Tuesday, July 19, 2011

the school of hard knocks

when the going gets tough

when the trail is rough, steep, & slick,
I need attend fully to each step,

for, when I escape the moment
and fully visit memory or plans,
my feet can slip
and the present can school me with a hard knock,
to tell me, old school, to pay attention,

still, I can work to be here at my feet
and in the grok of all around me,
if I switch my focus back-and-forth
at a time and in a way that honors both,
I am even more present in the moment,
and, if I can find the right moment
and expand myself into past or future,
I am even more in the moment,
for the moment is framed
as one frame within a successful movie
I hope to produce with my life,

still, I have to watch it,
for the price I pay for slipping
gets steeper the older I get.

by Henry H. Walker
July 16, ’11

to give, to receive

me the provider

part of who I need to be is the provider,

in the day I’ve been here at the cabin
I’ve felt “LeConte” coming,
our big social overnight of the year:
the hike, the camaraderie, the opening of doors
to creek and effort, to flower and effort,
to sunset and sunrise, and effort,
the good food before, during, and after,

the gentle guiding of opening of doors
so that others can see beyond and choose to walk through,

I’ve baked a country ham, pork-filled buns
with barbecue from our own barbecued pig,
blueberry muffins from our own blueberries,
I’ve boiled and snipped chicken for our salad
and put up six more pans of angel biscuits
for the celebratory meal when we’re back down,

plus a flurry of phone calls: logistics is a challenge,

I’ve already bought, processed, and frozen the traditional applesauce,

meanwhile, this afternoon I notice some new neighbors are at home
so I take a container of applesauce to one,
to welcome her to the neighborhood,
she shows me her new windows
and I ask if she wants to see bears out them,
we exchange phone numbers so we can alert the other as to bears,
an hour later I get a call,
“. . . cubs up a tree, just down the road. . .”

I spend an hour photographing two up a sycamore,
who patiently wait while mom finds the food their nursing needs,
two cubs in the same tree, half-awake, half-asleep,
they look at us, the paparazzi, who need to see them,

and they? they merely put up with seeing us,

a third cub, diminutive, went another way,

I spot him, watch him, and snap picture after picture of him
scurrying around road, bridge, people, fence, and stream,
he works hard to find a way back to family,
I snap picture after picture of him
as he crosses the creek, is thwarted by a fence,
recrosses the creek, and escapes up a hill,

the mom does not return while I have patience to wait,
dusk approaches and I have my own agenda to follow,
though my agenda has much of the provider, and thus others, woven into it,

how wonderful that I get a gift,
directly as a result of my giving for giving’s sake.

by Henry H. Walker
July 15, ’11

the mountains?

Back to the Smokies

I go to the Smokies and I say
“I’m going to the mountains. . .”

this summer we’ve flown over and admired the
Wind River Mountains and the Absaroka,
we’ve explored the edges of the Tetons,
some high slopes in Yellowstone,
and the rolling plateau way up in the Beartooth,
and each was spectacular, and fresh, and glorious,

returning to the Smokies today, I feel their age:
the worn roundness and lush diverse growth,
three wild turkeys are in the yard
instead of the heron and the eagle of the Tetons,

the last 100 miles all hazy,
black thunderheads seem to grow from the highest ridges,
a storm breaks loud and long over us at the cabin
and the stream turns brown
as the higher water stirs its bed,

my nose likes the humidity,
the rest of me sweats,

when I hike high up the mountain
great masses of rose bay rhododendron bloom
to welcome the cooler air
and the holes left above them by dying hemlock,

the battery of the streams has a full charge.

by Henry H. Walker
July 16, ’11

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Wyoming and Montana call us

in wildness is

as we come into Jackson Hole
the great Wind River Mountains thrust up into our awareness,
at the top great walls of rock have captured and held the snow deep,
while lower down lines of melt delineate and green the valleys,
the Gros Ventre River browns and flows with us toward the Snake,
Summer is taking its time to get here
and the remnants of Winter cap the peaks white
and loudly rush brown to the sea,

the first day out here is like erasing a blackboard
of all our lists of chores, worries,
the detritus of minutiae that makes up a life well-lived,
each moment outside on a trail, or just pausing,
maybe slipping into a nap or visiting with good folks,
is a swipe across the cluttered blackboard in search of a surface
upon which newness can be written,
even if the hand and the themes have been here before,

every moment of every day deserves to be lived as a new gift,
that first moment with grandness can shake me to my core,
what I find true, and troubling, is how easy I can stop shaking
and find majesty commonplace, a background to be barely noticed,

while I clear away what’s on my board
I don’t want emptiness to be my goal,
for in my spiritual development I still love to be a spectator
in love with the world and its wonders,

my sense of wonder starts to sketch itself anew,

high mountains before me slap me with the thrust of their realness,
casually grazing elk catch my eye,

flowers and trees wake me to notice them,

an animal yelps in the early night,

a heron calls my eye and my camera early in the morning,

a muskrat busies itself in the pond
and gets annoyed when it notices us,
four white pelicans pull me up the thermal with them
as they break from fishing the river
to joy together in the air above us,

morning breaks pianissimo, subtle, soft,
birds awake and open water greets the Sun with steaming mist,

we hike toward a hanging canyon,
the cleft between great vertical walls of stone,
pewter-grey at heart, though up close lichen mottles them,
the grey in our hair matches us to them,
as does the aging of our skin,
our legs still glory in the effort of the pull

and flower after flower draws us to pause
and work to identify, to photograph,

to appreciate how well the plants here celebrate freedom
from stasis snow that still holds the highest ground,
snow which has only released its grip on the lower slopes within the last few weeks,

the crystalline perfection of an ice-crystal
yields to the evanescent perfection of bloom after bloom after bloom,

on our way up snow blocks the trail enough
that we don’t get to the rim of the canyon
to appreciate and capture the cascades of water released toward the valley,
on our way down we spot a brown bear below us,
out and foraging at the noon hour
while moose and elk have better things to do elsewhere,
a fellow hiker argues that summer is so short here
that bears would be fools not to go out in the noon day sun,

the Tetons contrast: flat valley with abrupt mountains,
lush green growth below caps of snow,
roads, houses, and technology within a world
where elk, moose, and grizzly still find their way,

tomorrow we leave to go north and east,
where the human footprint allows us paths,
yet where the other feels freer,

as the day winds down into dusk I spot an eagle,
perched at the top of a spruce, a sharp eye on the small clear stream below,

he swoops down, back up into a shorter tree for awhile,
and then he’s off down the valley, back to his nest, maybe,
above the river so brown it must make hunting hard,
the next early morning a lone elk pulls me from my meditation,
grazes and meanders awhile, then slips into woods
away from me and my camera, just as the bear did yesterday,

the drive up toward Montana is long miles
of straight pointed trees, abrupt mountains, and meadowed plains,
we stop and watch a herd of bison cross the road
and I love watching them lumber vault a fence,
the herd decides to go
yet each individual pauses,
and then determinedly half-falls across the fence,

we leave mountains with rocks patiently formed at the bottom of oceans
and then upthrust and contorted,
to the landscape of Yellowstone built much more violently
as volcanoes exploded and spewed forth over millions of years,
to give form as a start,
after that primal creation enormous ice-sheets slowly,
inexorably flowed and sculpted,
and rearranged things, time after time,
upon such a landscape snow and rain then did their fluvial work
and forest after forest built themselves, and were forgotten,
save in living DNA and some remnant petrified trees,
here, more than anywhere else in the world,
thermal pools steam, geysers erupt, and mud pots gurgle
from the ever-present memory of the heat still beneath,

we are blessed with beauty everywhere
and we crescendo when we find roaring rainbowed falls,

and then eight mountain sheep on dusty slopes above the Yellowstone River,

downstream from the rainbow and falls,
ewes and lambs almost pose for us
amidst volcanic memory and raging river below,
as we head out of the park
a grand antlered moose stops the cars
and crosses the swollen creek,
my camera works hard to hold his integrity of self and will,
amid his stumbles in the rushing current,

a cinnamon brown bear stops us next
and heads away from the road on its own errand,

we intersect wildlife,
our paths touch at a point and only at a point,
we increase our chances with good planning,
choosing our paths in terms of probabilities,
yet luck must be with us for the lines to cross,

much reveals itself to us today
and we need sleep to let us recharge
to deal with the power,

not only do we need to clear off the cluttered blackboard,
we also need to clear away the psychic and physical fog before it,
which only enough rest, often enough, right enough, can clear,
the fog slows our reactions and obscures
what the Power writes with rock & snow, flower & river,
the wild animals whose life and ours intersect,
and we need to let them and us write true,

the next morning on our way up to 11,000 feet,
another brown bear stops our car
as he pushes through brush and back away into the woods,

great fields of snow cover the high land
as snow-melt cascades and falls,

the white churning froth seems to remember
the white solidity of the snow from which it has been released,

where the land has only recently been revealed again,

we surprise ourselves with a profusion of flowers
as if jewels were scattered across the ground:
sub-alpine and alpine adventurers who thrive
where the challenges are great and the season short:
sky-pilot, shooting star,

bluebells, dwarf clover, drava, even Siberian Smelowskis,

we both feel as if creation is new here, like that first morning,
and tears of wonder well up within us,
it is hard to feel other than daunted
by the magnificence inherent in whatever drives the universe toward order,
every flower, every view, every expression of water released, or held,
starts to shake us, and we awaken enough to notice,
we find the right naps in the afternoon so that we might ready ourselves
to be clear for the next writing,
we are here in these particular wild mountains, northeast Yellowstone and the Beartooth,
because they are here and times before we have found ourselves in them, literally,
both physically present and psychically renewed, here,

maybe it’s going home again to a familiar morning, peak, animal,
an experience of opening the eyes and watching words and pictures sketch themselves,

various notions of what can be get into my head
and I want to find where the world can match them,
I take a picture and what is before me inside
is never all there in the rectangle I snapped,
it doesn’t quite hold the hope I felt,
so I look again and again for the right circumstances
so that what my inner eye dreams matches what my shuttered eye sees,

reflections intrigue me and I have taken picture after picture
of water below with what is above also in the shot,
this morning I try again,

I find snowy mountain and bright-lit spruce reflected near true in a still lake,
though like many of us its calm surface is a front,
the lake’s surface does not express
the thousands of spawning cutthroat trout within it,

we sit by the lake an hour in hopes
the otter will join us as they did two years ago,

with animals you just have to hope and be ready,
so I store up a multitude of wanted visions,

and a readiness to conjure up another
if the completely unexpected reveals itself,
as the eagle did early and late in our trip,

the otter are not here
so I ready myself to visit a petrified stump which is always there,
and the trick is my getting to it
which seems a lesser problem
than the animals’ clock and plans matching mine,
yet a herd of bison, with racing calves and frisky mothers,
block the trail and don’t move,
so we move on in deference to them,

we find a place across the steep canyon
from where we saw the mountain sheep two days ago,

we see them again, and their neighborhood from a reverse angle,
I fear I’ll fall myself just imagining the steep dry slopes they frequent,
a coyote stops us for awhile,

then bison calves and mothers walk along by the road as if to pose,

then, up on the hill, something. . .
ears erect, looking down at us. . .

we stop, snap a few quick pictures, drive ahead and then back,
the wolf parallels the road, as if testing for gaps,
and then loses herself in the grey-green sage
away from the open yellow-green grasses that feed the prey that keep her going,

we have never seen a wolf so close,
despite hours and hours of patient waiting in the early dawn,
closing in toward noon we luck upon this yearling female,
one who reportedly likes taking a turn shepherding the pups,
and is known to use the wooden bridge to get across the creek below,
I see her eyes as she looks down on us
and our worlds intersect,
though she is far more important in my world than I am in hers,
I am like the ubiquitous mosquito for us humans,
an annoyance to be avoided, maybe endured,
we drive back and forth, hoping for another glimpse of the wolf
and we can’t find her again,
only after we completely lose the wolf
do I let myself realize the precious gift of her visit,
and my tears then flow freely,
I’m almost in shock that the commonness I feel
was touched by the nobility I feel in her,
wolves and humans share a bond,
despite the grim stories
our childhood fears rumor falsely,
in a wildness that includes the wolf
we can know a part of ourselves we lose at our own peril,

on our way out of the park
a mother moose and her calf sleep away
the heat of midday in shade near the road,
we get back to the motel and follow her example,

our last full day in these mountains
we rise early to drive to the wolf’s neighborhood
and climb a flowered slope
above the confluence of Soda Butte Creek and the Lamar River,

eight years ago here the royals, called wolves,
expressed enough of themselves to leave us speechless:
the howl, the connection of one to the other,
pups and parents, a stick in the mouth of the alpha female,
to use play to entice pups to swim a stream,
the alpha male starting off to hunt,
and expecting black pups to follow,
and, when they veer away, he gently retrieves them,
I’ve seen early school teachers do the same,

no wolves appear this morning,

however, the lupophile experts we join
show us a grizzly in their spotting scope, a magnificent animal,
far enough away for only awe and not fear to be in me,

after awhile we watch her chase after a group of bison,
in hopes that a calf might be forgotten in their run away,
it isn’t and the bison stop and elder the grizzly away
with their massive shouldered will,

these bison’s cousins are no longer on the trail
so we hike hard and breathless straight up a high ridge, low in the valley,
where the accidents of forest, volcanic enthusiasm,
tens of millions of years of percolating, metamorphosing ground water,
and then erosion upon uplift,
have left revealed stump after stump of petrified tree,
still remembering the thrust upward toward the Sun in how they lie,
some logs and stumps endure with rings
that still show their growth of 50,000 millennia ago,

our aging bodies work and handle well the pull,
though we feel it keenly in our muscles and our lungs,
the caution of the elder makes us careful of the fall
inherent in the steepest slopes,
so we walk beside the trail for better footing
and slide down sections on hands and butts,

we snap picture after picture of the memory held in the stump
and the moment around it, ephemeral flower and enduring mountain,
and of us, senior in our species life-span and so junior to the truths
that manifest here now and will manifest
if and when our species fades away,
at least those trees long ago chanced into a way
to write a bit of their story in stone,
I work with pen and paper
and with the ripples I hope my life can send out,

the next day finds us in the Bighorn Valley
ringed by mountains with streams fed from their snow,
we drive miles and miles across sage-mottled dry land,
populated mostly by the occasional cow and small oil pump,

here on a dry ridge
the desert has varnished flat sandstone surfaces a deep mahogany brown,
and earlier peoples have expressed themselves on that stone
by cutting away the rusty surface until shapes appear, and endure,
the oldest maybe 11,000 years old,
most are anthropomorphic, human-like in general shape,
with headdresses, often antler-like in general shape,
curved in toward the other,
exaggerated fingers on the hands, a few animals,
particularly a cartoon-like, large-eared rabbit,

the animals supposed to be older than the humanoids,

the native peoples of the Southwest
left images of snakes, spirals, shamans, and deer,
these people in this place expressed themselves differently
in the “what” and the “why” of their rock art,
like the petrified stump, they found a way
to use stone to remember some of who they were,

this time visiting this site, I work to see and consider each figure,
I also work to see its overall shape and to place it in space,
the ridge is shaped like the curve of a bow,
roughly paralleled by the bowed round hills opposite it,
a creek flows between the bows and makes the serpent shape
I do not find on the rock,
at the center of the curve of the rocky ridge
a clear petroglyph of three humanoid figures, one within another,
draws my eye, as it did the first time I came here,

as evidenced by the photo I took of it still on my home wall,
its power is worthy of notice,

high up on the northeast rim of the Bighorn Valley
we have visited and wondered at Medicine Wheel,
a circle of loose rocks arranged to the cardinal points,
above a view of the world that takes the breath away,
this high site still has power,
particularly the side pointing to the rising Sun,
which native peoples regularly decorate as they visit even now,

at Legend Rock the open side of the curved ridges
faces east toward the rising Sun,
not a casual coincidence I would guess,
and to the exact northeast of the opening,
lies Medicine Wheel, as if each site were connected,
another coincidence?

the rock art at Legend Rock has endured,
closer to complete, than the Medicine Wheel,
I think about the sand sculptures of Buddhists and the Navajo,
which in their transience still express the eternal,
and maybe better express the eternal than the rigidity of permanence,

the riches of this continent allow us bounty
and the freedom to create anew,
not only those who made this country
but the first peoples who found this continent
opened a scary gift:
deciding for one’s self what of the new to create,
what of the old to hold true,
native peoples thrived on this continent 10 millennia,
our country’s arrogance and narcissism
bodes poorly for how long we as an American people can endure,

out here in the high West everything seems writ large,
and I feel as a child just learning to read,
so the books have large letters
and the illustrations are simply breath-taking,
if I keep working on my reading
I can find stories and truths more and more subtle,
provocative, disturbing, rewarding,

only when we clear away the clutter on the board
can we find the way to write what needs to be written,

back in Jackson Hole we have come full circle,
though I feel we’ve spiraled deeper,
I read over my chronicling and musing,
and I treasure it and the pictures within my camera,
no one can fully appreciate such moments as grace has allowed us,
we’ve done our best and that is good enough,

before we leave 42 elk come out of the woods
and graze around house and stream,

mostly cows and calves, calves still new to the world,

the bald eagle returns, perches, poses, and swoops away,
my camera and heart ache to hold it,
and it is gone,

tomorrow we return to the East,

may the wonder of wildness stay in our hearts and guide our steps
and guide what we write upon the board of our lives.

by Henry H. Walker,
July 1-10, ’11