Living in Utah, I have come to love what we call “red rock country.” Bizarre twisted shapes dominate canyon landscapes, in every hue of red and orange, remnants of ancient tectonic upheavals and eons of erosion. On the trails winding through these hills I have found inspiration and wonderment, pondering the forces of creation and nature. I have held my young children’s hands as we scrambled over boulders and up screes. We have marveled at the prickly-pear’s crimson bloom and the aromatic sagebrush. We have laughed at the lizards and cottontails scurrying for cover beneath black brush and Mormon tea. All, the stuff of awe and sweet memory. In this poem I look back at an early red-rock-country explorer on horseback. Enjoy the trail.
RED ROCK TRAIL
stumble on stones,
scramble to rise
to the high red butte;
desert varnish trickles
all but flashing
floods from distant rains
under desert sun
on the high red butte
In September I hear the plinking of low caliber (but still lethal) rifles through Erda’s country neighborhoods as hunters harvest pretty Mourning Doves and Eurasian Collared Doves from where they sit perched on power lines, fence posts, and tree branches. I find it hard to believe that the State and County governments allow and even license such hunting. I find it hard to believe that people still go to the trouble of making pigeon pie. I believe the birds are simply killed. To these hunters I say, please leave my pretty doves alone. Let the hawks and falcons do the harvesting. This poem further expresses these sentiments. (See the post Of Boys, Pigeons, and an Evil Rooster for more on doves and pigeons.)
A soft crying floats down
from the cottonwoods and power lines
to mingle with the morning mist:
a penetrating, mysterious cooing,
haunting calls of ghosts in the trees.
Pushing off from tree branches and the tops of fence posts,
doves’ gray tails fan wide with white-border bands,
wings beat powerfully with percussive whirring.
A .223 rifle cracks, pop, pop-pop,
plinking doves off power lines like cheap arcade prizes.
A shotgun shouts its BANG!
obliterating delicate birds in a whirl of flying
feathers twisting in air as they fall.
Another open season
to “harvest” my pretty mourning doves.
I think that I may write to the County government,
ask my elected officials why: Most Honorable Commissioners: Is there such an overabundance of doves, as to create an unbearable nuisance, as to pose an unarticulated threat, that you feel compelled to countenance this slaughter? Or do you dispense merely a license to kill, a tolerance found in pioneer history that modern man delights to perpetuate? Please consider shooing the rifles off our roads, chasing the guns from so near our homes. Please consider letting the harmless doves alone to grace my morning walks with their woeful cries that take me to the edge of somewhere sweet and tender, laced with loss and mystery. Sincerely, your humble constituent (voter).
I may write.
Mornings seem quieter than they ought to be
Christmas day. A warm south wind had begun to howl in the early morning hours, the kind of wind that tears off siding and rips at shingles. A particular set of vulnerable shingles had flapped irritatingly above my bed all night long, as if under the sticks of a novice but indefatigable drummer. All day long the wind had blown, with frequent gusts that shook the house and trembled the floor under my chair. The bird feeders swung wildly on their wires, like marionettes under the hand of a demented puppeteer. We knew the pattern: the wind would blow and blow until the climactic dissonance resolved in a downpour of driving rain or sleet or snow. At 9:00 o’clock in the evening, Angie called us to where she stood by the front door opened wide to a world covered with new whiteness. The south wind had stopped, replaced by a steady northern breeze bringing the snow from over the lake. Brian, home from his first semester of college, announced happily that he was going for a walk. He bounded away with enthusiasm. Continue reading →
–Rabbit Lane is a short nothing of a dirt road in Erda, USA.–
The air was crisp but warmer than a typical January day. The sky hung gray, and pockets of darker clouds dropped round, soft pellets of dry snow. Shades of orange accented the western mountaintops. Feathers of unseen House Swallows rustled from inside Wild Rose and Willow bushes. The scene made for an idyllic late Sunday afternoon walk on Rabbit Lane. Idyllic and peaceful . . . except for Hannah (3) riding her big-wheel tricycle behind me. The wide, hollow, pink plastic wheels ground over the disintegrating asphalt, radiating into the peacefulness the racket of an ore crusher. I couldn’t hear my wife talk or myself think. Continue reading →
Paving Rabbit Lane changed the nature of the country road so totally and quickly that my mind and emotions struggled to adjust. Gone were the gravel, hard-pack dirt, and potholes. In their place lay milled asphalt, the detritus of some other road mixed with new oil and laid roughly to rest on Rabbit Lane. Some chunks still showed patches of yellow striping, so disjointed as to be of no use to the traveler, pointing in no direction and every direction. As I saw it, the County had strangled the life out of Rabbit Lane. I, also, found it harder to breath. This poem portrays my early perspectives of this black-oil change. (See the Chapter 38: Black-Oil Pavement post on the Rabbit Lane: Memoir page of this blog for a related discussion.)
It happened sooner than I expected.
ROAD CLOSED barricades appeared at either end.
They had paved Rabbit Lane.
They had paved Rabbit Lane with roto-mill from some other road’s temporary demise,
mixed the black rubbish with new oil
and plastered it flat upon the hard, living earth.
Now, after rain, Rabbit Lane reveals nothing,
no tracks of the earthworm pushing perilously slowly across the road,
no paw or claw prints of raccoons or pheasants.
No more wet pot holes for the children to ride their bicycles through with a whoop.
Instead, oil leaches invisibly into the ditch
to water cattle and crops some place too far away for accountability.
Pink-flowered milkweed and wispy willow bush cling to the asphalt fringe.
They transformed Rabbit Lane from a dirt farm road with country appeal
to another icon of the American Nowhere, with all the charm of a parking lot.
Rabbit Lane, of course, neither knows nor cares about the change.
But I know, and I am saddened.
–The Milkweed will push through to grow tall, fragrant, and beautiful, to call the Monarch.–
The disc cushioning my lumbar 4 and 5 vertebrae has been bulging capriciously since I was 12 years old. It was then that I experienced my first unexpected spine-twisting spasms that paralyzed me sitting in my church pew. A bulging disc means a frequently aching back, with locked joints and tense muscles. The pain is always different depending on which way the disc is bulging and, more importantly, which area of the spinal nerves the disc is irritating. While it becomes difficult and painful to bend, I somehow always manage to dry my feet after a shower, to shimmy on my socks, to tie my shoes, and to drive to work, even if I do have to lie occasionally on the floor during the mayor’s staff meeting. Continue reading →
A century ago, Erda’s church-going farmers planted a row of Cottonwood twigs behind the clay-block church building. A decade ago, a bald eagle stared down at me from one of these Cottonwood tree’s 50-foot height. Today, the Cottonwoods are gone, felled by my saw, replaced by the neighbor’s new barn. I can still see the majestic trees in family photos and in my memory as I walk home from Rabbit Lane, past Old Cottonwood, a 17-foot circumference behemoth. This poem is for that and the other great pioneer trees that sit split on our porches and burn in our stoves. (See the Rabbit Lane: Memoir page of this blog, Chapter 5: Old Cottonwood post, for more on Cottonwood trees.)
The old cottonwood is dead,
dead for many years.
Leaves have flown to join with new soil.
Sun-bleached bark has sloughed and fallen.
But the aspect of its reaching is preserved.
The trunk holds steady, the unseen roots entrenched.
A thousand branches reach sharply upwards,
spiny fingers feeling upwards,
still swaying, though stiffly.
Red-tailed Hawk still reconnoiters from a favorite high branch.
Great-horned Owl still softly calls its mate.
And Kestrel now rests in its cavities.