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

1 comment:

Bill said...

Just got back from the Canadian Rockies myself. Getting caught up on my email I didn't want to read this right now but after I got started it was easy. Really enjoying it and the photos.