Saturday, August 10, 2019

the Cherokee, the bison, the mountain, and us

Bullhead Mountain

for 3 miles from the trailhead,
up 2 ½ miles of climb,
we pull ourselves inexorably forward
through sweat and tricky footing,
to the top of Bullhead Mountain,
named for the bison bull 
who frequented this area
while the Native Americans lived here,
in that haze-swirled time
before land was staked and claimed,
and broken into submission,
by too many people on too little land,

the clarity of the Native vision
of animal and land, as us, as one,
is particularly striking here,
so my son and I used a manipulated photo
to reach toward what a Cherokee saw here,

the bison within the very mountain,
the trail climbs up to the bison,
and then zigzags up its right face,
then saunters along his flat top,

the Great Fire roared and raced over this mountain, 2½ years ago,
demanding the death of countless standing trees,


scouring the rocks of lichen,
whitening the gray sandstone,

the forest was prepared for the challenge:
tree and bush now erupt from their roots to reclaim the sun,
seed that lay dormant awoke.
and the first few feet above the blackened soil
erupt toward the sky as Gaia wastes no time 
in reclaiming the land with heath and tree,
with whatever diversity of flora can claim land and sun,

our aging bodies feel each hard-won step,
and our souls glory in every great and small treasure
the mountain reveals around each bend of the trail,

as we descend the mountain,

a pileated woodpecker raucously calls to us,
yellow-fringed orchis, 

smooth gerardia, 

and pink Indian pipe
softly call to us, too.

by Henry H. Walker
August 8, ‘19

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