Several years ago I joined an expedition of older boy scouts, including my son, Brian, for a winter campout between the Christmas and New Year holidays. At the top of Settlement Canyon, we spread insulating straw over the snow-covered tent sites, then shoveled out a foot of snow around the edge of the tents so we could sink the steel tent stakes in the hard ground. I grew restless after eating my tin-foil dinner and visiting with the others for an hour or so, and set off for a winter walk. Though the sun had long set, the moon and stars shown through the leafless Gambel Oaks and Mountain Maples to reflect brightly on the white snow. The utter beauty of my surroundings suddenly washed over me transcendently. Later in the night, in my tent, bundled up against near zero-degree weather, I turned on my headlamp and scratched out this poem.
BROWN OAK LEAF
A brown oak leaf
dangles from a stray gossamer string,
spinning like a winter whirligig,
reaching down to her sisters,
intercepted in her journey
to the resting place of all deciduous foliate life.
The cool air caresses the brown oak leaf
with the sweet fragrance of powder-green sage
and the sweet fragrance of the fallen-leaf loam
that rests, decomposing,
yielding to the hard earth
its fertile essence
to bless Spring’s
purple taper tip onion,
elegant sego lily, and
infant leafy-green canopy.
The dry leaf’s mother oak,
dressed in velvety orange-green lichens,
clings with tangled roots,
like the tentacles of ten octopi,
sinking their tendril tips into the high stream bank.
She joins her bare branches
to a thousand denuded tree tops,
waving randomly like
the up-stretched arms of
so many entranced worshippers
flexing toward their god.
(“Brown Oak Leaf” was previously published in the Summer 2007 edition of Avocet: A Journal of Nature Poems.)