me a mild interest when I sneeze,
a lone bison calmly grazes a hundred yards away,
we pack up and head back into Yellowstone
for a final sweep through the valleys
to see what might be there this morning:

an adolescent moose across the creek shows himself to my camera,

probably the same one from two days before,

half a mile ahead a black bear does the same,
much closer to the road than before,

we’ve already lucked out, so we’re hopeful,
not fully expectant we can find the otters,
a short steep hike back to Trout Lake,
a few songs and loud conversation in case bears have the same idea,
and we’re there where the waters are still
but for a few ducks and two fisherfolk just readying their gear,
Joan thinks she briefly sees a long sleek animal on the opposite bank,
we ask about otters and they haven’t seen any,
though they point around the lake
to two other photographers who just got there,
as we near them

they excitedly point in the shore grasses before them,

and we are undone,
for there on a log, under, around, back on, then off, then on again,
otters feast on cutthroat trout,

into the water with a slithery swoosh,
their hands, their jaws, their whole selves consumed
with tearing and swallowing mouthfuls of flesh and bone,
the bright orange roe? crumbs from their table,

and sometimes appetizers for the five pups,

the two adult otters model the hunt
and shepherd their charges,
each pup as ravenous for trout as they are ravenous for play--
the sounds of soft flesh tearing, bones crushing,
they nip each other, chase their tails,
tumble over and over each other in the water,

chatter, chirp at each other,
occasionally a honky squawk when play gets too rough or pushy,
they climb back onto a log and stuff trout into their stomachs,

we watch the adults chase the trout,
undulating grace, power, and focus--
sometimes clear in the shallows below us,
sometimes only arching backs and quick gulps of air,
we actually see a catch,
adult otter and flapping trout at the edge of the lake
till exhaustion, suffocation, and knifing teeth
turn the would-be mother into the food
another mother needs for herself and for her pups,
we snap picture after picture, smile at each other, laugh with delight,

I even offer tears to the enchantment
which acts itself out before us,

and then we tear ourselves away,
as do the otters shortly later,
the adults call out a chirpy whistle, and all swim as one,
we watch them cavort all around another log,

this log old enough to sprout grass on it
and look like a lodgepole island,

on the way out of the park
we reprise savoring the falls of the Yellowstone River,

and, just as I consider napping, we reach the Hayden Valley,
spot crowds of people on the rises above the road,
and Yellowstone gives us a parting gift--
an adult wolf and two pups in the distance,

who run and cavort like the otters,
hard at work and play as if they know no difference,
we hear playful yelps and yips,
a bark carries over the sage brush to our ears
when motorcycles on the road let the sound through,

I feel we have been given a gift
beyond any hope that I can express it in word and photo,
though I am driven to give my best
to write of it all
and to hope the images in my camera and my words
can hold some of the sand
as yesterday slips away
and tomorrow has its own glory,

I believe God manifests in the smallest and the most subtle
with as much humbling reality as we can hope to hold,
yet in Wyoming that manifestation has been so large and extraordinary for us

that I cannot imagine anything in response
other than an overwhelming awe.

by Henry Walker
July 7-17, ‘09

Monday, July 6, 2009

3 poems of high summer

high summer

it’s hard to get more high summer than the end of June
when sun and rain push leaves to the max,
into the still air thunder periodically echoes off the hills
and thickens time
to remind us that sun and water can mix into storm,
as I sit here by the full creek, some buckeye leaves flutter down,
their orange already burnt with fall,
it always jars me when the world reminds me
that summer vacation is fleeting,
I am a kid again
and I don’t want to give up the dream
of going forth as a child
and every turn having the choice of choosing what opens into wonder,
and instead being forced back into the lockstep nightmare
of a Tennessee public school where frustrated drill sergeants
fever their fears into my reality,

now when summer winds down
I look forward to school as shaped
by what the best in us might envision and implement,

still, when I watch the early leaf fall
I feel loss calling to me to remember
that all that is, is fleeting
on any scale I can know true.

by Henry Walker
June 28, ‘09

take time

as I take time
and suspend its call on me for a while,
I can feel the inner voices grow more distant--
those that admonish with need & task,
the actions that need doing,
and I recognize how easily those voices push out any other word
to stop in the name of rest,

I like to dismiss the inner overseer
who keeps me on task
and who in driving me thus
knocks me off the task of remembering the why
I live my life the way I do,

the grounding in what is beautiful, in what is right,
what it is that calls me that is more basic than the to-do list itself,
for each action is right, and real, and helps bring into being the world I want,
for example: right now I need to go in and stir the apples for the sauce,

at the same time I both need to hold the wonder of this moment
and to give my best to prepare for the moments that will follow,
I want to write this and I don’t want the apples to burn.

by Henry Walker
June 29, ‘09

family union

within us can be story after story
somehow birthed from within our imaginings,
right now, though, I’m feeling the wealth of story within family
that’s so easy to forget or not to notice,

a photo can be a gateway to place, time, event,
a chapter in a person’s life,
a letter, a eulogy, an article in the paper--
each a bookmark that alerts us
that there’s a lot within
if we can find our way to the right pages,

I am nearly as impressed by our ability to forget,
to let time and inattention erase what is written,
as I am impressed by our ability to create and write anew,

I forget much of my own stories,
and I forget even more of what others have told me of their stories,
try as I might to hold them,

I was a history major in college
and I still seek to understand the paths behind us,
and I read science fiction to guess at the paths before us,
I obsess with current events and the struggle to control the current story,

geology intrigues me with its stories of cataclysmic and numbingly small changes
that metamorphose rock and mountain, the very stuff upon which we live,

this weekend we gather to connect our present stories,
to ground ourselves in wood and stream,
to reach back to what we can remember and learn
of the paths we and others have taken,
of the hands of our moments as they write and move on,

we work to read the words
as time and inattention inexorably work at erasing them.

by Henry Walker
July 4, ‘09

Joan's healthy!

Just a short note. In my earlier posting, I referred to worries about the surgery on Joan's arm that was done near two weeks ago.
The incision is healing fine. Just got the stitches out this morning.
The pathology report was great! No spread to the lymph nodes.
Joan and I will continue to tag team on regular visits to the dermatologist.
More poems will follow this evening. Wrote a lot in the mountains last week.

Love to all,