All the Waters I Have Seen – Willow Heights

We hear the clearing before we see it. A parting of winds, a pause in the flickering. We emerge from the flame-trees. Our faces are painted yellow in the light. Flames burning underwater; flames that carry no heat; that is the way of the aspen trees.

From the meadow we see the ski resort across the canyon. In the snowless months it is a wound, a bald spot that is made more unsightly by those metal towers that beam, useless, in the sun. We turn our backs to it and continue uphill, through the grass, past elderberry bushes and what might be wild licorice. What I want most is to see a moose. I’ve never seen one. Today is no different; we have seen no moose, but we did hear a raven somewhere off to the east.

The path becomes mud in low-lying spots, and that’s how I know the lake is near. We turn a corner and there it is—small, still, rimmed by shrubby willows. Behind this we see the mile of aspens we’ve just walked through. From here they are an undulating summer curtain, or perhaps a kite, and despite their fall colors I feel as though it’s summer.

We sit on the bare sand beside the lake. The water-wind chills us, but we do not move. The sun is on our faces. Our breathing becomes low and flat. The aspens shhh in the distance. Time recedes and we lapse in to water-induced meditation, softer and softer, until we are as smooth as the surface before us.

All the Waters I Have Seen – Red Rock Lake

Memory. Hill and wind unfold at once. Sagebrush. Lodge pole pine. Pronghorn antelope. They run as ghosts at dawn, blurred like distant rain, the echo of clouds that shift over the horizon as though they have deflated, are deflating, ghost-clouds reaching some thicket, some lakeshore, the backs of deer, a rain-world intangible here by the water; brushstrokes.

I’ve missed the water. My new desert home is nothing like this. I’ve not seen a river since I left Oregon; I’ve not seen a lake since I drove past the Great Salt Lake on the move over—car full of boxes, the water only slightly visible from the highway and just beginning to shiver with sunset.

Here in Montana I feel as though I am walking on a mirrored sky. Even the non-reflecting grasses hold clouds in their vastness. The lake is distinctly oceanless. It is tied to nothing, unlike the rivers at home, which flow to the sea, the Pacific, whose fogged closeness I used to smell in southwestern winds. Now I smell the alpine, some northward basin wind that speaks of steppes and mountains converging.

I used to walk with my dog down our neighborhood streets. It was only a short walk to the water. “Come on, Ginger,” I would tell her, and we would run for a moment, “let’s go see the river,” and she would pant, and we would slow down, and after a time we would see the green, slow-moving Willamette, which in my mind was always simply the river. I felt some pride in calling it that, rather than by its full name. It meant I knew it well. It was simply the river, River, as central to my lifeworld as the moon or the sun or the wind.

This lake is a guest in my world. I do not know it, nor will I, since I’m only here for a few days. I am like the trumpeter swans, the great blue herons, the ibises. I am like the antelope, silent, and moving, and reverent; destined for dry places, made of memories—made of water.

All the Waters I Have Seen – Sugarhouse Pond

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Geese in a pond at Sugarhouse Park, Salt Lake City

This is the gathering place.

Down below, a blanket, a fur like the unhealthy coating on a tongue. Amorphous—the emerald of rotting things. No one would dare wade through these waters. From a distance there is nothing beneath. Under the glint of blue-sprawled sky, it is only water. The geese find it clean enough. They don’t mind the concrete sidings, or the brown stars of sediment that trace their way inkily through the shallows. With their long necks bowed, as snakes, as willow fronds, they wander on land where the sidewalk is slick with mud. To step past them necessitates a bow in return. The path winds past them, through them, to a grove of cottonwood trees, trunks grayed, porous. A creek runs here beneath a wooden bridge. It smells like river rocks, and the water is clear as melted ice. In a city where most of the creeks have been sacrificed, hidden underground to prevent flooding, it is a privilege to see uncaptured water, and to gather along its shores. No sounds besides water crinkle and distant car grumble. A magpie strings forth, an iridescent ribbon, gracile as the necks of the geese. He pecks at the sand above the clearness. For one moment he stands still, watching the water flow—a shining movement that is magnificent to both of us.

All the Waters I Have Seen – Red Butte Garden

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Ducks in a pond at Salt Lake City’s Red Butte Garden

We are walking in the sun, along the blue-green edges. I stop to hear the grass. Sedges and cattails speak a particular language, rushes another. Grasses are perhaps the most clear, but only when they are tall and seeded with knots of wisp. We listen for some time. We hear a sliding, an endless tunnel, as light is captured in the curled, flushed seeds. These are not native grasses. I linger while you pulse away, mud-stepping toward two ducks, whose soft, white feathers you prefer to tufts of grass. But my attention is graven. The grasses are still speaking. I hear in them the songs of trembling water; creekside echoes that are older than this pond. The water is still, in this afternoon sun, but the grasses shimmer. They do not belong here. I want to hate them for it, to step on them as you have done, but I cannot. They are still speaking, and I am here, listening to them bristle, and flock, and sing in the language that you have forgotten.

All the Waters I Have Seen: A Collection

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.

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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