Sunday, January 26, 2020


A Farewell to Mt. LeConte

for decades I have hiked up and down a great Eastern mountain,
what we call Mt. LeConte now,
whom the Cherokee called Walisiyi,
“the abode of the great green frog,”

there at the top, nestled among fir and spruce,
hard-by a bountiful spring,
a spring fuller and higher than any other up here tends to be,
a homely lodge hunkers down  and welcomes any 
who have the leg and the fortune to reach it,

I well remember the rite-of-passage of my first hike
to the enchanted mountain top, at about age 10,
I well remember cross-country up Bear Pen Hollow, 
a few times just pulling self straight up the side of the mountain,
the old way,
twice following the phone line 
straight up and down above Rainbow Falls,
I well remember the five times 
I have hiked up and down in one day,
and we hope to do that again,
I well remember decades 
of grandfathered reservations at the lodge on top, 
stabilizing at about 40 places for family and friends:

I remember meals in the valley,
before and after our vigorous adventure, 
baked trail loaves and treats for the hikes,
a magical camaraderie of people and place at the top, 
reached by
—the Alum Cave Trail—along rhododendron-strewn streams,

through Arch Rock, up on dry ridges and bluffs,

Peregrine Falcon on Duck Hawk Ridge, by Alum Cave Bluffs

the long wet pull where grass and views and wildflowers lead us on,

the final horizontal path through spruce and fir,

—or the Rainbow Falls Trail—the steady pull up
while the creek dances down,
and falls long and captivating 

from a ledge of Thunderhead sandstone bedrock,
views from the top of 
Rocky Spur, after a long meander,
then a final pull up to the lodge,
—or the Bullhead Trail—as you leave stream and valley
for boulder hollows, then ridge-top with a rock cairn to mark it all,

the long pull up around Balsam Point,
and the exhilarating contour along the steep top of the valley,
then the final pull up to the lodge,
—or the Trillium Gap Trail—snaking through cove hardwoods 
to Grotto Falls, and above, 

climbing steadily toward the spring
but gentler than the Roaring Fork which plunges steep 
while you wander up its neighboring slopes,

—or the Boulevard—up and down and up high ridges,
finding the way to the top from the east
like the Sun each morning,

Mt. LeConte stretches east-west,
as if it is a great rock compass,

draped with earthen gardens:
tree and bush, moss and fern and flower,
a promontory of cliff at each end,
all set for an audience at sunset and sunrise,

ready for whatever performance the Sun can make
with whatever the sky allows and facilitates,
often the glory released has been enough
to bring tears to my eyes
when I have had the fortune to be there,
at sunset my brother started a tradition 
of fine chocolate to appreciate 
while we witness and celebrate the close of a good day,
at 4:30 am. I would sing to my groups about 
the finest hour between “edge of night and the break of day,”
and for those making the effort to get up and walk the mile to Myrtle Point,
we would heat water for hot chocolate, tea, and coffee, 
black sky and stars would slowly yield to a greying 
that allowed forest and mountain to steadily reveal themselves,
then the Sun could flame the eastern sky,
slowly, inexorably rising to give light to our words,
and the paths that we walk,
to the promise inherent in a new day,
to the hope that the universe gives us with every morning,
my wife and I would often risk a song in response:
“Morning has broken. . . fresh from the Word. . .”

the beds at LeConte Lodge, accepting and comfortable,
the food at LeConte Lodge, filling and enabling,
the workers at LeConte Lodge, serving so that we can open into wonder,

I feel a deep sadness as my age slows me,
and as my time on top the mountain becomes iffy,
like Harvey Broome, who wrote he never liked to leave the top of a mountain,
I abhor the idea that my time on the top of Walisiyi might well be over. 

by Henry H. Walker
January 21, ‘20

Thursday, January 23, 2020

a master teacher

Robert Bittle

I see his eyes,
and the tears that want to slip away
from the control he wants to live,

I see a master teacher,
whose unbounded care for his students
has been a light, a beacon, for me,

I see a master teacher,
whose skill to create curriculum
is unparalleled in my experience,
whose ability to see the kid,
particularly the kid others of us don’t see so well,
is unparalleled in my experience,
whose ability to help the young person
see herself, see himself, as he sees them,
and to help them rise 
to meet his belief with their reality,
is unparalleled in my experience,

I feel challenged by the genius he has lived as teacher,

I still work to learn from Robert’s example
of how well a teacher can be there
with curriculum, and care, and love,

may each of our students reach
to the heights which call to them.

by Henry H. Walker
January 22, ‘20

Sunday, January 19, 2020

which little voice within?

what do we hear?

what little voice within
do we hear?
do we follow?

in an adult sureness of the cast within them,
we ask middle schoolers
about their conscience,
the impulse inside to do right,
the one that counsels us
to choose the better path,
to get off the wrong one,
we envisage a simple design
with two paths before us:
the self-centered one, the baser,
the nobler one, the purer,
then kid after kid denies our naiveté,
because for them the little voice within
shouts to doubt self, to fear the moment,

that voice undermines every brick
placed to reach higher, surer,
replaces every “I can” with “I can’t”,
distorts every self-image into caricature,
every rightness into wrongness,
every fullness into emptiness,

to distance ourselves from such a loud voice
we need quiet and stillness, and support,
so that we can hear and follow another little voice within,
one who gets us to raise our hand, 
to venture something new,
to see the other and reach out a hand,
to be unselfconscious like a flower,
and to just be beautiful.

by Henry H. Walker
January 17, ‘20

Sunday, January 12, 2020

the sense of wonder

the tune, over the dark

I am a teacher,
rather, I am more an educator,

I love to learn,
I love to fan the flame of question, of inquiry,
the flame of the drive to know how the world works,
to fan that flame both in the other and in myself,

I have loved to quest for the wild whale,

to listen to the stories geology tells with rock,

to the stories the forest lives both above and below,

to feel the close bond with the wolf and the bear,

to remember the strong bond with the flower,

I love to know how much we crave wonder:
the most spiritual and needed of the senses,
the way our individuality feels and realizes
the glory just outside that makes us feel better,
that makes us be better,

we then can know our place,

that it is less than being the center of the universe,
that it is more than our partiality,
and is of the same tune life, 
and then consciousness,
sings into the dark.

by Henry H. Walker
January 10, ‘20


the future beckons

evolution has relied on chance, and on deep time,
to match species with environment,

willy-nilly we now pave paradise,
we can’t wait for chance to help us stumble forward,
we don’t have the time to allow millennia of trial and error
to help us find the way,
our errors threaten to doom us to a path 
where ego trumps rationality,
where lethargy and selfishness trump our better angels,

I seek to hear and follow the wisdom of the selfish gene
who wants to endure, to last into a beckoning future,
I want the best for my grandchildren’s grandchildren,

we understand our genes, more than ever before,
and we are tempted to change our plants to better serve us,
maybe to change ourselves to better be us,

I am surer that we should help our culture evolve,
to transcend the tribal, to fit ourselves back into a world
where the whale, the wolf, the tree are part of the family,
where we know “won’t” as much as “will,”

where the will we write with our lives
designates “sustainability” as the birthright that can endure.

by Henry H. Walker
January 10, ‘20

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

feels empty

defined by family

the house feels empty,
and I feel partial,
as if part of me has been cut off,

our sons, and their wives, 
are vital to who I am,
and they are no longer here,
gone back to the immediacy 
of their own workaday worlds,
of their own everyday worlds,
our grandchildren, also, 
gone back to the immediacy of home,
of friends, of where on earth 
they stake the flag of their moments,

yet, just as in math, or language, or the spatial, or the heart,
there is an abstract reality below and behind the concrete present,

we are a family, bonded and knowing much of who we are
because we connect so surely to each other,

I cannot ever appreciate my wife enough,
for in the house, empty of children and grandchildren,
I still hold a treasure, and she holds me,

I feel a miracle of love where each of us
knows and appreciates the other,
which in turn allows us to appreciate
the worth of our own selves.

by Henry H. Walker
December 30, ‘19