Wednesday, June 29, 2016

up where rock holds

The Bullhead Calls

the mountain calls:
I need to answer,

I need to push myself 
up slopes that steepen
as the train feints this way and that
to gain the high slopes with a manageable pull,
though one that does try the body and thus the spirit,

the Cherokee saw a bison bull’s head up there,
I want to go to where the neck connects 
with the massive shoulders we now call Balsam Point,
to where trail builders long ago raised rocks
so that a hiker can rise enough to see a view,
those builders’ effort a gratuitous act of kindness,
they just thought it should be done,

my heart, my lungs, my muscles, my soul,
need the effort,

a cloudy drizzly morning accompanies me,
the air so humid that it refuses
my gift of bounteous sweat,

the trail and I charge up the mountain,
finding a way to, and then around, the rocky bones
tectonics thrust up, and that hold,
Thunderhead sandstone a grey palette
upon which moss and leathery black lichen hold, too,

on the ridge line I find one American chestnut sapling,
still venturing forth from roots that hold and keep trying to endure,
the dry ridge can’t support trees to grow high enough
to kill them with shade, 
the fate of their brothers and sisters down in the wet valley
where tulip poplar thrust high
 and don’t care the chestnuts lost their place,
hemlock are the new victims of an imported devastation,
and their deaths haunt the woods though which I ascend,

along the ridge line where I turn around,
vistas start to open with clouds sweetening the valleys

and teasing me with what might be seen of the mountain above,

I am slower than I was a decade or two ago,
and I am increasingly cautious about each step,
roots today particularly seem to want to trip me,
and age has reduced the elasticity with which I can respond,

yet I make it up the mountain, and down the mountain,
my body and my soul are better for it,
how thankful I should be for every day
within which I can find and follow the way forward
where I can be as fully alive
as I have felt myself to be today. 

by Henry H. Walker
June 27-28, ’16

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