These prose-poems, narratives, and photographs focus on the various waters I’ve come upon in the last several months. Whether lake or river, at home or traveling, water proved a captivating companion, one that brings to mind sustainability, human experience, and our place among the greater world. Water can serve as the scenic focal point of a community or a dumping ground. Water can sustain life or destroy entire landscapes through erosion or flooding. Water has been wasted, tainted, dammed, commodified, loved, and forgotten. At its core, water is essential not only in keeping us alive, but in connecting us to all other life that relies on water as well. It’s especially imperative that we think about water now, as climate change is increasing the rate of droughts and water is becoming increasingly scarce. This collection focuses on water as connector and water as gatherer, and aims to re-establish the relationship between humans and the bodies of water we live among.
With each step the rocks are new
Pink sunset, blue distance, pale but not brittle
Against all my judgement I have the feeling that the rocks are alive
We all move in the sun
Naked, curled trees; one smooth branch of juniper in a slot canyon
Raven on the sandstone gluck-gluck-click
I am not alone here
The raven in the Wasatch does not sound like the raven in the Cascades; one is the sound of yellow aspen trees, the other, the sound of fog lifting from the river. They both honk, and so crackle like untended fires, but one is space, and one is movement; one is fields of asters–tall, velvet, yellow, purple–and one is the weight of ferns as they drape over a branch, high above salmon berry hills. Ravens can be heard from so long a distance that they become, not birds, but dazzling colors, their sounds tightly woven into fallen logs and the ribbon-tails of magpies. They claim the mountains as their home. They are not the same raven elsewhere, not from one range to the next, not from one hill to the next, just as the sunlight feels differently in the shade of each tree, just as we are not home unless we know the shadows.
I see them, distant, in the space between buildings, brown and rounded and without snow. They are much like islands, risen high above this glinting sea. They do not turn pink at sunset; the sun, rather, is absorbed by their dense soils, like a dwindling fire, or the dust of embers. At some angles their faces shine, and I think at first of some secret snowfall, but it’s granite, and the snow will not cover it for many months now. The mountains are a place of stillness. Even as I am far from them, deep in the city of the valley, among the cars and the noises and the slippage of time, I look up and see the mountains, and I know where I am again.
You never loved the water more.
You blink at the stream and feel that you are home,
but even the cottonwoods are darker, and carry the bulk of firs.
The stream is not so shaded that you can’t see your reflection
and the naked mountain behind your head.
This is your great river now; this is your shore;
that is what you think, in the quiet above the shallow waters, and because of that, you are home.
I am the one who glides; where the air has become cold–that is what I call the sky, and I stay below it, among the shadow-birds, and at nightfall we slow, so the wind moves faster than us, a silken pulse that bristles our feathers, that carves away the shadow-birds until they are the spray of the sea, and when I am alone in something gray and boundless, I look to the shore, and the sky, and I see the birds again, but this time they are not shadow, they are light, and I am glad not to be alone again.
There is a certain wind that comes off the water; a wind that smells like rain as it’s drying; peach-colored mist on wood or pavement. Something, yes, remarkably dry, wrapped in all the smoothness of water, like roots beneath the earth, bundled and secret. This wind is new in its ancientness, like it may have lain undiscovered for thousands of years, stunningly silent, a black and white television on mute, unstirred except by the airbeats of robins–until now. This wind that carried the first rains to the lifeless oceans, this wind that now rises with the chill of the creek, is so distinct, and so instinctual that when you turn a corner and hear nothing, and see nothing, but feel that wind, you know immediately that there is water nearby, and, without thinking, you run to it.
In the sky we find deep water
Much like the glazed place on the open ocean;
you know your reflection is there
but you cannot see it.
We call it the wandering place
those of us who know what will happen to our questions,
how they won’t be answered but swallowed into carpets of light,
and pressed firmly between damp-rock carapaces.
We are the ones who ask anyway.
We are the ones who would not have them answered,
but stirred, and braided, and returned to us
at some dawn that smells of quieted campfire smoke,
to see it floating there, our startling question, muted, and somehow brighter still,
the last glimmers of Jupiter before sunrise,
to reach out and grab it,
to have it back,
and know, somehow, that we are changed because of it.
The sun lasts until 10 p.m. These are the good days, intrinsically so, because without knowledge of history, without, even, knowledge of the unfoldings of the seasons, these days would be good. We all crave the sun. We’re all linked to it, and we hold it inside ourselves like fireflies. Like the leaves from the tree, like the Earth round the sun, we all revolve here. When the good days come they almost instantly begin to fade; shriveled berries, uneaten by birds, burn into soil; turkey vultures revolve and revolve, and then they, too, circle the sun; salmon become the stream, and then they become the sea, just as the ground itself is made of skeletons, just as decaying leaves smell like fermented apple cider. These are the good days, you see, because we revolve just like everyone else does. We are born of the sun, pieces of it, in fact, and in these long days we are instinctively more aware of that very notion, and perhaps in these days we feel a little bit more like we’re home.
Sometimes I wonder what the world would look like if we lifted up the concrete. I mean, what if we ripped out all the roads, and the parking lots, and the driveways leading up to people’s houses? I keep imagining it, crumbling away like that, but I have a hard time imagining what would be underneath.
Say it’s gone; all the asphalt freshly cracked and peeled away by the hands of some great machine. What would be there? In those first few moments, it would likely be a mass of toiled, compacted mud, burnt gray by the lack of sunlight, but I kind of like the idea of there being grass. Not a whole field of it, or anything, but this weak, pale spritz somewhat like the hair on a baby’s head, or like seaweed as it’s exposed at low tide. I imagine it to be the shade and consistency of moonlight, both sickly and gentle. Maybe a few burr reeds in there; the kind that get stuck to your socks.
Over time it would coalesce into something sturdier. Freeways would become, yes, fields, and then riverine thickets. Ashes and maple trees would journey above the brambles until it became the kind of canopy where, at sunset, the light pushes up on the leaves and rims them in some blend of gold and darkness. In this world I think you could walk anywhere; I think you could leave my house and keep going until you made it to the river, or even the mountain, or, hey, maybe the ocean, and it would all just be land–country–and we would belong to it again.