Tuesday, July 30, 2019

whole with where and who I am

synchronizing with nature

“Synchronize your watches!”
a common trope in old action movies,

as I sit by a rain-swollen, tumbling creek in the Smokies,
I realize I am not synchronizing with it,
instead, it is but background,
and I have lists of chores, worries about myself,
my nightmares and my dreams,
that occupy my thoughts,
I felt much the same in the Canadian Rockies a week ago,

my eyes and my intellect saw the glories without me,
but my tiredness and my emotions
kept keeping me from fully synchronizing,
except when an animal, a waterfall, a glacier, a view,

broke through to me,
and I was there, whole with where and who I was,
the tones of my life harmonized
with the beauty sung by
the gifts of life upon this world,
and by the world itself.

by Henry H. Walker
July 23, ‘19

Monday, July 29, 2019

a tiny blue butterfly

the blue fuse that drives the poem

who is within a butterfly?
what consciousness, what self?

I have sat at the foot of a great tulip poplar tree
and reached my soul to imagine 
how the world speaks to it,
and how it responds,

I regularly see bears,
 and they feel easier to grok,

just now a tiny light blue butterfly
visits my writing and my leg,
not once, not twice, but enough times
for me to actually photograph it,
and let it alter my consciousness,
so that it is the blue fuse that drives this poem,

it actually just then returned to my clasped fingers,
I have watched it dance in the air over the rushing creek,
why it returns to me is beyond my ken,

yet I love to realize
how much self seems to be
in the littlest of these,

I like the nudge to notice each tune
played within the forests of the Smokies.

by Henry H. Walker
July 24, ‘19

Sunday, July 28, 2019

what do we mean by "freedom"?

competing stories of who we are

we Americans look to competing stories to tell us who we are,
the story we believe reflects both we see in the mirror, 
and who we want to see in the mirror,

“freedom,” as a word, unites us,
what we mean by “freedom” scatters us,

many see to believe freedom is individual license,
to indulge our whims, our senses,
the more money, the more things,
the more things, the more happiness,
we look after #1,
the size and doodads of our vehicles 
the proof we have value,
we crave to live the story of the rich and famous,
as if they have an answer that eludes us,

freedom can also mean to discover one’s own gifts
and fashion a life where our choices make a difference
in our work, in our relationships, in our childrearing,
in the way the divine speaks to us, or doesn’t,
we can seek to live the story of a Martin Luther King or a Steve Jobs,
each makes the world different, and doesn’t just consume,

capitalism, without eternal rules, cares only for profit,
and the climate breaks,
socialism, without private initiative, can deaden possibility,
and we can stagnate,

Ronald Reagan poisoned the culture 
with his often-repeated mantra
that government is the problem,
so when we need to work collectively, 
his lie still flummoxes us,

Christianity, Judaism, Islam, call us to know that our story
is also wrapped up in the stories of “the least of these, our brethren,”

Jesus used parables, stories to call us to be better,
how sad we too often use stories to celebrate being lesser. 

by Henry H. Walker
July 20, ‘19

Friday, July 19, 2019

The Athabascan Glacier

look around, and see

millions of years ago, our australopithecan forebears 
discovered how to stand erect on the savannahs,
giving them an evolutionary advantage,
for we could see further,
and we could climb trees to see even further
and protect ourselves,
our hands could then fashion our tools,
and, together with our brains, give us dominion,

I see many now looking down at our phones,
lost in a world that can miss the big picture
that we started getting millions of years ago on the savannah,

our technology can easily allow us
to enlarge our soul, our sense of self,
Google can help us answer many questions if we but ask,

I fear how easily we can instead
stick our head into the sand of our devices,
and lose the future because we don’t see the present,

we visit the Columbia Icefield 
in Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada,
the glacier is magnificent but it diminishes so very very quickly,
even compared to our mayfly-like life-spans:
the truth is glaring, and it is not a liberal conspiracy.

Glacier July 2019

Extent of glacier in 1992

Extent of glacier in 1948, the year I was born.

The extent of the glacier in 1908


by Henry H. Walker
July 16, ‘19

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Bighorn Sheep

bighorn sheep!

as we crest toward the plateau between the mountains,
where lakes abound in a high country,
there on the road before us is a bighorn sheep male,
just hanging out on the road
since it’s near dawn and its time to be out and about,
his brother on the bank above the road,
ready to move away,

I fumble for my camera,
and snap picture after picture,
we have savored bighorn sheep in Yellowstone,
at a steep drop-off toward the Yellowstone River,
where mothers and their young can be safe,
with land too steep for predators to find them,

today two young males have come down to the road
and allow us to notice them,
though my getting out of the car to take pictures
moves them to escape away,
back up the loose rocky slopes.

by Henry H. Walker
July 13, ‘19

Calgary to Canmore, Alberta, Canada

to imagine one's self as mountains

so far, Alberta, Canada, is flat,
and the mountains we seek
do not rise before us,
only the skyscrapers of Calgary rise up,
as do the airplanes coming in and leaving,
there are some rolling hills amidst the plains,
and, once we drive past them,
we scan the horizon, 
where banks of clouds 
do a great imitation of mountains
and can fool my gullible eyes,

our car races up a smooth straight road 
at about 100 km per hour,
and slowly, like a thought just forming,
shapes appear, huddled at the base of the clouds,
and the great stone giants called the Canadian Rockies
rise up into the clouds as we seem to sink below them,
both the mountains and we aim ourselves toward a common goal
till the road turns into the range,
the Bow River shows us the way,
as it drains a great long U-shaped valley
with mountains bulwarked on either side,
rocky mountains rise above coniferous forests, 
great bulks of sedimentary stone:
pewter bright in sun and shadowed gray without the beams,
spruce-fir forests fill the valleys 
and reach as high as they can toward the summits,
deep green mats whose moods 
vary with sun and shade like the rocks,
each tree a sharp point ready to pierce the snow
and shake it off to the ground,
a triumph of life here where stone has reached to the sky, 
and ice has sculpted over eons,

I feel so ephemeral within my own skin,
but I feel so much larger, grander,
when I imagine myself as these timeless mountains.

by Henry H. Walker
July 10, ‘19

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Four Bears


the car in front of us pulls to the side of the road,
so we do too
watching the couple ahead get out of their car,
look up the grassy slope above the road,
and gesture excitedly: a black bear!
it is so far distant that it takes a while for us to see it,
our new friend patient and helpful. . .
there it is!

we watch it forage—going this way, then that,
maybe grazing on the vegetation,
its movements seemingly random, 
first one way, then another,
the pattern reminds me of an ant foraging, 
purpose infusing what looks to be random,
20 vehicles follow our lead and stop, too,
excited to see a bear, an elusive large mammal,
whose world is its own, and our world can intersect its world
only if the stars are right, if we play probabilities well,
and luck allows us to glimpse the animal wild,
true to its own world and feeling no connection to ours,

we humans need to feel the connections to our wild cousins,
otherwise, we lose ourselves in self-centered emptiness,

the next day we start to cross the Bow River within a light drizzle,
we see some people look below the road and take pictures,
we check it all out, and it’s a grizzly!

scratching its head on a shrub, and just messing around,
a yearling back bear lopes between us and the grizzly,
an easy grace to its anxiousness 
of wanting nothing to do with this larger bear,
we continue our drive and 10-15 minutes later,
another young black bear appears by the road,
two-toned: a black bear look to its head, 
a golden to rusty brown to the rest,

it is mid-day and lunch time, 
the bear absorbed in a bush, buffalo berries,
a First Nation ingredient for pemmican,
the bear oblivious to the traffic jam it causes
and the countless cameras photographing it,
my wife claps her hands to get a particularly pesky mosquito,
and it notices us, the only time I see it react to all of us,

out of a park vehicle comes the admonition to get back into our cars,
we do, vehicles leave,
the last we see the bear it’s still eating, 
halfway through the bush’s berries.

we come back the next day, 
and it is still eating those buffalo berries.

by Henry H. Walker
July 14, ‘19

Monday, July 15, 2019

the spirit to lift

put into our place

great mountains shout of presence and absence:
here in Canmore and Banff, Alberta, Canada,
the valley is flat and rich and comfortable,
while just out the window mountains erupt upwards
as if to elder us, to lift us up
by putting us in our place,
and helping us lift up our eyes, and then our spirit,
unto the greatness of the divine,
which, though beyond us, can be in us,
if we open ourselves rightly,

mountains have presence,
partly because they reveal absence:
the peak above the valley,
the divine beyond the mortal,
but also within us
when we allow our spirit to lift.

by Henry H. Walker
July 12, ‘19

Sunday, July 14, 2019

a tea house in the sky

To the Plain of Six Glaciers
above Lake Louise, Banff National Park

4:15, the alarm wakes us up,
5:15, we drive north,
6:15 we park at Lake Louise,
and we open ourselves unto glory:
a glacial lake so purely turquoise
it shouts and defies description,
hemmed-in by great mountains to its right and left,
and fed by even greater mountains 
who rise up into the clouds at its back,
up there they continue to hold six glaciers
who still endure, but diminish,
as climate changes inexorably,

the lake is flat, reflecting and joining the majesty above it,
releasing a visible beauty that draws the soul to find its way here,

our aging bodies still fit enough to skirt the lake

and hard hike up along the cascading meltwater,
sea-green and translucent with its infusion of glacier-ground mountain,

up the slope drizzle is released 
by the effrontery of upthrust mountains,
and a rainbow appears before us!
touching down into the valley into which we climb
and arcing up toward the heights to which we aspire,

the sun slips between the clouds at our back,
and the mist releases the color usually hidden in sunlight,
the rainbow puts a spring in our step,
and pulls picture after picture from our camera,

where the mountain gentles some to allow life to hold enough
for trees to root, and endure,
the trail slips along as if all is ancient and right,
to me it feels of Tolkien’s Middle Earth,
the trail also has to hug the lichened rock where slope is steep,
and scamper over the impermanence of talus,

we love the pale yellow columbine that graces the sunny slopes,

along with paint brush, asters, arnica, and cleanly blue forget-me-nots,

above, just below the head of the valley, six glaciers still hang,
all dirty white, fragments of the great ice mother
who carved and filled these valleys,

there a rustic tea house sits within a rich spruce forest,
and serves up tea and soup and sandwich and cake
without electricity and easy deliveries of goods,

a short hike up the valley opens into a high world
where the near vertical rises up before and falls below,
a reminder that before life was here,
ice and rock ruled together,
today clouds hang upon the mountain,
and a drizzle returns again and again,
drifting cloud holds the view together,
occasionally lightened by optimistic beams of sun,

it’s high summer here,
and the flowers rush to own the day,
before cold and snow return 
to remember the millennia upon millennia
when ice shaped the mountains,
after the Earth thrust these rough giants into the sky.

by Henry H. Walker
July 11, ‘19

Joan uses her walking stick to show where the trail leads.
Look at the tip of the stick to see where we hike.

Looking back down from where Joan points.

The same view as above, but with the telephoto lens.

The world, just below the tea house.