Desert Notes

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

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Mountain Ravens

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.

The Desert Mountains

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.

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The First Stream in Utah

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.

The Magnificent Frigatebird

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.

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The Scent of Water

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.

Dear Sky

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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.

 

 

 

Summer Solstice

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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.

Without Concrete

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.
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The Plant With Purple Flowers

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Image: Rob Routledge, Sault College (Wikimedia)

Until yesterday I hadn’t paid much attention to the American brooklime. I’m sure I’ve walked past it numerous times–in fields, in marshy pathways puddled with mud, alongside black streams smelling of a warm day’s shade. My life as a forest dweller has likely brought me into unbeknownst contact with the American brooklime countless times, year after year, spring after spring, without me even realizing it. Perhaps in some childhood moment I even noticed it as “the plant with purple flowers”.

As I walked yesterday, I greeted the usual violets, and the avens, and the false-hellebore whose unfurled stalks I remember noticing earlier this spring. Knowing the plants, to me, isn’t about science. It’s about fitting into things. It’s about windy plateaus and the purple blossom of a brodiaea that is just beginning to crisp into seed. It’s about the hillside, waiting for the stinging nettle to grow there again, just as it did last year.

When you’re familiar with plants–their names and cycles; their uses and beauties–you’re more likely to notice the species that you don’t recognize than the ones you do. They pop out, stunning, to you, as butterflies. Sometimes I stop, right in the middle of a busy park pathway, and I crouch down to study the plants I don’t know, holding up a leaf to the light to see if it glints silver with fine, soft hairs.

It seems that every time I go for a walk or a hike, I discover a new one. I go home and I look them up in my field guide, making sure to memorize the plant and the place and the exact experience of it all, and I add them to my remembered collection. Some are familiar, like sitka valerian; others, sultry-sounding, like enchanter’s nightshade. American brooklime, ropy and mint-like, turns out to be an edible member of the figwort family, one that I will recognize, and know, and cherish among the other plants of the forest.