Category Archives: Conservation

Who Ever Thought That Old River Could Be So Lovely

I often escape to the canyon for a mountain bike ride or to the Jordan River with a kayak.  Both have their attractions.  But when I want to be slow and quiet, to see wildlife, and to forget my troubles, there is nothing like a long paddle on the river.  Turtles sunning on logs.  Mallards flying upstream.  Great blue herons and belted kingfishers.  And signs of beaver chew.  This humble river runs the length of the great Salt Lake Valley, home to 1.2 million people.  The river runs mostly unseen and ignored right up the middle of the valley.  I am grateful for decades of visionaries who have seen to the river’s cleanup and restoration for people to kayak and canoe, fish, and cycle and walk and run on the riverside trails.  I can’t wait for my next glide on the river.  In the meantime, this poem distills some of my observations and impressions.

Who Ever Thought That Old River Could Be So Lovely

Paddling is as much pushing as it is pulling, a balance of both with each stroke, to spread the strain and stretch my strength to keep on.

The moment my kayak slips into the dark smooth water I feel free from sticky attachments and my fears float off with clouds of elm seeds.

Today I learn that when a Canada goose flies its elongated neck slightly dips and tremors with each wing beat.

Why would so many hundreds of swallows, swarming around me, glue their mud-daub domiciles under the lip of the rumbling interstate?

I feel a surge of joy just knowing that these new gnawings on elm trunks and new nippings of willow shoots mean that beaver again work the river.

A hen quacks increasing irritation as I keep arriving and she keeps needing to fly off. Her drake makes no protest, and I ask if he is lazy, or unconcerned, or thinks his partner makes sufficient complaint for them both.

My peace is disturbed by the screams of two-cycle engines racing on dirt tracks and spinning up dust: I pick up my paddling pace.

A snipe calls a chiding chirrup as she flushes then flutters on short wings, her beak longer than half her round body.

Squat socks knitted from gray grasses hang by the dozen on the ends of elm boughs: oriole nests: empty and sagging and looking forlorn.

I float close enough to a wide flat turtle sunning on a log to see scarlet stripes on his face and we stare carefully at one other until he slowly slides off and I swear I can hear him sighing, yet another human has interrupted my nap.

Women speed by on the riverside trail and some wave and call out a hello, and I wonder if a man gliding alone on a glassy green river seems romantic.

Young perfume from budding olives embraces me gently with intimate arms, and I know this is where I want to be.

 

Roger Baker is the author of Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road.  The book tells the true life story of an obscure farm road and its power to transform the human heart.  The book is available in print and for Kindle at Amazon.  See Rabbit Lane reviewed in Words and Pictures.

Water in the Ditch

As a child reared in New Jersey, our family set off cross country about every three years to visit relatives in Utah, 2,200 miles distant.  How I loved exploring Grandma’s yards and gardens and sheds and coops, and the irrigation ditch hugging the dirt road in front of her bungalow house built by Grandpa.  Fifty years later, I can hear the water trickling, see my leaf boats bobbing, feel the song inside.  Today, the entire scene has been erased, except in memory, in the song inside, and in this poem.  (My father painted the bungalow before its demise.)

Water in the Ditch

water in the irrigation ditch
babbled
alongside the gravely road,

          bermed banks sprouting
tangled sunflowers, where
Grandma lived neatly

in a bungalow built
by her groom
in Depression years,

          where I skipped and crowed
and threw rocks
and floated little boats of leaves

and sticks down the trickles,
where the parched yards opened themselves
to receive irrigation floods

          and nightcrawlers rose and wriggled,
where my heart whooped
and sang little-boy melodies

that sing still,
though
the ditch has been piped and buried and the house bulldozed for a parking lot

 

Roger circa 1970 on a ditch culvert, complete with bug box.

The Turtle Pond Before The Subdivision Came

As a teenager, I relished my hours in the woods near my home in New Jersey.  I followed the meandering paths on my 10-speed.  One day I happened upon a little pond.  Painted turtles sunned themselves contentedly on a floating log.  At my approach they slipped into the murky water and disappeared from view.  I waited long minutes.  But, losing patience, I left before they resurfaced.  New subdivisions came, and the paths and ponds disappeared.  Looking back 40 years has transformed this happy memory into a new poem.

The Turtle Pond Before the Subdivision Came

When you pedal
on a wooded path, all brown
and green shadow, framed houses
out of view, you might discover
a little pond, water brown
as forest earth and gray
as autumn sky, fallen log
stuck at half past two,
a perch for turtles, carapaces
painted red and yellow, for what purpose
I am sure I do not know, but
perhaps from the sheer joy of their aliveness,
sunning unconcerned, but slipping
quickly, when I arrive,
into opaque shallows, hiding,
holding longer than my patience,
safely unseen.

(Image by Scottslm from Pixabay)

Roger Baker is the author of Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road.  The book tells the true life story of an obscure farm road and its power to transform the human heart.  The book is available in print and for Kindle at Amazon.  See Rabbit Lane reviewed in Words and Pictures.

Rabbit Lane Preserved

My local newspaper, the Tooele Transcript-Bulletin was so kind to publish a feature article about my book Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road.  The writer, Gwen Bristol, captured perfectly my purposes in writing the book, as well as what the road and the book have meant to me for 20 years.  Thank you Gwen.  You can read the article by clicking on the link below.

The article follows on the County Commission’s recent Resolution to close Rabbit Lane to motorized traffic and to preserve the road as part of the County’s pedestrian trail system.  Thank you County Commission.

I look forward to the Tooele Arts Festival June 14-16, where I will have a booth featuring several handmade crafts as well as copies of my book.

A walk down Rabbit Lane-Tooele Transcript Bulletin (06-07-18)

Anniversary of Rabbit Lane

Today is a happy day for me: it marks the 1st anniversary of the print publication of my book Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road.   The book tells the true life story of an obscure and magical farm road and its power to transform the human spirit.  Thanks to the nearly 200 of you who purchased and read the book in its inaugural year.  Thanks to those in my community who are working to raise awareness for the preservation of Rabbit Lane as a pathway for walkers, joggers, and cyclists.  Thanks to those in your communities who are finding and saving Rabbit Lanes everywhere.  These are special places that deserve to be preserved as a legacy for generations.  I hope we have the vision and persistence to preserve our respective Rabbit Lanes as special historical, cultural, social, and environmental icons.

Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road is available in print and full-color Kindle at Amazon.  See Rabbit Lane reviewed in Words and Pictures.

Red Rock Trail

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

shod hoofs
stumble on stones,
leave glintings
behind, sparks,
scramble to rise
to the high red butte;
desert varnish trickles
below, springs
sprout cottonwoods,
beaver chewed,
beaver felled,
feeding, damming
all but flashing
floods from distant rains
beyond, where
snows melt
under desert sun
on the high red butte

Snow Canyon, Utah

Dove Season

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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.)

DOVE SEASON

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
September-time.

Chapter 48: What Is To Come

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–Wherever you live, find your Rabbit Lane.–

(Photo credit: Jeanette Baker Davis)

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

Chapter 47: Big-Wheel Ecosystem

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–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

Pavement

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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.)

PAVEMENT

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.

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Chapter 17: Foreshadowing

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–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

Old Cottonwood (Poem)

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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.)

OLD COTTONWOOD

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.

Silent Spring

As I walked along Rabbit Lane in the dark of early morning, I could hear only the distant hum of thousands of cars commuting to the Salt Lake valley.  The birds and crickets still slept.  The air hung still and silent over field and pasture.  I pondered Rachel Carson’s fearsome prediction in 1962 of a future where the wanton use of chemical poisons would wipe out the world’s singing, croaking, and buzzing creatures.  With a touch of irony, or sarcasm, I penned this poem, a mixture of hope and foreboding.  Visit the Rabbit Lane: Memoir page of this blog to read more about places of peace and hope, and to ponder how you can contribute to the world’s beauty and diversity.

SILENT SPRING

Spring,
Rachel:
not silent quite.
I hear,
distinctly:
the growing hum
of humankind.


Roger Evans Baker is the author of Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road.  The non-fiction book is available in print and for Kindle at Amazon.  Rose Gluck Reviews recently reviewed Rabbit Lane in Words and Pictures.